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Can I Confront My Dad About His Possibly Secret Relationship?


My dad came out as gay to my mom and me two years ago, and my parents got divorced. Since then, he befriended another gay man. When I was last visiting my dad, his friend called. The phone was on speaker, and I could hear every word of their conversation — though I don’t think my dad knew that. At the end of the call, the friend said: “I love you.” I knew they were close; he cared for my father after a recent surgery, and they sometimes cook dinner together. But my dad has told me they’re just friends. Should I tell him what I overheard? He has the right to keep the true nature of their relationship to himself, but if I keep quiet, I will be misleading him. Right?

DAUGHTER

I have a couple of friends whom I feel close enough to that we end our calls by saying “I love you.” I have never slept with any of them. We don’t know anything about the “true nature” of your father’s relationship based on a single endearment. The friend may simply have supported your father through his coming out and surgery. That’s a kind of love, though not necessarily romantic.

More important, it isn’t “misleading” people to respect the limits of their comfort in revealing themselves to us — even if we know more than they say. Coming out seems to have been hard for your dad. He waited to do it. Better to let him know you support his loving relationships than to quiz him about them. It’s kinder (and more effective) to let people work through sensitive issues at their own pace.

Now, I don’t mean to minimize any distress that you and your mother felt at your father’s coming out. It may have been very upsetting. I can imagine it also heightened your desire for honesty from him. Pressing him to tell you things before he’s ready, though, may only lead to further obfuscation and half-truths. Be patient.

I went to a state school in the Midwest. Most of the people I met there were from working-class backgrounds like mine. After graduation, two of my best friends moved to the West Coast and got big jobs in the tech industry. I’ve seen them several times over the years, and we’ve spoken on the phone sporadically. During the past year, though, I’ve reached out to them repeatedly without response. (One of them butt dials me frequently; it hurts to see her calling me by mistake.) Since college, I’ve mostly worked at blue-collar jobs. People like me have been lauded during the pandemic, but we’re used to being brushed off as unimportant. My friends’ lives are different: Their jobs impress people. I’m happy with my choices. But am I wrong to think my friends ditched me because they think I’m not good enough?

FRIEND

I’m really sorry that you’ve taken the (sadly) common experience of losing touch with old friends as a personal indictment. As we get older, making time for people from the ever-increasing old days — childhood, college, former jobs — requires commitment. And many people feel pinched for time and energy.

During the pandemic especially, when a simple grocery run could be exhausting, many people’s worlds grew smaller. Your friends may not have the bandwidth to respond to you now. And nothing in your letter hints at snobbishness before.

Write them a substantive note. (No “What’s up?” texts.) Tell them you’ve missed them, and ask them to call you when they have the energy so you can catch up. I can’t promise they will, but it’s a more generous posture than assuming that old friends have suddenly dropped you because you’re not fancy.

Any day now, I will receive a booze-soaked fruitcake from a close relative who sends them every year. While appreciated, they are not enjoyed. And I hate that she spends her hard-earned money on them. May I ask her to stop sending them without sounding ungrateful?

S.R.V.

My answer is no — even in spite of the many letters I will receive from readers who believe the cost of these fruitcakes should be redirected to charity. (No one is stopping anyone from donating to charitable causes!) Your relative chooses to express her affection for you with a fruitcake. Why try to control her or her budget? Simply accept the gift in the loving spirit it was given, then deploy it elsewhere.

Right before break, I hooked up with a girl in my dorm. It was a one-time thing. Since then, I found out I have an S.T.I. But we used a condom during sex. Do I still have to tell her about possible exposure?

ANONYMOUS

I know this ranks high among awkward calls, but you still have to make it. Intercourse is not the only way that S.T.I.s are transmitted. (I hope you know that.) Even if it’s unlikely that your partner was exposed, you have a duty to tell her so she can be tested. Who knows? She may be the person who transmitted the S.T.I. to you.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.




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