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    Miss Conduct

    Advice: What to do when a friend spills your secrets

    When friends repeat something that was said in confidence, is it time to end the relationship? Plus, my mom says she “feels racist.”

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    Last year my father died in a traumatic accident. There were some problems with the will, and I confided in two longtime (20-plus years) friends about what was happening. I later learned from acquaintances that these two friends had discussed my personal issues with them and a few others. I am very hurt and ready to let my friendship with them go. I don’t want to be friends with people I cannot trust, and can only relate to on a superficial level in the future. Any suggestions to help me move on would be greatly appreciated.

    K.L./ Duxbury

    “Moving on” is a function of time. Occupy yourself with other activities and people, and as these become foremost in your mind, your past losses of family and friends will fade to a dull ache.

    But are you sure you want to compound the loss of your father with the loss of your old, dear friends? They never meant to hurt you. They may have never realized the information was confidential in the first place. People differ radically in their feelings about privacy and what constitutes “personal” information — it’s one of the things that keeps advice columnists in business.


    Chances are excellent that your story wasn’t shared in the spirit of juicy gossip. The conversation was likely about families, wills, or end-of-life planning, and your situation made a good illustrative example or cautionary tale. If this were the case , and the friends would be genuinely apologetic if they knew their indiscretion had hurt you, would you still wish to end the friendship? Because if not, you owe it to yourself and them to talk this through. And if so, something much deeper is going on.

    My mother has at various points unfriended or unfollowed my sister and my husband on Facebook, saying that what they post makes her “feel racist.” I want to scream at her that “if something someone posts makes you FEEL racist, then maybe you are.” Part of me thinks, She’s 80, she won’t change now, and part of me thinks that’s a cop-out. Advice?

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    C.J. / Topeka, Kansas

    It’s a complicated question, whether to have “the race talk” with elderly relatives.

    Your mother seems to want discussions of a national problem to be about her feelings instead. Don’t play along with this passive-aggressive nonsense. Memorize these two phrases: “It’s not about you” and “Maybe you should sit with that feeling for a while, then.” Use them as necessary, to the point of semantic saturation. (That thing where words become meaningless strings of phonemes.) Don’t leap in to accuse her or soothe her.

    Your mother wants her children to keep all conversation firmly within her comfort zone. I’m going to guess this kind of behavior started a long, long time ago, and happens with plenty of topics other than race. And she’s probably very good at making sure conversations go her way by this point in her life. If you, like many adult children, still have a tendency to fall into your parent’s rhetorical traps, it may very well be the best move not to discuss race with her. Letting her be with her own feelings, unaccompanied, may ultimately have more of an impact.

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

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