Dear Annie: My twin sister and brother-in-law visited me for the recent holiday. I love my sister, and we have always gotten along well. As is stereotypical with twins, we grew up inseparable and have remained emotionally close, even as the physical distance between us widens. We now only see each other a few times a year, and I cherish these times.
The difficulty I have is that her husband is insufferable. He is perpetually in a bad mood and always disagreeable. Neither my husband nor I really like it when he's around, and his demeanor seems to indicate the feeling is mutual. I want to spend time with my sister, but I find it less compelling knowing that her husband will be coming along. Do you have any suggestions on how I could handle this? — Sad Sister
Dear Sad Sister: To quote the often acerbic but always insightful Oscar Wilde: "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." Sounds as if your sister is on the "wherever she goes" end and her husband is in the "whenever" camp. Given how close you are with your sister, you should feel comfortable addressing the situation with her. Let her know that you sense a lack of interest from him in spending time with you, and ask her what you could do to strengthen the bond between you and him. Empower her to create a solution with her husband, and let her know you want to make it more comfortable for him. If that doesn't work, suggest that you two take sister trips in which you meet at a neutral location and keep the focus on you two or a small circle of people; no spouses, because that might alienate her husband.
Dear Annie: I have some issues with social anxiety, and my workplace isn't helping. I'm unsure of when to act professionally and when to act more casually. I'm sure there's a balance between the two, but I'm struggling to find that balance. Everyone at my workplace is really nice and friendlier than I would have expected, but it seems there's an invisible line not to be crossed. How can I gain clarity on this gray area of work-versus-social etiquette? If I'm too professional, I appear cold and distant. If I'm too friendly, I appear out of line and don't appear to take my job seriously. — Confused in Corporate
Dear Confused: In my experience, it's always better to err on the side of professionalism, even if it feels a bit stilted and unnatural at times. You will never regret being a bit too formal in the workplace, but you may regret being too informal. That being said, you can gradually work toward a more familiar relationship with your co-workers over time. After you've been there for a few months, you might ask a co-worker who is your peer (i.e., not a supervisor) to grab coffee or dinner. People tend to open up more and behave more casually outside the office, even when with co-workers. Then, having established that rapport outside the office, you'll feel a bit more comfortable at work.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]