After Coming Out as Gay, I’m on the Outs With My Ex-Wife’s Family. Help!

My son, 27, and his fiancée are having an engagement party soon. Some background: Fourteen years ago, I came out as gay, and my marriage ended. My then wife and I were in our 50s. She and I are still estranged, but I have maintained loving relationships with our three children. They will all be at the party for about 25 guests, along with my new partner of 12 years, my ex-wife (who is still single), her parents, my former brother- and sister-in-law, and their adult kids. There is no love lost between me and my ex-wife’s family, and I am thrilled not to have been in contact with them for years. I am not looking forward to a three-hour party with them. I have no desire to say much more than hello, and they probably feel the same way. Any advice?


I am pleased for you, of course, that you found the courage to live your authentic life, no matter how long it took. But I feel compassion for your ex, too. She may feel betrayed by you — that you pretended to be straight while it suited you, and then abandoned her in middle age. Now, the facts are probably much more complicated, and your coming out may not even be the cause of your enmity with her family. Still, I hope you can acknowledge the complexity here.

If I were you, I would take the high road for your children’s sake. Try to smooth things out with your ex-wife — even a little bit. Call her, if that’s possible, and tell her you want to help make the party comfortable for her and your children. Offer to meet in advance to discuss how she would like the evening to go. She may refuse, but you will have done what you could.

Now, I don’t envy your having to attend a party that’s as fraught with tension as this one seems it will be. Be humble about the role you played in creating this situation — however inadvertently — and be polite to everyone. It doesn’t sound as if your former in-laws want to engage with you any more than you do with them. So, after greeting them politely, retreat to friendlier corners and try to make the party a success for your son.

Four couples agreed to share a vacation home that was listed at one price for three couples and slightly more for four couples. Each couple sent a quarter of the total price to the owner in advance. A week before the vacation, one of the couples tested positive for Covid. They canceled, even though they may not have been contagious by the time the vacation began, because two of our group are immunocompromised. The owner of the house reduced the price to the rate for three couples, and the additional money was returned to the couple that bowed out. But because of the discounted rate for four couples, the refund was $600 less than the amount they had paid. Should the couples who went on vacation each pay $200 to the couple who didn’t go?


I know your question is about money, but I hope your friends with Covid had an easy time of it. No one asked them to cancel. They did so pre-emptively, even though — as you say — they might have been healthy by the time the vacation began. Perhaps they were anxious about the uncertainty.

Strictly speaking, the couple who canceled should bear the $600 loss. We are all responsible for our own behavior — including for jumping the gun and for not exposing others to illness. But friendship isn’t always strict: The couples who went on vacation may also decide to cover the shortfall for the couple who didn’t.

I am in my 30s. A former neighbor of five years — a woman 30 years my senior — messages me daily on Instagram. Her messages consist of corny Instagram Reels featuring baby animals and other mindless content. I have nothing against this woman, but I am at a loss for how to respond — so I don’t. Now, I have months of messages to which I have not replied. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to invite more content, either. What should I do?


I respect the difficulty of your balancing act: wanting to be a decent person without creating a burden for yourself. In my view, if your former neighbor were upset by your silence, she would have mentioned it or stopped sending you messages already. For her, the messaging experience may be complete when she hits “send.” No need to reply to mindless content. If you want to reach out to her, send her a message. (No pressure, though!)

I go to cloth-napkin restaurants with a married couple who are longtime friends. As a nearly 80-year-old woman, I have reached the Kleenex-up-my-sleeve stage of life. The problem: The husband of the couple blows his nose into cloth napkins. He doesn’t dab; he blows. He is also in poor health. Should I keep giving him a pass despite the ick factor?


I recognize that you are grossed out, but I worry about the superciliousness of correcting another adult whose behavior doesn’t truly affect you. You are not this man’s mother or his mentor. You may certainly offer him a packet of tissues, but if he doesn’t take the bait, let this go.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.

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