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MISS CONDUCT

Advice: The people we bought our house from are moving nearby, but we don’t want to be friends

Plus, what to do when family and friends are rude in an ongoing group chat.

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We bought our house in 2008 from a couple who were nice but quite neurotic during the process. We found out they’re moving back to the neighborhood, and can totally picture them coming to our door asking to “visit” their old house, something we are not comfortable with (even post-vaccination). How do we politely yet firmly decline, knowing we will undoubtedly run into them in the future? We want to be friendly, but we don’t want to be friends.

B.N. / Brewster

Goodness, these folks must have really spooked you somehow! I want to honor that gut reaction—but do keep in mind that no one is their most rational and charming self during a real estate transaction. The nerves, they get racked.

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You of course have the right to decide who enters your home. Saying “No, we keep to ourselves, that won’t work for us. But welcome to the neighborhood!” is a perfectly polite way to refuse the dreaded request. But notice how hollow that “welcome to the neighborhood” sounds! You can refuse your once and future neighbors correctly (in terms of both ethics and etiquette), but not in a friendly way.

The friendly-but-not-friends approach would be to let them see the house at a time convenient to you. Don’t invite them to sit or offer refreshments. Take them around the place, highlight a few points of interest, and shepherd them out the door in 30 minutes or less. Then cheerfully decline any further invitations or requests that come your way.


My husband’s family has a message group. If I post about my kids, say, winning a state tournament, I often get a snarky comment from my niece. My sister- and brother-in-law ignore it and post about their kids or their meals, and the thread is off on a completely different tangent. I find this rude and dismissive. Should I bite my tongue or fight fire with fire and post about my vaccine in the middle of a birthday thread?

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M.D. / Hingham

Oh, dear, read the (chat) room! What you see as a kid update, your niece is taking as invidious comparison. Slow your roll. Share your wholesome parental boasts with other people or through other channels than the message group. And maybe let the messages scroll by without you for a while, if the participants are getting under your skin. Don’t think of the chat as a constant obligation, but as an open house that you can drop in and out of as you please. (And as far as your “fire” is concerned, group texts are famous for manic digression and tangents—in the ones I’m in, no one would think twice about a vaccine comment in a birthday thread.)

You’re not the only group chat in a state of disintegration right now, if that helps! Everyone is tired and touchy and prone to miscommunication and misinterpretation. Take breaks when you need them, interpret other people’s intentions as generously as you can, and ask for the support or clarification you need: “I’m excited about this—be happy with me!” or “That comment sounds angry, am I reading you right?”


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