Dear Carolyn: I recently became fed up with a family member’s habit of making rude comments about others, generally about appearance. I decided to confront her about it via email. I was very careful to stay only on that subject and not attack her (a la, “I don’t like your hair either!”). It basically said, “You were rude. This is a pattern. Maybe you should think about trying to change this.”
Her response was to become defensive and go on the attack, via email. I wrote back that she was right about some things, but this was about her and the hurtful things she says to people. I haven’t heard anything since and I’m not sure how to proceed. This is a family member who I also consider a close friend.
A: Call her, apologize for hiding behind email, and learn from this.
Your message and motives might have been straight from the angels, but when you chose to scold her at electronic-arm’s length, you ceded the high ground in one stroke.
And, you did attack her. How would you like to open that same email from a “close friend”?
The best way to speak up was in person and right when you witnessed any rudeness. “Hey, why so rough on Auntie Em?” Next best (for next time): in person, and what’s-up? curious vs. stop-that! accusatory.
Whether to accept any peace overtures is up to her, but you need to make them, now. “I thought I was helping, but obviously wasn’t. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Appearances can deceive
Dear Carolyn: I have an acquaintance who has gone through a major health crisis in the last year – we didn’t know if he was going to make it. But he bounced back like a miracle. I am truly happy for him.
Only one problem: Whenever he sees me, he now goes into a barrage of comments about how lucky I am, in a way that feels hostile. I am totally sympathetic and can honestly deal with it if he just goes on about how hard life is – we’ve all been there. But he always adds this twist: “Oh, I hate you guys at your company, you guys get paid so much money!” Or, “Don’t complain!” Believe me, I never complain about my life to him.
What he does not know is that I have a potentially fatal health condition that’s not obvious from outside. I live with pain and fatigue every day – and I’m barely holding on to my job because I can’t do as much as most employees, and fighting depression.
In short, my life is far from this lucky one he has decided I have. I have no desire to share my health condition with him, but would like him to stop these comments. Any advice?
– You Have No Idea
A: You can’t make childish, bitter and/or entitled people into mindful ones with the flick of a well-chosen phrase. A brush with death is no guarantee, either, apparently.
You can make your case to your own satisfaction, though. “You’re assuming a lot,” “Appearances can deceive” and “I wish it were that simple!” – with follow-up questions brushed off – are not only pointed, they’re true. He is, they can and you do.
State your needs
Dear Carolyn: Recently I was asked to be the maid of honor in a wedding. The bride sent me potential bridesmaid dresses on the day of my birthday and forgot about my birthday. In this day and age of social media she would have seen other people wishing me happy birthday, and so totally forgot. Am I right to be a bit upset?
A: Sure, if you’re 8. Otherwise you’d be right to recognize her as a friend who obviously thinks a lot of you, and brush this off as her missing a beat, as I’m sure you do with her sometimes. There’s also: “Dresses?! On my birthday! You shouldn’t have.” State your needs, don’t test people on them.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.