Miss Conduct

My sister has become a stranger

We went from five calls a day to no calls in three years. Plus, neighbors who reveal a little too much.

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My sister and I used to be very close. She would call me at least five times a day and we took her kids everywhere together. I love her kids like they are my own. But for about three years now, she never calls. When I ask she says she’s been busy. I feel neglected. I think it’s because I am very negative like my mother, whom she never calls anymore either. We always get together for the holidays and my mother and I continue to spoil the kids with many expensive gifts. I just don’t want to give gifts to unappreciative kids who want nothing to do with me. How do I handle this?

A.F. / Boston

What an interesting quick cut from your unsatisfying relationship with your sister to the bad manners of her children! It seems you’ve got two questions in one, here. Let’s see what we can do.

First off, there is never anything wrong with cutting back on holiday (or birthday) gift budgets. Buy a few thoughtful items instead of “many expensive gifts” this year, and see if the occasion doesn’t feel a little bit more relaxed for everyone. No one ever put this obligation on you — release yourself!

As for your sister, it sounds as though she has decided to put more distance in your relationship — no one’s that busy for three years! And there is not much you can, or should, do when someone needs to sever or attenuate ties. She may have been feeling too enmeshed with you (five or more calls a day is a lot!). Is there some way you can communicate the desire for a middle ground? Something more than no calls at all but less than living in each other’s pockets? If so, try.


And then take the money that you saved on the niblings’ (yes, it’s a real expression!) holiday gifts and spend it on yourself, on something that makes you happy and takes you out of your own head: museum memberships, an inflatable kayak, singing lessons, a weekend yoga retreat. I salute you for knowing you have negative tendencies. Now it’s time to fight them. Start looking for joy.

Our new neighbors pull their blinds down at night, but the opening in the slats allows a clear view into their home. My husband goes to our porch to smoke, and has witnessed this couple completely naked. I think they would be horrified to know he has seen them naked, yet I feel they should be made aware of this, so they can properly close their blinds. How should I go about this? I don’t want to embarrass them. . . . I just want to be a good neighbor.

Anonymous / Boston

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Don’t say anything.

It’s possible they’d like to be informed that people could see them naked, but since there’s no way to do that without pointing out that you have seen them naked . . . don’t.

As a general rule, adults understand how blinds work; either your neighbors aren’t particularly modest, or you’re faced with telling them that not only have you seen their private tattoos, you know they’ve been outwitted by window treatments. Spare everyone. Your husband can smoke on the front lawn instead . . . unless he’s afraid of neighbors seeing him do that.

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