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Concern for a newly bald neighbor

| Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Hi, Carolyn:

The other day I noticed my neighbor, who previously had long hair, is now bald. My assumption is she is dealing with some sort of health issue, likely cancer (why else would she suddenly be bald?). I am not sure how to offer sympathy or support without seeming nosy. We are friendly but not close.

Or do I say nothing? It's a significant change in her appearance, so it seems odd to ignore it. In our brief “over the fence” conversations, she has not brought it up.

— L.

Why else? Autoimmune, thyroid conditions, she said, answering a rhetorical question.

These might not require the support from neighbors that chemo often does, but still — for every person who's relieved not to have to explain her baldness to yet another busybody, there's another who's stunned and saddened that not one neighbor or acquaintance stepped forward when she was plainly sick.

So while it's generally a kindness not to pry into people's health conditions, sometimes it's worth it to hedge. As a neighbor who sees and talks to her regularly, and therefore is in a unique position to be helpful when needed, you can, I believe, justify a onetime reference to the hair. “I realize it's none of my business, but I noticed the radical new ‘do. If you're having health issues, then I'm happy to help — rides, grocery shopping, whatever you need.”

That phrasing allows her the full range of responses, from absolutely nothing beyond, “Thanks, I'm fine,” to a specific, “Yes, rides would be a godsend.”

However she responds, take that for a complete answer. As in, don't mention it again unless she does.

Hi, Carolyn:

Your recent discussion of “ghosting” gave me a start. I'm a retiree who became friends with another retiree — “Jim” — who shares my interests in golfing and skiing. After a weeklong trip with Jim and another friend, I realize we're not compatible, and certainly not for travel. I found him to be very inflexible.

So when we returned home, I decided the trip we had been talking about for this winter would be best allowed to die on the vine. But I don't know how to tell him. I thought I would just “ghost” him, but having just this morning read how you believe “ghosting” is cowardly, I wonder what's the alternative? Tell him all the ways we don't travel together well? I can't see how relating those to Jim are a better option than just letting things die. And excessively sugar-coating our differences to spare his feelings seems dishonest as well.

— P.

Vine-death is an option as long as Jim doesn't bring up the next trip. If he does, then you need to tell him outright that you believe your travel styles are too different to work. That's neither sugarcoating nor piling on.

The cruelty of ghosting is in the refusal to spare the person you're cutting adrift of the torture of second-guessing. If the ghostee isn't calling you, either, then you're not obligated to reach out just to explain; the column you refer to involved a friend who vanished without explanation and wasn't responding to repeated attempts at contact.

Everyone's entitled to end a friendship that isn't working; in non-abusive situations, you just need to say so when asked.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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