Emily Yoffe: You're not going to get her into counseling, and you don't need counseling to be able to deal with an annual outburst from your M-I-L. When she goes off, just say, "Barbara, I don't care to be spoken to like this, so we'll get together when you've calmed down." Then leave! That way she won't have an opportunity to make fun of you for not being able to take it. Do the same thing if she goes off on the kids. You can explain to the children later that sometimes grown-ups act in ways that just aren't right, but it only happens occasionally, and you know she loves them.
The Suburbs: I live in a family-friendly neighborhood with probably 15 tweeners in a half-block radius of my house. Great kids, very nice to my 3-year-old. My side yard is the largest open area around and has become the site of neighborhood football games. I work from home and the 2-3 hours of incessant afternoon screaming drives me crazy and is so exciting for my kid that she won't nap. I have asked them a few times to go elsewhere during nap time but they just move 20 feet away into the street and are back on the lawn in an hour. I don't want to become the neighborhood crank and would like my house to remain eggless. I've considered planting trees (a fence is too expensive). Is that too passive aggressive? Will escalating this to the parents create more problems/not actually fix anything anyway? I'm counting the minutes till sundown every night, hoping for the first snowfall to come early, and considering buying each of these kids an Xbox!
Emily Yoffe: Your neighborhood sounds like an old-fashioned ideal in many ways. However, just because you have a big yard doesn't mean that you have to accept the wear and tear on your concentration, your child's nap, or your turf. Call a couple of the players parents and say that you adore their kids, but explain your situation and say you need the game to find a new venue. You can even offer to host a playoff over a given weekend—which your daughter would adore. But simply asking for your property to be respected shouldn't result in it covered with eggs.
Bethesda, Md.: My boss, who is a professionally powerful and capable woman, is constantly deprecating herself in ways that make everyone feel uncomfortable and awkward (e.g. complaining she's too fat, in a bad marriage, a poor mother etc). I know that it makes subordinates unsure how to respond and gives her mostly male peers a reason to marginalize her (which seems to be exactly what she fears most). Any ideas on how to deal with her?
Emily Yoffe: If you have a good and open relationship with the boss, the next time you hear her make one of these remarks you could go to her later privately and bring it up. Say that she is a great person to work for, and a wonderful role model of what a powerful and capable woman is, so you hate to hear her put herself down in front of people. Say she may not even be aware she does it, but while it's humanizing to hear her foibles, too much of it is also undermining, and people—especially men—don't know how to respond. As with the letter writer with the bisexual, cross-dressing friend, sure it's always easier to say nothing. But in this case, it sounds as if a positively worded conversation could benefit everyone.
Chicago: My department is closing down and a lot of my coworkers are leaving the company. As a result, we are having a lot farewell parties for our departing employees. My job has a lot cliques and oftentimes, the person organizing the party purposely excludes certain staff from the engagement, which causes a lot of tension around the office. I am caught in between feigning I did not know anything about the party, but I feel guilty about lying since I know their feelings were hurt. Is this appropriate for our departing staff to exclude others? If so, what comforting words can I say to the others that were not invited?
Emily Yoffe: If the farewell is an office sponsored event then obviously everyone in the department or other appropriate unit should be invited. And since your department is shutting down, it seemed appropriate for the company to have one event for all of those who are leaving. But if it is a private farewell at someone's home, then it is nice to make the invitation as broad as possible, but the party takes on a different tenor. If you're asked about one of these events there's no need to lie—just say it was a bittersweet event with a small group.
Bethesda, Md.: I've been with my boyfriend for about six months now and we're considering having sex for the first time. (We're only 17.) The thing is, I'm a virgin and I'm really, really nervous about it. Is that just normal or is it a sign that I'm not ready to have sex? He's a great guy and I know he'll understand either way, but I don't want to let him down.
Emily Yoffe: It's normal, and it also could be a sign that you're not ready for sex. I think it's the latter because you give the reason for deciding to go ahead as, "Not wanting to let him down." The reason for going ahead is that you are sure it's the right thing for you. Plus you've only been with him for six months—not that long to make such a momentous decision. Since you say he's a great guy who'll understand either way, put that to the test and tell him you're too young and not ready.
D.C.: I am a single woman in my late 30s. I'm attractive and extroverted and hate the dreaded question: "Oh, how on earth can someone like you be single?" The people that ask would hate my answer: Because I look at all of my married friends and secretly thank god every day that I don't have their lives. Not one of them has the marriage I would want. I would MUCH rather be single than be with someone that I am not head over heels in love with. I don't want kids, so there's no biological clock complicating matters. It's always my married friends that act mystified by my single status. I've been biting my tongue, but there's one woman that just won't let it go, like there's something wrong with me for not asking to be set up with all of her husband's friends. I'm tempted to tell her the truth—her husband is a distant jerk that has no time for her or the kids, all of his friends are overgrown 40-year old frat boys looking for a porn star to marry and clean house, and I love going home and not having to answer to anyone. I date plenty, but I choose to keep it casual (generally with much younger men). I will continue to keep my thoughts to myself, but is it so terribly wrong to enjoy being single? My single friends seem so miserable that I'm starting to think I am the weird one.
Emily Yoffe: There doesn't seem to be any reason to inform your friends about what immature drips they're married to in order to get across you're happy with your life and you don't need their help. Tell them definitively, and succinctly, your situation is perfect for you and you want to close the dating bureau once and for all.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. I wish you a week of compatible sex drives and well-mannered mothers-in-law.