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Overheard on Zoom: Co-Workers Talking About My ‘Weird’ Habits


I had two Zoom meetings at the same time at the university where I work. I told my boss I wasn’t sure how long the first one would last, but I doubted I would make his meeting. As it happened, the first one was short, so I popped into my boss’s meeting. When I got there, my co-workers were screaming with laughter, and I heard my boss say: “The other weird thing Lauren does is….” But then he realized I was there and stopped. My co-workers looked uncomfortable, and my boss pivoted quickly by asking about my first meeting. I was mortified! It was all I could do not to cry. How can I find out what weird things I do, so I can stop? I don’t want to be the office weirdo.

LAUREN

It is wildly unfair that you are the one feeling mortified, Lauren. And if you aren’t angry with your boss by the time you finish reading this answer, I will have failed you. He made fun of you, behind your back, to your co-workers. That is mean and unprofessional.

I get your impulse to worry about your behavior when you catch other people laughing at it. But I won’t join you in blaming the victim here. Your boss’s cruelty (along with his greater power) outweighs any possible eccentricity of yours. Trust me and put aside your self-consciousness for a minute.

Report the incident to your human resources officer. The fact that your boss didn’t apologize immediately after the meeting suggests he’s not a good enough manager to resolve his lapse in judgment on his own. If he has constructive criticism for you, fine. But I don’t want you working in a snake pit.

This is a confusing time for many of us. We’re working, but we’re also at home — which can lead to some unprofessional moments. But cruelty toward colleagues is never OK. You can talk with H.R. about “weird” behavior, if you like. But don’t let that be the takeaway here. Everyone deserves respect.

My boyfriend and I make less than $75,000 each. We’re still employed and working comfortably from home. Neither of us is at risk of being laid off. We recently bought a house and have costly repairs to do before we can move in. Is it selfish to spend our $1,200 stimulus checks on fixing up the house, or should we donate the money to people in need? We want to do the right thing.

I.K.

Your economic impact payment is all yours to spend, save or donate any way you like. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, though. If you and your boyfriend are on solid financial footing — with a rainy-day fund and no mountain of credit card debt — consider a little of each. Spend some, donate some and save some.

Because helping to stock the local food bank for hungry neighbors is important, and so is supporting your roofer with work, if it can be done safely. You may have the luxury of doing both, and saving for unforeseen bumps in the road, too.

My sister and I (in our 60s) live with our 95-year-old father. He is in good health, mentally sharp and stubborn. During the pandemic, my sister and I go out once a week for non-deliverable necessities. But our dad keeps insisting on going to the market himself for “essentials” (like his favorite brand of chocolate milk). He watches reputable news media that do not minimize the risks of the virus. We’re tired of arguing, and we always lose. What can we do aside from worry?

DAUGHTER

Assuming your arguments focus on the health risks to your dad, try appealing to his paternal instincts, instead: Talk about the danger he may be creating for you and your sister on his shopping trips. If he’s still unpersuaded — whether out of denial, a sense of invincibility or fear turned upside down — beg him to consider the harm he may do to others in his path. And if all this fails, insist on strict social distancing and face masks.

If his real problem is feeling cooped up indoors (and not the existential need for chocolate milk), discuss the safest times and places for him to get out for some fresh air.

Several years ago, my now former (and deceased) mother-in-law gave me her pearls. I appreciated the gesture. But I’m not the pearls type. I’m more T-shirts and jeans. Should I return the necklace to my ex, with whom I have no contact, so he can give it to his current wife, or may I sell it?

CHRIS

A gift is complete when it’s made. So, the pearls are yours to keep, sell or give away. Your mother-in-law likely gave them to you as a token of her affection. That may have changed with the divorce. But can you imagine the chaos of having to return gifts if relationships sour? (It would be enough to save the U.S. Postal Service!)

Or, you may know a descendant of hers who would prize the necklace as a family heirloom more than you prize its resale value. Either way, it’s your call.


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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