Annie's Mailbox: I offended my sister-in-law

Dear Annie: I have been married to my husband for 14 years. He is one of five boys, all of whom are married with children. Nine years ago, I did something that offended my sister-in-law, “Tonya.” My husband and I immediately took Tonya and her husband out to dinner and apologized. She seemed to accept the apology, but ever since, things have gone downhill.

We were once a close family, but now, whenever a gathering is held at Tonya’s house, we are not invited. We attend get-togethers at other relatives’ homes, but the tension is obvious. Afterward, I inevitably hear from someone in the family that Tonya or her husband was offended by something I did or didn’t do.

I no longer feel comfortable going to these gatherings. I attend for my husband’s sake, but last year I refused to go to the annual Christmas vacation where we stay in a cabin together for a week, even though it would have been great for my children.

The rest of the family says nothing to Tonya because they don’t want to get involved. It hurts that no one will stand up for me, though they all agree I don’t deserve this kind of treatment.

We have a family reunion this summer, and I don’t want to go. I would worry the entire time about offending Tonya. My husband will support my decision to stay home. Any advice?

— The Family Thorn

Dear Thorn: Your husband should put an end to this immediately. He should point out to his family that they are already involved because Tonya has fractured the family and it’s likely that, over time, the grandchildren will be estranged. Your husband also should intercede with his brother. Tonya has been punishing you for nine years and revels in the fact that she has succeeded in marginalizing you. Don’t let her do it. Attend all family gatherings, put a big smile on your face, and be especially gracious to Tonya. She will be offended no matter what you do, so let her stew and stop being her victim.

Dear Annie: I went to the doctor for a checkup, and he asked me whether any of my friends use drugs. I told him they didn’t, but said some kids I know smoke behind the school wall. The next week, people at school started saying I was a snitch because the doctor told the parents of these kids. My entire high school goes to the same doctor.

I want to sue the doctor for breach of patient privilege. I think he had no right to give my name to people, but my mother says I have no right to sue. Am I wrong? My mother says if I sue him I will look bad.

— N.Y.

Dear N.Y.: Doctors are allowed to ask teens about sex and drug use, and in most instances, if illegal or dangerous activity is going on, they are permitted to notify the authorities. However, the doctor should not have disclosed your name as the source of the information. This was irresponsible and could have put you in jeopardy. Also, your experience will discourage other teens from confiding in him. Your parents should make sure he understands the negative impact of his actions.

Dear Annie: Your response that a man should remove his hat at the dinner table is ridiculous. You state that the exceptions are illness and religious reasons.

How would anyone know why the guy is wearing a hat? Besides, I think it’s sexist that a man has to remove his hat, whereas it’s OK for a woman to keep hers on. This custom originated with medieval knights, and it’s outdated. How can a piece of cloth be offensive?

Cleanliness and good table manners are the only important things. People should mind their own business.

— N.H. Cabin Fever

Dear Cabin: The reader asked what the rules of etiquette are, and we told him. If you prefer to keep your cap on, no one will snatch it off your head.

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