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    Miss Conduct

    Should we reimburse our summer renters who canceled because of a cancer diagnosis?

    Plus, how to accept condolences when an acquaintance dies.

    My husband and I rent our Cape cottage. Our cancellation policy is half down, with the balance due 60 days prior to arrival. No refunds. “G” booked a while ago and asked about the cancellation policy; 29 days prior to their stay, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. They canceled, and he said they hoped for a full refund. I feel terrible that G’s wife has cancer, but receiving the full rental amount back won’t change her prognosis. I Googled their house, and they live in a very expensive neighborhood, which leads me to believe they are fine financially. I’m not sure it’s fair if we lose out on all this money. Right now, we are leaning toward a compromise and reimbursing 50 percent. I would so appreciate your thoughts!

    J.Q. / Marblehead

    You Googled their house.

    I was with you until then, I really was. This isn’t a cottage you loan out to friends and family; it’s an income source that you rely upon. It’s a business, and you have the right to run it like one. What you appear to want, though, is for the exercise of that right to feel good. That’s a big ask.


    Forgoing the rental income brings hardship to you; insisting on it brings hardship to the G’s. You recognize this, and you Googled their house to try to make yourself feel better, to spin yourself a story about a wealthy couple who can easily wave off however many hundred they deposited for your cottage. Do you realize that you know nothing of Mr. and Mrs. G’s finances? You have one data point. One. Stop pretending right now that you have any idea what the money means to the G’s, because you don’t.

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    Similarly, I don’t know what the money means to you, so I won’t tell you what to do. Me? I’d give a full refund and take it out of my ad hoc charity budget (which also funds contributions to friends’ Kickstarters), if I had to. Being able to do an unexpected and legally unnecessary kindness for a person in need feels good.

    Money also feels good. You have the legal right to get your full amount. And you have no right at all to insist that other people tell the story about that decision in a way that flatters you. Mr. and Mrs. G will curse your name if you hold them to the contract at this low point in their lives. They may curse it on Yelp. Your friends may think less of you. If you go this route, know that the more you argue the rightness of your position, the worse you’ll sound.

    Compromises are practical and often unsatisfying. Neither you nor the G’s, I expect, will be quite happy if you refund 50 percent, thereby satisfying neither the demands of mercy nor those of cold contractual justice. But sometimes practical and unsatisfying is as good as it gets.

    How do you respond to condolences on the death of an acquaintance? I don’t want others to think I’m experiencing great grief when I’m not, but saying “It’s OK; we weren’t close” always seems too casual. Each death is a tragedy for someone, if not for me personally.

    A.O. / Bedford


    “It’s a shame,” you say. “She was so young/Cancer is evil/His church family loved him.” Get it? You rightly recognize the tragedy of death. Instead of accepting the condolence for a grief you don’t have, you rhetorically ally yourself with the condolence-giver against the cruelty of fate. This allows you to honor the dead without appropriating the role of mourner.

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

    HAS YOUR COTTAGE CAUSED A CONUNDRUM? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at