Why Are My Parents Handling College Costs So Differently for My Sibling?


My younger sister has decided to attend an expensive private college. This surprised me: She was accepted at prestigious state schools with scholarships, which would be more affordable for our parents, who are footing the bill. When my brother and I went to college several years ago, such an expensive school would have been out of the question. We also had to take out small loans, which my parents are not asking our sister to do. Their financial situation hasn’t changed, and I feel frustrated. I had to select a college based on price and take out loans; she doesn’t have to do either. Should I raise this with my parents? They are kind and generous people, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful. But I am still paying off the loans.

DAUGHTER

Before I get to your question, let me acknowledge your feelings: It is totally normal for siblings to notice — and even resent — differences in treatment by their parents. My guess is that, even if your parents’ finances haven’t changed, the weight of educating three children has begun to lift from their shoulders. That’s a big relief! And it may have colored their approach to helping out your younger sister.

So, what do you want here? The measured tone of your letter — including your description of your parents as “kind and generous” — doesn’t suggest that you’re spoiling for a fight with them or even struggling under the weight of your small loans. And it seems punitive to ask them to renege on an agreement they already made with your sister.

Sometimes, it’s enough to hear an acknowledgment that we’ve been treated unequally. Or you may want to ask them for some help repaying your loans. Think about it. But you’re off to a good start, in my view, by framing this question in the context of your parents’ love and kindness.

I am a gay man. My barber, who is straight and married with children, has let me know he has feelings for me. He often says that we’re of “kindred spirit.” And the last time I was in, he told me he likes lilies and tulips. I said, “Tulips are special, and you are my tulip.” He replied: “And you are my lily.” Am I reading too much into these exchanges? So far, he has declined my invitations to spend time together outside of the barbershop. Should I be patient with him or find another barber?

W.

The only two people who know whether there are romantic vibes between you and your barber are the two of you. Based on what you’ve reported, though, I see a friendship (with a touch of flirtation) — not the desire of a man to leave his wife and children for you.

Many kindred spirits have platonic relationships, and you started the gooey floral analogy — though, in fairness, he finished it up. But he has also declined your social invitations. If you can reboot your feelings as friendly ones here, I would. If not, find another barber.

I am a firm believer in handwritten thank-you notes. I send them within a couple of weeks of receiving a gift. I am about to have a baby and have received many lovely presents. The problem: Many givers text me to check the delivery status of their gifts. I understand their concerns, but I’m not sure how to respond: Acknowledge the gift, but save the effusive thanks for the handwritten note? Or send two thank-you notes — one by text and one by mail?

MOTHER-TO-BE

I am the last person to knock handwritten thank-you notes. They can mean a lot to gift givers. But they were never meant to give real-time reassurance that UPS actually made delivery. So, I suggest you use your good judgment here: If a pal from work sends you a couple of onesies from an online retailer and texts you about delivery three days later, do you really need to send her two thank-you notes — one by text and one handwritten? Personally, I’d go all out in your text reply.

On the other hand, if your grandmother sends you a quilt she made by hand and asks about delivery, I think you should respond to her call or text right away. Tell her it arrived, it’s beautiful and you’ll send a note soon. Then follow up with a lovely one. The digital age gives us lots of options. Choose the one that fits the circumstances.

My husband and I hosted our daughter’s wedding in our upscale California beach town. The dress code was “festive cocktail attire.” It was a fabulous event for 170 people, with one weird exception: My husband’s 76-year-old sister showed up wearing white jeans, casual sandals and a shirt you’d wear to go shopping. She stood out like a sore thumb and was a topic of much speculation. Should we say something?

MOTHER OF THE BRIDE

Hang on! You gave a killer wedding, and the only problem was what your sister-in-law wore? Take the win and move on! The role of a host at any social occasion is to make her guests feel welcome and comfortable, even if — especially if — they make questionable wardrobe choices. Let this go.


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





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