Miss Conduct

Ending a friendship

When a difficult relationship crosses the line. Plus, a rude new breed of wedding invitation.

Lucy Truman

> A friend’s birthday is coming up and I would like to send her an e-mail saying “Happy Birthday.’’ But this lady has a volcano-like temper, and I am not the first person to have been caught in the lava flow. We are members of a larger group, so diplomacy is key. Like real-life volcanoes, what sets her off is a mystery. I want to be cordial but ready with an escape plan.

H.H. / Brockton

Happy birthday (or not!) / Happy birthday (or not!) / Happy birthday, Dear Volcano Lady / May your lava flow hot!

Your willingness to truckle to this viciously irrational woman makes me want to shake you. Snap out of it! You’re actually asking me for a “Happy Birthday” exit strategy, like it’s a high-risk humanitarian intervention? Do you realize that’s insane?

Put a lid on the rationalizations. I don’t want to hear about what a wonderful and generous person Ms. Volcano can be on her good days or how much shared history you have or how you need a kidney and she likes to ride her motorcycle without a helmet and, hey, a guy can hope. She’s an emotional terrorist and she’s dismantling your grip on reality. Not wanting to tell your boss about the bad quarterly sales figures after he’s already been stuck in construction traffic for an hour is normal. Being afraid to wish someone a happy birthday — dreading not only her direct rage but also her possible harm to your relationships with other people — is not.


If you cannot disentangle yourself from Ms. Volcano — and by that I mean if you are employed with or related to her — find some resources for coping with difficult people. I can’t diagnose Ms. Volcano  via e-mail, but the book Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder may be helpful. The book’s Amazon page asks: “Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or lied to? Are you the focus of intense, violent, and irrational rages? Do you feel you are ‘walking on eggshells’ to avoid the next confrontation?” Well, are ya, punk?

> My niece is getting married soon. I have found out that some married couples have received an invitation addressed to one of them only, with “1” written in by the bride under “Number of guests.” When speaking to her, she exclaimed that if they don’t want to come they can simply decline. I know things have changed since I got married, but have they really changed that much?

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R.J. / Boston

No. It never has been and it never will be correct practice to celebrate one’s nuptials by requiring guests to leave their own beloved spouses at home. It’s cheap, tacky, and weird, and I give you full blessing to revel in the fact that Miss Conduct said so, as long as you keep tactfully closelipped about it at the event itself.

Your niece has made a serious faux pas, but there’s no point you compounding it by bad-mouthing her at her own wedding. If anyone does ask your opinion of the Draconian guest policy, or anything else you disapprove of, say, “It wouldn’t be my choice, but everyone gets to have their own wedding,” which is a sugar pill of a sentence that commits you to nothing.

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

NEED ADVICE ON COPING WITH NASTY PEOPLE?Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams on Wednesday, July 3, from noon to 1 p.m.