Thursday, April 30, 2009

Father knows Best.......and he knows it.

I'm tired just reading this poor student's letter.....

Dear Prudence,
I'm a 20-year-old student and generally get along well with my 63-year-old dad. However he is also quite aggressive, and this has been a constant strain on our relationship. He loves to play the devil's advocate and will argue any side of any subject. Whenever I express any political, religious, or moral opinion, he will argue with me. These conversations almost always become heated and cause me a great deal of anxiety. I've told him this, but he thinks it's all in good fun. I've also tried changing the subject or walking away from the conversation, but he gets very angry and demands we finish our "philosophical debate." I'm pre-law, so I normally love to debate at school, but these arguments last for hours, and not being able to end them is stressing me out. Do I have the right to walk away? Or do I actually owe it to him to finish these debates?

—Great Debater

Dear Great,
The law does tend to attract more than its share of overbearing bullies, so your father may be doing you a favor by giving you experience with the kind of argumentative know-it-alls you will inevitably encounter. Start learning how to deal with this by dealing with him. Tell him the endless disputes are not stimulating and fun for you; they're draining and debilitating and are keeping you from enjoying your relationship with him. Explain that for the sake of father-daughter relations, and your blood pressure, you're going to start cutting things off when they get too heated. Be prepared that this will likely provoke a harangue along the lines of, "Why would someone who says she wants to be a lawyer be 'drained' when she's asked to defend a simple assertion?" Don't take the bait. Instead, smile and reply, "That's the fact, Dad." Then, in the future, when he starts in, have a few phrases that signal you're ending the discussion: "We'll have to agree to disagree." "That's been asked and answered." "Let's drop it." If he won't stop, remind your father that you came over to enjoy his company, not relive the Inquisition, and since he wants to keep going, you're going to go. Then give him a kiss and bid farewell to your man of strife and contention.


I know a lot of dads who do this, to greater and lesser extents. My dad is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum...I can think of at least one friend's dad who is WAY at the intense end of it. In fact the only out-and-out fight I have ever had with my dad was when I took what I thought was a reasonable discussion too far. (Too far for me, actually, not too far for him--I was unprepared for how strongly he would feel the need to prove me wrong). Are your dads like this? How do you handle it? And why do they do it?

Also, Prudence makes the assumption this writer is a woman--she of course has the benefit of email addresses and possibly names to help her with this assessment, but does sound like a daughter, doesn't it? All the people I can think of who get in these long exhausting debates with their dads are women. What does THAT mean?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Figuratively Speaking....

What's your favorite type of figurative language? After hyperbole (which I invoke like a million times a day without even realizing it), I choose the analogy. I'm always looking for simple yet profound ways to express to others how complex and difficult situations are exactly like driving, traveling, shopping, sleeping, and any other number of much easier tasks. This drives SK nuts since it tends to derail our more difficult conversations:

him: why are you so upset?
me: It's exactly like we're making cookies, and we didn't have walnuts so we used pecans instead, but we forgot about the fact that the one person we really want to enjoy the cookies hates pecans.
him: It is not like that at all.

Anyway, that's why I'm doing an extra long post featuring TWO of Carolyn's "adapted from online chat" columns: because in the second one she has a fabulous analogy that (unlike most of mine) I think really works. So here's the situation:

Dear Carolyn:

I've been seeing this guy for about three months. It's going great. Well, it WAS going great. He is getting wooed heavily by several big companies, and thus being flown to different cities. Add that to a busy work week and I haven't seen him in two weeks.

He's texted (in response to my texts) but that's it. After not hearing anything for several days, I wrote once that I knew he was busy but I was feeling nervous and a bit like a convenience. He responded that he understood and that we'd talk about it soon. He also said he wanted to stay with me, but if he moved he didn't know.

I scare easily, and he knows this. My corporate friends say it's common to lose touch for a few days. I say you eat meals, sleep and commute: There IS time to drop a line if you want to.

I'm not mad; he IS a nice person. He's been great at every exchange. But I am coming to the conclusion that maybe it's over. I'm shutting down and don't know that, when I DO see him, I'll be able to jump back to where we were.

I have a history of walking away when there are bumps in the road -- single is comfortable for me. This seems like the end of the road, not a bump. Should I give him the benefit of the doubt? I've already deleted his number.

Pull the Trigger

It looks as if you just want to end it officially before he has the chance to.

You've been dating him for three months; that's not long enough for you to have become part of his emotional core, and yet you're taking his actions (or non-) personally, as if you were supposed to be in his core but aren't.

Please breathe, take his travels as an opportunity to focus on your own well-being, and wait to see what happens when he gets back.

It is, of course, entirely possible he'll get back only to break up with you. However, his doing that will be a near certainty if you view every non-text he sends as proof of The End.

Whenever you start to panic, remind yourself that he may be preoccupied, or thinking of you and not texting, or not thinking of you because he's just not as into you yet as you are into him. Since the last seems fairly certain regardless, it might make sense to accept and adjust to that vs. expunging him from memory.

Each one of these possibilities can reflect him as much as it reflects you. Screw up your courage and give things a chance to play out.

[The following is input from the fellow chatters, known in Carolyn chat land as "the peanuts." I'm sure this is derived from "peanut gallery," but it's sort of funny to picture the chat participants as the nuts themselves, not the little boys throwing them]

For Pull the Trigger:

When work and travel get to be a pain, about the last person I want to deal with is one who needs lots of reassurance. If instead you are a source of comfort to your partner, then he'll be seeking you out.


And Carolyn's comment:

I wouldn't advise her to fake it if she can't be this calm for real, but it is something to weigh, and work toward. If she's bugging him, though, certainly he should speak up.

Tomorrow: Business trip, or just the business?

Let's find out....

Update from "Pull the Trigger," two weeks after her first question (in yesterday's column):

Dear Carolyn:

I tried to reach him and got nothing. I became worried and swung by his apartment. The doorman said he had moved. Moved! Four days after the last time I saw him!

I'm beside myself. I can't imagine that he'd have the capacity to do this. We'd had the conversation about not seeing other people.

If he'd told me he was moving I would've bought him a beer and congratulated him. Why lie about checking in when he got back?

Moving forward, how do I ever know someone is decent? I was nervous and anxious before and I don't date much because I have a hard time letting my guard down.

Pull the Trigger Again

[Before we get to Carolyn's words of wisdom, I'd like to raise the point that one of the 'nuts on chat pointed out that a doorman will say anything you want him if you slip him $20--this guy may not have moved at all, but just been looking for an easy way out. Carolyn, however in her wise way, acknowledged this possibility but emphasized that either way, her advice to this woman is virtually the same. So here it is:]


When you're up to it, your next step is to figure out what you missed. Was he a really good liar? Or did you deceive yourself?

I would also work on holding your own balance, both with someone in your life and without. Your neediness was making you miserable. Remember, you wrote in knowing something was off. That means you're seeing enough, you're just short of the kind of confidence that can help you interpret what you're seeing -- before it gets to the point of unreturned calls.

Hi, Carolyn:

I am TOO comfortable being single. I know myself and there are no complications. Getting me INTO a relationship is usually difficult.

All he ever showed me, up until the business trip, was kindness, support and involvement. Early on he had the boundless enthusiasm about me, and I was extremely cautious.

I am usually right on the money. This was out of nowhere.

Pull the Trigger

You did say in your original question that "single is comfortable for me." But you also said, "I scare easily, and he knows this." And now: "I was nervous and anxious. . . . I have a hard time letting my guard down."

So pleasure-in-singledom isn't motivating you. Fear is driving this bus -- trust issues specifically.

You may know yourself, but I don't think you trust yourself. It's like saying you'd rather cook your own meals -- not because you prefer your own cooking, but because you want to be sure you won't be poisoned. [There it is! Isn't it beautiful?] Is that the way you want to live?

Your need for reassurance from this guy suggests both that you want the pleasure of others' company, and that you're profoundly uncomfortable handing over any of the controls. That's the problem, not this particular guy.

When you're jumpy and distrustful, it may seem as if you're better able to spot danger. In reality, though, I think looking too hard for one thing leaves you open to missing another.

Please concentrate instead on finding the internal strength and flexibility to take life more as it comes, and not as the quiet, uncomplicated thing you retreat into when you're scared. These grow from trust not in others, but in yourself -- to handle it when a dream winds up in a ditch.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Let's start at the very beginning......(Or, why I'm too cynical to ever be an advice columnist)

Probably one of the most common problems in the columns is infidelity....the cheaters, the cheatees, the "other" men and women, the hurt children.....they all write in and their issues are legion: emotional affairs, physical affairs, online affairs, one-time-slip-ups, serial cheaters.....people seem to be endlessly creative in their efforts to "get some on the side." But why?

Obviously they're not getting what they want at home....though whether what they want is reasonable, possible, or right is a whole different issue...

Often there's a backstory of a happy marriage gone south....somewhere along the way something went off the rails, and now the people involved aren't sure if they can get things back on track...or even want to. But then there are some and you have to didn't bring this on yourself? Just a little? For example:

Dear Amy: I am a successful businessman who has been married to a beautiful, smart, kind woman for six years.

[here we go. as carolyn pointed out in a chat last week, when someone describes their person with these words, it's usually because they THINK they should love them...but clearly don't know or appreciate the person at any level of detail]

We are in our mid-30s with no kids. We make great companions. However, despite her beauty, I've never been all that physically drawn to her.

[Whaaaat? Why? Why did you marry a person to whom you had no physical attraction? Clearly no one was pregnant, or in a rush to start a family. What was he thinking?]

About two years ago, we befriended "Teri," a woman from church whose husband left her. She was despondent, so my wife suggested we offer her our friendship.

Teri came over for dinner several times, and she and I have become close friends. She is intriguing and sensual, while my wife is not. [oh, lovely] We text and e-mail each other at least once a day and chat on the phone several times a week.

I have a feeling my wife isn't really intimidated by Teri because, frankly, she's not a woman most men would look twice at. She's kind of "crunchy," wears little or no makeup, is slightly overweight and has two young children. [1) Nevertheless, your wife is probably not oblivious to the fact that you're drawn to her intriguing sensuality and 2) "crunchy"?????]

I've fallen in love with her. [Well, we all saw that coming, although I appreciate the surprise reveal in a new paragraph]

Nothing sexual has happened between us, nor will it while I am married because we are both strongly opposed to adultery. [Just give it a few weeks]

Teri says that if I can't get over her, she'll have no choice but to break off the friendship. I can't bear the idea of this, so I promised her I'd do as she requested. [If it were that easy....]

I still love my wife and don't want to hurt her, but I feel like this is the kind of love that inspires poets.

I'm terrified that if I leave my wife, Teri will decide she can't be with me and I will end up alone.

Amy, I'm young, I want to experience the type of love I have with Teri, either with her or with someone else. What should I do? [Gaaaag! He gave up his right to say "I'm young and deserve to romp the world and experience this kind of love (with anyone, don't really care who)" the day he got married. Generally by definition, that's when you'd stop seeking out all the kinds of love you haven't experienced and try to cultivate the one you just legally bound yourself to.]

— Going Crazy in Virginia

Marrying someone you're crazy about won't guarantee that your life will be easy, or that your relationship won't change in ways you didn't expect, or that you'll never be tempted by someone sensual, intriguing, and crunchy. But it probably doesn't hurt.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Finally, a Fabulous Guide to Facebook!

Huzzah, it's the Facebook Etiquette Manual we've all been waiting for!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When a door closes, somewhere.....

I can never seem to resist when Advice Goddess Amy Alkon really takes someone to task.....

Last year, I fell for this guy, "John." We hung out and flirted via e-mail, but he never asked me out. This fall, after he left on a month-long trip, I started dating "Mike," later discovering he's one of John's best friends. Things with Mike started getting rocky. John then surprised me by e-mailing that he'd heard about Mike and me and was a bit hurt and jealous. At Christmas break, Mike left town and John returned. John and I planned to get together, but John lives with a friend of Mike's so I had to sneak in through his window. I soon realized I had to break up with Mike. Mike was devastated, and it didn't help that I couldn't tell him why. John and I kept meeting secretly, but the guilt was getting to him, so we called it quits. Now, I'm torn. Do I settle and give Mike what he wants (me), or wait and try again with John? Or, is it worth it to think of either of them? — Hopeless Romantic

Oy....when you can't follow the plotline of the love polygon, the answer is almost always "stop dating everyone until you better know yourself, your values, and what you're looking for in a relationship." Sound advice, I think, typically delivered with varying layers of sympathy/contempt, depending on the emotional state of the writer and the patience of the columnist. And Amy Alkon is, in general, not known for suffering fools lightly. Ahem.

The course of true something-or-other never did run smooth. Two people — one of whom is really kind of apathetic about the other — torn apart by fate, or whatever you call it when you rip a perfectly good pair of panties sneaking through your boyfriend's best friend's window.

An actual "hopeless romantic" is somebody in love with love. You just seem confused: Paper or Mike? John or plastic? Cheeseburger or big steaming plate of raw sewage? "Or, is it worth it to think of either of them?" Now, I'm all for people asking me for advice — especially because I'm fond of eating and my landlord likes me better if I pay my rent — but you have to come in with a bit more of a base: I'm this kind of person, and here's what I care about, and here's how the two guys I'm considering stack up. Probably because you lack self-knowledge and values, you're seriously considering settling for a guy. Yeah, there's a romance right out of "Romeo and Juliet": "He's here, he wants me, whatever."

Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater said one of the greatest mistakes you can make in life is being a "moral imbecile" — somebody who doesn't bother figuring out who they are and what matters to them, and instead relies on other people to tell them what to do.

When nobody's around to ask, a person like this can end up doing some really dumb things — say, climbing in a guy's window on the first date. Ever hear of bars, restaurants, coffee shops? Many people who date use them as meeting places — especially if they're women looking for more than a hookup, because guys tend to use and lose women who sleep with them on (or especially, before) the first date. In the future, when a guy you're seriously interested in is picking you up, see that he does it in a car, not by grabbing you by the arms and yanking you over the sill.

Of course, until you find it completely nuts to be with a guy simply because he wants to be with you, you're the only person you should be dating. (Maybe grope yourself at the door for old time's sake.) As you get to know yourself better, you'll get a better idea of what kind of guy is right for you. In practice, deciding who to get involved with should work like Santa — the "making a list and checking it twice" thing, not hauling off to the mall and plopping yourself down in some fat guy's lap.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Birthdays Gone Bad

File this one away under "do these people have ANYTHING better to think about???"

DEAR ABBY: We recently celebrated my stepdaughter's 40th birthday. After dinner I placed the birthday cake, along with the knife, cake server, plates and forks, in front of her. We sang "Happy Birthday," and she blew out the candles.

Shortly afterward, I realized she was not cutting and serving the cake, so I asked if she wanted her father or me to do it.

I was raised with the idea that the person whose birthday it is should serve the cake to those celebrating with her (or him). Now I have begun to wonder, what is the proper custom regarding who should cut and serve the birthday cake? -- CURIOUS IN SAN FRANCISCO

The correct answer is.....WHO GIVES A FLYING f***? Just, well, let them eat cake.

Strangers are blind to man's affliction

Sorry I've left the previous downer of a post up for almost a's just that time of year (not the time of year to panic about hypothetical parenthood, but the time of year that the blog gets sidelined).

Here's a new column, but this is more for shock value than anything else...I don't have much to say about it except "wow. Really? REALLY?"

DEAR ABBY: Several months ago, my husband -- whose eyesight is fading rapidly -- was forced to depend on a cane indicating that he is blind. Since then, we have encountered many individuals who have no idea what a red-tipped white cane means.

We have heard people say things like, "Isn't that fancy!" or, "I love the way you decorated your cane for the Christmas season."

Abby, please inform your readers that a white cane with a red tip is not a fashion accessory or a personal whim. Its purpose is to allow a vision-impaired person to move around independently. Vision impairment also affects a person's balance. People have brushed past my husband, bumped into him and expressed annoyance because his slowness held them up.

I'm sure a "word to the wise" from you would make a decided difference. -- NANCY IN LACONIA, N.H.

I just find this really hard to believe. I'm sure that this person would not have made the effort to send this public service announcement to Abby if she and her husband weren't encountering this kind of ignorance, and if indeed they are, then trying to raise awareness is certainly an important and reasonable step to take.

I just really, REALLY can't picture someone saying to a visually impaired person who uses a white cane to help him navigate, "I love the way you decorated your cane for Christmas." What?? This is just really, really odd, especially since the way the visually impaired use the cane is not at all the same as someone who was using it for physical support (as a "leg to stand on") would be.

It almost makes me think that, rather than strangers on the street, these are acquaintances whose shallow sense of familiarity with the person in question prevents them from realizing/noticing his gradual decline: whereas someone seeing him for the first time would likely recognize him as visually impaired, someone who has known him for awhile and thinks they understand his situation might be disposed to ignore or misunderstand how it has worsened in recent months. Or, alternatively, make awkward jokes about it, which might be another explanation.

Unfortunately, you'll probably always have people who aren't paying attention, or who are in a rush and will jostle and bump one another carelessly. I imagine this is a problem for anyone who is unsteady on their feet--although again, my understanding was that the whole idea of the cane was both to help the visually impaired person find his way, and also to act as a sign to others that he is legally blind and should be given the space to move along comfortably.

I know it doesn't do any good for me to say "what's wrong with these people??" and the woman who wrote this letter is taking the right course of action by trying to educate them, if indeed they've never heard of or seen a white cane being used. It all just seems very odd to me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moms in Misery?

I hope that someday I'll have a family of my own and be a good mom. In the meantime, Carolyn makes me feel both more and less freaked out by the whole idea:

Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn:
The March 15 column about "Maryland," the miserable mom of an 8-month-old, makes me wonder: Is that the reality of parenting? Are all mothers sworn to secrecy that it actually sucks, and this whole "I've never been so exhausted OR happy in my life" position is just a facade? I've always wanted kids and feel like I have maternal instincts, but I've also always had this deep-seated fear I would be one of "those" mothers who secretly hated it. Tell me the truth -- what is it really like? Is there a way to know how you'll respond?

It's a much longer story than I can cover here, so I'll aim for the highlights.
Newborns aren't all bubbles and bliss. Babies are hard work in the sense that they're relentless. They can't get their own food, they can't keep themselves clean, they can't tell you they're hungry or hurting or sad. All they have is flailing and crying, at least in the beginning. And so you have this flailing, crying thing with you 24-7, who can't even smile yet for the early months, and the buck stops with you.

Now, some people have an easier time with this than others, and just about every variable comes to bear on how easy or difficult it is. The parents' health and temperament factor in. The quality of their relationship factors in. Their ties to community factor in (family, friends, neighbors, access to hired help). Their expectations are a huge factor.
Possibly the most influential factor (that I think gets overlooked) is the difficulty of the baby. Some babies fuss less than others, sleep more, nurse better, digest food better, have more fully developed nervous systems than others, you name it.

If you're a parent of a fusser/crier, and your only exposure to babies has been to the even-tempered ones, then you're going to second-guess yourself, hate your child, hate your mate for getting you into this mess, and hate everybody who offers opinions on what you can do to get your baby to stop crying. Exaggerating, maybe, but in some cases it's just this bad.
The saving grace in these situations can be even one key person who can help you see that it's not you, you're not crazy, it will pass, and there are things you can do.
It's quite possible that "Maryland," of the past column, just needs that friend who can provide some perspective. Or, the baby could have health problems (reflux, autism -- there are a bunch of known culprits, from common to rare). Or, Maryland's baby is just fine and Maryland needs sleep, better nutrition, counseling and whatever other treatment for postpartum depression is indicated. In any of these cases, a respite caregiver can be a lifesaver.

Finally, some of "those" parents just aren't baby people/toddler people/tween people/teenager people. In other words, typical parents have ages they like better than others. The ones who aren't baby people can get a real scare, since their bad phase comes first, when they don't have proof that they can be happy and good at this. In so many cases, it's a matter of hanging in until the phase passes -- and the phases do pass quickly, as does childhood itself.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mutually Exclusive: The one I thought was The One is now the only one who won't be friends

Dear Carolyn:
I'm getting married this autumn. My life is great after a long personal journey, including one broken engagement. My only problem is that my ex-fiancee, "Annie," is incommunicado with me right now, which really bothers me.

I'm friends with nearly all of my former girlfriends. Likewise, my fiancee is friends with nearly all of her exes, many of whom I've met. In point of fact, Annie is/was friends with most of her past boyfriends (including an ex-fiance). Her not speaking with me, even though she has my contact info, seems out of character.

I've spoken with Annie only once in the six years since we split. That was three years ago, when she was recently married. She sounded fine, too. Our relationship ended on a sour note, but last time we spoke she apologized voluntarily for the part she'd played in that. As did I for my part.
I've tried calling her, maybe four or five times, over the past couple of months. Annie won't answer or return my calls.

I'd like to make some peace and see if we can't cultivate a friendship. At what point do you give up on somebody? Am I unreasonable to pursue her friendship?

~Wondering in Seattle

Four or five unreturned calls in two months are two or three unreturned calls past the point when you give up.

As for how reasonable your effort was, that depends. If you were motivated by missing Annie's friendship, then that was reasonable. Still futile, at this point, but reasonable when you first had the idea. If you're motivated by pining or what-ifs, then it's reasonable to be concerned -- about your current, not ex-, fiancee.

If you're motivated, however, by a desire to remove the one blemish on your record of amicable breakups, then the reasonable choice would have been to nip the impulse in the bud.

You and Annie parted on a sour note, and so you're stuck with this: There is someone out there for whom you conjure painful memories, someone who thinks her life is better without you, who has declined your friendship, apologies notwithstanding (they're past anyway, not prologue).
It's not the kind of news anyone wants to hear, but we all have people out there who don't like us or don't remember us well. It's a natural, unavoidable byproduct of having a personality, opinions, a soul.

That you apparently have just one Annie is, in fact, exceptional; even you point out that Annie and your fiancee are friends with "nearly all" and "most of" their exes, respectively. As in, not every one.

So maybe your "only problem" isn't Annie's silence; it's that you won't accept that you made "some peace" three years ago. Unless you're pining (see above), please content yourself with that voluntary, all-is-forgiven, perfectly fitting goodbye.

Yikes--more people who just can't let go. At least he's not lamenting that she hasn't accepted his Facebook friendship! I think Carolyn totally nailed this guy's hang up: he doesn't want to be someone's worst memory. Although by calling repeatedly, he's only cementing himself as her "crazy ex"--in her mind and her husband's.

Speaking of which, the only reason that I can see that after years he suddenly feels compelled to make contact is his impending marriage. It seems he wants to "resolve" this issue before entering this new phase of his life. What he doesn't seem to notice is that she's already been there, done that. He doesn't say whether three years ago she called him as her own transitional soul-purging or whether he contacted her when he heard she was married. But in any case, she's clearly moved on--and considering she has not one but two ex-fiances, it's probably a good sign that she's showing commitment to her actual marriage, and not the potential ones that never came to be.

It's really, really, really OK for things to end, for people to move on! When we say "let's be friends," I think that MOST of the time we really mean one of two things:

1) "I'm so used to having you in my life that even though I don't want a relationship with you, I'm not ready to cut the apron strings"

2) "You're not a bad person and I wish you well in your future life. Though I don't actually care to be a part of it."

and very rarely

3) "I love you so dearly as a friend that I misinterpreted my feelings as something else, and now that we've moved our relationship that direction, I realize I was mistaken. I wish we could go back to the way things were, even though I know that's impossible." But I would contend that if you've gotten to the point of a (broken) engagement, this one's no longer viable

Speaking once in six years doesn't exactly speak to a deep desire to cultivate a friendship. Even if they got back in touch, I think he'd be surprised to find she's probably very different person than the woman he loved probably close to a decade ago, before their relationship went sour.

I wonder if this guy's current fiancee is encouraging him to make amends and peace and move forward, or if she's annoyed by or concerned about his obsession, or if, worst of all, she has no idea about it. It's a LITTLE odd, isn't it, that he doesn't have a single thing to say about her, except he knows she's friends with most of her exes--suggesting that he's comparing the two of them to each other, and even sought the new fiancee's input on why the old one won't talk to him. Really? That's a little strange.

Also, the ex "apologized voluntarily"? As opposed to what? The involuntary relationship he's trying to coerce her into now? I wonder what he has been doing in the intervening years, on this "long personal journey," and why it seems like it just took him in a giant circle?

And in conclusion, I am skeptical of people who say "autumn" in print when they would almost certainly say "fall" in conversation. Minus 2 points for pretension!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mom's explanation falls on deaf ears

This woman wrote in to Miss Manners aware that she had responded to the situation at hand in anger and with hurt feelings, and if she doesn't totally regret her reaction, she also realizes it wasn't appropriate, either. She wants to know what she should have done instead:

Dear Miss Manners:My son just turned 3 1/2. He has moderately severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids in both ears. As a result, he has even greater problems with volume control than the standard 3-year-old.

This Saturday afternoon, we were at the library. We looked at books for about 15 minutes, checked some out, and then stopped to put his snow suit on to go out. At this point, a man in his 50s came over to me and asked me to keep my son’s voice down. I showed him the hearing aids and said that my son was doing the best he could.

The man was disdainful and walked off saying, “Excuses, excuses. Everybody has excuses.”

I was cut to the quick and blush to admit that I called after him, “And you’re perfect?”

Had we been inexcusably loud at any point, a librarian would have said something. As we were on our way out, could the man not have suffered another 15 seconds?

In any case, a stranger took it upon himself to school me. I should not have responded by showing him my son’s disability and asking for tolerance. I didn’t think I was trying to put him in his place, but it’s possibly how the man felt. And it’s possible that it is what I was trying to do, on an unconscious level. After all, parents are not famous for rational reactions when being approached about how they’re handling their kids.

What would have been the polite reaction?

Miss Manners gives a reasonable answer, I think, though I have absolutely no experience with disabled children and how best to guide them socially. What do you think?

Gentle Reader: The offense that most concerns Miss Manners here is the one you committed against your son. Whether or not he picked up every word, he undoubtedly understood that he was being cited as a special case whose hearing loss excuses him from being considerate of others.

There are two bad lessons here, in addition to the embarrassment he will feel increasingly at being singled out. One is that he can get away with behavior that others cannot, and the other is that he doesn’t quite fit in with normal people.

The stranger, while no great example of manners, was correct when he said that you offered an excuse instead of an apology. “Sorry we disturbed you” was all that was necessary.

Miss Manners' response makes it even clearer that when the man came up to this mom about the noise, she pointed (probably literally) straight to her child--which is definitely inappropriate, whether he has a legitimate difficulty with volume control or not. Talk about passing the blame!

But I also feel like a public library is not, these days, the same kind of somber, quiet place that we expected 50 years ago, or that we expect today in academic libraries. Yes, there should still be an air of respect for others and for learning, but especially in an area where a three year old would find himself, there are surely other children playing, reading out loud, and making noise. This could cut two ways....either this man maybe needs to find another corner, farther from the children's section, or maybe the fact that this mom and boy stood out among all the other chatty kids indicates that, in fact, he was being significantly louder.

I think I agree that overall, the best thing to say would be exactly what Miss Manners said: "Sorry we disturbed you," in as neutral a tone of voice as possible, and leave--since they were leaving anyway. Does this strike anyone as too hard on the mom, or the child? What about the complainer, what do we think of him?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

ahahahahahahahahahaha (more advice columns about facebook)

This just makes me laugh. Welcome to my life, a little advice-seeker:

Dear Miss Manners: With the use of online chatting and social networks like Facebook, some people feel comfortable sharing their current state of mind on away messages or status messages. For instance, a friend of mine had the following message up: “The misery just doesn’t end. Yet another bad week.” Another friend had this message up: “Good to know I’ve found the person I might be ready to settle down with.”

When I asked the first friend why she was having a bad week, she said that “things” have been happening lately. I tried to get a little more information from her, but realized she wasn’t really providing me with any, so I backed off and just told her I hope things would get better.

She later mentioned in the online conversation that I was not a good “conversationalist.”Am I supposed to beg people for information from now on?

As for my friend who thought announcing a soon-to-be fiancee was an appropriate thing to do on Facebook, I tried asking him about his status as well. His response was that he would prefer to keep things on the “down low” for now and that his status message was not an invitation for people to pry into his business.

Am I going crazy here, or are people really sending mixed signals? It seems to me that some people purposely try to get you to ask them questions, but when you do, they brush you off or act like YOU are the one prying into their business, even when they opened the door in the first place. Why is it so hard to be a good friend these days? Help!

Gentle Reader: Your friends are turning into virtual friends. That is, they want to advertise their every move and feeling to a presumably rapt and admiring audience but do not want to participate in the give and take of actual friendship.

The model for this, as Miss Manners is not the first to observe, is the celebrity. They “do” publicity through trusted chroniclers—in this case themselves—but are huffy about their “privacy” when they manage to attract someone’s interest, which must be seldom enough.

So to continue your admirable concern for friends, Miss Manners is afraid you must note whether their confidences are being made to you as a friend or the wide world of virtual so-called friends who are not expected to show interest. Or you could make new friends with people who value real friendship.

I find it fascinating and telling that so many people feel compelled to write to advice columnists begging for guidance on how to conduct themselves online. I think it shows that things like facebook are now part of mainstream culture (notice that newspaper articles about it now rarely include the formerly-requisite apposition ", a social networking site where users find and communicate friends through a public profile,") but that they're still so new, there are no accepted "rules." Or at least, as in any foreign culture, the subtleties aren't apparent to the newcomers. I wonder how long it takes for a new mode of communication to become institutionalized in a way that people feel comfortable with "the rules."

I wonder how long it took with the telephone, like, that Americans answer with "Hello" (unless you're my dad and you answer with "SPEAK") and Italians with "pronto" and CSI people with their last name only, and that to call after 9 p.m. is officially questionable, unless it's a really good friend for a really good reason. This could be someone's sociology/anthropology dissertation. You don't even have to credit me.

Not-so-Great Expectations

These parents sound a little....a little I don't know what. Harsh, and yet harsh in a really non-harsh way. It's weird.

Dear Annie: My wife and I are very strict with our 12-year-old son, "Jonathan." He has normal adolescent issues, but he really is a great kid — well-mannered, hardworking, gets good grades, etc. We give him lots of freedom to make decisions about free-time activities and try to teach him about life. We take him on vacations and spend a lot of time with him.
Jonathan has recently begun doing small things that show he really isn't thinking, such as walking past an overflowing garbage can, etc. We told him to go to his room and write a letter about how he was going to be more respectful and help out the family. He came back with a letter about how he wished he could live a "normal" life like his other friends. We sat down and had a tearful conversation with him, but didn't get any clear answers about why he doesn't feel normal.
Do we have anything to be concerned about?

— Hurting Parent

Um, seriously? Writing a letter about being more respectful? Sending him to his room at age 12, not for being, like, rude or unpleasant, but for not taking out the trash when he sees it? I wonder if this is one of his "regular" chores, or if it's more like "we expect you to show respect by doing all chores that you recognize need doing." Because I think it makes a difference, in terms of how they handle it, and maybe in terms of his being aware of what the expectations are.

Although either way I don't see why, if you see him walk by the garbage can, you can't just say "Hey, Jon, will you take out the trash please? Thanks." He might pout if he was on his way to do something else he conceives of as incredibly important (I probably would have), but I seriously doubt he'll refuse to do it.

Also, it wouldn't hurt if the parents gave this kid a little credit. Growing up as a kid who was, like, 93% "good," I know it could be really frustrating to see other kids getting paid to get good grades, or totaling cars and getting new ones, or asking their parents for money all the time and not having a job, when I worked hard because it was important to me, had a job and covered all my own petty expenses, and was always really careful and never damaged my parents' property. On the other hand, I know I was often flaky about chores around the house.

No, you shouldn't necessarily be rewarded for NOT causing trouble (is that like getting extra credit for showing up to class, or turning in your homework on time?), but I definitely remember sometimes, when fuming about being asked to empty the dishwasher (yes, yes, I was a whiner), thinking to myself, "they have no idea how easy they have it."

Of course life isn't fair and we shouldn't expect it to be. And yes, of course, kids should learn to value working hard and doing a good job as bringing their own reward, and understand the importance of earning their own way. But still. Come on. Give the good kids a little credit. If the hardest thing these parents have to do is get their 12 year old to help out around the house, they should be dancing in the streets, not punishing him.

Instead of focusing on one task that needed to be done, these parents inflated it to mean that their kid was disrespectful and lazy. No wonder he feels crappy. They have every right to expect him to do chores, and follow up with him when he doesn't. But I think that, if they aren't, they should be giving him some the same praise they mentioned to Marcie and Kathy.

Their response:

Dear Hurting: Probably not, but you need to watch how you handle the situation because it is likely to get more complicated as he gets older. Like many teens and preteens, Jonathan wants to spread his wings. He also sees that his friends apparently have fewer rules and he may be envious. But too little supervision can make children insecure and they often respond by testing the boundaries more forcefully in order to get their parents to react.
If Jonathan is saying his family life isn't "normal," that's OK. If he is saying HE isn't normal, however, it might indicate a problem, so watch for signs of depression. You seem to have excellent communication with your son, which will help, but try to be flexible enough to adjust your methods as Jonathan goes through his teen years.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Semantic Double Standard

This is not an unusual fact, it comes up all the time, which is even more frustrating.....:

Dear Annie: My husband's job requires him to travel several days during the week. We have two teenage daughters still at home. When he first took the job, there was some adjusting, but the girls and I quickly settled into a routine.

I work a 40-hour week. I look forward to not being the cook and chauffeur on the weekends, but my husband, who enjoys cooking, refuses to help. He says he doesn't want to be "the butler" when he is home from his travels.

I understand being on the road is not a vacation. I know he looks forward to a home-cooked meal, and I make every effort to arrange it, but it feels like I never get a break. Can you give us some advice? — Not the Butler's Wife

Arrrgh....yes, it's exhausting being on the road, and I see why this guy would just want to rest up at home and enjoy the family, rather than run around completing a list of chores in the two days he's home. But why is it that when the mom does all the housework during the week, in addition to her 40-hour job, she's just being the mom, but when the dad is expected to do it, he's being treated like "the butler?" It makes no sense to me, and also implies that he considers the basic tasks of maintaining a home the work of a servant, not that of a responsible home owner and parent. To me this suggests that not only does he not want to do these tasks himself, he doesn't respect or value the time, effort, and skill his wife brings to them.

What's really odd is that he apparently enjoys cooking....most people who enjoy cooking love nothing more than sharing a special meal with the people they love. Since he doesn't have the opportunity to do this while he's away--and probably eating out a lot--it really seems strange that he has no desire to do so when he's at home and has a full kitchen at his disposal. Seems like he's resisting activities that he enjoys, is good at, and would support his family, just on the principle that he thinks he should get to lie around. And that's really annoying.

Dear Wife: Both of you need a break. Every couple handles this in their own way. Some do all the chores together, so each person only has half as much to do. Some divide the weekend, giving the husband one day's tasks and the wife the other. Many couples let the housework go and order takeout.

You have two teenage girls who should be quite capable of helping. Since your husband wants a home-cooked meal, either let your girls get creative with the food, or make a little extra when you cook during the week and freeze it. That way your husband can have his preferred meal and you don't have to spend the weekend preparing it.

I agree with Marcy and Kathy's solutions...I like the idea of 1) putting the daughters in charge of dinner, at least one night a weekend and/or 2) cooking extra and freezing it during the week.

I also think, though, that perhaps being away so much has caused him to become a bit distant from his family and their day-to-day life. The mom says that "the girls and I quickly settled into a routine." He, on the other hand, has not rearranged how he relates to his family now that he's away so often...instead, it seems like perhaps when he's home he tries harder to fit things into the "old order." He probably feels like a bit of a martyr, being away all the time (alone with his thoughts, to mope) to support his family and thinks they should flock to him and pamper him when he's back. But perhaps he needs to make more of an effort to understand how things have changed while he's away.

Of course, reason #1 I couldn't be an advice columnist for real? I always wind up advising the wrong person. All this mom can do is change her own behavior, not her husband's. Still thinking about that one.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Romancing the Crone?

Sorry I've been MIA this week....I've been tired and borderline sick, and mostly catching up on sleep and forgetting to do assignments. Unfortunately, the blog was the first thing to go. Anyway, as a little "thank you" for sticking around, we have an extra special letter today from this week's Dear Prudence:

Dear Prudence,
I am a college student in my early 20s and have been married for three years to my wonderful husband. My problem is that I've got a huge crush on Michael Douglas, who is in his 60s. I watch his movies every day! At first my hubby just laughed it off and said he had crushes on celebrities, too, but now he's irritated because I insist on him watching these movies with me and discussing Michael Douglas' personal life all the time. I am not a stalker or anything. I am not writing him fan letters—though I've considered it. I have had mad celebrity crushes before, but this is the first since I've been with my husband. It feels like I am cheating and pushing my hubby away to watch movies that are older than I am. Please help!

—Cheating With the Movies

Wow....she says she's had "mad celebrity crushes" before, and I can't help but wonder when, and on whom, and how long they tend to last. It seems like it would take more than, say, 3 years to accumulate the complete works of Michael Douglas (unless she's just using Netflix). While of course it's natural to have crushes at any time in your life (though perhaps less natural when the object of your affection is decaying by the day....we'll return to this in a minute) there's clearly something wrong if it's affecting her life this much. Which she knows, or she wouldn't be writing in. I wonder if she's obsessive in other areas of her life, as well, and if this speaks more to a personality quirk of hers, than to any special allure that Michael Douglas has. Prudence, as always, is right on the money:

Dear Cheating,
I just saw the preview for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a Matthew McConaughey movie in which Michael Douglas appears as Uncle Wayne, a dead playboy. If the movie is as awful as the trailer—and since it stars Matthew McConaughey, I have every confidence it will be—sitting through multiple screenings just might be the kind of shock therapy you need. Also helpful would be to Google "Michael Douglas facelift" and see your dreamboat with his incisions oozing. If that doesn't do it, get the HBO series Flight of the Conchords, about a failed rock duo, and pay particular attention to the character Mel. She is the pair's crazed fan who forces her husband to accompany her as she stalks them. She's what you don't want to become. For that matter, you don't want to end up one bunny shy of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. Having fantasies about a celebrity has got to be a nearly universal experience. (When I was walking through a lobby in Los Angeles and literally bumped into my first big crush, Sean Connery, my knees buckled.) But once you get past the stage of taping pictures of the Jonas Brothers on your wall, you're supposed to be able to understand this is a limited, private indulgence that you don't subject your patient husband to on a nightly basis. If you were bingeing on potato chips, you'd keep them out of your pantry. So get rid of the Michael Douglas oeuvre, and start doing things with your husband (besides going to the movies) that make you appreciate the young man you have for real.


Cheers to Prudie for loving Sean Connery, knowing the Flight of the Conchords, mocking the Jonas Brothers and their fans, and revering the power of google image search. Speaking of know you were going to look, so I've saved you the trouble:
Hmmm...actually, not as bad as I expected. Doubt it would be intense enough to derail a crush as serious as this one.