Insecurity, singing teddy bears, and mysterious gifts!

Dear Amy: I am in turmoil over a new dating relationship. He is everything I want to have in a partner. We have a connection with each other I never thought I would find.

We’ve been dating for almost two months.

We live about 45 minutes from each other, so it’s not easy to see each other.

I also have a 9-year-old son who is with his dad every other weekend.

Almost two weeks ago, we were supposed to be on our 12th date, but it was the anniversary of his mother’s death, and so we canceled.

His father was put in the hospital that same week with lymphoma and covid-19.

I haven’t seen him since.

I know he’s got a lot of emotional things on his plate. I am trying my best to be supportive and not to have anxiety about not seeing him or talking to him as often.

What can I do to help him get through this? How can I cope with my extreme anxiety?

We never had the “exclusive” talk with each other, so I don’t know if it’s worth talking about now. He’s shutting down, and he doesn’t seem to want to make any effort to make plans.

Am I overreacting? Do I need to give him space?

Should I ask if he’s seeing anyone else right now?

I was so sure we were moving in the right direction. Now, I’m not so sure.

— Anxious

Anxious: You don’t need to give this man space, because he is taking it. He is taking space because he needs it. His mother is gone, and his father is hospitalized. If he is also working, all of his emotional bandwidth might be consumed, just trying to get through the day.

What you need to be right now is the cool, calm and supportive friend this man deserves to have. If you are too anxious to behave this way, then you should figure out how to fake it.

Do not press him about your relationship. Don’t ask him if he is seeing someone else.

This could be an unfortunate and unforeseen case of “right guy, wrong time.” I don’t know of any certain remedy for bad timing.

It is also revealing vastly different temperaments and coping styles: Someone who becomes anxious when stressed, versus someone who becomes depressed and shuts down.

I think you should check in — with a call or a text — to say, “My son is with his dad next weekend. I can drive out during the day and bring you a sandwich. Are you up for that?” If he says no, or doesn’t respond to a message, let it lie. Learning to relax and learning to trust (and to be patient while you are learning) will be very good for you. (c) Ask Amy

Oh yeah, I’ve been there. I can totally relate. I don’t even want to read the commentary at Ask Amy’s syndicate. I’m sure this letter writer is being crucified for being so insecure, and so early on in the relationship. Fortunately, having dealt with this A LOT, I have some tips for her.

In fact, I’ve dealt with it for so long that I have a list of friends who check in with me if they’re going to be off the radar for a while. It’s that bad. Sonya’s on that list. It’s very considerate of her to understand how my brain works and to circumvent any issues. In good news, in every solid friendship, I gain security and need such reassurances less and less.

One thing the letter writer can do whenever someone pulls away due to stress or family tragedy is to actually vocalize that there are no expectations. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through! Don’t feel obligated to write back, because I can’t imagine how stressed out you must be. I just wanted to brighten your day. But let me know if I can help!” This strategy is a win-win across the board. Because if you’re hinged on getting a response, that’s unintentionally selfish under the circumstances, but it’s also setting yourself up to get hurt, which is needless suffering if you handle it right upfront.

It is also revealing vastly different temperaments and coping styles: Someone who becomes anxious when stressed, versus someone who becomes depressed and shuts down.

Very insightful of Ask Amy, but I think that’s less important than the fact that this letter writer’s about two steps away from sabotaging her relationship with desperate measures that won’t help at all. She needs to take her desire to ask if he’s seeing someone else and bury it in the backyard. I’ve been there, too. I don’t think the different coping styles is an issue… I’d see it more as a communications issue. But, yeah.

What the letter writer needs to do here is get a grip. I’m trying to remember how I finally overcame this… it happened earlier this year. It’s hard to articulate, but I had this paranoid belief that a friend of mine didn’t like me anymore. I finally “forced” myself not to contact him for a few weeks. Lo and behold, I was wrong, and he still wanted to be friends with me. Later, I was talking to my psychic friend, Ash, and I didn’t tell her about that. She has amazing psychic powers. She said, “Ohh, your spirit guides are saying you mastered something!”

“I did? That’s great!! What it is?”

“Oh, here it is. You mastered patience. Wow, great job!”

And then I believed that, and it occurred to me that it won’t be an issue for me again in the future. I’m glad about that. Indeed, the issue hasn’t returned since, and I don’t expect it to.

I’ve also overcome low self-worth. It’s been a great year from a spiritual standpoint!

So I’d challenge this letter writer to follow Ask Amy’s advice. Reach out to him with a kind message, and then just wait. And wait. And wait. And do other stuff. It’ll be okay.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I enjoy picking out “just the right gift” for various family members at Christmas. However, each year, several family members ask me what gift they should purchase for my children. My mother insists that I am being difficult for not providing her with a gift list.

I find these requests incredibly tacky. Am I being unreasonable for being unnerved by this practice and not participating?

GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners believes that the meaning behind giving presents is the thought put into their selection, she is not dogmatic on the point. Being unnerved by your mother’s request for help, or calling it tacky, is too emphatic for holiday cheer.

It has been some time since your mother had a 10-year-old. Treat her request as a genuine desire for guidance on what would be meaningful, which requires providing something more than a rebuke and something less than a list of catalog numbers. (c) MISS MANNERS

This brings back two memories for me involving Granny Franny. Oh, she had the best Christmases ever. It was wonderful: lit-up tree, loads of presents underneath, Christmas lights outside with a Santa too, Christmas lights up the flagpole, a wonderful meal, opening presents, just divine. We did all this on Christmas Eve each year so that we could then spend Christmas Day with our immediate families.

Anyway, when I was in fifth grade, she gave me a gold-colored Nintendo cartridge. It was The Legend of Zelda. I didn’t know what to think, because I’d never heard of it. She asked, “Is that a good gift? Did I get you the right thing?” and being very polite, I beamed and said, “I love it! Wow, how’d you know to get this?”

So then I took it home and played it, and I fell in love with it, as those of you who know my email address can attest to. So then I was really glad I’d acted thrilled to receive it!! Good thinking on my part.

That was some good gift-picking. It was the “it” game, and has been for decades now, but that was the original version.

The other memory is from around the same time… I’m not sure when, exactly. Granny Franny got teddy bears for my brother (two years younger) and my cousin (four years younger). When you pushed a button, the bear would sing part of a Christmas song. Their names were embroidered on the bears. I wasn’t prone to whining, but I approached her and asked why she hadn’t gotten me one.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were too old!” she exclaimed.

“No, you’re never too old for singing teddy bears,” I told her. “But it’s okay. I understand.”

I feel a little bad about that in retrospect, but at least I corrected her false notion that I was into being cool and sophisticated. That never came to pass, no matter how old I got. (Pass me my singing teddy bear!)

Years later, I spent a week with Granny Franny in college and fell in love with a stuffed bunny we saw at the store, so she bought him for me. I named him Fluffy, and I loved that bunny.

My mom ridiculed me for carrying Fluffy around everywhere. (Yeah, you had to see that coming.) “You’re a freshman in college, and you can’t walk around the house without a stuffed toy? Grow up! And while you’re at it, quit writing with swirly, colorful ink pens. What am I going to do with you?”

That was what led to me calling her a foe (I remember wailing the word “foe” at the top of my lungs), and the whole “foe” thing stuck. My mom became Foe, my sister and brother were Ellen-Foe and Philip-Foe, I was Foey, etc., etc. That lasted for decades. All because my mom’s a judgmental prig. Foe power! I even ordered designer checks that said, in small print, Is there a foe in the midst?

A few years later, I had a dog, and the dog ate Fluffy. That was… depressing. But at least Fluffy was a stuffed animal and not a real bunny.

So Granny Franny, when she wasn’t in one of her uptight moods, was a wonderful grandmother.

Anyway, I agree with Miss Manners’s advice. With kids, you don’t want to leave it to chance. Kids deserve to have great presents of whatever they want. It’s Christmas! And you’ve got to coordinate with their parents so there are no duplicate gifts. I think the letter writer’s being a bit silly. But if she feels this strongly, an alternative would be to get the kids gift cards, I guess. She could use her good gift-giving skills to determine which stores or online retailers to get the gift cards from.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Here come the holidays, and with them come gifts shipped from various online retailers. Last year, a gift arrived with no indication of who sent it! How can one learn whom to thank? Casually working the conversation around to the topic of anonymous gifts arriving in the mail is burdensome, but possible. Unfortunately, the “suspect” I had in mind for last year’s mystery gift was a person I see only rarely, so that didn’t work out. This year, I want to be prepared with a strategy that (I hope!) you will supply.

GENTLE READER: In these days of online shopping, matching unmarked presents with their givers appears likely to become a permanent feature of the holidays. While Miss Manners recognizes this is less welcome than the gifts themselves, she takes consolation in the likelihood that the number of suspects is limited. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect a limited effort to identify the perpetrators.

Calling someone you have fallen out of touch with does not seem like a major imposition and may, in fact, add to your — and their — holiday cheer.

Ohh! I would love for that to happen to me! I love a good mystery, and a good present!! I want to play! I want to play!

2 thoughts on “Insecurity, singing teddy bears, and mysterious gifts!

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