A friend’s husband is running for office and she asked if we would let them put a sign in our yard. Our politics don’t align with his. She’s more of a friendly acquaintance than a friend-friend, so a heart-to-heart about worldviews seems out of place. Do I need to tell her, “Actually, we can’t really get behind his platform because of X, Y, and Z”? Or can I just avoid her until the election’s over?
S.E. / Tulsa, Oklahoma
Please don’t think me a grade-school grammar snarker for replying I don’t know, can you avoid her? You certainly may, as far as I’m concerned, but wouldn’t that doom you to months of overdue library books, the 4 a.m. Zumba class, and the Starbucks on the other side of town?
Easier to just rip off the Band-Aid! Here’s the good news: No heart-to-heart is required under any circumstance. You can simply reply, “I’m afraid we can’t. I hope you enjoy the campaign! What a great civic learning experience for both of you.” (The Nope-Yay is the kindest way to turn down a request to participate in someone else’s project. The trick is to keep the Nope simple and final, and embed a conversational hook in the Yay.)
You can also be more forthcoming. After all, there are only two reasons not to support a candidate you know: Either you disagree with his positions, or you think he’d be god-awful at the job. Which do you think the candidate — or, in your case, his spouse — would rather believe?
“We disagree on X” is neither an attack on your friendly acquaintance’s husband nor an invitation to change your mind. If she takes it as such — well, then she’s not suited to be a politician’s spouse, and while I wouldn’t advise telling her that, you can be fairly blunt about the rest of it. “I wasn’t opening up a debate, just telling you why we don’t need a sign.”
I have a cousin who was bossy and dominant when we were little. I was overlooked as a child but after years of therapy, I’ve grown into kind of a swan and life is good. My cousin can be overbearing and inappropriate and I honestly don’t enjoy spending time with her. I can’t be the voiceless person that I was years ago. I am much more confident and I don’t think she likes that. I grew up in an ethnic family that has always put a lot of value on keeping up family ties. How much time do I need to spend with her annually?
L.R. / Boston
Therapy has probably taught you that “I grew up that way” is a good explanation for a neurosis, but not for a value system. Those, you get to pick out for yourself.
Even if extended family is important to you, that doesn’t have to mean one-on-one friendships with each and every relative. Some strands of the family tapestry are thicker than others, some planets in the family solar system orbit more synchronously.
You can love your cousin as family, and chitchat with her at holiday and birthday gatherings, but you don’t need to force a friendship that neither of you enjoys.Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.