My best friend, “Pam,” and I have been friends since college, and run a small catering business together. We were married the same year and have children who all grew up together. While Pam is still married, I’ve been divorced for years.I love Pam like a sister but she’s a little rigid in her thinking and I think she’ll disapprove of my current relationship because the man, “Gary,” is married. His wife lost interest in both him and sex years ago and has looked the other way when he sees other women, as long as he’s discreet, so it’s not like we’re doing anything really underhanded.Pam knows I’m seeing someone and has been pushing to meet him, but I haven’t told her he’s married because I’m afraid she’ll freak out and won’t accept that the current setup works for all of us: me, Gary and his wife.Since the wife is an occasional client of our business (that’s how I met Gary), I don’t want to risk introducing Gary to Pam without telling her the whole story. What’s the best way to handle this? Should I keep stonewalling her or come clean?Me
“I’m dating a man who is in an open marriage. Is this going to be a problem?” Proceed from there.
My parents (mom and stepdad) are in their 70s, retired, healthy, and doing well financially. They spend their money on traveling the globe and constantly remodeling their new Florida McMansion. That’s fine. They can spend their money on whatever makes them happy.They weren’t the most caring parents. They did provide what they thought they should, but anything extra – school activities, extra clothing, hobbies, cars, etc. – my siblings and I were expected to take care of on our own. And we were expected to move out at 18. Again, that’s fine. We are very independent.My sister had joint-replacement surgery and has high medical bills. I am going through a legal fight with a previous employer, am unemployed for the first time in my life (I’ve had a job since I was 14), and legal bills are eating my 401k. Our parents know the details. We’re not asking for any help.But I don’t want to get on the phone with my mom and have to hear all the issues of remodeling rooms that looked perfectly fine when I visited a year ago. Plus they don’t even ask how things are going with their children and grandchildren. It’s all talk about superficial things and how awesome they are doing.There are other old issues stemming from some childhood abuse and all the divorces, but my mom is in complete denial about that.I don’t want to talk to them anymore. I want to tell them that since they choose to live (what I consider) selfishly, they should not expect me to just smile and nod.But we are made to feel guilty if we don’t call as often as my mom thinks we should.Do I just ghost my own parents? Seems no matter what I do, they’ll think I’m awful and wrong.Hate the Smile and NodIs that the worst that could happen, though? That parents you think are awful and wrong think you’re awful and wrong?
Plus, if you’re not on the phone with them, then it’s an awful-and-wrong falling in a forest. Who’s to say it even happened.
But let’s back up for a second. You’ve presented this as a two-item menu: either endure your mom’s affluenza, or stop calling your parents.
There’s a middle choice, though: truth. “Mom, [sister] and I are buried in legal and medical bills. I can’t sympathize over expensive renovations.”
She won’t respond well to that, right? So have this handy: “OK then. Let’s talk another time.” [click] This middle is where you set the agenda to your emotional limits, making time to converse with people – but not to be anyone’s audience. Draw this line case-by-case, whenever and wherever you need.
To back up even further: It’s hard for anyone to rewrite the emotional terms of a long relationship. It’s harder still when the old terms are unhealthy and lifelong. You mention “childhood abuse and all the divorces” as a tangent, but how is that not CENTRAL?
To have kids fend for themselves on the material margins is a valid doctrine; to do so emotionally is an abdication of parental duty.
Some therapists will charge on a sliding scale, so consider looking for a good one near you. Your parents’ legacy might run deeper than you know.
My boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, “Amy,” is dating one of his close friends. Amy broke up with my boyfriend a little over a year ago, after dating for three years. I can tell my boyfriend is uncomfortable every time his friend and Amy are mentioned.Whenever a friend asks my boyfriend how he feels about them, he states he’s happiest he’s ever been and he might care if it weren’t for our relationship. I think his response is mostly true, yet an overstatement. For some reason, the overstatement bothers me.It’s hard not to secretly feel jealous. Also, because we all live in the same city, we are invited to a lot of the same events. I’ve never met Amy and I’m hesitant to attend gatherings she is invited to.How can I truly be there for my boyfriend and gracefully attend the same parties, dinners, etc., as Amy?Awkwardly Caught in the Middle
Just go. Have your discomfort upfront. Then go again, knowing she’ll be there, and again, until it stops being an exception. Awkwardness is powerful but it doesn’t stand a chance against the yawn of familiarity.
More important: Your sniffing out hyperbole in your boyfriend’s professions of joy is the interesting part of your question. Pushing past your fear of Amy-ful events, conveniently, is also the first step toward seeing whether your boyfriend is in fact protesting too much. There’s nothing like having the ex in the same room to tell you whether he chose you because you’re you, or chose you because Amy was no longer an option. Again – better to face your discomfort upfront than let it stalk you wherever you go.
You’ve advised posing ideas as questions: “Do you think … ?”People will know they are not questions. My family does this, as if I’m too dumb to know what they’re really doing. Not helpful.Anonymous
Then say so! And then say what would be helpful to you.
I take issue with the notion, though, that framing things as questions equates to treating people as if they’re stupid. I see it as a gesture of respect: I have thoughts, but you have the last word, so I will address whatever you have presented to me, but I will do so in a way that clearly defers to you.
That’s also just my view, not a universal one – and so it’s a gesture of respect to let people know what bothers you by saying so and why. “I find this conversation frustrating.” And then: “I’d appreciate just having someone to listen,” or, “I would rather work this out on my own,” or, “I’m well aware of how you all feel, and I respectfully ask you to drop it,” or, “If you have a suggestion, them please just say it directly.”
The calmer and more specific you can be, the better.
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].