Dear Carolyn: Three of us ladies planned a trip to New York for two nights to see shows. We reserved a hotel room to share among us. Train and theater tickets were purchased ahead of time.

Several days before our planned departure, one person backed out because a relative was near death, and she needed to fly across the country to be with him. When the remaining two of us asked her to pay her portion of the hotel bill, she refused. She played the "sympathy" card, saying she was already out the train and theater tickets as well as the cost of flying to see her relative, and we should have empathy and not expect her to pay her part of the room. We told her we were sorry for her situation, but she had made a commitment and we expected her to honor it. Now she has severed our friendship. How do I handle this? She lives next door.

Carolyn says: That's not "play[ing] the 'sympathy' card," that's asking for sympathy.

And deserving it. Do you know how callous you sound?

Is this what we have become? Is it OK now to assume everyone's working an angle and we all just grab what we can for ourselves?

Your friend was dealing with a relative's death. Yes, she made a commitment, but a death in the family is widely considered a legitimate excuse. (Top 3, at least.)

Here is how you handle that: "I am so sorry. We'll miss you. Don't worry about the hotel, obviously — and let us know what else we can do." Yes, you got stuck paying more, but you got more space, too. You also had "several days" to try to renegotiate or rebook your room.

And kindness is its own reward.

Nothing about your letter says, "We felt terrible for her and would have absorbed her share if we could have." You don't feel bad for her, you feel bad only for you. In fact, feelings came up only because you were annoyed that she asked you to have them.

If you now grasp this and regret it on any level, then walk next door to apologize. I don't see an apology working unless you mean it, and it might not even if you do, but it's the right move regardless.

The name game

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s and have been dating for two years. We are starting to introduce our parents to extended family.

My boyfriend's parents have been divorced for 20 years. He is extremely close to his mom but his dad is pretty distant. They see each other on random holidays and talk a few times a year. His mom has lived with an amazing man, "Bob," for 13 years but they are not married. My boyfriend considers Bob more of a father figure than his biological dad. However, since Bob is not technically his stepdad, how should I introduce him to my family? The mom says to just introduce him as "Bob," but I feel like that diminishes Bob's importance in my boyfriend's life. Any suggestions?

Carolyn says: Scripts are easier with names, so mom's Mimi and your boyfriend's Beau.

• You can be truthful about the relationships in as economical a way as possible: "This is Bob, Mimi's partner and basically Beau's dad."

• You can decide a fiction is truer than the truth (but clear it with Mimi, Bob and Beau first): "This is Beau's mom, Mimi, and his stepdad Bob."

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.