Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran June 6, 2012.
Question: I am 28 and have a little brother who is 16. He is smart, funny, kind, and an all-around good kid. He is in a long-term relationship (well, for 16: six months) with a lovely young lady whom he adores.
They are probably going to have sex soon. Our parents are open and have discussed sex with my brother many times throughout his life. I want to be someone he can come to with the gory questions and concerns that may be uncomfortable to bring up with the parents. But I have trouble bringing it up because, well, I dunno, it just weirds me out.
How do I open up a dialogue so he is comfortable talking to me?
Answer: Gosh, I can't see why he hasn't consulted you already.
I'm laughing with you, not at you, I hope; I do think it's great that you want to help your brother.
But being accessible isn't a matter of writing up the right proposal and pitching it just so. It's about who you are.
Namely, it's about how you respond to someone's "gory questions and concerns." The person who doesn't stammer, retreat, judge, scold (unless you really must), or serve an agenda - is the listener of choice when the going gets awkward.
It's not realistic, obviously, to believe you can become that person by flipping a switch, but you can give some thought as to why you're so spooked by sex as a conversation topic. Can you talk about it easily with others, and just not a sib? Change the "why," and you have a real chance at changing the "what."
As you wrestle with this, set aside any plans to be your brother's gory go-to and instead just invest in your relationship with him. Make the time, do the listening, refrain from judging.
And, possibly most important, pay attention to what you can learn from him. From your letter, it sounds as though you're approaching this as a younger version of a parent, a know-more-than-he-does resource for living his life better (subjectivity intended).
Even parents, though, are well-served to remain mindful that the teaching-learning current doesn't run only one way. Appreciating what a smart, funny, kind, and all-around good kid has to offer you will make it a conversation, not a lecture, should the opportunity arise for you to send some guidance his way.
Question: How do you deal with an incessant, unrepentant gossip?
The manager at my gym is constantly spewing personal details about her other clients. She never even says hello, just launches right into, "Did you hear ... ?" I practically sprint past the front desk to get to my workout without having to hear it, but she doesn't take the hint.
Naturally, I tell her nothing of my own private life, but is there a way to get her to stop gossiping (to me, at least) about everyone else's?
Answer: "Yikes, I hope you don't talk about me this way when I'm not here!" Smiling hyperbole is your friend here, so you can make your point unmistakably while giving her just enough social cover to laugh it off and slink away.
Earbuds work, too, and you don't even have to push "play."