Dear Amy: So many of the questions to your column involve family members — often siblings — who are locked into their own drama or estranged from each other. As you’ve noted, often these estrangements carry on through generations.
My family has sibling drama, too.
When my kids were small, my husband and I started telling them that they would know each other longer than anyone else in the world, so they needed to love each other and be good friends.
We said that countless times, as little kids, teens, and so on. Now they are adults and have a healthy sibling relationship.
Healed: I appreciate the way you recognized the unhealthy pattern in your own family, and so you quite deliberately decided to show your children a different model. Their functioning relationship will be a tremendous help and comfort to all of you throughout your family’s life. (c) Ask Amy
That’s nice, and I certainly don’t disapprove of it, but it takes more than that. My parents were always saying that too when I was a kid: “You’ll value your siblings so much more when you’re an adult. Just trust me.” And my reaction was along the lines of, “Yeah, right.” I felt like they were being… what’s the word… patronizing, or something.
I think a lot of the problem with sibling disagreements stems from general dysfunction, like parents who play their kids against each other, or parents who hold the older kids accountable for everything while letting the baby get by with murder, or parents who don’t mediate sibling arguments or disagreements the right way, etc., etc. I’d guess that the letter writer was a pro at those things, because just telling your kids to value their siblings won’t go far. I know that from experience. That said, I’m not trying to discount what the letter writer wrote. But what she did, the way she raised her kids, is worth way more than her mere words to her kids. Words alone are empty.
I also think that individuality should be taken into account. If my parents had done a decent job of raising my sister (which they sure the hell didn’t), it wouldn’t change the fact that she and I have nothing in common. That’s life. It’s great to have siblings, but there are going to be personality clashes and incompatibilities, and that shouldn’t be glossed over as being unlikely or something you can overcome. In an ideal world, you might be able to get along (although my sister and I sure can’t), but there’s no ideal world in which all siblings are best friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I talked to a friend the other day, and he asked me how my health is. I told him months ago that I had had a health scare, but he never followed up. I am dealing with it and really don’t want to talk to him about it, so I brushed off the question. Do you think I owe it to him to give him a detailed update on my health? — Not Your Business
DEAR NOT YOUR BUSINESS: You have every right to keep your health status private. You can share your health journey with whomever you like. You can also decide that you no longer want to tell certain people what’s going on with you. That is your prerogative.
But don’t fault this friend for asking, even if the ask was delayed. At least he did follow up. These days, when the stressors are incredibly high for everyone, time slips by faster than we know it. People are often so absorbed in their own challenges that they forget to check in on their loved ones. Don’t harbor negative feelings about him because he was not responsive in the ways you would have liked. Instead, determine who has the bandwidth to be there for you in your times of need. Share your sensitivities and health updates with those people, and feel comfortable keeping others at bay. (c) DREAMLEAPERS
Hmm. First of all, this is him following up. Second, he wasn’t asking for details. Rather, he was inquiring into her wellbeing. Those questions can be answered without getting into details. “I’m feeling better, thanks,” or, “Oh, it turns out I was worried over nothing,” or, “I might have surgery to repair a torn ligament,” which doesn’t seem overly personal to me, but to each his own.
I had a health scare once. Funny story. (Not really.) When I was working at the reading center, which would’ve been 2001-2004, my vision kept getting blurry as the day went on. It was really scaring me. I’m not a hypochondriac, but I mean, it was really and consistently getting blurry.
So I made an appointment to see an eye doctor at the local health conglomerate building. This was before I had my driver’s license, so Granny Smith was nice enough to take me.
The eye doctor was a real dog. He looked at my eyes and then threw a tantrum. “Who squeezed her in? There’s nothing wrong with her eyes!” He turned to me and scowled. “You just have chronic dry eye. Now, get out of my sight, you troublemaker.”
Granny Smith had to console me as she drove me home. She’d gone back with me and had actually witnessed it. She was appalled. “There was no call for him to do that,” she kept saying. I appreciated her support. After she stopped the car, we talked for a while, because I was distraught. She was a really wonderful grandmother. I don’t exactly miss her, because I sense her with me. (If I didn’t sense her with me, I’d definitely miss her, for sure.)
Anyway, getting back to the letter. On the other hand, I can see how I’d feel that the guy in the letter blew me off if several months passed before he checked in. That’s sort of rude, but it could also be an issue of social levels. For example, is he a very close friend, or is he an acquaintance? With an acquaintance, it could be harder to follow up. That’s not rude as much as it’s… just awkward and not really comfortable. It can be ill-advised to share personal things with acquaintances, because it just never really plays out the right way.
On the other, other hand, I had friends when I was younger who were friends for sure–not acquaintances–who weren’t there for me when I needed them. If that’s the case, it’s good (yet painful) to find out already.
For this letter writer, I’d recommend accepting that the guy in question falls into the acquaintance category. Sometimes, despite how hard you try to get to know someone, they’re never going to leap from acquaintanceship to friendship. It’s just never gonna happen.
That used to frustrate me to no end when I played in the handbell choir at my mom’s Episcopalian church after college, same timeframe as the eye doctor thing. I went diligently each week and always hoped to have meaningful conversations or interactions with the other ringers, but there was a wall up that couldn’t be broken down. I was hungry for friendship, but I just couldn’t break past it. I blamed myself, I blamed them, and then I just realized that it wasn’t there.
In those situations, you’ve got to keep looking for good friends, but elsewhere. Also, it can be unhealthy to continue in the environment and turn the blame inward (I’m too introverted, I’m too shy, they don’t notice me, etc.). It’s a simple fix that a different group or situation could be a better fit.
But I digress. I guess this became about friends versus acquaintances. Anyway, also to this letter writer, I’d urge her not to hold a grudge against this guy. Awkwardness is no one’s fault, except maybe that of the person who initiated it (which would technically be the letter writer in this scenario…). And he was nice enough to inquire into her health when he ran into her again.