Category Archives: Dear Abby

Halloween: now *that’s* scary

Halloween paranoia reaches a new low (high?) in Dear Abby today:

DEAR ABBY: I have always enjoyed Halloween. I like seeing the children in their costumes and, for most of the little ones, it is a fun and magical time.

In our neighborhood, a group of 15 to 20 parents escort their trick-or-treating children from door to door. Sometimes there are 25 to 30 kids. When they approach a house for their treats, the parents remain on the sidewalk, apparently oblivious to what’s going on when the door opens.

We have a small front porch that rises about 8 inches above the sidewalk. The kids push and shove, jockeying for position to get their “loot.” Last year, a 5-year-old fell off our porch. Fortunately, she was not hurt. The parents did not issue any directions to their children to take turns accepting our candy because they were too busy chatting among themselves.

Because of the inherent danger to unsupervised children (and the possibility of a lawsuit if there should be an accident), I will not be turning on my porch light this year — the signal in our area that alerts kids that the home is participating in trick-or-treat.

I hope my letter will remind parents to practice mindfulness and make this Sunday a Happy Halloween! — LIGHTS OUT IN HARRISBURG

Ah, yes, the three P’s of Halloween paranoia: poison, pedophiles, and….porches?

Good Lord.  Now, kids whose parents don’t hold them by the hand and walk them to the door are “unsupervised” and in “danger”?  Their parents not “be[ing] mindful” because they’re standing 10 feet away on the sidewalk, chatting? And a five-year-old fell 8 inches?  Cripes.

Even more disturbing is Abby’s response:

DEAR LIGHTS OUT: So do I, and that’s why I’m printing your letter, which arrived just in time for me to include it in today’s column. Last year your neighbors were lucky the child who fell didn’t break a wrist or an ankle. Parents, when escorting your little ghosts, goblins and vampires, please remain vigilant. Common sense must prevail.

Right. Common sense.  Like, kids can probably walk a few yards on their own two feet–and that hardly counts as unsupervised.  If anything, these kids are probably too supervised: if they were on their own, they’d be wandering in groups of 3 and 5, not escorted in a mob of 50 as the entire neighborhood approaches each house at one time.

And, of course, if the homeowner feels that she or a little hannah montana is in danger of being trampled by a herd of mini justin biebers, she can just shout out, “Hey kids, one at a time!  no candy until you line up to the right, please!”

Lights Out might try a little common sense herself, rather than bitterly shutting off the lights on the entire holiday.

For some refreshing attitudes on Halloween, and, um, life, please check out Free Range Kids.

If you’re not sure you’re sure, you’re not

I was deeply troubled by Abby’s response to a not-quite-affianced woman last week:

DEAR ABBY: You probably have heard things like this before, but I don’t know where to turn.

I have been dating “Jeff” for five years and we have a lot of fun together. Last week Jeff proposed marriage and — I choked! Now I’m having doubts about everything, and he’s getting impatient with me because I haven’t given him an answer.

Things are not going the way I had hoped, Abby. Everything is falling apart. Does this happen often? How do I know if he’s the right one? — PANICKED IN PITTSBURGH

Continue reading

A little help for visiting those with memory loss

Some good advice in Dear Abby today about visiting friends or relatives with dementia:

DEAR ABBY: I have been a social worker in two skilled nursing homes for the past six years. I often hear visitors approach patients with dementia and say, “Do you know who I am?” or “Do you know who this is?” It’s like giving the person with dementia a test, one which the person will often fail. It would be more effective to approach the person and say, “It is so nice to see you. I am (whomever) and knew you (in whatever circumstances).”

Persons with dementia do not need to be reminded that they don’t recall something. Most of them know it. Even relatives — brothers, sisters, sons and daughters — may need to introduce themselves to their loved ones. Rather than giving the person with dementia a test when you visit, set up the visit to succeed by making simple introductions.

Remember, people who have dementia can remember things that happened a long time ago, but they may not recall what happened in the last five minutes. Visitors should talk about the “good old days” and everyone will experience a good visit. — P.B. IN NORTH CAROLINA

Continue reading

Grandpas laying down the law

The week the columns are rife with fathers unhappy at the prospect of raising their errant daughters’ babies.  But really?  Shouldn’t Papa #2 wait for the babies to exist before he gets all huffy about them?  Or will his “proactive” stance really get his daughters make better choices?

Papa #1 (third letter in the column)

DEAR ABBY: I have three daughters who seem to be incapable of functioning as adults. None of them is employed or in school. My oldest is a single parent of two kids she doesn’t want.

I love my grandkids and I know I should take them, but I raised my daughters and feel I’m too old to be Dad to toddlers again. Am I being selfish? — DAD OF THREE DAUGHTERS IN NEBRASKA

DEAR DAD: No, you are being realistic.

Um….helpful much? Thanks, Abby.  What should he do, then?

Papa #2

Dear Carolyn:

I am an old-school dad with Christian morals. I have three teenage daughters, 14, 18 and 19. Only the eldest is dating at this time. I tell them every day that I love them.

I have told my daughters for a few years now that if they get into a relationship, move in with a guy and decide later to get married, I will not pay for the wedding or reception. I would go to the wedding, give them away, but nothing else. That is the consequence for their action. If they do things right, I will pay.

Also, I’ve told my daughters several times that I will not raise my grandchildren because of their poor choices (I would in case of death or illness, etc.). They will have to find somewhere to live. If they want to make adult choices they can pay the adult price.

I have several friends with unwed daughters who are raising their grandchildren (the fathers are nowhere around). These grandparents want to relax, retire, etc., but now it’s like starting over taking care of a child. The little children are a blessing and are loved, but my friends have told me all the stress it has caused.

I would love and forgive my daughters if one of these things happened, but they would pay the price for their actions. Do you think this is too harsh?

D.J.

Too harsh on your daughters? Not at all. With weddings, anyone grown up enough to get married is grown up enough to pay for it, period. If parents want to pitch in as a gift, then they’re free to do so on their terms — just as children are free to decline the money if they don’t like the terms. I applaud your firmness and clarity on that stand.

For the record — and entirely without relevance — I do balk at your phrasing, because “do things right” is, to me, nothing more than “do things your way.” We’re not talking life and death here, or the Golden Rule; your “right way” to get married might not be right for every couple on Earth. But it’s your money and it’s your world view, and you’re entitled to attach strings from one to the other when the stakes are so delightfully black-and-white.

When it comes to thoughtlessly conceived children, on the other hand, the stakes turn gray, and fast. Yes, anyone adult enough to breed is adult enough to secure ample support — and, I have to think it’s good for your daughters to grow up with the expectation of being held accountable.

I think if you talk a bit more to these put-upon grandparents, though, you’ll find a few who used to think as you did but have since had a change of heart. The reality of a parent who’s in over his or her head is inescapable: The one who suffers most is the child

The answer may still be to make accountability the tent pole for any shelter you provide, but when an innocent child, your grandchild, is at risk of hunger or neglect, the you-made-your-bed morality you espouse might become a luxury you can’t afford. Humility is old-school, too.

I’m with Carolyn on the first part of this, I suppose.  He’s not obligated to pay for weddings, and if there are circumstances under which he’s not willing to contribute, that’s fair.  If that’s how he feels, I guess it’s good that he’s straightforward about it now, rather than waiting to things to get ugly post-engagement.

What I don’t like, though, is that this is in no way a neutral statement on his part.  I mean, of course it’s not–he’s obviously taking a moral stand on a lifestyle he doesn’t agree with, or want for his girls (never mind what they want for themselves).  But what I mean is, he doesn’t really mean, “move in with a guy if you want to, but I won’t pay for your wedding.”  What he means is, “don’t move in with a guy, or else.”  That is, his withholding money that he otherwise would have given isn’t, in this case, just any old “you missed the bus, you gotta walk,” consequence–it’s some combination of threat and punishment.  And it speaks volumes about his relationship with his daughters: he’s not interested in guiding them to loving, healthy relationships–just in being punitive if they, um,  shack it up.

The same is true of his comment about their hypothetical children.  One of his daughters–a 19 year old–is dating someone, and all he seems able to think about is that all three are going to live in sin, come after him for money, get pregnant, not want or care for their children, and leave them on his doorstep. With the caveat, of course, that if they die a tragic and early death, he’ll overlook their transgressions.  Thanks, Dad.

He’s got it all planned out, but all he can seem to see is the dark side of something that hasn’t even happened yet. I guess he thinks by laying all this on the line ahead of time he’ll somehow keep them from wandering down what he perceives as a dark, dark path.  But he seems to expect–and think–so little of his daughters, that I can’t help but think he’s pushing them farther down that path, rather than leading them away from it.

But with the Papa #1’s out there, does Papa #2 have a point?  Hrmm….I hope not.

Picture this:

Really?  Twice in one week family members are pretending there are no brides in the family wedding pictures?  Ay yi yi.  But is it worth taking a stand?

From Prudence’s live chat on Monday:

Q. Incomplete Family Picture: My husband and I have been married a little over a year. My mother-in-law recently decided to display a “family picture” taken at our wedding in her house but chose one without me in it. (The photographer took the same picture with all of us as well.) I found this incredibly hurtful, especially because this is the only picture from our wedding day she chose to put out. When I approached her about how hurt I was, she brushed me off by saying that she hadn’t yet found a frame she liked for the picture of my husband and I that she ordered. My problem isn’t that it’s the only picture she has out but that I am excluded from the family picture on the day I supposedly became a part of their family. Am I overreacting, as my husband claims, or do I have a right to an explanation and possibly a replacement photo?

A: You already voiced your objection to the photo, and your mother-in-law said there’s one of you and your husband she’s planning to put on display.What’s your plan now: staple a photo of yourself into the “family” photo, take the family photo off the wall and substitute one of you, boycott your mother-in-law’s home until she displays your likeness? You’ve only been married a year. Presumably, you have decades ahead of interacting with your in-laws, so don’t poison things out of oversensitivity. Your mother has a right to display whatever photos she likes in her own home. Take your husband’s advice and drop it.

I agree with Prudence–if there really is an issue between the new bride and MIL, it will become apparent soon enough, and there will be other battles to fight.  Let this one go.  Insisting on her “right” to anything in this situation can only lead to ugliness (is there a Bill of Rights for in-laws wall ornaments?  I was unaware). Can I also say this is a good argument for why not to do 8 million family pictures, covering every possible permutation of relative?  If this problem was going to cause hurt feelings, the place to avoid it was when it was taken, not when someone decided to actually display it (I mean, she had to know this was coming, right?  Who would want a picture of just the groom’s nuclear family besides the groom’s parents?).  A Little Help’s wedding tip of the day: Save time, money, confusion, frustration, and hurt feelings, by not taking tons of pictures that each exclude a different person.

Of course, it turns out you still can’t stop folks who are determined to shape the family photo how they want–even decades after the fact:

Dear Abby, on Wednesday:

DEAR ABBY: I have been married 11 years to my husband, who is one of nine children. My sister-in-law has asked me for a copy of one of our wedding pictures, which is the last time all of them were together. Since the wedding, one of my husband’s sibs has died and another is serving a long stretch in prison.

The problem is, she wants to digitally remove me from the picture! I don’t want to give my sister-in-law a copy knowing I’ll be edited out. It’s hurtful, and after all these years it makes me feel like she hasn’t fully accepted me as part of the family. Am I overreacting? — BLOCKED OUT IN TEXAS

DEAR BLOCKED OUT: Your sister-in-law wasn’t very diplomatic, but what she is trying to memorialize is the last time her biological family was intact. The situation is poignant, really. My advice is not to take this personally. Give her the picture before any hard feelings “develop.”

Oh, Abby.  Groaaaaan for the pun.  And “oy” for this sister.  Her request is a bit odd–but you know what else is going to be a bit odd?  This scanned, doctored, printed family photo on her wall, with a big blurry hole in the middle where the bride’s been airbrushed out.  I mean, in a wedding picture, it’s unlikely the bride is off to the side or in the back, right?  So really, this is going to be the sister’s issue to explain, time and time again, when people wonder what happened to her picture.  If anything, erasing the LW is only going to draw more attention to her absence.  And the beauty of digitization is that her doing this has absolutely no effect on the LW’s copy of the picture (it’s not like she wants to take a pair of scissors to it).  So, why not?  Whatever, sister.

Save your battles about in-law respect and inclusion for actual events, not for the display of pictures taken months or years ago.

Everybody’s got an opinion….

It seems once you’ve lived, loved, and lost someone, you should be free to date and marry again, or not, without fear of glares, gossips, and grabbers.  Turns out, that’s not the case.  A smattering of letters this week from widows, widowers, and those who know them–all with very strong feelings about the dos and don’ts of finding love again:

Dear Abby, July 26:

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I were having dinner with another couple when a conversation ensued that divided the men’s views from the women’s. It concerned a recently widowed man (I’ll call him “John”) who is dating a woman from our wives’ circle of friends, “Peggy.” (Peggy is a widow.)

The wives were appalled that John has begun dating only three months after his wife “Gloria’s” death, and insisted a woman in his situation would not. Furthermore, the women went on to question whether it was appropriate for him to date within Gloria’s circle of friends. Our wives believe that anyone within this circle should be off limits, while we men don’t see it as a problem.

So my question is: What is the proper protocol? (As an aside, the women now shun both John and Peggy.) — JUST WONDERING IN THE BAY AREA

DEAR JUST WONDERING: “The wives” obviously identify with Gloria and feel that John’s not wearing sackcloth and ashes for at least a year after her death is disrespectful to her memory. That’s what they would expect from you. They would also prefer that you not date any of the available women in your circle. They were stating their feelings. So consider yourselves put on notice!

From my perspective, it seems your wives feel neither John nor Peggy has grieved long enough, and so they are punishing them. It is possible, however, that Gloria told John she didn’t want him to be alone and grieve after she was gone, which is why he is being comforted by someone who knew them both. I’d advise your wives to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of shunning them.

Dear Margo, sometime this week:

Dear Margo: I’m a recently widowed man in my 50s. There is a woman who works with me with whom I’ve been good friends for as long as we’ve worked together, about six years. She is several years younger than I and very attractive. Ever since my wife passed away, she has been making advances, and I don’t know how to say no without harming our friendship. I’m not attracted to her, nor am I looking for a relationship right now. She keeps asking me to lunch, buying me coffee and leaving little notes on my desk with messages and smiley faces like a teenage girl. This is getting annoying, and I don’t know how to politely tell her to back off. — Need Time To Grieve

Dear Need: They really swoop in, don’t they? This woman sounds quite aggressive, and it’s clear that “subtlety” is not her middle name. A gentle way to essentially tell her to knock it off would be to say that you are appreciative of her solicitousness, but you are still in mourning and, as your signature says, need time to grieve. If she continues to try to rope you in, then you will have to tell her flat out that she is being rather thick and you see her only as a friend, and the result will probably be that the friendship is kaput. (But a small price to pay, say I, if she is making you insane with her overtures.) — Margo, directly

Dear Abby, July 27:

DEAR ABBY: I was involved with “Ralph” for two years. We live in a senior apartment complex, and women have been coming on to him for years. He is now seeing “Joan,” who happens to be my neighbor. This hurts me deeply.

This is a small complex and it’s difficult to face them. I am desperately trying to hold my words and feelings inside because it is hard not to call the woman a “slut.” I blame Ralph more. He made the decision to humiliate me, but how can Joan do this to her own neighbor? How do I handle this with class? — SHATTERED HEART

DEAR SHATTERED HEART: The smart way to handle it “with class” is to keep your temper in check and do no name-calling. If Ralph didn’t make your relationship official, he was free to start seeing someone else.

While I agree that this is a painful disappointment, do not waste one more minute feeling “humiliated.” Not all romances work out — and a remedy for easing the pain is to become more active. Do not sit around feeling sorry for yourself watching Ralph and Joan come and go. Time can ease a broken heart — but if it doesn’t, consider trading rooms/apartments with someone on a different floor.

Auto-Reply: Out of Office

Gentle readers–if any of you are still out there–

Hello, and apologies that the only thing I’ve had to offer you in over a month is a Dutch tea towel.

(Digression: how can we get this phrase to catch on?  “You’re as cute as a Dutch tea towel!” perhaps, or maybe, in another direction, “she stayed with me for a month and didn’t bring so much as a Dutch tea towel as a hostess gift.”)

It’s been a busy, exciting summer, with lots of time on the road for business and pleasure, and not so many days at home, or in the office.  In that vein, now that I’m back at work it seems appropriate to revive the blog with an ongoing issue in Dear Abby (and possibly in your very own cubicle): co-workers who don’t [appear to] work.

It started with a letter from a bitter supervisor published back on June 1:

DEAR ABBY: I’m the supervisor of a small office. One of my biggest challenges is scheduling time off for the female employees. In my day, you didn’t take a day off unless you were very sick or your child was sick. Now they seem to want time off for everything from school events, sporting events, getting their nails done, their faces waxed or tanning appointments. I am amazed at the decline in work ethic.

As I read about the unemployment in our country, I would think people would be grateful to have a well-paying job with benefits — but the recession hasn’t slowed any of our female employees down one bit. What has happened to the old-fashioned work ethic that founded this country? (Maybe it went south along with the jobs?) And by the way, Abby, I am a female. — TAKES MY JOB SERIOUSLY

Yikes.  It sounds like this woman needs…..well, a day off.  Maybe a whole batch of them.

As Abby pointed out in her reply, if these women (really?  just the women?  Do men take no time off?  Or doesn’t she supervise any?) are simply making use of the paid time off included in their compensation package, then they’re within their rights to spend that time however they want.  Their salaries take into account their not working a certain number of days each year.  They should be expected to take this time, and so, for that matter, should the supervisor.

For the sake of the rest of the post, I make this assumption–that the requested time off she’s complaining about is paid vacation/personal time. If that’s actually not the case, it’s the supervisor who needs to grab the reins and regain control of the situation–meeting with employees, reviewing policies, instituting some sort of consequences, or just saying no.  But if employees want their own vacation days, and their boss resents it–well, now we’ve got something to talk about.  And so we shall.

Reader responses to this letter ran today, and varied widely.  Bits’n’pieces below:

I understand the frustration of “Takes My Job Seriously” (June 1), the supervisor who complained about her female employees requesting time off for kids’ school and sports events or beauty appointments. Over the last few years I have noticed a decline in work ethic across the board.

Phone calls go unreturned, workers stand around idle and errors are made on important forms. People seem to do the minimum necessary to make it to the end of the day, and supervisors aren’t much different — they allow this behavior. Years ago, people worked hard for their money. Now they hardly work.

[Grrrr….taking earned time off is not even a little bit the same as slacking off while on the clock]

“TMJS” fails to take into consideration the evolution of the work force. Not only are there more women working now, but we usually work far beyond the regular 9-to-5 grind. As a single mom, I need flexibility in my schedule to get everything done that’s demanded of me at work and at home. I take my laptop home every night and work after my son goes to sleep.  “TMJS” may feel superior because I’m not in the office as much as she is, but I’ll bet I work more hours per week. Technology now allows us the flexibility of choice.

[This is a really important point for folks peering over the cubicle wall and rolling their eyes at their colleagues’ empty chairs.  But it’s not something that should go unspoken between supervisors and employees.  If folks are leaving the office without officially taking time off because they intend to make up the hours remotely–well, a supervisor should sure be aware of and OK with the arrangement]

I supervise several younger women. Studies have shown that while these employees want to do a good job, they find it equally important to have “work/life” balance. I actually think they are smarter than we are. We tend to overwork and feel guilty if we take a day for ourselves. If they take the time they have earned and use it for what they enjoy — good for them.

[hear, hear!]

“TMJS” must have entered the work force when companies still took care of loyal, longtime employees by providing good benefits and job security. It paid to go the extra mile for your employer because you knew your company would return the favor when needed.

In recent years this has changed. Workers today realize that sacrificing their personal life for their professional one does not necessarily reap any benefits.

[another interesting point.  I’d venture–though with absolutely no evidence–that most young professionals entering the workforce today have no intention of staying at their first job more than five years.  It’s simply not a given that the job will even be available that long, for one thing. But there also may be no guarantee of regular advancement, promotion, or raises.  Moving forward in their career will most likely mean changing jobs.  Of course, this sword cuts both ways: why should employers offer long term benefits like, say, retirement matching, to employees that they only expect to have around for a couple of years?]

Although I’m a little annoyed with “TMJS” myself right now, I wonder if there may be practical ways she can improve the situation in her office, so that employees can take the time off they’re entitled to, and she doesn’t feel left in the lurch.  Her real problem seems to be, as she says, with scheduling people’s time off.  She’s frustrated by this, and turns her resentment back onto them and their personal choices.

As the supervisor,  she could set some policies–perhaps time off must be requested a month in advance, or no more than two employees may take vacation in the same week.  Maybe working remotely isn’t allowed, or must be logged/accounted for in a precise way.  Maybe vacation can only be taken in increments of days or half days, reducing the likelihood of odd hours-that-creep-to-three-hours personal errands.  She’s lucky to be in a position to institute or propose some changes–perhaps creative ones–to place reasonable limitations on her employees’ flitting about.

Her supervisees are entitled to their vacation time.  They’re entitled to use that time how they wish, and this shouldn’t impact their boss’s opinion of them.  But they’re not necessarily entitled to take it without notice, whenever they feel like it. Finding the right balance here might save everyone’s sanity.  And I hope, while she’s at it, this woman takes a vacation.

How about you–do you feel guilty when you take a day off of work?  Does your boss make it hard for you to do so?  How do you account for personal errands during the workday?

Do you find yourself working from home in the evenings or on vacation and why?  Is is fear, passion, boundary issues, or some combination of all three?

Abby, are you OK?

Many thanks to the Undomestic Goddess for pointing out to me that the natives (or rather, at least two people, Zeno and PZ Myers) were restless wrt to Abby’s June 4th response to a spiritually agitated woman fretting about her mother-in-law’s (hypothetical–the woman isn’t dead yet) afterlife.  The original letter and response are as follows:

DEAR ABBY: I am in my 40s and have never lost anyone close to me. Unfortunately, my darling mother-in-law has terminal cancer. I am now preoccupied that people’s spirits are near us after they die.

Please don’t laugh, but it gives me the creeps. I don’t want to think my mother-in-law will watch me making love with my husband, that my father will watch me in the bathroom, or that my mother will be critical of my spending more time with my kids than cleaning the house as she did.

Am I crazy to think I might not have any privacy after my loved ones die? — SPOOKED IN SPOKANE

DEAR SPOOKED: Calm down. The departed sometimes “visit” those with whom their souls were intertwined, but usually it’s to offer strength, solace and reassurance during difficult times. If your mother-in-law’s spirit visits you while you’re intimate with her son, it will be only to wish you and her son many more years of closeness and happiness in your marriage.

As to your parents, when they travel to the hereafter, I am sure they’ll have more pleasant things with which to occupy their time than spying on you. So hold a good thought and quit worrying.

Yee.  I must confess: I didn’t even bat an eye, or “note to blog about later” when I read this. Not sure if this is because I read the columns at like 6:30 a.m., when my eyes aren’t really open for batting anyway, or if it’s because I’ve believed for years now that Abby’s long gone round the bend.

Others were less willing to give her a pass.  One calls the column a “gem of inanity,” while the other proposes an alternative response including the line, “consider getting a life and outgrowing the fantasy stories of youth and religion.”

Hm.

It’s worth noting that Dear Abby has always left room for the spiritual element in her column.  While Carolyn, Prudie, and Amy are more carefully secular and pragmatic, Abby, while promoting no particular religion, has always welcomed stories of the supernatural.  For years, one of her most popular features has been “Pennies from Heaven,” where readers send in anecdotes of finding pennies with dates of significance (births, deaths, or anniversaries) at serendipitous moments.  They believe, and Abby validates, that these are messages from loved ones who have passed on.

I actually find the Pennies from Heaven stories rather boring and often skip them, and on re-reading, I do think Abby’s response here is a little silly.  But the other bloggers’ superior, condescending responses aren’t much better.

They certainly don’t have to believe in ghosts, spirits or an afterlife, but this person already does, and is fretting about it.  Saying, “there’s no such thing as ghosts, you idiot!” won’t change her mind, or give her any relief.

If she believes in an afterlife where folks hang around observing the world, and if Abby does too (or at least makes space for such a belief in her column), why wouldn’t Abby respond on the writer’s own terms, offering comfort, rather than trying to shake up the ground underneath her?

I’m actually convinced that Abby handled this one the right way.  I might have added something like, “Trust me–if I revisited the earth as an observer after my death, the last place I’d lurk is the bedroom of my adult child and his spouse.”

And also that, if she can’t shake this paranoia (again, none of these people have actually passed on!) she should seek the help of a clergyperson and/or counselor–not to tell her what to believe about life and death, but to help her sort out her responses to this belief, so they don’t hinder her life so much.

When less is more?

On Sunday, Abby answered a short question with a nearly-as-short answer:

DEAR ABBY: I have a short question I need an answer to. How do we know when it’s time to end a relationship and move on? — KIKI IN TEXAS

DEAR KIKI: The short answer is when it brings you more pain than pleasure. The longer answer is, when you make a list of the pros and cons in the relationship, and the cons outnumber the pros.

Hmmm….I think both have their merits, but I disagree that they’re interchangeable, or that one is the logical extension of the other. On the contrary, they’ll each work as a litmus test for different kinds of people:

For example, if there’s a troublesome relationship you keep talking yourself into, or a person for whom you keep making excuses, putting each “con” (or pro!) down in black and white may help you see things as they really are.

On the other hand, if you’re prone to over-thinking–that is, if you’re an analytical, pros and cons type person–I think the taking a wider view can help you chill out: am I happy?  Is s/he? Am I growing in a good way?  Is s/he?  Then OK.  Stop itemizing, already. (You may not be surprised to learn that this is the camp where I feel most at home….)

In short, if your typical mindset and way of thinking hasn’t helped you figure out whether or not it’s time to cut and run, a different approach might. This is one case where doing what comes most naturally might get you nowhere, because that’s probably what you’ve been doing all along–so it seems especially important to recognize the differences between the two approaches.

Gee, P.S.–Don’t forget to cover your tracks

Last weekend, Dear Abby called attention to a problem that hadn’t occurred to me before, and is worth taking note of:

DEAR ABBY: I bought a used car with a navigation system last week and noticed that the previous owner’s information was still embedded in the system. Abby, I had that man’s home address, the addresses of his friends, his bank, his workplace — every place he had gone.

Please inform your readers that if they sell a car with a navigation system, they should first delete all of their information. Car dealerships should also be aware of this and, perhaps, erase the information from the system as part of their vehicle inspection. — JENNIFER IN LEE’S SUMMIT, MO.

DEAR JENNIFER: Your letter raised some eyebrows among me and my staff, so we canvassed some of the used car dealerships in the Los Angeles area. They’re already aware of it. Those we spoke to stated that they are not legally required to delete information from a navigation system, and all agreed that the seller is responsible for removing the information before selling the car.

I am sure many readers will thank you for the warning.

At first, I was startled to learn that the dealership wouldn’t clear the navigation system, just as they’d clean the car and bang out any dents before attempting to sell it.  I agree with Jennifer–it seems to me this should just be part of the process.

It seems probable that many car owners will forget or not know how to truly clear all their information from a built-in navigation system.  Wiping the memory of any such systems that pass through the lot seems like a basic act of integrity and housekeeping that any scrupulous re-seller should undertake.

Wait…integrity?  Scruples?  On the used car lot?

Right.  It didn’t take me long to realize that, unlike cleaning and repairing, there’s no financial incentive for a  dealership to do this.  They can still sell the car for a higher price because it has navigation–it makes no difference to them whether or not a roadmap (literally) of someone else’s life is exposed.

So, caveat venditor: cover your tracks, because no one else will do it for you.