Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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    HomeEntertainmentCarolyn Hax: A favor between friends spirals into a complaint triangle

    Carolyn Hax: A favor between friends spirals into a complaint triangle

    Dear Carolyn: For many years, one of my oldest friends has very kindly taken in my cats for a month every summer while I am out of town. Because they live in an apartment on a high floor with a balcony, they have always asked me to help them install some safety barriers to reduce the chances that a cat might fall and meet an untimely end. I have told them that I find this risk very low, but I have gone along because it gives them peace of mind.

    This year, I need to delegate the cat drop-off to my partner, who shares my view that a barrier is unnecessary and … doesn’t want to help with the installation.

    My friend is upset about this and has complained bitterly to me. While I do sympathize, I resent that they expect me to be the messenger when they have their own relationship with my partner and could easily express their disappointment directly.

    Is it acceptable to treat someone as a proxy for their other half in these situations? What is the best response?

    Stuck in the Middle: The answer is, sure, it would be less complicated for your friend to talk to your partner directly. Still, the favor is between you and your friend, not between your partner and your friend, so talking to you makes more sense.

    But you’ve asked me the wrong question and chosen the wrong target for your resentment.

    The issue here is the rather stunningly obnoxious choice your partner has made, to draw a hard line against a minimal effort to humor one of your “oldest friends” who is doing you a massive favor on an annual basis.

    You are not “stuck,” and your “middle” status is a responsibility to point out to your partner that when people do significant favors for you, you either indulge them on what they require or stop asking the favors.

    And yes, you are asking your partner for a favor, too — one you hope they will either do fully, as asked, or decline upfront, because the half-arsing of this favor has set resentments in motion that might cost you your friend’s goodwill.

    Are you sure about this partner, may I ask? Sure-sure? The only information I have to go on is Catgate, granted, but passing up such a basic opportunity to be a good sport does not make your partner look good.

    Dear Carolyn: I think my granddaughters, 12 and 7, spend way too much time on their devices and I have brought up the fact that the surgeon general is now weighing in on this. How much, as a grandparent, can I push? They go to bed every night with a device rather than a book! And when they spend time with me, which is often, can I set my own rules as far as time limits?

    Doting Grandma: The question is not how much you can push, but what possible consequences of pushing are acceptable to you. You “can” push 24-7, for example, if you’re willing to stake your entire relationship on it, and probably lose it all.

    I assume you’re not willing. That means deciding how much of your time and your relationship with your granddaughters — and their parents — you’re willing to devote to this problem … cause … crisis.

    Plus, if you do take up the cause zealously enough to alienate the girls, then they will lose one of the key emotional connections that serve as guardrails against the potential harms of being online. That’s an ironic outcome you dearly want to avoid.

    The answer to your second question is yes, absolutely, you can set rules when they’re with you. A way to Goldilocks this issue — not too soft, not too hard — is to zip it on the greater issues of devices and overuse and harms and surgeons general, and instead invite the girls’ input on some limits because you simply like things better that way. No phones overnight in your home, for example, or at the table during meals, or on any “field trips” they go on with you. Create no-screen zones for x-hour stretches during the day, or, conversely, allow set check-in or play times during otherwise unplugged days. Giving them some say shows respect and encourages them to buy in. This NPR article teems with ideas.

    When you’ve chosen the rules, again, don’t preach — just set them down and hold to them, with unflinching good nature. The moment you bad-mouth the devices or the girls’ device habits, or the culpability of devices for the wreckage of civilization as pre-device people once knew it, you will encourage defensiveness and add their voices to the universal adults-don’t-get-it harrumphing chorus, which is already loud enough to scare the angels.

    The kids may resist visits on the new terms, but they’re young enough that their parents can veto that as a reason for opting out. Secure their support as well as the kids’ for thoughtfully designated unplugged spaces when the kids are with you. The rest is rightly the parents’ battle to choose.

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