Category Archives: Ask Amy

deja deja vu

When I read Miss Manners‘ column this morning (well, really it was Sunday’s column), I knew I’d read it–and even written about it!–before.  So imagine my surprise when in the deep little help please archives, I couldn’t find the post that I was sure would contain precisely the phrase I recognized in the column.

I broadened my search.  And, lo and behold, I found the post. But guess what–I never found the column. I know, I would bet the farm if I had one, that in early 2009 Amy published this letter from a woman who spills things on purpose to give her an excuse to clean up her boyfriend’s garage apartment.  I know it.  But apparently I couldn’t even find the column then, and I can’t find it now.



If you’re not sure you’re sure, you’re not

I was deeply troubled by Abby’s response to a not-quite-affianced woman last week:

DEAR ABBY: You probably have heard things like this before, but I don’t know where to turn.

I have been dating “Jeff” for five years and we have a lot of fun together. Last week Jeff proposed marriage and — I choked! Now I’m having doubts about everything, and he’s getting impatient with me because I haven’t given him an answer.

Things are not going the way I had hoped, Abby. Everything is falling apart. Does this happen often? How do I know if he’s the right one? — PANICKED IN PITTSBURGH

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Ask Amy chat–tomorrow!

Tomorrow at noon, Chicago time (1 p.m. Eastern), Amy Dickinson will be hosting a live chat!

Yes, it will conflict with the weekly CHLC.  But that’s why God made browser tabs!

Strongly worded letters

Expert writers and researchers showed up in two columns today, fretting that they hadn’t been properly recognized for their efforts on behalf of others.

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Friday-ja vu

Last Friday and this morning both featured duplicate letters.  Last week, Margo published a letter that appeared in Prudence’s live chat a couple of months ago.  This morning, Amy published a letter that Prudence published yesterday.  Hmmmm…….

Last Friday’s Dear Margo:

Dear Margo: I am a young (early 20s) Muslim woman. For more than 10 years, I chose to wear a scarf on my head, but my problem is that I don’t want to wear it anymore. I started wearing it on my own because I believed in it, but I’ve been reconsidering for several years now after much thought and study.

I wish I could just take it off, but there are problems. One, my family is very religious and would freak out if I did. (I tried to bring up the subject once, and they were horrified.) I am a college grad currently looking for a job but haven’t found one yet, so I’m stuck at home and, therefore, financially dependent on them. Two, should I take it off, the small, tight-knit Muslim community in which I live would talk endlessly about it, which would “ruin” my family’s reputation. At the moment, they are held in high regard, particularly my dad, who is seen as a religious leader. I don’t want to shame my family or alienate myself from them, which is what would happen if I took it off. We are close. Just to make it clear, my family members are not religious extremists in any sense, just devoted to their religion and terrified that I am drifting away from it. What to do?

— To Wear or Not To Wear

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Commencement: It’s just the Beginning

It seems like this woman is trying to make her daughter out to be a an entitled, takes-it-all-for-granted lazypants, unprepared for the real world.  But…I just don’t buy it.  Check it out:

Dear Amy: My daughter recently graduated from college.

My husband and I paid for all of her expenses, though she held a part-time job.

We opened a bank account for her when she was a child. We added about $10,000 to this account when she started college.

Our daughter has spent all of her savings and paychecks throughout these four years on clothes and going out with friends.

I have berated her countless times on her spending habits.

Right before she graduated, she said she’d found an apartment to live in with her two friends.

I told her NOT to sign a lease because she couldn’t afford it.

She moved home and now has a full-time job ($14 an hour) and another side job while she looks for work in her field.

Her friends took the apartment and she goes there on weekends.

She assured me that she was not on the lease.

Of course, now I find out that she is. I am livid.

I told her she needs to either get someone to sublet the apartment or go ahead and move into it, but she will not be able to keep our car or have us pay any of her expenses.

She found a bus that can get her close to work but I am worried for her safety when she gets out of work at 10 p.m. and is waiting for a bus in a dangerous neighborhood.

She wants to buy our car, but with her track record I know she will not keep up with payments.

I think she needs to see what real life is all about but if something happened to her as she waited for a bus I would never forgive myself.

Any suggestions?

—Distressed Mom

Arrgh!  “She needs to see what real life is all about”??  She has a job!  (Two jobs!) She wants to move out!  It’s the mom who keeps paying her bills and forbidding her to leave the nest.  This letter is written like a list of the daughter’s shortcomings.  But lets review:

Exhibit A: She held a part-time job, earning spending money for herself while she was in college.  The mother doesn’t say anything about her ever asking her parents to send cash, as some kids do.

As it happens, the mother doesn’t like the way her daughter spent this money, or the savings in her bank account.  And yet…the parents were covering all of her expenses, so she didn’t have any obligations.  What did the mom want?  For her daughter not to spend another cent on top of her covered expenses, out of gratitude or something?  She was earning money, and had no bills.  Of course she bought clothes and went out with friends.  Who wouldn’t?  What, exactly, was she supposed to do with her earnings?  And were these expectations made clear to her (so at least she’d know, even though I still maintain that it was her money to spend as she wanted).

Exhibit B: She graduated in four years, and is has a full-time job and a part-time job while looking for more specialized work.  How is she not experiencing the “real world,” or pulling her own weight?  It certainly doesn’t sound like she’s rolling in dough.  But as a young single woman with roommates?  ‘Sprobably enough to get by, sitting on milk crates and eating cereal.  She’s well on her way, or she could be, under different circumstances.

Exhibit C: Although she’s on the apartment lease with her roommates (and presumably has been paying rent all this time), she’s living at home.  She lied about this, and no, that’s not a good thing.  But while factors such as her access to a car, and the payment of other expenses by her parents, probably played a part in this decision, I also wouldn’t rule out her mother’s “forbidding” her to move out as a motivating factor.

I suspect she stayed home because it was easier than moving out.  Not easier than getting a job.  Not easier than finding a place to live.  Not easier than paying bills.  She’s already doing all that.  It was easier than pissing her mother off.

Exhibit D: Mom doesn’t want to sell her the car because “with her track record,” she won’t make the payments.  What track record?  According to the mom, she’s never had bills to pay at all.  The only example is the rent on the apartment she’s surreptitiously leasing–and, apparently, she’s managed to pay that rent all along.

I just don’t get it.  These parents need to stop paying her bills, and encourage her to move out.  Not because she needs a kick in the pants to become self-sufficient, but because she already is.  All she’s lacking is the backbone to stand up to her mom about it.

Compare this with the story of this mom, whose newly graduated daughter really is struggling to get her feet under her:

Dear Amy: We sent our daughter to the expensive private college of her dreams. We paid for school, so she has no loans to repay. Graduation was two months ago. Now that she is home, she will not make a serious attempt to look for work or an internship.

I forced her to volunteer for something, but it was very short term. I would be fine if she found an unpaid internship because I know the job market is not great for certain fields.

Her father seems to agree that she should be doing more, but he claims I am too hard on her (because I have pressed her to refresh her resume, make contacts, look for something to do and not sleep until noon, 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. every day). He also said we will have to wait until she is motivated.

With free room and board, Internet and a big-screen TV, she might never be motivated.

I made her go to a job workshop and a job club. They offered good suggestions and contacts, but she didn’t follow up.

Today she lied about submitting a resume, so I told her point blank that if she is not making a serious effort to find a job in her field starting now, I will find her a job at McDonald’s or in local retail.

I will also have to review her efforts and documentation each day, as if she were in kindergarten.

Hm.  These moms seem to have in common that they’ve paved the way for their kids, covered every expense and provided every opportunity along the way–and now they think that gratitude, serendipitous motivation, or the magical transformation caused by a hood and a mortarboard will somehow turn their kids into independent, self-sufficient money-making machines. And, even worse, when somehow that does happen, they can’t let go!

They complain about their kids not acting like adults, while they continue to treat them like infants.  Don’t they see the connection?

Also, maybe I’m reading too much into this, at least in the first mom’s letter, but I get a sense that, along with the hovering, there’s a lot of pressure on their kids to get not just any job, but the right job.  The mom in the second letter says she’s going to push her daughter into retail or fast food, basically, she implies, as a punishment.  No wonder her daughter is depressed, discouraged, and lying about her job prospects: she hasn’t found her dream job 2 months out of college, and is afraid of disappointing her mother.  Meanwhile, the daughter in the first letter has two jobs, and is looking for more, but still her mom is not satisfied.

It’s not clear to me what these parents want to see their kids accomplish the summer after they get out of school, but I sort of suspect that nothing will be good enough.  They’re afraid to see their kids fail, but they also don’t seem capable of letting them succeed on their own terms.  How sad.

F is for Effort…and Friendship

On Sunday, Amy posted a letter from someone with a common problem: a long, old friendship has felt one-sided for years, and the letter writer is getting burned out.  She wants to know why her friend can’t step it up, just a little.  Should she give up?  Confront?  Accept?  Drop the friend?:

Dear Amy: I have been best friends with “Laura” since kindergarten.

She got married and then got pregnant without telling me. I rarely hear from her and when I contact her, I get short, simple answers to any of the questions I ask. She never asks about what’s going on in my life.

She is having her second child, and I just received an invitation to her baby shower.  Am I obligated to go because I have known her so long?

Or is there a polite way to say, “You don’t make an effort to even be a friend, so I don’t want to make the effort”?

Or can I just send a present and say, “Best of luck and congratulations”? — Confused

Dear Confused: You could send a card (or say in person), “I feel like I only hear from you when you have these big events going on! Congratulations on your pregnancy. I’m so sorry I can’t make it to the shower but I hope you have a wonderful party.”

This is a polite, opaque statement, in keeping with the lack of intimacy in your friendship.

It would be very generous to also send a gift.

It’s really hard to know what to do in these situations.  Part of it is that you never know, really, what the other person is going through.  Are they really just flaky?  In the case above it seems like it could be anything from a (hasty?) marriage and baby, (postpartum?) depression, an abusive relationship that’s isolated her, frazzled new-mom exhaustion, or just plain old not wanting to be friends anymore–in which case, the shower invite may have been the doing of “Laura’s” mom, sister, friend, or someone else who assumed the LW was still part of her life.

In other words, the LW can’t tell if “Laura” could care less, would like to pick up the friendship–in a year or two when she’s done with newborns–desperately needs a friend right now but is afraid or otherwise incapable of reaching out, or, feels like she’s doing a perfectly fine job of being a friend as it is.  And it’s hard to make a decision about how to respond when the only person who can tell you what’s going on is totally unreachable.

In these cases, Carolyn’s advice is usually to assume that what the person is bringing to the relationship now is all they’ll ever be able to offer.  That’s who they are, what they have time for, etc. Based on this, measure out your own time, effort, and emotional involvement accordingly.  Be as involved as you can or want to be, to the extent that the relationship is still a positive force in your life, and be open to the fact that other people’s time, effort, and emotional investment a) is out of your hands, and b) may not be measured the same way yours is.  That is, just because they give less time or energy, doesn’t necessarily mean they care less.  This particular flavor of this sticky situation came up in the Friday chat:

Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn –

I’m a female that’s known her best friend (male) for about 15 years, although we haven’t always been best friends, and at times even lost touch for months or even a couple of years. However, we’ve been constant best friends for the last few years. About a year ago, when he began to get serious with his then-gf/now-fiancee, I gave them as much space as possible to both avoid any jealousy issues as well as just to let him enjoy the relationship (he hasn’t had many of them). Now he’s getting married at the end of this month, and I’ve been told several times that I’ll be in the wedding party in some capacity. Come to find out that I’m not an official part of it, but they’ll “find something for me to do.”

I’m happy for him, but I can’t help feeling a little sad that this is what I’ve been reduced to. I know that perhaps the bride may not be interested highlighting our relationship, but as far as I can tell it’s not really her anyway. I think he just didn’t care enough. We used to joke (before he met this girl) that I would be a groomsman in his wedding (I’ve actually been a groomsman at another wedding so he knew it was a role I would completely embrace). Now I’m just feeling down about the whole thing and would like some perspective, so I can go to the wedding with complete enthusiasm and let the rest of this stuff go. I do understand it is their day and all that, I just want some help in adjusting my thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: He might care, but be feeling awkward (he hasn’t had many relationships, you say …). Or, that “space” you started giving him about a year ago, out of love and respect, may have come across to him as your losing interest in him. There are many possibilities here.

That’s why the important thing to think about is not the fact of your not being in the wedding, but instead the fact of your friendship. Remind yourself that there’s often an explanation for things that you haven’t considered, reserve judgment, and keep being his friend.

The friendship may be done, even if he cares about you; some people just aren’t good at carrying people over from one phase of their lives to another. If the friendship is meant to last, though, then your patience and flexibility will carry it through this awkward wedding phase.

What Carolyn?: “The friendship may be done, even if he cares about you; some people just aren’t good at carrying people over from one phase of their lives to another.”

I’ve been staring at this for five minutes. What does this even mean? I don’t think I get it.

I care about you, and if I were the old me, you’d still have a place in my life, but I have a new person in my life and even though they don’t replace you, my quota is full so you’ve been lifted out?


Carolyn Hax: See, that’s how a good manager of people would see it.

I may be speaking only of introverts, but I don’t think so. There are some people for whom it takes everything they’ve got to manage the relationships in their day-to-day life–a spouse, co-workers, neighbors, people with whom interacting isn’t optional.

Where some people would have no trouble placing an “optional” call a day to a best friend who lives across town, a call a week to out-of-state Mom, etc., there are others for whom a call every month, three months, etc., constitutes caring and keeping in touch. People who get it might not think twice about that.

But people who manage daily contact just fine might think, “I can’t believe you supposedly care about me and then go months without calling.”

That’s what I’m saying. He might be in the I-care-but-I’m-immersed-in-all-I-can-handle” camp, in which case he’ll call this friend of 15 years far less without caring even a bit less about her than he used to.

There’s a connection between the two letters above: both are reporting problems with their “best friend.”  This complicates things even more, because with this label, you’re not only asserting friendship, you’re asserting that your friendship should come above all others.  You’re declaring yourself the primary friend.  So this sets you up to be disappointed, not only when your friendship isn’t blooming as you’d like–but also when your best friend’s friendship with anyone else but you is.  (Cue flashback to lots of middle school tears based on expectations that it took me years after middle school to shed).

I appreciate Carolyn’s point that what constitutes “staying in touch” for one person, is tantamount to “neglecting the friendship” for another.  I know this is true, because I can see myself on both sides of this line with different friends.

To one set, I’m the only person who moved out of state, and I hate talking on the phone.  So I basically keep up on facebook, and through one person, from whom I get news about the others and, I guess, vice versa.  I do my best to get into town for big events–and yet there are times when I come home for some other reason and forget or don’t manage to let anyone know I’m there (or don’t until the very last minute), and then everyone feels bad that we didn’t get together when we had the chance (and I’m acutely aware that I couldn’t, ahem, put forth the effort, to get together).  Not to mention I always forget birthdays.  I love these friends dearly and I’m grateful that when we are together, it feels (to me) like no time has passed.  But I know in this crew I’m a bit of a drifter.

With others, months go by when I feel like all the effort comes from me.  I feel sad and hurt to not hear back for weeks, and it becomes a matter of pride to not post things like “call me!” “callll meeeee!!!!” “calllll meeeeeee pleeeeeeeze!” publicly online.  I chant to myself: “this is what our friendship is…I would never have it any other way….I accept and embrace what we have”….and I still sometimes wind up feeling sad and martyr-y and thinking angry, impatient thoughts, only to find out later that they were entirely misplaced.

This is all just hard.  It’s hard not to be hurt, it’s hard not to be defensive, it’s hard not to keep score, it’s hard to feel guilty every time you do talk to a friend who you know you’ve neglected.

The only thing to do seems to be, love your friends as much as you can, as best as you know how, and choose to believe that they feel the same.

This, too, is hard.