Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Friend Let Her Dog Eat My Purse

Dear Cyndie,

My daughter’s friend came over last week, and one of the items they played with was an old purse of mine that is not valuable, but which has sentimental value to me.

When the girl’s mother came, the girl wanted to keep playing with the purse, and her mother asked if she could take it home and return it another day. I thought it was a bold thing to ask, but I said okay because I didn’t know what else to do. I made sure to tell her that the purse was special to me.

Well, I finally got the purse back yesterday. She sent it to school with her daughter, who gave it to my daughter to bring home. My purse had obviously been attacked by this woman’s dog. It was chewed and covered in hair and disgusting. I told her the purse was special, and she let her dog ruin it! She didn’t even apologize when she texted to ask if I got the purse back.

I don’t want to lose this lady’s friendship because my daughter really likes her daughter, but she is always asking for things she shouldn’t. She’ll ask if her daughter can come earlier or stay later than my invitation, she asks if her daughter can take our things home—she doesn’t seem to respect my time or our possessions.

So, given that history, should I say something to her about the ruined purse? Normally, I wouldn’t, but enough is enough.

Dear Friend,

You know, part of me wishes you would respond to her text, “Yes. Looks like your dog got it, too.” But snappy retorts are rude, and I don’t think it would make you feel any better. Your purse is ruined, and if this woman didn’t bother to apologize (profusely) and bring you a token “I’m sorry” gift, it seems unlikely that she will be moved to regret by your rebuke.

Whether the value of the purse was great or small, it was yours and she had borrowed it. She should have apologized and offered to replace it. Then, you could have said, “Oh, dear, how disappointing. Thank you for telling me.” And you could have declined a replacement, as the purse was of sentimental, not monetary value. (If the purse had been valuable, it might be another story. But that’s another column.)

Apologizing and offering to replace something you have broken or ruined is elementary good manners, and I imagine you are feeling somewhere between hurt and incredulous that she either doesn’t seem to know this rule, or that she doesn’t think you merit such basic consideration.

Perhaps it has never occurred to her that not all people accept with equanimity the destruction of property by a dog, especially when the property is theirs and the dog is someone else’s. But whether she is clueless, selfish or socially inept, you now know that you cannot trust her to take care of things or to be honest when she has damaged your property.

Add to that her presumptions upon your time, and I can see why you’ve had enough.

Fortunately, the solution to this problem is entirely within your control. True, this woman was presumptuous enough to ask to borrow the purse, careless enough to allow it to be chewed up and rude enough to return it without acknowledging and apologizing for the damage. But it was you who let her borrow the purse that you cared about.

In the future, therefore, I suggest you say no when she asks to borrow something. You needn’t be tart or sarcastic about it. You need only be pleasant and firm. If her daughter wants to leave your house with a stuffed bunny, you will say, mildly, “No. Sorry.” If you like, you can kindly tell the daughter that, “You can play with it the next time you come,” or “Our rule is that all toys stay here in the house.”

If the mother continues to ask a second or third time, continue to say no. Don’t let her create an uncomfortable situation that you feel obligated to diffuse by giving in.

You can apply this principle to other interactions with this woman. Make a rule for yourself that you will say no if she asks for something that is not convenient or that you don’t want to do. There is nothing rude or unfriendly about declining such requests. Unless you regularly ask her for similar favors, you are not required to rearrange your schedule for her or to let her borrow your possessions.

In fact, this woman probably thinks you don’t mind such requests because you so often agree to them. Your agreement has communicated to her that she can keep asking.

As you do mind, you need to stop agreeing. So, the next time this woman calls to ask if her daughter can stay for dinner at your house, say, “No, I’m sorry.” If she wants to drop off her daughter an hour early to play, say, “No, we can’t play until 1.” If she asks you to take her daughter to the pool with you today, say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” Keep a firm and pleasant tone, but do not give in.

Finally, and perhaps I should have mentioned this first, but it is possible that this woman does not know what happened to the purse. You are assuming, based on this woman’s generally presumptuous behavior, that she knows that her dog ruined your purse, and did not bother to say anything about it. However, her daughter might have left the purse somewhere she oughtn’t, and might have hidden the damage from her mother.

If my child had done such a thing, I would appreciate a call from the other child’s mother. “This is a little awkward,” I would expect to hear, “but when Hal returned Trevor’s microscope yesterday, the lens was cracked. Do you know what happened?” I would then reply that I appreciated the call, that I didn’t know about the damage, and that I would ask Hal about it immediately and call her back.

Hal, assuming he was at fault, would then be taught the proper thing to do when he damaged someone else’s property and given the chance to make good his error. He would also learn not to lend anything you would be crushed to lose, and not to borrow anything you don’t want to replace.

That phone call is what I would appreciate. You will have to decide if you think this woman would appreciate it, too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I'm a Non-Political Hostess

This column originally ran on August 9, 2012 in Nauvoo Times. In honor of primary election season, we are reprinting it today. 


I am not someone who enjoys heated political conversations, particularly when they are started in my home by someone who is not part of my household. This is partly because I lack interest, but more importantly because I don't enjoy the feeling of contention it brings.

How can I ask a guest to stop bringing up politics, or at least to keep them friendly, without offending him or making him feel unwelcome?


I sense that you would like a non-confrontational approach to this problem. Three ideas come to mind.

1. Don't go there.

As hostess, you can steer conversation away from political topics. Start conversations about non-political topics. And avoid any topic that might act as a bridge to a political rant, such as farm subsidies or high-speed rail.

If you hear someone else mention such a topic, jump in with a segue, such as "Did you ever hear about Jake's trip on a Soviet train? It was so interesting." And then turn to Jake expectantly.

Or you can choose the one non-political aspect of what your guest just said and ask about that. For example, if your guest says that his niece can't get in to see her doctor anymore because of Obamacare, and you smell a rant coming on, ask where his niece lives or what she does or if she is the same niece you met when she visited last April.

2. The sudden interruption that you simply cannot contain.

Let's say your guest starts down a contentious path. You might say, "Oh! I just remembered! Before I forget I have to ask you . . . ." and then ask about a totally different topic within the person's expertise.

You could also call away your guest or his conversation partner to do something that only he or she can do, such as opening a stubborn jar of pickles or setting up the game of Catan everyone has been waiting to play. Be sure to act embarrassed that you are interrupting.

3. Look politely blank. Say, "Oh." And then change the subject.

This will be difficult if you think the person's statement is absurd -- or dead-on. But if you rebut -- or endorse -- the statement, your interest in the subject will be established and the conversation will gain momentum instead of stopping.

Depending on your relationship with your guest and on his personality, there is a fourth option.

4. Disagree blandly.

When met with an outlandish statement, respond calmly. "Really? I don't think so." Or, "Really? I read [the opposite]." Then shrug and change the subject.

You can only do this if you appear calm, slightly bored, and well informed. It will not work if the person is intent on evangelizing.

Some people might advocate telling the person flat out that you don't want to hear his political rants.

But this is not very gracious. It will likely create a horrible, awkward moment for everyone, and you will look mean. There are very few people in the world who could accomplish it without making everyone at the gathering feel uncomfortable.

But if you must attempt it, nix the topic and not the person. The second you feel the conversation going south, hop in with a quick laugh and say something like, "Oh, no, no, no! Let's not talk about labor unions tonight!" It's hard to pull off in a way that amuses instead of insults, so use great caution.

Guests, for their part, should remember the old rule against discussing politics and religion. Unless you are 100% sure you are gathered with people who have a similar interest in discussing politics at a similar volume, it is best to avoid the topic.