Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: I have an old, but really close, friend who has her own old, really close friend. (My friend Jane and I met after college; Jane met her friend during college.) Jane and I are having a fight about Jane's behavior toward me. She's got a bad temper and I think she is a bit of a bully sometimes.
Meanwhile Jane's old friend Mary and I have been becoming better acquainted lately. We've been starting to communicate and talk outside of Jane's presence. Is it unfair to ask Mary about Jane's behavior? They are much closer - obviously, having known each other for years. But I think it would be interesting to know if Mary sees the same thing in Jane that I do. I'm not asking her to "weigh in" on our current fight, I just want to know if she's had the same experience. Mary is a sweet woman and I believe wouldn't run to Jane to tell her I've been talking to her.
Answer: I think it's fine in an "I struggle to understand Jane sometimes, can you help me?" kind of way, but if you're not certain you can keep this out of the muck of Jane-bashing, then don't even try it.
Another way of putting it: If you want to fix your friendship with Jane, then understand that what you need to accomplish in this are new ways to see the good in Jane, and Mary can help you with that. If what you want is validation for disliking this aspect of Jane, then don't even touch that with Mary.
Question: Do you think it's rude for people to ask if you are still breast-feeding? I breast-fed my children longer than most (more than a year, less than two). While my family and friends knew I was breast-feeding, it's not something I loudly campaign for and I prefer to do it discreetly.
Yet people still feel it's OK to ask if I'm still nursing my 15-month-old. I think it's a question along the lines of asking people when they're going to settle down and get married or when they're going to have kids - that is, none of your darn business.
I always answer the question simply and honestly with a yes or no because I'm happy with my choice, but the reactions from people run the gamut, which might be why I'm sensitive to it. Some say "how wonderful" or "good for you," while others are exasperated: "Are you really?"
Answer: "That's kind of an odd question. Why do you ask?" That way you'll see whether you're getting interest from people who are weighing their own choices, or judging yours.
Or you can solve it after the fact: "Had I known you were just looking to judge me, I wouldn't have answered so politely."
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.