Dear Carolyn: I have a friend/neighbor whom I see five days a week because we exercise together. One thing that annoys me is she always manages to slip some comment about God into every conversation. It's usually a brief comment, not an entire conversation about religion, which makes it hard for me to know how to respond.
For example, if I say, "What a nice day!" she might say, "Isn't it? Thank you, God, for this beautiful weather." At first, it was easy for me to just ignore these comments, but the more time I spend with her, the more I feel like she's purposely trying to spread the Gospel but in a sneaky sort of way. If she was bringing up a full-fledged conversation about religion, I could easily just say the subject is very personal to me and I don't wish to discuss it. But since it's just little comments here and there, I don't know how to let her know it bothers me without sounding petty.
I know she has the right to express her religious beliefs however and whenever she wants, but I'm really getting tired of the God comments. Any advice?
A.: A few suggestions, which you can adopt or discard as you see fit, because that’s the belief at the foundation of all advice in this column — using only what is ours to control, we all get to find our own ways to get by. Ahem.
●Since you don’t “know how to respond,” don’t respond. Her thanking God is probably not about you anyway. And per your description, she’s not engaging you on faith, she’s merely expressing hers.
●Don’t assume subterfuge or manipulation just because you don’t understand something. Why not fill in blanks with the least judgmental option? We could all probably stand to do more of that. Q: Why does she slip God into every conversation? A: Because she’s devout, and she speaks as she thinks.
●Disconnect your dislike impulse from your fixing impulse. You’re tired of her God comments. Fair enough — you’re entitled to your preferences. But she’s just as entitled to speak of God; she’s not telling you what you think, she’s saying what she thinks, so what gives you standing to change her? The way not to sound petty is to refrain from correcting others unless it’s about you, or a matter of certainty and consequence.
●Look for the good. People are not a la carte. Any one trait you dislike is subtly (or not-so) interconnected with other elements of a person’s nature — maybe ones you do like. So, a moody friend is also funny; an impulsive friend is also creative; an intense friend is also brave; your overtly religious friend is also ____.
●If you no longer enjoy this friend/neighbor or these exercise sessions enough, then change your schedule. It can be awkward with a neighbor, sure, but it’s your time and you get to decide how you use it.
If you still enjoy your friend/neighbor or these exercise sessions enough, though? Then here’s a shortcut: Just stop. Seriously, stop this whole line of thinking — that you can somehow engineer it into something even better. Accept her company as you would any gift — as-is, with thanks.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter wants a small, intimate wedding. One reason is that her father and I are going to give her X dollars and she will be able to keep what she doesn't spend. I like her sensibility, but she does not want to invite my brother, sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law. She is not close to them, and I respect that.
However, they are my family and this is the only request I am making in regard to her wedding. Her father says it is her wedding and we should go with her wishes.
I would be so embarrassed to have to tell them they aren't invited and can't think of a gentle way to break the news to them.
Sister of Unwanted Family Members: You tell them kindly that you’d love to have them there but you’re honoring your daughter’s preference for a small, intimate wedding.
You can host a separate celebration for your family afterward, assuming your daughter is game and your sibs would appreciate it.
If it helps, this isn’t about rules of etiquette so much as it is about the law of unintended consequences. You struck a reasonable financial deal with your daughter — but didn’t anticipate that her cost-cutting would cost you these guests.
You do still have options, though. Not the one you’re considering, because it’s not fair to add guests at what would now be your daughter’s expense, under the terms of your deal — but you can ask her to add guests at your expense and pay their per-head costs.
As long as you’re ready to take no for an answer, of course. If your daughter’s priority is to keep it small vs. keep it cheap, then I’m with her father, full stop.