Q. Before Covid, I was staying with friends in the country every other weekend. As a single man living in London, I am more than keen to resume my social life. However invitations are starting to come in again, specifically for July and August, yet none have come from my closest friends who tend to be less organised than my ‘second division’ ones. These invitations require an answer but I don’t want to find that by the time my favourites get around to inviting me again, I will have to say no because my diary is full. I realise I may be coming across as an arrogant sponger when in fact the reverse is the case. Mary, what should I do?
— Name and address withheld
A. Make a tentative plan to go up to Scotland for the whole of July and August. You can then decline without giving offence and also give yourself space until your favourites become organised. Once this happens, think better of your trip to Scotland (there will be many legitimate grounds to do so when the time comes). Explain to the second division that you changed plans ‘and of course by then I had already missed out on your kind invitation’.
Q. We are lucky enough to be on good terms with neighbours in our delightful and friendly street in west London. One of these lives next door, is roughly my age and, for various reasons, is now living off a much reduced income. She is in all day, as we are, and sees our deliveries arriving. She has begun to make digs about our lifestyle. For example, she comments on the deliveries of wine and upmarket food and the fact that we still have two cars. The theme is very much: ‘Oooh, it’s lucky for some!’ She is right — we are privileged, but short of giving her half of our money, what am I supposed to do?
— J.S., London SW11
A. Next time, agree with her comments. Say that you are all very privileged in your street, unlike a close friend of yours whose situation is beyond dire. (You must be able to think of one whose grim story you can recount.) What does she think you should do about this old friend? As she ponders, she will think of herself less as a defeated rival and more as an ally. This should nip the resentment in the bud.
Q. Everyone knows I am stuck at home on the end of a landline and also that I am connected by marriage to a high-profile figure who is the subject of current press attention. There is a limit to how long I’m prepared to discuss him with sometimes random acquaintances who ring for gossip. How do I cut these calls short without causing offence?
— S.V., London SW6
A. Just gasp with sudden urgency: ‘I’m going to have to let you go. There’s a window cleaner right outside.’ Then hang up before they have a chance to ask you to ring them back.
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