DEAR ABBY: My longtime friend of 30 years, "Charlotte," lives across the country. I have just learned that her husband, "Harold," is transgender and is now transitioning to become "Helen."
When they come, they always stay with us for several days because they can't afford a hotel. My husband is now very uncomfortable with them staying here or being seen out in public with them. Is there a way to tell Charlotte to come alone and still save the friendship? Or should I let them come and deal with my husband's feelings, which I think are unjust? -- UNJUST IN THE WEST
DEAR UNJUST: Talk to your husband and explain that he doesn't have to socialize more than he is comfortable with if your friends visit. If he still refuses, why don't you and he visit THEM this year? You could stay in a hotel while you adjust to the adjustment Harold is making.
I assume that your husband and Harold were friendly before. Perhaps if he and Harold have a chance to talk, your husband can get past his discomfort. It could be a valuable learning experience for him. Your support at this time would be a tremendous gift to this couple.
DEAR ABBY: My 22-year-old sister is unhealthily fixated on a particular cable TV channel. She will only watch this channel and is obsessed with the love stories and relationship movies. This goes far beyond a simple "like" for something, and I'm afraid she's using it as a way to avoid developing real relationships. She has few friends and has never been in a relationship. I have tried to get her to stop watching it, but it never ends well. How can I help her move away from the television set and into the real world? -- FANTASY VS. REALITY IN FLORIDA
DEAR F. VS. R.: Watching romantic movies with guaranteed happy endings (if only life were really like that!) is your sister's "safe" way of vicariously enjoying idealized relationships. Continue encouraging her to take some risk and join the real world by inviting her to join you in social groups. But until she realizes for herself that she needs to do it, it won't happen. Counseling could help her, but she won't accept it until she admits to herself that she needs help to develop the social skills she lacks and is willing to reach out for it.
DEAR ABBY: I have been dating my boyfriend for six months, and in many ways he's a great guy. One thing that irks me, though, is his tardiness.
This man can't show up on time to save his life. I have arrived at his house for a date only to find he has not even arrived at his own home yet. He is usually 30-plus minutes late for our get-togethers.
I have brought this up many times, and at this point I feel like a nag, but it's SO disrespectful and rude to treat others this way. I'm annoyed to the point that I may break up with him for this reason only. Is my reaction well-founded? -- EARLY IN OREGON
DEAR EARLY: Your boyfriend is either extremely disorganized or just plain rude. If he hasn't been able to change his pattern in six months, he isn't likely to do it. You can, however, change the way you react to it.
Because you know he runs late, make your plans accordingly so you won't be kept waiting. However, if you can't do that, then rather than let it continue to stress you out, end the romance.
DEAR ABBY: How old does a child have to be before she is able to choose a relative to live with? I'm the one my granddaughter wants to stay with. Her home life is in turmoil because of her parents' nasty divorce.
Ever since her mother (my daughter) found out my granddaughter wants to live with me, she has forbidden her to talk to me, and me to contact her. Her mother is depressed and angry, but won't seek counseling. She doesn't talk to me unless it's to say ugly things.
My granddaughter said her mother never smiles anymore. We are very close and this hurts my heart. She's a good girl and should be able to be happy.
We live several hours away, and are more than willing to have her. She already has a room here, and our home is never happier than when she's visiting.
We haven't spoken to her in months, and we really miss her. Her younger sibling gets most of the positive attention, while she receives mostly negative attention. I have seen this happen many times. She tries so hard to please her mom. I don't know what to do to help her. -- HEARTBROKEN IN OKLAHOMA
DEAR HEARTBROKEN: It would have been helpful if you had mentioned why your daughter is angry with you and is preventing your grandchild from contacting you and vice versa. If she's in such bad shape that it is negatively affecting your granddaughter, your questions should be addressed to a lawyer.
If your granddaughter is in her teens, she might be considered mature enough to ask to live with a relative other than her mother. If not, and her mother's hostility is affecting her schoolwork, a trusted teacher or counselor at school might be able to see she gets the emotional support she needs.
DEAR ABBY: My husband is very outgoing. He loves chatting on the phone for hours, and talks with all the neighbors up and down the street. He's retired, so it's fine -- up to a point.
We have a set time for dinner, which is 6:30, and he knows it. Invariably he'll be on the phone or up the street when it's close to dinner. I always remind him 10 to 15 minutes ahead, which gives him time to be here to eat, but he'll keep chatting until he's anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour late to dinner.
I put time and effort into preparing my meals. I grow my own vegetables and think of creative things to fix. He always comments how great the meals are, so it's not that he doesn't like my food. If it's not eaten promptly, it's overcooked/mushy/wilted, etc., so I go ahead and eat if he's not here. I'd like him to be with me when I sit down at the table.
I feel it's incredibly rude for him to be late. When I tell him that, he laughs like it's a big joke. Short of treating him like a 2-year-old and throwing his food away if he doesn't show up on time, I'm not sure what to do. Can you help? -- FED UP IN NAPA, CALIF.
DEAR FED UP: I can't force your husband to the dinner table and neither can you. To toss his dinner into the garbage would be too overtly hostile and a waste of food. Try this: Tell him dinner time is 6:30, but prepare the food as if it's for 6:45 or 7.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 16-year-old girl who has started college early. I love my classes, and I'm glad to be here. The problem is, the dating culture here is huge. People go on dates all the time.
I have been asked out several times, and I feel comfortable going, but I feel dishonest when I don't tell them that I'm 16. However, if I'm upfront about my age, the offer usually gets rescinded, and it becomes incredibly awkward. How can I have a fun college dating experience while still being truthful about my age? -- COLLEGE STUDENT IN UTAH
DEAR COLLEGE STUDENT: The age of consent for a girl in Utah is 16. For a young man, it is 18. You shouldn't jump the gun and announce your age before getting to know someone. If you are asked, of course you shouldn't lie about it. However, I see no reason to volunteer the information when you are asked for a date.
DEAR ABBY: I am a 32-year-old late-deafened adult. I have been deaf in my right ear my whole life, but lost my hearing in my left ear after a tumor was removed when I was 27.
I guess they are right when they say we are never fully prepared to lose things we have taken for granted for so long. I still have trouble communicating with people. I have taken a few sign language classes and four lip-reading classes, but I often feel like I'm no longer part of normal society.
My question is, shouldn't I have adjusted by now regarding how people see me, since I have been without hearing for so long? -- HEARING IMPAIRED
DEAR HEARING IMPAIRED: I have been told that the most isolating disability is being unable to hear. Please do not burden yourself by feeling you "should" have adjusted faster than you have. There is no set timetable for adjusting to any disability.
Because you feel stuck in the process, the Hearing Loss Association of America (hearingloss.org) may be helpful because it sponsors support groups in many states. Please check it out.
DEAR ABBY: Do you think it is fair for me to do all the housework AND pick up dog doo-doo just because I moved into my sister's house with her and her family? They have five dogs and four cats. No one else bothers to do it. I do it to lessen the smell. When I try to say something, they say I am "causing problems." I don't have any animals of my own. -- POOPER SCOOPER
DEAR P.S.: I agree that the task of picking up after an animal -- let alone nine of them -- isn't something most people look forward to. However, if you are living rent-free with your sister's family, perhaps you should consider your chores to be your contribution to the household.
P.S. Because you mentioned that no one else cleans up the animal messes, consider finding more hygienic living arrangements as soon as it's feasible.
DEAR ABBY: I am a 47-year-old professional man who loves children, but never had any of my own. Consequently, I have never had to contend with the considerable cost of raising children. Many of my friends are parents, and I feel the urge to buy their kids nice presents I know they want, or that I never received when I was a child, e.g., a wonderful bike or train set.
What's the protocol for giving an expensive gift (e.g., a saxophone that can cost $1,000) to non-related children without creating awkwardness or obligation? Naturally, I would always check with the parents first. (All of us are white-collar executives and employed, but no one is "filthy rich.") -- GIFT GIVER IN OAKLAND, CALIF.
DEAR GIFT GIVER: The protocol is the one you are already observing, which is to have a conversation with the parents before buying expensive gifts for their children. And when you do, make clear that it is not your wish to cause awkwardness or a sense of obligation.
DEAR ABBY: My brother-in-law found out I smoke marijuana. I have a medical card and some mental disabilities. Marijuana helps with my anxiety.
Although we live near each other, my in-laws now say they don't want me in their homes. The stress this has put on my husband is unfair. His brother obviously has a problem with me.
I never discuss marijuana with anyone and don't carry it around with me. I use it only in the privacy of my home. How should I expect my husband to handle holidays or even regular get-togethers? I really need help. -- UNFAIR IN NEVADA
DEAR UNFAIR: Medical and recreational marijuana are legal for adults in the state of Nevada. I wish you had mentioned how your brother-in-law learned you are using it. That it is being used as an excuse to isolate you is cruel.
How your husband chooses to handle further contact -- or lack of it -- with his relatives will be his personal decision. Not knowing how close they have been, I can't guess what his next step should be -- except to point out that his first loyalty should be to you.
DEAR ABBY: I'm married to a beautiful woman, "Suzonne." We are bodybuilders and into fitness, so we are both quite muscular.
Recently, my wife cut her hair short. It's a great look for her, and we both love the style. Unfortunately, some people have begun calling her "sir" at work and when she's out and about. Suzonne waits tables a couple of nights a week for extra income. Some of the customers have gone so far as to keep calling her "sir" after she has told them that she's female.
This infuriates me because it's so disrespectful. I know it hurts my wife's feelings, although she has been super strong about it. It's plain when you look at Suzonne that she is a beautiful woman.
How can she nip this in the bud before it starts to make her feel bad? I feel a strong need to defend her, and I don't want to get into a physical altercation with anyone over it. -- HURT FEELINGS IN FLORIDA
DEAR HURT FEELINGS: Because your wife has a muscular build and a short haircut, it's possible some of the individuals who call her "sir" are making an honest mistake. However, for someone to persist after being informed that she is a woman is extremely rude. (It makes me wonder if the offender has a warped sense of humor or is threatened by her muscular appearance.)
When it happens at work, Suzonne should ask her manager how the situation should be handled rather than allow it to continue. But under no circumstances should you get into a physical altercation because of it. Instead, on the home front, continue to reassure your wife that she's beautiful.
DEAR ABBY: My husband refuses to memorize my cellphone number. He says as long as it's in his phone he doesn't need to. I feel he should know it so if he loses the phone or the battery goes dead, I can be reached. What do you think? -- LOGICAL IN KANSAS
DEAR LOGICAL: Experience is the best teacher. I think you should stop arguing with your husband and let him suffer the consequences. An option might be for him to jot the number on a small piece of paper and keep it in his wallet.
DEAR ABBY: My wife passed away two years ago at age 40 after a long bout with cancer. We had three children, ages 7 to 12. I am 44 and engaged now to a wonderful woman. We are planning to have a small wedding with fewer than 50 guests.
While the kids and I are doing well, my late wife's mother, "Karen," is still grieving. She has a forceful personality and can be quite pushy. She lives nearby.
We have not finalized the arrangements or sent out invitations. Karen has been asking if she and my former father-in-law are invited, but we haven't answered her yet. She says she's hurt because she feels we don't want her there.
Is it proper etiquette to invite the parents of a deceased spouse to a remarriage? The only people she would know aside from us would be my parents, who need to bond with my fiancee's family who are coming from out of town. The kids seem to not care either way. If it were me, I'd feel awkward being there. Help! -- LOOKING TO THE FUTURE IN ILLINOIS
DEAR LOOKING: Although your late wife is gone, her parents are still your children's grandparents and therefore should be treated as part of your family. While you might feel awkward if you were in their position, consider how hurt they will be if they are not included on the guest list. The decision whether to attend should be theirs to make.
Welcome them and treat them with kindness. A wife can be "replaced," but a daughter cannot, which is why Karen is still grieving even though you have gone on with your life.
DEAR ABBY: I need advice on how to deal with a friend/neighbor's messy, unkempt backyard. We are getting ready to put our house on the market, and I'm concerned their yard may be a deterrent to potential buyers. Their pool looks like a swamp, and various pieces of lawn furniture are strewn about the yard. Tables are turned upside down and random items are thrown about.
They are friends of ours, but I have no clue how to broach such a sensitive topic without upsetting them. Please help. -- LIVING NEXT TO A SWAMP
DEAR LIVING: Because those neighbors are friends, I assume they are aware that you are selling your home. If you live in an area that's prone to any dangerous mosquito-borne viruses, you would be doing them a favor to point out that their pool equipment needs fixing because still water makes an excellent breeding place for mosquitoes.
As to the state of their yard, your real estate agent may have some suggestions about how to handle that. If you and your spouse volunteer to help your neighbors make it more attractive, they might be receptive. However, if they refuse and you live in a community with a neighborhood association that regulates how properties must look in order to preserve their value, consider bringing this to its attention.
DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Hal," and I have been dating for a year and a half, living together for six months. I'm afraid he feels emasculated. Because I make more money than he does, a lot of the responsibility for paying the bills lands on me. We try to split things down the middle, but recent complications with his job have meant it doesn't always work out that way.
I love Hal. I know he's the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I don't want money to be a dividing force, but I don't know what to say to make him feel better. This has been the elephant in the room for some time.
Hal helps out with cooking and housework, and because of that, I don't mind putting a little more into the bills. I do not want this to be an issue further down the road. Any advice is appreciated. -- STUCK ON THIS IN VIRGINIA
DEAR STUCK: The problem with elephants in the room is, the longer they are ignored, the larger the herd becomes. It's amazing that two important subjects -- sex and finances -- are such touchy ones to discuss.
Choose a time when you and Hal are relaxed, and then bring up your concerns. Tell him how much you appreciate him in your life and the efforts he makes to make life easier for you, and that you don't want money issues to cause problems between the two of you. He may need to hear you say it. Then encourage him to express his feelings the way you have.
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