DEAR HARRIETTE: Whenever I see my aunt and uncle, my uncle does not talk. I originally chalked this up to his personality, which I perceived to be calm and quiet. Lately, I have been hearing stories about how funny and active he is in other situations. For example, we will be at dinner ordering shared dishes, and he'll say he is going to the bathroom, then he orders his own plate with a different waiter. I have never heard accounts of him acting like this when I am not around. Am I the problem? He barely speaks in my presence, unless it is to say a negative fact about whatever the conversation topic is. Is there any way I could get him to be kinder? -- Iced Out, Boston
DEAR ICED OUT: My dear, you are going to have to drum up the courage to approach your uncle and find out what's going on. As challenging as this may seem, it is the only way you are going to get to the bottom of this situation. In private, ask your uncle why he does not speak around you. Ask him if you have offended him in some way, or if something occurred that made him choose to be silent around you. Tell him that you sincerely hope you have not done anything to disrespect him. Explain that you are asking because you thought he was always quiet, but you learned from other family members that it appears that he is quiet around you only. Push to get an answer.
It could be a case of perception versus reality. Is there anything different about you? Did you go away to school and come back home? If your life experience has expanded beyond most of your family members, there could be the belief that you are now more worldly or educated and, in turn, more judgmental. Whatever the issue may be, your job is to make sure your uncle knows that you love him and want to talk to him.