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As soon as everyone was vaccinated, we invited my family over to our house for a festive meal outdoors. We also included my brother-in-law, who is my wife’s only living relative and has nowhere to go. My own brother expressed his surprise: unbeknownst to us, my brother-in-law had split from us on Facebook and posted a rant accusing us of elder abuse that led to his mother’s death. (We took care of her in our home until her death, and I am proud of the years we took care of her.) Knowing that, I would like to uninvite him. But my wife says she’s ignored equally horrific statements from him in the past, and there’s no point arguing with him: he never admits he’s wrong. What should we do?

KATHLEEN

In my experience, people sometimes say horrible things after the death of a loved one. It is often grief that speaks; it can distort rational thinking. And now, thanks to social media, we can broadcast our cruelest catch, hatched at the height of anguish, to almost everyone we know. It’s not an excuse, just a possibility.

Yet like you, I would hate to entertain someone who thinks I murdered their mother. Your wife seems to have a different point of view, however. She may have more faith that her brother doesn’t really believe what he said. She may also think it’s not worth fighting for her stubborn brother – whom she wants to keep in her life – to back down.

Try to rely on your wife here. Ask him, “Do you really want your brother to come?” If she does, include it as an act of love for her. She may also allow a conversation with him in advance: “Your ugly post about our treatment of your mother really hurt us. But your sister loves you and wants you to come. That way, you let him know where he’s at without trying to pull an excuse out of him.

If someone tells you that they have had surgery or been ill, is it rude to ask for details, such as the nature of the illness? My sister says it’s: if the person wanted to tell you, they would voluntarily provide the information. I see her point of view, but maybe the person doesn’t want to give more details unless we express interest in them. Not everyone wants to know. So, is it more polite to say, “May I ask what the disease was? Or is it better to leave him alone?

KATHRYN

You and your sister come up with plausible readings from a meeting. Balancing the risks, however, I would go with his approach. It is nicer to respect people’s privacy on health issues (which don’t affect us) and avoid asking them to recount potentially traumatic events than to ask potentially unwanted follow-up questions.

A general statement of support (“I’m sorry for your problems”) works very well. And with close friends, you can add, “I’m here to talk if you want. This has the added benefit of putting the person who was ill in charge of the conversation.

I started hanging out with this girl I met online a few months ago. Since then, she has kind of hinted that she thinks we see each other exclusively, but we’ve never had that conversation. I don’t see it exclusively, and I don’t want to. Can I continue to see other people until we have actually discussed and come to an agreement on this?

DJ

Simply asking the question indicates that you know the correct answer. Now that you know this woman misunderstands the nature of your commitment to her – even though it isn’t your fault – you owe her the truth.

It can lead to a conversation that will end your time together. (Or maybe not!) But being honest with our intimate partners, even when they draw the wrong conclusion themselves, is essential to maintaining any kind of relationship, exclusive or not. Speak!

An artist friend offered to make a painting for my new house. I don’t like his work, but I wanted to support him, so I accepted. Unfortunately, the abstract painting she gave me looks like something you might find in a generic hotel hallway. I never hung it. But I thought I could really enjoy the paint if I could make some amateur and light modifications to it. Would that be OK?

FRIEND

Technically, the painting is your property to do as you see fit, and you are free to modify it. It would be an act of disloyalty to your friend, however, who gave you his work of art as a sign of sincere friendship.

Taste is a personal matter; respect for our friends is not. Here I see no reason to offer a review of her painting or degrade it, which you know would probably hurt her. Just thank her for her gift, then put it away, give it away, or gift it to a friend – as is.


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