DEAR ABBY: I own a small retail shop. One of my employees (I'll call her Sara) has been with us for a number of years. Until recently shes's been a stellar employee. She has been through several traumas during the past year, including the death of her father, unexpected injuries and medical bills, and finding out that her husband had molested her teenage daughter and other girls as well. It has been enough to drive anyone over the edge of emotional stability, and she has been noticeably struggling.
Sara has seen a doctor and is seeing a therapist for this, but she's still having a difficult time. These things don't heal overnight. I understand that.
Brick-and-mortar retail pretty much runs on presenting a cheerful face, happily engaging with customers and answering their questions -- something Sara has been emotionally unable to do. Customers have begun complaining to me about her moodiness and saying she has been ignoring them. I've talked to her about this a couple of times now, and each time she says she'll do better, but she hasn't.
Abby, she's been through so much, I'm reluctant to add to her trauma by letting her go, but I feel I'm being backed into a corner here. Is there a solution I'm not seeing or something I can say that will help resolve this without having to let her go? There isn't any work currently available that doesn't require customer interaction, or else I'd ask her to do that. -- BAD FOR BUSINESS
DEAR B.F.B.: You are a caring employer -- more than most would be, considering the shape that retail is in these days. Talk to Sara again. Explain that you are receiving complaints from customers and what they have been saying. Give her another chance to improve. If one of your other employees can cover for Sara for a week or two, let Sara have a brief leave of absence to regroup. However, if the complaints persist, let her go, because what's going on isn't about her or you, it's about the health of your business.
DEAR ABBY: My husband is 67 and at least 45 pounds overweight. His breasts could fill a C-cup bra, and his belly looks nine months pregnant. Problem is, he wears running shorts around the house and no shirt. Everything hangs out regardless of whether we're alone or have family visiting. It's embarrassing.
When I ask him to dress or at least put on a shirt, he says it's his home, he can dress any way he wants, and if someone disapproves, they can leave. That's exactly what I am ready to do. I am disgusted seeing him look like this. Also, when we are alone, he tends to skinny dip in our swimming pool.
I'm afraid our 18-year marriage is over. For the last five years we have lived like roommates with separate bedrooms. Do you agree I should leave? He flat-out refuses any counseling for us. -- LOOKING THE OTHER WAY
DEAR LOOKING: You are asking me a question I can't answer for you. Because your husband refuses counseling doesn't mean you couldn't benefit from talking to someone, in light of the fact that you are contemplating such a life-changing decision. Please go, because the answer to your question lies within yourself.
DEAR ABBY: I am a 54-year-old single woman who recently started dating again after four years of total abstinence. My two adult daughters, ages 18 and 22, live at home with me.
My dilemma: I am smitten, to say the least, with an attractive, supportive and very loving man. I have invited him over and introduced him to the girls, which went well until the other night, when my 22-year-old overheard us being intimate (her bedroom is next to mine). There was no screaming or anything lewd, no nudity or PDA, but I happen to have a slightly noisy bed.
She now refuses to sleep in her room and sent me a text telling me she wants to live with her dad because she thinks it's disgusting. I'm not sure how to feel. On one hand, I think she needs to grow up, but at the same time, I don't want to be the cause of her discomfort.
I explained to her that I'm happy after being alone for so long and perhaps she could be happy for me. My partner thinks she's jealous of our new relationship. The 18-year-old couldn't care less.
My question is, am I behaving inappropriately? Don't I have just as much right to enjoy my home as they do? -- GETTING BACK TO IT IN NEW YORK
DEAR GETTING BACK: I can see how your young adult daughter might be uncomfortable being confronted with her mother's sexual activity, to the musical accompaniment of squeaking bed springs. Most people have a hard time accepting their parents as sexual beings. You didn't mention whether your daughter's father would welcome this daughter moving in with him. If he's all for it, that would be the way to deal with her discomfort.
DEAR ABBY: I've been happily married for 13 years. Over the last few years we have experienced our brushes with the prospect of infidelity, but we remain committed to each other. While our marriage is a healthy and happy one, our commitment to each other has recently come into question, and we have been fighting more than usual.
Recently, a good friend of mine since almost childhood -- and brief lover in my early 20s -- with whom I have maintained friendly contact over the years, propositioned me. He said he has never fallen out of love with me and will continue to wait. I cut off my relationship with him without agreeing to an affair (or anything else) and have moved on with my marriage.
My concern is, now I feel this urge to let my husband know about the exchange, mostly to reinforce my commitment to him and maintain transparency. But part of me is afraid that bringing it up will cause more upset, and maybe I should keep it to myself. What should I do? -- NEEDING SOME GUIDANCE
DEAR NEEDING: Not all of our urges are meant to be acted upon. Be honest about your motive. What do you think telling your husband will accomplish? Will it bring you closer to each other, or remind him that you are attractive to other men and make him jealous? Will it anger him enough to want to punch your old friend and former lover in the nose? If this is a possibility, some things are better left unsaid.
DEAR ABBY: My sister -- age 57 -- has terrible table manners. We live three hours apart but get together every two or three months to enjoy each other's company.
Recently, we went to a nice restaurant, and she let out a loud, obnoxious, disgusting burp. I was surprised and embarrassed. She quickly apologized. I said, "Can't you lower the volume and cover your mouth?" She became defensive and said, "I apologized!"
Her burping happens often, but this one was beyond the pale. I don't like it, never have. How do I communicate to her effectively to burp quietly and in a controlled manner? -- DISGUSTED IN NEW JERSEY
DEAR DISGUSTED: I think you have already done that. Is it possible your sister suffers from a gastrointestinal disorder? If she hasn't brought this to the attention of her doctor, she should.
If, however, there is nothing physically wrong with her, you may be happier having your meals in a different kind of restaurant -- a loud, casual burger joint or a sports bar where no one will notice her problem while rooting for the home team.
DEAR ABBY: I have been married 36 years to a woman who has saved my life and soul. We are both faithful to God and to our marriage, sharing the love of our family. We are blessed in many ways -- including a great son who is self-sufficient and prospering, and a daughter who is married and takes on any challenge with confidence.
I have one guilt-filled issue I have never shared with my wife. Prior to meeting her, for nearly 12 years through my military service and college years, I was actively bisexual. I'm not proud of this fact but learned it was more out of loneliness and experimentation than need.
This is the only thing I have never shared with my love, and I wonder if I should, as it weighs heavy on my heart. It melts me when she says "I love you" and thanks me for sharing my life with her. I have prayed to God about this. Should I share this with my wife? -- DIFFERENT PERSON NOW
DEAR DIFFERENT: I see nothing positive to be gained by opening this long-closed chapter of your life with your wife at this late date. Because you feel the need to talk about this, do it with your spiritual adviser.
DEAR ABBY: I am a big-breasted woman who is suffering because of them. My doctor told me I'm a good candidate for a breast reduction, which I am thrilled about. My problem is my husband is 100% against my having the procedure. He gets mad when I bring it up and refuses to budge.
I'm a 65-year-old woman with arthritis, which makes my back and neck pain even worse. How can I get him to change his mind? I'm the one who's suffering, and I don't think he's being fair. -- LOOKING FOR RELIEF IN FLORIDA
DEAR LOOKING: This is not a question of fairness. It's a question of quality of life. Many women have had breast reduction surgery for the reason you are contemplating it. Your husband may have a breast fetish or possibly regard them as his "property."
I recommend he accompany you to your next doctor's appointment so the doctor can help him understand why the procedure is necessary and what the result will be afterward. However, in the final analysis, your breasts are yours, not his, and you should be able to do with them whatever you like.
DEAR ABBY: What does one do in the case of lending out DVDs and never seeing them again? This happened to me at the start of the year. The perpetrators are members of the church I attend. One is the assistant pastor.
When I have asked about my DVDs, the borrowers have been very vague. I think those who attend one's church should be trustworthy. What do you think I should do besides refuse to lend anything? -- MIFFED IN MISSOURI
DEAR MIFFED: Your DVDs may have been lost, damaged or loaned to someone else who didn't return them. In any of those scenarios, the person(s) who failed to return the items should have offered to repay you for them. That no one did reflects badly on the borrowers.
That said, there is nothing you can do now besides be less generous in the future. In the meantime, continue hounding the borrowers.
DEAR ABBY: I've always wondered when it's appropriate for a couple to start giving gifts as a couple vs. individually. I've seen couples who start early on in their relationship and others who have been together for what feels like forever who still individually give gifts. -- WONDERING IN TEXAS
DEAR WONDERING: There are no hard and fast rules about something like this. It may depend on all the circumstances involved, and also may have something to do with how independent from each other the couple is.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old girl who's been with my boyfriend for two years. We are a wonderful match and love each other very much. There's just one flaw in our relationship that I hold lots of guilt over. From the beginning, we have both known he would like to have kids, and I have always known that I do not. I don't want biological children, and I have no desire to adopt. I'm not maternal.
My boyfriend and I had a deep conversation about it a while back when we realized there could actually be a future between us. He said he is willing to put aside his desire for kids so he can have a future with me. I feel guilty that I'm not the ideal woman for him. Should I break it off so he can find someone who wants children, or should I trust in his statement that his life really will be fulfilled with only me and no children? -- GUILTY IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR GUILTY: Not wanting children is nothing to feel guilty about. Many women feel as you do about the lifetime responsibilities of becoming a mother. I do think you would be wise to have several more "deep" conversations with your boyfriend to make sure he fully understands how serious you are on this subject and what marriage to you will mean. In addition, premarital counseling could be helpful to ensure you both are on the same page about other issues that might crop up.
DEAR ABBY: I recently had to put my 14-year-old dog to sleep. I adopted her when she was 2 and had her for 12 years. She had health issues, dementia, incontinence, and more importantly, she was no longer herself.
It was a very difficult decision, but the right one. I know this in my heart, but I am severely depressed. I can't stop reliving the image of her death. (I stayed with her during the procedure.) I am losing sleep and interest in everything. I have another pet at home (a cat), and I will soon have my dog's ashes back.
My kitty brings me a lot of joy, but my house seems so empty and quiet without my dog. I'm not ready to adopt another one, and not sure if I ever want to again. I have done volunteer work for a pet organization in the area, but I just cannot be around any other pets right now -- especially dogs. I have a hard time just walking down the pet aisle in the grocery store.
I know time is the best healer, but I can't seem to shake this. What would you suggest? -- GRIEVING FOR MY LOSS
DEAR GRIEVING: You loved your dog, and you have suffered an important loss. You would not be normal if you weren't grieving. Eventually the things that trigger you will become fewer, and when that happens, you will be ready to move forward. Have faith in that. If your sleeplessness and lack of interest in things that previously brought you happiness continue, however, you should discuss it with your doctor.
DEAR ABBY: I am a father of four. My sons are 62 and 52. The older one calls me about every two months; the younger one hasn't called me in nearly two years. One of my daughters last spoke to me three years ago. My remaining child, a daughter, stays in regular contact with me about once a week. They all live far away out west. I have tried to contact each of my children lovingly, but have not been successful for the most part.
I now have end-stage cardiac disease and will soon be joining hospice. When I do that, I'll be faced with the decision of how much to tell my kids about my condition. In view of our distant relationships, I'm not inclined to tell them very much, since they have been so unresponsive in the past. I would welcome your suggestions. -- PONDERING IN PENNSYLVANIA
DEAR PONDERING: I am sorry about your diagnosis. I don't know whether something caused the distance between you and your three older children, or whether they are completely focused on themselves and their own lives. I do think you should disclose to all of them what is going on so amends can be made if possible. And, of course, the daughter who is close to you should know so she can be as supportive as she has always been and begin preparing herself emotionally for what is coming. She may also be helpful in spreading the word among her siblings.
DEAR ABBY: My son's best friend's bike was stolen from our front yard, and I feel terrible about it. Up to this point, he had been careful to put it in our garage or by our front door when he came over.
It was new, and I want to offer to help pay for a new one if we don't find it. My husband disagrees. I know the child's parents don't expect it, but I feel it's the right thing to do. -- FEELING GUILTY IN TEXAS
DEAR FEELING GUILTY: While it would be generous to offer to help pay for the bike, you should not feel obligated or guilty because you did nothing wrong. One can only hope the boy has learned an important lesson from what happened. In the future, he will make sure his bike is safely parked inside your garage and not out where a thief can snatch it.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are 15 years apart in age. We have been together for six years, married a year and a half. He is my entire world, my best friend and soul mate.
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When we first met, he told me he didn't think he wanted another child (he has a daughter). I learned to accept it if I wanted to be with him. I had to be OK with being a stepmom and not having a child of my own.
Fast-forward: It's six years later. His daughter (now 14) no longer comes around. (The ex-wife discouraged any relationship between my stepdaughter and me.) I'm finding it harder and harder to cope with the fact that I don't have a child of my own. When I bring this up to my husband, he tells me, "I told you in the beginning I didn't think I wanted another child."
How do I deal with this? It's breaking my heart because she is not around anymore and I don't feel like a mom of any sort. -- LONGING TO BE A MOM
DEAR LONGING: Tell your husband that in the beginning when he told you he didn't think he wanted another child, you agreed because you thought you could accept it, but that as time has gone by, you no longer can. Then tell him you feel an important part of being a woman is being a mother. If he refuses to relent, then as much as you may love him, you may be married to the wrong man, and you will have to move on if you need to follow your biological imperative.
DEAR ABBY: Can you please educate your readers about supermarket etiquette? Every time I buy groceries, I encounter people who push or park their carts in the middle of the aisle with no consideration for other shoppers. I also see them blindly blast through intersections in the aisles and barely avoid colliding with each other.
A few weeks ago, I said to a gentleman, "Pardon me, may I go around you? Thank you." He responded that I was the first person who had ever said that to him! I'm surprised there aren't more cases of road rage in supermarkets.
My suggestion: Why don't we follow basic traffic rules in the supermarket? For example, stay to the right unless you are passing. Yield at intersections to the shopper on the right, etc. Abby, what do you think? Also, what's your take on big kids riding in the grocery carts? -- DISGUSTED SHOPPER IN ILLINOIS
DEAR DISGUSTED: What you describe happens when folks fail to consider how their behavior affects others. When someone blocks the aisle with a grocery cart, the logical way to deal with it is to say, "Excuse me, please," which alerts the "offender" that there are others in the store besides him or her.
Your suggestion that shoppers observe basic traffic rules is a good one -- particularly when it involves observing the speed limit. Charging through the intersections of the aisles could cause an accident in which another shopper is harmed.
As to "big kids" riding in shopping carts, as long as they aren't bothering other shoppers and the store doesn't care, I mind my own business and don't judge.
DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Al," and I have been together for two years off and on. We dated casually for six months before we decided to be exclusive. Unbeknownst to him, I was also sleeping with someone else, "Brandon."
Al and I had a fight and broke up for a few months, and during that time I slept with another good friend of mine, "Marc." When Marc and I decided it wasn't serious and moved on, Al and I got back together.
I didn't feel obligated to tell Al about it at the time, since "technically" I did nothing wrong. But as we became more and more serious, it occurred to me that it was a lie of omission, since we interact with both men on a social level. I told Al, and he isn't handling it well, so now I'm at a loss about what to do.
Honesty and time are key, I know, but he is distancing himself from me. Do I let him go? I am fighting hard right now, but I'm feeling beaten down at every turn. -- WRONG IN THE EAST
DEAR WRONG: Not all relationships last forever. It's possible that this one has run its course.
If you and Al had agreed you would both be abstinent after the separation, he has reason to be upset. If you had promised each other there would be an accounting of who each of you had been with and you didn't live up to it, I can see why he would be distancing. However, if an understanding wasn't in place, then you were free to be with others and you did nothing wrong.
If Al no longer wants to be with you -- for whatever reason -- you have no choice but to let him go. For your sake, quit allowing yourself to be beaten down and make it as painless for yourself as possible.
DEAR ABBY: Is it wrong to paint my 2 1/2-year-old boy's fingernails when he begs me to? I'm a stay-at-home mom and very close with my son. When I paint my nails (I paint them pink), my son sees me and insists I paint his toes and fingers "just like Mommy."
I see it as all in fun, but my mother-in-law makes snide comments about him being a boy and that boys shouldn't have their nails painted. My husband has also said I should stop.
I know my son will want me to paint his nails only a little while longer. It's not harming anyone, and I'm sick of all the gender barriers. Am I wrong here? -- PRETTY IN PINK
DEAR PRETTY: Your mother-in-law appears to think that polishing your 2-year-old's nails will "make" him effeminate. It's no more valid than her not doing it has "made" your husband masculine. Ignore the snide remarks because you are not going to change her.
Whether your little boy wants you to continue painting his nails pink -- or, for that matter, to wear something pink -- is far less important than making sure he knows you love and support him and it's OK to be HIMSELF. That's the way parents raise confident and successful children.
DEAR ABBY: What is your opinion about elderly parents who no longer drive having to pay their children to drive them to appointments, grocery, etc.? Think of all the times parents drove them when they were growing up. -- RETURNING THE FAVOR
DEAR RETURNING THE FAVOR: Most adult children with a memory would never dream of asking to be paid for driving their elderly parents. A child who would do this must be desperate for money. In my opinion, because they are paying for it anyway, the parents should make other arrangements for transportation.
DEAR ABBY: My husband loaned a "dear friend" some money a year ago. She has yet to pay back a penny. When I ask him about it, he gets mad and tells me it's none of my business. I have hinted to her about some large bills that we have to pay, to no avail.
Other than that, my husband and I have a great marriage and love each other very much. I just don't like her taking advantage of his generosity. I know taking care of his friends gives him pleasure, but he has been burned before and I can see it happening again. I find it hard to ignore. What do I do? -- SICK OF IT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
DEAR SICK OF IT: I wish you had mentioned whether you work and the money your soft-touch hubby gave his friend was partly earned by you. If that's the case, I don't blame you for being upset.
While I'm not sure you can prevent your husband from doing this, I do think you are within your rights to insist that before he does it he discuss it with you. If he will do that, perhaps the two of you can find an alternative for the person other than giving out money.
DEAR ABBY: My son passed away unexpectedly a little over eight years ago. He was 21. At the time, he had been dating a very nice young lady. We kept in touch for a while after the funeral -- letters and emails mostly, as I had moved out of state -- but things gradually tapered off.
I have been able to keep somewhat informed about her life because of the magic of social media and mutual friends she shared with my son who still contact me occasionally. I recently learned she's being married within the next two weeks. I am wondering if it would be wrong or weird of me to send a congratulatory card to the happy couple. I wish only continued happiness for her and her future husband. -- WISHING HAPPINESS
DEAR WISHING: I see nothing wrong or weird about sending her a nice card, and when you do, be sure to tell her not only that you wish her a happy future, but also that she will always have a special place in your heart.
DEAR ABBY: Would it be appropriate for someone to tell someone else's children to stop doing something dangerous if the parent is not around? I'm talking about kids holding scissors the wrong way or running with them, pushing others, etc.
My children are in their teens now and know that such behavior is wrong. If it were the other way around, I would be grateful if someone cared enough to tell my kids that a behavior is wrong and/or dangerous. -- GLAD IN THE MIDWEST
DEAR GLAD: How else would the children know if they weren't warned? To speak up would be an act of kindness, particularly if they were doing something that could cause harm to themselves or others.
DEAR ABBY: Occasionally, married friends will come to my husband and/or me venting about their marital problems. We have been through a few rough patches during our 12 years of marriage, and during those times, we sought help from family, friends and counselors. Today I can honestly say we are happier than ever and willing to stick through the ups and downs.
We try to pass along the things that helped us, but a lot of times we'll see one spouse wanting to work on improving the marriage and the other one oblivious or unwilling to do anything about it. I think our experience could help the spouses of our troubled friends see that things can work out by doing something about it, but I never know if or how to approach the subject with them. Should we keep our mouths shut and just be there for the unhappy friend, or is there a proper way to reach out to their spouse with an offer of support in situations like this? -- TRULY WANTING TO HELP
DEAR TRULY WANTING: My advice would be to stay out of the line of fire. If you reach out to the unhappy spouse, who may be unaware that his or her marital problems were revealed to you, it will be regarded as intrusive. By all means tell the person asking your advice what worked for you, but leave it up to that person to convey it to his or her spouse.
DEAR ABBY: What is the etiquette when eating at a restaurant where a piano player is performing? I don't mean the "bar scene"-type piano player who wants the crowd to sing along, but more of a mid- to upscale type of place.
There's a restaurant like this in my town -- the only one with a piano. On one special occasion when we were there, the piano player was playing "Misty" and a woman sitting nearby with her party wanted to make herself heard over him. She began talking very loudly to her group while he was playing the song. I thought it was tacky, and if I had been sitting near her, I would have shushed her up.
Isn't it polite to wait until the piano player is finished before talking loudly at your table? Whatever happened to behaving with a little class in restaurants? -- DEANNA IN OKLAHOMA
DEAR DEANNA: The musician in that restaurant was there to provide mood music for the diners. If they chose to talk while he was playing, it was their privilege. The woman may have raised her voice because someone in her party had a hearing problem. For you to have taken it upon yourself to "shush her up" would have been rude, and for your sake, I'm glad you refrained from doing it.
DEAR ABBY: Am I overreacting to my husband's request that I take down photos of my mom and grandparents when his mom visits? They are displayed in our guest bedroom. I think his request was rude. I wonder if his mother even cares or if he just feels guilty. It's my house, too. -- RELUCTANT IN TEXAS
DEAR RELUCTANT: Rather than remove your family photos, why not compromise by adding a couple of pictures of your husband's mother, too? I'm sure she would be pleased to see them. Problem solved.
DEAR ABBY: I have a crush on a guy I work with. I'm 19, and he's 26. He has a kid, which actually doesn't bother me. I love kids and have taken care of them most of my life. My problem is he has this ex who wants to get back together with him. They broke up because she was staying out all night and cheating.
He used to flirt with me and text me all the time and offer me his hoodie. Now she's sort of back in the picture and he ignores me and doesn't return my texts. But when we see each other he starts flirting again, and we just click. We make sense.
I guess my question is, should I tell him how I feel before it's too late or just keep it to myself? Should I risk everything and go for it? -- UNCERTAIN IN NEW YORK
DEAR UNCERTAIN: Announce your feelings for the guy if you wish, but do not expect him to drop everything and rush to you. If he were interested in more than a workplace flirtation, he would be paying the same kind of attention to you that he did before. Because he isn't, you need to understand that he and his ex obviously have some unfinished business together, regardless of her history of infidelity. Set your sights on someone else.
DEAR ABBY: All my mom does is talk about work. If we are having a conversation, she links every topic to her work and her co-workers. It is alienating my sister and me. When we tell her things about our kids -- her grandkids -- she still relates it to work.
Another thing: She's constantly on her tablet for work or on Facebook. I live seven hours away from her. When we make the drive down, I don't want to watch her on her tablet. If we try to confront her on anything, all she does is cry.
Mom and I had a good relationship before she took that job. Now she's so negative that it's difficult to want to talk to her. Where do I even start? -- MISSING HER WHILE SHE'S HERE
DEAR MISSING: Rather than "confront" your mother, ask her what may have changed in her life since she took that job. Her focus may have shifted because that's the center of her activity. Conversations are two-way, and this may be all she feels she has to contribute on her end. As to her "hiding" behind Facebook rather than carry on a conversation with you, like many people, she may have become addicted to it and unable to tear herself away. However, you will never know unless you ask her calmly.
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