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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Family Dilemmas

Friday, October 30, 2015


The etiquette of handling a family dilemma when you have to raise the rent, and whether it is good manners to thank a family friend for his apology. All questions this week to Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners.

The apology

Q.  Many years ago I was assaulted by a family friend after he escorted me home from a party. I asked him to leave and we never spoke of it again. I never forgot the incident and chalked it off to the fact that he had had too much to drink. It was our first and last date, although we had grown up together.

At his mother’s funeral reception years later we barely spoke. By then we were both married with children. His sister and I remain very good friends and a couple of months ago I confided in her that the reason I was not still friendly with her brother was because he had forced himself on me.

I told her I had totally forgiven him, and that I didn’t know why I was telling her about the incident now. By then he had been in recovery for many years and was apparently happy and healthy.

Shortly after I told his sister, he phoned to tell me that she had told him what he had done and was calling to apologize. Rendered speechless because I thought I could confide in his sister my good friend — and because I was truly, deeply touched by his regret, I accepted and appreciated his apology.

I understand why his sister told him as she is also in recovery and owning up to past painful acts committed is part of the process. However, I feel I was put on the spot once again.

I would like to know what to say to him next time we meet at a family event. “Thank you for apologizing for having assaulted me?”

I feel the wound has reopened and blame myself for scratching the scar. I don’t know why I brought the assault up to his sister after all those years. How do I thank him for apologizing and tell his sister that I forgive her for telling him?

–Anonymous, Chevy Chase, MD

A.  In our time a woman’s odds of being assaulted by a fellow soldier are far greater than being harmed by the enemy. Also vastly under-reported is the number of rapes on college campuses that pride themselves for being intolerant of violence.

Sadly, the sex-violence connection is an inherent obstacle in the male-female dynamic. Men who assault women are more often than not following a social script — the pressure of group social norms. When the social script dictates that flirting is followed by foreplay that leads to intercourse, he naturally thinks he’s merely following the script.

Only fairly recently is it assumed that women are intellectual equals qualified for careers in science, banking, politics and the armed forces. We take for granted the changes in the laws and cultural consciousness and find it unbelievable that we still live in a world where a woman isn’t physically safe on her college campus, at her US Army post, or in the company of a childhood family friend in her own home.

Subconsciously you asked your good friend his sister for an explanation -- in some kind of form of an apology -- for the assault when you divulged the information that her brother had abused you.

She listened and told her brother. He called you and apologized. You acknowledged his apology. You can forgive him, but you won’t forget the assault. It doesn't sanction their egregious action when you forgive someone; it simply empowers you from being their interminable victim.

You’ve said all that you need to say. Do you really want to thank him for apologizing for assaulting you? It is questionable as to whether he deserves any more respect than you gave him.  ~Didi

Family business dilemma

Q.  We have a family business dilemma. In the 1960s our father, who owned several prominent apartment buildings, rented a large apartment to a cousin but never had her sign a lease. My father, who is now deceased, was a very generous man and never raised her rent despite increasing rises in the cost of maintenance, improvements and taxes. We have heard through the family grapevine that one of her grandchildren is planning on taking over the apartment after she dies.

How do we politely tell this elderly cousin that we have to increase her rent to make it on par with the other tenants’ rent? By the way, our cousin the tenant is a rich woman, who can well afford to pay the fair market value of the rental.

–E.P., Geneva, Switzerland

A.  About your family business dilemma. It makes perfect sense to increase your cousin’s rent but I understand your father’s and your hesitation to do so — seeing as he was such a really generous person. However, your father did not rent the apartment to his cousin’s grandchildren.

Assuming you have discussed this family business dilemma with your lawyer, you must be looking for a polite way to discuss the situation with your cousin the tenant.

Have yourself invited to tea and bring along a box of handcrafted chocolates and/or a bouquet of flowers, then once you are cozy into your tea or coffee and sharing family stories tell your cousin about your plans for making improvements to the building. Then ask her for suggestions. Since she has lived in the building for 55+ years she must know of any flaws.

Ask her for suggestions and then gently ask her to start paying the fair market rent for her apartment starting January 1, 2016, which would help with the cost of the improvements. That will give her time to adjust her budget or find new digs.

Should she need a couple of months longer to finalize a plan, be generous and let her come up with an alternative month to start paying the increase in her rent.

If that does not work, and you’re worried about another family member moving in or possibly subletting the apartment out for the going rate, have your lawyer make up a letter agreeing that as of January first her rent will be _____ per month. Bring the month-to-month lease with the new rent to her to sign in your presence. Again, take along flowers and/or chocolates; a gentle gesture to pave the way.

Be willing to strive for a workable compromise. If, for instance, she says she cannot pay that much a month, have her sign a month-to-month lease at a slightly higher rent than she is currently paying and include an increase in rent schedule.

The particulars will have to be worked out between you and your lawyer. For instance, even though it sounds complicated, her rent could increase in increments every month until the amount of rent she pays reaches the full fair market value.

Make it clear that you are your father’s son and you will never evict her from her home, but in all fairness she needs to pay her share of the rising upkeep of the apartment building because these old buildings are becoming more and more expensive to maintain.  ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches all matters or manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners. The best questions-and-answers appear here each week. 


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