Q. I am at the age where parts of the body start to go wrong, and I have a minor but life-changing issue. I am in the process of telling my friends when I learn that one of them has a much more serious and life-threatening one. Should I mention my own lesser problem to him, and if so, how? I don’t want to belittle his by seeming to compare notes, but I suspect he would wish to know.
— J.N., New Malden, Surrey
A. Commiserate with your friend about his own condition. Listen to the details. Then give a short laugh and ask, ‘By the way, do you find it irritating or amusing when other people say they are ill too, and then describe some comparatively minor condition?’ Tailor your next words accordingly.
Q. An old (in all senses) friend has received a letter from his secretary which says ‘I wish to register a sexual harassment-related complaint. I have worked for you for nearly 30 years and not once have you made a pass or attempted even the tiniest lunge.’ Initially, of course, he felt this was a spoof, since he suspects she may have a sense of humour, but doubts have entered his mind. How should he react?
— Name withheld, Tisbury
A. Is the boss theoretically free to embark on a new romantic liaison? If so, he can be confident that the secretary in question is actually writing a genuine love letter, disguised as a light-hearted prank. Secretaries do fall in love with their bosses and vice versa. Presence makes the heart grow fonder. If single, it would be hard for her not to be in love with her boss. If he would welcome further intimacy, your friend should write a reverse harassment letter accusing her, in the age of sexual equality, of not having made a pass at him and asking her to put this right immediately. If he has no wish to become intimate, he must pass her letter off as a great joke.
Q. Recently my sister posted a critical comment on a newspaper website, in reply to a comment of mine, having changed her usual online name to do so. She tried to disguise her style, but it is very distinctive and I guessed it was her. When I said so, however, she sent me several long refutations, which sounded genuinely hurt and outraged. I am certain she did write the post. There is no doubt at all about this. I don’t wish to give her a hard time about it; but also don’t want her to think I have been taken in by the denials.
— Name and address withheld
A. Clearly your sister is jealous and could not resist the chance to criticise you under a cloak of anonymity. When she denies having written comments, she believes it. After all, it wasn’t her but the online persona she was channelling who did it. You should let sleeping dogs lie. She has done you a favour in some ways by alerting you to her jealousy. You can now be more compassionate towards her.
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