> A friend just got engaged and asked me to be her bridesmaid. The fellow seems nice enough, but they have only dated five months. She has historically been sensitive about her lack of relationship experience and tends to low self-esteem. Should I do some gentle probing and give her space to express uncertainties if she has them?
J.Z. / Riverdale, Maryland
The Paternalistic Bridesmaid — isn’t that a Margaret Atwood novel? Maybe not.
People with low self-esteem, and not a lot of notches on their bedpost, get to have whirlwind courtships, too. Maybe Mr. “Nice Enough” to you is Mr. Yowza to her. No one ever knows what is really going on inside the mind and marriage of another.
This doesn’t mean you don’t start a few conversations. “Are you nervous?” “So tell me about him!” But you seem a bit too certain that your friend is uncertain. Don’t give that impression. The way we behave toward our partnered friends should allow them to feel comfortable enough to confide in us should they need to. This means not acting invested in a particular view of their relationships. Who wants to confess uncertainties or a sweetheart’s failings to a friend who will crow in vindicated delight — or be distraught that her image of a perfect couple has been tarnished?
So talk, but don’t lead the witness. And talk to your friend out of friendship, not bridesmaidenly duty. It’s not a bridesmaid’s job to vet the groom, only to act the part assigned to her with as much grace and enthusiasm as possible.
> My daughter is a full-time mom of preschoolers. In the understandable busy-ness of raising little ones, she stopped writing thank you notes or acknowledging gifts from family and friends. On occasion, I have followed up on requests from people wondering if she received gifts, but I don’t want my daughter to feel like I’m her “manners police.” Should I broach this subject with her?
B.L. / Beverly
Your daughter’s decision — her inconsiderate, shortsighted, self-centered decision — is her own business, and you shouldn’t have to play middlemom. People will understand if you say, “I’m sure she did get your gift, but can you call her yourself? It’s awkward if Mom asks. You know how that goes.”
Everyone really does know how the parent-and-adult-child thing goes, so this excuse ought to work. And over time, the problem might solve itself. People have been known to stop giving gifts entirely when they are never even acknowledged.
Miss Conduct does not approve of such behavior — giving should be its own reward — but she understands it. What she does not understand is the awesome self-centeredness of deciding that one’s children are an excuse for treating other people badly. If not to model what family life should look like for your children, what is the point of choosing to be a stay-at-home mom? (This is the proper term. All mothers, wherever they spend their days, are full-time mothers.)
What lessons your grandchildren are absorbing: that other people can spend their time and money doing nice things for you, and if you say you are “busy” enough, you can take their bounty and ignore them entirely.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at email@example.com. And read her blog at boston.com/missconduct.