You Can’t Fight City Hall, Nor Fight About a Wedding There

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Social Q’s

Our son is marrying a terrific woman this summer in Italy. The legal ceremony will be held here at City Hall the week before. The bride’s parents live elsewhere and are flying directly to Italy, so they won’t be at City Hall. Our son asked us if going to City Hall is important to us. His fiancée doesn’t think it’s “fair” for us to attend if her parents can’t. I told him we’d love to be there, but we don’t want to create an incident. His fiancée held her ground. We feel sad about this. Anything to be done?


Your soon-to-be daughter-in-law and I have different takes on fair shakes. Theoretically, you and her parents could all attend the City Hall ceremony (which takes about three and a half minutes, by the way). But her parents booked travel that precludes their attendance. (Again, we’re talking about 210 seconds.) But barring you from City Hall — on fairness grounds — because of her parents’ voluntary travel plans seems weird (and a little Bridezilla) to me.

Still, don’t press your case. Take the long view. My hunch is that your son’s fiancée may have blessed her parents’ decision to skip City Hall in favor of direct travel, but now feels bad about it — or perhaps fears that they will feel bad about their absence in the face of your presence.

I applaud your desire to avoid “an incident.” (Unfortunately, asking your in-laws to change their travel plans would probably constitute one.) You kindly gave your son an out, and he took it. So, feel your feelings. Be sad. But once you’re all assembled in Italy, do everything you can to befriend your in-laws. Be a bridge builder. It will make your life (and major holidays) much nicer in years to come.

Anxious to Make Up

Several years ago, I had a falling out with a close friend. He did something that showed he had little respect for my feelings. I withdrew, and he made no effort to put things right. We never had another conversation. But lately, I’ve been dreading the possibility of running into him. How should I handle a chance meeting and my anxiety?


I’m sorry you feel anxious. But as a fellow sufferer, may I point out the irrationality of your dread? Your friend hasn’t bothered calling you in years. Why would he be difficult at Starbucks? No, I think your anxiety comes from anger (or guilt) that he never reached out to fix things — possibly because he never understood he offended you.

This is why I advocate speaking up. We always retain the power to sever connections, but better to do that — with real friends — after we register our complaint. Your behavior is akin to holding your breath and expecting this other fellow to die of asphyxiation. As for negotiating a chance meeting, how about: “Hey, Jim! Long time.” (Or make a coffee date to repair a close friendship that went off the rails.)

No Gaydar Bragging

I have a friend whose 15-year-old son seems gay to me. He doesn’t date, and my gaydar is usually on target. I hate to meddle. But this friend also has a habit of saying derogatory things about gay people, often under cover of her religious beliefs. Can I tell her about her son? It may stop her hurtful behavior.


Proceed directly to the nearest phone and dial 1-800-BE-QUIET. I know you mean well. But speculating about anyone’s sexuality, particularly a child’s, can be dangerous and is none of your business. In other breaking news, great gaydar is nothing to brag about; it only means that you’re often a busybody. Of course, none of this stops you from calling out the mother on her homophobic statements. Say, “I don’t agree with you, and I’d prefer not to hear any more of it.” No need to implicate the son to stand up for human decency.

Just Be Kind

I am in my 20s and just moved into a new apartment. I love it! The only problem: My next-door neighbor is ancient. She lives alone and clearly doesn’t get out much. When I come home, it seems as if she’s always waiting for me. She sticks her head out the door and asks how my day was or says that I look nice. This annoys me. I just want to get inside. How do I stop these little exchanges?


Boy, have you come to the wrong guy. Your neighbor is not inviting you in to binge-watch her collection of “Golden Girls” DVDs. And the simple replies required of you cost virtually nothing: “It was O.K., Helen. How was your day?” Or, “Thanks, I got it at Zara.” These exchanges may be important to her, especially if she doesn’t get out much. If this is too much for you, time to rethink your limits — or move to the wilderness. No need to invoke stereotypes about old people. The basic social contract covers this one: Be kind to others and hope it boomerangs back to you when you need it. (Trust me: Eventually you will.)