Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Brother's Nasty Attitude Bothers Reader

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a brother who is usually kind of nasty. When we talk on the phone, he is often bossy and judgmental. At Christmastime he softens up, though.

My brother called me the other day and asked about my kids, wanting to know what they would like for holiday gifts. I was blown away. I had forgotten that he gets nice this time of year. I answered him. After all, it’s for my kids. But I can’t act like he isn’t normally rude and obnoxious. It’s hard to let my guard down when the next conversation could turn into a nasty argument.

How can I get him to see that we get along when he acts like it’s Christmas? He doesn’t have kids, so I’m thinking that he doesn’t seem to have a reason to be nice otherwise. -- Holiday Magic, Oakland, California

DEAR HOLIDAY MAGIC: Does your brother have a pet? A best friend? A living thing that he pays attention to? I ask because if you focus on what matters to him at holiday time throughout the rest of the year, you might be able to ignite that “nice” behavior. Your active effort at being thoughtful toward him could help him turn the corner.

The other thing you can do is to speak honestly to your brother. Tell him how happy you feel at Christmastime when you two get along so well. Point out that he sometimes hurts your feelings at other times of year when he is gruff and abrupt. Tell him that you would like for both of you to remember the feeling of kindness that you share during this time of year so that you can invoke it later.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Now that I am an adult, I have been thinking about some of my actions in the past. I realize that I was not so nice to a couple of the guys I dated early on. I was selfish and impatient, and they didn’t deserve that. Years have passed, but I haven’t forgotten how I treated them. Part of me wants to say something. If I remember, chances are they do, too. I’m not interested in rekindling any connection. I just want to apologize for being a jerk. Do you think that’s OK? -- Taking It Back, Milwaukee

DEAR TAKING IT BACK: There is a good chance that the ex-boyfriends you treated badly remember your behavior, especially if they sincerely cared for you. Tread lightly so that you don’t send mixed messages, but do reach out. If it is easy to see them in person, request a meeting for coffee and share your thoughts. If a meeting would be awkward, find an address -- either a physical address or an email -- and send a note of apology. You don’t have to go into too much detail. Acknowledge that you know that you were selfish and unkind when you dated years ago. As a mature adult, you have thought about this and believe it is important to apologize for anything you may have done to hurt them. If any of your exes attempts to reconnect, just make it clear that you don’t want anything other than to express your sincere sorrow at having been unkind.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)