My ex-boyfriend received a wonderful award for his work in education. I was so proud to learn of this accomplishment. He worked hard for his degree and has devoted himself to children.
When I learned about the award, I immediately thought I should reach out to congratulate him. When I told my girlfriends about it, they told me not to say anything. We did not have a great breakup. He was rude to me. He had already started dating somebody else, and it was messy. I’m not trying to get back with him. I just want to say congratulations on a well-deserved award. Do you think I should withhold my comments because he made a mistake several years ago?
— Job Well Done, Albany, New York
Dear Job Well Done: Your instincts are good. If your desire is simply to congratulate him on his work, go for it. Your ability to let go of the past and celebrate the moment for what it is reflects who you are. Holding onto old wounds can be detrimental to your well-being. Now, this does not mean that you should allow this moment to spark renewed interest in the two of you forming a deeper bond. Allow it to be exactly as you intended, a moment to honor his achievement.
You can also give him space to speak. He may have processed the past and realized his folly. If he chooses to apologize for his past behavior, accept. Then get off the phone.
Dear Harriette: I have a co-worker who has serious B.O. I think she washes; her face and clothes look clean, but I swear — she seriously stinks! This is different from some other colleagues who are from other parts of the world who smell like their food, which can also be bad. This smells like poor hygiene. What can I say about it? I am sensitive to smell, and she is killing me.
— Cannot Breathe,
Dear Cannot Breathe: This is a tough situation and one that requires tremendous sensitivity. I’m not sure that there is anything that you should say to her directly. Start, though, by paying attention to your co-worker. Get a sense of her life. Sometimes people disguise their reality. Is she really OK, or is she struggling? Notice her patterns. If you detect that she may be in financial trouble or even homeless, you may want to speak to her to ask if you can be of support. If you bond with her, that’s when you create space to talk about hygiene. She may need basic supplies that she does not have. She also may not have been taught how to practice cleanliness. This is hard for an outsider to teach someone who isn’t asking for it, so you need to tread lightly. You might create a care package of your favorite toiletries and offer it to her one day — discreetly. Tell her that you love these items and thought she might, too.
For your personal space at work, bring in air freshener. You might place potpourri on your desk to keep your area smelling fresh.
If things continue to be unhygienic with this woman, speak to human resources and ask for support. They may have a protocol to help employees follow codes of cleanliness.