Dear Colleagues, Will You Please Mask Up?

My employer doesn’t require masks in the office, and most people don’t wear them — even in meeting rooms where social distancing is impossible. Still, I wear a mask, and I’d feel better if my colleagues did too. We returned to the office in June, before the Delta variant became widespread in my state and Covid infection rates were low. I’m vaccinated, but the vaccination rate is low in my area. (And our employer says we shouldn’t ask co-workers if they are vaccinated.) Is there a way to ask co-workers to wear masks in the office? I have young children who aren’t eligible for vaccination, and I want to keep them safe.

SARAH

I can only imagine the anxiety of going into a physical workplace, every day, without vaccination or mask requirements while Delta variant infections continue to rise in many parts of the world. You are wise to wear a mask, Sarah, but we are better protected when all parties in tight, indoor spaces do.

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Still, I wouldn’t try to persuade your co-workers to wear masks one by one. It’s a collegial impulse, but there’s too much at stake here. Go to your boss, instead: “We came back to the office during the brief window between widespread vaccination for Covid-19 and the arrival of the Delta variant. I think our changed circumstances require the company to rethink its policies on vaccines and masks. Will you consider that?”

Keep your tone respectful. This will underscore your sincere concern for the health of all employees and their loved ones. Your company is not responsible for the nasty polarization of common-sense measures like vaccines and masking. But that doesn’t take it off the hook, either. If you don’t make any progress, ask about working remotely — or at least skipping meetings where social distancing is impossible.

My husband and I have been married for 34 years and have no children. We have sent many expensive gifts to our cousins and their children over the years to celebrate holidays and all kinds of special occasions. We have not received many gifts in return. And I can count on one hand the number of thank-you notes we’ve received. (We don’t even get emails or texts that acknowledge receipt!) Should I stop sending gifts to these ungrateful relatives or try to convince myself that they have not been trained in good manners?

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COUSIN

For years now, I have written that we should give gifts because we want to express affection for their recipients in material terms — not to be thanked for them. But let me add quickly that one of the surest ways to kill that desire is to have our gifts ignored. (And once the ugly realization sets in, it is very hard to dismiss!)

Now, you don’t say anything about your relationships with these cousins. If they are loving and kind to you in all ways but thank-you notes, you may be able to overlook the omission (or even ask for acknowledgment of your gifts). But if your presents are the centerpiece of these relationships, you are free to stop sending them.

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I have a solid relationship with my live-in boyfriend’s ex-wife. We have a group text (consisting of him, her and me) to arrange drop-off and pickup of their son. Occasionally, she texts pictures of my boyfriend and his son from when she was married to him: intimate photos that show a loving relationship between father and son. I would rather not see them. I acknowledge that he had a life before me, but the pictures make me feel vulnerable and sad. Still, I value my relationship with the ex. Is it worth risking it by asking her not to text these photos?

GIRLFRIEND

I sympathize with your feelings; this is a little weird. If I understand correctly, though, the ex doesn’t appear in the photos. So, try to let this slide. Your boyfriend may cherish these images with his son! And you don’t suggest the ex has an ulterior motive here. (She’s sharing these pictures with you, too, and they show your boyfriend as a loving father.) If you want reassurance about your relationship, better to get it from your boyfriend than to censor his ex.

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My husband and I work hard during the week. So, our weekends with our two young kids are precious to us. We love for all four of us to get into our pool together and talk and play games. But this summer, a young family moved in next door, and the wife is pretty aggressive about walking up to our pool fence and asking if her family can join us. How do I say no?

C.R.

Easy! Just tell her privately what you wrote to me: “My husband and I work long hours, and our family time on the weekend is precious to us. We’ll give you a call when we’d like you to join us for a swim, OK?”

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Try not to hold this against her. She may be pushier than many of us, but she may still turn out to be an excellent neighbor.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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