Dear Carolyn, I've been married for two years, and I've reached the point where I no longer want to socialize with my husband's friends. Early in our relationship he told me it would be a dealbreaker if I couldn't get close to the two people he's closest to (he doesn't have much of a relationship with his parents, so they have been like a surrogate family to him). I find them to be boring, too alcohol-dependent, and just not worth all the time we seem to spend with them. But I know how badly it would hurt him if I said this. How do I get out of all the time he expects me to spend with them/him?
Hurt feelings or no, you need to talk about this with your husband. I'm sorry. It's not one of those problems you can solve by begging off every third outing you have planned with these people (aalthough that's not a bad intermediate step to take, if you're not as fed up with his friends as you sound).
Open up the discussion by acknowledging that these friends are legitimately important to him. Then say that, like any family, surrogate or otherwise, there are positive and negative attributes. You are particularly concerned by the amount they drink, a negative attribute that's hard to argue with. Then ask if he shares your concerns. The earlier you can make this a conversation between you, vs a declaration by you, the better your chances will be for an outcome you can both live with and respect.
Hi Carolyn, I was really looking forward to getting to know my in-laws (who just moved back to the States after spending several years in Germany), but to my disappointment, they are standoffish, judgmental, unfriendly people who, when they do visit, are only interested in the company of my husband and our infant. I could not begin to guess why they are so lukewarm about me. Whatever the reason, their snubs are just subtle enough that I can't actually call them out, but just obvious enough to really hurt. What should I do?
The first stop always is to look at the situation from another angle. Theirs, for one, and your husband's, and even your baby's. Take in what you know about your husband and his parents, and consider the possibility that they just have an emotional makeup that isn't familiar to you. They might be lousy with new people, for example, but wonderful when they've grown to know and trust someone. Watch how they are with your husband, reflect on how your husband is with new people. Really put in the effort to take in the scene from many angles.
If that bit of investigation just confirms to you that you're dealing with judgmental and unfriendly people, then the next step is to talk to your husband. What has he noticed, and how receptive is he to the idea that you're being subtly frozen out? A self-aware adult child is often the best interpreter out there of his parents' behavior.
Unfortunately, a non-self-aware adult child can be his parents' most passionate and irrational defender, so raising your concerns could touch off a dificult argument. That, too, will tell you something about your in-laws, though. If your husband is willing to hear you out despite not liking what you say, then that points to giving your in-laws the benefit of the doubt and giving them time for things to thaw. If your husband goes into this (and other difficult topics) with his dukes up, then you're not only on to something with the in-laws, but also staring at a problem that's best approached as a family-pattern issue and not just a my-in-laws-are-frosty issue.
Hey Carolyn, Thanks for your wonderful chats and columns, you're my go-to source for a dose of sanity. I found out today that I'm going to be out of the job by the end of the month. Incidentally, this happened to me last year at the same time, and it took me 4 months to find the job I have now. Not only am I freaking out about how I'm going to pay my rent if I don't end up qualifying for unemployment, I'm also struggling with feeling like I am a worthless screw-up who can't hold down a job. When I was unemployed last year for 4 months, I sank into depression, stopped dating and hanging out with my friends, and gained 30 pounds. Other than crying jags in the bathroom and whiskey-based lunches, how do I deal with this without losing my mind?
What an awful break, I'm sorry.
As infuriating as it sounds, the thing that's got you the most discouraged is actually the strongest thing you have going for you: You just went through this. So, you know from all too recent experience not only what to do to launch and sustain a job search, but also where all the traps are. You need to tend to your emotional and physical health to stave off depression; schedule a time in your day to get exercise, for example, no excuses. You need to force yourself to call a friend once or twice a week even when you don't feel like it. You need to start planing your approach now because you don't want your anxiety/despair to be in full bloom just as you leave your job and arrive at an empty September. Have a new plan in place to step into the first Monday of your unemplyment, even if the plan is just to take a 45 minute walk, spend four hours on the job hunt, and clean out your junk drawer. You did this once, you can do it again; that's your mantra.
For financial reasons, I'm moving with my toddler back to my parents' house. I'm not married and I don't earn enough in my job to support the two of us right now. These things make me ripe for nagging from my parents, who have every right to do so--after all, they're letting us live there rent-free...my question is how I establish some boundaries anyway, and how we all avoid killing each other. Thanks!
Are they the nagging type? Your question is about tomorrow, not yesterday, so I'm wondering what yesterday looks like. That usually is a big part of what new boundaries you'll need.
Are the in-laws from the US? Having lived in both the UK and a Germanic country, the difficulties could simply be cultural.
Thanks--though they could be from the US and the differences could still be cultural.
A few months ago, I needed an emergency loan of $2000. One friend, "Jen," came through immediately, and told me I could pay her back over the next several months. Not wanting to have the debt hanging over my head, I paid her back exactly three weeks later, in full, and gave her and her boyfriend a gift certificate to a nice restaurant as a thank-you. Jen has just been evicted from her apartment and needs a place to stay while she finds a new place to go. I am the first person she asked. For a number of reasons, this would be a huge imposition--I have a small place, my boyfriend often stays with me overnight, and a large part of the reason Jen got evicted was that she is an awful tenant. I said no, but promised to help her figure out a backup plan. She is really hurt, and has accused me of being a "taker, but not a giver." What should I do?
First, realize that Jen has a point. You can't help the person who helped you because "my boyfriend often stays with me overnight"? Seriously?
Her being such a bad tenant as to be worthy eviction, now, that's a real concern; neither of you can help the other if you're both out on the street. Because Jen came through for you, though, that's not a delabreaker, that's a deal negotiating point. E.g:
You: You helped me, and I want to help you. However, you were evicted for doing X. I can't take the chance that you will do X again and get me evicted, too. Are you able to assure me X won't be a problem?
Jen: ... gets her chance to explain herself.
You: ... get your chance to decide whether her answer satisfies your concerns. You can also set conditions for her staying with you--namely, that your home is hers for (# of weeks) while she gets on her feet, as long as X isn't an issue.
If X is so big/bad that you have to say no, then you do have to tell her exactly why you're saying no. (Of course, then the ethics of taking her money before come into play.)
It is a business deal so it's okay to set it up as one, and it's also a decency deal, so it's not okay to say no to her simply because you'd be temporarily inconvenienced.
Dear Carolyn, I am so lucky that my mom is alive and well enough to come visit me in Europe, and I love spending time with her. Every year we do a vacation here to a place that she hasn't been (which is a lot of places since my dad hates to travel and it was only 3 yrs ago that he finally let her go on these trips guilt-free). The problem is that the next place that she wants to go is a place that I just don't want to go. I've been there a few times, and I think the people are snobby, I don't like the climate or the food (I'm a vegetarian and it's very veg-unfriendly), not to mention that there's a lot of smoking. But I am so sensitive to the fact that she has been controlled (subtly and not so subtly) by my dad for so many years that I don't even want to suggest an alternative itinerary. What should I do?
I was starting to form an answer in my mind about ways to present alternatives that wouldn't come across as pressure, but, you know what? Your mom wants to go there, and going there with her would be such a nice gift to someone who has been systematicaly denied gifts of that kind for a large chunk of her life. Steering her to another place might well be one of those things that comes back to haunt you when you're gone, when you recall the trip you did go on and think, did avoiding Country B really matter all that much?
You'll be there with your mom, so who knows. Maybe you'll like it better when you see it through different eyes.
If it helps, try thinking of them not as your husband's friends-that-are-like-family, but AS family. See them as a major, legitimate, non-negotiable part of his past, present, and future. Make a genuine effort to appreciate them, even if you don't like them. See how they support your husband, even it's in ways that you wouldn't find supportive in his shoes. Think of them as in-laws. You love your husband, he loves you, and he loves them; surely there is some common ground in there, somewhere. If nothing else, they make him happy.
This is a good way to look at it, thanks.
Besides the alcohol, you find them boring? That is a poor excuse to not spend time with them. It almost sounds like the poster is making excuses not to divide her time between her friends and her husband's friends. Her husband might be a bit more immature. Marriages are give and take - put in time with his friends and in turn, he puts in time with yours. That's how it works, right? And you keep your opinion to yourself unless it's a major issue (like the alcohol, I guess...).
I agree with part of the point you're making, about the duty both halves of a couple have to put in time with the other's friends. That is how it works.
But: It could very well be that this couple is way out of balance in favor of his friends/surrogate family. In that case, her finding them dull is a perfectly legitimate reason to renegotiate the time they spend as a couple with certain social groups. These friends might be de facto in-laws, but if a couple were seeing one set of parents/in-laws three times a week and another set three times a year, and if one half of the couple didn't find the thrice-per-week inlaws scintillating, then each facet of the situation goes into the hopper when they make a deal: the fairness, the interest level, the level of devotion/attachment, the drinking habits, driving distance, all of it.
Maybe it would be worth telling mom you've been there and, while you're happy to go again with her, your first experience wasn't A+ and then let her decide? If I were her, I'd be upset if you didn't warn me and then my vacation was sub-par.
True. I'm just concerned that she'll be quick to back off, thinking she needs to in order to please her child. Something to weigh I guess. Thanks.
In answer to that poster's question, they're both American, but my MIL's family is from Germany. Also, another detail I should have added is that they have another son, also married, and they seem to get along quite well with that daughter-in-law. But your suggestion about talking to my husband is a good one, and a step I was nervous about taking. Thanks.
Also consider how well they know the other DIL, or, more subtly, how similar her background/nature is to theirs. If she's fluent in standoffish tendencies, and you come from a more openly loving environment, then she might be a more natural fit with them. That doesn't mean they like her more, necessarily, or see her as better than you, just that she represents a comfort zone--it can even be in a subconscious level.
Another thing to think about is that some people marry for qualities they love in their parents/families and recognize in a potential mate, and some marry to find qualities that were missing in their parents/families. Generally people find a combination of the two--some qualities from home, some new qualities they didn't have at home--but in situations where you Just Don't Click with your in-laws, it can be helpful to look at yourself as your spouse's antidote to something.
I don't say this to encourage an antagonistic approach to in-laws, more as an "aha" that helps you make peace with not clicking instantly with a loved one's family. It's so you can tell yourself, "Okay, accessibility is the nutrient he found in me that he doesn't get from them--so I shouldn't bang my head against the wall wondering why they aren't accessible."
They are not big naggers in particular...however, they have been very disappointed with me in recent years because I did not finish college and got pregnant by accident. I understand their concern, but I also know I'm a big girl and am entitled to choose my own path. However, that go-to argument won't hold much water when I'm living under their roof again.
Right--your moving back home brings them into the discussion about your future, and your choices, because your financial position affects them now.
So that has a huge effect on how and where you draw your boundaries. The way you choose to raise your child, for example, is out of the bounds of their business. The choices you make to fix the problem of not earning enough money to support yourself? They are inside the bounds.
It sounds as if you'd all feel better if you talked about these things openly, before you move in. Work on the specifics, like how you will contribute to the household (if not by paying rent, then by doing housework), as well as the more general things, like what they want to get off their chests. It's better they speak up now than emit frustration through sighing and carefully worded queries. (You're wearing that to an interview?") And it's also better to let them have their say on the things that affect them than to go in with your defenses already in place.
If you don't have a plan for getting up and out, by the way, then be especially ready to hear them out.
Hi Carolyn, I just moved out of my parents' house and into my own apartment for the first time. (I lived with roommates in college.) Is it normal for me to feel scarily lonely most of the time? I do have friends, but it's weird to be alone for most of the hours between dinner and breakfast. I find myself calling my mom multiple times a day, which can't be healthy. Is this something other people go through when leaving the nest?
Yes, but different people obviously respond to it in different ways.
Since you're feeling odd about the long stretches of alone time, I urge you to be a tourist in your own city--especially since you're in a city that offers more things to do than you'll ever have time to do. Your life will begin to fill up steadily and before you know it, so these days where you can spend hours at a time really appreciating a cultural landmark are worth cherishing. To cut the loneliness a bit, also mix in some exploration of your immediate neighborhood, with an eye to spotting places you can make part of your routine. Becoming a regular someplace, even if you never become more than heyhowaya buddies with anyone there, can really ease a sense of isolation. (Cue "Cheers" theme.)
I also do not enjoy the time together and my husband accepts that but I know it hurts him. The issue for me is that they really disliked me during the dating years with some pretty bad behavior (e.g. not talking to me at social events, anger at my husband for spending time at my family function instead of an event with them, etc.). My husband had been a long-time single and very social guy. We met a little older and I think they really resented him not being around 100% of the time anymore. Anyway as time progressed (years) and they realized the permanence of our relationship then I guess they decided they had to be my friend or lose their friend. So now I know my husband wants me to brush it all aside and be friends. The problem for me is that even if I understand it and even forgive it, I still feel very self-concious and disliked around them. I almost clam up because deep down I feel they really dislike me and are only putting up with me because they have to. How do I deal with this? I am already a more introverted person and spending time with them exhausts me so much because it really brings my anxiety level way up. I've offered for him to spend more time with them without me but he seems unhappy with that suggestion and says he wants to spend time with us all together. To be fair he does spend a lot of time with my family and friends but they love him and always have.
I know this is going to be easier said than done, but the best thing you can do for you is to let this old grudge go. If it helps, the years have likely matured all of you, so the friends' bad behavior needn't define them always.
Also: It sounds as if you're taking very personally something that wasn't entirely (or possibly at all) about you. By your own account, your husband was, in his single days, completely accessible--not just there physically for everything, but also emotionally open. And, he was the guy you could count on to be there not just in those big communal years right after college, but also many years into the phase where post-college community members start disappearing into their own tight little orbits around job, home maybe a hobby or two.
So his friends' resistance to his pairing off appears (to me at least) to be mostly about what a valuable person he was to them in the role of go-to guy. When a go-to is gone, that's a more deeply felt loss than when someone peripheral slips out a side door. In this case, the life of the party went home.
For you to see them as not blaming you, I think you also need to stop blaming yourself for being the one who took the life of the party home. That wasn't your decision, that was your husband's; he alone chose to step down from his beloved role. He, apparently, is okay with that (mostly; his wanting you with him sounds like a vestige). His friends, eventually, seem to have become okay with that. So it couldn't hurt to see what happens if you decide to be okay with that, too.
A lot of her complaints about the place can be managed (or at least tempered) by some good old internet research. This will also help make sure her mom enjoys the trip (which is the No. 1 goal). There are two things that should be avoided at all costs: (1) Going and then mom hates it for all the same reasons, and (2) daughter is a sourpuss the whole trip and mom is miserable because of it. Hit trip advisor, whatever version of Yelp serves the city, guidebooks, etc. Scope out places that others describe as "warm" (to counter the snob factor) and find veggie recommendations. She is probably stuck with the smoke, but the other stuff can, and should, be helped.
Good points, thanks.
I am the manager for some apartments-something to keep in mind is that you woud be breaking your lease to just move someone in without officially putting them on the lease if the duration is anything more than could constitute a visit-usually considered as no more than two weeks-might help to figure that into whatever discussion she has with her friend.
Always nice to have an institutional "no" as a tiebreaker, thanks.
Actually, Carolyn, you state absolutely that how someone raises one's child is entirely their business. I think you MUST make an exception if it is abusive or neglectful. I state that as I have personally seen neglect/abuse in cases where unready people are saddled with children they didn't plan on or for. My niece, for example, did not make arrangements to properly feed or care for her daughter (no formula in house, no breast feeding, didn't change diapers)....should that be ignored? I think that to do so would be criminal....
No, I wasn't saying the parents had no right to speak up if their daughter was beating or starving her child. It didn't occur to me to spell that out. Thanks. I was talking about bedtimes, nursing vs bottle, etc.
Some people just don't like living alone. I know its supposed to be some sign of independence, but I found it too lonely. So I live with roommates as an adult and have generally had positive experiences. It doesn't mean that you're too dependent on others, I travel all over alone and do all sorts of things by myself. But I just like there to be someone else as part of my household. It's something to consider
Yep, I agree, but not yet. It's best revisited when the newness of living alone has worn off.
It's also not a fixed quantity. Someone who prefers roommates at 20/30 can certainly develop a preference for solitude at 60, or vice versa. Be patient in adusting to something new, listen to yourself, adjust as needed.
As an outside observer (daughter/sister) of this dynamic in my own family, I can say that the best way to draw boundaries that your parents will respect is to refuse to revert back to acting like the child. In other words, be sure that you are watching/disciplining your child, doing your share of the housework and other household contributions and actively looking for a way to improve your situation. I am watching my parents and my sister get increasingly frustrated with each other over the last year, and a lot of it would be avoidable if my sister asserted herself as an adult in word AND deed more often.
True, but it goes both ways: Parents also need to resist the impulse to try to raise their adult children. Vicious cycles lie in wait for those who aren't careful to create a new, adult-to-adult dynamic, and instead slip into the old ones, which are now obsolete.
My ex and I run in similiar circles and we will run into each other for the first time tomorrow since we broke up. Only dated for 5 months, but still was painful break up (he broke it off). Any tactics to deal with the run in?
"Hey! How've you been?"
[shallow and courteous stuff.]
"I'm going to head over to the [whatever] to see [somebody.] I'll see you later."
You'll be fine.
Carolyn's responses focused on what you can do outside of your apartment, but I would also suggest to try to find things you can do on your own even when you are at home, too. When I first lived alone, after years with roommates who really were my best friends, it was a big adjustment. But I quickly learned to embrace the fact that I could read without being bothered, could watch whatever I wanted on TV without being ridiculed, and could go to sleep early if I felt like it without my friends encouraging me to stay up for another drink. As long as your "scarily lonely" is more lonely than literally scared, I think you'll adjust and find that mix between nights alone and nights out.
I like it, thanks.
How much is my child going to hate me as he grows up with me watching three football games in a row on Sundays, and another on Monday nights? (I do chores during breaks, I swear, but I've never had a baby or child to care for during football season before.)
No no, Rookie. Question is, how much is your fellow parent going to hate you for handing over all child care from noon to midnight every Sunday from August to early February?
If you are a partnered parent, then you need to banish any thought of shifting this much of the work--to someone you theoretically love--for something nonessential (presumably you aren't a sportswriter or professional scout).
If you are a single parent and think you're going to spend 12 uninterrupted hours watching TV with a baby/toddler in the house, well, then you're just really funny.
And either way, you need to make friends with your DVR, and prioritize your teams, and prioritize your time. People who acquire new priorities without rethinking their old ones do tend to develop "challenging" relationships with the people who love and count on them.
I have this really bad tendency to pick at the pimples on my forehead, I know that I should and recently I cut my hair so that I have bangs to cover the mess that it ends up looking like. The bangs actually stopped me from picking for a time because I just ended up playing with my hair instead but now I've started again.. I can't seem to figure out why, I pick when I'm stressed out and working on something that bothers me, but I also do it when I'm relaxing.. just read a book or watching TV. If I feel the bumps I feel the need to get rid of them, Do you have any ideas on how to help me stop?
Skin-picking can be a bad habit or it can rise to the level of disorder (in the anxiety/OCD family). First thing you need to do is get checked for an underlying condition, be it dermatological or emotional. Once you know the root cause, then you'll be able to figure out how to stop--be it by treating the skin condition or getting therapy for the anxiety/OCD or just changing your habits to train yourself out of this one. Start with a dermatologist and ask for referrals based on what s/he sees.
Thank you so much for taking my question and your perspective. I think logically I know what you are saying is true and I do want to let the grudge go. In fact I think I have forgiven so much of the behavior in my mind but for some reason I find it incredibly hard to be my genuine self around this group. I guess the idea that they judged me so harsh for years that it has stunted my ability to just express myself around them. I think I had worked into such a pattern of shutting down around them so that there wasn't anything there to be disliked that now I really struggle to open back up. And without opening back up it's hard for us to become true friends and the whole process just exhausts me. I think the forgiveness I have but it's this second part that I am really struggling with.
makes sense. It might help if you think of opening up to them as something you're doing for -you-, vs for them or even for your husband. You're on this cruise, dammmit, you're going to have fun, and you won't have fun censoring yourself in a corner.
The other question you should be consider is how much YOU will be missing out on by skipping out on that much time with your child? You can't tune your kid out when they're little and expect to magically have a great relationship when they're old enough to appreciate the things you're interest in. If you put in the time with them now, they'll want to be with you later. If you ignore them now, they'll ignore you later. What's really most important to you?
Cue "Cat's in the Cradle."
My Dad is an avid football watcher, and that was never an issue. He was good about prioritizing more important things as they came up and not whining about 'missing the game' and I think that helped. If you're going on a family vacation--BE on the vacation, don't make anyone go back to the hotel to watch the game. That will earn you more free passes on other Sundays. Eventually, it became a bonding thing. I never watch pro sports except with my dad. We talk in between plays/during commercial breaks. And my knowledge of football has won me serious brownie points with BF's/male friends.
Such a good point.
It's also an opening me for to elaborate that your situation isn't unusual. Plenty of people watch a favorite thing on TV after kids come, and even teach Kid to appreciate said favorite thing, making it a family bonding opportunity.
But that comes when the kid is first and the TV Thing is the exception. My dad watched football every Sunday as I grew up--but one team, one game, and he never interrupted something bigger so he could catch the game. And this was pre VCR, much less DVR, so a missed game was gone for good. He was not expecting us to vanish for the 1 pm, the 4 pm and the not-yet-extant 8 pm, and MNF was after our bedtime--and his, because, hey, he had little kids and a day job and couldn't be up till midnight on a Monday.
He recovered, as far as I can tell, from those games he missed--but then, they were NY Giants games in the 70s.
Thank you, Carolyn, for your response to the football dad (okay, I assume it's a dad, but I suppose it could be the other way around). Since we've had a kid, I feel like my life revolves aorund thinking about kid care-taking, and my husband thinks first about what he wants to do for the evening/weekend and relies on me to fit said kid in. I don't mean that my world revolves around my child - I still do all the things I used to, but now I just approach them from - how can I do this and incorporate my son? Whereas my husband has still scheduled all the drunken parties, camping trips, etc. that he used to. Without the thought that maybe a drunken party/kayaking trip is NOT the most appropriate place to bring an infant. But which one of us is always expected to find the babysitter if he wants me along? You guessed it....
Please get some marriage counseling/seminaring. (Yes, that's a word, as of 3:08 pm Aug. 12, 2011).
Rather than think of it as opening yourself up so they can get to know you, think of it as trying to get to know them. If you engage them in conversation about things they are doing, they can talk and you can mostly listen. That is a good start.
Right, more palatable that way, thanks.
I spent a year and about $3000 to get rid of the scarring left by picking at my skin. It's still not perfect, but I'm not ashamed of it anymore. I, too, started out with the picking on my forehead, obscured by bangs, and it progressed. And guess what? I have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression/ADD. The impulse definitely builds when I'm stressed, sad, tired or bored. Do yourself a favor and GET HELP NOW. Start with the derm, but talk to a doctor about your impulses. They may be able to work w/ you through cognitive therapy. I still have bad impulses, but I am not as destructive as I was.
Thanks for this. here's one more, with the skin-problem-not-anxiety scenario:
I have been a picker since puberty. A trip to the dermatologist last year (after being too embarrassed for decades to get help) finally got me on topical meds that have cleared it all up. Plus, she tested my nose for a type of staph bacteria, which I had, that apparently makes the picking flare ups worse. Some topical antibiotics in the nose periodically, plus the anti-acne meds have given me clear skin for the first time since I was 12. It took about 6 months for it all to work itself out. If it's not there, you won't pick. Unfortunately, when I do get an occasional bump, I still pick, but it's easier to get myself to stop knowing how good I can look. Good luck, you're not alone!