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MISS CONDUCT

An Affair to Share?

Should you confront the spouse of a cheater? Plus, no free refills and one-sided conversations.

Miss Conduct
(Illustration / Nathalie Dion)
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 Never the Groom (8/12/07)

For more than two months, I dated a man whom I met through an online dating service. I recently found out he is married and promptly ended the relationship. Is it appropriate to inform his wife of this affair? I am a very nonconfrontational person and feel on the fence about this matter.
C.M. in Burlington

You can’t be all that nonconfrontational, C.M.; you did, after all, tell the married jerk to go pound sand when you learned the truth. So don’t go playing all helpless with me. But you’ve already done your ethical duty to the wife by breaking up with her husband. You’ve extricated yourself from the situation, and it’s safest and best if you stay extricated. I sympathize with your feeling that she has a right to know that she’s married to a cheater, but that doesn’t mean the knowledge has to come from you. There is a good chance she wouldn’t believe you, anyway; I’m sure her husband already has a well-crafted set of excuses and alibis. (Or she knows already, or maybe the wife and husband even have an open arrangement.) In any event, congratulate yourself for getting out early and move on.

I’ve been a waitress for 25 years, and in the last two years I’ve noticed that customers automatically expect free refills on sodas. (This perk is not offered at my restaurant.) It’s awkward and tacky for the server to say, "Just so you know, refills are not free." Having tried a few variations on this statement, I’ve found some people get annoyed or insulted at the insinuation that they are too cheap or too poor to pay for another refill. Conversely, the cheap ones become incensed when the bill arrives and they actually have to pay for what they ordered. It just seems common sense to me that if it doesn’t say it’s free, don’t expect it to be. But maybe I’m wrong. How is a server to handle this issue?
J.K. in North Conway

A server is not to handle this issue in terrible, noble solitude, like Prometheus chained to his rock or Harry Potter going to face Voldemort in Book 7. Talk to management about the awkward situation you are in, and ask them how you should handle it. You did an awfully good job describing the dilemma to me. I’m sure your managers, if you put it the same way to them, would realize that there is a problem that needs to be solved. Other servers at your workplace must be having the same problem, so if you can talk to your co-workers beforehand and make a united front, so much the better.

Most restaurants these days do give free refills, which is why customers thrifty and profligate alike have learned to expect them. If your restaurant wants to buck the trend, they should note that fact on the menu. (Better yet, they should just give free refills, which reap customer good will well beyond the pennies a glass they cost. There’s a reason all those other restaurants do this.) At the very least, your managers should be able to tell you, and your co-workers, how the "no refills" policy ought to be communicated.

My brother is a great storyteller but doesn’t know when to stop, is not a great listener, and doesn’t share in a conversation. To make matters worse, his wife tends to comment on each and every sentence (regardless of who’s talking) and then sometimes hijacks the conversation. I’ve tried saying, "Just a moment" or "Let me finish," but they don’t seem to get the point. Do you have any other suggestions? My poor husband is on the verge of giving up and not trying to participate when we get together.
D.D. in Scituate

You’re not going to be able to deal with this in the moment if diverting the flow of your brother’s mighty monologues is that Herculean a task. So do the "We need to have a talk" thing, ideally with just you and your brother, since he may feel more defensive if spouses are present. Ask him to promise not to respond until you’ve said your piece. Then tell him more or less exactly what you told me, above. Ask him to work with you to keep your relationship a two-way street, rather than one of performer and audience. (Phrasing the conversation in terms of "what can make our valuable relationship better" rather than "what you need to do to stop being so insanely annoying" will help.) Ask him what you can do to help the situation – is there a signal the two of you can use when he’s going overboard?

But this is all advice from a stranger. He’s your brother, not mine, and there are undoubtedly aspects to this situation only you know. Was he always like this? If so, how have you dealt with it in the past? And why did you decide to change your way of dealing with it now? If he didn’t used to be such a spotlight-grabber, when did he change? What might have prompted it? If there are underlying psychological dynamics for why your brother became a motormouth – or why you have finally rebelled against it – those need to be thought about and addressed.

My Word
Weddings vary in formality, theme, and time of day, so there is no one right way to dress for them. However, three rules for female guests stand the test of time: Do not wear anything entirely white (too bridal), entirely black (too funereal), or that makes you look entirely more attractive than the bride (insofar as that can be helped).

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

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