When Pals Bash Their Spouses, Should You Speak Up?


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Christoph Niemann

My husband and I have two sets of longtime-couple friends whom we often see as a group. Recently, the wives (with little or no provocation) have taken to being sharp and nasty with their husbands. We are shocked by this because the offending remarks by the husbands are things that would usually cause us to laugh at each other’s foibles. The husbands seem embarrassed. I try to interject a new line of conversation. Should we continue to ignore this, or should I speak to the wives privately about how poorly their behavior reflects on them?

DEBORAH, ATLANTA

In fairness, a foible observed across a dinner table once or twice a month is of a different species entirely than one shoved in our face several times a day by an offending spouse. Every longtime partnership (except yours, apparently) comes with periods during which our beloved bugs the internal organs out of us. It’s as inevitable as extended periods of vine-swinging by Alexander Skarsgard in the new “Tarzan” movie. The problem here is that two annoyed spouses have found kinship with each other.

I don’t think telling the women that their behavior makes them look bad will solve anything. That’s just “shaming” them into silence (to use some trendy nomenclature). Better to spread your sympathy around and identify with this pretty universal problem than place yourself above it. The next time one of the wives delivers a WWE-style smackdown, raise your wineglass and say: “It’s not always easy being married, is it? But here we are, after all these years. To us!”

This may usher in greater awareness about the attacks (without making anyone feel attacked). If that doesn’t work, turn your six-top into a four-top. Separating the women who have made common cause of their husbands’ annoying behavior should also do the trick.

No Kiss for the Cook

I love to bake — cakes, pies, cookies. It soothes me after a hard day at work. But I have no sweet tooth and little interest in eating my handiwork. My girlfriend loves my desserts, but unfortunately, she is trying to lose weight and has begged me to stop pursuing my favorite hobby. Must I accommodate her?

JOHNO, NEW YORK

On an almost totally unrelated note: I have no appetite for reality contest shows: “The Bachelor,” “The Voice,” the whatever. But toss in the manipulative producers of said shows (and Constance Zimmer) — à la “unReal” on Lifetime — and I am hooked. You must watch it.

Now back to your baking pans. You live in a city that is teeming with neighbors and co-workers and homeless shelters. After you take your cakes from the oven, let them cool and pack them up for immediate delivery to one of the foregoing — and watch your popularity soar at home and abroad.

An Unanswered Letter

A friend from high school died in February. We were good friends, and her death hit me very hard. It took me some time to gather my thoughts, but I finally wrote a condolence letter to her sister. I didn’t know her, but I wanted to express my feelings to someone who was close with my friend. It is now four months later, and I have not received any response. Am I out of line in being hurt by this, or should I not expect the sister to respond to someone she doesn’t know?

JIM, NEW YORK

Of course the sister should respond to your letter. But if ever there was an arena for cutting people slack from protocol, here it is: grieving people responding to condolence notes. We all react differently to the deaths of loved ones. The sister may be broken up still, or feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities that came with the death, or amid the haziness of loss, she may have forgotten which letters still need responses.

I have lost both of my parents (I know, very careless — as Oscar Wilde would point out). It took me ages to marshal the strength to respond to all the kind letters I received, and I’m sure I missed a few. That doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate them, though. Remember: You wrote your letter to express your sorrow and comfort the grieving. That was a loving gesture. Try not to turn it into a snub.

Skipping the Silver

I am in my late 20s. A couple of years ago, I attended my first flurry of friends’ weddings. I failed to deliver gifts promptly — or in fact, at all. I was strapped for cash and stretching my budget simply attending these weddings. I feel terrible and would like to give gifts now. But these friends’ registries have long expired. And I know people don’t like receiving unregistered gifts. What should I do?

ANONYMOUS

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Going was better than gifting (though modest gifts would have been A-O.K.). Write a sweet note of apology, telling these pals your cupboard was bare when they wed. And send it with a thoughtful gift. By their second anniversaries, your friends have long since realized they will rarely use that fancy china and silver for which they registered, anyway.

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