Q. A woman I’ve known for years is getting divorced and rings me every day to talk about it. I have closer friends with ongoing problems and, though I do care, I don’t have the emotional energy or time to deal with her problem as well. I work and she never has, so she can’t really understand how tired I am. Your advice?
— Name and address withheld
A. Confide that you are finding it difficult, both at work and at home, to talk on the telephone without being overheard. Explain that this is inhibiting your ability to empathise and strategise with her. Suggest that instead she begins to communicate her feelings to you by daily email. In this way you can give her situation your undivided attention and email back your considered responses. It will be less emotionally draining for you to read her updates than to hear them. Ironically she will also benefit by clarifying her thoughts as she puts them on paper.
Q. I recently had to plan two trips to different parts of England I rarely go to, and took the opportunity to invite myself to an overnight stay with old friends I don’t see that much. In both instances my impending arrival was greeted enthusiastically, but both sets of friends suggested they would book a local restaurant on the night of my visit. Neither couples are incapable of cooking, nor are my standards of cuisine so high that they might feel obliged to go out to avoid disappointing me. Inevitably I will feel obliged to pay for what is likely to be a not inexpensive dinner. After a long drive, I would rather something more low-key at their home and avoid the unnecessary expenditure. Can you advise me how to deal with this situation?
— Name and address withheld
A. You have not withheld your name from me and I can see that you are a person of distinction. Clearly these old friends don’t want to ambush you into paying for an expensive dinner — they want to exhibit you as a social trophy to gain prestige points locally. Why not say that you dare not risk being seen out because of another friend, who you won’t humiliate by identifying, who would be offended if you did not contact him while you were in his neck of the woods. Say ‘Besides, I’ve got some fabulous wine which needs to be drunk. Why don’t I bring that instead?’ Then bring some.
Q. When we are out at lunch or dinner my husband tends to spoil my stories by telling the punchlines before I can. How can I stop this without creating an unpleasant atmosphere?
— M.W., Pewsey, Wilts
A. Outwit your husband by pausing, as you near the end: ‘Now, my husband thinks he knows the punchline to this story but actually there was a twist to it.’ As he waits to hear the mythical twist, you can deliver the original punchline, and thereby stymie his sabotage.