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Miss Conduct

Advice on third wheels and forced gifts

Dealing with a friend who invites another person. Plus, retirement party dilemmas.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> I have a good friend whom I meet for dinner, shopping, and the like. She initiates these get-togethers, and then usually brings a friend whom I have never met before. I find this annoying and awkward. Is there any polite way to let her know this drives me absolutely nuts?

A.P. / Lancaster

I hate to say it, both for your sake and because I feel I’m giving away the store, but your friend’s behavior sounds like the kind of thing an advice columnist would tell a letter writer to do if said L.W. had a friend whom she still cared about but had grown apart from over the years. But if your friend is the one proposing the get-togethers, with conversation-heavy activities like dining and shopping, at that, such is presumably not the case. And since she’s always popping up with a new and different friend-accessory, it’s not as though she were hoping to introduce you to someone you might hit it off with, either.

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 So if her plus-one-ing is only a thoughtless habit, interrupt it. The next time Tina Tagalong texts you for a dinner date, ask if it can be just the two of you, and say you have something private to discuss. Don’t concoct anything, obviously, but use the dinner to hash out a work or relationship problem, if you want — or just tell her that the “private discussion” was a bad mood that passed, and enjoy an unusual dinner a deux. See if she brings a friend to the date after that. If she does, mention the next time you plan to get together how nice it was when it had been just the two of you, and can you do it that way again?

> When I retired, office friends asked if I wanted a party. I said no because another friend retired last year and didn’t get one, as such festivities have gone from lavish to nonexistent over the past 30 years. They countered that they would throw a party for me and him both, so I reluctantly agreed. Now I am being asked if I want a gift or cash (to be solicited from the guests). I said neither but was told that was not an option and I must choose. I think my friend chose the gift. Am I wrong to insist on nothing?

S.D. / Merrimac

You are not wrong, and you should be delighted that you’re still grounded enough in basic decency to refuse after 30 years in such a socially dysfunctional environment. Write those anecdotes down now, my friend. You think you’ll remember them, after six months of crosswords and minor home repairs, but by the time you get bored and decide to sit down and start that novel, they’ll be gone.

I can’t blame your friend for requesting the gift. How embarrassing to be asked along as a condition of being allowed to celebrate someone else. It’s as if you’re the headliner and you’re making the promoters book your kid brother’s band as an opening act. I hope his gift is a nice one and that he makes good use of the open bar.

For your part, turn the path of least resistance into the high road. Ask for the money. Then, on your final day, make a small ceremony of donating it back to the office as the “S.D. Retirement Party Scholarship Fund.”

Write a nice thank you note to your colleagues for the party and the years of collegial work. And then, S.D., keep writing.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at missconduct@globe.com. And get advice live on Boston.com on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, from noon to 1 p.m.
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