DEAR NATALIE: My son is seven years old and has become very close with a little girl in his class. I have had her over for play dates, but I had only met her father, who seemed like a very nice man. When I asked to meet my son’s friend’s mother, however, the man chuckled a little uncomfortably and stated that his “life partner” was a man. They have been together for seventeen years and were recently married. He wants to invite my husband and I over for dinner and I am incredibly uncomfortable with this. My husband doesn't see what the big deal is but I don’t want to have dinner with them. How do I politely say no? -- KEEP IT TO YOURSELF
DEAR KEEP IT TO YOURSELF: I find it interesting that you seemed to like this man until you realized that he was gay. Instead of jumping to judgments about him and his husband, why not open yourself to the idea of becoming friends? Your children already like playing together and if your husband is okay with this, why can’t you be? Letting go of prejudice and bigotry will open the space inside your heart for friendship. While we don’t have to agree on everything, we can always choose to be compassionate and respectful of one another. Getting to know them in their home may just show you how much you actually do have in common and could soften the edges around this issue for you. At least give it a try. You have nothing to lose except those negative feelings holding you back from making some new friends.
DEAR NATALIE: My sister and I had a falling out about ten years ago and the last time I saw her was at our father’s funeral where she made quite a scene. Well, recently, she was diagnosed with cancer and has been trying to reach out to me. I have no interest in mending things after how she behaved towards me and my family, but my wife thinks that I should put things behind me and move forward. I think she is just trying to be manipulative and will want to use me now that she’s sick. Why else would she reach out? -- CANCER IN THE FAMILY
DEAR CANCER IN THE FAMILY: Clearly you are deeply hurt by your sister’s actions from more than a decade ago. But forgiveness isn’t about her. It’s about you letting go of these feelings that are like an emotional cancer, threatening to take over your whole being. While she may be trying to manipulate you, she may also have had an epiphany when confronted by this life-altering event. Maybe she is feeling remorse or regret for the things she did to you in the past. Perhaps she recognizes that this life is short and she doesn’t want to have any bad blood with the people she loved. She could also see this as an opportunity to open a new chapter and begin again. Whatever the reason, you owe it to yourself to find out. If this is a manipulation, you will see right through it and can move on. But if it isn’t, and you choose not to speak to her and she dies, you may have some unresolved issues that will never be mended. Better to hear her out, put it all out on the table and see what happens. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to get things off of your chest so that you can move on, regardless if she is back in your life, or not.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Let people know the best way to reach out to you. Some people prefer texting, while others like email. Some reach out on Facebook messenger while others use Instagram. While there are so many ways to communicate, sometimes we can miss important connections because we didn’t realize they had a preferred way to communicate. I prefer email, and when people reach out to me in other ways, I always redirect them to my address. That way, I’m sure to stay in touch and on top of everything in a way that makes sense to me. If you’re not organized, you can’t network efficiently!
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)