Early next year, I will be a bridesmaid for a close college friend's wedding. As the date moves closer, the bride is acting in uncharacteristic ways that are beginning to hurt her friendships. Two other close college friends are in the party, both of whom have become pregnant since agreeing to participate. On the wedding date, one will have a month-old infant and one will be seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Both were honest with the bride early on that they were trying to get pregnant, and in both cases she did not hesitate to express her extreme unhappiness about the situation. Each has offered to not participate or to serve in a less central role, which was met with an even unhappier response. The bride's demands, which include not wanting them to wear maternity dresses or have the baby in the room where we're getting ready, are becoming more irrational and the other bridesmaids are becoming increasingly unhappy with her. I am slightly more protected, living far away, but there have been some significant financial requests beyond what I've encountered in the past as a bridesmaid. Is there a way to kindly steer her back to the land of reason without giving the impression that we don't understand the importance of this day for her?
How thoughtless of the other bridesmaids not to take a vow of celibacy during the year plus of planning for the wedding. Now that they have been so derelict in their duties, they must consider how to make amends. The one who will have the baby at the time of the wedding should consider giving it up for adoption so she won't be distracted by having to nurse the child. The seven-and-a-half months pregnant bridesmaid should have a premature, induced delivery. This will allow her to wear a regular bridesmaid's dress and leave the infant behind in the ICU. As for you, why don't you just give your friend your bank account PIN so she can access your funds without having to bother you with specific requests for money. Alternatively, the three of you could get together, agree to have one of you act as a spokesmaid, and explain to the bride that she's planning a wedding day, not D-Day. Unless she is able to get a grip on her obstetric and financial demands, all of you will have to decline the honor of serving as her attendants.
My family just moved in to a lovely townhouse and we have a lovely next-door neighbor. She is a mature, genteel lady who lives by herself and by most measures presents herself as the ideal neighbor: She sends over cookies when she's baking, collects newspapers when we are away for the weekend, offers to cat-sit, and so on. We have thanked her with cards and small gifts. This would be a rosy story of communal bliss but for one thing—our lovely neighbor, who is white, constantly makes reference to our race (black) in subtle or not-so-subtle ways: "The last owner lived here with a big black guy. He was nice, but they weren't married," she said once to my husband. "I really admire Colin Powell. I have his book, but I hadn't read it, but now …," she said on another occasion. "I heard that Tiger Woods won the British Open today, what do you think about that?" she asked my 8-year-old son. He just smiled quizzically and nodded. My child will have to smile and nod enough in his life because of the ignorance of people who ought to know better, or people who do know better but don't behave well. Certainly, this woman's conversational repertoire is fairly innocuous, but I am tired of her racial references. Do I withdraw from an obviously lonely but sweet woman, or try to teach an old, well, you know …
I checked in with Karen Grigsby Bates, co-author of The New Basic Black, an etiquette guide for African-Americans, about this. She says that while recognizing how far this elderly woman has probably come in her life in regard to race, instead of withdrawing from her, help her come a little further. By constantly mentioning prominent blacks, she is trying to demonstrate how enlightened she is and that she considers you to be special black people, too. Grigsby Bates says one day, when your son is not home, invite your neighbor over for tea. Let her know how much your family appreciates having her next door and how grateful you are for all her help. But tell her there's something that's been making you uncomfortable, and you're sure she can address it. Explain that you would appreciate it if she kept references to race out of the conversation unless they're totally germane. Say that you know she is pointing out positive examples of black people to show she's not prejudiced, but bringing this up so frequently has the opposite effect. Then reiterate how lucky you feel to have her for a neighbor.
Internet dating is very popular these days and of course works well if you are honest in communicating with the person on the other end. I have a walking disability, but for the most part am very mobile. I play basketball, I swim, ride a bike, etc. Since my handicap is not visible to the women I talk to on the Internet, how would you recommend I bring it up? Tell them beforehand, or just wait until we meet?
—A Distinctive Walk
This shouldn't matter—and to the right woman, it won't. But since most women you'll meet online, or anywhere else, are the wrong woman, save your time by weeding them out early. At some point in your exchanges, after you've established you both seem interested in each other, mention your disability. It could come up when you talk about your enjoyment of sports ("I'm on a basketball league. I have a slight limp from [whatever the cause], but fortunately it doesn't keep me from playing.") If that causes her to disappear, good riddance.
My longtime boyfriend came back from a business trip in Asia, and afterward was inexplicably out of sorts. Finally, he confessed that he had cheated on me with a prostitute one night when he'd gone to a nightclub with two male co-workers. Prudie, I know my boyfriend, and I would never have imagined he would be the type of guy who would do such a thing. We have a very close, loving, and honest relationship, and I know he has never done anything like this before. What makes things more confusing is that while he was away, my mom spilled the beans that right before he left, he visited her to ask permission to propose to me. He had even purchased a ring. My mom said they were both so happy they cried. I wasn't surprised to hear about my boyfriend's impending proposal, because we had been talking about marriage for a while now that we have finished our graduate schooling and gotten jobs. How could he do such a thing to me, especially when we were on the verge of starting a bright new life together? My boyfriend is extremely remorseful, telling me that he is shocked as well at his own behavior and has never felt so low in his life. While a younger version of myself could have said, "See ya," without flinching, I realize now that it's not so easy. I still love him with all my heart and believe he is a good man. Should I stay and work things out, or leave these damaged goods behind?
Did he use a condom? Even if he did, he should get screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Assuming he didn't bring any new microbes into your relationship, he did introduce doubt. However, his brief encounter with a poor, nameless woman should not be a threat to your future. He slipped, and felt sick enough about it to confess to you what he certainly could have gotten away with. His shame is so thoroughgoing that it sounds like he will be the most faithful and devoted of husbands. To atone, he should make a contribution to an organization that fights international sexual exploitation—International Justice Mission is one. Then you and he should get on with that bright, new life together.