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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. I have an aunt (married to my dad’s brother) with whom I have been fairly close over the past 18 years. I don’t have any siblings, and our family is very small, so even though she is 16 years older than me, we have been very close.

We are drastically different in most ways — she dropped out of high school, I have two master’s degrees; she is a Republican, I am very liberal; I work outside the home, she doesn’t — and we both have strong opinions. We also have children who are the same age, and that has helped us keep our connection.

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When we disagree, she will stop talking to me for months at a time (she won’t take or return my calls, etc.). She either won’t talk about what happened, or if she does, it is through yelling and being obstinate. Several times I have decided that I am done dealing with her, but eventually we get along again, and our families spend time together several times a year.

At the last two functions at our home, she has tried to start arguments with me in front of other people. I think this is rude and inappropriate, and I honestly wonder if there is something wrong with her.

I cannot invite my own mother to family functions because she thinks she is being entertaining by cutting me down in front of others, and I feel my aunt is quickly making her way into this category as well. What would you do?

A. You can control this to some extent by anticipating that this woman will attempt to bait you. And you can determine that you will not play this particular game, because if someone throws an argument and no one shows up, then the perpetrator is left more or less stewing in her own juice.

Something might be wrong with this aunt. She might have an illness, become argumentative when she drinks, or might have decided that she really doesn’t like the cut of your jib.

You are already excluding your own mother from family functions, but I suggest you explore ways to cope with your aunt’s behavior — a combination of ignoring and deflection might work — or you could mentally (or physically) leave the room.

Q. Can you help me with an appropriate, polite response to how I am sometimes addressed by others?

I am married and took my husband’s last name. However, my pet peeve is that I don’t want to be addressed as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.”

I know that many people (especially the older generation) feel this is proper etiquette. I feel that not including my first name is disrespectful and takes away my identity.

I understand it is not intended to be disrespectful (by most people), so how can I respectfully relay my feelings?

A. It’s not that people “feel” this manner of address is “proper etiquette,” it is proper etiquette to be formally addressed (on paper) as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.”

However, do you care about formal etiquette in this particular context? Yeah, me neither. But all the same you must know that this formal politeness is intended as the very opposite of disrespect, and so you do not have permission to take offense.

If you are dealing with this issue in terms of an in-person introduction, you can interject to say, “Oh please, call me ‘Tracy.’ ”

You can address your own mail as “Tracy Smith” to remind people that you do have a first name and ask people to include it in their address books.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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