DEAR AMY: My partner and I have a problem dealing with his elderly parents' lack of social skills.
We keenly feel the obligation to be with them to retain a relationship, but after a couple of hours there really is nothing for us to talk about.
His parents treat us as the audience for their reminiscences and the family gossip (most of it ancient history) that still fuels their one-sided version of a conversation.
Visits require three hours of travel time one way, and so an afternoon or evening together is never enough — there must be an overnight.
We feel like insensitive and ungrateful brats for not being able to endure being the audience to their excruciating stories full of half-remembered details and tangents.
We have tried to talk about our lives and experiences but that only reminds them of their lives and experiences and thus the monologue takes flight.
Is this just a situation that must be endured? Is it possible that they feel the discomfort but just fill it with the only talk they know how to do?
Are all elderly people like this? Or can you offer us some way that might help us to be with these people that we would like to love but who make it very difficult?
— Tapped Out in Indiana
DEAR TAPPED OUT: I am frequently around elderly people who are not at all boring — so you shouldn't assume that all older people become this way. You should, however, check your own basic tolerance level and make a point of trying harder not just to tolerate, but to try to enjoy these visits.
I have two thoughts. One is for you to engineer a shape and direction for these visits to make them less tedious for everyone. You could do this by diving in to family history through old photographs, family trees, etc. Decide that you will be engaged, and ask questions as you go. Ask them to relate their experiences to current events.
The other is for you to basically duck and cover by treating this elderly couple to new experiences.
On your visits, you should plan at least one outing for all of you — not only a meal out, but perhaps a visit to a museum, concert or local attraction.
DEAR AMY: It's that time of year again!
The graduation invites are flowing in. Some are legit, while others are outright money grabs.
One very clever mom (actually a very talented salesperson) whom we only see about every two years and the grad in question not in the last eight years has booked her event three months out, all but killing any alibis/excuses to opt out.
What's the financial expectation/obligation on this stuff, if any?
Like tipping in Las Vegas, it's getting out of control.
DEAR PETER: You have no obligation to attend a party for or give a gift to someone you hardly know.
Sending a card to the graduate would be nice, though. You could say, "You don't know us very well, but we understand you're graduating from a school of some sort. If so, we wish you all the very best."
This gesture may be as well-received as a sincere "Thank you" instead of a tip in Vegas, but that's not really your problem.
DEAR AMY: Regarding "No Spanking," I would like to share with you how my father handled the issue of spanking. He was born in 1896 during an era when spanking was considered OK.
My father would ask us to come up with answers to a series of questions.
1. You do know that Mom and Dad are upset with you?
2. Do you know why Mom and Dad are upset?
3. What do you think would have been a better action?
4. If you were to do it again, what would be a compromise that both your parents and you would be happy with?
After each question we had to come up with an answer. And it was sometimes very difficult to come up with answers.
We made a pact that it was easier being good than going through this exercise.
— Grateful Son
DEAR SON: Your father was ahead of his time. His thoughtful questions are just right.
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