DR. WALLACE: My parents have been trying for years to get me to like my cousin. I don’t deeply dislike her or anything like that, but my opinion of her is just “blah,” and to tell you the truth, we don’t have much in common at all.
Our whole family has gone on trips and to dinners with my aunt and uncle and cousin, but there’s not much for us to talk about and she just seems quite boring to me. Neither one of us is better or worse than the other, it’s just that we are quite different. Is that a crime?
Is it okay not to seek to become a super close friend with someone like this cousin of mine? — Polar Opposite Cousin, via email
POLAR OPPOSITE COUSIN: Your letter did not provide any clue on what differences you two young ladies have, but I’ll take your word for it. However, I will make a suggestion to you, and please understand that I am not at all trying to shoehorn you into a close friendship.
What I will aim to do is to have you two young ladies share some information with each other. Just get to know her a bit better, even if you fully plan to keep your distance overall.
You can be polite and ask her interesting questions during the family time you spend together.
Ask her what her favorite hobbies are, what kind of music she likes, what kinds of foods she enjoys and so forth.
You’ll at least get to know more about her (and she about you) as you pass the time. And once your family time is over, you don’t need to call her or chase her down daily on social media.
Your goal should be to make the time you spend with her palatable by having the most interesting discussions you can. But stay away from truly personal topics like relationships, etc., unless she brings them up first, and only then if you are comfortable.
I trust that as two teen girls, you’ll have a touch more in common than you realized at first.
Finally, use this time as good practice at socializing.
As you grow into adulthood, you’ll find yourself in many situations where you’ll need to make conversation with others you don’t find too interesting or who seemingly don’t have much in common with you.
DR. WALLACE: I must admit that I’m not that easy to get along with, and I actually think it’s because I hate to argue or become involved in any type of confrontation at all.
My parents and one of my brothers often debate at dinner about anything and everything, from sports teams to politics to music and the arts.
I tend to leave the room as soon as possible as I do not wish to engage in the arguments and the yammering about who is best, who is doing the most to help the country or who is the most talented.
I find this boring and alarming at the same time. I’m always afraid someone will try to drag me into the discussion by asking me what I think, and I really don’t want to say anything at all — not one word.
So far, I’ve done a great job of slipping away and staying out of these heated discussions. So, I’d like to ask you, am I weak for being meek by not engaging in the discussions, or am I strong and wise for leaving the room with my dignity intact? — Always an Avoider, via email
ALWAYS AN AVOIDER: If your reason for not wanting to debate with your family is a lack of knowledge, then maybe you are weak when it comes to your knowledge about current events.
However, if you just don’t see the point of the overall debate and don’t feel like being drawn into a discussion that will include conflict, then I’d say you’re strong.
Often, arguments that turn hostile are not productive, and it makes sense to avoid those. Many people, however, actually enjoy a good debate and the associated banter. They see it as an exercise that can be quite intellectually stimulating.
There is, indeed, a fine line. You know your family, and yourself, much better than I do, so I trust your judgment that these debates are not for you, and I commend you for being strong enough to voice your opinion on this topic.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.