Miss Manners: Arguing friends get bad holiday company

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have friends, a married couple, with whom we have vacationed on several occasions. We live in different states, so we do not see them that often.

This last Thanksgiving party we rented a house with them for a week. It was the week from hell. They fought constantly and traded insults; at one point the wife was so upset that she left the restaurant right after we had all ordered food. It was a long, tense dinner at an expensive restaurant.

Her husband can be very insensitive to other people. It’s usually about him.

My dilemma is that I do not know how to tell my friend that it is not fun to go on holiday with them, and that we will not travel with them this year. She and I have been friends for 30 years, long before our husbands were ever in the picture, and she is a valuable friend I will not want to lose.

HAPPY READER: Your dilemma is not that you do not know how to tell your friend that it is not fun to holiday with her anymore. Your dilemma is that you do not know how to get away with it – in other words, how to do it without being offended and possibly break the relationship.

Let Miss Manners clarify this: You can not. But you can always turn out to be unavailable around Thanksgiving, or find alternative excursions that do not include spouses.

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: How should I relate to my father’s third wife, now that my father is dead?

My biological parents divorced when I was a small child. My father remarried, and my stepmother died in 1994. He met Lauren when I was a good adult (married and with my own children), so I never thought of her as a stepmother. Lauren was married before, but never had children of her own (by choice).

My father and I were not very close, but I kept in touch, especially when he began to decline with dementia. They lived all over the country from me, so I called every few weeks and visited two to three times a year.

Now that my father is dead, it seems that Lauren wants more of a mother-daughter relationship with me – which means she wants my help and emotional support. But I do not have that kind of feeling for her. She has quite a few friends in her town, but she “does not want to burden them.”

When we talk on the phone, she surprises me very sweetly (“Oh, I wish you could be here to help me with this …”). How should I handle this?

HAPPY READER: Volunteering to take on some of the responsibilities of deceased loved ones is a good deed, without it being required – an extra credit in life, to borrow a metaphor from education.

Miss Manners cares for Lauren in this category – and understands that the story you mention – not having had this relationship with Lauren before, nor having been close to your father – reduces your willingness to do so. The decision of how much to do, or how little, is yours – a fact that Lauren wisely acknowledges, since any attempt to make you feel guilty should fail.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners on her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or by mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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