Miss Conduct

Advice on friends with allergies

Plus, how to make out checks for wedding gifts.

> A friend of mine says she is allergic to my two cats and refuses to come into my house. She also makes rude comments like “Maybe I’m allergic to you, too” and “Why don’t you shave your cats’ fur along with that fur on your upper lip.” I recently found out that she had dinner at the home of another friend with cats, with no problem. How do I stand up for myself, and how do I confront my friend about her lie?

B.H. / Wrentham

That’s a nasty little short story you have there, B.H., like something by Patricia Highsmith. Let’s take your questions in reverse order.

As we endure ragweed season together, remember this: Never confront people about their allergies. “Thou shalt take others’ claims about their allergies at face value” is an ironclad rule of good 21st-century etiquette. If some inconsistency in a person’s story makes you feel all Sherlock Holmes, you needn’t blurt it out. Even Holmes didn’t do that sort of thing. There are three possibilities for what might be going on.


First, you don’t know how the allergy works. This is probably the most common reason that Person A thinks Person B is Making It All Up. Is Person A an allergist? Well then.

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Second, the other person doesn’t know how the allergy works. Allergies can come and go and often look like other health problems; they are also unpredictable. I know I’m not the only one who sometimes has huge “hay fever” attacks when Boston is buried under 3 feet of snow.

Third, the other person is lying. In which case, why assume the truth is something you’d rather know? If a person would rather claim gluten intolerance than admit she’s dieting or plead pollen suffering rather than reject your invitation to the Sadie Hawkins Hayride, for the love of little white lies, let them.

And this is where you come in. Your friend is probably lying and almost certainly isn’t your friend. Stop inviting her anywhere, let alone to your home, and politely decline her invitations for a while. Learning to stand up for yourself is a long-term project, and the first step is to give yourself some space. Talk to a close friend or two about your difficulties and ask for advice. Read some books — The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense is a good one or Difficult Conversations or my own book, even — anything to get you thinking creatively about social interaction and boundaries. I wish you luck on your journey!

> We are giving a check to our granddaughter for her wedding. Do we make it out to both of them?

K.P. / North Chelmsford


Address the card to both of them and in it express your good wishes for both, and in all other ways treat them equally — but make out the check to your granddaughter alone. And put both her maiden name and her new surname on it, if she’s taking her husband’s name.

This is not about your blood relationship or the role of the wife or anything like that. Banks might be difficult, though, and the simple errand of cashing or depositing a check made out to two can be a niggling annoyance — and a niggling annoyance is certainly the last thing you want to be giving newlyweds.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on October 3 from noon to 1 p.m.