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Why Do the Rules Seem to Apply Only to Me?

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I board my horse at a commercial stable. For years, another boarder has reported me to management for breaking rules, like having my dog off-leash, which many other boarders do. I suspect she’s racist. I am one of only two nonwhite boarders, and she hasn’t reported anyone else. (Also, my dog is a breed that many people incorrectly assume is aggressive.) The barn manager responds to her complaints by accusing me of misbehavior instead of asking what happened. I’ve always shrugged off these episodes. But recently I had enough and told this boarder I would no longer tolerate her harassment. Then she complained that I threatened her, which the manager believes! How should I deal with this bullying?


Let’s handle the easy stuff first. Put your dog on a leash! When we enter into arrangements with businesses like stables or gyms, we agree to abide by certain rules to use the facilities. You aren’t. Dogs and horses are unpredictable creatures, and there’s plenty of data on dogs attacking horses to support the stable’s leash rule.

When you’re in compliance with the rules, you will also be in a better position to assess possible racism there, as opposed to fear of your pit bull or Rottweiler. If the leash rule isn’t enforced against other boarders, ask the manager (with your leashed dog at your side): “Why aren’t you requiring everyone to use leashes?”

I sympathize with your suspicion that you are being singled out because of race. But so far, the barn manager isn’t wrong. You admit to breaking the rules. In the law, there’s a principle called the clean-hands doctrine: People who aren’t in good faith or in compliance with rules (and have symbolically unclean hands) are not entitled to ask for relief. Same here: Follow the rules, then speak up about uneven enforcement.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

I am the family historian and am updating our family history. This includes the death of my niece’s husband, an accomplished university professor in his 30s and the father of two young boys. We were all devastated by this loss, especially my niece’s parents. So I was shocked when my widowed niece asked me emphatically not to include anything about her late husband in the family history. She pressured another niece to ask me to exclude him, too. I am a writer, so this smells of censorship to me. I am also concerned that my grandnephews will someday see my history and wonder why I didn’t include their father. What should I do?


I can only assume that your widowed niece has strong personal reasons for asking you to exclude her late husband from your history. And I would guess that you grasp this too, or you would have simply asked her why she wants you to omit him. Let’s not speculate about what those reasons may be.

Now, on to your writing problem: I respect the task you’ve set for yourself. But your project will largely be of interest to living relatives. So, rather than brand your niece’s request as censorship, why not embrace the family spirit of your history more fully and prioritize your niece’s strong feelings? It’s the kind thing to do here.

A friend and former colleague has been job hunting for over a year. When she asked me to be a reference, I said yes without hesitation. But now I have served as her reference over and over again, including for jobs she decided not to pursue. (She’s financially secure and unsure what she wants to do.) My frustration is my friend’s lack of acknowledgment. Sometimes she lists me without even telling me. I’ll continue to be her reference, but is there a nice way to tell her I’m feeling used and would like a gesture of kindness?


Between us: You’re allowed to feel underappreciated without gilding the lily. In this year of crushing job losses, I find it hard to believe that your friend has been a finalist for a multitude of positions or that these reference calls take longer than 10 or 15 minutes.

Still, your friend should, of course, notify you and thank you every time she lists you as a reference. But gratitude that comes by request is rarely satisfying. Tell her: “I’ve fielded several reference calls already. Please list me only if you are seriously interested in the job and make sure to tell me, OK?”

I worked with a team to get out the vote in our recent elections. On a series of group calls on Zoom, I “met” a guy who seemed interesting: smart, handsome and funny. I don’t know whether he’s single, though. Would it be OK for me to ask him out on a date?


Why not? But take it a bit slower. Rather than calling it a date, say: “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you on our calls. Any chance you’d be interested in grabbing a coffee sometime?” If he says yes, meet up and get to know each other better (particularly whether he’s single).

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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