Miss Conduct

An introvert’s dilemma

Finding quiet time despite a chatty sister. Plus, negotiating with future in-laws about the wedding.

Lucy Truman

Reading is one of my foremost pleasures, and it has always been my understanding that one does not interrupt another’s reading to talk socially. My younger sister (we are both in college) does not comprehend this. She’s not an introvert like I am, so it’s hard for her to comply. I have tried to explain that social interactions drain me and that I need time to recuperate. How can I make my sister understand this without inducing her sulk mode?

M.M. / Boston

You are conflating two separate arguments: one, that it is universally considered rude to talk at a person who is reading; two, that you personally would prefer to be left alone to your literary pursuits. You need to drop the first argument, as it’s on somewhat shaky ground and anyway isn’t having the desired effect. Your sister undoubtedly feels she is being very patient with your odd priorities that put books ahead of human interaction. You can’t persuade someone that they’re being rude when they secretly think you are.

Sometime when you are both enjoying each other’s company, take the opportunity to apologize and to walk back any should- or ought-based conversations you’ve had on the topic of talking at readers. That may make her far more willing to acknowledge your needs, whether she shares them or not. It’s likely, life being the funny old thing that it is, that one or both of you will marry your temperamental opposites, so you may as well take this opportunity to learn from each other. That’s probably more the sort of argument that will win over your sister.


And if it doesn’t, c’est la vie. Take comfort in the fact that an introvert can stay immersed in a book for much longer than an extrovert can stay immersed in a sulk.

I recently got engaged! My future in-laws are paying for part of the wedding, which is wonderful . . . I think. They are very conservative, frowning upon alcohol consumption, not to mention our living together prior to the wedding. What would you recommend I do as far as including (or not) my future in-laws in planning? I have a rocky relationship with them, and I am trying to avoid WWIII.

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C.M. / Medway


You almost certainly won’t do that, I know, but you must realize it’s an option. Taking a weekend getaway — or a lunchtime jaunt to the courthouse — gets you just as married as a lavish ceremony that incurs debts both public and private. Yes, your intended’s parents would be angry. But they’re already a little angry, and there will almost certainly be things in your wedding that will make them even angrier. You could pull that bandage off in one clean jerk.

If you want a wedding ceremony, figure out your top priorities. Spiritual meaning? A good time for friends? A family reunion? Allocate your resources and creativity — and choose your battles — accordingly.


If your in-laws insist on contributing, ask them to sponsor a particular event or item (for example, the reception catering or the flowers) rather than donating unallocated funds. That enables you to retain control over the other aspects. The most important thing is for you and your intended to maintain a united front and make it clear that your main priority in life now is pleasing each other, not your parents.

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

NEED ADVICE ON DEALING WITH A RELATIVE? Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday, October 16 from noon to 1 p.m.