Would it be easier to end a romantic relationship?

So, in news of the Meg, I got a credit card in the mail today that I never asked for. My dad opened it before I got up, because he’s in charge of my finances (I put him in charge), and he could probably tell it was a financial piece of mail.

So after I duly assured him I’m not opening credit cards on the sly, I took a look at it. It was a Chase Amazon Rewards Visa card. Huh. I’d gotten one of those several years ago because they always offer a pretty penny toward your current Amazon purchase, like $80 off, for example. Nice. So back in, maybe 2017, I took them up on that for a major purchase.

But it soon became clear that they weren’t worth doing business with. And I’m referring mainly to Chase here, not Amazon. Chase is an idiotic bank. In my records, they had my birth name and my home address and home phone number that I used when I was in fifth grade, back in 1987. That’s right. That’s how old their info was. We moved out of the house in early 1989 and kept the phone number for a while. But still. Of course I gave them updated info, but it never seemed to get into the system no matter how many times I tried.

My attempts at getting someone on the phone were almost futile. I reached someone at Amazon who took pity on me. “You’ve got to call the Chase number,” he said.

“There’s no one there. So help me, God, there’s no one there.”

“Just keep hitting the pound key. Whatever else you do, just keep hitting it. Go with God.”

“Thank you.”

I followed that advice, and it worked! Eventually. Twenty minutes of pound-hitting hell later, I had someone on the phone who knew what she was talking about.

“How can I help you?” she asked.

“Um, I didn’t ask for this card.”

By that point, I’d figured out that they sent it to me because they developed a new “touchless” card, and they must’ve thought I was still doing business with them, and that the card they sent was meant to be a replacement card.

“Yes, I see,” she said. “You called in 2019 to say you wanted to close your card, correct?”

“Yes!”

“Then what are you complaining about today?”

“I got a new card in the mail. I don’t want it!”

“Right. We weren’t sure if you really, really meant it when you said you wanted to cancel, so we decided to wait and see for a few years. Are you telling me that you really, really, for sure want to close your Chase account!”

“Good Lord!” I yelled. “Yes, that’s what I’m telling you!”

“Okay. We’ll set the cancellation for about six months from now.”

“But–”

“You can throw away the card or shred it.”

“But–”

“You do realize that you get 5% cash back on Amazon purchases, right?”

“Cancel the damn card,” I insisted.

“Very well. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, that’s all.” I sighed, defeated.

After I got off the phone, the card went into the trash. I didn’t even bother to shred it. If someone steals it from the trash and runs up a tab, more power to them. I think Chase would deserve it.

Good grief!

Self-absorption, controlling tendencies, and more self-absorption.

Dear Amy: I’m undergoing treatment for breast cancer. People have had some very odd reactions to the baldness caused by my chemotherapy.

I’m not asking for advice on how to handle it, but I am seeking an explanation.

I find it very strange that several friends have asked to see me bald.

Those who see me in person ask me to take off my hat.

Others (who are not in person) ask me to send them a picture.

My very quick response to them is, “Absolutely not!”

They react with stunned confusion: “Why not?”

Amy, do I really need to explain that?

I tell them I have a difficult time looking at myself at the moment; I don’t want them with that image or actual photo.

I don’t think anyone losing hair to chemo should ever be ashamed of how it looks. I have no issues at all with those that chose to show it. I admire them. But the fact is, everyone handles it differently.

I am very private. I don’t want any public disclosures about my illness and treatment.

The thing that surprises me most is that the request comes from my closest friends who know how private I am.

I’m hoping you can shed some light on this odd human behavior.

— Confused

Confused: I agree with how you are handling these reactions and requests.

You might find out more by asking people why they are interested in seeing your bald head. They might admit to being curious — but I believe that there is more to it.

We’ve all seen magazine articles or depictions on movies or TV where women reveal their dramatic chemo-related hair loss.

This is always seen as a heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant moment where a woman vows to “beat this thing,” and her friends rally around her. Some friends and family members will even shave their own heads in solidarity.

My instinct is that on a deep level people are trying to basically force you into what they believe will be a dramatic “reveal” — to respond by comforting you. Their intentions are to reassure you that you look great, or tell you that your hair will grow back quickly, or that it will grow back curly (the way their sister-in-law’s did).

In doing so, they will make themselves feel better about what you are going through — and they will make your cancer treatment just a little bit about them.

My theory is that this is the moment your friends are trying to provoke. They are willing to make you uncomfortable to try to comfort you.

You have the right — and the responsibility — to handle this phase of your treatment however you want to. That includes refusing to be shoehorned into somebody else’s story line. (c) Ask Amy

Wow. Now I’ve heard it all. I agree with Ask Amy’s guess, and I find it very insightful.

Can’t the friends be encouraging like that without seeing the bald head? Can’t they say, “I hope your hair grows back quickly,” or whatever without the big reveal? Please God, don’t ever let me become that self-absorbed. Amen. 

I often worry that I make too many things all about Meg. It’s easy, and it’s my general nature, but I often try to fight it off. Why? I’m not proud of how self-absorbed I can be. I want to be more equality “you-me” based. Like, let’s make it about both of us. (“It” being life in general, I guess.)

And I hope I find the right balance. I reconnected with a friend earlier this evening, and that made me very happy. She told me she suffered a blood clot and is now taking iron supplements and blood thinners. I said that sounded scary, and I was glad she got to the hospital okay, and so forth; and then I made it about me by saying that I’m supposed to take iron supplements, but I never bother, and I thanked her for being a cautionary tale.

I can’t help it! Ugh. I always make everything about me. Me, me, me. Meg, Meg, Meg. I try to fight it off, but there it is.

On the other hand, if she had cancer, I’d never ask to see her bald head. That makes me feel a bit better about it all. Keep fighting off the self-absorption, Meg!

Oh, good. Said friend wrote back and recommended a multivitamin, saying that straight iron’s hard on the stomach. Any chance I’m being too hard on myself? I just totally value friendship and want to have it mastered.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 59-year-old man who was engaged to a 46-year-old woman. She told me she was going to leave for work on Friday, but I found out she was actually going on a vacation. She was pretending to go to work but driving to Georgia to meet a married man she met on a dating site instead.

We live in New Jersey, and it’s a 13-hour drive. I found her phone the day before and deleted all his info, but she still drove down there to meet him. I am devastated and crushed. Any help or suggestions? I wish people who do this stuff could be tattooed on the forehead to warn other good people. — HURT IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR HURT: I sympathize with your pain, which I am sure is considerable. I do have some advice, which I hope you will heed. Please realize that finding her phone before her departure was a gift to you from above. Thank your higher power that you now understand exactly who this woman is and didn’t marry her.

The time has come to move forward resolutely. There are better days — and better women — ahead. I say this with certainty because you can’t do worse than this one. (c) DEAR ABBY

This is weird, but I’m getting a vibe from the letter writer. He seems controlling and eager to be the victim, meaning he’s glad this happened so he can act victimized.

I found her phone the day before and deleted all his info, but she still drove down there to meet him.

That seems extreme. I can’t imagine doing that. I can almost see doing it as revenge, or out of anger, but I can’t see doing it with any sort of bizarre belief that it would stop my significant other from going. As an act of anger or revenge, it makes sense, but it seems like he did it to be controlling. That’s… worse somehow. More extreme.

I wish people who do this stuff could be tattooed on the forehead to warn other good people.

I understand the anger, but… I’m picking up on some victimization here, like he wants to be… how to put it… pitied? Convinced that he was totally in the right, and she was totally in the wrong? YES! That’s it. He’s claiming that he had nothing to do with this. In reality, if nothing else, he’s a poor judge of character.

It’s just a weird letter. If I wrote such a letter, I’d detail what led up to this cheating incident. I thought my fiance was acting weird, and we’d just had a blowup argument over such-and-such. Then, she said she had a job down south, and it sounded fishy to me. For example. The fact that this letter writer omitted all that indicates that he’s wholly making himself the good guy and her the bad guy. I’m not buying it. I’d need more info about what led to this, even if nothing led to it.

I’m not trying to justify cheating. I just get a really weird sense from this guy that he’s controlling and rigid. He doesn’t want to break up with her; he wants to punish her. (Not that I’m wholly unsympathetic.) But in real relationships, people don’t randomly do stuff like this. (Do they?) He must’ve been somewhat involved in what wound up happening. For example, maybe she got sick of his snooping on her phone and deleting stuff.

I wish people who do this stuff could be tattooed on the forehead to warn other good people.

We’d all be tattooed for something. He’d be tattooed for being a control freak with slight tendencies toward being a domestic abuser.

My sense is that he doesn’t bring many good qualities to the table in terms of romantic (or otherwise) relationships. He should focus on self-improvement for a while.

DEAR ABBY: For the past few months I’ve been seeing a gentleman in his late 50s who lost his last girlfriend, “Vera,” in a tragic accident. Her death was less than a year ago and he is still grieving, which I respect and am not uncomfortable with. My beau has low self-esteem. He thinks the relationship he had with Vera made him a better person, and that without her he will be less so.

I understand his sorrow and that he needs more time to sort through his feelings but, if things work out with us, and we continue to see each other, I want to know how I can also make him feel like I’m helping him be a better person. He says it was “just the relationship they had” and that he doesn’t know how to put it into words.

I don’t want to replace Vera or copy her, but I do wish I could understand what she did to help him believe positive things about himself. — NEW GIRLFRIEND IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR GIRLFRIEND: In order to understand that, it would be helpful to see if he can explain the reason for his low self-esteem. Was it hypercritical parents? Difficulty fitting in with peers that started when he was in school? Not receiving enough positive feedback in his youth?

Once you gain more insight, you may be able to find the answers you are looking for. Both partners in a relationship should use whatever attributes they have to make each other feel positive. However, please recognize it should not be your responsibility to prop him up on a continuing basis.

Oh wow. I don’t see this relationship going the distance. I’ve been there in that position of trying so freakin’ hard to lift people up because I’m caring like that, but the other person’s too self-absorbed to even notice my efforts. That’s never good. People should appreciate each other.

I want to know how I can also make him feel like I’m helping him be a better person. He says it was “just the relationship they had” and that he doesn’t know how to put it into words.

This is pathological self-absorption. Instead of giving her direct answers (“She asked how my day went,” or, “She cared about my stressful job,” or, “She took an interest in my hobbies,” etc.), he’s acting like a pitiful sadsack and giving her nothing to work with. This guy badly needs a friend right now, not a girlfriend.

Vera’s death was recent. It’s likely that he’s grieving, which begs the question, why is he also dating again? Not only is he grieving, but he has a self-esteem issue that he’s taking no personal responsibility for. How do people find each other this way? Whenever I pray for a romantic partner to come into my life and fix my personal problems, it never happens. Huh.

Picture 66

[There I am, giving my cute shrug. No hair was harmed.]

And about that, it irritates me. I think it’s great for us to help each other, but Dear Abby’s right that it’s not the letter writer’s job to always prop up his self-esteem. I’m always willing to lend a hand to someone in psychological or emotional need. But it has to be a hand that will pull them up, meaning they have to grab onto me and make an effort to reach my level. I never want to lend a hand as a means of doing all the work for the other person if he/she’s not making an effort to be pulled up. It’s a subtle yet very important distinction.

And it’s subtle because I wouldn’t judge or be unwilling to help someone who was filled with despair. That’s not what I mean. It’s a different dynamic when someone sort of knows they should do some inner work, but they’re just not interested in doing it. They’d rather have you champion them all the freakin’ time than look within themselves. Ugh.

Likewise, whenever anyone extends a hand to me, I’m filled with the utmost gratitude and appreciation. And I darned well try to pull myself up. I believe in the power to do this. We can all improve ourselves.

*****

I’ve decided to go down on Seroquel from 300 mg to 25 or 50 mg. It helps me sleep soundly through the night, but I think it’s also sabotaging my weight-loss goals. I only need a modicum dose of 25 mg to prevent any bipolar mania from occurring, so the main issue will be that I won’t sleep as well with less. The hops liquid tincture supplement might help with that. Hopefully I’ll remember to write to my psychiatrist, Dr. Phlegm, tomorrow and keep him in the loop.

The truth about Oz.

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ABUSE

DEAR ABBY: I reached out recently to the daughter of my cousin who had just passed away. I offered condolences and a picture of her great-grandfather, who was my grandfather. I also shared some warm memories of her dad, my cousin.

She shot back with some seriously negative information about her dad’s dad, my uncle. It really shook me. I didn’t want to know that information. I barely knew my uncle, but my memories of the family all involved happy times together.

What she said shocked and saddened me. I wish I didn’t know. I think people should speak well of those who are gone or say nothing. Don’t you? — UNPLEASANT IN THE WEST

DEAR UNPLEASANT: Most people tend to omit the unpleasant details when talking about someone who has passed on, but I do not think there are any hard-and-fast rules. I’m sorry you were upset about the dose of truth you received in exchange for your warm memories. But understand, I have read obituaries and listened to eulogies that were so sanitized I didn’t recognize who was being discussed. Perhaps there is a happy medium. (c) DEAR ABBY

Oh, geez, really? And we can’t be supportive? What, that’s too much to ask?

Whatever her grandfather did (and I got massively confused trying to follow this family tree, but I’m pretty sure he’s the relative’s grandfather) must’ve been pretty darned bad to have been triggered by a nice and loving tribute to the relative’s dad. And when stuff that bad happens, people need help recovering from it. A kind word can go far, as can support and love and even saying, “You didn’t deserve it.” And yet, human nature being what it is (see the above letter), people never offer that. They listen and have silent thoughts like, ugh, I’d rather not know, and then they make asinine comments that just blow over it.

I had a friend in high school named “Sherry”. I haven’t seen her since the nineties. Sherry pulled me aside one day and told me that she thought her older brother was going to be her boyfriend, but then he raped her. I felt awful for her. I liked her brother. I looked up to him, and dare I say it, he was a good hugger. (Baptists love to hug.) I intuited–even as a stupid sixteen-year-old–that Sherry and her brother had been raised wrong, probably in a toxic and inappropriate environment that made them turn to each other in the wrong sort of way.

I felt bad for Sherry. I had no idea what to say to her, but I understood, and it never made me think less of her or her brother. More, actually. After that point, I admired them for having been through so much needless hell in their young lives.

Sherry told me she’d filled in our youth leader, Lesa, who was a really horrible youth leader. The worst. Lesa went over to their home and tried to fix the problem, though. I’ll give her that. But knowing Sherry’d told Lesa and brought her onboard took the pressure off me to do anything but support her, and that I tried to do, but I’m not sure how successful I was.

I was a total emotional mess at that age, but I was also very loving and understanding. Sherry had a way about her. Although she was a wee bit unattractive (acne, slightly overweight, strange fashion sense), the boys all loved her and hung on her every word. She had charisma. I didn’t. But I never really envied her. I cared about her and her brother. Sometimes I wonder how she’s doing. No clue, but I hope she’s doing well.

I just keep thinking back to when she told me and I blanked on what to say. I regret that. A lot. I’m sure she doesn’t blame me for it, but I wish I could go back and be wiser or more supportive. I never told anyone, so there’s that. Although everyone in the youth group frequently gossipped about me, I never returned the favor. I guess in some ways I was wise beyond my years. I try to see that now, because it hurts less than seeing how ridiculously emotional and hormonal and messed up and out of control I was. Ugh. Adolescence.

And then I reconnected with Mr. Self-Absorbed several years ago, in 2013, and he told me he regrets how stupid and idiotic he always acted at church. (He sure did act idiotic, but so did all of us.) I told him we were bundles of hormones and messed-up beliefs and awkwardness, and that he should forgive himself. Considering how much he’s taken from my life, though, it was awful generous of me to give him that.

(This is the guy who ignored my “help me” letter when I went insane, and I found out years later that he ignored it because I didn’t respond when he and a mutual friend said hi to me outside of the local ice-cream place. Being as I was psychotic [and half-deaf, as usual] at the time, I didn’t know they were there. He got miffed and thought, hmmph. If she’s going to ignore me and Louis, then I’ll ignore her letter. So there. Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up.)

So I have a rich and varied history with the youth group. Mr. Self-Absorbed, though, never suffered any abuse or mistreatment at all. (He told me several times about his childhood, as did his sister. It was the idyllic eighties experience.)

Getting back to this letter, I hate the thought of how selfish the letter writer is. On the one hand, she reached out to her cousin’s child; but on the other hand, she has no depth of awareness of bad things happening. Has it occurred to her that she’s lucky she didn’t have a bad experience with her uncle? No, probably not. I hate people who want to live in this “it was all good, and no one’s allowed to ever say a bad thing” mentality, because it’s stupid and hurtful to victims, among other things.

People need support. I’d urge the letter writer to not reach out to her family members in the future. She’s not capable of really being there for someone.

Also when I went crazy, but prior to the letter incident, I was in touch with a maternal aunt, Aunt Mary, and I needed serious help because my whole world was falling apart. She got sick of it at some point and dropped me like a hot potato. It really hurt me to have to come to see that she’s not a very high-quality aunt. [I’m shaking my head.] I’ve held her in very low regard ever since.

But, of course, it’s dysfunction junction on the maternal side of my family. Always has been. My aunt is clinically incapable of being there for anyone. Remember when my cousin’s wife had Munchausen’s and Munchausen’s by proxy? My aunt sensed it and intimated as much to me, but she didn’t call CPS or take any other action. No, I did.

And then when everyone in the family turned against me, and I told my mom that Aunt Mary knew all about it, my mom called her on the phone.

After her phone call, my mom said, “Yes, she suspected it, but she never said a word–not to you, or to anyone. How’d you know?”

“I’m psychic,” I mumbled. “Don’t diss the power.” [Eyeroll.]

And my mom was like, “Fine, don’t tell me.”

So you can see right there that my aunt’s not a good aunt, or she would’ve done what she had to, to protect the baby. Instead, I took all the heat for it.

Anyway, we need more supportive people out there. This letter writer’s relative has been through dysfunctional hell and needs someone to care. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but I guess it is. Some people feel safer with their emerald eyeglasses on, like in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which the Emerald City is actually all white, but since the citizens are all required to wear emerald eyeglasses, no one knows it. Huh. Take off the glasses, letter writer. Become a real person. Thank you.

Love the machine!

So, my new gym came in the mail yesterday. I got it set up and used it for the first time today. I like it! And it has a lot of capabilities. One thing I noticed from today’s beginner’s workout was that I can do leg squats without putting any pressure on my knees whatsoever. That’s a blessing, as I have weak knees. They can’t handle any impact. (When I use the treadmill at the gym, I speedwalk uphill instead of running level for that exact reason.)

I feel overwhelmed, though, because there’s so much to learn. The gym can allegedly do upward of eighty different exercises, and that’s sort of overwhelming. I could buy a wall chart like this one.

And… done. I found a cheaper set of three such posters for $3.95, Prime shipping. At that cost, it’s easier than messing around with the printer.

So, yeah, I like the machine, and I can tell it will challenge my muscles to their full capacity. Apparently, it works with the incline. Level 1, for those of us who are innately weak, has the bench almost parallel to the floor, just slightly elevated. Level 8, on the top of the spectrum, is a really steep incline, like massively triangular. Definitely something to work toward. (Go Meg!) It’s fun, because you use a pulley system to target different muscle groups. I just haven’t mastered the attachments yet. (I should watch the DVD again. When I taught myself about Kreg joinery, I had to watch the DVD twice.) The learning curve is intimidating, but at least I can handle it at my own speed (of extreme slowness) without feeling conspicuous.

I did six exercises today, and I have no clue which muscle groups I was targeting–I was following the beginner’s guide in the accompanying flip book–but if I had to guess, the backs of my thighs are going to be sore soon. (The fronts of my thighs are naturally strong from walking all the time.) We’ll see what else happens, too.

It fits perfectly in the basement room! I did some organizing in there and need to do some more, but it’s a great spot. I’d like to get a stereo down there, but I guess I’d need some speakers. That’s not in the budget at the moment. Hmm…. Well, it’s no huge deal. I need to focus on learning it first, anyway, and then I can add music at some later point.

I want to separate the exercises into doing all of my major muscle groups in a three- or four-day rotation. So, I could do upper body, lower body, and abdominals, for example. All muscle groups (except the abdominals) require 48 hours of rest before reworking them, according to all the books I read by Joyce Vedral. (She claims the abdominals alone are small muscles that can be exercised every day.) So if I were to do a full-body workout, I wouldn’t be able to exercise every day. I’d rather work out for the same amount of time each day while focusing on different muscle groups. I’m psyched!

I haven’t figured out whether I’ll still do treadmilling at the gym. It’ll take a while to get a routine etched out with this.

*****

In other news of the weird, I know I’m going to jinx myself by typing this, but I haven’t had any seasonal issues at all. None. And it’s been so bad in years past that I entered this new year terrified. Yes, there have been some comic moments of irrationality, as usual, but for the most part, I feel normal, like it could be any other time of year. This hasn’t happened in years. Often, I’m completely under it all, and miserable, and filled with angst.

There are potential reasons for this. I’ve been taking more Prozac for winter, but I’ve done it in years past, too, for a long time now. This is the first year I’ve felt significantly improved. So I’m sure the Prozac is helping, but it can’t be the determining factor here.

Could it be the fact that I’ve been exercising? Possibly. But… I’m not sure. Huh, yeah, some cursory research says that exercise can definitely help with seasonal issues.

Weather? Possibly. It hasn’t been a horrid winter here, not at all. Several years ago, we suffered an extreme cold spell that had me giving myself pep talks before I could leave the house to walk Sammy Samson around the block. It was that cold. Oh my gosh.

But I don’t think that’s it. Seasonal issues are strongly tied to the length of the day, not to the temperature. However, one factor that could alternate is sunshine. People with seasonal issues need sunshine, and if it’s a dark and cloudy winter, that’s dire. It’s been pretty sunny here. But still. That’s not uncommon for Louisville.

I’m still not sure that’s it, but it could be. The only possibility I have left is that the EMDR therapy I got last summer actually worked and fixed the problem. I’m not sure what the link is, but come winter, I get more triggered and miserable about the abuse I suffered. This winter, it’s not really on my mind, except for when I’m writing my memoir. Sometimes not even then, because I’ve been editing the college years. But anyway.

So, that would be… a freakin’ miracle of monstrous proportions. Are the trigger problem and my seasonal issues finally solved? Party at Meg’s house!

Wait! Hold that thought. My period’s going to start soon, and I could come completely unhinged. Since I’ve gone up on Prozac for wintertime, I haven’t taken even more Prozac this past week in preparation of my period. I figured that’s just too much Prozac. So I could be making myself vulnerable to some very bad hormones really soon. It’ll be interesting to find out. If it’s that bad, then I will take extra Prozac for next month’s period. We’ll just have to see what happens.

So, yeah, I’ve been editing my memoir ever since I realized that I can’t (or shouldn’t) submit it as a first draft. Buh-doink. I usually spend a few hours a day on it. I might be ready to submit soon, but I don’t feel all that organized. I’m sure it’ll happen, though.

I’ve also made some new friends through the NYC Midnight contest that I’m in. I’ve figured out how to participate without venturing near the scary forum: I put my name on the beta-list spreadsheet. (It’s on a google doc, not on the forum–the forum just links to it.) There ya go. I’ve beta read for several people this week. I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad beta-reading experience like the sort of disasters that can occur on the forum. Beta reading is safer. More one-on-one.

It feels amazing to not have my whole life become upended by winter. I’m in a state of shock over it. I’m keeping an eye on it, though. If problems arise, then I’ll ascertain whether it’s menstrual or due to a lapse in exercising, etc. Definitive action can then be taken.

Opinions versus advice?

Dear Amy: Can you help me to understand the boundaries of offering advice? Coronavirus-related circumstances mean my 35-year-old daughter must make an employment decision involving relocation.

From experience, I have insights into her potential relocation choices that she does not have. What I know on this topic could affect her ultimate happiness.

She hasn’t asked for my insight, so I haven’t given it.

Should I anyway?

I suspect she’d be okay with what I have to say, but her husband might react badly. He’s an in-charge kind of guy who might interpret his mother-in-law’s input as meddling rather than helping.

— Reluctant Adviser

Reluctant Adviser: I have a faded sticky note stuck to the bulletin board over my desk: “Unsolicited advice is almost always self-serving.”

For a professional advice-giver, it is vital that I rein in my own tendencies toward friends and family. I’m not always successful.

However, the wise choice not to offer unsolicited advice does not mean that you should always proactively keep a lid on things, certainly if you possess actual insight (and not just a knee-jerk reaction).

One way to handle this would be to invite your daughter to solicit your advice.

You can say, “I have some insight about your relocation ideas, based on my own experience. I don’t want to get in your way, but if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts, let me know and we can talk about it.”

You are your daughter’s mother. Her husband is not in charge of her conversations with you. If she asks for your opinion, you should offer it, regardless of how you think he might interpret it. Whether your daughter chooses to follow your recommendation should be up to her — and so you should detach from any particular outcome. (c) Ask Amy

I don’t really understand this scenario. If I had a daughter who told me she had relocation options, my natural response would be, “Ooh, I hope you choose St. Louis! I love that city!” And then I’d gush about St. Louis.

I wouldn’t be offended by her ultimate choice, but I’d be disappointed (not disappointed in her–not by any stretch of the imagination–but just sad if she didn’t choose St. Louis).

So I can’t help but think that the letter writer’s overthinking this. Where’s the harm in sharing your choice, your opinion, your preference? Like, “Oh, wow, I’d choose St. Louis!” This ideally doesn’t put any pressure on my fictitious daughter to choose St. Louis herself. It’s just a way to chime in with my own pretend vote.

And then if my daughter said, “We’re not sold on St. Louis due to such-and-such,” I’d be supportive and understanding. Like, “Oh, well. I got excited for a minute!” It’s not rocket science. I just don’t understand why such a conversation needs to be… staved off? Prevented?

He’s an in-charge kind of guy who might interpret his mother-in-law’s input as meddling rather than helping.

There could be two sides to this. Maybe the letter writer is, in fact, a meddler. While I think my above conversation is harmless, meddling would add a huge manipulative element. “Darling, if you move to Albuquerque, you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life. Don’t you want better for yourself? No daughter of mine would ever live in Albuquerque. Perhaps your husband’s not thinking straight about this.” Boom, we’ve just introduced meddling.

Or, maybe the husband’s a control freak, in which case, I feel sad for the letter writer that she can’t even share her opinion of favorite city.

I think the letter writer should do some soul-searching about her agenda. Does she want to share what she knows about a city that she loves? Or does she want to subtly and manipulatively make the decision for her daughter? This matters. A lot. I say that if you can share your opinion in a pressure-free conversational way, where’s the harm?

Dear Amy: My husband and I are retirees, married for 37 years. He golfs regularly with “Brian.”

I think Brian is a know-it-all, and his wife “Karen” is self-centered. I feel we have very little in common with them, and, frankly, they don’t seem very interested in us. Both of their children have been married within the past two years, and we were not invited to the weddings, and they don’t send us Christmas cards or acknowledge other special occasions.

However, despite their lukewarm attitude toward us, my husband frequently makes plans to get together with them.

For instance, my husband wanted to miss our daughter’s college graduation (a major event, in my opinion) so we could travel with this couple, and he also wanted me to “not tell them it’s my birthday” to go to another event he had invited them to (pre-pandemic).

I’m not eager to spend time with this couple, but how do I get my husband to let them go?

I don’t understand why he doesn’t get that their vague interest in us indicates that they’re not into us, and he’s been offended when I pointed out to him that they don’t make much of an effort to get in touch.

Any ideas?

— Dismissed

Dismissed: It sounds as if your husband is somewhat captivated by this couple — to the extent that he has developed social myopia, which I define as an inability to perceive social cues accurately.

Some events — such as college graduations — are nonnegotiable and absolute obligations for couples to attend together. You were right to insist on a course correction.

To communicate about this, don’t dwell on your personally dim opinion of “Brian” and “Karen.” Ask him with an open attitude to describe why he enjoys their company so much. Does he believe the relationship is balanced?

Tell him, honestly, that you believe they aren’t very interested in a close friendship and that he can choose his own golfing companions, but he can’t choose friends for you. If he makes plans or accepts an invitation without discussing it with you in advance, you could choose to stay home.

I… sort of disagree. I think it’s a great idea all around for the letter writer to let her husband spend time with them while avoiding them herself. Why does everyone need to be friends? Like, suppose you can’t stand your in-laws. Couldn’t you let your spouse visit his parents on his own? It’s the same sort of thing. Married couples needn’t be joined at the hip.

Tell him, honestly, that you believe they aren’t very interested in a close friendship.

Yeah, no. Don’t do that. Here’s where I disagree. I mean, what if this married couple are the husband’s best or only friends? I’d never want to tell my dad, “Uh, that person isn’t really interested in being friends with you.” That would be freakin’ hurtful. If it’s gotten to the level of being stalkerish or creepy, that would be different, but Brian and Karen choose to spend time with the letter writer’s husband all the time. Sure, I’d step in if they cut him off and he kept reaching out. I’d gently tell him to let go. But that’s not what we have here.

The only thing the letter writer could do, given her concerns, would be to try to find her husband some better friends. Then, by comparison, he might come to realize that Brian and Karen aren’t all that into him (assuming the letter writer’s correct about that). And I wouldn’t frame it as, “Time to find you some new and better friends!” I’d just subtly introduce my husband to some people who he might hit it off with better. Everyone deserves to have good friends, and the letter writer should be more positively proactive instead of trying to ruin what might be her husband’s only friendships.

It just rubs me as hurtful because my mom has done that to me. “Your cousins don’t really like you, you know. They’re nice to you during the holidays, but then they make no effort to keep in touch with you. Their niceness is a huge act.” And, “Your grandmother thinks you’re strange. She doesn’t understand how your mind works. She prefers your popular, cool older cousin, Shannon.”

And I’m just saying, there’s no call for that. It’s hurtful and unnecessary. So the letter writer should not tell her husband that they’re not into him. She should let him discover this on his own, and in the meantime, if he wants to be friends with them, where’s the harm?

But yeah, he shouldn’t be skipping graduations and birthdays. That’s a bit… odd. (Did he skip his own birthday, or his wife’s? My reading comprehension fails me.) His wife has every right to have her husband around for major occasions. Unless it was, in fact, his birthday, because he could’ve spent part of it with his wife, too. If it was her birthday, then he should’ve spent it with his wife.

Wow. Is four advice columnists a record tonight?

Dear Amy: Our 28-year-old daughter recently became engaged to a wonderful young man. We couldn’t be happier for them. They plan to marry in two years, after they complete their graduate degrees.

So, what could go wrong?

His parents are adamant that our daughter take her fiance’s last name when they are married. She has research papers published with her current name, and she likes her name and doesn’t want to change it.

To his credit, her fiance has told his parents that she’s not changing it and that’s that.

Nevertheless, they continue to bring up the issue. They claim that people will think their son and our daughter are divorced if they have different names. More hurtfully, they say that this young couple won’t be a “real” family without the same last name, as if sharing the same name or same religion or ethnicity is more important than the love, understanding and support for each other that should be the heart of a family.

Our daughter feels that she is disappointing his parents, and she has begun to feel uncomfortable around them. This is a sad way to begin what will be a long personal relationship.

My husband and I offer advice to our adult children only when it is asked for, and we don’t pout if the advice isn’t taken. We hope her fiance’s parents might see this letter and resist the urge to butt in where their advice is not wanted.

— Non-Meddling Mom

Non-Meddling Mom: Around 1 in 5 American women choose to keep their surname upon marriage. Some couples choose to hyphenate, and some take their spouse’s name but continue to use their surname professionally. It’s hard to imagine that — in this day and age — a woman’s choice to keep her birth surname is still an issue that upsets people.

You aren’t meddling directly (good for you), but your attempt to communicate with your future son-in-law’s parents through this column speaks volumes. You are actually quite attached to this issue and worried about the outcome. You are meddling-by-proxy.

Your daughter’s fiance has stated unequivocally to his parents that your daughter will not be changing her name. Your daughter should also handle this directly, respectfully and with good humor, understanding that her in-laws may always feel a little bit wounded or judgmental about her choice. After she explains that keeping her surname is nonnegotiable, there really is no reason to discuss this further.

Handling this well, firmly and with certitude will set the stage for other choices the couple will make. (c) Ask Amy

Meddling by proxy? I disagree, but this is why I’d be a very overprotective mother. I’d go all kungfu crazy if I had a daughter in this situation. It’s probably best that I don’t have kids.

I’m also bothered by Ask Amy’s insinuation that bullying should be tolerated with humor. Um, no, maybe not? Because they are, in fact, bullying her. Instead of expressing their feelings and then moving on, they’re harassing her about it. It might be subtle and unspoken, but a cold and chilling silence can be unnerving.

However, the daughter is an adult and can fight her own battles. I think Ask Amy’s paragraph about how she should handle it (again with the good humor–that part rubs me the wrong way) is disastrous. If I were the daughter dealing with these future in-laws, I’d handle it Meg-style.

I know you’re all thinking that would make it worse, but I don’t have much energy for passive-aggressive whiners. To be completely honest, I’d probably handle it like this:

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “Meg, your family won’t be a real family if your last name isn’t Wojadubikowski.”

Meg: “I know. Sorry.” [Forced grin.]

Meg’s future father-in-law: “Meg, the Wojadubikowski name is steeped in tradition and culture.” 

Meg: “That’s nice.” [Smiles and nods.]

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “How can you do this to our family? Please, I beg of you. Take the last name of Wojadubikowski.” 

Meg: “No. Sorry.” [Swallows and pushes hair behind her ear.]

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “No fair! I had to!” 

Meg’s future father-in-law: “Darling, you never complained.” 

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “How could I? Your mother was a tyrant.” 

Meg’s future father-in-law: “How dare you cross Mother? She was a handsome, genteel woman.” 

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “Her last name was Wojadubikowski. I think that says it.” 

Meg’s future father-in-law [turning to Meg]: “Good job. Now look what you’ve done.” 

Meg’s future mother-in-law: “Why, why, why? My maiden name of Danville was so beautiful!” 

Meg: “I… aim to please. Thank you.” [Gives awkward thumbs-up.]

Meg’s future husband: “That’s is. I’m changing my name. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.” 

Meg’s future father-in-law: “Don’t you dare, Junior. The Wojadubikowski name means something in this town.” 

Huh. Maybe Ask Amy’s onto something in her desire to handle this situation with humor.

Let’s see what Annie Lane’s up to tonight!

Dear Annie: I have been in my stepson’s life since he was 6 and married to his father for 20 years. He lived in our house full time for most of the years. So I view him not just as a stepson but as one of my sons. He and his live-in girlfriend got engaged last year. They planned a wedding for the fall. My husband felt that since he was out of the house and on his own, they should pay for the wedding on their own. I didn’t agree and gave them both cash for the wedding, with my husband’s knowledge. (We don’t share money; it works for us.) They were both very grateful. I told them that I understood that I wasn’t the mother of the groom; I just wanted to feel included in some of the planning and help in any other way I could.

Then they got pregnant and moved the wedding up. Then COVID-19 hit. The wedding date was changed a few times. Ultimately, they ended up getting married in a small ceremony at their home and planned to have the wedding and reception after the baby was born. I totally understood.

But recently, one of the other sons told me that they just canceled the wedding altogether and planned on having a 1st birthday party for the baby at the same venue, because they signed a contract and can’t get the money they have put down back.

I have to say that I am so hurt that my contribution to the wedding (which was actually a lot of money for me) meant so little to them that they didn’t feel the need to tell me in person that the wedding was off and explain the situation that they could not get the money back. I don’t want my money back and totally understand the circumstances, but I feel I shouldn’t have heard this through a third party. I am sure the other mothers were told in person.

So my question is this: Should I bring this up to them at some point or just let it go? Normally, I am the type to keep to myself, and if someone hurts my feelings I “just get over it” without saying anything. But this hurt is lasting much longer, and I feel resentment building inside of me. — Unappreciated Stepmom

Dear Unappreciated: Maybe sometimes we can just will ourselves to “get over it,” but most times that’s a recipe for resentment. This seems to be the latter. So there is no other option than to talk with your stepson. Make it a conversation, not a confrontation. Using “I” statements, let him know that you didn’t expect to be part of the wedding planning process, but that you felt a bit hurt when you learned about the change of plans from someone else.

Go into it with an open mind. It may turn out that there was some miscommunication or context that changes your understanding. But you sound like a thoughtful, supportive stepmom, so I have no doubt you’ll be able to handle this with care. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Well, geez. Once again, Annie Lane chose a simple, straightforward question to answer, but she was unable to point out the obvious to this letter writer. Her stepson and his fiancee are embarrassed. Duh. People who are embarrassed often try to hide whatever made them feel that way. Buh-doink. And that awareness should be enough to engender some compassion into the letter writer, but I’m surprised she didn’t figure out that they’re embarrassed, either. She feels miffed? Really? Is Annie Lane making up these letters? Seriously. You have to wonder. I wouldn’t feel miffed if I thought there was embarrassment.

I am sure the other mothers were told in person.

Right, because it wasn’t the other mothers’ money. See? There was no cause for embarrassment when they told the other mothers.

Ohhhh. The letter writer feels unappreciated. (Geez, Meg, are you feeling slow tonight?) Huh. Well, I hope she realizes that (in my opinion, anyway) her stepson and his fiancee aren’t acting ungrateful.

DEAR ABBY: I am in a nearly two-year relationship with a man I love. In so many ways, this is the relationship I’ve always hoped for and, being in my early 30s, I’m feeling ready to settle down. The problem? He doesn’t fight fair.

I have put an exorbitant amount of effort into remaining calm and loving during arguments to prevent our relationship from deteriorating, but he seems incapable of meeting me halfway. His unfair fighting comes in the form of aggressive tones, obscene faces, looking at his phone while I’m talking and sometimes ignoring me entirely.

These arguments are usually over minor issues that are nowhere near warranting a full-blown fight (for example, dishes not being done when he came home from work because I work from home and put it off to do during nonwork hours).

Our relationship is otherwise great, but if I’m going to commit to someone for life, I want them to be capable of having calm and healthy conversations. He thinks I’m controlling when I ask him not to use aggressive tones or make faces. What do I do? — FIGHTING FAIR IN OREGON

DEAR FIGHTING: I will assume that the man you are in love with is around the same age as you. By the time someone reaches their 30s, their personalities are usually set. This man behaves the way he does because it works for him. It enables him to control you.

If he values your relationship, he should be willing to discuss this in couples counseling so these conversations are constructive rather than adversarial. If he isn’t, however, keep looking for a more suitable mate because this Mister ain’t Wonderful. (c) DEAR ABBY

There was some discussion at Dear Abby’s syndicate of what, exactly, constitutes an obscene face. And I have to admit, I’m curious myself. Obscene faces? Like, what the freak?!

She needs to dump him yesterday. If she can dump him while making an obscene face, I’ll give her bonus points.

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Oh, okay, there we go. My apologies if that was too obscene.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m trying to figure out why “Karen” has become a name to use when talking about someone perceived as either out of control or a nasty person. I always thought of Karen as a pretty name and now it’s being used to make fun of people.

I have a few friends who have that as their name, and I feel for them. Some of my other friends have used it that way, and I’ve emailed them and gently told them it wasn’t a nice thing to do, as I know a lot of Karens who are really nice people.

I do realize I probably should not be playing the role of grammar police, especially with friends. So is there a way to politely ask people not to use “Karen” that way?

And while I’m at it, the “OMG” thing is driving me nuts, too. If it’s friends, I just let it go, but when an advertiser does it, I write to them to let them know I find it offensive to be taking the name of my God in vain.

And then I get two-faced about it and complain that too many people take offense at too many things.

GENTLE READER: There is a difference, Miss Manners assures you, between policing grammar and defending friends. The next time a Karen’s name is taken in vain, you may say, “Of course not our Karen; she is lovely.” And if you count G-d amongst your intimates, the same tactic (“not my G-d”) may well work for them. (c) MISS MANNERS

I completely agree with this letter writer. Making a name derogatory is hurtful to everyone who was given that name. I feel sorry for Karens near and far. And the OMG thing is upsetting to my best friend, Sonya, who’s very religious, so I never say it anymore at all. She’s gotten me into the habit of oh-my-gosh-ing or oh-my-goodness-ing or oh-my-ing.

I hate taking the Lord’s name in vain, and I think it’s wrong, but I don’t think it offends Him. He’s too wise to get upset over basic human foibles. However, I get upset when people do it. Moreso with the G-D word (gosh darnit!) or JC.

And then I get two-faced about it and complain that too many people take offense at too many things.

Yeah, I hear ya. Where to draw the line? I’d say just try to be courteous. It doesn’t hurt anything.

I fear the f-bomb because I’m afraid that if I let it into my mind, it’ll take up shop there and start paying me rent, and then it’ll never leave. My thoughts will become all like [bleep] this and [bleep] that and [bleep] everything and [bleep] you, kind sir, and I will have lost the battle. I think that might tie into my obsessive tendencies, but who knows? In the meantime, freakin’ works quite nicely for me.

I have lived it!

Dear Amy: I come from a very judgmental family, and I’m wondering how to break the awful habits I learned.

Growing up, we’d often be driving home from family events and my parents would bad-mouth the relatives we had just seen. This affected me, even if their criticism was sometimes justified.

As adults, my boyfriend and I have not been spared, either. The day after get-togethers, my mom will often tell me things I said or did “wrong.”

My parents have no reservations about picking apart every little thing my boyfriend does.

Not only is it annoying, but I find myself doing the same thing now to other people, and I hate it! It’s not a good way to live. It also makes me wonder what others are saying about me behind my back.

Do you have any advice on how to break the cycle? And how can I politely shut them down the next time they do it?

— Judged and Judging

Judged and Judging: You know the admonition, “Judge not, lest you be judged…” and now you are experiencing the reality of this wisdom. Harsh judgment and malicious gossip are insidious and destructive to relationships.

The way to break a lifetime habit is by mindfully addressing your habit, one incident at a time. You can do this by giving yourself a visual/sensory reminder (put a rubber band on your wrist and give yourself a little “ping” every time you find yourself engaged in unfair and judgmental thinking). Every time you resist this terrible habit, you should recognize your tiny triumph and mentally give yourself credit: “Today, I resisted my habit of harshly judging and gossiping five times. I’m getting better at this.”

If your folks pick apart you and your boyfriend after every single encounter, the rational conclusion for you to draw would be, “My parents don’t enjoy our company. Therefore, we won’t expose them to the source of their displeasure so often.”

You may be able to retrain those around you, over time, by hitting “pause” every time the dynamic shifts toward judgmental. You say, “Well, this conversation seems to have taken a turn, so I’m going to hop off. I’ll talk to you later.” (c) Ask Amy

It’s disturbing how strongly I can relate to this. My mom does this all the time. It’s repugnant to me, because I’m a huge fan of not being overly critical of others. However, inside my head, do you know what goes on? Criticism. Yeah. I’m just glad that I don’t live with my mom (and haven’t in decades). It’s intolerable.

The worst thing (sort of) is the self-criticism.

My mom will often tell me things I said or did “wrong.”

Yeah. That’s the worst. I always feel embarrassed and stupid when my mom does that. What worse is that she’s usually right. But still. There are nicer ways of sending a message.

I’m not sure how this became the stuff of family legend, but when I was in middle school (or thereabouts), my mom criticized Beetle Bailey, the comic strip. “This comic strip is idiotic! The characters never go to war like in real life.” At that point I started to suspect that she was a negative person. She also said, “I hate tampons! They hurt my body.” And do you know what I started noticing every time I’d wear a tampon? It’s toxic. I mean, not like toxic shock syndrome, but… anyway.

It was toxic and hellish being exposed to her for so many years (i.e., living with her). At this point in time, there’s a valve in my brain that shuts down before overly criticizing anyone. Like, my mom will randomly criticize my beloved stepsister, saying, “At her age, she should have her life together now.” Nice. That irritates me. A lot.

You may be able to retrain those around you, over time, by hitting “pause” every time the dynamic shifts toward judgmental. You say, “Well, this conversation seems to have taken a turn, so I’m going to hop off. I’ll talk to you later.”

No, sorry. That never works. It just doesn’t. With my mom, there’s no hope for it. The only thing I can do is act vague, vague, vague whenever she asks if I’ve heard from my brother, for example. “No,” is the best answer.

“Well, what if he’s dead?”

“He posts on social media.”

“Yes, I saw where he has a new girlfriend. Do you know anything about it?”

“Oh, that’s nice. No, I don’t,” I say. I could know the girlfriend’s middle name and her favorite color, and I wouldn’t cop to it.

“Oh, too bad. Isn’t it sad that your brother has nothing to do with your father?”

“Um, because he works seven days a week and has no free time?”

My mom sighs. “Well, it’s just sad that he doesn’t make an effort to keep in touch with your dad.”

“He sends presents and cards. He stops by.”

“Yes, but… I don’t know. I just think he ought to be more committed to his family. He takes your father for granted. And I haven’t heard from him in weeks.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Poor Mummy.” It’s good that we’re on the phone and my mom can’t see me rolling my eyes to the ceiling.

“Ohh, it’s okay. I just wish he cared more.”

“Uh-huh.”

“How’s your father doing?”

“He’s great.” At this point, I’m feeling a bit braindead.

“Does he have any symptoms of the coronavirus? A cough? A sneeze? Aches and pains?”

(She’s been asking me this question for the past year or so.)

“No, Mother.”

“You know how I worry.”

“Yes, Mother. Of course. It’s your favorite pastime.”

“Ohh, it is not. You tease! It’s just that your father’s so wonderful. I truly love him. If he were to get sick and die, our lives would be ruined, and I just don’t want that to happen.”

“Uh-huh.” My eyes glaze over as I pray for an earthquake that won’t come.

“You might not know this, but anyone can die at any time for any reason.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Why, just yesterday, I heard of someone who died from [insert unthinkable tragedy here].”

“Well, why was that person hiking near an active volcano, Mother?”

“I don’t know! I’m not sure why anyone does the things they do. You’d think people would know better. I’m sure you would never approach an active volcano. You’re my sensible, intelligent daughter.”

I grunt.

“But sometimes, you can be walking down the sidewalk, and–”

“I know,” I interrupt. “Spontaneous sidewalk geysers. I get it. Look, I’ve got to go.”

“Tell your father I said hello. Will you remember to do that?”

“Yes.” No.

Okay, so my mother’s a very negative and gloom-and-doom person.

This is making me laugh. But… it’s tragicomic.

When the kitty’s approval is required!

I’ve just bought a home gym. It’s coming in the mail. It’s the Total Gym APEX G3. Here’s a link to it! (Only I bought one for less on eBay. Hoping for the best there!) Check out the one-minute video and see what it’s capable of!

I have room for one of these contraptions in the basement. There’s a room down there that’s roughly eleven feet by eleven feet. It could even come up here to my room, but I doubt I’d be happy with that. The basement room is begging for a function other than containing Mr. Kitty’s litter anyway. Now it can be litter and exercising! Fun for both me and the cat. And I daresay I’ll be cleaning his litter more often now that I’ll have another reason to go down there. Let’s ask Mr. Kitty if he approves!

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Oh, yeah, that’s his look of approval, for sure. (You don’t want to see him when he disapproves.)

The problem is that I enjoy my gym membership, but it’s costing a lot in gas to keep driving there (even though it’s a mile up the road… go figure), and I’m not comfortable using the exercise machines. I’ve only gained comfort with the treadmill, and that took forever. It’s hard to describe the problem, but I process and learn new things slowly, and it puts stress on me to do so with an audience. It’s always better when I can teach myself something in private. Also, at the gym, you have to sanitize each machine after you use it, and it appears that each machine works one muscle. That would be a lot of sanitation. I mean, I want to work a handful of muscles in one workout.

It feels ridic. I was talking to my psychic friend, Ash, about it earlier today–my intimidation of the machines–and she posted this on FB to give me confidence:

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“Meg Kimball is a genius!” That totally made my day!! For sure!! 😀 Oh my gosh. And I replied, “I won’t argue, but… wow, thanks! So are you!”

She tried to teach me the machines a few times way back before she moved to Orlando. She took me to the gym before I joined. We did a few different machines, and it didn’t take. It’s like, whenever you add social pressure onto me trying to learn something, my brain slows down even more. I have to do everything slowly and cautiously. The slow brain is a processing thing. I’ve always been that way.

And I’m getting desperate to lose weight. I gained a pound recently, and I blame the local pizza place and my dad’s covidiocy. But there’s no reason to point the finger of blame. I’ve just got to freakin’ lose some weight, and it seems like I’m doing better with exercise than diet lately, so I want to maximize that.

I’m excited to get my Total Gym APEX G3. Who wouldn’t be? I can spend some time organizing in the basement tomorrow. I know I’ll use it, but part of me thinks I should’ve forced the issue of going to the gym.

Speaking of my slow-working brain, I read recently that that’s a cognitive effect of schizophrenia. Or, it can be. (I was a music major who couldn’t master fast music, and I can’t play fast-drop Tetris.) Also, my inability to deal with stress is due to the brain chemistry issues of being schizophrenic. Who knew? And the circadian rhythm sleep issues I used to have are strongly associated with schizophrenia. You know, the way I’d be up all night and sleep all day and then have killer insomnia every night, again and again? That issue predated my schizophrenia and really upset me and caused problems.

When I saw that there was a link, I had a weird reaction: Oh, good. None of it was my fault. My dad used to say, “Just go to bed earlier.” That’s idiotic, which makes sense, since he’s a covidiot. (To new readers, he visited a friend who had the coronavirus. Don’t get me started.)

But back when I wrestled with it, which ended when I finally got some good medications (some to put me to sleep, and some to keep me awake), I freakin’ blamed myself and believed I was lazy and needed to try harder. Even if I’d break the cycle by staying up all night and all day and going to bed at a normal hour, the normal cycle would break within a few days. I still blamed myself. Why, oh why, couldn’t anyone have realized that I was having a medical issue? Go to bed earlier, my [bleep].

But I digress. Anyway, I decided to indulge in an exercise machine. I used to work out with dumbbells all the time, back when I was nineteen. (I’m 43.) I remember the concepts of reps, and all that. I used to follow the exercise books of Joyce Vedral. But I’ll tell ya, her routines left me for dead. I’m hoping that using a weight machine will enable me to go slower and focus more on muscle growth than sudden death.

I started doing her workouts at age nineteen, I think. I used 1-, 2-, and 3-pound dumbbells to begin. After my first two days’ workouts (upper body and lower body on consecutive days), I was at Granny Franny’s house, and I’d been exercising in her basement, and I remember collapsing into her recliner, and my whole body was in pain. I couldn’t stand up. Like, oh my goodness. (How out of shape was I?! Is it normal for a teenager to be so weak? I swear on my life, I’m not remotely athletic, and I have some sort of inherent athletic weakness.)

But anyway, I’ll use some of the rep stuff that I remember, and I’ll focus on all major muscle groups. (Her books taught that there are nine major muscle groups, and I actually remember all of them. Wow, go me!) And I might keep going to the gym to use the treadmill, but it will really depend on how much the Total Gym APEX G3 exhausts me. If it’s an upgrade from treadmilling, then I won’t go. If it’s an add-on, then I’ll go. We’ll wait and see.

One benefit of gaining muscle is that your metabolism shoots up, and therefore you’re burning more calories even while resting. I’m intrigued! Plus, I need some muscle tone. I’m excited.

I’d been trying to save money, but I do still have some savings, almost enough to go back to Prague. But, of course, there has to be progress with everyone getting vaccines, and all that. I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t visit Sonya last year but super-glad that I did visit her the year before. The vaccine rollout seems to be taking forever. My dad asked me to go online and schedule one for him, but what do you know? There were no openings. Maybe they should’ve only offered them to a lesser population, like people over eighty-five, since they didn’t have enough vaccines for everyone 75+. I’m hoping it’ll sort itself out.

Relationship death and psychics in the produce department.

Dear Annie: My husband and I have been together since 2008 and married since 2011. We slept in the same bed, held hands and talked about everything in the beginning. Then, in 2013, he got a job in Iowa. I stayed home until my youngest went to college.

I joined him in September 2014. He wasn’t the same man I fell in love with and married. Remember, I said we talked about everything. But he doesn’t communicate with me anymore.

He’s not cheating; he has never been a guy who would cheat on his significant other. His “friends” know more about him, his current issues and everything else long before I do. I want my best friend and husband back. It seems like he goes out of his way to be anywhere but with me. — Missing the Way It Was

Dear Missing: Your husband is still the same man, but it sounds as if he might be depressed. He could be angry or resentful toward you for not moving with him right when he got the job. Although this is not logical and staying with your son until he went to college was the right thing to do, he might need to express his feelings. The first step to help him is to communicate with him, but if he won’t communicate with you, you have to seek the help of a professional therapist. There, you can get to the bottom of your changed relationship and get your best friend back. Marriage takes work, and the best kind of work is communication. Best of luck. (c) Annie Lane

I completely disagree with Annie Lane, but I admire her tackling such a complex problem. Points for that!

It sounds like he’s checked out of the marriage. This is really upsetting. He needs to check back in, but what can the letter writer do about it? Not much. He seems uncommitted to the marriage, and that upsets me too. He’s treating his wife like she’s disposable. I think if you’re married to someone, you should try to maintain the connection instead of taking a cavalier approach to it. Marriage is sacred.

He’s probably having an emotional affair with some of his “friends” (is it weird that she put that word in quotes?). His wife needs to come first. If he has all these new friends, but his wife was still number one, then it would be okay. I’m a huge believer in friendship. It’s just… not looking that way.

Marriage takes work, and the best kind of work is communication.

Small problem, Annie Lane: he’s checked out. He’ll be resistant to communication, by definition of being “checked out”.

Your husband is still the same man.

Well, yeah, but his true colors are showing now. Instead of being committed to his wife, he used her for companionship and then just cast her aside. Ouch. This letter is breaking my heart all over the place. I want to believe that people don’t treat their spouses that way.

The only advice I could give her would be to reconsider whether she should stay married. God, what heartbreak. Any chance I’m wrong about this?

Let’s see what Ask Amy’s up to!

Dear Amy: As I think about the new year unfolding, my thoughts of a past friendship arise.

I am not sure what I did, or what I said, but back in 2016 a dear friend stopped talking to me.

I tried on several occasions to reconnect, and included apologies, as I was certain that I must have done something to warrant this unexpected rejection.

We became friends back in 1997, but here I am five years after our last contact and still on the outs with this friend.

I am heartbroken over it. I hope and pray that we may connect again one day.

My thinking is that maybe I should write a letter (not email or phone call). Is this a futile step?

I am just wondering if you have any wise words to provide, since you have insight into relationships.

I am not even sure how to start the letter, and I’m afraid of rejection again.

— Still Hoping in Friendship

Still Hoping in Friendship: The worst thing about being ghosted, very suddenly, is that you are left assuming that you have said or done something deeply offensive.

According to you, you have tried several times to get to the bottom of this break. You have issued presumably vague apologies for something you might have done.

But maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your friend. People who are depressed, overwhelmed or who feel ashamed sometimes pull away suddenly.

Send your friend an email or letter. Don’t dwell on this silence. Send a newsy missive catching them up on what you’ve been up to. Say, “I think of you often and would love to hear how you are doing. I hope you’ll be in touch.” (c) Ask Amy

I disagree. I’d let it go. Also, a newsy missive (what the heck is a newsy missive?) would be embarrassing and awkward.

I actually had a friend at the reading center who cared enough to reach out to me sometime after I left. I got an email from her once at some later point, possibly when I was going insane, but I can’t recall exactly when it was. I greatly appreciated her email, but my mind was gone, and I had no way to respond to her cheery normalcy. (Yeah, I must’ve been insane.)

I don’t exactly regret not getting back to her, but I regret hurting her feelings, for sure. But after time passes, how can you come back from that? That’s why I’m upset with the first letter writer’s husband. Sometimes when a relationship dies, you can’t reclaim it. It’s dead! That’s why when you value someone, a friend, your spouse, etc., you can’t let the relationship go under. It might never come back. And that’s no one’s fault. It’s just human nature. It’s a harsh reality. (I really do blame the first letter writer’s husband, though, for not even seeming to care. He could at least make an effort.)

It’s just that when time passes, enough time for person A to know that person B checked out of the relationship, there’s no real way to come back from that. It took me years to regain my sanity, and it’s not like I can look up my former coworker now. That would be awkward and… I don’t know… just sort of strange. I mean, we were never that close. But she was a truly kind and caring person. We should have a moment of gratitude here.

I would also urge the letter writer to rethink things. Did her friend have massive personality flaws that she (the letter writer) kept justifying? I had a great friend once who was pathologically self-absorbed, and I kept making excuses for his self-absorption until that wound up biting me on the [bleep]. It’s worth considering that the letter writer did nothing wrong, but that her friend wasn’t really a good friend.

I can’t imagine being friends with someone for twenty years and then being dropped like a hot potato. Offhand, I’d put the blame on the person who’d treat a friend of twenty years that way, not on the letter writer. You shouldn’t “dump” a friend of twenty years via ghosting. That’s just wrong.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I met a psychic at the supermarket the other day. We were both in the produce department waiting for the stocker to bring out more vegetables. The pandemic has been causing a lot of shortages in some items, so grocery runs have been difficult. We were able to share a moment together, talking about the challenges we’ve faced. She asked for my birthday and my sign, and she told me all about myself and my past. She knew about my family and my fight to keep my father healthy. I couldn’t believe the connection I felt with her; she felt what I have been feeling this past year.

One thing we talked about that I cannot shake is my love life. I told her about a friend who has been dropping off supplies and calls me all the time, and she said that the love I’ve been looking for is right in front of me — meaning him. Now, I don’t know this lady. My friends say it’s crazy, but I need some advice from someone looking in. Could the psychic be right? Should I ask this guy out and see what happens, or am I crazy to listen to someone who may not even be psychic? — Psychic Minds

DEAR PSYCHIC MINDS: I must admit that I am skeptical of psychics. I must also admit that I know plenty of people who do believe in them. I myself consulted a psychic once — and what was said to me was dead-on accurate. My takeaway is that you should evaluate what this woman said to you. Does it make sense? Is there merit in what she pointed out? It sounds like your attentive friend is worthy of your consideration. It can’t hurt to pay attention to him. You don’t need to read anything into the gestures, just be present. Notice how you two interact, and listen to your gut. Does it feel like this man is interested in you, and are you interested in him? Rather than obsessing over the fact that this woman seemed to be in sync with you, consider your next steps. What makes sense to you? Be in the present moment. Keep your eyes open. Go for it if it makes sense. (c) DREAMLEAPERS

That’s fun! Every time I go to the grocery store, I just wind up arguing with the cashiers and getting myself kicked out. I should spend more time in produce! Huh.

I have a few thoughts here: first of all the letter writer needs to replay the conversation word-for-word. Did the letter writer give enough information about her dad for the psychic to repeat back to her? That’s rule number one. A true psychic isn’t going to ask you for info that can be spoken back. Like:

“Oh, I’ve been so worried about keeping my dad healthy!” 

“Yes, I can see how worried you’ve been.” 

Snort.

surprisecat1

HA HA, the cat!!

On the other hand, this would be compelling:

“I’ve been worried.” 

“Yes, you’ve worried about your father, no? He has some diabetes and neurological issues, my guides are saying? He had a heart attack two years ago?” 

“Yes! Wow, how’d you know that?!” 

Hey, it might’ve happened that way.

Point two, though, if it did indeed happen that way (and thus, the psychic seems legit) is that this was a fun experience! Who goes to the grocery store expecting to meet a psychic? Geez, quit overthinking it! Just appreciate the humor and whimsy of it. If the letter writer winds up with the delivery friend, this will be a great story they can tell later. Personally, I’d love to have this sort of experience!

If the psychic had prophesied gloom and doom, that would be one thing, but geez! Appreciate the experience!

I’ve had some genuine psychic experiences, and so has my mother. In college, she used to take me to get psychic readings with her. Those were fun times. Also, I have two friends who are psychic! (Shout out to the one of you who reads my blog!)

Prom queens, valedictorians, gossips, and backstabbers.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 73-year-old retired woman who still maintains contact with a number of old and new friends for movies, dinner, museum visits, etc. Until the COVID virus, we did things often. Now, not so much.

Someone in this group told me that on a couple of occasions, a few of them were not very nice when my name came up. (“Why doesn’t she see her grandkids more often?” “She goes out more than most, yet doesn’t want to eat in certain restaurants.”) My husband and I have a good marriage, but many of these ladies are widowed or divorced. How do you handle backstabbing at this age? — MYSTIFIED IN NEW YORK

DEAR MYSTIFIED: Try not to take it personally. Obviously, these gossips have less to occupy their minds than one would hope. You might also consider seeing these particular individuals even less often than you already do in the age of COVID. If you do, it may give them less ammunition concerning what you do (or don’t do) with your time. (c) DEAR ABBY

This reminds me of my mother. Things she’s told me over the years (for absolutely no rhyme or reason):

  • “Your grandmother thinks you’re weird. She greatly prefers your older cousin, Shannon, who’s cool and feminine. She doesn’t understand the way your mind works!”
  • “None of your cousins like you. Yeah, they’re nice to you at Christmas, but do they make any effort to keep in touch with you? Therefore, their niceness has no value whatsoever.”
  • And we have a more recent one: “That wasn’t a mental hospital you were put in as a teen. It was a behavioral health unit because you were badly behaved.”
  • When I was a kid: “You let the kitties out to play? Well, they’re not coming back. They’re probably squished under the tire of a car by now.”

So here’s what I’m thinking: the bad guy here is the letter writer’s “friend” (in quotation marks) who’s feeding her this information. It’s entirely possible that the information was gossipped about in a positive way, like so:

“I wonder why she doesn’t visit her grandkids more often? She seemed sad the other day, but she always gets cheered when she visits the grandkids. And she’s teaching them how to cook, which they’re really enjoying!” 

I don’t consider that gossip. If it’s not malicious, cruel, private, trash-talking, or that sort of thing, I think it’s okay to talk about people. I also think it’s okay to talk to person A about a disagreement or blowup you had with person B, for the sole goal of working through it (not just to trash person B for the fun of it).

Or it could have been innocuous:

New group member: “Why don’t we ever eat out at Panera Bread as a group?” 

Regular group member: “Oh, Lane doesn’t like Panera Bread. She hates everything on the menu.” 

New group member: “Well, what about the Cheesecake Factory?” 

Regular group member: “Cindy and I both hate that restaurant! But we have a list of restaurants that we all like. Here, check it out.” 

Which is matter-of-fact, right? Until the letter writer’s “friend” sinks her claws into it. What a [bleep]!

What I’d recommend is that the letter writer should see how the other ladies discuss people who aren’t around. Do the other ladies speak like I suggested above, or do they get their claws out collectively? Because if they’re all backstabbing gossips, I’d run. But they might not be! We only have solid evidence against one person here.

DEAR ABBY: I began using a wheelchair two years ago. Since then a dear friend of roughly 30 years has become fixated on my disability. While we once shared a deep, close “BFF” relationship, she now speaks to me in baby talk and only shows an interest in my physical limitations. I feel objectified, hurt and disappointed.

I have mentioned to her that I prefer to focus on other things in life, and she responds with platitudes like, “The body is just a shell,” and “All that matters is the heart,” but her actions tell me otherwise. I hate to end this friendship, but I am at the end of my rope. Any advice? — PATRONIZED IN ARIZONA

DEAR PATRONIZED: If you haven’t done it already, tell this person that you no longer wish to discuss your disability and you prefer she stop raising the subject and treating you differently. Period. If she continues to pursue the subject after that, make your visits less frequent, if they happen at all.

It’s tragic when a thirty-year friendship comes to this!

She responds with platitudes […] but her actions tell me otherwise.

Gee, the letter writer makes it sound as if the platitudes are acceptable! “The body is just a shell,”? Really? And, “All that matters is the heart,”? Well, you know what? My heart doesn’t like you. And my shell of a body wants a piece of you, so there.

There’s a hilarious episode of Frasier about this. Frasier’s helping Lana build a popsickle-stick house, and he’s wearing a paper smock when a married couple of househunters shows up to see the house. (Lana’s a realtor.) They smile really patronizingly at Frasier, and the wife says, “Are you having fun with your little house?” And Frasier can’t answer because he has a popsickle in his mouth.

Lana enters the room, and the househunters ask if the house has a flooding problem. Lana downplays it, so Frasier grunts loudly. The female  househunter says, “Aww, are you choking on your lolly?”

And Frasier replies: “No. I am choking on something far more dangerous and destructive than a simple sugary treat. It’s a prolific and powerful poison known… as deception!”

And the woman says, “He’s very verbal!” (Which is funny, because Frasier is indeed quite a wordsmith.)

I love that part. Actually, that whole episode is really good.

If the letter writer could do that–plan a wordy, verbiose speech to deliver to her friend–that could be quite nice. She could arrange it on notecards beforehand and master the memorization. That would rock! Or similarly she could recite a Shakespearean sonnet about how the body is not, in fact, just a shell. And she should act like she has all his sonnets memorized, and not just that one.

Oh my gosh, I did something like that once. This was fabulous. I ran into the prom queen from my high school. To give some background, she and I were both nominated, but my nomination was a joke by the student body. Hers was the real deal, so she won.

I’ve never hated her, or anything like that. I enjoyed knowing her in high school. Amy was cool, popular, charismatic, you get the picture; but she wasn’t a brat.

But when I encountered her several years ago, she was being a total jerkface to me. Trying to remember… she lowered her voice and asked if I’m still living with my dad. I said, “Yes, and he’s very companionable.”

She asked what I’d been up to, so I told her very excitedly about my self-published middle-grade series.

She sniffed. “You self-publish? I see.” She gave me a pitying look.

“They’re great books,” I insisted.

“Mm-hmm. Did you know that our valedictorian, Sarah Van, got a book published?” (Her maiden name was Sarah Van Arsdale, so we called her Sarah Van in high school.)

And I replied, “Yeah, yeah, I knew. Uh, Breakfast Served Anytime, April 8, 2014, right? Candlewick Press?”

She flinched, and her eyes got shifty.

“Well, you asked if I knew,” I said. I scratched my cheek and made an innocent expression.

She recovered. “Right. Meg, she got published, like officially published.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed.

I don’t remember much else about it, but that felt like a masterful moment. The letter writer needs to create some of those with her patronizing friend!

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