A dear friend was lambasted in social media by a former in-law. Understandably, this upset her. However, when she told me what had been said, I couldn’t help but agree with some of the criticisms. I didn’t say that to her or anyone else; I was the sympathetic shoulder on which to cry. But when a friend says, “Did you hear what that horrid Imogene said about me?” and we see some truth in what that horrid Imogene has said, how do we respond?
R.D. / Swampscott
We respond, “How ridiculous and immature of Imogene to trash you on Facebook like that!” The Imogene Protocol, as we shall call it, is to roundly condemn Imogene’s method of communication and skate around the substance of Imogene’s accusations. This sounds weaselly, but it really isn’t. Victims of Imogene usually aren’t upset about the actual criticism, but because Imogene involved other people in a personal dispute or criticized something that was none of her business in the first place. So, that’s what you go after. “I know! Like it’s any of her business how other people spend their money!” or “Classy move to air dirty laundry in public! I just don’t know about Imogene.”
If your friend ever stops talking about Imogene and starts talking about herself — as in “Maybe I am too impatient with people/bad about returning favors/a terrible driver” and asks your opinion, you may give it. The odds that she will not, however, are ever in your favor, so don’t go martyring yourself for truth like Katniss Everdeen.
I have a family member who comes by almost on a daily basis, checks to see what I’m cooking, goes through my fridge for snacks, and uses my computer and TV. Now, I grew up to always be a generous host, but I feel very taken advantage of and angry when this individual comes to “visit.” He is in his late 20s, lives rent-free with family, and does little to contribute to the household. My mother says that I should just make an extra plate of food. But I’m strapped for money and, on top of that, I have two young children who keep me extremely busy. Any suggestions?
Anonymous / Boston
Drop the excessive hospitality and the anger that goes along with it. You don’t have to be angry, you simply have to draw boundaries. “Today is not a good day” you say when he calls or shows up (he just shows up, doesn’t he? How do I know this?). When you do decide to let him in, you decide what he has access to and how long he gets to stay. He may be a bit surprised that your house is no longer the magical free charity Starbucks, but he’ll adjust — the nice thing about moochers is they’re wondrously adaptable. But you can’t read him the riot act now for the fact that you’ve been letting him walk all over you for the past six months. That’s like punishing a dog for begging at the table when you’ve been feeding him from it.
Ignore your mother. It’s your house, your budget, and you are a grown-up. Also, ignore the fact that your relative is sponging off other family members. So what? That’s not your problem; your problem is to keep him from sponging off you. Which it sounds, honestly, like something you know perfectly well how to do, you just need someone to give you permission to do it. Which is where I come in. Permission granted!
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.