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She's my mother (slap), my roommate (slap), my mother (slap), my roommate (slap)

Wednesday, Mar 16 2005
Dear Social Grace,

My mother recently decided to move here to be near myself and her family. We decided to rent a flat together. We've discussed etiquette issues because I am not living in her house, under her rules, and I am 25 years old. We are sharing the rent and bills half and half, just like any roommates would. The other night, we were both in the living room, watching TV. She received a phone call from my sister and sat down in the living room, right next to me, to talk on the phone. She asked me to turn the TV down. At this point, I couldn't watch the show we were watching because the volume was low and she was right next to me talking. I thought this was rude and decided to talk about it with her the next day.

I told her that it was impolite to talk on the phone next to me and ask me to turn the TV down. I think that if we are watching TV, or even if one of us is watching TV, and someone gets a phone call, they should go into another room to talk. Likewise, it would be impolite to go into a room where someone was on the phone and turn on the TV and expect the person on the phone to leave the room or be quiet.

My mom doesn't understand my point of view. She doesn't think she was being impolite because she was already sitting next to me when she received the phone call.

What is your point of view on this situation?


Dear Dana,

If possible, a person should make an effort not to intrude on a roommate's enjoyment of a TV show or a phone call. So, yes, it would've been more thoughtful of your roommate to take her phone call into another room. And I agree with you that "first come, first served" is one fair way to determine who gets audio control in a shared space. Of course, even if that is the understood rule, you'll sometimes need to make exceptions and compromises: For example, your roommate could have reasonably started such a discussion by saying, "I'm sorry, but I need to take this call here. I'll be finished in about 15 minutes."

But we're not talking about any old apartment-share here. No matter what agreements you and your mother come to, you will never be "just like any roommates" -- you'll always be parent and child. In matters of etiquette, sometimes being your mom trumps being in the wrong. In your place, I'd make an extra effort, therefore, to accept minor annoyances such as these. (Don't look now, but she's probably making sure you eat a nutritious dinner. No regular roommate will do that, either.)

Dear Social Grace,

A friend on the East Coast just asked me a question, and I thought of you. He got something from his boss (a write-up) that's going to be sent to the big cheeses, and his boss asked for comments. My friend noticed a bunch of grammar and phrasing problems -- how should he handle that?


Dear J,

There are as many answers to that question as there are bosses. For instance, some supervisors appreciate having their grammar corrected; others, well, they don't enjoy it so much. Therefore, I'd say that your friend should ask himself these further questions:

1) Do all the errors need to be corrected? (In my experience, most companies aren't too concerned about the grammar problems and awkward phrases that appear in their internal documents.)

2) Do these errors reflect on me? (That is, will the big cheeses expect that your friend has seen, and has had a chance to correct errors in, the document?)

3) Have I been asked to look over the document and offer suggestions, or is this "look over" merely a courtesy that has been extended to me?

Maybe the answers to these questions will suggest that he disregard the errors, or all but the worst ones.

If he can't, he might do what many editors do when they deal with, for instance, well-known writers: Unless something is an obvious typo, phrase the correction as a question: "Did you mean to say 'errors' instead of 'problems' here?" Compliment the piece before you offer to make corrections: "This is beautifully written. I had only a couple of minor things to add -- little typos that I can fix if you want." And consider working flattery into the correction: "This description is so vivid, but I worry that it's too wordy. Do you want to tighten it a bit, like so?" Just tell your friend to beware of seeming to be an apple polisher -- although, as with grammar correction, different bosses enjoy different levels of kissing up.

Dear Social Grace,

My husband and I have been married for 30 years. We are now both retired and spend a lot of time together. For many years, I have enjoyed meeting with female friends, married and single, for dinner or lunch, two to three times a month. Since these are women-only gatherings, my husband is not included. He has always felt unhappy being left out and complains that this is blatant discrimination. He claims that any female friend who asks me out without him is being rude and divisive, as married couples should not be separated socially.

I've considered his ideas extreme. However, I agree that one individual of a couple should not be invited without the other to a coed social event or to another couple's home, as you addressed in your column of Feb. 16 ["Bones to Pick"]. You wrote that a couple could not "nicely" exclude one half of another couple. My husband took this to vindicate his belief that a couple should not be separated in any social situation.

Please give your opinion about the appropriateness of my socializing with female friends minus husband.

Thank you,
Via the Internet

Dear Socializing Madam,

Yes, there's an obvious difference between events that other couples will attend and events that no other couples will attend. For example, if I invite two couples to dinner and then invite only you, without your husband, then I'm being rude. It's also improper to invite only half of a social pair to an event such as a family wedding.

It isn't rude or "divisive," however, for a group of married ladies (or gentlemen) to enjoy lunch, a book club, or a kickboxing class sans spouses. A married couple may have separate friends and do separate things. Most couples need such activities. (I love my honey, but I also sometimes enjoy leaving him at home so I can meet a friend for a beer and a heart-to-heart.)

Obviously there is more to your problem than the etiquette issue at hand. If your husband is feeling excluded from your social life, perhaps you can make more of an effort to include him in other outings: Set up a post-ladies'-lunch golf game, movie, or something else you two can enjoy together. Join an activity group or take a class with him. Or perhaps organize a couples' dinner with the ladies from your social group and their spouses or significant others.

Adjusting to retirement can sometimes be difficult; I've witnessed such problems firsthand. If this disagreement proves too large for Social Grace to help you surmount, I suggest looking into couples' therapy.

About The Author

Social Grace


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