Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Party Guest in the Middle of Shouting Match

DEAR HARRIETTE: I witnessed a shouting match at a party last weekend. A girl was berating her friend's boyfriend for the horrible way he treated people. It's true that the boy is rude, but the girl really flew off the handle. The entire party fell silent and watched the exchange. I was positioned in the middle of the crossfire, but I simply averted my eyes and remained quiet. I was extremely uncomfortable, especially because I am not particularly close with either party. I took the first available opportunity to leave the party and avoid the inevitable tension that would persist throughout the night. I might have had a nice time had I stayed, but I couldn't get over how awkward the situation had been. Was that the right thing to do? -- Awkward, Jackson, Miss.

DEAR AWKWARD: Leaving the party was a fine option. You could have even gotten up sooner to get out of the crossfire. People think that being polite in a situation like that means averting your eyes or being still. Maybe. Better, though, is either to attempt to diffuse the shouting -- perhaps best handled by the host of the party, or to get up when it starts and walk away. Staying and enduring the shouting match makes you a bystander in an ugly situation that really called for action that would have ended it.

To that end, another thing you could have done is to find the host or another authority figure and ask that person to intervene.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a dilemma. My daughter is 15 years old, and her 16th birthday is a few weeks away. Around the time of my daughter's birthday, I start summer sessions at my college. Turning 16 is a big deal, and I would like to give her a great gift, but I spent a lot of money on tuition and books for my summer classes. I have some extra money put aside for a rainy day. I want my daughter's birthday to be special, and I would like some advice on how she can have her special day on a budget. -- Back in School Mom, Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEAR BACK IN SCHOOL MOM: While many families host extravagant events for 16th birthdays, you do not have to do that. Instead, you may want to use part of your rainy day fund to host a birthday dinner for your daughter and a few of her friends at your home. Make her favorite meal. Be mindful to set the table elegantly with Sweet 16 accents. Invite the guests to dress up for the occasion. Make it special in the attention you pay to detail.

Make sure you have completed your studies so that you are not distracted by your schoolwork. Being fully present and engaged for your daughter should help her to feel grateful for the celebration you are able to design for her.