My boyfriend and I are acquaintances with the couple who live directly beside us in our condo building. They’re nice people, but there’s one problem: A week ago, the wife left a handwritten note that said they can hear us having sex. I’m mortified but also not sure how to respond and go forward.—Melanie
Yes! I love that the sex-having perpetrators are the ones who need some help, instead of everyone who is offended by everyone else all the time. (Like, sorry, but it’s true.)
Don’t worry about your neighbour’s note. That she gave you a sweet, mannerly notice instead of banging on the wall means that she likes you back, and you can still be friends. Also, if you are into noisier, weirder, or more athletic sex stuff, then she is probably already impressed with you. Next time you see her, play it cool and blithely apologize—as if your doing-its were no different embarrassment-wise than your cat sneaking onto her porch—but make it clear you’re taking care of it and that you can use her help.
Psychotherapist, counsellor, and relationship expert Kimberly Moffit says, “Be respectful, but don’t let this inhibit your sex life.” (And if your boyfriend is squirmy and scares easily, I wouldn’t even mention it to him.) It might be worth moving your bedroom into a space that affords more privacy, if you have a den or office. If not, look into soundproofing and test out options with your neighbour, who will by now be your best friend. It could be a simple matter of muffling a vent; who really knows how these cardboard condos are built, right? Failing that, find out when you have the, I guess, auditory environment to yourself. Moffit says, “Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbour questions. What times are they out at work? What weekends are they away? When do they go to sleep at night? Knowing these details will help you make respectful decisions about when to keep the noise level down, and when to feel comfortable to be as loud as possible.” If that all lines up, great, but if not, you either have to move or else get married and stop having sex altogether.
I screwed up an account at work, to the point where I was almost fired. I was able to keep my job, but my relationships with my colleagues have been strained ever since. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I feel awful. How can I get back into their good books?—Kevin
Back in May, Jonah Lehrer—the New Yorker writer and best-selling author of Imagine: How Creativity Works—was a “Thirtyish” expert in a column about how to get comfortable enough with creative failure to keep trying, which is semi-ironic, because that was just a month before Lehrer was caught plagiarizing himself, reusing stuff from earlier work in a number of blog posts. His move was to go dark: He hasn’t been fired for screwing up, either, but he hasn’t posted anything in weeks. Before that, actor and writer Mike Daisey chose active damage control after he was caught fabricating information about Foxconn factories in China, and submitted to an excruciating interview on “This American Life” that included the longest, awkwardest pauses maybe ever. One approach to disaster-recovery is not necessarily better than the other—and those errors are less squarely “not on purpose” than yours at work, probably—but the consequences of our individual mistakes are up to us to resolve. You’re definitely right to be thinking about it, rather than shrugging around the office
No matter what, the best thing to do is to totally own your mistake. Identify what you did wrong, separate it from whatever denial, guilt, regret, frustration, and ego-destruction you incurred after, and fix it. Follow up with your boss to make sure you’ve done and are doing whatever is necessary—the best way out is through, like the poet Robert Frost said—and, unless it was particularly fluky, make a plan to ensure that nothing like it happens again. (Like, did you need more training? Were you unclear about expectations?)
I think you can worry less about what your colleagues think of you, which isn’t up to you, even when you haven’t made a serious mistake. Everybody, everybody, everybody screws up sometimes. (Anyone who says that isn’t true is a lying liar.) If you can resolve this with some humility and professional honour, it might even benefit you and your career later on.
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