A neighborhood parent (“Anne”) whom I had been friendly with started becoming less so. One day after soccer practice she said, “Don’t talk to me anymore,” and stomped off. I didn’t say anything to offend her, our conversations were always superficial. After that she would sneer when she saw me and run if I made any move in her direction. But she still talks to my husband as if nothing is wrong. I finally told her off and started making a certain hand gesture at her, and now she ignores me, but I don’t want my husband to talk to her. He’s been hesitant. Am I wrong for not wanting him to have anything to do with her?
Anonymous / Marshfield
If I say you’re not wrong, how far does that get you with your husband?
I’m not going to leap to Anne’s defense here, because I don’t know what went down between you — but neither do you. I’m fascinated by your lack of curiosity as to what might have sparked her behavior, and your decision to aggressively respond to her cutting you off without trying to find out the why. You seem equally unconcerned that you might have done something to hurt her, or that she might have a dreadful misconception about you. Why were you never more interested in uncovering the truth?
As a general thing I’m all in favor of spouses presenting a united front. But your husband didn’t write to me, and I expect my words won’t hold much weight with him. Given your lack of curiosity about your neighbors and any conflict therewith, it might be good for him to keep his net spread wide and ears open. Think of it as an amiable division of labor: You keep your friends close, and he keeps your enemies closer.
What’s an appropriate response when someone assumes you’re a lot younger than you are? It’s a great problem to have but sometimes people assuming I’m 10 or 15 years younger can make it feel like they respect me less (which is less than ideal in work situations). Thank you!
Anonymous / South Boston
You can toss age-related cues into workplace conversation — ”As a child of the ‘80s, I love Stranger Things, Kate Bush was my first concert,” or what have you.
Are people genuinely treating you with disrespect, or failing to recognize your expertise or authority? Or is it more that you feel self-conscious and like you’re back at the kids’ table when someone is surprised by your age? If it’s the former, address their behavior in the moment, in whatever way is professionally appropriate. Don’t attribute their behavior to your appearance (telling people to stop doing something is fine; telling them why they were doing it in the first place makes them mulish).
If it’s more a matter of surprise, be magnanimous. Think how silly the other person must feel! Something like “Yes, I’m 40! I’m not such a prodigy that I made partner at 25″ is self-deprecating yet asserts your authority.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.