I am the youngest of three boys. When I was growing up, my brothers didn't have much to do with me. At times they were cruel, mocked my interests and made fun of my friends. At 19 I moved into the dorms, even though I was attending college locally.
My professional life took me away from my hometown for 25 years. Both brothers pretty much ignored me, except for calls on my birthday that were filled with awkward silence because we didn't know each other well enough to talk about anything. I lived abroad for long periods, and even though I sent emails and postcards, I never heard anything from them in reply.
Now I live back in my hometown and I am expected to participate in holiday and family events because "it's family." Please give me the words to use to refuse invitations I do not want, from a family who made it clear that they had no use for me for so long.
- Wary in Wisconsin
DEAR WARY: Give the following standard refusal: "Thank you for wanting to include me, but I already have other plans." No one can argue with that. I do, however, suggest you choose one holiday a year to spend with your "family" as a way of maintaining minimal contact. That way they can't accuse you of snubbing them.
DEAR ABBY: Three widowed friends of mine still have their late husbands' voices on their answering machines. I think it's spooky and in really bad taste.
Is there any way to gently suggest to them that they change their greeting to one in their own voices or an anonymous one? I'm a widow, too, and I wouldn't think of leaving my greeting that way.
- Flabbergasted in Florida
DEAR FLAB: Different strokes for different folks. Has it not occurred to you that these ladies not only do not find the sound of their late husbands' voices the least bit spooky, but that they might call their own numbers in order to hear it? They may also feel safer having a male voice answer their phone. Because you find it upsetting, consider texting or emailing them instead.