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Miss Conduct

Getting your due

Do bridesmaids owe you for a bachelorette party? Plus, rude questions about ethnicity and race.

By Robin Abrahams
September 26, 2010

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I was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding, and her two friends were bridesmaids. I e-mailed the friends all summer about the bachelorette party and barely got a response. So I planned and paid for everything myself: hotel, gift bags, car, alcohol. I naively assumed they would see how great the party was, apologize for not helping, and offer to split the cost. One called the night before the party to bail; the other attended but got embarrassingly drunk. Two weeks later, I haven’t heard from either of them. I am seething and stuck with bills for more than $1,000. I just found out that the friend who bailed is having marital problems. Should I ask the women to cough up their share, or should the one woman’s marital problems trump money due in a situation like this? J.T. / Nantucket I get so many questions about weddings that a situation has to be quite dramatic to make it into the column. Yours certainly qualifies, for whatever scant comfort that provides. You’ll be able to dine out on this story for years to come.

And you’d better accept that a good story and a lesson learned are all you’re going to get out of this, and let the money, and the resentment, go. The bridesmaids behaved terribly, but they did give you every indication along the way that they were going to do so. Your personal and professional lives will function much more smoothly, and lucratively, if you realize that people almost never decide after the fact that something you did was really great and they should give you money and public acclaim for it. You generally want to negotiate for those things upfront.

Call the friend having marital problems and let her know that you heard the news and are sorry. Don’t mention the money. Although her behavior was reprehensible, preparing the celebrations for another person’s wedding while your own relationship is falling apart is not an easy task. Choose the high road of compassion and seeing the humor and humanity in a situation. (Take the low road, and your chances of getting the money will be slim while your chances of being embroiled in a new drama are very, very high.)

My 13-year-old grandson is biracial and I am Caucasian. When we are out together, occasionally people will approach me and ask, “Where does he come from?” The question often renders me almost speechless because of its rudeness, and when I reply truthfully that we come from a Boston suburb, some will continue on in the same vein: “But where does he come from?” It was bad even when he was too young to fully understand, but now that he is older, I find it more awkward and hurtful. Do you have any suggestions as to how to handle gracefully such questions? I don’t want to embarrass my grandson. Anonymous / Newton Are you honestly telling me that people not only ask you about your grandson, but while he is standing right there beside you? Because the rudeness of not addressing a question about a person to that person is even worse than nosy inquiries about ethnicity and race. No wonder it gets you every time. You should ask your grandson how he would like you to respond; by 13, he probably has a point of view on his identity. Maybe he’d prefer for you to field the questions. Maybe he’d like you to say, “If you have a question about my grandson, he’s right here. Ask him.” There are many responses that are perfectly polite and yet convey distinct boundaries: “My mother is white and my father is black [or whatever]. I don’t mind being asked, but you should know that some people do,” “I’m from America,” or a simple, “Why do you ask?”

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

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