DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law owns the building my husband and I live in. I moved in with him about a year ago, before we were married. Because she owns the building, she doesn't charge her son rent to live there but asks that he help manage the building, which takes about three hours a month. (He has a full-time job outside of managing the building.)
When I moved in, his mom asked that I pay rent. I guess in the back of my mind I thought it would change after we got married. Do you think I'm a brat for thinking I shouldn't have to pay rent? The amount she's charging me is about what I would pay if we lived in another building and split the rent between us.
I don't know how to approach this, or if I'd be stepping out of line to request living somewhere rent-free. Please help. -- RENT-FREE IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR RENT-FREE: You are being treated like a tenant, not a daughter-in-law. As a member of the family, you should be treated the same as her son. By all means discuss this with him, and while you're at it, suggest he split your share of the rent 50/50 because you are all family now.
DEAR ABBY: My 30-year-old daughter has extremely high expectations for her birthday. No one in the family has ever given her a gift that she liked, so now we actually have to get the gift approved by her husband first!
She doesn't like gift cards, and our budget is small. Although she barely acknowledges anyone else's birthday, she still expects the "perfect" present for her own. We love her and want to celebrate with her, but the expectations and confrontations make her birthdays miserable for everyone -- including her. How do we stop this? -- BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
DEAR BIRTHDAY: Who created this self-entitled monster? Remind your daughter and her husband that you are all adults now, and because of that, "the family" has decided from now on to mark milestones with greeting cards instead of gifts. Period. If you want to celebrate with her in addition, fine, but her behavior "takes the cake."
DEAR ABBY: I am wondering about current etiquette concerning work emails. I work in the office of a financial institution and receive multiple emails from customers and fellow employees every day. Our e-mail system recognizes when a word is spelled incorrectly. If I receive an email that has a misspelled word in it and I must reply to it, is it rude to correct the other person's spelling error? -- UNSURE IN ILLINOIS
DEAR UNSURE: If you do what you are contemplating, the recipient may find it insulting, so I don't recommend it. However well-intentioned, it could lose the company a client or annoy your co-workers.
DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Russell," and I have had a good relationship for five years. He's black; I'm white. The problem is, on every holiday -- Mother's Day, Easter, Father's Day, etc. -- Russell and his family go out to dinner and I am not invited. I have a feeling it's because I'm white. His ex-girlfriend was black and she was always invited to family functions.
I love Russell but don't think our relationship will go anywhere because his family doesn't approve of me. My family totally accepts him, by the way.
What should I do? Should I stay in a relationship where I am shunned? He doesn't think it's that big a deal and says I shouldn't let it bother me, but how can it not? His brother's girlfriend is invited. She's black, of course. Help, please. -- EXCLUDED IN DELAWARE
DEAR EXCLUDED: You have been seeing Russell for five YEARS? It is a big deal, and you would have to have a hide of Kevlar not to be bothered by it. Have you asked him why you are consistently excluded? Have you asked where he thinks your relationship is going? If not, it's time you did.
Not knowing Russell's family, I don't know whether they may have some other objection to you than the fact that you are white. Regretfully, racism exists in every community to some degree. Without more information, I am reluctant to label them.
DEAR ABBY: I recently moved back home to help take care of my mom. We get along well, but there's one major issue. She has to care for my brother's four kids every day and is pretty much raising them. Because they are loud, whiny, rude and demanding, my mother snaps and yells at them constantly. It makes life miserable for everyone.
My brother refuses to accept the fact that he's taking advantage of our mom financially and emotionally. He has plenty to say about me moving back home, though, even though I help to pay bills and contribute. Never once has he offered to make a dent in the huge grocery bill his children ring up, and he complains about how much gas Mom uses toting them to the half-dozen or so programs he has them in.
I have PTSD, and the situation is taking its toll on me to the point that I can no longer be around the kids or my mom. Is there anything I can do? Or must I just accept that this is how life will be if I choose to stay home? -- TAKING A TOLL IN NORTH CAROLINA
DEAR TAKING A TOLL: Have a talk with your mother about her short fuse with the grandchildren, and figure out why it's happening. If she is so stressed or sick that she can't manage them, correct them and give them positive reinforcement, they should not be under her supervision.
Your brother should not expect his mother to foot the bill for feeding and transporting them. If your mother can't make him understand that, then the two of you should make clear that if he doesn't pony up, his children will have to go to day care rather than Grandma's.
And last, because this unpleasant family dynamic is taking a toll on you, you must decide if you want to remain in that household under those conditions, or if coming home to take care of your mother was a mistake you should rectify.
DEAR ABBY: My son and his wife have been together 10 years. They met and fell in love young. They are only 25 and have two beautiful children.
I remarried three years ago, and my son's wife was instantly attracted to my 54-year-old husband. It's always uncomfortable for the two of us when they come to visit. She stares at him throughout the entire visit, tries to either sit right next to him or directly across from him, and expects a hug every time they arrive and leave. (We finally put a stop to it because she would wait to hug him last and then hold him extra long.)
My husband confided that he's flattered a 25-year-old gives him that much attention. Three years of this can be very wearing. Anything I can do and NOT lose my son? -- AWKWARD IN THE EAST
DEAR AWKWARD: Tell your son that it appears his wife has a crush on your husband, and that while he is flattered that someone so young would find him attractive, her behavior makes both of you uncomfortable. Then let him explain to her that it is time to cool her engines.
DEAR ABBY: I have been best friends with a woman for 30 years, but lately our relationship has become strained. If I do something that irritates her, she gives me the cold shoulder and won't return my phone calls. When she eventually calls back, she's distant and cold.
I was out of the country for an extended period, and when I returned, she was upset with me for not phoning her. Now she's upset with me because my husband and I missed an important milestone because of a family emergency.
I am tired of her passive-aggressive behavior, and I have come to realize that our lives have taken us in different directions. Mine is family-oriented. Hers is not because she has no children. Am I wrong to feel this way? -- FRUSTRATED IN NEW MEXICO
DEAR FRUSTRATED: No, your perception is accurate. Your "bestie" appears to be unusually high maintenance. Rather than allow her to make you feel guilty, realize that not all friendships last forever, and this one may have run its course. Talk to her and express your feelings about this, but be prepared for the fact that it will probably end your relationship.
DEAR ABBY: My wife and I are in our 60s. We have been married for some time and are very open-minded. She keeps insisting that she does not remember her first sexual experience. I would be curious to understand why in the world, unless someone was inebriated, the person would not recall this huge milestone. -- BEWILDERED IN THE WEST
DEAR BEWILDERED: Not every question needs an answer. If your wife's first experience was unpleasant or traumatic, she may have repressed the memory. Or she may simply prefer not to discuss it with you. My intuition tells me that you will have nothing to gain by continuing to push her. If you do, it not only won't bring you closer; it may do the opposite.
DEAR ABBY: Recently a friend came over and took me to lunch. She has a small, 50-year-old vintage car that was very popular in the '60s. She had come from Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge to my house.
As she drove us to the restaurant, her car stalled twice. It was very underpowered and, in my opinion, rickety. After she dropped me home, I sent her an email strongly expressing my concern that she is driving an unsafe car. I was worried for her safety. She took offense, so I apologized.
She has plenty of money to buy a safe used car like anyone else, but she says, "I like driving vintage." I don't want to get into her car again. Was I wrong to tell her I felt her car was unsafe? -- NERVOUS PASSENGER IN SAN FRANCISCO
DEAR PASSENGER: You weren't wrong to warn her. However, you may have been wrong to assume that she has "plenty of money to buy a safe used car." Nobody has as much money as others assume they do. Because you don't want to get into her car again, you should provide the transportation from now on or meet her at the restaurant.
DEAR ABBY: My across-the-street neighbor and I have become friendly. She has a 15-month-old and a newborn. Not only is she not married to the baby's daddy, but they don't even live together.
She has been asking me to help her a lot now that the baby is born. I'm 10 years older and raising three kids, all in their teens.
Abby, I don't want to raise anyone else's kids. How can I politely tell her that I have my own family to care for? She has a tendency to overreact. -- KEEPING DISTANCE
DEAR KEEPING DISTANCE: To tell your neighbor you "don't want to raise anyone else's kids" may be accurate, but it's a bit rough. When she asks you to do things for her, be pleasant and say -- consistently -- that you are busy, you don't have time, you have other plans, etc. If you do, she will soon realize that you are not to be depended upon.
DEAR ABBY: My son has lived overseas on and off for six years. He's being married to a wonderful young woman where they met, which was in Wales. Needless to say, not everyone can attend, so we are having a reception for them here in the States.
My son already has a fully furnished house overseas and doesn't need anything, plus the cost of taking gifts back would be astronomical! Anyway, he is thinking of asking for monetary help with the honeymoon. Would this be all right to do and, if so, how do you ask people for it? -- HELP FOR THE HONEYMOON
DEAR HELP: Many young people today post requests like that on their wedding website. Or, because friends and relatives may ask what they need after receiving invitations or announcements, the message can be conveyed verbally. According to the rules of etiquette, however, requests for gifts or money should NEVER be included WITH the invitations or announcements.
DEAR ABBY: I grew up watching my mom being abused by her husband. It was terrible. Unfortunately, he eventually murdered her. She was only 36. I was 16 at the time, and although it has taken almost 30 years, I have finally found peace.
My message is to people who are currently experiencing abuse. No one deserves to be battered physically, mentally or emotionally. When people suffer from addiction (alcohol, drugs, etc.), they can get help only when they are ready. However, with domestic violence, the victims must consider not only themselves, but also their children. If you are a victim of domestic violence, PLEASE get out and get help. -- HEALED IN GEORGIA
DEAR HEALED: Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your mother at such a tender age. In her memory, I will again print the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is (800) 799-7233. There is a separate TTY number for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's (800) 787-3224. Its website is thehotline.org. Help is available if victims recognize they need it and reach out.
DEAR ABBY: I enjoy weekly massages from a popular self-employed masseuse. I have a standing appointment. If I cancel within 24 hours, I understand that I must pay her. However, if I give her more notice, must I still give her some remuneration? We have never discussed it.
I feel bad about canceling, as she may rely on this income, but it's difficult to pay for the event that requires me to cancel in addition to a massage that didn't happen. What would you do? -- UNSURE IN FLORIDA
DEAR UNSURE: Your masseuse has a 24-hour cancellation policy so when clients can't keep the appointment, she can fill in the time with someone else. Most personal service professionals understand that from time to time appointments must be skipped or changed.
Because you are worried about her, talk with her about it and ask if she can slot you in at a different time if there's a schedule conflict. It would be a win-win. She'll get the money, and you will still have your weekly massage, which, clearly, is important to you or you wouldn't have a standing appointment.
DEAR ABBY: I am worried about my best friend. She never eats at school, and I don't think she's eating at home either. She's beginning to get weak. Yesterday we were playing ball in P.E., and when she caught the ball, I saw her wince. I asked her if she was OK, and she said yes, but I'm still worried. What should I do? -- SCARED FOR HER
DEAR SCARED: Talk to your P.E. teacher about the fact that you are worried about your friend and why. She may not be eating because she thinks she needs to lose weight. Or she may have a serious eating disorder. The teacher will know what to do. Please don't wait.
DEAR ABBY: I was divorced for 10 years, and am now remarried. Four months after we said "I do," my first husband left me (on Valentine's Day!) without a word.
It was out of character for him not to come home, and I was so worried I reported him to the police as a missing person. If that wasn't enough, he left me owing the power and water bills, and our rent was three months behind.
A few weeks later, he sent me an email. It read: "Don't bother me. I'm fine. Move on!" I was trying to do exactly that when, a month later, he knocked on my door, asking me to forgive him. I thought I had, but it still bothers me.
My ex is now begging me to give him a second chance. He has changed so much for the good, and he says he has never been with anyone more than two weeks because they can't live up to me. I have always loved him. He had a drinking problem, but he has been clean and sober now for nine years.
I'm not really happy with my second husband. I haven't been for a long time, and now I have someone I have always loved who wants me back, and I don't know what to do. Please help. -- CONFOUNDED IN NORTH CAROLINA
DEAR CONFOUNDED: I'm sorry you didn't describe what has gone wrong in your second marriage because if it's fixable, you promised to love and honor your current husband until ... well, you know the drill. It would be a mistake to throw him aside without first trying to fix the problem.
Your first husband treated you with brutal disregard. If he has changed, he wouldn't be trying to break up your marriage. Be warned.
DEAR ABBY: I have been going through some tough times during the last few months. I have handled them as well as I can, but something just pushed me over the edge.
I'm not formally educated. I have no college education. I graduated from high school, but I was home-schooled and people tend to not take me seriously when they find that out. I opted out of college because I couldn't afford the loans. I love to learn and have continued to educate myself.
But today, someone I respected told me I'm not as smart as he is because I never went to college. He outright called me stupid and said I should stop pretending to be intelligent.
Abby, I am skilled with my hands. I own my own business and spend most of my time reading on various topics. When I told him his comment hurt me, he laughed and said that just proved I wasn't as intelligent as he is. I know he's not right, but I can't stop thinking about it. Can you help me? -- STREET SMART IN ALASKA
DEAR STREET SMART: Gladly! The individual you were talking to isn't intelligent; he is a classless boor who tries to make himself feel superior by putting down the people around him.
If you are as smart as you say you are, you will avoid him as though he has an infectious social disease. It's true, because cruelty can be contagious.
DEAR ABBY: I play cards with a group of men I have known for more than 20 years. We switch partners after six hands so everyone partners with everyone.
One member of the group has now become unable to remember the rules and constantly asks how he should respond to his partner's bid. He also keeps asking the score and whose deal it is. Because we give small prizes for the high score, I think it's cheating to discuss a hand across the table.
What should we do when he asks the rules or how to bid a hand? I think we should play as we always have, and not discuss the hand or how to bid. Should I find another group to play with, and how can I explain my reason for quitting the group? -- PLAYER IN THE SOUTH
DEAR PLAYER: What a sad dilemma. Before quitting the group, discuss this privately with the other members. Are the small prizes worth the friendship?
Because this man is no longer able to remember how the hands are played, in light of your long friendship, perhaps the group could arrange to do some other activity with him once a week instead of the card game. That way, although he's no longer able to participate in the games as he has before, he won't be completely isolated. In situations like this, relationships and emotional support are very important. I hope you will consider it.
DEAR ABBY: One of my nephews is turning 24 soon. I am reluctant to get him a birthday gift because he's lazy and disrespectful and makes up excuse after excuse for not working. On top of that, he has a 1-year-old daughter and managed to get his family evicted because he felt the mother should do everything -- and I mean EVERYthing.
He's on his cellphone all day texting other women or posting Facebook nonsense. The mother of his child finally woke up and left him, so now he has moved in with his mother.
I am trying to understand why I need to give him a birthday gift. He was dropping hints about his birthday during a family dinner the other day. No one said a word. Everyone ignored him, including his mother.
We're pretty sure he won't be living with her long before he's kicked out. We have all tried to help and support him, but we are tired and no longer want to be bothered.
Must I give him a birthday gift? Or should I use the excuse he gives everyone else: "Oh, I ordered your gift online and they must not have shipped it yet." -- TIRED OF THIS MESS
DEAR TIRED: You are not obligated to send your nephew a gift. A card would be nice, however, if you're inclined to take the high road.
DEAR ABBY: Many years ago, in a "Farmer's Almanac," I read a saying so profound and succinct, I have never forgotten it. I thought one day I should send it to you. Well, with everything that's been happening in Hollywood and beyond, this is the time.
It goes, "If you don't want anyone to know about it, don't DO it!" -- FAITHFUL READER IN CARMEL, N.Y.
DEAR READER: AMEN to that!
DEAR ABBY: I'm writing to you about an experience I had that might be useful to girls my age and older. I'm in eighth grade and I'm friends with more boys than girls. Because I'm a tomboy, fitting in with them is easier.
Today in manufacturing class, I was hanging out with my friend "Ian." We were in a larger group of boys and he started bragging about how this girl had sent him a topless photo. He then proceeded to pull up the photo and pass it around.
I was a little shocked, but I realize people my age don't always make smart decisions (sharing a nude photo). Adults around us always tell us not to send photos to people you don't know and never to send inappropriate pictures. That lesson sure hit home with me when Ian showed around the one he has.
I want to caution other girls not to do this. Pictures don't stay as private as you might think. I feel bad for that poor girl! -- SAW TOO MUCH IN PENNSYLVANIA
DEAR SAW TOO MUCH: Thanks for a great letter. Nobody likes to be lectured to, and adults already do enough of that. I hope your message will resonate with other young women because it's an important one.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069