SENSE & SENSITIVITY
New law against human emissions?

DEAR HARRIETTE: I just read a letter in your column about people yawning on the train without covering their mouths, and I couldn’t resist adding a comment or two. Apart from people yawning with open mouths, many adults also cough and sneeze the same way on the trains. I can honestly say, every time I get on the train, I practically hold my breath more than 50 percent of the time to avoid inhaling what people are emitting from their mouths. There is also the issue of spitting, which many male adults indulge in all over the streets; some don’t even care that they’re almost spitting in your face when you walk close to them. I honestly wish some laws could be passed to curb these terrible habits displayed by people who should know better. — F. Luke, New York, N.Y.

DEAR F. LUKE: Imagine what the world would be like if people did practice the very basics of social graces. Wouldn’t it be divine? Instead, we suffer such indignities as you and so many other readers have described. I wish I could look into my crystal ball and say when people will start using good manners. I can tell you that it starts when children are young. I entreat all parents to teach their children etiquette. When they embrace how to be in the presence of others, we all benefit.

Comforting a Friend

Dear Harriette: The doorman in my building lost his son several weeks ago. I didn’t learn about the child’s death until now. I feel so awkward. I’ve seen this fellow and spoken to him, but I didn’t acknowledge his loss. I’ve known him for years, and we have a very friendly relationship. Is it too late to send a card? What should I do? — Benjamin, Manhattan, N.Y.

Dear Benjamin: First of all, don’t feel guilty for not knowing. You cannot change the past. What you can do is act now that you know what has happened. It’s never too late to express your sorrow. You have several options. Write a heartfelt note and give it to the doorman, or leave it for him if he’s not there. Next time you see him, check in with him. Let him know that you just learned of his son’s death and that you want him to know how sorry you are. Include a brief apology for not reaching out to him sooner. As you see him in the coming days and weeks, ask him how he’s managing through this period. Share your own stories of loss and healing with him. Take time to listen now and then. What comforts people most is knowing that others honestly care about them. Your attentiveness now will matter.

Man Advocates for Inmate’s Mental Health

DEAR HARRIETTE: As a past sufferer of anxiety and depression, which have disappeared thanks to wonderful, expensive oversight by a psychiatrist, I am appalled that mentally ill prisoners would be kept in solitary confinement. To me, the thought of being in solitary confinement with a major mental illness, and that many of these inmates are stuck there for year after year, is terrible. Solitary confinement can be piled on to sentences, lengthening them indefinitely, no matter how minor the original infraction. Many of these inmates have some form of schizophrenia; there are well-documented records of them being unintelligible, speaking to themselves, not performing any personal hygiene and so on. The suicide rate is huge for prisoners with mental illness who are put in solitary confinement. Did I mention they’re most often minorities, from disadvantaged walks of life who didn’t have access to mental health treatment that would have kept them out of jail in the first place? This issue is keeping me up at night, truly. What can I do? How do I get people to understand how terrible anxiety and depression are? — Lee, New York, N.Y.

Lee: Thank you for your urgent concern. What you can continue to do is lobby on behalf of people and prisoners who are suffering from mental illnesses. Reach out to mental health organizations to find out what efforts they are making as a group to speak to this issue. Write your member of Congress via e-mail and snail mail describing your concerns. Find out the specific bill number so that your efforts are easy for others to track. Invite people in your community who are interested to join your letter-writing campaign. Write to your local newspaper and request that reporters look into this situation. You can also reach out to the National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org for further support. 

Speed Dating Start-Ups

DEAR HARRIETTE: I will soon participate in an eight-minute dating setting for people age 60 and over. It has been a while since I last dated. Presuming each participant has four minutes, what is appropriate to ask in four minutes? Thanks for the help. I’m sure rusty. — Josie, Jersey City, N.J.

Josie: Ask about the things that matter to you — everything from his intentions to his family life. Assuming that the people are screened to ensure that they are single, you can skip that question and move on to a variety of others that specifically speak to your interests. Who are the most important people in your life? How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies? What is your relationship like with your family? Do you have children? What are you looking for — a date, a wife? Where do you live? What do you do? (Do you work or are you retired?) Do you like to travel? What’s the craziest/most interesting thing you believe you’ve ever done in your life? What is your biggest regret? (Write down your questions so that if you feel nervous you can refer to your list!)

Woman Puts Love Before Logic

DEAR HARRIETTE: I dated a great guy for two years and loved everything about him. When he moved into his wealthy cousin’s house to be closer to work, he started trying to live their rich lifestyle. We haven’t really been a couple for months, but we still sleep together. I can’t commit to other men because I hope he will see that I’m perfect for him and he’ll become the man he used to be. Even though we aren’t together, I still do everything for him because I really love him, but I don’t think he’ll ever be happy with anyone because he tries so hard to be someone he’s not. Please help me figure out a way to let go of the man I love without feeling guilty about moving on. I truly miss the man I fell in love with and worry about him way too much to just walk away. — Jenna, New York, N.Y.

Jenna: Step back and look at your life objectively. Where do you figure into this picture? You are in love with the idea of a man rather than the person himself. That can’t be fulfilling. Choose yourself. Love you first. Stop enabling this broken-hearted man. Your support is not helping him to see his life for what it is or make responsible choices. Stop compromising your values by sleeping with someone who isn’t committed to you. You have no reason to feel guilty unless you continue to trade your life, love and values for a fleeting chance at a relationship with a man who is not available to be with you. 

A Late and Sincere Apology is Better than None

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was in a relationship for a year, and we broke up because I was messing around with one of her friends. At the time, two years ago, I didn’t think about it all that much. Now that I’m a little older I realize I was wrong. She is a nice girl and I was mean. I hear she took it really hard. I don’t want to get back with her but I would like to apologize. Is it cool to say something now? — Gee, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gee: Because you are sincerely sorry and want to let her know that, reach out and express your regret. Tell her you know she deserved to be treated better and that you hope her life is happy now. Since you aren’t interested in her, don’t get drawn back in, or you run the risk of hurting her twice.

Sister Needs to Put the House in Order

DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister and I recently got into a huge disagreement about a summer house that has been in the family for years. Every summer for the past few years something comes up and we have been unable to make it up to the house. I suggested to my sister that we should rent it out to people and she said that we might as well sell it. I don’t want to sell the house because it’s been in the family for generations. We’re having difficulty in reaching a type of agreement. What should I do to resolve this matter? — Sarah, New York, N.Y.

Sarah: Do some research so that you can come to your sister with facts and figures to support why it would be valuable for your family to hold on to the summer property. Contact real estate agents in the town where your home is and ask about average rental prices for a property comparable to it. Go there with an agent and get an assessment that you can bring to your sister to show how it can stop being a financial drain and become a financial asset. Find out how selling prices have changed over the years. Many summer communities are experiencing a boom in price. If this is so for your area and has been consistently growing over the years, you can show your sister that the likelihood that the property value will continue to increase is great. Offer either to manage the property yourself or to find someone to do it so that she doesn’t feel any burden. 

If she’s unwilling to budge just now on the idea of renting and you absolutely don’t want to buy, free up your schedule and spend time there this summer. Stake your claim at your family homestead and invite her to come out too. This friction may be just what your family needs to bond together.

Cell Phone Etiquette

DEAR HARRIETTE: What’s the proper etiquette when you’re talking on your cell phone and it cuts off? Who should call back? I usually do, even if I didn’t place the call, but sometimes we both call and both get voicemail, which is frustrating. — Brian, Los Angeles, Calif.

Brian: Generally speaking the person who placed the call should call back when the phone cuts off. Exceptions include when a period of time elapses without a call back and your window for conversation is closing, or when you know the caller’s hands are full and it would make it easier for you to buzz them back. Don’t rush to call back if you weren’t the caller. If the call is important to the other person, he or she will eventually redial your number. 

Lessons in Love

DEAR HARRIETTE: I met the most wonderful man. We dated for a few months but I was too busy finishing my degree and fighting demons of past relationships. I didn’t want to ruin our friendship so I decided that in order for me to truly love again I would need to take some time to be by myself. Last year I finished my degree and spent a lot of time alone and with my family. But I always wondered what happened to that “wonderful man.” Well, we started dating again four months ago and it’s been great. Then he fell seriously ill and although I care a lot about him, I’m not sure if I want to continue with the relationship. You see, I lost a boyfriend to a serious illness two years ago and I’m not sure if I want to deal with the emotions again. It’s funny how everyone I know always comes to me for advice and I can’t seem to find any to give to myself. Do I stand by him or do I run? — Zee, Brooklyn, N.Y. Zee: One of the interesting things I’ve learned about life is that you get lessons over and over again until you learn them. Perhaps this man is in your life to help you learn about unconditional love and dealing with loss — two biggies, to be sure. Don’t run from him if you truly care for him. Learn to love him through his illness. He may recover. If not, if you pay attention you can gain tools to weather the greatest challenge of all — death of a loved one.

Mama Drama With Her Boyfriend’s Son

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a 34-year-old single mom with three kids. I have a boyfriend, and we love each other. His son comes to visit us in New York for his vacations. When he returns back to his home, he tells lies and his mother complains about my household. It hurts to see us arguing over stupid things and it happens every time he visits. I’m tired of the stress of dealing with this drama. What should I do? — Lucy, New York, N.Y.

Lucy: Chances are your boyfriend’s son still holds onto the notion that his parents will get back together, and you stand in the way of that. If you’re up for it, invite his mother to come on one of his trips to see for herself how you run your household. It makes sense that she would be concerned for her son’s safety and comfort. You can dispel any of her worries and establish a respectful relationship with her by addressing her concerns head on.