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When interpersonal conflict meets etiquette, things can get messy. So we asked Rachel Wilkerson Miller, editor of Self and author of The art of showing off to help. Drawing on her years of experience in service journalism, she offers advice on three of your anonymous questions about tricky social situations.
The following has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
We are dog lovers. However, we live next door to neighbors with two very annoying and talkative dogs. They are out all day and every time we go out with the kids, take out the bins, hang up the laundry, etc. the dogs bark nonstop. How can I politely ask my neighbor to keep his dogs inside more often? In fact, we don’t know them very well. They tend to keep to themselves. —Barking Mad
I think it ultimately depends on the type of relationship you want to have. If you’ve seen them and feel like becoming friends with them, I think you’ll have to put up with them for a little while as you get to know them. Because leading with it could really put things off on the wrong foot.
In contrast, some people have no interest in being friends with their neighbors and no problem being this neighbor. He’s the kind of neighbor I grew up with. He was just saying, “Hey, your dogs are boring. Master them. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but you can decide where you fall on that spectrum before continuing.
The common ground says, “Hey, we haven’t had a chance to meet yet.” When introducing yourself, be really warm and generous, but also say, “I don’t know if you noticed…” (I think it’s always nice to say, “I don’t know if you noticed .. .” Give people the benefit of the doubt.) “I don’t know if you realized this, but your dogs bark a lot here. It can be a little disruptive when we’re doing something XYZ.” Kind of give them a reason to care. And say, “We were hoping you could bring them inside more, or maybe do something with a trainer to make them bark less. Then see what they say. I think just being direct, being polite, is usually the way to go.
I don’t think leaving a note is the move, but if you’re going with a note, I think the most important thing is not to make it anonymous. Always sign it and don’t say anything you can’t bear.
When should I show up for a casual meeting? My boyfriend thinks we should arrive exactly on time or even a few minutes earlier, but sometimes the hosts still get ready so early. That’s why I think it’s fine to arrive 15 minutes late. What are the experts saying? – Better late than never
In this case, I side with the author of the letter. I am a very punctual person. But I think the rules for casual gatherings are very different. If we’re talking about a business meeting or a baptism or anything that’s a large group of people and we really want to get this thing started on time, I think it’s very important to be there a few minutes earlier ready to go. But a more casual gathering, your host doesn’t want you to show up early. I think we’ve all been the entertaining person who keeps our fingers crossed hoping that a friend doesn’t show up early because we’re still getting ready.
If you show up early, apologize, expect to be put to work, and only do it with someone you know very well and who wouldn’t be mad if you saw them without makeup. But in general, be five to ten minutes late. The thirties grow on it, I definitely think that a text is needed. But five to ten for a more casual meeting does your host a favor.
I sent my nephew a hundred dollars last year, and he never sent a thank you note. This year, the exact same thing happened! Do I just have to accept that there will be no thank you notes? Should I tell him about it? Should I stop sending her gifts? — No thanks
For me, it largely depends on how old your nephew is. If they’re young enough, that’s probably a conversation you want to have with their parents. But if they’re older and you regularly talk on the phone or text regularly, I think it’s only reasonable to contact them and ask if they’ve received it. Which subtly communicates, “I haven’t heard of you, and I haven’t received a thank you from you.” Most importantly, if you’re sending a gift, you want to make sure the person received it. They should hear that and realize, “Oh, I didn’t say thank you, so they don’t know if I got it yet.”
I don’t think reaching out and demanding a thank you note is necessarily the way to go because everyone has a different understanding of when you send a note. It’s only reasonable with a lot of gifts to send a thank you text if that’s the kind of relationship you have. Don’t just stand up and stop giving a gift without doing a bit of outreach first and trying to make sure they understand your expectations.
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