Five years ago, a new acquaintance told me her father died when she was a child. I remember the episode distinctly because I was very careful in my response. Now we’re dear friends, and I’m fairly certain her dad is still alive. I met him! When my friend introduced me to her father, I assumed he was her stepfather. But over the course of a long evening with her parents, it was clear that this man and her mother had been together since they were teenagers. I hesitate to ask my friend about this because I don’t want her to feel accused of lying. Should I let this go?
After my father killed himself, I told a million lies. If it was possible, I pretended he was still alive; if not, I said he’d had a heart attack. Now, my lies may be more understandable to some people than saying your father is dead when he isn’t. But I get that too: Occasionally, we try out situations we really dread (or long for) with people we don’t know well. It’s like a soft rehearsal of momentous events.
The complicating factor here is that you two became friends. But if she’s really a “dear” friend, why not say gently: “I’m confused about why you told me your dad died when you were young.” There may be a reasonable explanation, or you can help her to create one. Ask about her relationship with her father. Tell her about yours. That’s what close friends do.
I know you think you’ve covered all the angles here, but it’s possible she’s not lying. Her mother may have met her husband as a young woman, after your friend was born and the baby’s father died. Or they may have separated briefly. There’s only one way to find out — and no reason for leaving your confusion unresolved.
Another Covid Christmas …
My immediate family is meeting up for Christmas. We are coming from three different states. I am frustrated that my sister is not planning to have her 6-year-old vaccinated in advance. I think it’s totally irresponsible. When I talked to her about it, she said she’s worried about the long-term effects of the vaccine. (I told her they’re probably less serious than getting Covid.) I am also unsure if she will be getting her booster shot before we meet. How can I bring this up again without being called controlling?
You don’t mention that you or your sister have any scientific expertise. So with due respect, your exchange of lay medical opinions is pretty useless. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was rigorously tested by the Food and Drug Administration and determined to be safe and effective for children 5 and older.
When you talk to your sister again, explain that you are simply gathering facts about the holiday. In the absence of agreed Covid protocols, you will have to make your own decision about attending. If your sister is still indecisive, assume that she will not take the booster and her son will not be vaccinated.
Then talk to your doctor about the risks of spending time with them at your specific celebration. (Will it be large? Indoors? Multigenerational? Are you at particular risk for becoming seriously ill from a Covid infection?) Then make an informed call and share it with the other attendees. That’s called being clear, not controlling.
What’s Another $35?
I work at a small company. We do a Secret Santa exchange. The spending limit is $25. I found the perfect gift for my recipient — a tote bag printed with an apt message — but it costs about double the limit. I don’t think anyone would guess that the bag costs $60. But I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. Can I buy it?
I’ve always taken Secret Santa spending limits to be suggestive rather than literal. Aiming for relatively low prices helps to establish the token nature of the gifts. As you say, it can be uncomfortable if the scale of giving is out-of-whack. So, if you truly believe that people will think the tote bag costs $25 — and you don’t mind spending $60 — go for it!
You’re Too Old for This!
We have a loving relationship with our 30-year-old son. As we prepare for Christmas, though, we’re feeling resentful in advance that our gift exchange will probably be one-sided: We will buy him gifts; he will not buy us anything. Nor will he seem appreciative. He acts like our gifts are his birthright. Help!
Many parents of young adults feel pressure to lure their children home with gifts. But your resentment seems to outweigh your son’s presence. Fortunately, there’s still time to talk to him! Tell him nicely what you wrote to me, though I would tone down the “birthright” angle. Entitlement is not innate but rather nurtured.
Tell him that he’s old enough to make holiday giving a true exchange. And remind him that the cost of his gifts is irrelevant. He may be stuck in his view of himself as the child in your relationship. Hopefully, a brisk nudge will set him straight.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.