Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Giving Spree

Amy Alkon ("The Advice Goddess") and I see eye to eye on this dude...but I don't think she was hard enough on him (and Amy is no softie).

Here's the letter. Discussion to follow:

I always tell my wife I love her and buy her gifts I can't afford. I know she loves me. She works so hard at school, and works to pay her tuition, and still washes my clothes, cooks, and cleans. And I never ask her to. When I buy her things, I don't expect anything in return; I just like to see her happy. I buy her roses for no reason. Recently, because her friends wear so much jewelry, and I know she wished she had some, I bought her a second diamond ring. For our four anniversaries, I've given her a gold bracelet, an iPod, a laptop, and most recently, a cell phone she really wanted. In return, she gave me a card with a letter promising to go to the gym and get back in shape. (She's not fat, but knows it means a lot to me when she's looking good.) I loved the commitment, but this is something she owes herself, not a real gift. I'm not materialistic, but it hurt that she didn't take the time to get me something...I don't care what...a couple T-shirts.
— Let Down

I made it poo-brown to express my real feelings about this guy. To summarize Amy's answer:
not everyone shows love the same way, don't take for granted the deal you've got, and the fact that you're so desperate to buy the love of your wife for pete's sake, doesn't say a whole lot about your own self-confidence, and by overcompensating inappropriately, you're probably eroding hers.

Point, point, point, point, and point. To which I would like to add, when you're married, "buy her gifts I can't afford" really means "buy her gifts WE can't afford." Even if your particular partnership functions best by keeping bank accounts separate, if one of you goes into debt, won't that affect the other's credit rating? Not to mention day-to-day standard of living? Again, even if you shop seperately, you live and eat together, right? So if your extravagant gifts are keeping you on bologna and milk crates, that negatively impacts both of your lives.

Consider this: for every $500 dollars you don't spend on ridiculous presents, she can cut back on her work hours and enjoy her life with you, right? Or you could hire a cleaning service to do a magic number on the house every few months? Or take a trip? Or pay off her "just because" Columbus Day bracelet. So many options.

Buying your wife gifts you can't afford is not an act of loving devotion. It's irresponsible to yourself, your wife, and the life you share. And it is probably this sense of making up for your irresponsibility that keeps your wife from responding in kind. People don't give letters of commitment to their significant others in lieu of gifts unless they are really concerned about over spending. If you shopped more carefully, maybe there'd be something left in the kitty for her to treat you.

My favorite Holiday Hootenanny Event

This was my favorite, non-traumatic moment from Carolyn Hax's Holiday Hootenanny. I hope that one day I can be this kind of parent to my children:

The Breakfast Stocking: This isn't really a holiday horror story, but just a testiment to my parents' cleverness.
When I was a kid, my family would have big blow out parties on X-mas eve (all the family and extended family would be there). Naturally the adults would get drunk and send the kids off to bed before the raunchy caroling became too raunchy for our ears.
When we (the kids) would wake up on X-mas morning, there would always be a stocking on the pillow next to each of us -- filled with breakfast pastries, cereal, fruit and a little note that basically said Santa wasn't going to stop by the house until noon-ish, and until then, we were to watch TV VERY quietly and feed ourselves from our X-mas stockings. If we woke our parents up, then Santa wouldn't stop by the house.
Needless to say - we were very quiet... and all of our parents and guests had time to nurse their hangover in peace.
It wasn't until I was married, and spent my first X-mas with my husband's family that I realized that the X-mas stocking wasn't supposed to be filled with breakfast foods...

Carolyn Hax: Brilliant.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And your question would be....?

Often people who write in to advice columnists seem to just want a chance to vent, receive justification for their feelings, or confirmation for a choice they've already made. Too many of their letters end with "Was I right?" (How least give the columnist more wiggle room than "yes" or "no")

But sometimes I really have to wonder. Did you need help with this one? This is from "Annie's Mailbox," an advice column maintained by the women who were Ann Landers' editors. And they were more patient and generous with this chica than I would have been.

Dear Annie: I'm a sophomore in college and live far away from my hometown, so I rarely see my friends or family. I wouldn't mind so much except that I'm in a long-distance relationship with "Rob," whom I have known since I was very young.
I know such relationships can be difficult, but this one is completely over the top. Rob has always been emotionally and verbally abusive, but now he has gotten so bad I'm afraid he's becoming mentally unstable. Schizophrenia runs in his family, but he refuses to seek counseling.
Here's the real problem. I've met another guy. "Alex" is funny, sweet and kind, and he loves me a lot. The feeling is mutual. What do I do now? Should I dump Rob and risk making him angry? Should I ditch Alex and be miserable? Should I throw away my life for the wrong guy?

— Didn't Mean To Two-Time

I'm sorry. The "real problem" begins with the fact that you've met an apparently normal human? "Should I throw away my life for the wrong guy?" Yes. Yes, that sounds like an excellent plan! What???

Marcie and Kathy picked up on the fact that this girl is likely afraid of her scary boyfriend, and mostly talked to that issue. Wise and kind of them, as I mentioned:

Dear Didn't Mean: So you've outgrown Rob, who is unstable and abusive, but you don't want to make him angry because he's a little scary. You can talk this over with one of the university counselors. Then tell your parents that you want to break up with Rob, but you are worried about his potential for being abusive.
It would be best if you could find a way to separate yourself gradually and naturally. Be nice on the phone and in your e-mails, but not too friendly or romantic, and don't contact him too often. Don't say you miss him or love him. Talk about class to the point where he's bored. Your aim is to convince Rob he'd like to move on, too.

But I sort of feel like a potentially schizofrenic, undiagnosed, untreated, manipulative person is not going to get bored and move on if she turns cool, cordial, and really really academic. He'll just get mad about how little attention she pays to him and freak out that she doesn't love him anymore. Which is true. She should just make a clean break, as soon as possible. (Also, it's weird that she's known him since SHE was very, very young, not since WE were very very young. Sounds like there's potential for a creepy age discrepancy here.)

Also: do not jump right into a relationship with Alex! If he's macking on you when you're clearly already in a relationship, and one that is unhealthy, there's something weird going on. Is he drawn to your neediness? Sadness? His ability to comfort you and make you laugh when you're being made miserable? What's he going to do when you're no longer in misery? You want to be with someone who wants you when you're healthy and happy. And even if Alex turns out to be cool, and not into suffering, stifled girls, you're not going to get healthy and happy jumping right into something else. Be single for awhile.

A little bit louder no-ow

I like when smart people take a boring cliche (actions speak louder than words...blah di blah blah blah...zzzz) and remind us how it applies to our ACTUAL LIVES.

People who talk big and act little are no good for us, or the people we love. Period.

(This was part of the transcript of Carolyn's weekly live chat, which is SO MUCH BETTER than a plain old advice column, because she addresses bajillions of issues and people get to respond as well. Not that Carolyn is not a person. But, you know.)


Recently I've been caught off guard by a few relationships that have dissolved that have really surprised me and other friends. How can you tell if your relationship is going to work out for the long haul? I know that you're not a psychic and I'm not looking for a crystal ball answer. I'm just wondering if there are certain (and pretty consistent or predictable) signs that I can look for that might indicate one way or another.

Carolyn Hax: The only answer that doesn't get into crystal-ball territory is to pay attention to actions. If you're building hopes and impressions on what people say, then you're likely to treat lukewarm actions as a "mixed message," when in fact they're a clear message. The actions are everything.

That's true even when the actions aren't lukewarm at all, but at a full boil. Too much too soon is just as suspect as someone who fawns over you only when s/he happens to want something from you, and disappears in between.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Kill Time, Not Family

I love, love, love, love and want to be Carolyn Hax. Her "holiday hootenanny," as anticipated, brought me much joy and muffled snorting during at work.

Enjoy! (better with eggnog).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sue me, sue me, what can you do me...

1) The Tribune co. files for bankruptcy (apparently the Cubs and Wrigley not included)...."Tribune Media Services" web page that was still offering a smattering of old Cheryl Lavin columns now returns at 404 error.

2) How not to do law school:

Dear Miss Manners — I have just started law school, where professionalism is part of the education. At this point, I would be grateful just for respect and common courtesy.

The trouble arises in one class where there are no assigned seats. One of my classmates saves a seat for her friend. The first time, I acquiesced. The second time, I put my hands on the chair before sitting down and said I was going to sit there, whereupon she snatched it away, saying I wasn’t. The third time, when I announced my intention to sit next to her she piled all of her possessions onto it. I am at a loss as to how to respond to such immature behavior.

As an aside, the first two times her friend could have just as easily sat on her other side. The friend suggested that we consult our professor, but he declined to become involved other than as a last resort.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY??

Miss Manners questioned what on earth "you two" are doing in law school--I'm thinking she and I are still awaiting the answer together with bated (or not) breath. I want to comment on this situation, but can't find anything to say but, "seriously???"

I do like how the writer put her (or his!) hand on the chair and stated explicitly, "I am going to sit here." Definitely the best possible solution.

I'm sure this is about getting the best spot in class in order to be noticed by the professor in a cuthroat (really...) environment, or something. But now they've been noticed by the professor anyway--and hardly in a positive light. Jeez.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

One of my family's extra special holiday traditions is listening Kathy and Judy's "Merry Medical Christmas" show (on WGN, radio 720, the voice of Chicago, obviously) on our drive out to the grandparents on Christmas Eve (which is a merry medical Christmas in and of itself). In this annual special, Kathy and Judy read out loud "real" (some of them are fairly dubious) Christmas letters that listeners have received and submitted, relating in horrific detail a year's worth of medical procedures. Extra points for the use of words like "drainage," and anything related to the gastrointestical tract.

I treasure this tradition, and so was delighted to learn today that Carolyn Hax has her very own version, the Holiday Horrors Hootenanny, which this year is scheduled on Dec. 12 ( I discovered it today when I stumbled onto today's transcript of Carolyn's live chat (yes, I'm slowly venturing out of the obsolete world of the daily column). I'm assuming the event will be part of her chat session? Or perhaps a digest will run in her column? Alas, I was unclear on the details.

Here's a sample.....more holiday horrors to come!:

iPods: Man, I'd trade my sister-in-law for that one [me here...this refers to an earlier contributor who complained about his sister-in-law walking around with her ipod cord strung up her shirt, through her cleavage, to her ears. Ok, over and out]. Mine is so completely New Agey, it's painful to watch. Last Thanksgiving, she communed with the spirit of the turkey that was sitting, cooked, on our table. She told us that the turkey was happy to have given its life for our meal; that it was satisfied that its sacrifice made our holiday more special.

More special, indeed.

Carolyn Hax: Wait wait wait--we need to save these for the Holiday Horrors Hootenanny. Which, as it happens, Elizabeth and I just scheduled for Dec. 12. Mark your Advent calendars.