Need advice dealing with a difficult situation? Send your questions to Miss Conduct.
Neither I nor my husband can drink alcohol anymore for medical reasons. We are not uncomfortable being with people who are drinking moderately, socially. When we entertain at our home, I am inclined to offer drinks to my friends as always, but does that put them in an uncomfortable position by treating them differently? Calling out the situation preemptively also feels like it would put pressure on them to decline, which is truly not necessary.
J.H. / Malden
Your timing is good! Over the past couple of years there’s been an increasing trend of folks becoming “sober-curious” — quitting drinking without, you know, Quitting Drinking. It sounds like this is the camp you’re in or adjacent to, that you haven’t done and aren’t planning on doing a big “We don’t drink anymore and here’s the new paradigm” talk with your friends. That being the case, play it organically. It’s not awkward or odd for a host to offer alcohol but abstain. It looms large to you because it’s a habit change, but if you weren’t drinking for a night because of antibiotics or an early meeting the next day, you probably wouldn’t think anything of it.
Make the offer, and if they say “Whatever you’re having” tell them you’re not. Some people won’t care; others might prefer not to drink if their hosts aren’t, and that’s OK.
I’m an American woman who moved to Denmark nearly 50 years ago because I had fallen in love with a Danish woman. We were together for four years and she had a son, 5 when we met, who lived with us half time. She died a year ago of cancer. I’m traveling to Denmark this summer and plan to reconnect with the son and offer my condolences. He didn’t know we were lovers and his mom hadn’t wanted him to. If he asks what my relationship with his mother was, can I tell him? What loyalty do I owe to his mother’s wishes, and what do I owe to the truth now that she’s gone?
D.L. / Arlington
If the secret you were asked to keep didn’t involve you, I would see more of a dilemma of truth versus the desires of the deceased. But it does involve you, and no one has the right to ask you to lie about your own experiences. This is a point that goes well beyond your situation: If a person doesn’t want anyone else to know what they did to or with you, they shouldn’t have done it.
There’s also a very good chance that this 55-year-old man figured out a thing or two about his mother in the decades following your relationship. And if he didn’t . . . for many of us, part of mourning our parents is figuring out their stories, making sense of things in retrospect. Don’t deny him that. And don’t go into this conversation with a script in your mind for how it’s going to play out, which is a natural temptation for something like this. Listen and respond in the moment.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.