DEAR AMY: I am a 49-year-old man. I was raised in a conservative Christian family, but now I am firmly agnostic and I have no interest in setting foot inside any church ever again. About nine months ago I moved to the East Coast. I’ll be visiting my family in the Midwest again in June. My younger sister has planned to renew her wedding vows with her husband while I am there. The service will be held at their church. I absolutely cringe at the thought of going, interacting with the people there and putting on a fake front of approval. I want to tell my sister that I love her dearly but going to the church makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. She knows I am agnostic and it makes me wonder if she might be trying to get me back into a church to inspire me back into the fold. What should I do?
Conflicted in CT
DEAR CONFLICTED: My understanding of agnosticism is that agnostics believe that the existence of god or gods simply cannot be known. It is a statement of neither faith nor disbelief.
If this more or less describes your thinking right now, then your deep offense at entering a worship space and witnessing a ceremony is baffling, so is your harsh judgment toward people who have a belief system that you don’t share.
You also seem to think that your sister’s choice to renew her own vows is really all about you.
Because of your attitude toward this, it would be best if you stayed home. Don’t judge your sister for her choices, and wish her well.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I rented a house in a beautiful neighborhood for many years, but we couldn’t afford to make the repairs on our house when it came up for sale, and so we left that neighborhood and recently bought our very first home in a new, less chic, neighborhood. The house has a great backyard and is well cared for. We have a few neighbors that seem to be good people but don’t keep up their homes all that well. Visitors cannot seem to help but compare our previous neighborhood and comment on the neighbors in general. We are so excited to have bought our first home and the negative chatter is bringing us down. I feel that these neighbors are a good lesson in tolerance for people that are different from us. I would like to have a housewarming party to share this joy with others, but if I am being honest, I am afraid of judgment and dread all of the commentary. Is there a way that I can politely spin these conversations in a less offensive direction? If not, I don’t know if a housewarming will feel like much fun to me. I’m pregnant with our first child, so sipping wine and ignoring rude comments is not a viable option.
DEAR HOMEOWNER: It sounds like this judgment will fly your way, regardless of whether you invite or discourage it. When it comes to houses, homes and neighborhoods, some people simply cannot seem to resist judging everything from the quality of the countertops to the school system. In your case, these opinions may reveal judgments or prejudices you’d rather not be exposed to.
However, I suggest that you steel yourself and dive right in. Answer every question in the affirmative. If people criticize your neighbors, you can play dumb: “What about their house don’t you like?” or simply be truthful: “We’ve met them and they seem like nice people.”
If a question or observation seems less nosy and more patently rude, you can use my mother’s comeback, “Oh — why do you ask?” and then choose how (or whether) you want to respond.
All of this boundary-building and responding is great practice for parenthood, by the way. If you think people will weigh in on your neighbors’ qualities, just wait until they latch on to your parenting!
DEAR AMY: “Want to Forgive” sent out a group email about a serious cancer in the family, and then they were shocked when someone in their circle shared the email far and wide. How naive could these people be? Anything sent via email can fly around the world, and nothing can stop it.
DEAR NOT: Email is a very efficient way to transmit information to a group of selected people. There are websites such as caringbridge.org, which offer a more secure way to convey health information, but the fact is that anyone can choose to be indiscreet about anything.