Magazine

Miss Conduct

Advice: I don’t want my roommate to care for a sick dog in our apartment

I don’t want to live with a dog, even for a good cause. Plus, polite rejections.

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

I have been living with a close childhood friend for about a year and a half. She is crazy about animals, dogs in particular. I am not. She recently decided to care for a relative’s sick dog — a noble deed. But she has asked if the dog can live in our tiny apartment for five-plus months. I told her no, but she keeps pushing the issue and asking me to be more understanding. I do not want to live with a dog. Is it fair for me to say no? If so, is there a way to do it without damaging our friendship?

C.C./ Boston

I assume the lease is agnostic on this question? If so, then yes, it is fair of you to say no, just as it would be fair of her to veto any major change to your living arrangement that you suggest.

And no, there are no words that will make your friend adopt your point of view and agree that your discomfort is more important than an animal’s suffering. If you want to hold out for the rights that you are entitled to, it is going to cost you in friendship, because friendship is about doing more than what is “fair.” You may well find your apartment becoming an uncomfortable place, whether the dog is there or not.

My adult child works for the federal government and was furloughed during the shutdown. A church acquaintance has the habit of e-mailing me to ask my child’s political opinions on various topics. I have politely declined to answer. During the shutdown she e-mailed me asking how my child was faring economically. This woman is not getting the message that I have no intention of discussing anything about my child’s employment or economic situation with her. Any suggestions for how I can politely get her to shut up?

L.V./ Easton

You can simply ignore the questions and delete the e-mails or respond only to their non-offspring-oriented content. Theoretically, when people — or rats or pigeons — don’t get the response they want, they will eventually cease the behavior. But maybe she finds asking irritating questions rewarding in its own right, whether she gets answers or not.

Advertisement

If you really want her to stop, be straightforward. The next time she asks you about your kid, respond with something like: “It’s not my place as a mother to share my child’s personal information, so I’m not going to answer that question or any similar ones. Please respect the way my family manages boundaries.” Accept any apologies graciously and ignore any future questions entirely.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Translate the words into whatever style feels most natural to you, of course. An appeal to values is probably the best way to connect with someone in your spiritual community. And such a direct request is indeed polite! Some folks, I think, use “polite” to mean “always pleasing to others” or “never causing discomfort” — ideals that are neither possible nor desirable. Asserting boundaries and denying requests in a way that is respectful, clear, and consistent is entirely polite, even if it displeases the other person.

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