Driving Cross-Country Without — Gasp! — Checking Your Phone

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Social Q’s

My sister and her husband are driving cross-country soon. They’ve been planning this vacation for a long time. It’s a big deal for them. My brother-in-law announced that they would bring a cellphone for emergencies, but they don’t plan on checking messages. He also asked that we not share any bad news with them while they’re away that might mar their trip — even if somebody dies. I didn’t give it much thought. But my wife was livid, and now she’s convinced me too. Thoughts?


Don’t begrudge your poor brother-in-law his fantasy of a clean break on the open road. After years of being enslaved by smartphones — obsessively checking emails and voice mail messages and text messages, social media feeds and news feeds and weather.com — I almost wish I could stow away on their e-free lark. Which reminds me: We should all try for holidays from our screens one or two days a month. (Stop laughing! It’s refreshing.)

You don’t mention anyone in the family being critically ill or apt to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next few weeks. So, try not to take your brother-in-law’s request personally. You make a fair point: He was insensitive and a bit selfish. But I doubt that he meant: “I care more about Route 66 than any of you.” More likely, he’s burned out and needs a vacation. (If he were a monster, you would have told me in your letter.)

You can always overrule his request, if the worst happens, and leave as many messages for your sister as you like. Or better yet, call her now: “I don’t want to trample Jim’s ‘King of the Road’ fantasy, but do you want to be left out of emergencies, too?” You’ll find out quickly enough if this is a one- or two-party dream.

Bad Timing for a Babymoon

I am an American living in France. An old acquaintance is coming here soon. She and her husband are taking a last trip before the birth of their twins early next year. A while back, she wrote to ask if we could meet for dinner. I said yes, but now I’m dreading their visit. A few months ago, I delivered stillborn twins, and the subject is still very painful for me. (She doesn’t know about my pregnancy.) I would like to email her, in advance, so she knows our story before dinner. But my husband thinks it’s weird to send such a sad tale over email and that it will scare them. What to do?


I am so sorry for your loss. Years ago, a dear friend had a late-term miscarriage. And as I watched her grieve and listened to her stories, I was shocked by how little support there is for couples in your position. (“You can always try again!” is a heartless response to a massive blow.)

To care for yourself and spare the couple, consider canceling the dinner with a white lie: “Turns out, we have to be away. Sorry to miss you.” Given your mirrored circumstances, I don’t see how you could get through the evening without revisiting your loss, which would be miserable for you. And just as bad, I don’t see how your story could be anything but terrifying for a couple in their position. Take a rain check for when you’re feeling better, and after your friend has given birth.

Jokester or Laughingstock?

I have a co-worker who is a good friend. We work well together, and have great times after work, too. The problem: After meetings with our boss, she often tells me that a story I told was too long-winded or that a joke I cracked fell flat. But the people in the room, including our boss, laugh at my jokes and seem to like my stories. No one else complains. How should I respond?


Trust your gut that you’re connecting with your colleagues. We may laugh to humor our bosses, but our bosses rarely laugh to humor us. Say: “I appreciate you looking out for me, but let’s agree to disagree. We’ve all got different styles, and I think most people in the room liked my story (or joke).” Friends don’t have to agree on everything.

Staying in the Right Dating Lanes

My daughter, who is 26, brought her best friend home for a visit last weekend. Unless I am mistaken, there were some sparks between the friend and me. What is the protocol for checking her interest? I don’t want to ask my daughter for permission until I know the friend is interested. May I contact her directly? (My wife and I are divorced.)


Call me Prudence (in honor of the terrific new revival of Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song”), but I urge you to abort this mission. I have no qualms about your dating women young enough to be your daughter’s best friend. But I draw the line at her actual best friend. You are just going to make things weird. And in no event may you contact the friend before securing your daughter’s permission.