I am a childless single woman of a certain age. While I am not a child hater, I have difficulties with contemporaries who submerge their identities and lives in grandchildren. One couple gave up a blissful retirement to provide free care for their grandchildren even though the parents have well-paid jobs, and they can barely discuss anything else. Others won’t stop discussing people I haven’t met and with whom I have little in common. I would like to continue these friendships, but they seem very one-sided. There are more of us independent women out there than people think.
M.M. / Boston
It’s hard when a friend develops an obsession you don’t share. Sometimes it’s a temporary madness: The newfound delirium of grandbabies or grad school or gluten-free living sweeps them up and discombobulates them, but after a while they will figure out their new identity and achieve some balance. Be patient with such friends, but not endlessly so. Guide the conversation from gossipy specifics to universal topics you find more engaging — how things have changed since your own childhood, recent findings in neural development, the politics of family leave, why Legos had to go and get so fancy. Announce when you’re ready to change the subject: “I’d really like to tell you about the trip I’m planning. Can we talk about that for a while?”
Sometimes, though, a friend’s newfound obsession is concomitant with an emotional withdrawal or a change in values. That’s different. And only you can make the call as to when that’s the case. You do seem disapproving of some of your friends’ life choices, above and beyond the fact that they won’t shut up about said choices. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re picking up on that disapproval and doubling down on their grandparental identity in the face of it. You’re right that there are many people out there whose lives don’t revolve around grandchildren (or children) to an exclusive degree. Go find your tribe!
I am a man who recently had lunch with a female friend in Harvard Square, though I’m not sure of the restaurant. After lunch, we both headed for the bathroom. It apparently hadn’t occurred to either of us that, this being 2017, it would be the same bathroom at the same time. A rather small, acoustically excellent bathroom. Awkward. Are we just insufficiently evolved for the new world of genderless public facilities? Or is there a more socially graceful way these situations might play out?
F.C. / Boston
If it was the restaurant you mentioned it might be in your letter, its bathrooms have been notably intimate since the ’90s — as is the case in many restaurants and bars in crowded urban areas. It’s not a 2017 thing or a gender thing or a hip millennial thing (tiny hats and tiny houses, yes; tiny toilets, no).
I don’t even think gender is your main concern, F.C., because you wouldn’t have coined the felicitous phrase “acoustically excellent” if it were. Would you have been comfortable hearing the other person’s business, or knowing your own were being heard, if your lunch companion were a man?
Those of us who value privacy ought to avoid going to the bathroom with friends. (If Lucy Loobuddy seems to want to make a group excursion out of it, ask her if she can watch your stuff or order you a refill when the server comes by.) We especially ought to do this in Harvard Square restaurants renowned for their hearty grain and bean bowls.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.HAVING TROUBLE KEEPING THE CONVERSATION LIVELY? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at firstname.lastname@example.org.