Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Try to help cousin learn how wardrobe drives perceptions
Anonymous: My 22-year-old cousin is living with me while she completes an internship in my area. She hopes to be hired at the end of the year. But she dresses . . . kinda slutty: knee socks paired with plaid miniskirts and tops that are way tight and way low cut. My other roommate calls it "12-year-old sexpot."
I offered to take Cousin shopping, explaining how I knew it could be hard to amass a "grownup" wardrobe. I held up a series of button-downs and tailored pants, but she didn't buy any of them. She did, however, buy a pair of thigh-high boots.
Am I absolved now? Or do I come out and just say, "Honey, you look like a sleaze"?
Carolyn: No, but you can say, "I think your sexy clothes might be working against you." You're under no obligation to, and I could argue that it's not your business — but your cousin would be in your debt if you made the extra effort. If her response to warmly phrased concern is to get defensive, then she has bigger problems.
D.C.: There is a girl in my office who is very smart and competent but for some reason wears extremely low-cut tops, skin-tight miniskirts and spike heels. This has held her back from other opportunities, and she's kind of an office joke. I only know her by sight, and wish she had a woman in her life who had a clue and would share said clue with her.
Carolyn: Maybe said woman has, and the clue was returned unopened. You never know.
Go ahead: Say you're relieved and happy ex has moved on
Dumpsville, Population: Me: My girlfriend (of two years) dumped me yesterday. Surprisingly, I feel a little relieved. We fought a lot, and while the emotional roller coaster was sometimes exhilirating, it had grown tiresome. Thought I'd have to end it myself. The problem? Nobody is believing me when I say I'm fine. She is now "dating" another friend in our group (my guess is for a while) and everyone seems to be walking on eggshells about it. Our group has a party next week, and I intended to go. I harbor no ill will to my ex or this other "friend." But part of me is thinking to just avoid the drama. Would you go?
Carolyn: Yep. But I'd stop saying I was "fine"; post-bad-news, that's code for "I'm still drawing breath, thanks."
Instead, please tell the truth: "Relieved." It leaves no room for interpretation except to those who hear only what they want to hear.
Saying you're relieved does verge on bad-mouthing your ex, but (a) she's the one who dumped you, and (b) it's easy to explain away kindly with, "She's a good person, but we fought a lot." You could also say you're happy for the new couple.
You don't owe anyone this much information, but I'm more concerned about what you owe yourself (primarily) and your ex. If "I'm relieved, and happy for her" would buy you pest-free re-entry into your social life, then by all means say it.