Q. At a recent event a close friend of mine said something deeply hurtful about my wife’s looks to a mutual friend. This took place in front of me. Instead of hitting him I retreated and have been in a seething funk ever since. I can’t tell my wife because his words would hit her very hard, not least because she has acted as a deeply kind and above all loyal confidante to him during a turbulent decade in his own love life. How can I let the cad know how I feel without undermining or disabusing my beloved wife?
Name and address withheld
A. This kind of behaviour smacks of classic intolerance to alcohol although, if out of character, it could equally suggest a pathology in the cerebellum. Take your close friend aside and, in a spirit not of anger but of concern, gently enquire whether he has any worries he would like to confide in you. Explain that, since you know him to hold your wife in high esteem, the extraordinary remark he made about her, in front of you, could potentially be indicative of a health problem. As you are so fond of him, would he put your mind at rest by asking his doctor for a check-up?
Q. You have advised of a tactful way to round off a time-consuming telephone call, namely by using the phrase ‘Well, I must let you go.’ May I inform you that your advice has backfired in at least one case. A long-standing friend, with whom I talk regularly, has started to say ‘Well, I must let you go.’ I know she reads Dear Mary but I find it patronising and inappropriate for her to use this tip on me, one of her oldest friends — especially when she works and I do not. How can I, without seeming oversensitive, discourage her from using this catchphrase to see me off?
A. You should give her pause for thought by delivering, with chilling timing, the riposte — ‘No. I must let you go.’
Q. My dental hygienist charges £70 a session. She is always very friendly. The last two times I visited her she told me she had been away at dental conferences and showed me some new sonic devices and probes and asked would I like to try them. I somehow gained the impression that she was offering these to me as presents and said ‘yes’ out of politeness, despite knowing I would be too lazy to use them. It was only on studying my bank statement that I saw that both times I had been charged for these items and that they were not cheap. I cannot be sure that she was defrauding me, as it were, but next time I see her I should like her to know that I feel she was not as straight with me as she could have been. How should I go about this, Mary?
A. No doubt the difficulty was compounded by the fact that your recumbent position rendered you effectively gagged. In this way it precluded your clarifying the status of the probes — whether they were to be gifts or purchases. Next time, as the session ends, hand her £70 in cash saying, ‘Do you mind if I pay you this directly? My car’s on a meter.’ She will then be forced to ask you for the extras while looking you in the eye. At this point you can explain that you had inexplicably gained the impression that the probes were presents. Sadly you cannot afford them.