Answer Lady: April 2011
Q. I share a work space with a coworker who is a total slob. Can I say something to her about the mess?
A. It's hard to ask another adult to clean up her act, but when your mental health (and job performance) is at stake, you've gotta do something. There are two ways to deal. Plan A is straightforward: "I know you're going to think I'm crazy, but we've got to neaten up or I'll never get any work done. How about you wash the mugs and I'll work on these piles?" Don't wait for an answer, just do it -- weekly, if necessary. Plan B is more passive-aggressive: Clean up a bit when she's not around but avoid drastically reorganizing her stuff. If and when she says something about it, tell her you can't work in the chaos. If all else fails, ask your supervisor to speak to her or find out if you can move.
Q. My friends insist on throwing me a 40th birthday party but I really don't want one. Can I refuse?
A. They probably have two motivations; one you can quash, the other you should honor. The first: People love to throw parties. If you nix the fiesta you'll curb their fun, but since it comes at the cost of your inner peace, tough luck. The other motivation, however, is to celebrate you and show their love and affection. If your friends are willing to plan a lower-key activity with a smaller group -- a lunch or a day at the spa -- you should let them. Make it clear that a full-on par-tay is out of the question, but soften the blow by saying something like, "It's not that I don't want to be with you guys; I just don't want a big embarrassing thing."
Q. A friend asked me if she could borrow $80 to pay a bill. I'm nervous that lending money will be a problem in our friendship. What should I do?
A. We're all a bit weird about money sometimes, and lending cash can (and often does) change a relationship of equals into something messier. If your instincts are raising a red flag or you can't afford $80, just decline. Resist the urge to blame it on low cash flow. Being totally up-front is the best way to keep her from asking again. "I'm sorry, but my experience is that lending money to friends really screws things up. I hope you understand." The awkwardness should smooth out over time, and you can help her in other ways like watching her kids or having her over for dinner. However, if you have the cash, your pal has a repayment plan, and she doesn't have a reputation as a mooch, go to her rescue. Once, anyway. But my general rule is that friends should stay out of each other's finances.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2011.