Our son will soon be old enough for independent play dates, where I drop him off with another family for an hour or two. My husband and I have a firm no-gun policy in our home (not even toy guns). I understand that other families may own guns legally, but I disagree with their decision from an ideological and safety standpoint. Accidents can always happen. I want to institute a policy: No playing at houses with guns. How can I ask other parents if they own guns? And how can I refuse play dates if they do? It’s not personal; it’s just our policy.
But of course it’s personal! You’re telling other parents that the presence of a gun, no matter how securely locked away, renders their home unsafe for your child. That is squarely within your rights. But don’t pretend there isn’t judgment couched in your safety concerns. Unless you want a gaggle of moms and dads resenting you, we have to deal with that part of your policy too.
As for asking, don’t be shy: “Do you have any guns in the house?” You are absolutely entitled to that information. But here’s where I might diverge from your plan. If the answer is yes, understand clearly where and how the guns are stored. But no matter the answer, go with your son on the first few play dates until you are confident that he is as safe at their home as he is at yours.
Scissors, cleaning products, vicious older siblings, inadequate supervision: Your no-gun policy ignores so many other possible dangers, and most are far more common than gun accidents. Still, if you want to stick with firearms as your threshold, go with: “I’m sure the guns are stored safely. I just can’t get comfortable with my son in the same house. Can your daughter come to our place instead?”
I’m a lesbian and have been dating my girlfriend for three years. We rarely go a week without someone exclaiming: “Are you two sisters? Twins?” Objectively, we are of similar height and hair color, but beyond that, we really don’t look alike. I find this frustrating. It doesn’t happen to heterosexual couples we know. How can I make people think twice before asking this? Who wants to feel like they’re dating a sibling?
Actually, I get a fair number of letters from straight couples who are taken for siblings, and from siblings who are taken for lovers. (Everyone hates it!) I think people intuit the closeness, then project a story onto it. Personally, I like that you and your girlfriend are shining love for each other out into the world. But I get that you don’t like the question.
And you make a fair point: Speculating about strangers’ relationships, and requiring them to illuminate us, is overstepping. These folks mean well, so I’d probably steer clear of my dad’s response to impertinent questions: “Writing a book?” So, how about a bit of elusiveness and sass: “Identical sisters of Sappho, actually.” Then walk off briskly. Snap!
My Son, My Self
My son (28) and I are not as close as I’d like us to be. I attribute this to my being too critical of him over the years. I have great relationships with my daughters, who were always more mature than their older brother, so I don’t think I’m the whole problem. But as the adult, I should have seen that he needed to be handled in a more positive way. A few years ago, I backed off criticizing him, and that’s helped. But I still feel distance between us. Any ideas?
I’m moved by your commitment to fatherhood and doing better, Jim. I also trust your assessment that, like many fathers, you were possibly overcritical of your firstborn son. How about inviting him to regular dinners for two? You can start by sharing your (inevitable) missteps with him and asking for his assessment, past and present. Then see where this openness leads you. I would have been thrilled to know that my father valued our relationship so highly. I bet your son will be, too.
Can’t We Just Talk?
I really hate it when people expect me to look at something on their phone in the middle of a conversation — especially if it takes more than a second or two. How do I politely refrain from staring at yet another screen while I’m trying to socialize?
When you’re right, you’re right, Shayna! Many conversations now come with mandatory visual aids, some of which take an eternity to locate on phones, ruining the flow of chatter. Still, you’re going to come off as quite the grump if you refuse to look at pictures of new babies, kittens or the latest Tinder date from hell.
With that warning in place, try something saucy: “Oh, honey, put your phone away! We look at screens all day long. Paint me a picture of the wedding reception in words.” Slightly odd, but mission accomplished, right?
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.