SENSE & SENSITIVITY
Fishy e-mail scam points to identity theft

DEAR HARRIETTE: My college friend just e-mailed to say she fell ill while on vacation. She asked me to wire her money to help her get home. I felt so bad for her. I wrote back right away, asking how I could help. I also asked the name of the hospital at which she was staying so I could call her. All she cared about was having me send the money to her immediately. She didn’t want to give me her phone number, or even the name of the hospital. So, even though I felt bad about it, I didn’t send her any money. Something seemed fishy about it all. Do you think I was wrong not to send her money? I definitely would help out my friend, but after a few e-mails, I wasn’t even sure I was actually talking to her. — Dorothy, Tacoma, Wash.

Dear Dorothy: You were wise not to take the bait. What you just described is a new form of fraud. Somehow, the perpetrators gain access to individuals’ personal e-mail accounts and send these desperation letters to all of their contacts. It happened to me earlier this year. I received an e-mail from a good friend’s e-mail address with a similar message. The giveaway was that the letter was written very poorly, and my friend writes exceptionally well. So I could tell it wasn’t from her. A group of us figured out what had occurred and wrote to each other to say our friend was a victim of e-mail identity theft. Ultimately, she had to change her e-mail address and cancel many of her credit cards that she frequently used online.

Alert your friend right away, if you can reach her. Check to make sure that she’s OK. It’s unlikely she was hospitalized but likely that she’s concerned right now about identity theft.

Recommit to old friends

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was cleaning up my e-mail box over the holiday and rediscovered old — really old —messages from friends I haven’t talked to in a long time. I noticed how they had been reaching out to me a lot last year, and I basically saved their messages but didn’t respond because I was too busy. Is it wrong for me to reach out now, many months later? I feel bad that I was too busy last year to make time for my friends. But is it wrong for me to try to connect with them now? — Brenda, Tacoma, Wash.

Dear Brenda: It’s never wrong to reach out to people you care about. If you’ve been negligent in the past, staying away won’t heal a previous wound of neglect. If you feel compelled to contact old friends, do so with love in your heart. Don’t start out with an apology for why you haven’t been in touch. Instead, reach out with joy about the present moment. Is there something you can share about your life or plans for this year — even if it’s something simple — that will brighten their day? I don’t mean some great accomplishment. I mean something small and significant.

As you contemplate this, you may be able to share a refreshed commitment to make room for the loved ones in your life. Don’t make it heavy. You have expressed your desire for that commitment. Rather than laying that on a friend, invite that person to join you for a meal or an outing. Or even decide that you will call again in the near future just to talk — and listen. Your life can be enriched by this deliberate exercise. Try it. 

Bridezilla leaves family and friends confused – and broke

DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister is getting married this summer, and she just sent out her invitations. She has registered at some pricey stores, and her choices are ridiculous. A mutual friend actually asked whether the luxury options were a joke. We come from a working-class family, and most our friends are the first to graduate from college. Has she lost her mind? — Freidan, Holyoke, Mass.

DEAR FREIDAN: Here’s one of your first jobs as sister of the bride. Without outrage, you need to talk to your sister and let her know that she may want to expand her registry list. Many couples include a broad range of items on their registry — from extremely affordable items they may need for their new life together to more costly precious items. In this way, guests can comfortably make purchases based on their budgets.

A challenge for many couples occurs when they dream so big about their wedding they forget to come back to reality. Most people don’t want to enter a fantasy world in order to celebrate a wedding. Your sister needs to know that her registry has insulted her guests. Be that blunt. Then suggest options to broaden the offering.

Sex-talk dad a true male role model

DEAR HARRIETTE: I want to share a story with you: I received the “birds and the bees” talk from my father, not my mother. He explained to me that he loved my mother no matter what she looked like (both pre- and post-children) and that, actually, he was more attracted to her then, than when she was skinny! He explained that no matter what you look like on the outside, there will always be someone who loves you for who you are, and having confidence in yourself was the best way to carry off any shape and find that special person. Hearing all this from a male role model really meant something — I believe it is important to hear messages like this from both male and female adults. — Piper, New York, N.Y.

DEAR PIPER: Thank God for your father, and thank you for sharing that story. When we honor our bodies and our spirits, I believe we attract people to us who have the intention of honoring us as well. And, as your dad surely knew, the body changes over time. So, no matter who you are, your physical body will not remain the same. Your inner being, however, will!

Is new friend a spy for old enemy?

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently met a woman with a group of friends. We had met before, but I couldn’t remember the circumstances. She reminded me that we met through a mutual business acquaintance, someone who doesn’t like me. I don’t quite know why he has it out for me, which is the feeling I get from him, but it’s consistent. And I know I’m not crazy thinking this because a friend of his from his job corroborated the story. He used to talk badly about me to her on a regular basis. Should I even bother to get to know this woman? She seemed lovely, but I feel that all she’s going to do is report back to her friend about everything I say and do. — Donna, Los Angeles, Calif.

DEAR DONNA: It makes sense that you would feel uncomfortable about forging a new friendship with someone connected to this other person, but I wouldn’t say to stop before you see where it heads. Just be mindful of her friendship with the other person. Do as I would recommend to anyone who is looking to cultivate a new friendship: Take your time. Don’t share all of your life’s secrets in your first few times together. Get to know each other gradually. She may be perfectly right to become your friend. After all, she is also friendly with other friends of yours. That one association could be an anomaly.

Furthermore, you don’t know why the man has it out for you. There could be something off about him. Or maybe something happened between you years ago that you don’t even remember. Whatever the reason, don’t bring him up in conversation. If she wants to talk about him sometime down the line, listen and learn.

For now, just cultivate the acquaintance.

Reading is fundamental? Not for this book club

DEAR HARRIETTE: I started a book club with a few friends last summer. We meet to discuss a novel once a month over a potluck brunch on a Saturday afternoon. Last week, I hosted. Once everyone arrived, I discovered I was the only member who had read the book; everyone else just brought the covered dish. There are about 20 members, and it was awkward. Should we disband? If no one else is serious about reading the material, what’s the point? — Catheryn, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

DEAR CATHERYN: Did you ask them why no one had read the book? If you and your friends have been participating in the book club for almost a year with some success, it could be premature to disband it because of this one incident. Think back on other gatherings. Have most of the friends read the book in question? Or is it more accurate to notice that reading is spotty?

Have a candid conversation with key members of the group to find out whether there is real interest in continuing the actual book club or whether they prefer just to get together. It could be that your friends long most for fellowship. If so, you may want to change the focus of this group — but don’t disband it. It sounds as if your friends like being together. Just change the expectations and then you won’t be disappointed.

If you remain passionate about being part of a book club, start another one with like-minded friends.

Mnemonic devices to help play the name game

DEAR HARRIETTE: Oh, you must help me! I’m terrible at remembering names! I literally get in front of someone, and his or her name is on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t process it. It’s not a good look, and I’m constantly asking my friends, family and co-workers to remind me to whom I’m talking. Do you have any keys to breaking this bad habit? — Sandra, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

DEAR SANDRA: I share your challenge and understand fully how embarrassing it can be not to remember someone’s name. I have learned a few mind tricks that can be helpful. The main point is to pay close attention to a person when you first meet. When the person says his or her name, repeat it back to ensure that you got it right. During the conversation, repeat the person’s name very naturally. For example, you could say, “Yes, Susan, that’s a great idea!” Repetition is a wonderful tool for reinforcing your memory. Also, when you meet someone, think of words that rhyme with his or her name or other word associations that can help you to recall the person later. Jot down something about the person on his or her business card or in a journal to help you remember.

Also, it might be good idea to have someone who is great at remembering names tag along with you to events. Team up with your friend. What people want most is to be acknowledged. If you don’t recall someone’s name, instead of feeling awful, smile and speak warmly to the person. If it feels appropriate, say you can’t remember the name. If not, just speak graciously and listen for someone else to call out the person’s name. Or have your friend ask.

Sexual tryst comes with a workplace twist

DEAR HARRIETTE: It sounds like “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I had a one-night stand with a guy I met at a party, only to find out a few months later that he will be one of my supervisors on my new job. I was “introduced” to him by my direct supervisor, and he acted as if he didn’t even know me. I guess that’s all right, but it seemed callous. Should I bring this up to him or just leave it alone? I do feel a bit dissed. — GiGi, Tampa, Fla.

DEAR GIGI: Leave it alone. Do not bring up your one-night stand unless your supervisor mentions it. Life is very different from television, as you probably know. Focus on doing your job to the best of your ability. Cultivate a professional working relationship with him. Do your best not to keep your memory of that night top of mind.

It could be that he doesn’t remember. You said it was a one-night stand. As callous as that may sound, it’s possible that he may not have consciously dissed you. That probably doesn’t make you feel any better. But you already know that with every action there is a reaction. The consequences of a one-night stand can be far-reaching. Don’t let this indiscretion affect your work, though. If it ever comes up, don’t dwell on it. Instead, state how happy you are that the two of you are able to work together professionally.

Boyfriend’s a player who runs hot and cold

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went to a house party with my girlfriends last weekend and ran into a guy I’ve been dating. Though he chatted me up a bit, I could tell that he wasn’t interested in having a conversation, and he definitely did not introduce me to any of his friends. I felt awkward and uncomfortable for a while, but then decided to hang with my friends. I may not have made anything of it, except that the next day he called to ask me out to a concert the following weekend. Why would he play me, but then ask me out? — Venus, Cincinnati, Ohio

DEAR VENUS: What else did you observe about this guy at the party? Who was with him? Did you see another woman in the wings? Was he intoxicated? His behavior suggests that he had something to hide — namely you. Or maybe the other woman! The man was distracted. Quite naturally, you should feel uncomfortable about that.

I think you should ask him why he behaved the way he did. Without sounding particularly emotional, be frank with him. Say how disappointed you were that he acted as if he barely knew you the day before and now wants to go out again. Ask him why he thinks that’s a good idea. Put it back on him to explain. Chances are he’ll brush it off. Then you will have to decide your next moves. If you like this man enough to forgive this behavior, go out with him. If he pulls a slick one again, though, see it for what it is — and walk away.

Easy acceptance, not so easy gift to celebrate

DEAR HARRIETTE: What’s a great guy gift? My new boyfriend just got into graduate school, and I’d like to get him a congratulatory token, but don’t want to get too personal or mushy. It’s still a new relationship. Thanks! — Stef, Las Vegas, Nev.

DEAR STEF: What is your boyfriend studying? Maybe there’s a gadget that could support his work, such as a digital voice recorder. That is a helpful tool for interviews as well as recording lectures. Most of them are affordable, around $100 (some cost less), and easy to operate. A classic graduation gift is a fine pen — either a fountain pen or a roller ball. Many companies make them — from Cross to Mont Blanc, for example — and the prices range from less than $100 to many hundreds. 

You can also get differently creative. Host a small cocktail or dinner party for him at your home or at a restaurant. If it’s at home, you can keep the costs down. He will probably greatly appreciate your acknowledgment of this turning point in his life — and he could remember it even longer than a tangible gift. If you choose to do that, be mindful of the guest list. Select people you know are important in his life. Include his family if you can. And keep it small, so it remains manageable.