Dear Harlan: Is RBS (Rejection By Silence) ever the "right" thing to do? Sometimes you say that RBS is cruel and that it says more about the person giving the silent treatment than it does about the person receiving the rejection. At other times you've told people seeking advice to cut off all communication and let it be.

How do you know when cutting off ties is the right thing to do? Years ago I told a very good female friend that I could no longer witness her in an abusive relationship. We never spoke again. Most recently I cut off ties with an ex-boyfriend whom I was still trying to maintain a friendship with but decided that it turned into a "friends with benefits" situation.

He didn't treat me like a friend and at times was hurtful and mean. I just stopped calling him when I realized we were both wasting time. After not speaking to someone for a period of time, how do you know if you should apologize and explain yourself or if it's better to leave the situation alone? — Silent in SLC

Dear Silent: RBS falls into one of the three categories: 1. RBS because you're too uncomfortable or embarrassed to tell someone the truth; 2. RBS because someone is too uncomfortable or dangerous for you to tell the truth to; and 3. RBS because you're confused and need some time and distance to see things clearly.

Your first situation wasn't RBS. You told the friend why you were cutting off ties. The situation with the friend with benefits falls under the third category. You don't owe him an apology, just an explanation. Call him up and mention that you were too emotionally involved and needed time and space to find clarity.

If he gets upset, let him get upset. Tell him what you deserve and set the rules for what comes next. It's not always comfortable to tell people the truth, but unless they hear it, there's no way they can make changes to make things better. RBS should be used sparingly and only as a last resort.

Dear Harlan: My family is good friends with another family in the same community we live in. The wife constantly talks about their lack of money and how they can't afford this or that (they live in a nice home and drive nice vehicles, and seem to be doing OK). To make a long story short, I offered to pay for lunch one day. She was thankful. Now, whenever we go out to lunch, she doesn't bring out her wallet when the bill is brought. When I get my wallet out and take out my debit card, she quickly says, "Thanks for lunch," and then I end up paying for the lunch. How do I tactfully say I wasn't planning on buying her lunch? — Disgruntled

Dear Disgruntled: Next time you go out to lunch, when it comes time to pay just ask her, "How do you want to split it? Down the middle or by what we ordered?" If she doesn't have money on hand, mention you'll get it, but next time it will be her turn. And then, she'll know that the free lunch is over. If she doesn't want to go out to lunch again because she doesn't want to split it or pay for it, suggest grabbing a cup of coffee or do something that's more in her budget.

Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen

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