Hi Carolyn, I'm LW2 from Wednesday's column (the "I'd never" snarky parent). I will try your suggestion for the first part of the cycle, thanks! However, you suggested saying nothing to the second part, to avoid score-keeping. I would love to do this, but my parent insists on a response to their latest about-face. If I say nothing, I'm called unsupportive, a mild "oh that's nice" and a subject change means I'm uninterested. It's frustrating, but I think I'm just stuck being thought of as the unsupportive kid, right? Thanks!
You might be, yes. But there are some other ways to respond to Snarky Parent that you didn't mention. One is to take the result for the about-face at face value and, if you are happy for it, then just express happiness for it. It might be impossible, since genuine feeling might not be something you can conjure here, but worth a try.
Another way is to acknowledge the about-face in your answer: "Oh good, I'm glad you came around on this," or something like it. You might get an "I never said I'd never ..." type response as thanks for your effort, but than you can shrug and say, "Okay, guess I misunderstood." Again--might be too hatd to keep a stright face, but worth a try.
Last choice I'll offer is to give up on the idea of making it all okay, and let her be the one to tell you how to respond: "I'm not sure how you want me to respond--I am genuinely happy for you, but I also don't want to insult your intelligence by pretending not to know you used to be dead-set against this."
Carolyn, Your Wednesday column raised a rarely-talked about issue between friends: envy. It's human to feel envious of those who have what we don't and would like, but it isn't an easy emotion. What do you think is the best way to navigate this minefield of (privately) acknowledging the ugly emotion but also caring genuinely for your friend?
A lot of it I think I covered in my answer, but there are a couple of things I can add. One is to accept that we all have ugly thoughts and feelings sometimes. One of our jobs on earth is to master them, which means not letting them corrupt our behavior and making the necessary repairs when they do get the best of us.
The other is a mental exercise that I use all the time. When I feel envy, I ask myself whether I'd trade lives with that person if it were possible. No matter how fabulous that person's life, there's always at least one thing (though typically there are dozens) that I wouldn't want, enough to make me say, "No thanks, I'll keep mine."
Actually, there's a third thing, one so obvious I almost didn't think to mention it: Keep friends you actually like. So many times, when someone really gets under your skin (with envy or something else), the truth ends up being that you're not all that crazy about the person to begin with. It's so much easier to be happy for people when it's a pleasure to have them around.
My husband frequently makes jokes at my expense, jokes that are really more of thinly veiled hostility or criticism. When I protest, he slips an arm around my shoulder and says that he's "only kidding." However, I know deep down he really means it because these are always things about me that bother him: I'm messy, clumsy, he doesn't like the way I drive, he thinks I'm "book smart" as opposed to real-world smart, etc. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so CONSTANT. Sometimes I'm able to call his attention to his doing this and it's stopped him in his tracks. Other times I get an eyeroll and a "you're too sensitive" tag. I am sensitive, but I feel like if he sometimes said complimentary things, it would go a long way to mitigating the hurt of his "jokes". How do I respond to this? Do I just refuse to acknowledge him when he starts in? I feel like that leads to the silent treatment, which then makes him stonewall too. I'd like a mature way to approach this, instead of our usual way, which is finally losing it in a big shouting, crying fight.
You can find a mature way to handle it, but if he won't also do his part to renounce his childish tactics, then you're stuck either putting your mature framework in place in a marriage where you're subjected to constant criticism for what you do followed by blame for what you feel, or you take your maturity to a divorce attorney.
It's a setup that cries out for intervention by a skilled marriage counselor, but the husband you describe is one who will believe you're the cause of any problems in the marriage and refuse to go. I hope I'm wrong about that, and urge you to urge him toward counseling regardless.
I think you also need to specify, if you haven't already, that "When you make a joke about an aspect of me that you've already said bothers you, it's clear it's not a joke. Pointing that out doesn't make me 'over-sensitive,' it says I'm unwilling to pretend there's no underlying criticism here."
It might help to have this conversation when you have a recent example to give him, but also enough distance from that example to allow you to raise this topic at a non-emotionally charged time.
I don't wrap gifts because I thinking wrapping paper is both financially wasteful and environmentally irresponsible. At group celebrations that seem to call for wrapping paper (gift exchanges, baby showers, kids' birthday parties, etc.), I use newspaper, pages from magazines, or brown paper bags to wrap gifts. This gets me a lot of weird looks and seems to irritate certain acquaintances and co-workers. Is there a pleasant way to explain my position to others that doesn't sound totally preachy and Holier-Than-Thou? I'm not telling anyone else what to do, but I am tired of biting my tongue when I get snippy comments like, "How...creative."
"Tree-hugger, what can I say." Though to "How ... creative," I suggest "Thanks!" as if it were a sincere compliment.
Help, Carolyn! I have asked this question here and in a lot of different forums, and no advice columnist seems to want to touch it. My husband and I are non-Christians living in a small town in the Bible Belt. We have made some friends (it took a while) who are fun people and share most of our values, except religion. I don't have a problem being friends with people of different religions - I consider it none of my business what other people believe and just wish they would extend me the same courtesy! But the problem is, these friends are evangelical Christians and try to invite us to church almost every time we see them. The first few times, I thought they were just being friendly. After the 1000th time, I feel like it's really obnoxious and disrespectful. I've always just smiled and politely declined, but they keep bringing it up. Is there a way to salvage the friendship while putting my foot down?
That's up to them, and it would be even if your differences involved a less loaded topic than religion. For example, since we just had a wrapping paper question: What if you felt strongly enough about the effect of material waste on the environment that you had renounced not just giftwrap, but also the exchange of material gifts on various occasions, unless it was food or vintage (both senses of the word). And let's say you made a friend who felt it was rude to come to your come without bringing some offering from a big box store--candles, towels, some tricket or other--wrapped, even.
Or, you've finally managed to tame an eating disorder, and your friend is a cupcake pusher.
"Is there a way to salvage the friendship while putting my foot down?": The question still applies without the slightest tweak to its phrasing or import.
What you have is a friend who does something that annoys you, and who (history tells you) has a low likelihood of stopping it and might be offended when you ask. The answer in that situation has to come from your (im)patience with the status quo. Can you treat this as a minor nuisance, and live with knowing that you either put up with it or lose the friend? Can you live with losing this friend if that's what happens when you try to draw what you think is a reasonable line?
If you decide that saying something is your priority, then be as kind and respectful to them as you would like them to be to you: "I appreciate that you're trying to be kind in inviting me to church, but I would also appreciate it if you stopped asking."
Keep in mind, another issue on which you differ: You "consider it none of my business what other people believe," and your friends consider your beliefs very much their business--even an obligation. What might help this conversation is if you steer it toward understanding each other instead of just explaining yourself.
What a demeaning, corrosive environment to live in. I don't blame the poster one bit for devolving into tears and shouting-- her husband should love her for her quirks, not humiliate her about them. Counseling could help, but the persistence and underlying cruelty of his behavior suggest he'd rather control, belittle, and provoke her than treat her with love and respect. Poster, please seek out counseling for yourself, and reach out to your friends and family for the support you need to exit this marriage. My heart hurts for you.
Yes, you are absolutely right on the solo counseling, and I shouldn't have missed that. Thanks for the catch.
Dear Carolyn, My husband, an amazing man whom I love dearly, believes I am still hurting from an abusive ex-boyfriend. My husband thinks professional counseling could help me release the hurt and anger that seems to haunt me. I know that I am still scared from "BealzaBob", but I've never thought I needed counseling. My family and friends know that "BealzaBob" was emotionally and physcially abusive, but I haven't told them everything as I don't want to hurt them. It took me over a year and half to break-up with my ex, and I've rebuild my self-esteem and taken back my life. To an outsider, I'm a strong, accomplished pregnant woman with a loving husband, family, and friends. My blessings are many, but occassionally a memory of my ex hits me. I share it with my husband. I don't want BealzaBob" to haunt me/us, but how do I truly let go of the anger, pain and memories? Do I really need counseling? Please help. Sincerely, Scarred
Counseling isn't an admission of defeat, or a Rubicon you cross--it's just 50-ish minutes with someone trained to diagnose and treat emotional illnesses and injuries. If you're feeling haunted or pained, then why not learn some new ways to deal with those feelings? If it helps, think of it as a class--well, tutoring--since that's pretty much what goes on (except in therapy you cry where in classes you just want to).
Helly Carolyn, My grandpa is ill and very old and is not expected to be around for much longer. I have a very nasty, wretched aunt who has always been awful, but dealing with my grandpa's decline has really brought out her worst. My mom has been sending out email updates whenever there is new news, and my aunt has demanded that my cousin (who is in his 50s) not be included on these emails because she wants to be the one to share any updates with him. My mom asked my cousin what he preferred, since he is a grown man and not a little child. My cousin asked to still be included on the emails. Since then, my aunt has yelled at all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins via email, and yelled at my mom and cousin over the phone in a very nasty way. We have all stopped speaking to her so as not to further inflame her temper (there is no right answer with her). When my grandpa does pass, I worry that my aunt might say or do something awful at the funeral. She has had bad funeral behavior before (calling the police on her 90 year old mother-in-law because she did not want her to attend a family funeral), and I worry that she might do something that will be really hurtful to my grieving grandma. I will refrain from speaking to her at the funeral unless I must, and then I will be cordial and distant. But, I am hoping for some suggestions should she try to escalate in a way that I cannot walk away from because she also draws my grandma into the conflict. I'm not worried about my feelings, but I want to do everything I can to ensure my grandma can mourn and reminisce during the funeral, and not deal with unnecessary heartache from my aunt. Thank you for your help.
First of all, she will say something awful, so don't bother worrying about it. It will happen. And, it will have the same effect as her other antics, which is merely to marginalize her. She hasn't divided the family as so many difficult people do, and that's a bit of good fortune you might be too worried to see right now.
Second, while it is generous of you to want to protect your grandma, you can help people only up to a point. Grandma clearly has people who love her and she will be okay, and she will have her time to grieve and reminisce. She probably is already doing both.
Third, there's a highly practical solution available here: When the time comes, tip off the funeral director about your aunt and her history. If you can provide a photo, even better. They might be the smoothest bouncers in the business.
My husband's brother is in his early 30s and lives at home with mom and dad, still. He's a moderately successful artist, teaching, staying busy, has friends. He does, however, still interact with his mom and dad like an adolescent. He's recently reconnected with an older woman he met--when they were both single many years ago--that lives abroad now with her even older wealthy husband and their 2 kids. Naturally, they are in love and she says she's going to leave her husband for him. uummhmmm. My dilemma--as a quasi-sister, he looks to me to talk to and wants support. Yes, he's an immature idiot, but he sincerely thinks this is going to work and has no thoughts that it won't be happily ever after. I see complete heartbreak in his future due to so many factors. Do i mention that hey, great if it does work out, buuuut, you know, maybe the rich lady and her 2 kids won't want to live in his mom and dad's basement, or do i just listen? My husband, his brother, has gone the "dude, you are gonna get your butt kicked by your girlfriend's husband, what are you thinking?!" route.
You answer candidly any question he puts to you. That's the beauty of being invited to talk and provide support--you don't have to worry about what will get through to him or whether it's your business, you just answer the questions. It's also okay to ask a few, too, when he says things that strike you as particularly wishfully thought.
Hi Carolyn, A good friend recently sent a group email with something in it that I interpreted as a bit of an "ouch." I texted her privately letting her know, hey, I took part of your email the wrong way, just to let her know. I proceeded to get a three-text long apology, there was a follow-up email to the group detailing an apology, and I was left grateful that my friend cares do much about my feelings, but a little miffed that she cares so little for her own, or thinks that I care so little for hers. She went so far as to say that "inarticulate is my middle name" and such, that at first I expected an LOL or three. She's always been a good friend, great person, but I can't help wonder what this is about. She's settled into a relationship with a man who has a very strong personality....maybe she's learned to "compromise"? Any insights into this "falling on her sword" behavior. In the past, we would have laughed it off or started to imitate the Monty Python Argument skit.
Invite friend to coffee, say you'd have been fine with a one-line text apology, then move on to the usual catching-up stuff. Ask leading questions where appropriate. Could be she's learned to doubt herself in the company of someone highly critical or controlling. (Were you leading me there by the nose, therefore betraying a bias against this man? I can't tell, but, if so, challenge your bias and tread carefully.)
Hi Carolyn! I hope you can answer my question. My mother in law had a large group of her friends and acquaintances over for dinner a couple of weeks ago (she lives with us). At one point during her party, one of her acquaintances took something from our house and apparently later threw it away. When I found out, I was livid. It is something that has a ton of sentimental value and can't be replaced. I later found out the reason she took it and threw it away is because she took religious offense to the item. I feel terribly violated and can't help but blame my mother in law. My husband and I have already told her that woman is not allowed back in our house, but I want to ask her not to have any of her friends over again. I know that's unfair, but I'm just still so mad. I'm having a hard time forgiving this woman, and I know I need to move on. But I can't help grieving this lost item (it was something my child made). Help!
"I ... can't help but blame my mother in law." Yes, you can help it. She didn't take the item, she didn't throw it away, and she didn't give her friend permission to do either. Please see it from your MIL's perspective: She did nothing and yet is the target not only of your anger, but also soon of a crackdown that will (not as you intend, I'm sure) serve to remind her that this isn't her home, it's yours, and she's just a permanent guest.
I say all of this as someone who is sympathetic to your sense of loss, and who shares your outrage that anyone would presume to take anything from your home, much less a child's handiwork. It's a crime against boundaries, manners and nostalgia, and possibly a crime, period
Yet none of this constitutes permission to do what you're doing/planning to do to your mother-in-law. You now likely owe her an apology for using her as the receptacle for anger you didn't know where else to put; even though you haven't told her yet that she's banned from having guests, it's unlikely you've been able to conceal your anger to this point.
So we're going to my wife's family homestead. My wife always overstresses this event, but this year has been worse than usual. She's already been through two full-blown breakdowns and this morning got a message from a family member that inspired her to spend an hour screaming at our family for no apparent reason. Our kids are older and are used to this (sadly). I made the suggestion that maybe we should just skip this year, and she (screamed) "Then they'll never talk to me again" and broke down into tears. Honestly, there are worse things than some of these folks never speaking to us again, but I made the mistake of saying so. So she's been sending my vicious e-mails every five minutes. Apart from sneaking valium into her Monster energy drinks, any suggestions?
Um. Used to this every Christmas, or used to this as her way of dealing with stress? It sounds as if she might want to talk to someone either way, but the latter is a significant problem begging to be recognized as such.
I'm in a position so fortunate that I'm embarrassed to even be asking this question. I'm about to close on the condo of my dreams. I know, though, that people will be asking me questions about how much I paid and how I could afford it, since both the purchase price and my (not that high) salary are public records. The truth is, that while I have lived frugally and within my salary until now, I have an inheritance that was intended to be used for exactly this purpose--a downpayment on a home that I love. How can I respond sensitively to those questions, beyond saying, "I've been incredibly fortunate" and leaving it at that?
Not that people who ask such questions deserve an answer (so very very rude!), but the term "fairy godmother" doesn't make its way into routine social discourse as often as it should, so why not do your part to correct that.
Dear Carolyn, I am a twin and the holidays also coincides with my birthday. A few years ago my brother moved several thousand miles away, which means that holiday plans often hinge on when HE can come, what day HE wants to celebrate, what relatives he and his wife haven't met or seen in a long time. (It doesn't help that they otherwise make almost no effort to keep in touch with my relatives.)This means that I'm often left playing second fiddle, told to shut up and cook our holiday meal, told I cannot bring my significant other to festivities because it might interrupt/distract from my brother's bonding time with my extended family, etc. It causes a lot of tension with my mother who is trying to maximize time with my brother, as well as my sister in law who is touchy and defensive to start with. For my part I feel helpless and super stressed out about holidays. I'm in a serious relationship now with someone who worries that the fact that my family sidelines my holiday needs will interfere with our ability to plan future holidays that are convenient for our schedules - his family has its own Christmas traditions we'd like to integrate. For my part I just feel resentful and angry that I'm supposed to be seen and not heard. Any advice on how to stop the tail from wagging the dog?
I hear the islands are lovely this time of year. What islands? Surprise yourselves. Seriously.
If that causes friction with his family, institute a three-year cycle: his fam, your fam, fab travel, repeat. Or, make it a four-year cycle and include your twin in your travels every fourth year, if s/he's game. They want to bond with your brother anyway, right?
If they're going to insist on a fixed holiday approach that you don't like and that doesn't account for your needs and feelings, then play your adult card and plan something else. If you're not interested in anything that drastic, then merely start declining to play along with the particulars that you dislike. You're not chained to the stove, nor is the door barred to your significant other.
Carolyn, I desperately need your advice. Two weeks ago, my best friend confessed to me that she hit her boyfriend of five years in the face during an argument. She just texted me about 20 mins ago to tell me that last night, he hit her during another argument. Over the last year, I've watched their relationship deteriorate to this point and I fear that this violence will continue to escalate, because it doesn't appear that she is going to break-up with him. I'm also worried, because her ex-husband was abusive and the two of them used to have fights where punches were thrown as well. She just admitted that she is worried that things are only going to get worse as well, so I know she wants help, but I've never been in this situation and don't know what to do. I love her like she is my sister and I am so worried about her. What can I do to help her?
Hand her these numbers: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and 1-800-656-HOPE 94673)--and be firm about the urgent need for her to call one of them. They're for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, respectively. She is hitting as well as being hit, so underscore that when you talk about the necessity of her getting help: It's not just about protecting herself, it's about preventing her from harming others, too. Stay on her until she makes the call and gets the help--unless and until you get to the point where you're enabling her. If she keeps talking to you about this, and about getting help, without actually takign steps to get well, then you need to consider that she's using your conversations to rationalize that she's "doing something" about her problem. Watch carefully for such stalling.
I spent the weekend with my elderly parents, and was overwhelmed with anger and envy when I witnessed how differently they respond to my sister and to me. My sister called from across the country, and my father spent 20 minutes chatting to her. When I call, he asks me how I am doing and hands the phone to my mother. I love my sister, but she leads a traditional life I do not, with a husband and kids and grandkids. I don't want that life, never did. I don't even like my father all that much. But this really upset me - it felt like getting the lump of coal while the other kids get diamonds. How can I get past this?
One way is to check your reactions for signs that you're filling in blanks with your own assumptions, vs facts. You imply this is about your father's approval of your sister's values or lifestyle, when it's entirely possible they just converse easily, for reasons that have nothing to do with "traditional" choices. You say yourself that you don't even like your father all that much. Can't those 20 phone minutes just be native compatibility, vs a negative judgment of your worth?
You can also look at that idea--like and dislike--in a less charged way. Think about it: You're okay with disliking your dad, but it feels like a ceiling collapse to consider that your dad doesn't like you. Why is that? Why is it more of an indictment of you not to have your father's affection than it is an indictment of your dad not to have his child's? Even better, why is it an idictment of anyone---can't you just be different personalities who don't mix well?
This it's-not-personal-it-just-happens view of not getting along is something we're generally good at accepting in theory, touch-and-go at accepting in practice with colleagues and friends of friends, and often downright terrible at accepting when it comes to family. But the truth that there will always be someone out there who dislikes us is just as applicable in the ancestral home as it is in the cube farm or classroom or clubhouse. You can take it personally, or you can be disappointed in your bad fatherly luck but confident that you have more than enough other people who think you're the [poop].
BTW, couldn't this explain--both from chicken-and-egg angles--why you chose a path that diverged from the one you perceived to be Daddy-approved?
So I just yesterday got some fairly crushing (to me) news in the romance department, and now face four days of being around family and friends when my inclination is to curl up on the couch. While in some ways it's liberating to know exactly where you rank (or don't) in someone's priorities, at the same time, it's very sad to give up hopes and companionship. So...tips for putting this in its own compartment till the 26th?
The bearer of crushing romantic news is, by definition and as you already know, not the right person for you. How this obnoxious cliche applies here is in the role of your family and friends in the next few days: There is no better source for a reminder of who you are, and specifically who you were before you got involved with this person. (Even if it's a reminder of how different you are from your family.) Finding this version of "you" will help you see and understand better--and weather better--this person's failure to be a good match.
I don't care how strong and healthy you and the person and the relationship all are/were--there's always going to be a little departure from at least some part of your core being when you're in a relationship. So, use this hideous holiday timing to lean on your people and restore those parts of yourself. That in itself feels good, even if it does nothing to advance your appreciationg for how wrong this person was. Plus, the couch will still be there on day 5.
My dad has always been a worrier, and quick to point out the worst case outcome of any thing my brother or I do. But over the years this has turned into maddeningly repetitive nagging and pointing out the extremely obvious over and over. He is not elderly - in his late fifties and still working. We now filter what we tell him. We are both educated, professional people and I don't understand why he thinks we don't know to pay our bills, get our cars serviced etc. he knows I have campaigned against drink driving - yet if I mention going for a drink with friends he always tells me not to drive!! I know I should be patient but I find myself snapping constantly at him. Should I suggest to my mom he sees some one about this or simply accept thisis who he now is?
Why can't you suggest it to him: "Dad, I appreciate your concern for me, but I know how to pay bills and get my car serviced. I also know that if I forget these or something else, it will be up to me to deal with the consequences--just as, I'm sure, it has been up to you since your parents launched you into the world. So, do you agree that it's time for me to carry on without sideline coaching from Dad?"
He might not agree, of course--and I think it's really important to say here that you love him and are grateful for the way he raised you. Say it's okay for him to trust that he did a good job, and to show that trust by letting go.
If he refuses, or agrees but can't or won't stop, then you have the opening to suggest that his regular worry-wart stuff might have blossomed into anxiety, and that he might feel better if he gets screened for it.
Do keep your mom apprised of this, too--I just think that if you're making the case that you're an adult now, then you start by talking directly to Dad.
I've recently been given a cancer diagnosis and haven't really shared it with anyone just yet, as I'm waiting for more test results to have a better sense of what the future holds. Especially my family, who can be emotionally exhausting. I already know the holidays would be a little stressful being around my family since i haven't told them, but last night I talked to my husband and he basically freaked out and said "I can't stand thinking about something happenning to you, so I don't want to talk about this anymore." I kind of predicted this reaction, he's a great guy but has major issues around anything medical, probably stemming from the fact that he was raised by a single mom and became an orphan when she died of cancer when he was 6. But still, I feel pretty lonely and unsupported. Any advice on how to how to try not to focus on this and get through the holidays?
I'm so sorry you're going through this. My first suggestion is that you disclose your diagnosis to a friend you can trust to make and keep this about you. Even if it's not your closest friend, it should be your clutchest (if it's not a word, it should be).
If that's not a workable suggestion for whatever reason, then please avail yourself of the resources available to people with cancer--be it through the American Cancer Society or the affinity group that deal with your specific diagnosis.
Short version: Find someone to talk to who won't introduce a whole new set of issues for you to deal with. Hang in there.
Thank you Carolyn. I appreciate your point of view, and will work on letting go of the anger. I'll agree to disagree that I owe my mother in law an apology, because we've asked her not to let people she doesn't know into our house. This person is somebody she met once, but who she assumed is a "good" person because they are both of the same religion. She's too trusting, and next time somebody could do something a lot worse. Thanks and Merry Christmas.
Well, okay, I didn't know your MIL didn't know the woman and ignored your express request not to host such people. Since your MIL is not likely to change her ways on assuming people are good, I think a fair response to this incident is to suggest a compromise where your MIL doesn't host more people than she can reasonably monitor. Fair?
I still think letting the anger go is essential, and to that end, there's the fact that your MIL meant no harm. "Too trusting" involves dangers, yes, but is arguably nicer to have around than cynical or suspicious.
Couldn't it also just be that your sister's "traditional life" offers more easy conversational openings for your dad? "How's the husband, how are the kids, how are the grandkids" are easy questions for your father to ask. It doesn't completely excuse him not knowing what's going on in YOUR life, but it doesn't mean he's all that engaged in hers, either.
A couple of other 'nuts offered similar thoughts, thanks.