Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

How to Handle Close Encounters of the Weird Kind

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went to a party recently and ran into a relative of my ex-husband. I haven't seen my ex or his family for decades. It was so unusual and awkward at first, because my ex and I did not have a good breakup. We were young and stupid about relationships, and I didn't treat him well.

When I saw this woman, it brought back all of those memories. She was kind to me, and after a bit I relaxed. But I also wondered what she would go back and report about me.

How should you handle a situation like that, when you run into somebody from another life? -- Blast From the Past, Washington, D.C.

DEAR BLAST FROM THE PAST: It's key that you remain in the present. There's no need to dredge up the challenges or triumphs of a past marriage. You can acknowledge the person you encounter and ask about his or her life. People love to talk about themselves.

In this situation, it's probably best not to ask about the ex. If you haven't been involved for years, there's no need to rekindle interest now. If the person you encounter mentions your ex, you can say you hope he or she is well, but don't start a discussion about him or her. When you part ways, be gracious. You always want to demonstrate the kind of person you are today.

Many people were naive and immature when they were young. Have you become wiser? If so, demonstrate that by being grounded in who you are now. Practicing forgiveness for yourself and others will make it easier for you to be comfortably present with people from your past.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I talked to my wife a few weeks ago about purchasing a car for our family. We have a 6-year-old girl and a 7-month-old son. My wife likes the idea of purchasing a new car, but she does not want to drive. When I asked why, she said, "Men and not women should chauffeur their family."

I love my wife, but she can be really stubborn with her independent thoughts. I want to make my wife's life easier when I'm working late or out of town. Please tell my wife about the freedom of driving. -- Family Man, Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEAR FAMILY MAN: I don't necessarily think of your wife's comment as an independent thought. Her idea that she should not drive sounds particularly old school. I wonder what lies beneath her comment. It could be that she truly does believe that women shouldn't drive, or at least that wives shouldn't.

More likely, she has a fear of driving. If she hasn't driven before (which is common for New Yorkers who don't need a car to get around), she may feel unsure of her driving ability and skittish about getting behind the wheel with her precious cargo of children.

Probe a bit to find out what the real issue is. If she is nervous about driving, giving her a car may not be a viable option.