Friday, May 29, 2009

Male Bonding

Do we think this woman is overreacting a little bit?

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Rick," and I own a small business with a partner, "Mike," who is in his late 40s and a confirmed bachelor. He constantly invites my husband out to dinner, ball games, drinks, etc. without ever including me. Rick always declines.

I think this is rude. Am I being overly sensitive? Do you think he's trying to show my husband what he's missing? -- IGNORED IN THE SOUTHWEST

Yes, it's a bit rude that she is NEVER included in the invitation. But it also seems unnecessary that her husband turns down Mike's invitation every single time. Surely if they own a business together they are friends--if Mike is in his late 40s and most of the people he knows are married, and they all turn down his invitations as a result, he may find himself completely without friends. Rather than trying to show Rick "what he's missing," he probably just doesn't want to go to the ball game alone.

Has the husband and I ever said "do you mind if Sue joins us?" or even jumped right to "Sue and I would love to?" just to see what happens? It may even be that Mike doesn't intend to exclude anyone, but feels more comfortable issuing invitations to Rick.

And have Rick and Sue ever invited Mike to join them in any social event, ever? Why not? I think Sue is seeing him too much as a Bachelor with a capital B, and not enough as a colleague, friend, and human.

Abby says:

DEAR IGNORED: I don't think you're being overly sensitive. Because this is happening repeatedly, the implications are insulting. If Mike had any degree of social sensitivity he would realize -- after many turn-downs -- that your husband prefers socializing with you to boys' nights out.

As to Mike possibly trying to show your husband what he's missing, I don't know. What IS he missing?

**Edit: In re-reading this, I find myself wondering whether this couple is recently married--and if Mike and Rick have had a longstanding friendship and socialized together. This woman seems way too freaked out about it to have known and worked with Mike for 2 decades.

New discussion point: what do we think of the phrase "confirmed bachelor?" When men say it about themselves, it seems to be both a point of pride and warning against overeager girlfriends. When this woman says it about Mike, she seems to be passing judgment...he's not just single, he's a swinging crazy single trying to tempt her husband to the wild wild world of....the baseball field.

It may be true that he's not married, and has no intention of ever marrying, but her inferences about what that says about his character seem completely unfounded and absurd.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Desperate Housewife Seeks Baby Mama?

This person had me so riled up I dug around through weeks of old columns and transcripts looking for it--I didn't write about it when it was first published, but can't shake the icky feeling from my mind. It comes from Carolyn's May 7th live chat--have to scroll about 5/6 of the way down:

Atlanta, Ga.: Dear Carolyn,

My husband and I are "bidding" for a closed adoption through our church. The birth mother is a 17-year-old girl who already has a child. She is currently considering us as well as one other couple. This process involves a lot of waiting and is really fraying my nerves. We are the "better" couple -- higher income, more childcare experience, a son who can't wait to be a big brother, and we live in the suburbs (while the other family has a condo in the city). We have not yet met the mother, but the other couple has apparently established a friendly relationship with her. We hope to do the same over the summer, to help her decision process.

My problem is I cannot come to terms with the fact that the choice will ultimately rest with this girl, whom I've never met. On paper, my husband and I are the easy choice. Nothing against the other couple, but I believe if it were up to an objective party, anyone would choose us. But the process is designed so that the girl has the final say, which I can't understand. Why should it be her decision? She has already demonstrated questionable decision-making capabilities, and she will never know anything about us besides what she learns over a couple of casual lunches. We hope to make a good impression on her, but I am really going to pieces over the thought that maybe there are factors we won't be able to influence. Why is this okay???

Carolyn Hax: If I were the mom, your quickness to dismiss both the other other couple and my right to make decisions for my baby would disqualify you without so much as a follow-up "casual lunch."

What I see are two families who want a child, and who both may well be in a position to give a baby a wonderful home -- neither "better" than the other, just different. And I see a mother who got herself in a stupid spot but who is doing her best to get out of it (see the physics of digging out of holes, above) in the way that best serves her child.

If you can't get over yourself long enough to see that this isn't a competition, it's a community effort to save a life, and that any good home is a great outcome, even if the home isn't yours, then I hope you'll recuse yourself from the "auction" altogether.

-- City-Dweller

Aaaagh, shudder, shudder shudder! So much about this upsets me. First of all, "bidding" for a baby--which Carolyn jabs at nicely with her "auction" barb in the last line of her response.

Next: a closed adoption? I am certainly no expert in adoption but I have done a little bit of research about it, and have discovered that domestic adoptions are rarely fully "closed" anymore--most agencies and offices recommend and facilitate arrangements that are at least semi-open, that is, where there is some communication between the biological parent and the family.

The idea that a child needs to be protected from the shadowy reputation of "bad" parents by a black box of secret records is (thankfully) gone now, and for both medical and just psycho-cultural-social-emotional reasons, at least some interaction with the biological family seems to be the healthiest and most productive approach for everyone. And in this case the child in question has a biological sibling that everyone knows about--are they planning to keep that a secret from the baby? Or tell her about it but refuse to allow the kids to know each other? Everything becomes doubly (or triply) complicated when another child is involved.

Also, if the birth mother is personally meeting with, interviewing, and selecting adoptive families, aren't we already beyond the strictest sense of a "closed" adoption? (Wikipedia article on closed adoption)

Information from an Atlanta adoption agency that I admit I obtained through a quick and dirty google search:

Through Domestic Infant Adoption, families are, in most instances, able to bring their baby home directly from the hospital. Prospective adoptive families also typically get to develop a relationship with biological family members who have hand-picked them to be Mom and Dad, equipping them with social and medical history as well as stories and pictures that they can share with their child as he or she grows older and asks important questions about biological connections. We believe that, just as aspects of loss touch everyone involved in infertility, relinquishment, and adoption, openness provides a “bridge” that connects children, adoptive parents, and birth parents in amazingly redemptive and healing ways. Openness follows a continuum, from completely closed to fully open, depending on the desires of both the birth and adoptive families, but the primary goal is always to serve the best interests of the child.

Then: the entire attitude about how her family is "better" on paper. Ugh. Don't even have anything useful to say about it. Too busy shuddering. More childcare experience? Because experience is always a pre-req for parenthood....

Also, I like that the "other" family has taken the time to establish a friendship with the mother, something this writer hasn't bothered to do, but wants to push for in order to "help" her make a decision. I wonder if she even had any interest in meeting the mother until she heard that the other family had--clearly she WISHES the choice would be made by an "objective" party based on a paper application.

On the other hand, Carolyn's response, while appropriately sharp, in some ways feels unrealistically altruistic to me. Of course the most important outcome is that the baby be placed in a loving home. Nevertheless, I think it's unreasonable to expect that waiting adoptive parents--who most of the time are seeking adoption because they can't have children--won't be desperately and devastatingly hoping to be chosen every time.

Nevertheless, this woman sounds like a control freak who can't come to grips with the areas of her life over which she has no power: her and her husband's inability to have biological children (if that's the case), perhaps other potential adoptions gone awry, and certainly this mother's choice to place her baby with the family she thinks best suited to love it, guide it, and provide the kind of life she would want to give it if she could.

It's very sad, actually...this writer sounds lost somewhere between frustration and devastation. But that doesn't make it OK that she's letting those feelings out by turning them against the biological mother of a child she says she wants to raise, and against an innocent family that seems eager to know both the baby and the source of its genes.

I am sad for this woman because she's dealing with obstacles to building her dream family--something that is probably particularly frustrating as she interacts with teenagers who have no such problems, and reproduce in a manner that must seem, well, willy-nilly at best. But if she can't brush the chip off her shoulder and embrace what she's got and what the future holds for her family, I can't see anyone choosing her as a loving, nuturing parent for their unborn child.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One Singular Temptation....

This is another long one, a two-column adaptation of an issue that took over Carolyn's live chat several weeks ago. In it, a young wife is extremely concerned that the way her single friends overshare about their single lifestyles is a blatant, disrespectful attack on her marriage (um...self-centered much?). Carolyn and the peanuts cover most of the necessary bases on this one, but I'll throw in a few comments along the way.

Published Monday:

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I, both 24, were the first in our social circle to get married. Most of our friends have more active dating lives than I ever had. I don't feel jealous -- I love my husband -- but something they all seem to do really bothers me.

Whenever we meet up in groups, to chat or have drinks or hang out at the park, the conversation always turns to everyone's latest dating woes. The guys and the girls are equally guilty of indiscretion, but it's the girls I always seem to notice. They go on and on about the club scene where they live and their polygamous sex lives. They wear revealing clothes that I gave up after high school and they often get hit on by strangers while we're hanging out. [So much judgment of the friends! They get hit on by strangers!? Who else would you expect to hit on your friends? They shouldn't lead monk-ish lives just because they're hanging out with your husband, who is clearly off-limits. As we'll see in a second.]

I don't feel they should be talking and acting that way around my husband, a married man. ["a married man." This sounds like a phrase from a Doris Day movie, or maybe something Jack Lemmon would say to his skeazy colleagues in The Apartment. "But you're a married man!" I think, though, the poor guy has to do something more than sit in the presence of single women (his wife's friends, no less) for him to be slammed with this "friendly" reminder] I would prefer he not be thinking about our female friends' wild sex lives or noticing how hot everyone thinks they are. [I would bet good money that if she were to ask her husband the details of any of these stories, he wouldn't have a clue. He's probably watching the game on the bar's flatscreen! When I'm out with SK and others, and the conversation turns to gossipy girl-talk my top two concerns are 1) I hope he's not bored to tears and 2) I hope he's not so spaced out that if someone asks him a direct question he misses it completely. "I hope he's not drawn into a complicated fanstasy based on Friend A's date last night" doesn't even register on my list. ] I know this is why married couples naturally gravitate toward other married couples [it is? more on this below], but these are the friends we have and I do not want to trade them in, so to speak.

Can I say something to my girlfriends about how uncomfortable I feel, or since I'm so outnumbered do I have to just suck it up and be miserable around them all the time? [Or can I get over myself and not make a stink or be miserable??]


Oh, my goodness. Were you miserable around them before you married? [I think this is an important question....the fact that this woman married young suggests that she and her husband were dating for several years--at least, that's been the case with most of my friends who are getting engaged and married right now. And if these are their only friends...well, what's changed? Besides their legal status?]

I can't speak for anyone but myself, obviously, but this married person does not gravitate to other married people because the single ones are flaunting their hotness.

I don't even know what to do with this idea -- do I rail first against the idea that people cover themselves up when they get married? Because plenty of people dress the way they do because they like it, and don't change a stitch of what they choose to wear after marriage.

But then that demotes to second rail the whole idea that single people = temptation = a group to avoid once married; railing against that deserves at least to share top billing.

How 'bout -- I'll rail against the idea of controlling what your husband sees.

People have eyes and ears and temptations no matter what they've vowed to whom or why. If your husband misses the single life, he's going to do that whether your friends raise provocative discussions or not.

People who marry young probably do struggle more with the whole issue of regrets and what they may have given up, and their immersion in a world with a lot of raging singles does contribute to that struggle. However, this is the choice you made, and it's going to stand on its merits alone.

In other words, if the only way you can keep your boat from sinking is to put it in dry dock, then that's a choice you and your husband need to make together -- after, I would suggest, as open a discussion as possible. If your boat really is leaking, I also wouldn't suggest blaming it all on the ocean. [Another winner of an analogy. Thanks Carolyn!]

Tomorrow: Maryland and readers reply.

Published Tuesday:

Dear Carolyn:

Maybe I didn't explain myself well [in yesterday's column]. My marriage is not in trouble and I'm not afraid my husband is being reminded of what it was like to be a "raging single." It's my friends themselves who bug me. [A ha! More evidence that she has no right to be upset! If her husband were actually reacting to these stories in a way that bothered her, the issue would be with him (not her friends) but it would be more understandable that she would want to blame them. But in fact, he's not doing anything to suggest that he's unhappy with his choice, or wishes he were out with a harem of singles because their stories are so hot(tt). She's upset on principle alone--and over a principle that apparently has no basis in reality. So what's the deal?]

When Friend A is recounting the story of how her last date ended with making out in a cab, or men walking by are commenting on Friend B's amazing chest, it seems only natural that my husband would take a closer look at Friends A and B. [Doubtful. Again, this is where to me it seems only natural that husband would tune out entirely, because this conversation has nothing to do with him or his interests. I mean, not that he couldn't be a part of it. But I bet he's not. Maybe it's this tuning out that Married in Maryland is mistaking for his drifting into gawking and fantasizing. Also, how is it conceivably Friend B's fault if sleazy dudes walking by are stoked because she's stacked? She would probably prefer that they don't make such juvenile comments about her bod.]

In my view, more mature people respect each other's marriages by not presenting those kinds of temptations. I wouldn't talk about my sex life with my friends' dates because only my husband should look at me in a sexual way. [My guess is that these conversations happen specifically because the friends don't see the husband in a sexual way, or consider that he'd see them that way--like a brother or a gay friend, the husband probably seems completely sexually apathetic--which is why they have no qualms about oversharing] So I don't get why you reacted as though I'm being outrageous.

[Maybe another issue to consider here is that she brings her husband along in situations when she really shouldn't. Sounds like there's a lot of girl-talk going on, and maybe her friends are carrying on as usual, and this one keeps bringing her husband to martinis-and-manis night. We might be (ok, probably are) getting a skewed perspective because Married says there are men present who do the same thing as her single girlfriends, but the picture she paints for us just makes me feel bad for the husband, like his wife brought him a long to a slumber party and then got mad at her friends for playing Truth or Dare, sharing private tales and putting their bras in the freezer.]

Married Maryland Girl Again

Because you're being outrageous. Your husband could just as well be looking at your friends during tales of their exploits and saying, wow, A and B are gross. I can assure you he already noticed B's chest and decided whether it was amazing long before your friends prattled on about it.

You have constructed a wall in your mind between marriage and singlehood that doesn't exist. Okay, you don't hit on those you know to be in life commitments -- otherwise, you treat people as people.

Now, if you've outgrown your friends, that's something else. But if you'd enjoy the raunch in unmixed company and it's just having your husband there that freaks you out, then I think you're getting worked up over something that "more mature people" shrug off. Real partners are secure enough to handle real experiences and real people together. [And also secure enough to socialize apart, on occasion]

Re: Maryland:

It strikes me that Maryland is enforcing a lot of our bad social prejudices, too. She acknowledges that the men in her group are just as "guilty of indiscretion" (guilty?!) as the women, but it's the women who bother her more. We're not a culture that holds men and women to equal standards when it comes to expressing sexuality, and she's probably been a victim of that herself.

Also, why should their talking about their lives now be any different from before the wedding? I get the sense there's a lot going on under the surface of this woman's question, and she might want to evaluate her own assumptions about men and women.


Agreed. I saw it as a he's-my-man-and-vixens-be-gone reflex, but you're right that even if it were a legitimate reflex to act upon (which it isn't, said the broken record), it doesn't justify the double standard. Maybe she's just lost, and grabbing on to her old ideas of what marriage is "supposed to be."

Re: Maryland:

I always assumed the married people gravitated to each other for the sole purpose of boring any unfortunate nearby singles into a coma with their talk of mortgage refis, kids and vinyl siding. I'd have killed to hang out with some fun, trampy singles.

I think the older you get, the less you think of marriage as this wormhole gate that forces you to dress, think, talk and behave like a pod person.

Anonymous 2

A little hope-driftwood to cling to, thanks.

In short, I think Married in Maryland is just really, really insecure--could even be the case (though I'm making a real assumption here) that she married so young precisely because she didn't think she'd ever find someone else, or be able to compete with her friends--or because she wanted to "beat" them in something--anything--that would prove she was just as desirable as they were. And now she's judging them for living the lives they want to live, rather than conforming to the choices she made for herself. Mostly, I feel pity for Married--but not enough that I'm willing to condone her making herself comfortable by reigning in everyone around her. She needs to get comfortable with herself first, then her husband and her marriage, and then think about whether she's still a good fit for these friends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Re-defining Girls' Night:

An interesting letter from Carolyn's column on how "Girls' Night Out" changes when both members of a couple are women (I've linked to the second page of her column because that's where the majority of the letter looks like it's picking up in the middle, but you're only missing "Dear Carolyn:"):

Dear Carolyn:
I have a friend who is a lesbian. Whenever we have girls' night or traditionally women-only events (baby showers, bachelorette parties, etc.), her partner always comes. We are not really friends with the partner, although we frequently do get together as couples. It feels weird to not invite her, but it feels like she shouldn't come, either. Am I making this more complicated than it should be?

No, you have a fair point. To act on it, though, you're talking deliberate exclusion -- always, uh, challenging.
But if you state your case clearly that you see "girls' night out" not as man-free companionship but date-free companionship, and ask your friend what she thinks about that, and if your relationship with your friend is good, and if her relationship with her partner is good, then it shouldn't be a problem.
That's three "ifs" and a "should," if you're keeping score at home.

I don't even have that much to say about it, just wanted to throw it out there and see if other people have anything to share.

Seems to me that most people like to get together with their friends without their partners at least some of the time, and while for folks of any orientation there are times when the friend is the same gender as the partner (could I make this anymore semantically complicated...?), a lot of the time, for most people, this seems to break down easiest along lines of "girl time" or "guy's night." But maybe that is changing, or should?

This seems to be a case of one homosexual couple in a group heterosexual women. I wonder how this works in groups of friends who are mainly homosexual, or mixed to a more equal degree, and if that's where we'll find a useful model for emulation: creating splinter groups based on who actually enjoys certain activities ("shower for people who like tea cakes only"), or on shared history ("just college buddies") rather than along gender lines.

How have you seen this changing in your own life, or the lives of people you know?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Choosing, Pt. II

Amy's column featuring people's suggestions on how to deal with the question, "When are you having children?" (Answer: neverrr!) was apparently a hit. I got a few comments on it, and blushed as my blog post about it was tweeted and re-tweeted by some of my friends. Thanks, Samsanator, TheUndomestic, and thelifeinthepink! Yesterday, Amy printed yet another letter from a couple battling with the issue of children--but this time they're pitted against one another: the woman wants another child, while her husband doesn't. Yawn? Twist! He's the one staying home with them.

Dear Amy: I have been with my mate for about 15 years — married for the last five. We have two delightful children, ages 4 and 2. For some time now, I have wanted to have another child. When I have attempted to discuss this with my husband, he becomes angry and states that he doesn't want more children. During one discussion that turned into an argument, he said he'd rather be divorced than have another child.
He has two adult children from a previous marriage. I work outside the home, so he cares for the children — he took an early retirement from his job. I have explored the possibility of my caring for the kids while he works or both of us working, but he is not interested in returning to work.
Our marriage is strained, and I'm not happy. At times, I find myself hating him because of this. Can you help? — Desperate for Another

Dear Desperate: If a full-time working father with a stay-at-home wife posed the same issue, I'd tell him to count his blessings and get over it. And so you should count your blessings and get over it. [Fair enough. But....since, say, the 18th century, how many full-time working fathers have posed the same issue? Ever since having enough spare heirs to carry on the line became a virtual non-issue (ha!) on this side of the world, I feel fathers rarely insist to wives that they want more than the two children they already have. At least, if it's happening it's not coming up in advice columns]
Until you have cared for two young children as a stay-at-home parent, day in and day out, you can't really know how unrelenting full-time parenting is. [Absolutely true...and yet, there are full-time parents who do want more children, so....]
Essentially, what your husband hears is that you would like to add to his burden.
I deduce that he is older, more experienced and more exhausted than you are.
[I think Amy's probably right here. It's possible he only agreed to have children with her in the first place because she wanted a family of her own--he could have been "done" with all that years ago. In this light, it's pretty admirable that he's giving her both the family she wants and the career she wants, and no one has to pay for day care. She's got a pretty good deal.]
You have little idea what challenges lie in wait for you as a parent, but your husband does. [Also true, but not necessarily fair...if "knowing what you're getting into" were a pre-req for parenthood, no one would ever have their first child. And most parents with older children don't have more than even a couple years of foresight as to what's coming next. I mean, yes, this experienced father does know what's coming and therefore can fairly say he's not up for it. And it's better for him to be honest about it. I just can't help but feel that Amy's being a little harsh on the mom.] He knows that he's in for at least 20 more years of full-time daddy-hood.
It's unfortunate that you're unhappy, but you're way too willing to sacrifice your husband's happiness for yours. If you can't manage your disappointment, get counseling.

In the end, I basically agree with Amy's advice. It's no good to bring a child, or try to bring a child, into a family where one parent is not into it. Since they have two kids, and they each have a job or retirement situation with which they're comfortable and that meets their families needs, I think she's right that it's time to be happy with what they've got and live with it.

I guess what surprises me is how skeptical Amy seems of this woman's concept of motherhood. I appreciate that since the father is the full-time caregiver in this case, she takes his point of view and, ultimately, his side. But she also seems to suggest that since this woman is not home with her kids, she is oblivious to the gravity and challenges of parenthood, and that surprises me--especially since Amy herself was a single working mother for many years. This seemed unexpectedly anti-working-mother to me, and something about it didn't quite sit right.

And yet, if it were a father writing in, not a mother, I probably wouldn't have these qualms. So maybe Amy's actually being fairer than my brain can handle. What do you think?

I must say that somehow describing one's own children as "delightful" suggests a sense of pleasant detachment. Other people's children are delightful, or not. One's own toddlers might be the light of one's life, or a drain on it, or both, but the relationship is a lot more involved than "delightful."

Also, I think the issue goes deeper than just (just?) whether or not to have another child. The fact that he is totally closed off to even discussing it--to the point that he says he'd rather get a divorce--and the fact that she keeps bringing it up and "hates" him for not being open to it suggests that they've got a lot more issues than just this one. I wonder if he's tried to explain/express to her why he feels their family is complete--could be thousands of reasons--and if she'd even listen.

I don't think they should have another child. But I do think they should talk to each other about it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cash: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

This morning a woman asked Amy for some help in selecting a college graduation gift for her grandniece (is that the same as great-niece? That's what we always called it...). I think Amy's suggestion is a really good one:

Dear Amy: My grandniece is graduating from college in two weeks, and I am perplexed as to what would be an appropriate gift. When she graduated from high school, we gave a quite generous cash gift. Now she will be returning home to live with her parents and will be employable.

She has a car, and all her college expenses were paid for by others. Should we give money again? — Perplexed

Dear Perplexed: There are myriad acceptable gifts besides cash, such as books, artwork or heirlooms. I also like the idea of helping set up a college graduate with a very long-term investment, rather than giving cash.

You should check with your accountant to see if you can set up a retirement fund for your grandniece. You could fund it initially with a gift to her now — and encourage her to sock money away.

If the aunt chooses to give money, I think this is a great way to do it. Forward-looking grandparents often do this when children are born, typically to save specifically for college. Ideally, this plants a seed about saving and investing in the minds of the children, and encourages them to do the same for themselves.

That is, if they have any income to spare. If they have a place to put it. And if they were aware of the investment, its changing value over the years, and its direct impact on their college experience, or some part of it.

The last of these "ifs" may be the least likely, in particular in a case where college was entirely all-expenses-paid for the student. But this is a lesson it's never too late to start learning....though the earlier it is learned, the more benefit can come from it.

The aunt seems skeptical about giving cash, apparently because the girl didn't really "need" it before. Now that she's "employable," the implication seems to be that she really won't. But even if she finds a good, steady job right away, it's unlikely that as an entry-level college grad she'll have much spare money to set aside for the future, or much of a retirement plan. Setting one up and encouraging the recipient to follow it and add to it (hurrah for Direct Deposit making this really easy...) would be a gift worth a lot more than just the initial cash value.

To me it seems a leeetle strange that the aunt seems so gun-shy about giving money, again, apparently based on the fact that it seems to have been spent frivolously (or at least she seems to think so) the last time she did. This rubs me just a little bit the wrong way. A gift is a can't specify how it will be fact, I tend to think that cash gifts are meant to be spent on, well, a gift or gifts for oneself: a nice dinner out with friends, a new outfit, an armload of books, etc. to celebrate the birthday, graduation, or whatever.

If the aunt wants the money she gives to be put toward "good" use, I think Amy's suggestion about setting up an investment is the best way to approach it. But if she's going to be so particular, I think I'd encourage her not to give money at all, and to just stick to something over which she has more control (though she still can't prevent the niece from selling the "artwork" or "heirloom" on ebay).

I'll wrap up with one of my favorite Carolyn mantras: When it comes to graduations, weddings, and other gifty occasions, it is never acceptable to ask for money, but it is always acceptable to give it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On Respecting EVERYONE'S Right to Choose....

Who would have thought that deciding never to become pregnant could raise as many hackles and sermons as deciding to terminate a pregnancy?

When there is no conceivable (ha!) harm to any stage of human life, no breaking, bending, protesting, or changing of any law, WHERE do people get off thinking that the life-changing decision to reproduce rests with anyone but the potential parents?

Yesterday Amy ran a series of letters from readers responding to an earlier letter from a woman seeking a snappy comeback for people who insist on questioning her decision not to have children. The column in its entirety is below; my comments interspersed.

Dear Readers: Some time back, I ran a letter from "No Babies in South Dakota," about how to respond to frequent queries about when she and her husband would have children.

Because they don't plan to have children, they were looking for a "snappy comeback." Readers responded by the bushel. A surprising number of readers accused people who don't wish to have children of being selfish. [This is unbelievable to me! Selfish with respect to whom? Whose needs are not being considered? It just makes no sense!]

Other readers offered snappy comebacks or other responses to the age-old question: "When are you going to have kids?"

Dear Amy: Why is it necessary to have a snappy comeback? Most people ask out of curiosity.

Being a person who is decided against kids and marriage, I always politely but firmly say that was my lifestyle choice.

Only a Neanderthal would push the point, and then I still politely but firmly say, "These questions are getting a little personal." — Personal Choice

[ is so often the case, the vanilla answer is probably the only one that will get the inquisitor to realize that THEY'RE the one being rude. Snappy feels good, but just gives the busybody the chance to denounce you as a terrible person and rejoice that you're not choosing to multiply your DNA. Which I guess still achieves the same end.....]

Dear Amy: I'm a 49-year-old woman. When people ask me why I don't have children, I just say, "I love doting on other people's children, and with such a wonderful niece and nephew, that's enough for me." This has worked well for me, but on occasion I have had to set some boundaries with particularly insistent people. In those cases, I said, "It is a personal decision that is not open for discussion." — Elisa

Dear Amy: "No Babies" should more honestly rationalize her decision by just admitting, "I'm selfish, and I don't want to interrupt my lifestyle" or "I dislike children; they are so untidy," or "I'm afraid I'd make a child turn out as miserably neurotic as myself." — Disgusted

["Disgusted?" Seriously? I cannot understand why these people are SO BITTER and judgmental. "I don't want to interrupt my lifestyle?" A child is not an interruption--it's a paradigm shift. You shouldn't be having children unless family life IS your lifestyle. Choosing how you want to live your life, and how you CAN live your life, is not selfish. Having a child that you know you can't love or care for properly--THAT'S selfish.

You can LIKE children without wanting to be a parent. Or you can honestly DISLIKE children--in which case the decision not to have them would be well-founded--but that doesn't mean the only "honest" recourse is to announce this preference widely. Just as, in the company of a garbage collector, one wouldn't say "I could NEVER be a garbage collector, it's so DISGUSTING," tactful people who don't want kids are probably right to remain reticent about their reasons--not only because those reasons are personal and private, but to avoid giving the impression that they look down on the choices of their friends and relatives who ARE parents--something parents tend to read into these situations, but non-parents generally have no desire to convey.]

Dear Amy: If you don't have kids and you're happy with it, you're "childfree." If you don't have kids and you're not happy with it, you're "childless." — Childfree by Choice[

[Yay semantics!]

Dear Amy: My husband and I have known couples that have "elected" not to have children. It seems that these couples always replace the children in their lives with a very pleasant lifestyle that includes frequent vacations, nice clothes, fine cars, above-average homes, season tickets to sporting events, plays, concerts and a lifestyle that couples with children never dream of.

All to replace the emptiness of an empty nest. This all smacks of the '60s hippie culture through the '70s "me generation." — Not Buying It

[This, to me, smacks of the Depression-era/Greatest Generation, raised to sacrifice, adhere to one's duty, live simply and frugally--and that to do more than that is ostentatious and selfish. That there's something shameful about a "very pleasant lifestyle." Yes, couples who do not have children, in most cases, have more disposable income. That's just math. It does not mean that they're trying to "replace" children with luxury or embrace a profligate lifestyle that "couples with children never dream of." WHY would people without extra mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, and minds to educate stick to the same budget and lifestyle as people with them, while their earnings sit in a stack at the bank?]

Dear Amy: To the couple with concerns about inquiries: Bottom line — it is your private business! Remember, too, that you have the right to change your mind. In one case we know of, it took 17 years, but when the baby came, it was for all the correct reasons. — No Excuses/No Regrets

Dear Amy: I, too, have the same "no babies" problem.

Nothing infuriates me more than when people say, "You want them, but you just don't know it yet." I am 31, and my husband is 33. We know, and it's a no for us.

I am starting to think "We can't have kids" is the easiest response. — No Babies in Meraux, La.

[Right, until people start asking questions about your fertility and your attempts to have children or pursue adoption.....]

There are so many more complicated, troublesome problems in the world that need questioning and prodding....why on earth do so many people care about the choices that other adults have made--choices with which they are completely content, and which have no bearing on anyone else's quality of life?

This question of course could, and should, be extended to include any other number of issues where benign personal choices somehow become ammunition in any number of private and public, let live, and MYOB!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know....

Today I received a very special delivery from my friend A.E., R.N. We were in band together in high school, so when she said she found something that reminded her of me and she wanted to send it, I assumed it would be some piece of ancient band paraphernalia (those black socks we decorated with puff paint? The little action figure we found in the parking lot and adopted as our mascot?)--in any case, something of real but fleeting entertainment value.

So imagine my surprise when instead, I opened up the gift that keeps on giving. Forever. That's right, it's:

The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, A to Z: Improve Your Life Emotionally, Medically, Sexually, Socially, Spiritually. (Doubleday, 1988).

Wow. That is a lot of -llys. Thank you, A.E., R.N.!

To give you a better sense of the scope of this master work of the master columnist, here's a snippet from the inside flap of the front cover. And I quote:

"How do you feel about abortion? Adultery? Sex after sixty? Masturbation? Oral sex? Interfaith marriage? Pornography?"

hooked yet? No? Well there's more.

"What do you know about snoring? Smoking? Alcoholism? Drug abuse? Suicide? Dreams? Shoplifting? V.D.? Obesity? Hypsnosis? Acne? Arthiritis? High blood pressure? Cancer? Breast enlargement surgery? Teenage sex?"

Still not convinced? Just hold on.

"Are you ashamed to ask--but would like more information on orgasm? Face lifts? Rape? Contraceptives? Bashful kidneys? Homosexuality? Constipation? Frigidity? Shyness?"

With bashful kidneys and frigidity on the menu, who could pass? But just in case....

"Are you struggling with anger? Loneliness? Boredom? Depression? Nervous habits? Allergies? Headaches? Impotence? Widowhood? Insomnia? Menopause?"


"These are just a few of the topics you will find here."

Also, it comes with the Ann Landers guarantee:

"I am utterly shameless when it comes to tapping the best brains in the country for my answers. No one is too important or too busy for me to bother."

In fact, the encyclopedia contains more the 400 essays on ALL of the topics above, and more. They're written by experts in the field, with commentary from A.L. She also covers some of the topics herself. And of course, "Generously sprinkled throughout are some of Ann's most memorable columns."

According to the dust jacket (O, wise dust jacket!), Ann Landers once said, "If I can shed a little light in some darkened corner, plant hope where there is dispair, replace anxiety with courage, ignorance with useful information, and open a door to self-understanding, the time and effort that went into this enormous undertaking will have been well spent."

Oh Ann, we aren't fooled. We can tell you took equal inspiration from St. Francis ("where there is hatred, let me sow love") and Lena Lamont of Singin' in the Rain ("If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives....all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'"). But we are still impressed.

P.S. Great hair.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Buyer's remorse can't compare to renter's shame....

Another person looking for something to be upset about: 

Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I are renting a nice home in an upscale neighborhood outside Washington, D. C. Since moving in, at least a dozen neighbors have approached us with the off-putting welcome of “So, you are renting this house?”

We both find the question to be rather forward and rude.

Without knowing our reason for renting, it puts us on the defensive for not being “able” to buy a home, when, in fact, we are more than able to; we just choose not to in this current market.

Could you help us with an appropriate comeback that lets them know that yes, we are renters, but that in no way makes us second-class citizens and we don’t appreciate having to defend our status?

Gentle Reader: Don’t you want to get the curtains up before you start sparring with the neighbors?

Miss Manners is not at all sure that you have any cause. She has no tolerance for pure nosiness, real estate or otherwise, but surely you understand that neighbors have a legitimate interest in what is going on in the neighborhood. Maybe they hate your landlords and hope they are gone for good. Maybe they like you and are hoping you are there to stay. Maybe they also rent.

Besides, don’t you know that nowadays, seeming rich is considered more offensive than seeming poor?

Everything about this is really weird.  If this woman was trying to make her neighbors look intrusive and boorish, she didn't inject nearly enough drama into her rendering of their question.  Although the details of their finances are of course private, and should be, whether a house in a neighborhood is owned by you or someone else is not.  And an "upscale" neighborhood seems especially likely to be conscious of these details.  Aren't property holdings public information?  Maybe not (I invite any of my readers with knowledge about information policy to weigh in). 

Even without digging into local records, the neighbors have probably seen the "for rent" in front of the house, or knew the previous renters.....there are so many clues that make "Are you renting this house?" a perfectly reasonable question to ask.  

Not to mention that, according to this writer, the question is not "Why are you renting?" but simply "Are you renting?"  They are.  Why does that require offering any explanation at all?

I think it's fair to say that when someone  reacts to an innocuous question this way, it's usually because THEY have a problem with the situation being asked about--not that the inquirer does.   Perhaps her husband made the call that "this market" was not the time to buy a house and she disagrees, or perhaps she's bitter about paying out years of rent in a particularly pricey neighborhood if they want to be prepared to buy a few years down the road.  Or maybe it's just a neighborhood attitude thing--perhaps she expected the residents of this neighborhood to be snooty and look down on her, so that's what she's seeing.  Or maybe she's new to big cities where many "first class" citizens rent their entire lives. 

There could be countless reasons....but whatever the issue is, it seems to lie with the renter, not her new neighbors. 

Maybe she should fill her house with really expensive furniture and throw a fancy party, so they'll all understand that, whatever her situation, it's NOT because of the money. At least not her own. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Found: Tales from the Front

In the early days of this blog, I was often inspired (enraged? amused?) by Cheryl Lavin's column, "Tales from the Front," which was housed by the Chicago Tribune and syndicated at least regionally (I found out last night it used to be in the Detroit Free Press) until recently. Known for writing way too many columns on "nice guys and overweight wives" and making whole columns out of reader anecdotes without dispensing any advice--no matter how badly it's needed, the column was dropped from both the print and electronic editions of the Chicago Trib last fall.

But now Cheryl's back, convieniently, on, the same site that hosts Dear Margo, Classic Ann Landers, Annie's Mailbox, Advice Goddess, and others. In honor of her return, I present you with a breakfast blend of disasters, heartbreak, and attempted sass, in honor of my friend JZ's friend (haaaa JZ), a recent advice column enthusiast, who inspired me to go looking for Cheryl one more time.

Dear Cheryl,

I'm going out of my mind over my current situation. I met my wife three years ago in a chat room. We talked a bit, exchanged phone numbers and eventually met. It was love at first sight. We got along great, same interests and all that. I moved in with her and her five kids not long after that. We got engaged a year later and married soon after, in October 2007. We had the wedding at the house. Lots of family and friends came. It was a wonderful day. We had our honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains.

Everything seemed to be going just fine. Everyone got along. My family even came over for Thanksgivings. I met the kids' fathers. My wife had been married twice before me, and I got along with her ex-husbands just fine.

I knew she had issues with her dad growing up as well as self-esteem issues, but she seemed to be handling them well. She would always tell me how glad she was that I was with her, how great I was with the kids, how much I loved her and how much she loved me.

Then I found out she had an eating disorder. She would purge. She shared the information on a Website for mothers. She told me to just deal with it. I let it go thinking it wouldn't last. I also didn't want to upset her. I wasn't working for a while, and she worked part-time, so I did the whole Mr. Mom thing, taking care of the kids, the house, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Then she started getting distant. One day, I came home from a funeral, and out of nowhere, she asked me to leave.She just told me to get out. She said she didn't want to be with me anymore. I moved out a day later because I didn't want to upset the kids who really love me, and I didn't want her making any false accusations about me and have me arrested. She has a mean streak.

I've tried to talk to her since, but she wants nothing to do with me at all. She doesn't want to work on our marriage or try to save it. I just don't understand how someone who I thought loved me so much could turn so cold. — CONFUSED


Get on a plane, fly directly to Las Vegas, and start playing the slot machines because you are one lucky dude. Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be rid of this nutcase? Buy a couple of lottery tickets, buster, because you're getting away with just a broken heart and whiplash. You could have had a baby with her, and you'd be tied to her for life.

She's certifiable. Trust me. Any woman who allows a man whom she's just met to move in with her and her five children is so unfit it's not even funny. I really hope the kids have decent fathers because they need them.

Lack of self-esteem, daddy issues and purging are just the tip of her particular iceberg. She has some major personality flaws, and the sooner you're legally divorced from her the better off you are. No going back, even if she begs you!

And by the way, someone with a mean streak might deliberately say something cruel. Someone who would falsely accuse a man of sexually abusing a child is evil. And that's who you know she is.

Put five bucks on red for me.

Wow, for me the sexual abuse thing came out of left field....I suppose (maybe) that's what he was implying when he said he left quickly before she could make any false accusations, but to be honest that hadn't occurred to me until I got to Cheryl's response.

The only problem I have with this kind of snarky response is that it doesn't actually offer any help. Every columnist has their own style. Amy tends to be all business, while Carolyn has a knack for empathy interwoven with wit. Amy Alkon will mock you openly, but while she's at it, at least she tells you what to do. Cheryl, on the other hand, is too busy playing out her "lucky" bit to dispense any practical advice. That in and of itself is not a bad might help this guy get his head around the fact that it's GOOD that this is over. But she says nothing about finding a lawyer and getting divorce proceedings underway immediately (just that a divorce would be good) or at least filing for a legal separation. Nothing about ensuring that his wife has no access to his finances, nothing about talking to the other ex-husbands, which might not be a terrible idea if they had met and been friendly before. Nothing about ensuring that the kids are protected from abuse and manipulation.....

I mean, I know she's a love columnist, and so here she focuses on the love: it was a bad, false, dangerous and manipulative love. It's over. Yaaaaaaay.

But if that bad, false, dangerous manipulative love led to a bad, false, manipulative marriage, then there are all kinds of practical and legal implications that are now inevitable. Since this guy still seems to be holding his head in his hands, heartbroken, I wish she had given him some steps to make sure he doesn't wind up with his credit rating stomped on, as well as his heart.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brother's (Book)Keeper?


Dear Amy:

My 45-year-old brother-in-law has always been financially irresponsible. He filed for bankruptcy. Currently, he and his second wife live with my father-in-law and do not pay rent or help with any bills. My 90-year-old father-in-law's bank account is being depleted because of the son's irresponsibility.

My husband and I have always been responsible with our finances. Last week we received a message on our answering machine from a collection agency asking for my brother-in- law to be responsible and pay his bills.

This is the second such call we have received. He has never lived with us, and I am unsure of how the collection agency got our phone number.
I believe that my brother-in-law should be told that we have received this call and should take steps toward becoming responsible.

My husband says it is none of our business.

Who is right? — Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:
Your husband may know more than he is telling you.
For instance, it is possible that he has agreed to co-sign for a loan with his brother. This would explain how a collection agency had your phone number, and why your husband might want to ignore the calls.

You should ask your husband and call the collection agency to get to the bottom of your household's entanglement in his brother's finances. Your father-in-law's financial situation should be a priority for you and your husband. If you two have always been responsible with your finances, you may be able to influence and mentor your father-in-law to protect his dwindling resources.

If you don't tackle this now, it will fall into your lap eventually — and the situation will only grow more chaotic.

Amy is right that it's possible the husband/brother co-signed on a loan with his irresponsible sibling...which would mean they're all now in hot water. As she suggests, it would explain why he's unwilling to deal with the phone calls. However, if the couple has "always" been financially responsible, and this is the first time collection calls are coming to them (in other words, the husband doesn't have a history of slipping his brother cash behind his wife's back), it seems a bit of a harsh accusation to make...

The only loans I'm familiar with are federal school loans, so I don't know if this applies to other borrowing situations. But having just completed a bunch of exit interviews, I know that borrowers are required to give the names and contact information of "references" who will be contacted by the collection agency if the borrower defaults on their loan. I also know that these references don't have to give their permission or consent to be named on the form.

They're not co-signers--not responsible for the loan--but they will be contacted and unfortunately, suffer for the wrongdoing of others if the borrower can't be found or refuses to contact the lending agency to make arrangements to pay back the loan.

It's my (very uneducated) guess that this is what has happened....I hope the woman who wrote in will try to ask some open ended questions before assuming that her husband co-signed on a loan with his brother. And even more, I hope he didn't do that very foolish thing at all.