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My sister-in-law asked to stay overnight to “break up the long drive” on an upcoming trip. I feel this is unreasonable and inconsiderate because of COVID. I still have hurt feelings over trips when we did not see her because of her tight agenda. She is not financially without means. She asked with 10 days’ notice although the trip has been planned for months. My husband doesn’t like to say no to family, and I always end up being “the bad guy.”

Anonymous / Boston

I’m not entirely sure what your question is? I can certainly tell you that playing the “no-because-COVID” card is well within bounds. We’re all allowed to say no to things because we are uncomfortable, or even because we’re just too doggone exhausted to do yet another risk assessment right now.


Of course, you’re only too exhausted to do that risk assessment for your sister-in-law, which I suspect is the kernel of the question you didn’t quite ask. If it were your best friend from high school whom you haven’t seen in 10 years, you would be motivated to look up the most recent transmission rates and studies and recommendations and workarounds. You might still say no, but you’d put in that effort because you’d want to say yes. You don’t want to say yes to your sister-in-law because you don’t much like her, or so it appears.

Sit with that dislike a minute. Get comfortable with it. Let go of whatever guilt the idea of not liking someone, not liking family, entails. It’s not the worst thing to dislike someone. You can still have compassion for her, make pleasant conversation, acknowledge her admirable qualities, get along in group settings, and support her relationship with your husband. It can be paradoxically easier to do those things once you admit that you don’t like someone, because you stop wasting energy arguing with yourself.


Say no-because-COVID this time, and in the future, try to do less emotional labor around your in-laws, and expect less from them in return. Your sister-in-law’s past behavior was hurtful by friendship standards, so what if you stopped trying to be friends? It’s not clear what your husband wants besides not wanting to say no, which isn’t the same thing as wanting to say yes — you’re the best judge of whether a conversation is in order.

When a friend and I shared a meal, she was offended by my request to remove a shopping bag from the table. She often blows her nose and fixes her hair at the table. I’m appalled. What do you think?

Anonymous / Boston

Stop going to restaurants together. Her habits are automatic and it’s only going to make both of you progressively jumpier. The adaptive function of disgust is to drive humans to avoid contaminants and germs — but not so powerfully that we’re revolted by our own sticky little offspring. It’s a patchwork system in all of us, so when you’re addressing unhygienic behavior, try not to shame people for not having the same “ew” factors that you do.

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