Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared on October 22, 2003.
A few months back I had a falling-out with a friend whom I was extremely close to. She initiated a “timeout” where she didn’t want to talk to me about the issues at hand or anything else, because she “just didn’t have time to deal with” me. Obviously, I was beyond hurt that my best friend wouldn’t make time to talk things out.
Now when I bump into her in social gatherings she acts all cheery and chatty. To which I respond with a very cold (I’d even say Arctic) shoulder. She then fires at me that she’s just being civil and that I lack the most rudimentary social skill. And I’ll agree. But I guess I just don’t see the point in plastering on a smile and spraying air-kisses on someone who wouldn’t give up a half-hour to at least attempt to straighten things out. So where do you side, civility or reality?
— Your Socially Heathen Fan
I’m surprising myself a little here, and voting civility down. Polite cheer is for when you’ve had the tough conversation and agreed that things can’t be resolved. It’s not for when someone wants you to make it easy for her to avoid the tough conversation.
If it makes you feel better, say, “I find it hard to be civil to someone who won’t even ‘deal with’ me.”
What is the proper response when a business associate or person with whom you have a professional relationship tells you they’re getting a divorce?
I’ve been saying, “I’m sorry” or “What a difficult time this must be for you.”
My friend says most people (men in particular) would be put off by that, and that it conveys pity and judgment on their personal lives. I definitely don’t want to do that, but there must be something better to say than “Oh.”
— Surely, You Wouldn’t Say “Congratulations”
I wouldn’t, and don’t call me Shirley.
The proper response to a divorcing colleague is, “I’m sorry” or “What a difficult time this must be.”
Or “Ooh, tough break.” Or “That can’t be fun.”
And, since you didn’t ask, the proper response to someone who sees these genuine yet safely generic expressions of sympathy as condescending or judgmental or somehow more grating particularly to men is “Huh?”
Is there an acceptable amount of time a guy should wait before asking a woman who recently became unengaged (not by choice) out for a cup of coffee? To complicate things even more, I work with the person practically on a daily basis. I would like to become better friends with her first to see if there is as great a connection outside of work as during, but don’t want to be insensitive to her feelings. Is there a right answer in this situation?
Yes. Ask her to coffee — as long as you’re not crowding her or hitting on her (you know if you are) and she knows you’re not hitting on her (I don’t know, body language, I guess). The most sensitive thing you can do is like her, try to befriend her and trust her to decide if she wants that.