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Miss Conduct

Advice: My friend wants me to visit, but her kid is out of control

Plus, how best to navigate lobbies during the pandemic.

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An out-of-town friend wants me to plan a weekend visit, but from pre-pandemic experience, I can’t handle being around her child that long. She lets him wake me in bed at 6:30, declaring “He misses you so much he couldn’t wait!” or scream repeatedly in my face when I am talking to her. Once he threw a toy at me and I said, “You do not throw things at people, it hurts and it’s not nice.” He ran crying to his mother, who replied, “Oh honey, I’m sorry she made you cry!” What’s my post-vaccine excuse?


S.G. / Boston

Say you are refusing to make definite travel plans or even really discuss them right now, because if there are speed bumps in eradicating the virus, you do not want your heart to break. This is what happened to “the optimists” in POW camps, according to the late Admiral James Stockdale: “The ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. . . . And they died of a broken heart.” This is the excuse you’re looking for, and the self-protective strategy you didn’t know you needed. Spring will come, or whatever muddy, allergy-inducing substitute New England offers, and we will eventually beat back this damned pandemic. But don’t make specific plans, not yet.

Once visits are truly possible, oh heavens, a weekend is simply too long, given all you have to catch up with in town! Soon your friend’s son will be in school and she’ll be too busy with his activities to nag you. If I thought a heart-to-heart would improve her parenting, I’d advise it — but we both know that’s a nonstarter, don’t we?



As I was leaving our public library, a woman paused outside. I wondered if I should hold the door for her politely, or let it close to get 6 feet away? Unfortunately, we chose opposite strategies: I went through the door and let it close behind me, while she sprang forward to catch it before it closed. Thus, I felt like a heel and we came in near contact anyway. What’s the etiquette of holding doors during this pandemic?

Anonymous / Melrose

Distance is politeness nowadays, however counterintuitive that may feel. Do your best with hand gestures and forgive yourself and others for the inevitable missed signals. It’s awful, isn’t it? It’s not like Bostonians were great at moving through space in concert to begin with, a theme I’ve been banging on about for years now. Add the requirements of social distancing; periphery-obscuring masks, scarves, and hats; and path-narrowing snowdrifts — oy! A woman cussed me out the other day when I was trying to keep myself and my dog out of her way, and I felt just terrible about it. Let’s remember that we’re all in this together!

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.