Miss Conduct

How to stop ‘Dear Grabby’ from scrolling through your photos

A polite way to retrieve your phone from nosy parkers. Plus, my friend stopped talking to me; does that mean I can’t reach out?

What would you do if your customer took your phone and started scrolling through your photos? She is a mature lady. I showed her one photo on my phone (of another customer’s cat, which this lady had fostered initially) and she took it and started scrolling.

F.R. / Tulsa, Oklahoma

There’s an app for that.

Or some technological fix, anyway. Google “disable swiping in camera roll” and your make of phone, and see what you find. It’s easy to scroll someone’s album accidentally; I do it all the time (bad hand-eye coordination can mess up your etiquette game, from table manners to texting).


You can also not let customers near your phone, ever. Some people can’t be trusted in proximity to anything desirable — gadgets, gossip, or grub — because they simply have to get it in their hands. You can call out a friend’s grabby, boundary-busting behavior, but at work, prevention is better than cure.

What do you do in the moment, though? I’m going to assume, from the question and the connotations of “mature lady,” that a direct approach (“Whoa! There’s personal stuff there!” followed by a quick phone-snatch) would not have been appropriate. It sounds as though some kind of mutual face-saving performance was required.

So take a page from the magicians’ handbook and misdirect. Say something meaningless, then simultaneously hand Dear Grabby something else and take the desired item back: “Oh, heavens, that’s my phone, did you see the latest article in Catster?” — as you hand her the magazine. “That’s my phone” isn’t an accusation, it’s a mild-voiced discovery, a placebic excuse. “Just that one picture” would work, too.

Three and a half years ago, a close friend stopped returning calls and e-mail. I thought she might be sick or traveling. I tried to apologize, though I didn’t know what I may have done. I gave her space and tried again. Nothing. Yesterday a mutual friend wrote me this woman’s mother had died. I feel compelled to send a condolence note. But I don’t want to use this as an opportunity to make a grand gesture or try to mend the friendship. Would I be intruding on her clear actions to shut me out?


S.G. / Boston

I’m so sorry. I’ve been there — more people have than you realize.

Send the condolence. You aren’t violating a boundary, because your former friend never asked you to stop contacting her, or made any active effort to end your relationship. If you keep the note focused on her immediate bereavement, there is little chance you’ll be misinterpreted, and doing the right thing will help you feel you’re being true to yourself.

And you need that, because one thing that happens when close friends ghost like this is we gaslight ourselves. (Did the relationship exist the way I thought it did? Am I actually a terrible friend?) Send the note. You can trust your instincts. You really can.

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

Has tragedy befallen your ex-friend? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at