Easy pitches for Annie Lane again!

Dear Annie: I am a single mother to my one daughter, who is now 29. She moved from our hometown because that’s where she met her husband, and she now has a son, my grandson, who is 1 1/2 years old. She asked me when she first got pregnant if I would move down to where they live to babysit Monday through Friday for them. Long story short, I did move. I left all my friends and family behind, although they are only two hours away. And now she decided to have him in day care, so I only babysit on an as-needed basis.

It has been and still is very hard for me being in this new city. I don’t know anybody and am still single, having left my companion when I moved down here. And it seems like the only time I see my grandson is when she needs me to babysit him.

Recently, she signed him up for toddler soccer, and I told her that I wanted to go to see him play. This past Saturday, they went, and she never asked me to join them. Her husband sometimes has to work on Saturdays, and it seems like she only invites me to things when he is working and not able to attend. I am feeling kind of hurt about this but don’t want to bring it up to her because I don’t want to start a huge conversation.

I have been lonely and have been living here for a year now. I’m thinking about moving back to my hometown but I’m torn because of not being able to see my grandson as often.

My question is, do you think I am being unreasonable to feel hurt that she doesn’t ask me to attend things when her husband is going? Should I move back to my hometown, which is two hours away, so I can have a social life? — Homesick (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Oh, geez. Annie Lane’s picking the easy questions again. I bet she wrote this letter herself, just because it’s so easy to answer. Look at this part:

I am feeling kind of hurt about this but don’t want to bring it up to her because I don’t want to start a huge conversation.

And what’s the commonsense reaction to that? “You need to start a huge conversation.” I’ll wager anything that Annie Lane emphasizes communicating with her daughter. It’s just such a no-brainer. It reminds me of the suicidal letter writer who Annie Lane urged not to commit suicice. Because which other response is acceptable? “Yeah, go ahead and kill yourself,”? Yeah, right.

Annie Lane will open her advice by sympathizing with the situation and validating the letter writer’s feelings.

Oh. And the question about whether she should move back home is such a no-brainer that I can’t imagine anyone getting it wrong.

All right, Annie Lane, show us what you’ve got…

Dear Homesick: It sounds like freaked-out first-time mom was the one who requested you move to her neighborhood. Now that she’s in the groove of her parenting duties, she no longer needs the extra hands — which doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate you but does mean she is preoccupied with her immediate family.

Move back to your hometown and reconnect with your partner. Sitting by the phone waiting for invites does not make for a fulfilling social life.

Wow, I missed the part about how she left her companion. I had to go back and find it. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t dump someone because I was moving two hours away. (Also, I wouldn’t move two hours away to babysit in the first place.) More evidence that Annie Lane wrote this letter.

Annie Lane’s an idiot. I can’t believe she focused all her advice on justifying the daughter’s actions.

It sounds like freaked-out first-time mom was the one who requested you move to her neighborhood.

Right, Annie Lane. It sounds that way because… wait for it… it’s what she told us. Yes, it was indeedy her daughter who asked her to relocate.

She no longer needs the extra hands — which doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate you but does mean she is preoccupied with her immediate family.

Mm-hmm. Assuming these are real people and not just Annie Lane’s creations, the daughter should never have asked her mom to give up her entire life just so the daughter could have free babysitting. How selfish is that?! And Annie Lane’s blaming it on being a freaked-out first-time mom, but come on. The daughter’s married and has a husband, and her mom was a mere two hours away. Mm-hmm.

Dear Annie: My son’s father has recently told me he wants to do everything he can for our son, who is almost 4. However, ever since our son was born, I have barely had any help. All he did was go to work in the morning and come home to play video games.

Our son used to go to his father to spend time with him only to be pushed away and told “no” because his father was busy playing a game. For that, my son is a mama’s boy, which is fine with me.

Now I’m with someone else who sees my worth, and we have a little girl due Dec. 26. We are also engaged.

I’m not sure how I feel about my son’s father suddenly wanting to be in our son’s life and claiming he will do whatever it takes. You don’t choose when you feel like being a parent. Any advice? — Stressed-Out Mom From NY

Another easy answer. It’s a simple matter of legal custody and basic morality: if the dad wants to be more involved in his son’s life, it’s his God-given right.

Dear Stressed-Out Mom: Yes, his paternal instinct is kicking in four years late — but for your son’s sake, it’s better late than never.

He’s already missed out on moments he’ll never get back. But don’t let your resentment toward him prevent your son from ever getting to know his father. An imperfect parent is better than an absent one.

Start small. Invite your son’s father to join your family for dinner once a week. If his commitment to your son is indeed more than just a phase, gradually loosen the reins.

But I think Annie Lane misread the situation. The letter writer doesn’t feel resentment toward the father. It’s more like she’s glad that her kid’s father is a video gamer, because it allows the letter writer to have her son all to herself. And now she doesn’t want to give that up.

Our son used to go to his father to spend time with him only to be pushed away and told “no” because his father was busy playing a game. For that, my son is a mama’s boy, which is fine with me.

That’s seriously one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. To clarify, I’m referring to the part about the mama’s boy. Some women, for whatever sick reason, develop these unhealthy relationships with their sons. I dated a guy once who was a total mama’s boy. And his mother hated me! Oh, how she hated me.

But this is what their mother-son relationship went back to: his birth. That’s right. I’m not making this up. When Billy was born, he was deprived of oxygen due to the umbilical cord. He had some developmental delays. He was the baby of the family, and his two older brothers were ten and eleven years older than him. Given those circumstances, Billy’s mom made a conscious decision to make Billy a mama’s boy who’d be forever dependent upon her and tied to her apron strings. How sickening.

This letter writer needs to change her relationship with her four-year-old son before he becomes someone like Billy. She doesn’t feel resentment as Annie Lane posited. Rather, she’s disappointed that her son’s father wants to reenter the picture in a larger way. It will inhinge on her plans for her son to be a mama’s boy!

(Not that I really expected Annie Lane to pick up on that. Once again with her advice, she went the required distance and then stayed in her comfort zone. Geez.)

Idle tongues will wag!

Dear Amy: My partner, “Chas,” and I have been together for 30 years.

My sister “Shelly” introduced us. Shelly and Chas are very old friends; in fact, Chas is her daughter’s godfather.

Chas tends to be quiet and low-key; Shelly is exuberant and loves attention.

All these years, we have shared various family gatherings and holidays. We get along well.

Recently, Shelly invited us to a family dinner. Chas had just had surgery and was not able to attend.

He sent his greetings and regrets, and I went by myself.

We had a very pleasant, lively evening.

Two days later, our brother sent an email to Shelly and me about some other miscellaneous stuff.

Clumsily, he had created his email message on top of an exchange he and Shelly had the day after the recent dinner.

Shelly had enthused about what a great time we all had, “mostly because Chas wasn’t here.”

I was (and am) stunned. I sent a terse reply to both, saying, “I guess I wasn’t aware of how unwelcome Chas is at these gatherings.”

Shelly texted me: “I know that was super unkind and I hope you’ll forgive me.”

I have not responded. I have not breathed a word of this to Chas, who would be blindsided and deeply hurt. Shelly texted again: “Brother gets me going and words just come out. I miss you.”

I don’t even know if I want to fix this.

I have two siblings who share snide remarks about my partner behind my back!

Carrying this on my own is painful.

I need a lot of time and space to get over this and am not confident I have the bandwidth to deal with it. Any thoughts?

— Blindsided

Blindsided: You are justified in feeling wounded, and you did the right thing by calling them out.

My thoughts are: Of course, siblings complain and gossip when they don’t think they’ll be caught!

I assume you and “Shelly” might have occasionally sniped about your brother, spouses or in-laws over the years. There are probably times when you are relieved when somebody’s spouse has to stay home, and you have some solo time with your sibling.

Your sister has known “Chas” longer than you have. She may feel comfortable grousing about him because he is a de facto family member.

She issued a quick and sincere apology. (It was perhaps a little too quick.) She has asked you to forgive her.

What she hasn’t done is explain what was behind her statement, therefore owning her point of view. Nor have you asked her to.

Once you feel more collected, you should sincerely and accurately express how you feel, and ask Shelly to explain herself. (c) Ask Amy

I agree, and I wonder why the letter writer hasn’t asked for clarification. If I were her sister, I’d immediately start backpedaling. This is the time to backpedal! (Assuming you can pull it off with panache.) “I just hate being unable to discuss girl stuff in his presence,” or, “He smells of cigarettes, and I’m sensitive to the scent.” Whatever works.

Shelly has sincerely apologized twice, I think. The problem is that no one, including the letter writer, wants to acknowledge that they’re providing everyone else with gossip fodder. Everyone who’s ever said, “Wow, I’m glad that flatulent Uncle Fred has left already,” has probably worried that someone’s said the same about them. In our own minds, we always shut off that voice that whispers, Some people don’t like you. 

But it’s true. I feel bad for the letter writer, because we all put ourselves into that bubble of being the “us” in “us versus them”. Like, I’m the cool one, and no one ever whines about me behind my back. If only!

Carrying this on my own is painful.

I imagine. This is why her sister should backpedal. Nothing good can come from her sharing this with her husband, who’s recuperating after surgery. Backpedaling is one time when I think lying is 100% okay. Because look at the circumstances: the letter writer wasn’t supposed to know about this in the first place.

Since the sister didn’t ask for advice, this is what I’d advise the letter writer to do: let her sister know that she (the sister) needs to backpedal. “Shelly, I can’t imagine why you don’t like being around Chas, but I’m really hurt. Please tell me that I’m blowing this out of proportion.”

Shelly seems sensitive and caring, so ideally she’d do just that.

Dear Amy: Our daughter died of cancer.

Initially, there were quite a few “I had that kind of cancer, she’ll be fine” supporters. We/she heard all the other well-meaning but not-so-helpful comments.

As the cancer progressed, fewer people had anything to say, until one day, our daughter noted that none of her friends were visiting or even calling anymore.

She gracefully accepted that they probably didn’t know what to say or do and were uncomfortable when visiting, simply because of that.

Except for a few of them. They came anyway.

They sat with her and often said nothing. Sometimes they chatted. Sometimes they shared a meal or took a nap together. Sometimes they just dropped by to say hi and share a quick hug.

They provided a presence that said more than words could have possibly conveyed.

That presence lifted our daughter’s spirit more than anything else, especially toward the end.

Whether it’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or any other unfortunate major life event, people don’t need to know the “right” things to say.

Just showing up, and thereby reassuring the person suffering that they are still loved and are a part of life, a part of the world going on around them, is a greater gift.

— A Grateful Parent

Parent: Thank you so much for sharing this heartbreaking experience. You’ve offered a very deep and important lesson: It’s okay not to know what to say. But life really is about showing up.

Wow, yeah. You can let your fear of awkwardness keep you away, or you can be there for someone. No one ever knows what to say because there’s nothing that could be said. I realized that recently. I also realized that it’s okay to talk as if life is good, even when it isn’t. In this situation, for example, you might fear that the cancer victim wouldn’t want to laugh and tell jokes. And maybe she wouldn’t. But you could follow her lead, because you never know. The cancer victim just might ask you to blow air into a surgical glove and gobble like a turkey. These have been my lost deep thoughts.

Disinherited!

I’ve freakin’ lost weight! I’m down to 195 for the first time in over ten years. Wow! I lost all of that weight (down from 200) because I was having mental problems and quit eating, and then I was fighting off a cold with some zinc tablets and lost my appetite.

So I’ve realized that weight loss requires hunger. There doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Prior to losing the aforementioned weight, I tried to lose weight by eating 1,600 calories a day and burning 500 calories a day at the treadmill, for a net of 1,100 calories a day. I didn’t lose any weight.

Not that I’ll stop doing those things! I think I just need to incorporate some intermittent fasting. I think if I add it to eating healthy and exercising, then I should be golden. So my strategy will be to wait for four hours each day before eating. I woke up at 10:00 today, so I’ll eat at 2:00.

*****

Well, I made it until 1:50. Close enough.

There’s been some family drama. My mom has acknowledged my sister’s evil ways and is disinheriting her. Let me find my favorite comic strip about that…

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There we go.

What did Ellen do? She threw a party for Li’l Sweetmeats’ second birthday a week or so before the actual day. She and my mom had been incommunicado, which was my sister’s desire, not my mom’s; and my mom was hoping against hope that they could work it out so that she’d be invited to the party. She bought and wrapped several presents for Li’l Sweets. Then she found out that the party had already happened.

Don’t mess with my mother. Just don’t.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve got one person in the family who’s on my side of the Ellen issue, and that’s my brother. (Everyone else in the family is in denial about Ellen, or they like her.) He completely agrees with me that Ellen’s sort of a… how to put it… immoral schemer, among many other things. (She’s also violent.)

So this is what’s going to happen. My brother and I both agree on this. Ellen will find out that she’s been disinherited, and her reaction will be to let my mom back into her life for long enough to get added back into the will. And then she might get disinherited again, rinse and repeat. My brother and I know this in our hearts. Or, she might just write our mom off for good. Why? Because apparently, Ellen married rich. Hello. Her in-laws just gave her a new $30,000 vehicle. Thus, it might not be worth Ellen’s while to play nice with our mom.

In other news, my mom wants me to drive her to her bank tomorrow so she can get a valuable ring out of her safe deposit box. It was given to her by her late husband, Jim. But I’ve got this awful fear that the ring won’t be in the box. Because right after my mom had all her health problems almost four years ago in late January, back when she fell down the stairs under mysterious circumstances (cough, cough, Ellen, cough, cough), she kept trying to keep her ring with her, but she wasn’t in a state of mind to properly monitor a super-expensive piece of jewelry, so… if I recall correctly, Ellen was keeping an eye on it for her.

We’ll hope that it’s in the box.

But anyway, everything Ellen does is calculated for what she can get from it. It won’t be hard for her to figure out she’s been disinherited. Several different people know and might tell her. (My dad, for one.)

While I’m not overly invested in whether Ellen manages to get back in my mom’s good graces, there’s one thing that I appreciate. My mom redid her will so that my brother and I won’t have to interact with Ellen while managing my mom’s estate after her death. My mom finally understands why we don’t like her, which means a lot to me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to convince my parents that she’s a bad person, and I’ve gotten nowhere. I feel validated.

Disability!

Dear Annie: Please tell “Ready to Die” that she can get disability payments because she has a mental health disorder. The problem is that people tell the disability examiners how badly they feel. But that is not the examiner’s job to assess. They want to know how dysfunctional your daily life is.

I am writing to offer suggestions to her and others who suffer from mental health issues but do not know how to secure disability benefits.

For instance, let’s take depression and how she might answer questions posed by the examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor? No, I can’t drive. Do you keep your house clean? Yes, but it takes me two weeks to vacuum the floor. The dishes pile up until they smell, so I only use paper plates and plastic silverware. Do you go grocery shopping? No, but a neighbor picks up what I need. I don’t eat much.

Here are some examples of how she might address manic phases: Can you drive? Sometimes, but I speed and can’t concentrate on safety. Do you clean your house? Yes, but I stay awake for three days and then fall back into lethargy. Do you dress yourself? Yes, but I throw on anything that’s on the floor. Sometimes, people laugh at me for how I’m dressed.

People with mental illness need someone to practice with them before they are examined. They are focused on their suffering, for good reason.

Find an experienced disability lawyer. They can often help you to prepare for an examiner’s interview. Some attorneys might be sleazy, but there are also some fine, dedicated lawyers. Your case will move forward much more quickly, even if that feels like a long time. Remember that when you do get Social Security Disability Insurance, they will pay from the date of the application, not the date of approval.

Get a case manager or someone to help you through this process. Any psychiatric records are helpful. Do not say you drink, or whatever, to medicate. The way you should frame it is to explain that you have an addiction problem.

So many individuals fail to get the benefits they are entitled to because not even most therapists or psychiatrists understand how this system works. — Ph.D.

Dear Ph.D.: I always love when professionals reach out with advice, including the next letter about finding a psychiatrist and an attorney.

Dear Annie: This is about the unfortunate individual with severe treatment-resistant depression, who will definitely qualify for total and permanent disability.

She should see a competent psychiatrist ASAP, and they will help her with the most modern effective management of depression.

In addition, they will be able to write appropriate letters to the Social Security Administration and other agencies so that she will receive total permanent medical disability, which she richly deserves. — Right to an Attorney

Dear Right: Thank you for sharing your advice. Let’s hope it helps all readers who are suffering from depression and who have, so far, not been able to secure disability payments. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

This is the most idiotic of Annie Lane’s advice columns that I’ve ever read.

The problem is that people tell the disability examiners how badly they feel. But that is not the examiner’s job to assess. They want to know how dysfunctional your daily life is.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the examiner that you feel miserable all the time. What are they going to do, hold it against you? Yes, they need more info, but that’s why they ask you questions.

For instance, let’s take depression and how she might answer questions posed by the examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor? No, I can’t drive.

Well, what other answer would someone give but a factual and accurate one? Like this would happen?:

Examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor when you’re ill?  

Disabled applicant: I’d rather talk about how I feel all day. 

That’s not even logical. The person would give a straightforward answer. But they needn’t be prepped, because if their answer were incoherent, that would work in their favor:

Examiner: Can you drive yourself to the doctor when you’re ill? 

Disabled applicant: I enjoy painting the floor with grape marmalade. 

Score! You’re disabled. Let’s not prep that person into giving a “normal” answer.

People with mental illness need someone to practice with them before they are examined. They are focused on their suffering, for good reason.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Anyone knows how to answer straightforward questions. Come on. Also, as a disabled person myself, I’m not focused on my suffering. I try to focus on productivity (I’ve been editing my memoir for the past three days around the clock) and gratitude. Way to diss mentally ill people.

(I do believe, though, that my mental illness is less about suffering and more about struggling to interact, and that sort of thing. I’m generally a very happy person… except for when I’m not.)

Find an experienced disability lawyer. They can often help you to prepare for an examiner’s interview.

That sounds unethical. All you need to do is know how to answer questions!

Some attorneys might be sleazy!

Who is this letter writer calling sleazy? Both of my parents are/were ethical lawyers who looked out for their clients (in my dad’s case) or put good research into writing opinions for a judge (in my mom’s case). This letter writer is a total scumbag! How dare they!

Your case will move forward much more quickly [with a lawyer’s help], even if that feels like a long time.

Okay. I never had a disability lawyer myself. My dad, who I live with, didn’t help in any official legal capacity because he doesn’t practice disability law. (He’s a discrimination lawyer.) I applied in late August, and in early December of that year, I was deemed disabled.

Get a case manager or someone to help you through this process.

Nothing wrong with that, but if you go to the social security administration’s website, it’s fairly straightforward.

Any psychiatric records are helpful.

Right… which is why the paperwork asks for your doctor’s contact info, as well as the contact info of other doctors (psychiatrists, specialists, etc.), therapists, counselors, and even your employers. “Hmm… I’m mentally ill, and they want to contact all my doctors. Should I give them the name of my psychiatrist?” said no one ever.

Do not say you drink, or whatever, to medicate. The way you should frame it is to explain that you have an addiction problem.

What the hell, if you drink, you drink. That’s idiotic. “Application rejected! You drink to medicate!”

So many individuals fail to get the benefits they are entitled to because not even most therapists or psychiatrists understand how this system works. — Ph.D.

And yet I, with my BA in psychology (and no higher degrees), seem to have a sound grasp on it. And then from the second letter writer:

[A competent psychiatrist] will be able to write appropriate letters to the Social Security Administration and other agencies so that she will receive total permanent medical disability, which she richly deserves.

I can’t disagree. But if you can’t afford or don’t have a psychiatrist, the government will arrange for you to be evaluated by a psychiatrist free of charge, for purposes of disability determination. So this is all beyond idiotic. I know that applying for disability might induce anxious thoughts of red tape and confusion, but it’s an easy-to-understand process, and it’s all spelled out in the application.

(Or at least, that was my experience back in 2007. I know that everyone’s experience is different, and in a lot of ways, it was pure hell, but I can only speak to my own experiences.)

Further, the brief interview where you meet with an employee of the social security administration is just the stepping stone to applying. My memory of that meeting is hazy at best, but she asked questions, and I answered them. It wasn’t rocket science.

The heart of your application is your doctors’ records, your therapist’s records, and commentary from your recent employers, who are in a position to know whether you can work.

Annie Lane is up to her old tricks. She let those letter writers write her column for her today! AAUGH! So super lame.

Say what?!

Dear Amy: Before the pandemic, I met a wonderful woman and fell in love. The catch? She was from New Zealand and had to return home in November 2019.

She and I made arrangements for me to move there.

Then the pandemic hit and created unending border closures. My flight was canceled by the airline.

We engaged in a long-distance relationship throughout the shutdowns, essentially living on video chat for eight to 10 hours at a stretch every single day for months.

We relied on one another for emotional support. I couldn’t imagine never seeing her again, but wasn’t sure when I would.

She hatched a plan to travel to the United States to fetch me, and we hired an immigration lawyer, who created an itinerary for our undertaking. The paperwork and documents we provided were time-consuming and invasive, but they were worth it if we could be together.

In September 2020, out of nowhere, she sent me an unthinkable text: “I think it’s time to move on from each other. This isn’t going to work, and this border closure could last for years.”

She blocked me on all fronts and forms of social media, and I never heard from her again.

I was utterly destroyed.

It felt like being left at the altar.

More than a year later, I still feel the hurt and abandonment of being so unceremoniously dropped at such a critical time by someone I had come to trust so completely.

It has affected my outlook about relationships and my ability to try again.

Sometimes I feel completely “over it,” but then I’m set back by some triggering behavior or thought.

I used to be a very hopeful, romantic and optimistic person.

Now, whenever I meet someone new, I find myself scanning them for signs of danger and looking around for the exits.

What can I do to cultivate a more trusting and less stymied outlook about romance?

— J, from New Orleans

J: This woman dropped you abruptly and in the worst possible way, without providing any personal justification or explanation. This says a lot about her, because she had the option to part as friends, as painful as that might have been for both of you.

Your reaction now is understandable. People who have been burned instinctively avoid getting too close to the flame in the future, but in avoiding future relationships, you are expecting others to pay for what happened in your own past.

This is the twisted symmetry of your emotional fallout.

We all carry our wounds in different ways. Time and positive experiences will help you to heal from this.

You should strive to be brave enough to have these experiences.

I hope you won’t let this loss change what is best and brightest about you. (c) Ask Amy

Whoa. They video chatted for eight to ten hours a day?! Oh my goodness.

I’m a huge communicator. I get thrilled whenever someone sends me an email. I’m all like, “Oh boy, an email!” I don’t video chat with anyone, though. For one thing, I lack the tech savvy. For another thing, I prefer emails.

Eight to ten hours a day. That’s equal to or greater than having a full-time job. I can’t even handle being on the road for one hour. Driving to visit my mom in Corydon when she lived there was very stressful to my brain. (That was an hour-long trip.)

Eight to ten hours.

Huh. If you’re not in physical proximity to the person you’re dating, maybe you shouldn’t try to pretend you are. Having the cameras rolling for that long seems extreme. “I’m going to the bathroom now… I’m taking out the trash now… Oh boy, Wheel of Fortune came on!… Time to feed the dog!”

There is no one with whom I’d want to interact via tech for eight to ten hours. No one. Okay, maybe Jesus. I’ll make an exception for Jesus. And that’s weird, because I’ve always prayed to have five minutes alone with Jesus. But eight to ten hours?! Oh my heavenly goodness. We’d run out of wine, and where would that leave us? Maybe He could properly part my hair. It’s never parted right. That would take what, like, five minutes? Huh.

For seriousness, if I had to spend eight to ten hours interacting with someone via tech one time, then I’d have to strategize to survive it. I would master shadow puppetry beforehand. I’d find whole books that I could recite. I’d find some karaoke videos. Eight hours’ worth of karaoke videos. [Shrugs.] It’s like when you have to take an eight- or ten-hour flight. You plan ahead, right? You pack entertainment. If you’re traveling internationally, you hope that the plane will have a screen on the back of the seat in front of you. And although the adventure of traveling is fun, you wouldn’t want to repeat it every single day for months unless you’re on the payroll.

Yeah, wow. Anyway, I feel sad for this guy. Perhaps she was his sole emotional support. Emotional support is a beautiful thing, but it’s best when we have more than one person to offer it to us. My best guess is that the letter writer had no one else in his life. I’d urge him to find a cadre of friends.

I used to be a very hopeful, romantic and optimistic person.

Now, whenever I meet someone new, I find myself scanning them for signs of danger and looking around for the exits.

He’s speaking metaphorically, right? Scanning for signs of danger and locating the exits really only makes sense if you’ve escaped a gruesome nightclub fire and lived to tell. I think that would traumatize anyone. Here’s a random tip: don’t follow the crowd to the main exit. You’ll get trampled or left behind. Use your head and find a lesser-known exit. Due to code, there have to be multiple exits.

But I digress. What were we talking about? Oh, right. [Shaking my head to clear it.]

What can I do to cultivate a more trusting and less stymied outlook about romance?

I think he misused stymied, but I’m not sure. Anyway, he just needs to have a support system already in place. He needs friends or family members to be connected to. A romantic interest can’t be your everything. He also needs to accept that his outlook has changed. You can’t magically undo the shift in perspective that experience brings. You just have to deal with it and work with it. He could get a therapist or do some soul-searching, or whatever. There are options.

Wow. Eight to ten hours.

The intention table!

I’ve created an intention table to bring the sort of love I want into my life. It was sort of Sonya’s idea, but she said I should list the qualities of a man and rate those qualities in order of importance. I’ve done a bit of that in my mind, and here’s the first most important thing:

  • He must be single, available, and totally into me.

I haven’t found a way to symbolize that on my intention table yet, but I’m a creative person, so I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

DSC00013 (2)

From left to right, the angel watching over the two children represents divine guidance, meaning that the universe will help me bring the love I want into my life.

The footprints plaque represents my love of Jesus, so if he loves Jesus too, then that’s great!

The tiny transistor radio that actually tells the time was a souvenir from Prague. It makes me think of Sonya, and thus it represents that the man I’ll meet will be thrilled and happy for me that I have so many great friends.

That old-school telephone shows that he’ll love communicating with me. And he’ll want to do it all the time. Never will I be waiting and hoping to get a message. He’ll be a frequent communicator!

I think the two kissing lovebirds are self-explanatory.

The rainbow-lettered magnet says, “Do more of what makes you happy!” He’ll be positive and upbeat and will love having fun.

The next magnet says something about how the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Our relationship will transform us into the best versions of ourselves.

The third magnet is the image of a purple cow, sitting in a field of “normal” cows. Yes to individuality and owning who you are!

Above that magnet is a rainbow angel. He’ll share my spirituality or at least love how happy my beliefs make me.

I think the small pillow that says, “Dear Reader, I married him.” is also self-explanatory, but about that: it’s a quote from Jane Eyre, but the pillow makers got it wrong. The first sentence of the last chapter is actually, “Reader, I married him.” Oh well. I still love the sentiment!

Then we have a glass rainbow. I’m a rainbow fanatic, so he may as well be one too. Or, if he’s not a rainbow fanatic, he’ll appreciate how colorful and cheery I am! That alone would make me happy.

Then we have a heart-shaped dreamcatcher. We’ll dream of each other often and love each other.

The little house represents the wonderful life that we’ll build together.

That small lantern has a panel in each rainbow color, in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. You just can’t see in the photos. It shows how he’ll light up my inner rainbow qualities and make me happy and a better version of myself.

The dammit doll, who you’re supposed to beat up when you’re angry, represents that he understands my issues and doesn’t judge me for them.

I still wish I could figure out how to represent that he’s single, available, and totally into me. Oh well. I think it’s implied on the intention table.

Lisa! Geez, girl friend.

Dear Annie: I am a 76-year-old woman who is still not over her teenage friendship troubles.

I should preface this entry by stating that I am by no means stuck in the past. This instance simply comes to mind whenever I face shortcomings in life.

I’ll now set the scene: It was early September of 1962. I had just turned 17, and I was a senior in an all-girls Catholic high school. I was a particularly gifted student with mostly As and the occasional B-plus in history or arithmetic. My parents had a strong sense of pride in my work and thus had very high standards for my test scores.

My literature class proved to be much harder than I had expected, and at the very first test of the year, I flunked. I mean, I totally bombed it. I didn’t want my parents to be upset with me, so I lied to them and said that I had gotten an A-minus.

My best friend at the time, “Lisa,” who was also in this particular class, had gotten a very high score and, to put it nicely, she was not quiet about it. Later on that same week, my parents invited Lisa over for supper. As expected, she was boasting about her score. My parents had mentioned that I had also done well, to which Lisa answered, “What are you talking about? She practically bombed that test.”

My parents found out the truth, and I was grounded until the end of the year. Not only that, I had lost trust in Lisa, although it was not her fault. I did not blame her.

About three months later was the big winter formal, where my school and the brother school down the road would gather for the dance. I, of course, was still grounded, but by a crazy turn of events, my angel of a mother decided to let me go. I hadn’t told anybody I was going — not even Lisa.

When I got to the dance, I was horrified. It was a blast up until I overheard Lisa telling my classmates that I was a liar and a troublemaker. I did not speak to Lisa again after that.

I graduated high school and became a secretary at the front desk of a local office and moved on with life, but every time I experienced hardship, this instance would replay in my mind.

I feel that I am being held back by teenage drama. I feel that I have long moved past Lisa, but the feeling of betrayal I feel will never leave. — Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

I haven’t read Annie Lane’s advice yet, but I know Annie Lane. She’ll feel compelled to sympathize and say that of course the letter writer isn’t over it. And I’m just like… there are people out there whose lives are THAT easy?!

Anyway, before I go on a rant aimed at the letter writer, let me predict Annie Lane’s advice. Along with the sympathizing, Annie Lane will mutter some idiocy about how we’re deeply affected by our teen years, and it’s hard to hear people say bad stuff about us. I can’t even guess beyond that.

Dear Pants on Fire: Despite what you say, it seems to me that a part of you is stuck in the past and continuing to harbor resentment toward Lisa. Sixty years, countless life experiences and surely many friendships later, this incident and Lisa’s betrayal still hold power over you today.

Instead of replaying it in your mind or trying to work through it on your own, seek professional counseling. The help of an experienced therapist could be just what you need to finally free yourself from this recurring nightmare and make peace with your past.

You connect this instance to your “shortcomings,” but do remember, a teenage fib to your parents and a failed test hardly define the person you grew up to become.

Not bad, but certainly not inspired.

Yeah, it just seems really weird to me. The moments that I relive involve graphic physical abuse, and that sort of thing. I can’t imagine having lived a life as easy as the letter writer’s. I hope she’s at least grateful for how easy her life has been!

When I got to the dance, I was horrified. It was a blast up until I overheard Lisa telling my classmates that I was a liar and a troublemaker. I did not speak to Lisa again after that.

So… the letter writer couldn’t interject and say, “Hey, look who’s talking! Lisa here is engaged to her cousin! Now that’s troublesome!” Well, maybe not, since we all come up with witty replies like that one [eyeroll] after the fact. But who cares what Lisa said? Really. A liar and a troublemaker? Ohh, my ears are burning from such harsh gossip. It’s not like Lisa was telling everyone that she was a slutty whore who caught an STD while screwing the driver’s ed teacher. There’s gossip, and then there’s gossip. Calling someone a liar and a troublemaker is gossip, no italics.

It seems as if Lisa took too much pleasure in getting the letter writer in trouble in the first place. I don’t have a high opinion of Lisa. But no one should have to answer for that sort of action performed in 1962. I’m inclined to forgive Lisa already and to let bygones be bygones. And we all know that I can hold a grudge until the cows come home.

Generally when people are bad to me with that specific level of badness, I quit having a relationship with them, but I don’t put them on my “list”. (Okay, maybe they go on a secondary list. Trust me. You don’t want to be on one of my lists.) Mostly, I just forget about them and make a mental note not to trust them in the future, should we cross paths again. The letter writer’s reaction seems to be overkill.

That reminds me. This is funny. While I was insane yesterday, my parents were downstairs celebrating Thanksgiving without me. Today, my dad said that he’d had to reassure my mom that I wasn’t mad at her. We had a good laugh. (If I’m mad at you, you will know it. There will be no examining of the evidence. You will know. If you find yourself saying, “Is it possible that Meg’s mad at me? Hmm…” then the answer is a solid and definitive no.)

I heard from a member of my southern baptist youth group several years ago. We went to church together in high school. She said, “I want to apologize for constantly trash-talking you behind your back. But it was really your own fault. You tended to cry a lot.” (No kidding. I was an emotional train wreck. Take my current emotional problems and multiply them by a million.)

And I was like, “What?! You did what?! What?!”

Yeah. She shouldn’t have apologized. But it did disillusion me about the entire youth group, which was good, because they all hate me now anyway.

Oh. Also, my high school class nominated me for prom queen… AS A JOKE. Yeah. My name was there on the ballot as a joke. I was that girl at the prom dressed in a godawful outfit who said, “Oh cool, I was nominated! I’ll vote for myself please,” while her math teacher tried not to cringe as she tallied the vote, singular. That totally tops the letter writer’s complaint, right? And I’m not even upset by it. I’m just sort of like… well… [eyeroll]… I was a nerd.

Ugh. Yeah, the letter writer needs to do some soul-searching or get some therapy.

Every time I experienced hardship, this instance would replay in my mind.

So strange. Hmm… does she feel incapable of conquering life’s challenges? I can’t fathom it. Oh well.

Oh no! Middle school!

I’ve had a recent dip into insanity, but I’ve managed to resurface after about two whole days of sitting in a pitch-black room doing nothing. I quit eating and drinking, and I was really upset. Then, today, I went to my mom’s condo to visit her, and we went through some old family photos. That was when this throwback to middle school happened:

Screenshot (580)

And I’m just like, holy bleeding flip. We have:

  • The butt cut, which speaks for itself
  • Unwashed hair
  • Uncombed hair
  • My huge, misshapen head
  • Those huge eyeglasses
  • Braces
  • That come hither grin

At least I had on earrings. I’ve never worn them since middle school. After I got my ears pierced back then, my ears kept getting infected, despite my best efforts. Then, in math class, it happened. A clump of hair (yeah, that dirty, stringy hair in the photo) got stuck to the back of my earring’s stud. When I pulled the earring out of my ear, the hair came through the hole in my ear and stuck out there. After the math teacher got everyone to quit laughing (I was laughing too), she sent me to the bathroom to fix it. That was the end of my piercing days. I let the holes just grow back together.

I’d get them pierced again, but when they were originally pierced, it hurt like hell. After the first ear was done, I shrieked, and I’m not exaggerating. It was pain like I’d never felt. Then, before I could stop her, the woman ran around and did my other ear. More screaming.

Never again. People say that women forget the pain of childbirth so that they can keep procreating. I find this hard to believe. I can promise that I will never get my ears pierced again unless it’s a slow method rather than a piercing gun. Not happening.

Oh my gosh. I’ve been upset because I’ve been feeling ugly and unattractive lately. Now I know I am! But I’ve decided it’s comical to be ugly. So I ought to do standup. I could use that euphemistic new joke of mine about how I’m not schizophrenic, I’m “reality-challenged”. That should bring down the house.

Well… I posted the picture on FB, and my friends are all “loving” it with hearts. It was meant to be funny! 😀 Oh well.

Annie Lane’s easy answers and ambiguous behavior!

Dear Annie: I am an 18-year-old girl living very far from you, but I recently read one of your columns and thought you might be able to help me. I am doing really well in my academics and was just accepted by one of the best engineering institutions in our country.

Everyone around me is proud and happy. But something inside is pinching me.

I broke up with my boyfriend last year, whom I loved with the core of my heart. He was my classmate. Eventually, he told me he loved me, too.

However, after four years of this shy love, we finally got into a relationship that created some of the happiest moments of my life. And his life, too.

But a year later, we found ourselves in a complicated situation and decided to separate. Both of us are depressed, and it’s been one year, and we are not able to move on. Neither of us wants to, yet I haven’t talked to him for a long time. — Ms. Unforgettable (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Oh, geez. This is another easy question for Annie Lane to answer. My guess? “Put yourself out there and see how he feels. You won’t know otherwise. And don’t forget to focus on your studies because everyone’s proud of you.”

Dear Ms. Unforgettable: It sounds like neither of you can forget each other and both of you would be much happier together. At the very least, it sounds worth giving the relationship a second try. Pick up the phone and call him. Life is too short to worry about “what ifs.” See if you can get back together. Best of luck to you.

Well, I overshot with the studies stuff, but I was basically correct. It’s just such obvious advice though! AAUGH!

Dear Annie: My husband is a chronic procrastinator. He puts off everything — from the small things, such as fixing a broken chair, to the really important stuff, such as making a will or getting a medical test. It’s hard to schedule anything because he always waits until the last minute to decide what he wants to do.

Sometimes, I just have to wait because he won’t be pushed to act or make a decision. Other times, I just have to act on my own. I’ve tried the gentle approach and the firm approach. Nothing works.

To be fair, he has a lot of good qualities. He is kind and loving, and he’s a great cook. I don’t expect perfection, but this problem affects not just me but whoever is waiting for an answer from him. That often involves friends and relatives, and it puts me in the middle. I realize that he may never change, but how do I live with this and achieve peace of mind? — Tired of Waiting

Okay, here’s the breakdown of advice and which score Annie Lane will get.

She’ll get an A if she tells the letter writer to quit being the go-between with his friends and relatives. We’ll hope for that. 

She’ll get a B if she recommends a specific form of therapy that could help. 

She’ll get a C if she urges the letter writer to talk to her husband and share her feelings about this. 

She’ll get a D if she recommends counseling for either or both of them (in a generic, non-specific sense). 

Come on, Annie Lane! Aim high here.

Dear Tired of Waiting: People often procrastinate because they are afraid they won’t be able to complete the tasks at hand. Fear of failure promotes procrastination primarily when it reduces people’s sense of autonomy or when they feel incapable of dealing with a task that they’re afraid to fail at.

Don’t bail him out with friends and family who are waiting for an answer. Direct them to ask him again, and tell him and them that you are not his timekeeper. He will then have to deal with the ramifications of his procrastinations.

Holy flip! She scored! She got an A! Woo hoo!! I mean, it wasn’t a huge accomplishment. I thought up that scale in, like, five minutes. It’s mind-numbing that she never tackles anything that requires actual thought.

Let’s see what Miss Manners is up to!

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband of 31 years died after a short illness. I’d always thought we had a good relationship with his daughter. She’s in her 50s and has a very successful career as an elder care social worker.

Over the years, we shared birthdays, holidays and other family events, even though we live in another state. We conscientiously tried to be on good terms with her, her husband(s), children and stepchildren, including overnight visits, outings and gifts.

My husband had divorced her mother when she was 3, and willingly paid alimony and child support for many years; he also voluntarily paid the tuition for her college degree. We believed we had built a good relationship with her.

A week before he died, she came to the door unannounced. I, of course, invited her in to visit her father for perhaps the last time. After she talked with her dad for a few minutes, she sat down with me and began to tell me what a terrible father he was, and how he had been cruel to her throughout her life!

I was stunned. I only knew my husband to be a kind, honest and loving man. I was so shocked and hurt! I explained that I thought her outburst inappropriate and unkind. I wanted to toss her out then and there, but held my tongue and temper and just asked her to leave. I said that her relationship with her dad was not my business, and that I wouldn’t listen to anyone speak ill of my husband — most certainly not when he was lying upstairs on his deathbed!

I’ve kept my distance since then, though she continues to contact me, asking how I’m doing and wishing me well since she “knows how hard it must be for me to be alone.”

I want to tell her exactly what I think of her poor behavior and ask her to stop contacting me. Every time she does, I relive that painful conversation. Ghosting her seems rude, but I really want nothing to do with her henceforth.

I don’t think any of the grandchildren know about what she said, and I certainly would not tell them, as I would like to continue a relationship with them. Your thoughts on how to put this behind me?

GENTLE READER: Severing familial relationships may be painful, but it is not complex: Stop returning her calls. There is no need to tell her exactly what you think because you already have.

Miss Manners noticed, however, that that is not exactly what you asked. Your phrasing suggests an unease with ending things this way, in spite of your understandable anger.

Two paths lie open: terminating the relationship, or rebuilding it — perhaps on the premise that sometimes a mother (even one appointed later to the task) forgives a child’s transgressions. Etiquette can tell you how to do either, but cannot choose between them for you.

Your first reaction was motivated by loyalty to your husband. After you have had time to grieve, you might wish to consider whether another way of showing loyalty would be to act as you think he would have wanted — which may or may not confirm your current choice. (c) MISS MANNERS

Interesting. It seems ambiguous. I had to think about this one for a while, because I wanted to give the step-daughter (let’s call her Gretchen) the benefit of the doubt–that she was grieving and unable to cope with her dad’s imminent death. But the more I think about it, the more I can’t excuse it. That’s a pretty bad way to act! And it has intent hidden in it, as if Gretchen knew exactly what she was doing. Like, she wasn’t just spontaneously acting out. It’s more like she knew that her dad wasn’t in a position to protect the letter writer, so she went full-on brutal toward her.

Because the situation reminds me of my sister, who’s a total bully. There have been times my sister has bullied me and I’ve begged her to stop, like, “What you’re saying is really hurting me! Stop saying it!” to no avail. That’s what bullies do. You ask them to stop what they’re saying, but they continue. My sister has also assaulted me six or seven times as adults, so trust me, she’s a bully.

See, there’s a desire to give people the benefit of the doubt, but that’s what my parents keep doing for my sister. “Oh, your sister is jealous of you,” or, “Oh, your sister is working through some issues,” or, “Oh, your sister is taking baby steps toward self-improvement,” (yeah, right), or, “Oh, you’re really overreacting, and your sister poses no threat to you.” (That last one after she threw me into a wall and then kept eyeing me downstairs as if she owned me, and she wouldn’t let me pass through the kitchen into the living room where our dad was. Right, she posed no threat to me. Not.)

It’s possible that Gretchen has always been a bully, but she was kept in check by her dad, whose health took a turn for the worse, causing him to lose his control over his bully of a daughter.

She sat down with me and began to tell me what a terrible father he was, and how he had been cruel to her throughout her life!

It just reads to me like a direct attack. Because I also get the sense that the letter writer tried to get her to stop talking, but she refused. I think Gretchen targeted her stepmom with the deliberate intent to distress her. This goes beyond being an energetic vampire and more into the territory of being a downright bully. Even if her dad was cruel to her all the time, that wasn’t the right way to express it. Gracious saints.

On the off-chance that Gretchen was just having a moment (although the evidence doesn’t paint that picture for me), there hasn’t been an apology. That’s also pretty damning, and it suggests that Gretchen felt entitled to act that way.

It bears mentioning that both Gretchen and my sister, the bully, are successful social workers. (I don’t know what it means, either, but it seems bad.)

I’ve kept my distance since then, though she continues to contact me, asking how I’m doing and wishing me well since she “knows how hard it must be for me to be alone.”

Since the letter writer put that in quotes, we can assume that Gretchen is being snarky about it. “Sorry your husband’s dead, ya loser!” Ugh. If Gretchen’s not being snarky about it, it still makes sense that her actions would come off as snarky after her abysmal behavior when she visited her dad. Or, if she’s really not being snarky and I’m misreading the quotes, it’s still not an apology! Ugh. It’s more of a smug, self-congratulatory pretense.

My sense and my best guess is that Gretchen has always resented her stepmom, so after she visited her dad and knew he was dying for sure, she saw an opportunity to attack and lash out at this woman for simply being in the family. I’m seeing so much of my sister in her.

The important thing here is for the letter writer to do whatever’s necessary to avoid losing her contact with the grandchildren. If that means pretending to like Gretchen, ugh.

Whoops! Forgot to title this one!

TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF BEING SUICIDAL, BUT IN THE DISTANT PAST. EVERYTHING’S FINE!

Dear Amy: Last year, one of my sister’s children came out to me as trans.

“S” asked to stay with me because of the trauma of being around their mostly conservative and media-illiterate family.

S has been living with my husband and me for a year.

In many ways having S stay with us has been an amazing opportunity for growth, but I continually run afoul of them by talking about commonalities in our experiences.

They make assumptions and rebuff me when I try to communicate about my own experiences.

As someone on my own mental health journey, I find this incredibly hurtful.

I get that I do not understand what it is to be trans, but I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

I know I need to be “the adult” in the situation, but it’s painful when they don’t accept my experiences as valid.

My husband thinks I should ignore my feelings. I have a hard time with confrontation and S flips out if they are ever put in the position of being in the wrong.

My husband and I are prioritizing them over just about everything else.

I’ve found S a therapist, while I am still looking for one myself.

We have invested so much it trying to get S to a stable and healthy place, but interactions often leave me feeling regressed to previous levels of self-doubt and frustration.

I am trying to treat S the way I would want to be treated.

How do I get through to S that I need to be treated the same?

— Uncertain Aunt

Uncertain: First of all — thank you for being a hero to this young person. What you are doing is huge.

I’m assuming that you don’t have other children/teens in your life, because if you were a more seasoned parent, you would understand that much of what you are experiencing is fairly typical behavior of an older teen.

You are expecting to have a series of rich and rewarding dialogues with “S,” where you relate to them by sharing your own experiences, and where you both benefit from a deep and enlightening relationship.

But a typical 18-year-old mainly wants to narrate their own life. When they talk (and it’s great when they talk), they’re monologuing more than dialoguing.

People at this age are at the cusp of emerging fully in the world, and before they go, they want to get their story straight. This helps them settle into their identity, while they’re still safe and taken care of.

This would be especially important to a trans person.

You and your husband should continue to provide a loving, safe and stable home. Listen with patience and compassion, without insisting (or expecting) that S should relate to you on your level.

You two adults should take care of your own relationship and gradually loosen the strings, so S has the experience of emerging with a degree of independence — while still experiencing your home as a safe place where they are loved and accepted. (c) Ask Amy

Huh. I put a lot of thought into this, and I have to say that the letter writer seems sort of… self-absorbed?

As someone on my own mental health journey, I find this incredibly hurtful.

That sounds weird to me. I’m schizophrenic, for crying out loud, but I don’t see myself as being on a mental health journey. I see myself as being on a spiritual journey! Huh. [Shrugs.]

I get that I do not understand what it is to be trans, but I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

Being transgendered isn’t traumatic. Trauma, by definition, is something awful that happens to you. Your identity isn’t an event that happens to you. It’s more just who you are. That said, being trans can (and often does) lead to trauma, in the form of bullying, hate crimes, being rejected by your parents, etc.

My point is that I’m not sure if the letter writer really knows what she’s talking about.

I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

I don’t think that sounds sincere. Genuine trauma isn’t easy to talk about. It’s hellish and nightmarish and horrific. But this aunt wants to talk about trauma with her trans niece?! Really? I’ve experienced trauma. It’s not something I’d really feel comfortable sharing with a teenager. I would share it with a teenager, though, if their trauma was similar, but the circumstances would have to be very specific, and I’d have to be convinced that it would be helpful. It would be about what was in their best interest, not mine.

So my guess is that this letter writer has watered down the definition of trauma to include anything that goes wrong in life. Lame. (Stuff can go wrong and cause major problems in your life without being traumatic. But still, let’s not minimize trauma.)

In thinking about this letter, I remembered a few things from my own teenage years. When I was a freshman in college, I was stressed beyond belief, totally overwhelmed from living in the dorms, and on the edge of emotional destruction. I tried to slit my own throat. I didn’t get very far because I have really thick skin. (Go figure.) I wound up talking to my resident advisor in her room. She tried to explain her own problems to me. She was from Jamaica, and she said her black skin was too dark in tone for her to feel acceptable.

My reaction was, “Uh…”

Now, if I were to meet my resident advisor today, my reaction would be, “Really, skin tone matters? How odd. It never matters to white people. I’m sorry you’ve felt inadequate because of the shade of your skin. That bites. What an awful thing to feel bad about. Well, I think you’re very pretty. I like your skin color.”

See, these days, I’m glad to hear about other people’s experiences because it broadens my worldview and gives me a way to connect. But as a college freshman:

  1. I was self-absorbed, and
  2. I was suicidal.

Also, as a high school student, I had a tendency to burst into tears all over my church. My mother (who didn’t attend that church) was verbally and emotionally abusive, and I just couldn’t cope at all. So the mother of a friend sat with me and told me about how she’d been trying to become a nurse, but the test material about math was too hard for her to master.

My reaction was, “Uh…”

I wasn’t sure where she was coming from or why she was telling me that, but I did tell myself that she meant well and was being kind. It just didn’t break through and reach me, though. I felt bad for her, but I also felt minimized. My problems were serious, and hers sounded less serious. (Not that I’m dissing her math issues. I’m grateful every day to be good at math.)

I think one thing to keep in mind before sharing your own problems is, Are my problems as serious as this person’s problems? No? I’ll remain quiet, then. 

Another one is, Are my specific problems relevant to this person’s problems? No? I’ll remain quiet then. 

A third one is, Is this person at my level, like, are they my age? Oh, she’s a teenager? Okay, I won’t share my own problems, then. 

I think the letter writer needs an attitude adjustment. She needs to be there for S with no expectations of reciprocity. S is a teenager who’s had serious problems! S needs support!! The letter writer shouldn’t make it about herself. Goodness gracious. She’s got a loving husband and the ability to find herself a therapist. Why burden S with all her problems?

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