A: You've got a good start right here. As old-fashioned as it is, letters seems like an effective way to do this. They are somewhat formal, not easily forwarded, and relieve you from getting tongue-tied. I doubt your friendship with the woman who tried to help you can be repaired, but you should apologize to her nonetheless and restore her reputation with your other friends. The tone you strike here is one you should maintain in your letters—you are not defending or excusing yourself, you are outlining the circumstances and taking responsibility for your own poor behavior. It is good you can close the letter with an update about the improvements in your life. Say you'd be happy to discuss any of this (include your email and phone number). Whatever the result is, getting these letters out will be a huge burden lifted.
Q. I Spy: Best Friend's Ex With a Random Woman: Last night my wife and I were at dinner when we saw her best friend's ex-husband canoodling with an obviously much younger woman. The other couple didn't see us, but my wife took a few phone photos of them to send to her best friend. Her best friend and the ex-husband are still good friends because they have kids together, and according to my wife the ex-husband hasn't mentioned he's dating. I think it's intrusive to send the photos or tell my wife's best friend about her ex-husband's date. My wife thinks it would be a semi-betrayal to not tell and, if the positions were reversed, would want to know if I was dating. What's the right thing to do?
A: George Orwell imagined a future state in which all of us would be watched by a ubiquitous Big Brother (these states do exist—think of North Korea). But he didn't conceive of a world of Little Brothers, of technology that would make it possible for our every encounter to be recorded and disseminated. Your wife was way out of line. This guy is divorced and entitled to go on a date and even canoodle without it being physically documented. That doesn't mean your wife is barred from gossiping. Calling her friend the next day and saying she ran into her ex having dinner is fine. But I doubt your wife's friend even really wanted to see her ex nibbling on a luscious dessert.
Q. Canceled Adoption Equals Drama: A year ago my wife and I were prepared to adopt a baby from a teenage mother whose medical and living expenses we were paying. The mother had the baby, and we got to take our daughter home. The mother changed her mind after a few days, and my wife and I were forced to relinquish our child. The past year has been a real struggle. We ultimately decided not to seek repayment for the expenses we covered for the mother, because that would have been a complicated mess. Last week on the baby's birthday we received a detailed letter and many pictures of the baby from the mother. She thanked us so much for being so kind and forgiving towards her and proceeded to tell us about the (OUR!) baby and how happy they are as a family. The letter sent my wife into a deep depression and, inexplicably, enraged me. I have struggled not to be so angry with the mother in the past, but now I feel like she's rubbing our noses in happiness that could have been ours. I want to respond to this letter, but I'm afraid I might lose control. How should my wife and I respond to the mother's letter?
A: Neither of your responses are inexplicable. You should have been the ones writing the letter to the biological mother telling her how happy she made you by allowing you to be parents. What happened to you was devastating, and you behaved with admirable restraint—swallowing the cost of this pregnancy must have been bitter indeed. I feel certain that the mother is not out to hurt you. She thinks she is making amends. But of course her joy scalds. During this painful year you have been magnanimous, not vindictive, toward this young woman, so hard as it is, continue on that path. Write a very short note—one or two lines—saying you are glad to hear all is well and that her baby is beautiful. If she doesn't get the implicit message and writes again, tell her further updates are painful and unnecessary.
Q. Cousin's on-the-Job Clothes: I helped arrange for my cousin to get an interview for an unpaid internship in my office—it's an informal program where we bring on a few, if any, interns each summer. I told her I would keep out of the decision process. We planned for her to stop by after the interview so we could get lunch. When she walked into my office, I nearly fell out of my chair. She looked like she was interviewing for a position at a strip club. Her heels were at least five inches tall, her skirt was skin tight and so short, and she was wearing a camisole under her suit coat where you could see her (bright green) bra strap at certain angles. I didn't say anything—I didn't know WHAT to say—but I think I owe it to her to say something. I just don't know what to say that won't sound sexist and unfair. She's a junior in college with excellent transcripts, but I suspect strongly that she will not be getting this internship or any other one where the hiring decision maker isn't a deviant. What should I say?
A: I wonder if this is the Kardashian Effect and many young women feel they're auditioning for a reality show about their lives. Given your concern about sexism, I'm assuming you're male. But there's nothing sexist about telling a younger cousin that she's dressed inappropriately for work. (Or for every profession except one.) Tell her that you're out of the hiring process, but she needs to radically revise her wardrobe because she's going to make an impression, but not the kind she's seeking.
Q. Comment on Gender Neutral Sweater: If the knitting woman is willing, she might ask the gender-neutral parents if they'd prefer another, gender-neutral sweater, in a color such as yellow, perhaps. Then, it becomes a win-win: another knitting project, and no awkward encounters with the grandmother.
A: Ah, no. They're parents now and they've got to learn that rewarding bad behavior only gets more. When you've made a lovely gift and had it thrown back at you, you simply strike the recipients off your list.