DEAR MISS MANNERS: My best friend got married about a year ago, and I consider her and her husband both to be very good friends. My problem is that she calls me to vent every time she has a problem with her husband.
I understand the need for people to vent, but all of it is stuff that her husband would be humiliated or angry to know she was telling me. She repeats their fights word for word, tells me all about her husband's depression, private stuff about her husband's family (whom she dislikes greatly), gossip about her husband's friends and co-workers, etc. She always says, "He would kill me if he knew I told you this, but..."
I want to be there for her, but some things I am plain not interested in hearing. I was raised that private family stuff should be kept private. She wants more than just an ear -- she wants me to help her analyze what they really meant.
I don't know how to ask her, without hurting her feelings, to either tone down the level of info she gives me or maybe talk to someone else. I've tried, but if we're on the phone she'll talk over me and then end the call; if we're face-to-face, she'll get incredibly offended and try to pick a fight.
The truth is that she gets a thrill out of sharing confidential information, and has been this way for as long as I've known her. I can't just ignore her, because I babysit for her child. Any thoughts?
GENTLE READER: If Miss Manners were you, she would be thinking about getting a new best friend, even if it entailed finding a new babysitting job. Because your friend has always been like that, you might think about what she must be telling others about you.
It is not Miss Manners' job to break up friendships, however, and you have not proposed to do so. Merely to discourage these confidences, she would advise "being there" -- not for your friend, but for those who are, in fact, not there.
A few rounds of "Your poor husband is depressed -- you should go easy on him" and "Your mother-in-law has a point" and "They sound like people I would like" should dramatically dampen her desire for these discussions.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Does one give a gift for a grandchild for a piano recital? If so, what? I have two grandchildren, one 10 (girl) the other 8 (boy), and they are both having a piano recital on the same day, but I have no idea as to what is correct to do or rather what is expected.
GENTLE READER: You are expected to endure the entire recital -- not only the pieces played by your relatives, but everybody else's contributions as well -- with an expression of bliss on your face and hands that beat together at every opportunity. Afterward, you are expected to distribute compliments with abandon: to your grandchildren, to the other children, to their parents and to the teacher.
Musicians like to unwind after a performance, and so you might also consider taking them out afterward for a treat. That is optional, but replying to their post-performance questions by assuring them that any mistakes they mention went unnoticed is not.
Miss Manners would consider all that generous enough. You do not want them expecting every occasion to be an opportunity to collect.