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BOSTON UNCOMMON

Crossing the Panty Line

When shower games get weird, plus tolerating those you dislike and announcing cold sores.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Miss Conduct
May 25, 2008

My 20-year-old nephew is getting married. The invitation to his fiancee’s shower asks each guest to bring a pair of panties the guest would wear; the bride-to-be will try to guess who brought each pair. I am 45 years old, and I think this is in extremely poor taste. Should I attend the shower? And how should I respond if I do attend?

S.D. in Edina, Minnesota

I get a lot of questions about showers and weddings. And because I want to keep this column of broad general interest and not turn it into Nups Central, a shower question has to be awfully darned good to make the cut.

Congratulations.

Your instinct that this is a horrendously tacky idea is spot on, and being 45 has nothing to do with it. Anyone old enough to realize that there have been more sublime lines of poetry written than “I see London, I see France” ought to have better judgment than this. Civilized people do not play show and tell with undergarments. Feel free to decline the invitation – you can still send a present, if you like – or attend and leave the room when the “ceremony” takes place. I’m sure other discomfited attendees would be grateful to join you for a cup of tea in the kitchen.

My husband and I used to be great friends with another couple. Unfortunately, my relationship with the wife has come to a screeching halt. She constantly preaches about how she parents her kids and then gushes over their wonderful achievements. And she talks nonstop about herself, with no questions about my life or family. If I had my way I would never see her again, yet my husband wants to get together with them a few times a year (for a few days!). How do I keep peace with my husband but at the same time find a way to tolerate this woman?

J.W. in Melrose

Talk to your husband and make it clear how much time you’re willing to spend with this couple in the interests of his happiness. A visit of “a few days” can be a bit much even with people you like. Let him know that you find your erstwhile friend difficult to take, and ask him to support you in whatever way you need (making sure you get time alone, learning to recognize “that face” and get you away from the situation, etc.). Don’t let the discussion turn into an argument about whether you “should” like this woman or not; you don’t. There’s nothing to argue about or defend.

When you’re visiting your “friend” (for lack of a better term), minimize the amount of time you spend with her alone. Do group activities, volunteer to take the kids out for ice cream so that the adults can have time together, bring work and explain that you’re on a major deadline at the office and need to spend part of the time holed up in your room. When you do have to be together, give up on the idea that it will be fun. Instead, look at it as an unpleasant yet interesting way to learn about yourself, kind of like those rope-climbing, fire-walking workshops top executives were mad for during the boom years. No one enjoyed the dreadful things, but you reached some part of yourself you didn’t know existed and somehow emerged stronger and better, or so the consultants kept insisting. You can put a similar concept to work here. Don’t try to change her behavior, but take control of your own reactions to it. What behaviors bug you and why? Is everything you’re irritated by coming from her, or does her behavior remind you of painful situations in your past? What helps you keep a sense of distance – humor? Compassion? Yoga and meditation? Solving Sudokus in your head? A stiff vodka tonic? A controlled dose of an annoying person every few months can, if properly handled, do wonders for your self-knowledge and inner poise.

I am 32 and have just started dating again. One of many bits of fallout from my last relationship was that my ex gave me cold sores. Now I don’t know how to handle the cold sore/kiss situation. Because cold sores are caused by an incurable virus, I feel I should disclose my status prior to the first kiss. Should I? I like the spontaneous passion of the first kiss, but I also like a clean conscience.

J.S. in New York

The lucky ones among us have something that automatically filters out all the people who aren’t cool. Welcome to the club, J.S. Some people call them cold sores; I call them “jerk detectors.” Yes, tell your prospective kiss-ees, because I bet you wish you’d been told. The good prospects will be grateful that you put their well-being above instant gratification or looking cool. The ones who get judgmental and unsupportive would do the same over something else, sooner or later, maybe after they’d colonized more of your heart. (For a longer discussion of cold-sore etiquette, go to boston.com/missconduct.)

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

QUESTIONS? Write to missconduct@globe.com or The Boston Globe Magazine/Miss Conduct, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.

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