Virginia Culler offers advice, insights, and insults to all who solicit them.

Dear Virginia,

I seem to have a dilemma on my hands and was wondering if you could shed some light as to what I should do with this situation. I am truly unable to make a decision on this one.

I was recently at a party and met a celebrity (whose name I wonít mention). I was introduced to this man while my boyfriend was off talking to another group of people. This person was very charming, down to earth, VERY handsome, and just all-around exciting. I am not easily influenced by money and fame, so I believe there is actually a legitimate spark here on both sides. We spoke for about 20 minutes and he insisted I call him. Yes, HE gave me HIS number! We have spoken several times since then and the interest is growing.

I am also very smitten with my current boyfriend whom I have been seeing for four months. We are a really great fit. I feel awful that he is being somewhat betrayed (even though nothing has happened yet). I fear if I give up my current boyfriend to go chasing after this celebrity I will lose both - letís face it, a celebrity is not the most stable, realistic choice. But I am also afraid of not taking the chance and regretting it (come on, it sounds fun and exciting, huh?) The thought of it all is so alluring.

Please help!

Signed, Patricia

My, my, my, Patricia. How very "Days of Our Lives" of you! I have the strong sensation that we both, in fact, know what the "right" choice is - namely, sticking with the non-famous but stable boyfriend with whom you are "very smitten". And given that you yourself recognize that a celebrity is not the soundest choice for a stable relationship, I can only assume you're not really coming to me for true advice; but rather, for validation of your wilder urges and for some outside, all-knowing authority to hand you a solution without your having to rationalize it yourself. So, dear Patricia, let's play a little game I like to call Advice Roulette: I'll give you three equally unsound options for how to handle this situation, and you can print out this page, cut out each suggestion, stick them in a hat, and draw one at random. This'll give you the validation of the zany stuff along with the easy-answer part.

Option A: Allow me to be the first to state the obvious here: THREESOME! Yes, proposition your boyfriend (the celeb should be a shoo-in for a kinky move like this - don't you read the tabloid headlines?) If you think your bf is the timid type, or if you try and strike out, just add some sort of recreational (read: illegal) social lubricant to the mix (I'd defer to the celeb's selection on this one, as they probably have plenty of experience in this arena - and that way they can foot the bill, too, and put those hard-earned wages to good use). This way you can have your cake and eat it too.

Option B: Dump your boyfriend and stick with the celeb. Start getting a bad rap at the parties and high-end events you two go to. Without *actually* doing anything to warrant fame, fortune, and glamour, you yourself will become the center of attention and in that spotlight you can build your own career as a prissy socialite that causes major scandalous headlines. Don't believe me that it can be done? Just look at Paris Hilton - her career, as quoted by People Magazine, is "socialite". Run with it, Patty, and don't look back. With all the attention you'll be getting, you can have your pick of rough-and-tumble sexy famous types to get all this girls-gone-wild stuff out of your system.

Option C: Ca$h in, baby! Have a steamy affair with this celeb behind your boyfriend's back (hey, what he doesn't know can't hurt him, right?) This works especially well if the celeb is married. Even if not, being his lover will allow you up close and personal access to all his dirty little secrets - they pretty much all have them; money and fame corrupt. Get some good dirt on this guy, and blackmail him for millions or threaten to take it to the press otherwise - and if he refuses, hell, sell it to the tabloids and make a killing. Or, write a best-selling memoir about it all! Either way, you'll make enough money for you and your honey (yes, go back to your boyfriend if he'll still have you after he knows your Darker Side) and live like kings (and queens).

Dear Virginia,

I have a problem with my neighbor. His backyard is set up higher than ours, so his ground level is half the height of our fence. I have observed him from time to time from my kitchen window urinating into our backyard. At first, even though I was perplexed, I just ignored it. But now it is starting to bother me. I am not sure if itís some form of exhibitionism, or if he is just too lazy to go inside, or maybe mentally challenged or on drugs? I donít know him very well but he is a professional who has a nice house and a nice family. Should I confront him and ask him to stop? If so, what should I say? Should I go out while he is in the act and ask him what he's doing? Or, should I tell my husband and have him talk to my neighbor? I have seen it happen about 5 times since we moved in 9 months ago. What do you think?


Gosh, Sarah, assuming this is a valid query, it sure is a weird one. I'm not sure what the best method of handling this is! However, given that you have to live next to these people, it makes sense to tread lightly (so to speak). The way I see it, there are three distinct possibilities here: 1) You are dealing with a person who for whatever reason is not making normal, sound decisions (i.e. is mentally disturbed); 2) You are dealing with a person who seems normal and undisturbed, but who enters into phases/periods during which he acts in ways his normal mind cannot account for (i.e. sleepwalking or some similar phenomenon); or 3) You are dealing with a person who is not technically mentally disturbed, but who is acting out in an extremely passive-aggressive and unacceptable manner.

Given that I like to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, let's start by assuming it's either 1 or 2. The best way to approach this, I believe, is by going through his wife. Invite her over for tea or some other social occasion, just the two of you. Ask her a couple of leading questions about her, such as "Is everything all right with [Mr. Pissypants]" or "Is there anything I should know about your husband?" If she replies by indicating she knows there's something "different" about him, you can start a constructive, open dialogue about what's been going on and what steps you and she can take to help stop the problem, without upsetting him by activating any unknown triggers or causing him any unnecessary embarrassment. However, if she acts surprised, defensive, or otherwise oblivious to his quirks, then broach the subject gently - tell her what you've witnessed, and go slowly - she may not be ready to acknowledge such unsightly truths about the man she married. Once she knows, though, she'll probably have better insight as to how he works and how he can be approached about this.

However, let's say we're dealing with a Number 3 here (so to speak). It's entirely possible that this is just a very unpleasant man, who is taking out unknown aggressions on you in a very violating, intentional, and inappropriate manner. If that's the case, it's entirely possible his wife won't be receptive to your confrontation. This won't necessarily be the case (we all know a wife is not necessarily a carbon copy of her husband), but should she react in a negative or otherwise unhelpful manner, it'll be time to take matters into your own hands.

Start pissing in his backyard. Yes, hike up your skirt, squat down, do whatever - and try to get caught. By him, not her. If you succeed, and he confronts you, play dumb and tell him you thought it was just a neighborhood custom or trend since you'd seen him doing the same. Continue pissing while you are at it - you need to hold a firm line here (so to speak). If you have trouble with the idea of peeing in public, this may help you or direct you somewhere that can. Good luck!

Dear Virginia,

HELP! I am trapped in an apartment with a psycho! She is super-controlling and completely inflexible. No matter what I do, she yells at me like I'm a child even though I am 22 years old!

The problem? I can't seem to do anything right -- from buying the "right" toilet paper to sweeping the floor. Hey, at least I try, and I don't think that I'm even an unclean person. Seriously, I received a four page letter telling me out to clean out all the crevices of the soap dish in the bathroom. I've tried time and time again to talk with her and come to a compromise, but she won't budge and doesn't listen.

Help! I'm trapped in this apartment and in this lease until June, so I'm just trying to survive right now, but she finds something to pick on every week. After a while, I have to stick up for myself too. Any advice for how I can live peaceably with this nut?


Trapped in Capitol Hill

Dear Trapped,

Wow, your letter takes the cake - in the sense that you are dealing with a clear-cut crazy. Since you clearly can't fight the irrational with rational methods, standard approaches like reasoning, talking, and pleading will likely get you nowhere. What you need to do is seriously stoop to her level. One way to do this would be to really get down and dirty - stop cleaning entirely, let the filth pile up. When she complains, tell her that since she clearly has superior ways of doing things, you decided you'd make things easier on her and leave it up to her so nothing got done wrong. (If you have to stockpile some of the "wrong" type of TP in your room to make this work, so be it). And if need be, start hounding her over her ineptitude when she starts picking up your slack - tell her you simply can't believe how awful of a job she did on scrubbing that soap dish out. And what was she THINKING leaving a dish in the rack overnight? You get the idea... you may suffer through a few months of uncleanliness, but my bet is she'll either compensate for her loss of a live-in maid, or she'll get the hint and stop railing you for every little thing.

Dear Ginnie:

I live in an apartment with two roommates, and lately I have been noticing that at least one of them has totally been using up my food. I confronted the one I'm better friends with, and he assured me that it's not him, and I believe him. So I asked him if Roommate #3 had been using up any of HIS food, but he said he hadn't noticed anything.

Well, I have. And it's not like a little bit of butter here, a dash of salt there - he ate an ENTIRE package of bacon I had bought so I could cook my girlfriend breakfast when she stayed the night. He ate an entire bag of chocolate chips that I - okay, I just like to eat them, but I can't do that when HE eats them FIRST!

He works a graveyard shift, so we're hardly ever home at the same time which makes catching him in the act difficult. I thought about writing a letter or leaving snarky little notes on my stuff, but that just seems so lame and passive-aggressive - at the same time, this guy's seeming weirder and weirder to me, and I don't want a head-on confrontation if it's going to make it suck to live together (he's still on the lease for another nine months). What should I do?


Sick of inaction, sick of not having any BACON left.

Dear Sick,

Ugh, yep, confrontation sucks, and yet not getting the results you desire sucks too. When in doubt, I tend to rely on humor to break the ice - it can be a "big ole joke" you can laugh about, instead of a seriously uncomfortable discussion. So prank it up! Here are my suggestions:

1) Start moving his toothbrush around in the bathroom. Leave it in weird places that cause him to scratch his head, not just on the counter or something. If/when he asks you about it, say you just assumed you were using each others' stuff now, and act all doe-eyed and confused. Either he'll shrug it off, laugh uncomfortably, or get mad - either way, that's your cue to laugh and explain you're just joking with him to get back for the bacon thing. If he plays dumb, say, you know, the bacon you ate - I didn't want to make a big deal of it, but I was saving it for my girlfriend, yada yada... bonus points, you can say the chocolate chips were for her too if you're embarrassed :)

2) Start putting all your food in brown paper grocery bags, and stapling them shut. Obviously, one for the fridge perishables, one for the cupboard, and one for the freezer. Don't write your name on them or anything; just staple them securely shut. Sure, it's a pain in the ass, but this will work on several levels: a) It will remove that impulsive temptation of "I see = I want" in his head, i.e. he won't decide to eat your stuff simply because his eyes land on it; b) It will let him know subtly, and without confrontation, that his plundering has not gone unnoticed; and c) It will serve as a definitive theft-proof device - if there are more holes in the bag and it's been re-stapled, well, you know what's up. (If you REALLY suspect he'll go to crazy lengths, then make some sort of subtle but definitive mark on the bag so he can't just use a new one without you being hip to his tricks - a little symbol with a Sharpie or a tear in the handle should do it).

3) Dude, just start eating all of his food. If his food is nasty, throw it away in someone else's trash can but throw the wrappers in your own. Sure, it seems like a lot of work, but if you really want to avoid confrontation, then you'll have to suck it up.

Upon reconsideration, I would recommend performing c) first, then moving on to b) and then a) if it still doesn't fix it. Good luck!

Dear Virginia,

I am extremely concerned that an employee of mine has been using company funds for personal things. It's nothing I can prove firmly, but the numbers just don't add up and I think (in addition to stealing office supplies and using the company postage account for personal correspondence, something it seems EVERY employee of mine does,) she is using the firm credit card for purchases like a new iPod and such. Because I don't usually deal directly with the bills, I don't have a paper trail, but I could get them easily. Problem is, the accounts payable person who deals with these is a huge gossip and also a good friend of the possible stealer. How can I stop this behavior without confronting her uncomfortably? The worst thing is, this isn't the first time someone in that exact position has embezzled or stolen from my company! What the hell am I doing wrong?


The Boss

Dear Boss,

I hate to tell ya, but you do NOT get a get-out-of-confrontation-free card. Nope, you're an idiot if you don't can this chick who is brazen enough to buy iPods on the company dime. Take charge, man! Screw the gossip - ask for the financial records you need from Chatty McAccountsPayable even if you are concerned she'll tip off the stealer. So what if she does? If this gal quits instead of you firing her, all it does is save you the discomfort of being the bad guy - something you WILL eventually have to learn, but my point is, you have nothing to fear in taking action to correct this. It's only being smart.

And as for the "What the hell am I doing wrong?" part, well, that's more complicated. My gut tells me that, if you are too intimidated to confront Chatty McAccountsPayable, let alone the actual stealer, then you possibly have a personality that certain predatory types feel entitled to take advantage of - and easily capable of doing so. You are, in some respect, a doormat in this arena. The good news is that this can change with some self-help - books, counselors, honest friends - I urge you to look into this part of yourself, as it's obviously caused you some distress.

But in the more immediate, well, figure out one or two coworkers you trust. Ask them for help in hiring next time around, or help in figuring out who might be good at helping you hire someone new - and conduct interviews in a team. It's easier to get more intimidated on your own, and wind up hiring the wrong person out of a misguided sense of guilt or fear - subtle manipulations that potential employees may be sending out. A team will help counteract that. And I'd say to include at least one person you consider "sensitive" or "emotional" on this team - some folks are better at "reading" people than others, and my guess is that this person would be more in tune with any potential sketchy vibes that a prospective employee might put out. Again, good luck to you!

Dear Ginnie,

There's someone at my work who is CONSTANTLY slacking off - taking long "smoke" breaks (she doesn't even smoke!), never responding to emails or voicemails, and basically just holding everyone else up. It drives us all crazy, and I know I'm not the only one who is frustrated by her total slackery - the killer is, she has her boss totally whipped somehow, so she gets away with it and I don't even think that ratting her out would do any good. None of us do. But we have no idea how to deal with her - often times, in our fast-paced office, we really need a quick turnaround on relatively simple requests such as writing a check or providing available dates to schedule a meeting, but she simply doesn't deliver. Any suggestions on how to make something happen? I'm writing on behalf of all of us, by the way.


Pissed-off Worker Bees

P.S. By the way, she's totally nasty in personality too, so no one wants to try to talk to her nicely about it (and I think some in the past have even tried and failed). So confronting her doesn't seem to work either.

Dear Bees,

Slackers are frustrating in principle, but when their slacking actually affects your ability to do your own work, it's even more annoying. My best suggestion, since she sounds pretty extreme and since it sounds like you've tried and failed at the nice route, is to get annoying right back at her. Start phrasing all your requests in triplicate - email, voicemails, and post-it notes on her desk. Also, if your whole office is pissed at her, then work in some teamwork - have coworkers "drop by her desk" with a message from you every time you need a check cut, and do it for them in exchange. Pull out a little "Don't shoot the messenger, tee hee!" if she gets bitchy about it - by not sending the person who actually needs action, you're limiting her ability to react to that person. If possible, get your IT guy (who probably hates her too, right?) to configure a program that sends and re-sends your emails every fifteen minutes until she gets the message. Start dropping by her desk and asking if her voicemail/email is down, since you hadn't heard back. Better yet, send the tech guy to her desk to "fix the problem" and let him be bewildered by her lack of awareness of the problem - clearly, there seemed to be a technical glitch since she hadn't answered a SINGLE EMAIL!

Sucks, but you guys can have some real fun with this, so even if it doesn't really work you'll probably feel better. Go out for drinks afterwards and laugh about it all, that always helps. Good luck!

Dear Ginnie,

Why don't guys call when they say they will?



Dear Forlorn,

Perhaps a more appropriate question would be, "Why am I so worked up about a guy who wasn't even good enough to call?" No matter what anyone tells you or twists you into thinking, you simply don't deserve someone who isn't interested in you. For whatever reason these guys who don't call have decided they are not interested in you. So why, dear Forlorn, would you pursue an interest in them? With over six billion fish in the proverbial sea of men, you can afford to be a bit choosier - raise those standards and the phones will start ringing!

Dear Ginnie,

I think I'm in love with my friend who thinks he's gay. But I don't think he's really gay - I think he just fell into a sort of "gay" crowd of friends in college and feels pressure to conform. The thing is, he's also my roommate. And while we share a two-bedroom apartment, we often wind up sleeping in the same bed, after he'll come in to talk to me about various crushes he has on various guys. (For the record, he's never taken any gay "action", so far it's all just talk). We'll wind up snuggling and cuddling, and it feels so right and comfortable, I can't possibly believe this guy is gay. What's going on?


Dear Confused,

This one I can demystify a bit easier, I think. Of course there's always the possibility that I'm way off, but let's pretend for a moment that I'm amazingly omniscient. Are you ready?

What's going on is that this guy is gay. He's just recently started to figure that out for himself, and he relies on you, a close trusted friend, for support in this, which is appropriate. However, because he's still skittish about taking the actual physical plunge (of gay "action", as you put it), he's also relying inappropriately on you for physical support - i.e. the kind of intimacy he craves in a romantic relationship, but is not ready to pursue in that way.

If you want to save your friendship, it's time for some tough love - no more bedtime snuggles, no more anything but discussion when he wants to talk. And you need to be able to talk about your stuff too - if/when you get it into your head that this guy is not interested in you romantically, you'll be able to talk about other crushes and such with him, and you two can both dish about your respective boys together. And once it gets to that level, where you're really not confused about your feelings for him or misinterpreting his for you, my suspicion is that your friendship will be more fun than ever.

Dear Off Culler:

I am a vegetarian, and I am fairly strict about my eating habits. I have been known to be a "flexitarian" in certain cultural contexts, but for the most part I find that liberal America caters easily to my dietary preferences, so I am able to be firm about my commitment to not eating meat. However, I was recently at a party where the behavior of the host and of my companion appalled and offended me.

First of all, they were grilling burgers on a barbecue, so the whole grill was covered in "beef juice". This might be fine to the non-veggies out there, but it turned my stomach, and I wasn't particularly interested in consuming the Boca burgers I had brought after they were slathered in the stuff. I asked them if they wouldn't mind slapping a piece of tinfoil down in order to keep my garden burgers veggie-only, and they all laughed... and didn't do it. They actually just ignored my request. I wound up eating Doritos the entire party because no one took me seriously.

To make it worse, when my (very much non-vegetarian) date had had a couple of drinks, he and his buddies decided it would be funny to try to "trick" me into eating a real hot dog, instead of a vegetarian one. I saw right through their stupid beer-infused prank, but to me, this was NOT funny. I take my commitment to vegetarianism seriously, and even if others don't see eye to eye, I expect them to at least "live and let live". What gives? How should I handle this differently if it happens again?

--Veggie at Heart

Dear Veg,

Props to you for being flexible when the circumstances require it, but this party by no means required you to give up your meat-free existence. If these boneheads weren't interested in complying with your tin-foil request, why not just up the ante? Next time, find the kitchen, bust out some tinfoil and a clean fork or spatula, walk over to the grill, and start cooking to your heart's content. That way, even if they don't take you seriously, at least you aren't stuck with the chips-only option - and maybe it'll sober them into realizing you weren't kidding.

As for the "prank", you have every right to be offended or appalled. Since this crew doesn't really seem to "get it" (and that might bring up the question of why you're hanging with them in the first place; though that is another column entirely), the best thing I can think of is to try to make this relate to them on their level - start chatting about the movie American Pie. Tell your prankster companion in front of his bonehead crew, "Remember the part where Stiffler accidentally drank the beer that someone had made a, uh, 'deposit' into? That's what I'm going to do to you if you ever, ever try to trick me into eating meat again, because that's exactly what it would be like for me. Are we clear?" I'm betting you won't have to cross that bridge again.

Dear Ginnie,

I have a huge crush on the barista at the coffee shop where I regularly get breakfast. She's cute, smart and funny, and looks great in an apron, and I just really would like to ask her out. However, I always get the idea that people in such positions get asked out all the time, left and right, so I don't want to be a bother. Is there a subtle and non-annoying way I can express my interest without making future breakfasts hideously awkward?

--Crushing on the Mermaid

Dear Crushing,

You're right that people in service positions sometimes get asked out more than others, but that's no reason to hold back, especially if you think there might be an interest. If she's made no mention of a boyfriend and wears no ring, why not give it a shot? It's silly to just sit and wonder what might be when you have a chance to actually find out. Try slipping her a business card along with your cash, with a quick note on the back saying "Would love to ask you out, but don't want to hold up the line" or something equally subtle and uninvasive. She'll either contact you from the card's info, or mention it in person, if she's interested - and if she's not, no mention need be made by either of you, and that's that. Good luck!

Dear Ginnie,

Having recently moved to Seattle, I knew only a handful of people, including a friend of a friend. My social life was pretty sparse, so we ended up spending a lot of time together and eventually started dating. It didn't take long before I realized we worked better as 'just friends', but he didn't catch on right away.

Finally, I broke it off, but in an effort to maintain the friendship, we still hang out together quite a bit. Generally, it's fine, except I'm super busy and he is super not. I feel somewhat obligated to spend time with him, because he doesn't have a lot going and I don't want to hurt his feelings, but he doesn't seem to recognize that I have other things to do. It becomes a particular problem when he drops me off after we've been out, because he usually comes up to my apartment. Once he's there, out of politeness, I ask if he wants to stay to hang out, and he, not realizing it was merely a token invite, says yes. He usually hangs around until I can't stay awake any longer. I know I need to just stop inviting, but he's so bored and I feel bad. Any brilliant solutions?


Polite to a Fault

Dear Faulty,

Sadly, youíre right Ė you are being polite to a fault, and thatís what has to change. The fact of the matter is that youíve been offering things you donít want (i.e. hanging out when you have no desire to do so) and this guy either is lacking the normal social cue antenna, or heís choosing to avoid the hints he picks up on. Either way, youíre clearly suffering, and the only way to end your suffering (and his social cluelessness) is to lay down the law. So here are some polite guidelines as to not being so polite:

1) Donít let him come back to your apartment any more. Iím assuming he only does this either out of habit, out of genuine chivalry of seeing you off safely, or out of the hopes of getting some. When at the doorstep, start giving him a brief hug, say ďThanks so much, I had a wonderful time, Iím exhausted right now so letís check in later about hanging out again soon, okay?Ē and then GO INSIDE and DO NOT LET HIM IN.

2) If he needs to come in to use the bathroom or phone, thatís fine, but when heís done, start yawning and hover with the front door open and repeat the good-bye banalities listed in #1, with your body always turned towards the door. Physical cues sometimes work better than verbal ones with these sorts.

3) If you actually arenít interested in maintaining the friendship with this guy, you are under no obligation to keep up the relationship because he is "bored" or will have hurt feelings. As Dear Prudie's former writer Margo Howard puts it, and I concur, people should not be held hostage by the socially clueless. If you want out of this friendship, and you're just staying out of pity, it's best to let it fade gently (that means making plausible excuses when he asks to hang out, and actually letting it fade instead of encouraging it based on guilt).

As wonderful as it is that there are genuinely nice and sweet people out there like you, you have to look out for your own needs as well, or your frustrations with this guy will make you wind up sabotaging the relationship in weird ways as your bottled-up irritation finds its way out. In truth, youíre doing the best thing for both of you in the long run by ending the annoyance now. Good luck!

Dear Ginnie:

I'm a bridesmaid in my best friend's wedding this summer. I'm happy for her and want to be there for her, but her family and I had a falling out a few years ago. A bad one, where all kinds of words you can't take back were exchanged. We've never been the same. It's going to be awkward, at the very least. But I don't want to add to my best friend's burden. At the same time, I know I'm going to feel weird being there knowing the chasm that exists between me and her family - especially her psycho mom who bitched me out like I was 13 years old for something I didn't even do. But now the psycho mom has cancer, and I know I should make amends, but I just can't bring myself to do it given all the hateful things she said to me.

Bitter Bridesmaid

Dear BB,

It's true that this mom sounds like she behaved in a totally inappropriate and unpleasant way, but the bottom line here is that this is her daughter's, and your friend's, wedding. That means, the day is all about her and her groom, not you and her mom. So despite any bad blood between you two, you've gotta try your best to put a lid on it. Be strained and awkward underneath if must be, but try your best to be civil and pleasant outwardly. Your friend will thank you for it later.

And, if it should happen that Mean Mama stirs up the drama, then as tempting as it might be to fight back, stick up for yourself, etc., I think the best thing to do is to tell her you don't wish to ruin her daughter's big day by getting in a fight, and suggest that you two talk privately somewhere else, someTIME else, for the sake of her baby girl. That sort of mother-in-law style guilt trip should hopefully put her in her place.

And as a last note, though I believe a brush with death or serious illness usually brings out the positive in people, there are always a few cases in which the victim seems to use such tragedy as a sort of "scapegoat", i.e. permission for behaving as badly as they desire, without the same consequences of a fully healthy person. I don't believe that's acceptable, and no guilt trip stemming from this theme needs to be heeded.

Dear Ginnie,

I recently came back into contact with an old college acquaintance. We were never particularly good friends back in college, but she's moved to my area of the country and we've kept in touch sporadically. The last time I saw her a few months ago, she informed me that she would be arranging a "convenience marriage" to her roommate, so that he would be able to legally stay in the U.S. Now, suddenly I've received an invitation to their "wedding" - with gift registries included! Am I wrong to assume that it's inappropriate to solicit gifts for a marriage whose only purpose is to help with immigration?

--Confused and Borderline Offended

Dear CaBO,

While receiving a no-holds-barred invitation to a wedding you thought was just for show might be a little surprising, have you considered that it may be the case that their relationship has blossomed into a bona fide romance? I'm skeptical myself, but you never know! Also, I do recall from my own investigations into this process we call "Convenience Marriage" that the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) places weight on the "real" factors of a wedding, and they like proof such as engagement ring receipts, etc. to make sure no wedding is just a fancy border-crossing event. So, perhaps this couple is just trying to stay on Uncle Sam's good side by going through the financially traceable motions. If you want to attend the wedding (even if it's just to satisfy your own curiosity!) a gift is mandatory, but you can always purchase something smaller if you have your doubts, especially since this isn't someone you're particularly close to. If you don't go to the wedding, don't feel the need to send a gift.

Dear Virginia,

I have a flake problem, and I don't mean cereal or dandruff. I have several friends who ALWAYS flake out on me! Any time I make plans, I pretty much get a guaranteed bail-out - even if I impress upon them that it's something really important, etc. etc. People have even ditched me the night of my birthday! What's going on? Am I some sort of magnet for these folks, and how can I approach them about it without sounding like I'm nagging? I'd be sad to let all these friendships just fade away if I start putting out the same amount of effort these people do for me (i.e. none at all) but I have no idea how else to go about things, and the resentment I feel sometimes ruins any fun we might have if we DO actually manage to get together. Help!


Tired of Being Flaked Out On!


Flakes abound all over this green earth. If you start to realize that these flaky people make up more than half of the folks you interact with, it's time to start consciously looking at what it is that draws you to those relationships, and time to start seriously evaluating whether potential new friends exhibit these same old traits. But on the other hand, if you're just talking about a handful of people, well, everyone has a flake or two in their lives. It's a matter of how you deal with it.

You're right that these relationships will probably fade away if you stop trying - but the question to ask is whether that's such a bad thing. If people really don't make any effort whatsoever, and the burden of "keeping the momentum" is all on you, then that's not a fair or balanced friendship anyway. However, if it's only a sometimes phenomenon, then sometimes the sad truth is that you simply have to adjust your level of expectation for those friends.

What if, with all the flaky-friends out there, you simply never expected them to show up to an invite? If you always had backup plans, or always had a group outing, then it would merely be a pleasant surprise if Mr./Ms. Flaky decided to show up - and if not, no harm no foul. It's a bummer, but you have to try and recognize that flakiness happens for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes people just need that nagging cloud lifted to be able to start putting forth the effort on their own. And sometimes, true, they need to be ditched back. If you look at this in a case-by-case way and try to be sympathetic to folks who are only minor offenders, I think you'll be able to salvage the flaky friendships that might be worth it, and discard the ones who aren't.