My first love emailed me out of the blue, after 10 years, to make amends as part of his AA program. He was an incredible person, but after many years and many chances, the alcoholism won.While it was a traumatic break – we lived together and talked marriage – I soon met a wonderful man who is now my husband.The lengthy email detailed my ex’s love for me, regrets, and urged me to consider a phone call or FaceTime to help free him of pain. Memories both good and bad came flooding back, along with some anger that he imposed on me this way. It seems narcissistic, especially not knowing what I may be going through in my life.I’m grappling with how to think and feel about this grand gesture. How do you suggest I respond?Clueless in Chicago
If he’s looking to you to free him of his pain, then he’s not paying close enough attention in AA.
Asking you to help him – via phone, FaceTime or interpretive dance – isn’t making amends. It’s an attempt to outsource his emotional work to you.
It’s important for the health of both of you to decline that assignment. Be kind, of course, but don’t be available to him in this way.
So respond as if he were actually making amends: Say, by reply email, that you accept his apology, forgive him, and wish him the best in his recovery. Gentle, brief, goodbye.
My daughter, 11, has three friends from school. One girl’s parents are generous hosts. “Emma” is an only child and has a pool, fun toys, great snacks.The problem is that Emma’s parents don’t let Emma be a guest. Sometimes my daughter wants to have her friends over and Emma’s parents refuse. The girls would rather all go to Emma’s than hang out without her. I asked Emma’s mother if there was anything about our house that concerns her. She said no, that Emma isn’t allowed to go anywhere else, ever.My daughter invited her friends to a water park for her birthday. Emma, of course, isn’t allowed. Emma’s mom called and asked why we need to go to a water park when they have a pool. She then offered to host my daughter’s party herself, saying she knows my daughter likes tacos so they can do a taco bar, and she was thinking of ice cream sundaes instead of a cake.I didn’t really know how to explain to her how out of bounds she was acting. I’m starting to get a real creepy vibe, but I don’t want to ruin the girls’ friendships.Creeped Out
This is seriously messed up. You’re right.
Please stand up to Emma’s mom in kind and unflinching terms. “This is our daughter’s birthday. We are hosting it. Emma is invited.” When they decline the invitation: “I’m sorry to hear that.”
If the mom persists with why-a-water-park-instead-of-their-pool, then stick to facts. “This is our daughter’s party, and we are hosting it.” Don’t get sucked into justifications as if there’s any legitimacy to this mother’s argument.
I ache for Emma, but it’s time for the group parents to stop caving. Take your turns hosting. If Emma can’t make it, then you say a simple, “I’m sorry to hear that, we’ll miss her.”
Note that I’m not advising you to take on these parents or their rules. What I’ve spelled out is simply your providing your own child with a typical social life. As in, not bending to the rules of the Emmasphere.
That’s for the planning part of the problem.
The “creepy vibe” problem warrants further action. With Emma’s parents: “I am not comfortable with my daughter always being the guest. Are you willing to share why Emma can’t go anywhere? Perhaps it would sit better if I understood it.” It’s framed as a matter of your own feelings, and respectfully stated. They can always say it’s none of your business.
It’s also not their business if you decide your daughter can’t go over to Emma’s anymore. That’s the trade-off.
With the other parents: “This one-way hosting bothers me. How are you dealing with it?”
You can have it both ways – respect boundaries and take the creepiness very seriously.
When I was 18, my mother revealed that the father I grew up with was not my biological father. She claimed she didn’t even know my bio father, and never contacted him again after their brief weekend fling at his college. The conversation we had was very emotional.Fast-forward 12 years, without any further conversation about this. I broached the subject again with her. This time, she eventually admitted she did know who he was. She showed me his Facebook profile, saying, “one of his daughters looks just like you.”She has known the entire time, but did not want to tell me because she feared I would contact him.He was apparently in a relationship with his now-wife when I was conceived, and they have four children.I want to contact him, but I’m getting a lot of pushback from my mother’s family. I feel like it’s a human right for a person to know if they’ve sired a child. Please help.Pushed Back
So much to sort out.
First, I’m sorry this is how your mom handled the news. It is obviously complicated, involving her own shame for having such a secret, her impulse to protect the father you grew up with, her impulse to protect your bio-father and the family he created with his then-girlfriend. There are a few decks of cards involved in the house these trysters built.
Second, you’re the heir to this house. Please tell all back-pushing relatives that this is your biology, your father, and your decision now. Assure them you’ll take into account the potential consequences – but this is not about them anymore. You don’t owe anyone anything except compassion and care.
Third, you hint at some unproductive reasoning when you suggest it’s your bio-dad’s right to know. Whatever you decide needs to be mindful of him, yes – but not presumptuous. Only he knows what he needs. Since the secrecy means he’s unable to decide for himself, you can only decide what your values require. And do so, again, while being mindful of everyone’s consequences.
This involves some higher order hair-splitting, but I think it’s an important hair to split. If you forge ahead with certainty you’re doing him a moral or cosmic favor, then this could backfire on you quickly and hard.
So. Find the most morally defensible use of this information you can – whatever that entails.
You don’t mention being angry at your mom, but in case that’s an element of your confusion right now: Anger would be a natural, valid response, one to deal with head-on so it doesn’t control you.
It would be so easy for indignation over the lies and secrecy to push you toward blowing everything up.
Take any anger to a good therapist first – or just go anyway to sort things out – and don’t rush to decide what to tell whom, how, when and why.
There’s an old saying, “Marry in haste, and repent at leisure,” and this seems like an “Act in haste, repent at leisure”-type opportunity.
Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected].