Category Archives: Friends

10 Commandments for Covid Times

Surviving Quarantine

Dear Readers:

Reality has settled in with us all. We are locked in without any idea how we will get out, except perhaps by ambulance. We are glued to the news or our phones. We are afraid, bored, worried about what we might run out of, either lonely or frustrated with our live-ins, and unsure how to act in these terrifying and unfamiliar circumstances. We see no end in sight, and are deeply saddened by the idea of a world where gatherings and human touch are a long time from now. We are reading too much scary information online, and spend so much of our days trying to stay germ free. Our hands are raw from washing and we are starting to get more than a little testy. We jump at every little cough and life seems ruled by fear and uncertainty. There is no old normal and the new normal is either terrifying or as yet unknown.

Below are Your JFG’s Ten Commandments for Covid Times:

 

Commandment 1: Stay home and flatten the curve!!! If you do not have anyone healthier than you who can bring you what you need, put on a facemask and gloves, go out quickly and maintain social distancing. Enough said.

 

Commandment 2: Trust your doctor. If you start to have symptoms, even mild ones, keep a log of them that you could send your doc efficiently. Take your temperature. Stay in your room and self-isolate if you live with others. If your symptoms do not resolve, contact your doctor about what to do next. Also, be sure your RXs are all filled.

 

Commandment 3: Be kinder. We are all tense. Sharing one wrong meme that you think is funny and your contacts do not can be a source of friction that will last longer than it should or might in normal times. The gallows humor we are sharing is often funny. The reasons it is here are not. Be softer and gentler every time you interact.

 

Commandment 4: Prepare, within reason. Like the TP hoarders, we each have some primal impulse to be sure we have enough. This may last many months, but you cannot keep enough of everything you might need in your house. Help ensure everyone will have something.

 

Commandment 5: Help others. We need the old, the poor, even those with whom we have been feuding politically. Whether you are able to donate food or money or can give your unused sewing machine to a neighbor willing to make masks, look for ways to share. Even putting a sign in your window saying something positive might help another person’s day. Google Margaret Mead’s definition of what defines civilization. Sobering and true.

 

Commandment 6: Breathe deeply regularly. There is tons of science to support meditation as a regular part of life. But even if you never have, Google stress reduction breathing. You will find all sorts of (conflicting) insights into inhale/exhale patterns like 4/4, 6/2/4, etc. Pick one and do it at least a few times each day or whenever your panic button self-ignites.

 

Commandment 7: Go on a news diet. What you weigh matters less these days than what you feed your head. Limit yourself to once or twice max a day of news, and read the stories about kindness as often as the scary ones. For medical, health, and safety information, trust only legit sources such as the: CDC, WHO, the Johns Hopkins Data Dashboard, or the state Health Department.

 

Commandment 8: Embrace beauty. Nature is breaking spring open all around us. Staring at any small piece of it is good for the soul. Search for free museum tours and nature videos. Join any online group that posts pictures of kittens and puppies. Look for beauty, laughter, and non-covid-focused inputs.

 

Commandment 9: Open your heart. It is terrifying to actually take in all the death and dying on the planet. Like the wildfires last year, the scale is simply beyond us. But it matters that we all feel it at least a little each day, so we can remember that we will need to be different when it is over. Say I love you to everyone you care about. Today and every time you speak to them.

 

Commandment 10: Believe you will live. Thoughts help make reality. Optimism may seem like a stretch, but wrap yourself in it at waking and bedtime. The rest of us need you around for long time. Say your prayers and make them come true by your actions.

 

Surviving Quarantine!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Even without knowing your daily life, I know you’re in the same boat as everyone else: locked in with the people they love (and occasionally get furious with) or alone and isolated, with access to the outer world only with phone, text, email, or Skype. I am locked in with a toddler and two teenagers. My sister, who lives close, lives alone. And our parents who are elderly and potentially at high risk live a few miles away. How can we all cope during this crazy time? We’ve already stocked up on basic essentials but there’s a limit to how much money we have to spend and food we can store. Who should check in on my parents? How do I keep the kids from going crazy? What happens if this is really last more than a few weeks? I can work remotely for a while but not forever. And my sister is at the edge of losing a job because her company will go out of business if this goes on for more than a few weeks. My parents are fine now, but each of them has underlying conditions. We don’t want to put them more at risk by visiting, but we worry.

In the Life Boat

 

Dear Life Boat:

Sadly I can’t solve a global pandemic. But I can give you some handy tips. Let’s focus on your parents first since they are the high risk factor. Check in with they daily by phone to keep their spirits up. That can rotate between you and your children. Skype is even better, and allows you a visual as well as verbal check in. Have them take their temperatures regularly. Do whatever immune boosting they can do, from plain old vitamin C to whatever herbal concoctions they can find or believe in. Make sure they drink lots of water, eat chicken soup, and fo everything they would do if they already had a cold. And if there’s ever a sign of a real fever or flu get a virtual doctor to tell them what to do next.

As from amusing yourself and your children, the Internet is proliferating with virtual tours of everything from museums to nature. There’s binge watching of course. Lots of great lists are proliferating. Learn new games. You and your kids can figure out how to do something you’ve never done before like art or music. Meditate together. Books are fabulous, as an individual or read-aloud activity. Let them have as much Facebook or Skype contact with friends as they want but being absolutely, 100%, zero exceptions cruel and relentless about no, none, No I said No, in person contact with others for at least two weeks. And then limit listening to whatever the guidelines are after that. Flattening the curve is a start, but this is going to last. I was distressed to realize all the early Passover displays around here translated to, This could be a while.

Your sister should be looking for a gig economy remote work now. This is going to change our entire social and economic structure. And it’s going to take a very long time to recover. So whatever she can do long distance now will likely be something that can contribute to her income later. People who alive alone face different challenges than people who are cooped up together. But if she has online interest groups, now’s the time to visit them regularly. When she’s done looking for work, she can do something like learning bridge which you can do online 24/7. By the way, when people have seemingly infinite time, we tend to be much less productive, so be sure to talk to her daily too and ask what she has been up to. A little accountability helps us all.

Beyond handwashing and prayer, I think of the three Ws as salvation: water, wifi, walking. As long as you can keep yourself hydrated, amused, and exercised, you can make it through this process. That’s assuming you have shelter and medical insurance, but those I cannot solve either. When evening comes, indulged in the new fad drink: the Quarantini. It must include vitamin C crystals. Beyond that, feel free to experiment with whatever keeps your spirits up.

We’re all in this together even though we’re all experiencing it separately. So do your best to keep your neighbors healthy and hope they’ll do the same for you. This is a time when we find out what we’re made of. With luck we will all make it through. Stay safe.

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom: Kind words are like honey: sweet to the soul and health for the bones.

Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My heart is breaking for America. I cannot get over the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue. It happened he morning of my best friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. What should have been a day of celebration was a time of grieving and sadness. We were sitting there together as a family and community shell-shocked that such a thing could happen in America. I know there are people in my congregation who voted differently than I did. Even they seemed shaken that as Jews, sitting in place of worship, they might be killed, just for being Jews, sitting in a place of worship. My city is about half Jewish, and we have elected both red and blue candidates. But I am the granddaughter of European immigrants who escaped fascism, and what I see in America now is eerily reminiscent of the stories I heard from Opa and Nana about their time, tinged with all their sadness about their family, neighbors, and friends who died. What will it take to make us feel safe again?

Shell Shocked

Dear Shell Shocked:

Safety is a huge question. Zero guns are part of an answer, though not very likely. And people who hate will find other means to kill. The only answer I have is to vote and to communicate calmly, and to encourage others to do the same. But that feels like a giant chasm from where we are now as a country. Part of what I had to do when writing my book was to deconstruct my legacy as the child of immigrants: to see how it shaped my worldview and emotional structure. Both my parents made it out of Germany very close to the beginning of WW2. They grew up in an increasingly fascistic country with a charismatic leader who actively espoused hatred of minorities, Jews at the very top of the list. If we do not want to go the way of 1930’s Germany, Americans must return to talking peacefully even when we disagree, calling out hatred and violence whenever we see them, smothering them with our large presence and caring hearts, and defending this great multicultural experiment we call America.

Except for Native Americans, all of our ancestors came from somewhere else and were reviled as that nationality just as Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, and more are currently being attacked. We have to speak out. Every day. Against everything that brings hatred into our society. We need to fight to keep America free. Not just with and from bullets, but with our votes and with our prayers and our acts of kindness to create a strong loving multicultural society. No one has to vote the same way as I do. But please vote, and make your opinions clear, peacefully, at the ballot box. And wherever and whenever you see it, confront violence, hatred, anti-Semitism, attacks on journalists, and other forms of incipient fascism as though your freedom and life depended on it. Because they do, as Jews, Americans, and humans. It is fine to cry when you do so. You will not be alone.

Flabbergasted

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years we have been friends with former neighbors who moved to
Hawaii. We mourned when they relocated. We have been there twice
in ten years. They have come to visit twice most years and three times
more than once, and early on we were happy to have them. While I
understand Hawaii is considered more desirable than our small town,
having guests is not merely a break in routine but burdensome and
expensive.

 

This time they gave us very little warning before they
arrived, never asked if the dates were convenient, and when we told
them we needed them to leave by Sunday morning latest, laughed and
said, “Oh we planned on Tuesday.” I didn’t want to be rude, but I was
under a massive work deadline. I just said, “I’m on deadline so you’re
on your own for meals,” and stayed in my office. After returning home
the wife sent me an email that said in essence, “This is not turning out
to be the exchange we expected. Please look for alternative
accommodations on your next vacation.” How do I reply?

Flabbergasted

 
Dear Flabbergasted:

Economists have this notion of “sunk costs” which leads to the idea
that it’s not worth throwing good money after bad. What’s past cannot
be changed, but it can provide you with lessons for the future when
dealing with other guests. Common courtesy suggests asking the
hostess if dates are convenient, agreeing on length of stay, amenities,
expectations about food and access to vehicles, and any household
peculiarities such as rising/bedtime quiet, etc. A gift of food, wine, or
something for the house, taking the hosts out to a meal, or another
thank you is common. Any potential guests who doesn’t meet that
standard gets a polite, I don’t think those dates will work for us.

 

In this case, it seems clear that the friendship is both one-sided and
not particularly close anymore. I would reply simply, Our views on
what this exchange has been are very different. I warned you I was
under deadline and was more accommodating than I should have
been. Your note suggests a sense of entitlement that makes it easy to
agree that this exchange is over, and overdue for that. She will take
umbrage no matter what you say, so sit on your email for 24 hours
before sending; if you feel better than worse after rereading, hit send,
or edit accordingly.

Walkies

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I go walking with a friend several times a week. She has two dogs and
I have none. Usually she holds them both, and she is very
conscientious about bagging their poop when we walk in urban
neighborhoods. She is also unashamed about asking me to carry the
poop bags while we continue on our walk, until we can deposit them in
a receptacle. Honestly, I find it rude and a little disgusting. I don’t
have a dog anymore and prefer not to do it. Is there a polite way to
decline? I otherwise enjoy her company.

Walkies

 
Dear Walkies:

This is situation where a simple No should suffice. Since she hasn’t
heard it if you said that, or if you are not ready to be quite so blunt, go
for the cheerful, helpful alternative. You can do this yourself if you can
sew, or perhaps you can find it already made by googling. But imagine
a small cloth bag with a Velcro strap that would fit around your friend’s
dog leash. When she scoops up the poop into a bag, you can hold the
leash while she puts the plastic bag in this receptacle and attaches it
to the leash. I would find or make two of them, and present them to
her with a roll of plastic bags, saying cheerfully, Look, I solved your
problem of poop control!

 
Most folks would get the message, but you might need to just say No
thanks when she hands you the bag. Or else find a new walking buddy
and meet her for coffee and schmooze instead.

Cut

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am an intelligent person with professional training beyond college,
various degrees and certifications in my field, and generally regarded
as well spoken, articulate, and worth talking to. I have a new friend
that I met in a recently formed book club organized by a mutual
friend. This woman (I’ll call her Hannah) and gravitated towards one
another very quickly and bonded on literary taste, politics, and
becoming movie buddies. We’ve taken to checking in with one another
several times during the week by text, sometimes to make plans and
others just to trade hellos and good wishes, accompanied by pictures
from a walk or home, recipes, and Face Book posts or jokes. In the
last month she has chastised me several times for what she calls
“incomprehensible texts.” Once she was correct: I had used the
dictation feature and failed to check its interpretation of my voice. But
the other three times she has pulled rank from her retirement as a
professor of communications. Frankly it rankles, but the one time we
got into a conversation about related matters it turned sharp and
brittle very quickly. Is there a way to handle someone with sharp
edges, whom I would otherwise enjoy as a friend?

Cut

 
Dear Cut:

There are several ways to communicate with person who likes to feel
superior to others. One is not to give her anything to criticize, and see
if she reflexively needs to critique you anyhow. That would give you a
lot of information about her personality. If it remains sharp, I
personally would limit the friendship as well as the texting, regardless
of whether we ended up discussing it. Another is to limit your texting
to visual images, and one-word or one-sentence replies. It is a little
punishing, but she might get the hint.

 
The most honest is to say, It feels like a put down when you correct
me. I’m not your student and I don’t want to have a friendship in
which we’re not equals. I’ll do my best to communicate clearly, if you’ll
do your best to communicate kindly. Does that seem fair? Then see
what she says and trust your gut on how to proceed.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m worried about a friend and I need some insight. Sarah is a smart
retired professional. On the surface she has a wide circle of friends,
but we have all noticed that she says, “I need down time” or “alone
time,” “unplugged time,” “retreat time,” and other variations on that
theme more and more often in the past year. He health seems fine
and she still complains about “those twenty extra pounds” so it is
unlikely she has a severe diagnosis. When I last visited I saw a stack
of Amazon delivery boxes “ready for recycling” that was three feet tall!
She seems to be cocooning at lot and even though she had three
different invitations for Thanksgiving, chose to spend it alone, going to
the movies and then watching football at home. I know Sarah has the
right to make decisions about how she spends her time, but is there
anything I/we should say or do, or should we just let her pass through
this phase?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

You are a good friend. This may indeed be a phase, or it may be you
are observing early (or not-so-early) signs of depression. In either
case there are things you can do, without impinging on the friendship
between adult peers who like and respect one another. Let’s give her
the benefit of the doubt for the holiday, and consider that she may
truly not have wanted to be around other people’s families. Ditto for
needing more alone time, at least in spurts. But if you are not the only
one noticing her patterns, they may signal a behavioral change that
goes beyond the norms of privacy and a desire for more solitude and
quiet.

 
Ask her to tea or a meal at a time of her choosing. Without saying
anything close to “People are worried about you,” might would easily
and reasonably trigger shame and defensiveness, ask how she is
doing. Say you’ve noticed how much more frequently she is choosing
her own company over being social. Ask her how she is enjoying it,
whether she misses being with other folks, and whether she is feeling
okay or if she is in any way down or troubled. Listen to her answer,
assure her that she can always talk to you, and that you want her to
know how much people like and respect her. Then make a date to do
something a week or so later. Perhaps a movie or another meal. Give
her space. If her patterns persist, tag team another friend to do the
same. Winter is a time for hibernation even among humans. But if her
patterns intensify, up the ante by having two of you talk to her.

Trumped

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My name is Sadie and I am a bridge addict. Specifically online bridge,
which since my beloved husband of forty years died, has become a
form of personal connection as well as a way to fill up the long empty
hours. I found an online site and at the flick of wrist I can be happily
engaged for hours with people who share my interests and with whom
I can chat and hone my brain. But having “friended” so many people,
it is hard to choose whom to play with when. I like the newness of
random “take me to the first available seat” and have no compunction
about leaving a table where people are rude. But in my eagerness to
set up games with people like myself (lonely widows, sigh) I find that I
have overscheduled and my in-person human friends here at home
have been saying they feel neglected. How do I find the happy middle?

Trumped

 
Dear Trumped:

Only you can decide what to do with your time. But favoring online
cocooning instead of live humans is a poor choice for a woman who
still sounds cogent and vital. You need to find the happy middle by
being honest not just with your friend but also with yourself.
Are you lonely for friendship or for relationship? Assuming you do not
want to become re-partnered, you can skip a large focus of energy and
attention by not adding dating to the mix. But do not assume others
will not try to date you or set you up. If you just want something to
while away the hours, consider volunteering in an after-school
program, teaching bridge to a younger generation who may not know
the game and love it as you do. There are of course the usual lunches
with friends, social engagements to theater and movies, and
volunteering at your synagogue.

 

My vote would be to take a class in
something you know nothing about but would like to become a novice
at doing. You will be surprised how quickly your obsessive streak can
shift to a new and engaging activity. Limit your pre-set games to a few
a week, and trust the fates to connect you with new people who will
interest and challenge you. Your job is to show up and leave room for
that to happen.

Horrified

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am not a germophobe, at least most of the time. But I do have a
particular phobia against hanging out with people who have bad table
manners, like slurping or chewing with their mouths open. I serve on a
committee that often meets over lunch when we are at the tail end of
our agenda. Last week one of the members (who is from out of town)
brought along a friend from home, as they had a day of activities
planned after the meeting. The friend helped with the committee
chores and we all went out for Chinese food, served family style. The
friend had a wracking cough that she seemed very conscientious about
covering, but never explained. My assumption was that she was on the
tail end of something but I didn’t ask. At lunch she repeatedly licked
her chopsticks and served extra portions from the common dishes
!!!! Not once but repeatedly. I was so stunned that I was speechless. I
know I should have spoken up right away but having failed to do so I
just avoided where I saw her serve herself. Should I say something to
the person who brought her or just avoid eating with her again?

Horrified

 
Dear Horrified:

You are correct that the time to have said something, as quietly but
firmly as possible, was the moment you saw it. You could have said,
Excuse me but I’m trying to avoid germs, could you please use the
common serving implements if you want more? That doesn’t focus so
much on how unsanitary her behavior is but gets the point across. And
since no one else said anything, you have no idea if they were
bothered as well, but if they would likely have been relieved to hear
someone intervene.

 

 

I would say something to the mutual friend. The woman might have a
medical condition that is in no way contagious. But no one who hears
her cough would know that. When she’s with strangers, she could
learn to say, Please excuse the cough. It’s not anything contagious
and it’s a pain to live with. Then germaphobes or not don’t have to
fret. But the bad table manners are unsanitary and she’s better off
hearing about them from a friend.

Semi-Recluse

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Four of us go drinking every couple months, and have done so for the
past dozen years or so. I’ll spare you the internal group politics, but
despite minor tensions and annoyances most of the caring is sincere
and ongoing. I am the only retired person, and generally
accommodate the needs of the other three, who are all younger and
still working. But after six weeks of trying to get us together I gave up,
because everyone’s needs were so specific that it just seemed
impossible. The outlier for each date texted “Go ahead without me”
but I’m a traditionalist and don’t want to see the group bonding
weaken.

 

Then they came up with a date that I could not do because I
have jury duty and this was smack dab in the middle of it. When I
explained why I couldn’t, one of the friends (the one I speak to almost
every day), texted, “Sure you can. I have two jobs and I will make the
time.” I felt angry and shamed, and resentful that my needs didn’t
seem to count as much as everyone else’s, which is what I replied. I
also said they should go ahead without me and I would come if I
could. I’m sure I will be worm our and sick of people if I have to serve,
and not particularly chatty or social. Am I being reasonable or not?

Semi-Recluse

 
Dear Semi-Recluse:

A lot depends on how important this group is to you. As someone with
finite patience for chitchat, I am empathetic. But I also value long-
term friendships, and would suggest they’re worth the stretch. I would
follow up with a second email response saying: I truly have no idea if
my number will be called or if I will have to spend all day in court. I
suggest you go ahead without me, and unless I am seriously pooped
and cranky, I will show up. Then leave it to them to decide what to do.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Four of us have been friends for about twenty years. We’ve seen one
another through divorce, chemo, bankruptcy, job changes, and house
buying, selling, and remodeling. Along the way there have been any
number of misunderstandings or arguments, but like the four
musketeers we have stuck together through thick and thin. Now one of
our number (I’ll call her Sarah) seems to be falling under the weight or
collapsing systems in her life. Her marriage has been in trouble for a
while and one of us is pretty certain that her husband is having an
affair. They have gone bankrupt once and now she is unemployed
after complaining for years about how much they struggle even on two
incomes. We all spent today at an arts festival. Three of us spent no
more than a food-cart lunch, but (you guessed it) Sarah donated
almost $100 to the local economy. None of us said anything but you
could feel the silent sound waves. Do we just mind our own business
or should one or all of us step up and tell her what we are seeing: a
friend in a tailspin who needs help?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

You should most definitely not all turn on her as a group. If you do,
you will see only defensiveness and withdrawal. Yes, clearly your
friend is hurting and struggling. Retail therapy of $100 at an arts
festival is not enough cause for alarm that you need to stage an
intervention. But context matters, and if she is clearly in distress you
are obligated as her friends to pay attention and not stay silent.

 

Usually in a friend group there are dyads that are closer than other
combos. The one who is closest to Sarah should take point on this,
scheduling lunch or coffee at her earliest convenience. I’d recommend
doing this at home as opposed to in public. Without poking her sore
places too hard, encourage her to get emotional. Crying is far better
for healing than retail therapy. Once she has unburdened the top layer
of pain, help her develop a strategy for coping: counseling for her;
marriage counseling for them; help finding work; financial counseling;
and perhaps a one-time consult with a divorce lawyer so she knows
where she stands. Secure assurances from the other two friends that
they will play tag team in a support system for her until she is through
this hard spot. And then help her rebuild her life in whatever direction
it goes.

Private Gal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just made a new friend from my neighborhood association. She came
to visit and check out my deer fencing and we just clicked, even
though we are decades apart in age and I am retired and she is
working mom. She’s asked to visit, but her timing and mine are very
different. I protect my creative time zealously, even from close friends,
because I am a writer who is very involved with a project that I do not
want to distract attention from. Can I convey this nicely without losing
access to someone I would otherwise enjoy?

Private Gal

 
Dear Private:

Friendships that endure require mutual investment of time. That
almost always involves compromise. It’s certainly worth making a new
friend at any age and of any age if you click, though with person
whose life is radically different the constraints of infrequent contact
may inhibit developing a long-term friendship. It’s certainly worth a
try.

 
Start by email contact with a summary of your regular schedules and
when the best times to connect are. Say you’re happy to make her
schedule apriority given that she has children, but caution her that you
have a busy and overly scheduled life too. Perhaps suggest meeting at
a park or somewhere where the children can play while you cat, and
explore whether there is enough there there to keep investing time.
It’s also good to connect on social media and see if you have any
friends in common. That will help you get a handle on what else you
might share. Tell her what you like about your writing, but (as a
writer) my general advice is to keep your project close to your vest
with people you don’t know well and save a lot for a true unveiling
when it is finished.

Boundaries!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighbor has allowed a family of wild foxes to nest under her shed,
which borders my property. I have spoken to her several times about
the vulnerability of neighborhood cats, the dangers posed by their
bringing rodents into the area for their young to practice hunting, and
the possibility that they or their prey are carrying various diseases and
fleas, ticks, etc. My husband says I have tried being reasonable, and
my neighbor blew us and another neighbor off saying we couldn’t tell
him what to do on his property. Ideas?

Boundaries!

 
Dear Boundaries:

Start by talking to the state and county wildlife control agencies. My
guess is that there are very strict laws about what you, or your
neighbor, can and cannot do. So educating yourself is phase one. The
agencies may come out and enforce whatever regulations are in place
so you will be just another citizen adhering to their policies. If they say
the neighbor is within his rights, ask if you have the option of live
trapping and relocating the foxes, and what if any specific procedures
are mandated. My guess is that if they do not take care of the problem
directly, that they will refer you to a qualified professional trapper who
knows far more than a typical urban dweller about how to handle what
may be cute to watch outside a zoo but are in reality wild animals who
do not adhere to boundaries that you or your neighbor might want to
impose. For your health, and the health of local pets, sooner rather
than later seems like the right timing.

Nanette

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have advice for how to graciously fend off a persistent suitor?
He is everything I am supposed to want in a date, but I find myself
putting “shields up” whenever I am around him. There’s nothing
specific I can put my finger on that should make me feel this way, but
it is consistent. The more I say no, the more he tries to woo me with
invitations or appearing in places that I am. It is not stalking yet, but it
feels like it. Short of being abruptly unkind, or threatening him with a
court order, is there a No, No, No that will work?

Nanette

 
Dear Nanette:

Yes, Yes, Yes. But here’s the rub: If you seriously want to get through
to Mr. Clueless, you are going to have to be firmer than you have
been, and risk his ire. If you are willing to be less polite you can
accomplish this. Decide that first.

 
When you are ready to go, plan a multi-pronged approach. Send him a
note that says, I am flattered by your attention and have seriously
considered whether I want a social relationship with you. The answer
is No, I do not. Please stop asking me out and trying to be in places
that I am. My answer will not change. Thank you for respecting my
choice. Then share the note not only with your own friends, but ask
them to convey the message to his friends that he is making a fool of
himself and that there are lots of other fish in the sea, as my mother
used to say.

 

Ask your friends to serve as allies in situations where he
tries to come near you. They should stick to you like glue, or be in
close enough range that if he does approach you directly (which most
people would stop doing after your note), that they can insert
themselves into the situation. If he does ask you out again, and they
are present, you should just say No, and they should say, in a slightly
louder than polite voice, What part of No don’t you understand? It
shouldn’t take more than once or twice to deter him. But if it does not,
talk to an attorney about what your rights are to request a restraining
order.

Trying to Get Fit

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have recently started attending Silvers Sneakers classes at my local
gym. My Medicare plan gives me virtually free membership and the
classes are a great mix of strength, cardio, and balance training. I’m a
newbie in a class of 50-60 folks that look like all my friends, with the
same graying hair and assortment of limps and leans. I am happy to
be polite but don’t need new friends, and I don’t want to be seen as a
negative new member. Frankly I just want to come, work out, and
leave. I resent the idea that people have “their” spaces and that when
I get there early try to sit up front near the instructor because I am
trying to learn the routines, I am being told”You can’t put your
chair/equipment there because it is So-and-so’s spot.” Do you have a
polite answer? Sometimes people try to hold 10 or more places and it
has begun to move past annoyance to anger. That is exacerbated
because the specific woman in question is a very loud evangelical with
bad politics who annoys me just by existing. I don’t want to yell but
I’m paying dues too, in my fashion.

Trying to Get Fit

 
Dear Trying:

You can try being polite with the offenders over the seating but I
would avoid a public tangle about evangelism or politics. Stick to the
immediate turf issues, and start with, I’m sure you like to work out
with your friends, but this isn’t a theater with assigned seats. We all
like to be close to the instructor, so I suggest that your friends come
earlier if they want to sit up front.

 
If that doesn’t work, then say something to the instructor and ask her
to make an announcement saying club policy allows a member to hold
their own seat and one for a friend, but no more than that. If it’s not
the policy, it should be. You might also ask the instructor about moving
around the room when she teaches. But newbie or not, hold your
ground, and smile and chat a little with the folks who are not part of
the clique. I’m sure you’re not the only person who is annoyed by
them.