Dear Life Kit: Your most petty social dilemmas, answered
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Photographs by Bansah Photography/Unsplash; Sippakorn Yamkasikorn/Unsplash; Daniel Sinoca/Unsplash; Dmitry Mashkin/Unsplash; Collage by Kaz Fantone/NPR

Photographs by Bansah Photography/Unsplash; Sippakorn Yamkasikorn/Unsplash; Daniel Sinoca/Unsplash; Dmitry Mashkin/Unsplash; Collage by Kaz Fantone/NPR

Need some really good advice? Look no further than Dear Life Kit. In each episode, we pose one of your most pressing questions to an expert. This week, TV writer, author and humorist R. Eric Thomas offers guidance on petty social dilemmas. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Lawyers who lunch

Dear Life Kit, 

I recently passed the bar and started working at a law firm. We have assistants who help the lawyers with our filings and communications. One of the other lawyers is a few years older than me — I’ll call him Brandon.

The other day, Brandon asked one of the assistants to pick up his lunch and bring it back to the office. Naturally, I assumed this was a service for all the attorneys. The next day, I asked the assistant if she could grab my lunch too. She said she only gets lunch for Brandon.

Is this because I’m a new attorney? Is it laziness or sexism? I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m taking it personally. — Lonely lunch

R. Eric Thomas is an advice columnist and the bestselling author of Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America.

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The word “naturally” is doing a lot of work in your question. Naturally, I assumed the assistants get lunch for all the attorneys. I don’t think that’s a natural assumption. That is not part of a legal assistant’s purview. I say this as a former legal assistant.

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I don’t know the nature of Brandon’s relationship with the assistant, but there are clearly other factors at play. Maybe they’re dating. Maybe they’re secretly married. Who knows what’s going on? You should probably mind your own business a little bit.

I can tell you might be lonely and want to make connections in your office. So try your best not to take this personally. Imagine the most benign explanation and then go from there.

Dude, where’s my tree?

Dear Life Kit, 

My neighbor cut down my tiny trees. They were planted by the city and we loved them. They were small and not in anyone’s way. 

One day they were gone. We looked through our camera recordings and found out our neighbor was the culprit. 

I have no idea how to deal with this situation. All I want is revenge. — Heartbroken hugger

Confront your neighbor. You have to say something because there is a rupture in the neighborhood. You can see the stumps on the land. This will always bother you unless you say something. Take a friend or your spouse and go to your neighbor and ask, “What was the reason behind this?”

Maybe they have a reason. Maybe they are just grumpy. Maybe they thought it was their tree. Who knows? This probably won’t resolve in a beautiful understanding, but you may get a sense of the reason, which will help you get a little bit of closure.

One of the hardest parts of life is not receiving any closure. One of the things I try to do in these situations is ask myself, “What do I need from this situation to be at peace?” Try planting another tree or talking about it with another neighbor and forming a little coalition. Or just try and let it go and focus instead on the things that bring you joy.

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Expected to drive 8 hours — and bring dinner!

Dear Life Kit, 

We drive eight hours round trip to see my in-laws. When we arrive, my mother-in-law wants to know why we didn’t bring anything for dinner.  

I resent that we spend so much on gas and travel so far — and on top of that, we’re expected to bring an item they could easily pick up on their weekly shopping trip. — Tough takeout

Talk to your in-laws. Ask, “Can you tell me a little more about what you’d like us to bring?” Their answer may be illuminating. If they say something like, “We want to feel like there are many hands that make this meal,” there might be another way to get to that result without feeling put out.

Also, ask your spouse to be your advocate. Say, “Hey, this is a weird conflict I’m having with your parents. Can you straighten this out and let me know what we need to pick up?”

What I heard in each of these questions is a deeper emotional hurt that isn’t petty. Petty problems can affect us in a strong way. It’s important to recognize the truth of your emotions. Something I say all the time is “This is so silly, but I do feel this way.” Being able to verbalize this is a great first step.

Listen to R. Eric Thomas’s full response in the audio at the top of the page or on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Have a question for Dear Life Kit? Share it anonymously here.

Dear Life Kit is hosted by Andee Tagle and produced by Beck Harlan and Sylvie Douglis. Bronson Arcuri is the managing producer, and Meghan Keane is the supervising editor. Alicia Zheng and Kaz Fantone produce the Dear Life Kit video series for Instagram.

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