Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Be a Grace When Someone Storms Out

Dear Grace,
I hope your foot is healing well, and everyone continues to be kind and helpful during your recovery and beyond!

I/we have been put in the uncomfortable position of having someone walk out of a group outing in what seemed to be a huff, and now won't return messages asking if things are ok. We've all been there-you're with a group, someone gets upset about something and walks off, leaving you to figure out why the person left and whether it's better to stay with the group (especially if you're the host!) or run after the huffy departee to try to figure out what went wrong.

I'm wondering what a Grace is to do in this situation, as I am sure that it will happen again eventually, and I want to be prepared in the future.

Many thanks,
All Huffed Out

Dear Huff,
Thanks for the good wishes; still in progress. Recently liberated from crutches after 4 looong weeks, but still have 4 weeks in the walking cast. Progress is progress; I'm thrilled with the newly gained mobility even if it involves an ugly boot and slow, wobbly motion.

But onto your dilemma.

Those who storm out are rarely Graces, all we can do is diffuse the erupting drama. If your guest has left the building, say something like: "Gosh, Jenn must be stressed out, poor thing. I'll give her a call tomorrow. Who's ready for dessert?" The key is not to let the eruption shanghai your gathering. If "Jenn" has simply left the room, you can excuse yourself and say, "Jenn seems really upset, let me go check on her. Anna, you were mentioning how much you enjoyed the season premiere of Modern Family, carry on." In the event that Jenn decides to return with you, continue diffusing--either by just rejoining the group and resuming normal conversation, or, if Jenn chooses to apologize for her outburst, lead the forgiveness charge, "No worries, Jenn, we've all had bad days from time to time. We were just talking about Chapter 7 when the contessa reveals herself to be the scullery maid's daughter. Were you surprised by that twist?"

The way of the Grace is to keep the get-together moving with the least amount of disruption and NOT allow the tantrum thrower to become the center of attention--either for good ("poor jenn, let's organize a girls' lunch to cheer her up") or for ill ("jenn is such a $#@&; I can't stand the way she acts."). It's oh-so-tempting to launch a dissection of Jenn's character, emotional state, personal life, and tendency to make grand exits with the remaining guests, but this is neither Gracious nor particularly fun. Much better to redirect, by means of conversational adroitness, refreshments, or a lasso, the original intent of the event.

As to your current situation, even Graces have limits. If you have made a sincere effort to reconnect and Tantrum Tess is not receptive, then give her some time. She may be genuinely steamed about something, or she may be mortified by her behavior. Good friends and Graces move on. After the requisite supportive overture (phone call/email/visit) offering TT a chance to talk it out and yourself a chance to apologize if indicated, then give it one more pass with a clear message that you have moved on: "TT, I'm going to X on Friday and I'd love for you to join me. Let me know if you're interested. If you need some time, I understand. Give me a call when you'd like to get together. Hope to hear from you soon." This puts the ball squarely in her court and lets her know that you are not dwelling on the episode.

Alternatively, if these grand displays are a regular part of your friend's interaction, you may want to rethink the friendship. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if this is frequent and disruptive, you don't need to endure it. I'm not advocating that you shun her, like some ancient and bizarre religious cult, but you might decide to gradually reduce your exposure. Life is complicated enough without unnecessary controversy.

And speaking of dramatic exits, I leave you with my all time favorite entrance maker: Kramer. Gosh, I loved that show.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eleven Things Every Grace Should Have in Her Handbag

My husband calls my purse "the magic bag" because it contains pretty much everything you would need for basic survival until the Canadian Mounties arrive. But it's not one of those mammoth satchels that you could hide a body in. My handbags are of sensible dimensions in tasteful colors and materials. And they always contain the following:

  1. Lipstick or gloss--you really don't need to carry your entire cosmetic collection--a fresh coat of lipstick gives your whole face a lift.
  2. A mirror--this is not merely vanity. You may need to check your lipstick application, or you may need to hand the mirror to someone to retrieve spinach from her pearly whites--no Grace wants to be directing traffic from incisor to bicuspid in pursuit of the elusive, recalcitrant vegetal fragment. You can compactly merge items 1 and 2 by procuring a snazzy little lipstick case with an interior mirror--very handy and stylish. Mine is fuchsia silk.
  3. Shout Wipes or a Tide pen. I have an embarrassing story to illustrate the need for these accoutrements, albeit one with a happy ending. I was nibbling on a homemade coconut chocolate truffle one afternoon as I was walking out the door to an important meeting. I was thrilled to be wearing my fabulous new ivory suit. Unfortunately, as I bit into the truffle, a sliver of chocolate covered coconut fell and landed on my ivory skirt directly above my left knee. Fear not, Graces, for the magic bag came to the rescue--ever equipped with Shout Wipes, I whisked one out, blotted out the unsightly brown smear, and made my meeting, stainless, and with minutes to spare. [NOTE: hand wipes or baby wipes work equally effectively in crises of this sort].
  4. Dental Floss. Sharing the embarrassing story about the coconut truffle reminded me of another embarrassing, though illustrative anecdote about dental floss. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to visit a lovely Moroccan restaurant and partake of the lobster tagine. Unfortunately, the 3rd bite of lobster lodged itself firmly and painfully between two of my molars. I immediately excused myself to the rest room to address this unpleasant situation. Since I was carrying an evening bag as opposed to my usual "magic bag", I did not have sufficient supplies. I tugged and worried at the lobster fragment with my tongue and my fingernails as I searched frantically for a small, pointy object that would remedy the problem. Eureka! I pulled the diamond stud out of my ear and began prodding. Catastrophe! The diamond earring joined the lobster fragment and got stuck there as well. Fortunately, after much effort and agony, I managed to dislodge both foreign objects, returned to the table and resumed the meal carefully. But ever since, I have been sure to carry a small spool of dental floss.
  5. Mints--that luncheon Caesar Salad was delicious, but you don't really want to breathe its fumes on the target of your afternoon pitch.
  6. Tissues--please use the contained purse packs--the polka-dotted or leopard prints are cute, but not necessary--just avoid the stray, crumpled tissues swimming around in your bag; even if they haven't been used, how would one tell?
  7. First aid kit, including two heel-sized band aids for New Shoes days. (You can find small versions of these at any pharmacy--they seriously are smaller than a sandwich.)
  8. Pen and Notepad
  9. Ibuprofin and Antacids (these come in containers the size of a chap stick so are easily portable.)
  10. Anti-bacterial gel or wipes.
  11. Emory Board
What's in your handbag?

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm Not Your Personal Google Search!

Dear Grace,

I have a ... friend, let's call her Cindy. Cindy and I were close in college, but in the five years since, our relationship has dwindled. Things began to drift away when Cindy stopped initiating or reciprocating acts of friendliness: social phone calls or emails, meeting up for dinner, invitations to gatherings, etc. We now see one another only at friends' functions, and since Cindy is socially competitive, I tend to give her a wide berth at these events.

There is, however, one notable exception to Cindy's apparent lack of interest in our relationship: she likes to call me when she needs a recommendation. ANY kind of recommendation: restaurants, wine pairings, travel destinations, a hair stylist, health advice, etc. She contacts me 2-3 times a month, and only because she wants something (i.e.: she usually doesn't bother to make polite conversation or ask any personal questions). Of late, I've been screening her calls, giving her vague answers to questions, taking my time responding to her emails or texts if I respond at all, and generally trying to give her the impression that I'm not interested in being her personal Zagat guide. She is not, however, taking the hint.

Any advice? I would love ideas about how to graciously let her know that if this keeps up, I'm going to have to start charging for my services.

fatigued friend

Dear FF,

I understand your frustration, and you have managed it in the best way possible. Graces avoid scenes at nearly all costs, but your friend is making that increasingly difficult. You have two options:

1. Continue on your current course. Ignore the calls and emails; whether or not she takes the hint is up to her; you can simply delete the message and forget about it. A variation on this theme is to respond with no information: "I don't know of a good Thai restaurant in town, sorry," or "I can't recommend a dog groomer for your high-strung Peke," or, "No, I don't know of a cost effective way to vacation in Hawaii; if you find one, please pass it on to me." If you dry up as a source, she may simply stop contacting you.

2. Speak up. "Cindy, I haven't heard from you for weeks.....not since the last time you needed to find a 24 hour pharmacy for Alka Seltzer at 2am." That is not terribly subtle, so it should get the point across. If not, you can either use a version of the strategy outlined above, or go further: "Cindy, I'm not your personal search engine. Concierge services run about $40.00/hour; maybe you should hire someone." This is the less Gracious course, but even Graces can only be pushed so far. This remark will undoubtedly put a cease and desist on the pesky calls, but could invite retaliation. You mention that Cindy is socially competitive; if vengeance is an arrow in her quiver, you may want to opt for the low key approach in choice #1.

One aspect to consider, this from a more generous angle. Cindy's competitiveness likely stems from insecurity, as does her apparent inability to choose a restaurant, order wine, or take an aspirin without your approval. She clearly trusts and values your opinion and admires your ability to make good decisions. This is not to talk you out of Options 1 and 2 above, but just another way to view this less-than-Gracious conduct by Cindy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Shower Invite=Gift Grab

Hello Ms. Grace!

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I actually wrote to you a few years ago about sending a wedding gift to a friend, and never receiving a written thank you note, and instead – a text message. You wrote a little blog post about this horrible incident and agreed that it was a case of bad manners.

Fast forward three years, here I am again, writing to you about the same offender, with a new offense. I have had sparing contact with this person since the text message incident. She and her husband live in the Minneapolis suburbs, and I have moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. I received an invitation last week… to attend her baby shower in Minneapolis… that is two weeks before my wedding. I knew that this friend was pregnant, and had planned to send a gift when the baby arrived, like a graceful person, but now… an invite to attend a shower? Really? I’m not a family member, and definitely not a close friend (reference sparing contact over the last 3 years)… why am I getting this invitation when I live over 2000 miles away and clearly cannot attend? I started looking at the baby registry (both of them) and saw over 400 items.

This is more than I have on my wedding registry. Now I’m just angry. Am I horrible person if I do not send a gift, and just send a card? Is this clearly a request for a gift since it is not possible for me to attend? Will the requests for gifts ever end? (I received THREE wedding shower invitations for her three years ago, despite, also, not being in the wedding or a family member or even living within driving distance.) What’s a Grace to do?

Looking forward to your sage advice,

Dear D,
Certainly, I remember you and your "text thanker" of a friend. (Pause for deep, cleansing breath.) First of all, No, emphatically, you are not a Horrible Person. That designation may be appropriate for another actor in this scene, but onto your dilemma....

I see she is up to her usual tricks, putting you in a Gracious dilemma. Instead of sending you an invitation to the baby shower, she should have simply sent you a birth announcement after the happy arrival. That would have been appropriate, particularly due to your relationship status, your geographical location and the rather momentous event you have on your near horizon. But her track record does not prognosticate that she would do the Gracious thing, and clearly she has kept to that Gruntly path. As you have been invited into an awkward situation, you have two options.

After promptly sending your RSVP regrets, you can:

1. Send a very modest gift (board book, bib, etc.) or a greeting card. She has done a yucky thing by inviting you and fishing for shower gifts, but you will do a Gracious thing by sending a small token or congratulatory card, which is the traditional response to a shower invite (however tenuous the connection may be.). This is likely what I would do--it is the path of least resistance, and Graces must often compensate for the Gruntliness in others.

2. Send nothing. This may be seen as a statement from your friend, but it sounds like at this point you won't shed any tears over a complete severance of ties. You're nearly there anyway.

The only word of caution in item 2...Graces try not to burn bridges; as a practical matter, you never know when you might end up snowed in at Minneapolis airport and need a friend--even one who texts thank you notes and trawls for gifts. Both 1 and 2 are completely acceptable; choose the one that feels right, and move onto more important matters, like your imminent marriage.

Congratulations on your impending nuptials; I am supremely confident that your wedding will be a Gracious affair; your intended is a lucky Grant of a Groom, I'll warrant.