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Carolyn Hax: Friend with unsavory kitchen habits insists on cooking

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Dear Carolyn: We have a circle of good friends, but there is one couple in particular, “Sally” and “Ed,” with whom we have always spent a good deal of time.

Whenever we make a plan with them to go out to eat, a treat I look forward to, invariably Sally calls the day of and says, “Come here for dinner. Ed says he’s going to cook.” Ed is not a bad cook, but he uses loads of cream, butter and salt, and he and Sally both have some culinary habits that make me cringe, like serving food using their fingers and licking them in between.

We want to see them, so I try to let it go. But no matter what the plan is, unless it’s coming to our house, Sally will say at the 11th hour, “Ed is going to cook.” Often, we have looked forward to trying a new restaurant, or getting out, or just being able to choose what we eat. But instead of asking, Ed makes a unilateral decision, conveyed by his wife, and we are forced to comply or seem ungracious and risk offending them.

I don’t think it’s a cost issue and they don’t do this only to us. How would you handle this?

— Eating at Me

Eating at Me: Until I’m in the moment myself, I can only speculate. Just for the finger-licking alone, though, egad, I want to say I’d decline to go to their house whenever conceivably possible.

And because I agree that close friends deserve special care and because cooking is an act of love, I would also try for a complimentary no. “You know we love you, and Ed’s cooking, but we were ______” — maybe “excited to get out” or “looking forward to this new place” or “craving [food from the restaurant in question].”

Loving your friends and having agency with your dinner plans are not mutually exclusive. “If you’re not up for it, we understand — rain check?” Done. Maybe not every time, but certainly on the nights you’re excited for your plans. Reasonable and fair.

Any chance Sally or Ed has anxiety, digestive or continence issues, hearing loss …? Money isn’t the only reason people stay home. Good friends, too, can note the pattern and ask: “You’re opting out of restaurants lately. Anything you want us to know?”

Carolyn: We have a vacation property that my sister and her husband and kids all use, and my brother and I want to sell. This will cause a rift in the family I’m sure, but my brother and I and our kids have no use for the place anymore. I have already discussed it with her, and her husband walks out of the room, and she insists they can’t afford to buy us out — although they live in a $500,000 house, and his family also owns another vacation property (farther away).

Do I stop trying to discuss this with my sister, and just speak to a lawyer? I’m tired of dealing with this.

— Fed Up With Being the Ignored Younger Sister

Fed Up With Being the Ignored Younger Sister: Better math will probably get you a better answer.

The value of the home they own says little to nothing about what they can afford. They may earn less than you think and owe more, easily. That his family has another property is also not relevant because you don’t get to assess their quality of life.

“Ignored younger sister” fatigue is irrelevant, too. I can’t see any way an ancient birth-order grudge makes this transaction smoother.

Here’s your math: You and your brother don’t want the house and can ask the courts to force a sale. You also don’t need to exercise that power or call lawyers to have leverage.

So, first: Make sure your sister feels heard. Reflect her argument back to her. Second, tell her — you or your brother or both of you, pick the best messenger — that you sympathize, want the sale regardless, would rather not have to force it, and hope she’ll agree to the much better option of facing the inevitable as a team.

Dear Carolyn: Help me settle this debate: My friend says that people hardly ever change and we have to just accept or detach from them.

I think people can change.

What do you think?

— B.

B.: I think people can change and we still have to just accept or detach from them.

Because sometimes they don’t change.

Plus, whether they do or not isn’t up to us anyway. They will or won’t under the influence of time, circumstance, environment, genetics, choice, and whatever else.

Except in limited cases — recovery, for example — hovering around waiting for people to improve is kind of patronizing and icky, too. Disrespectful.

Like me or not, I don’t care, but don’t treat me as a project.

Having someone hovering around waiting for me to improve myself to their liking sounds like a hard no-thanks.

So I don’t know in whose favor I’m settling this debate, but you both win if you don’t spend your time with people hoping they’ll become someone else. Even though they might. Whether anyone likes it or not.