Q. Re: Petophile: I love it. That sounds exactly like my husband. It's our dog, we got it when we moved in together, but I'm the one who picked him out. I swear the greatest gift I ever gave my husband was the ability to meet this dog. We have a daughter and we often joke that no one would know we have a kid by the way we fawn over this little guy.
A: But I don't want to get a letter from your daughter saying "My parents love the dog more than they love me!" Of course, if I did get that letter I'd worry it was written by my daughter. And I would tell her I'd have more pictures of her in my phone if she would just let me take them!
Q. Social Niceties: My sister is very ill, and the hope for meaningful, long-term recovery is questionable at best. The past few days, in particular, have been rough. I know its irrational, but I'm having a hard time responding politely when someone, such as a co-worker or a store clerk, says, "How are you?" or "Have a nice day!" I'm normally a very cheerful person and love to respond enthusiastically to such social niceties, but right now, it is irritating me to no end when someone says such things to me. I know that I am resigned to participate in this mass cultural ritual, so I'm not even sure what my question to you is. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that would be helpful to me?
A: That clerk or co-worker also may be struggling with something terrible in their personal lives, but for the sake of getting through the day it can help to hold onto the social niceties. You are going through something awful, so don't beat yourself up over not being able to be your usual cheery self. But you don't want to explain this to a clerk, so a simple, "I'm hanging in there," will cover your social obligations. As far as co-workers are concerned, it all depends on how close you are to them and how much you want to talk about. It could be it would be helpful for you to explain to a few people what is going on, and that you just aren't yourself these days. But once the word spreads, you have to be ready for concerned colleagues to ask you how you are doing or express their sorrow at your sister's situation.
Q. Re: Veteran husband: I think there's probably more going on in that family than this letter lets on. The LW's MIL probably favors the one son over the other, and the nonfavored son's wife sees it clearly. Splitting hairs over which of her sons is and is not a veteran sounds suspiciously like there's one standard in that family for the LW's husband, and one for everyone else.
A: I agree it's such a strangely invidious comparison that it's hard to believe this is the sole example. But in any case, the wife should forget about the mother-in-law and honor her husband and all the others who have worn our uniform.
Q. Money Matters: My biological father contacted me some time ago after decades of absence. I sent him a brief bio of my life and some pictures, but otherwise indicated I preferred no contact. He recently responded by apologizing for abandoning me and my mother and explained he was terminally ill. He gave me a large amount of money, saying he wanted to do something to make up for his absence. (I figured it was OK to accept, since I missed out on 15 years’ worth of child support payments.) With the money I managed to purchase a house in an area where I otherwise couldn't have afforded it. Now my friends and relatives are all curious about how I could pay for a nice home in an expensive suburb. A lot of people assume my mother and stepfather, who are well-off, bought it for me. I don't want to get into complicated explanations and it's none of anybody's business. How can I deflect other people's curiosity politely?
Q. I agree it was fine to take the money. It's a lump sum payment that probably doesn't even make up for his deadbeat years. But that is separate from the fact that you don't owe anybody any explanation for your financial dealings. When people start snooping, or have the nerve to ask you how you paid for the house, just smile and say, "I feel so fortunate to have it. So, seen any good movies lately?"
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