Answer Lady: July 2010
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Answer Lady: July 2010

Our wise and witty expert takes on alcohol etiquette, a coworker's bad haircut, and friends who freak out about their health.

Q. My friend is a total hypochondriac. Every week she calls to complain about some new "serious" ailment. It's hard to sympathize because she's usually fine. Any advice?

A. While it can be a challenge to put up with a never-ending (and self-centered) drama like this, true friendship requires you to see the situation from your anxious chum's point of view. She actually does think something is wrong with her, and she's probably driving herself crazy with worry. (In fact, hypochondria is considered a psychological disorder that can interfere with someone's day-to-day life.) So accept the fact that your friend can't just "get over it." You should suggest that she consult a medical doctor to find out if there's anything physically wrong with her. A diagnosis of good health may well bring her peace of mind. But if she continues to complain, you can encourage her to seek help: "Have you considered talking to a therapist about all this anxiety you have about your health?" You can also begin to set some boundaries. Let your friend know how much you like hanging out with her, but tell her that you'd prefer to focus on other things when you're together.

Q. My sister's husband is a recovering alcoholic. Would it be wrong for us to bring a few bottles of wine (for ourselves) when we spend a week at their beach house?

A. The best thing would be to ask your sister and let her make the call. Many ex-drinkers have no problem being around booze. After all, as my wise (and recovering) friend Theresa points out, our culture is soaked with alcohol and no one can stay sober for long if they don't come to terms with the fact that, as the saying goes, "It's always five o'clock somewhere." Still, drinkers who've quit recently say within the past two years often would rather avoid liquor completely. So don't make any assumptions: Talk to your sister before your visit to find out what she and her husband prefer and honor their wishes. While you might enjoy a glass or two of Cabernet with dinner, it's not worth it if it makes anyone uncomfortable.

Q. When a coworker asks for your opinion of her haircut and you just don't like it at all, what should you say?

A. How about a good old-fashioned "it looks nice"? While I'm generally a fan of candor, this is one situation where I would choose discretion and gentleness over brutal honesty. If you simply cannot tell a lie, try deflecting your coworker's question by turning it back to her: "Yeah, I noticed that you changed your hairstyle. Do you like it?" If she makes it clear that she's already miserable, don't make it worse. Say something comforting, like, "Let it settle in. I bet you'll like it more in a few days. And anyway, the good thing about hair is that it grows back!" If she's happy with the new 'do, why burst her bubble? Just say, "Great. It's a really nice look for you."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2010.

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