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The question

Our friend has a brother who just returned from two years of travel, much of which he spent in Thailand. She told us she didn’t have the room to put him up and asked if we could do it. We said “sure”, but he’s been here two weeks now and shows no signs of leaving. When we ask him what his plans are his answers are vague and unrealistic. Meanwhile, he makes huge pots of frankly unappetizing food, creating a big mess. We knew him a little before he left but not well, maybe met him two or three times. He has a “big personality.” We’re in our early 30s and don’t have kids yet – but having him around is like having a big kid in the house. (He’s actually 40.) We want our old lives back, but don’t want to kick him out as it may cause friction with him and maybe a rift with our friend. And above all, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of money or know what he’s going to do next. What should we do?

My brother-in-law makes hurtful comments about my son’s weight. How do I deal with him?

I quit smoking, but my husband refuses to support me. What do I do?

My son started smoking pot and he’s totally changed. What should I do?

The answer

I’m of two minds when it comes to offering people a berth in one’s domicile, i.e. “house guests.”

On the one hand, one of the great joys of having your own place is to be able to offer a corner of it to someone who might (perhaps, desperately) need it. I’ve been the beneficiary of this form of kindness. When I was in my 20s and a co-habitational relationship in New York sort of died, I left abruptly: penniless, clueless and without much in the way of a plan.

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I came back to Toronto. Luckily, a friend of a friend put me up in her spare room for a couple of months until I got on my feet and I am eternally grateful.

I’ve been trying to repay that karma ever since. Recently, for example, we put up a troubled friend of one of our teenage sons. His mother had kicked him out and he seemed to have nowhere to go.

An ideal house guest in a way, he was like a ghost. We never saw him. He didn’t eat breakfast, we didn’t have to make him a lunch (he always ate out) and he never ate dinner with us (also out). He also took himself and my son in an Uber to school every day.

Then I found out (from his mother, with whom I was in touch) he was some sort of 16-year-old drug kingpin and that’s why he was so flush all the time. That’s when I had to cut him loose. Drug dealers get robbed, sometimes violently, and as much as I wanted to help this kid, I wouldn’t put my family at risk.

As a matter of fact, when I replay the memories I have of house guests we’ve had it’s mostly a festival of annoyance. I remember one: I fed her and her son on a daily basis for two weeks, slaving in an apron in the kitchen. Poured all kinds of wine I bought down her throat. But then one day, I made the mistake of opening a bottle of wine she bought and was planning to bring to a party, thinking I had bought it, and she said, and I quote: “I could punch you in the face for doing that, Dave.”

At which point an invisible hand reached out and turned over an invisible hourglass and the sands of time of her staying at our house began to run out.

My point being: Don’t be afraid to kick out a house guest when he or she has clearly passed the “best before” date. No doubt you’ve heard the Benjamin Franklin line: “Guests are like fish: they start to smell after three days.”

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I don’t endorse this statement. (For one thing, he said it in the 18th century before the invention of the modern home refrigerator/freezer). I would put up someone for, hmmm … up to a year or more if that person were a congenial house guest.

Well: They would have to be extremely congenial, gracious and grateful. But if you find your house guest obtrusive, intrusive and annoying, time to give him the old heave-ho.

I don’t think you should feel guilty. After all, a) You’re under no moral obligation to put up the brother of a friend, b) You already have, i.e. you’ve done both him and his sister a big favour.

And finally, don’t worry about him having “nowhere to go.” The whole experience of global travel, of the type I assume he has experienced, is you stumble/parachute into a place you have never been before and quickly have to figure out where to stay, where to eat and so forth. No doubt he has developed the resourcefulness to find a fresh place once yours is no longer available to him.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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