Category Archives: bitterness

Hello, world!

Hello, world!

….If anyone is still out there.

It’s been a busy, exciting, and sometimes stressful few month behind this blog. I’ve been taking an unintended, but much-needed break, and once I got into the non-momentum of not-posting, no post seemed worthy of being the first post…of the new year. After a 2….3….4….month hiatus. Or what-have-you.

But I miss the blog (I don’t miss the columns, as I never quit them, of course) and the only way to pick up again is to just do it, eh? So here we go–easing back in with some good advice from Carolyn’s chat today. She’s stated this philosophy in various forms many times, and I think it’s important, so for today will just share it with you:

You know, it’s okay to choose not to do something just because you don’t feel like it. I don’t advise making a habit of choosing this option, but if you’ve baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it’s okay to say you’re sorry, this isn’t a good time, and you’ll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of “isn’t a good time” could really, justifiably, be that you’ve been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.

I see getting comfortable with the word “no” as a multi-step process, especially if you’re starting from a point where there’s a sense of personal risk attached to every “no”–as if everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down. The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful–that’s the advice you’re referring to, I assume–and recognizing that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.

Once you get comfortable with that process, I think you’ll start to make out patterns–of things you like to give and don’t, of people you like to give to and don’t, or situations when it’s okay to extend yourself and when it isn’t. The second step is to put those patterns together: You’ll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You’ll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you. Seeing these clearly will help you say “yes” and “no” to things based on anticipation of how you’ll feel, instead of just reacting to how you feel in the moment. That means you’ll be able to make plans–and decline them–with a growing sense of confidence.

Sometimes you’ll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or blow off a worthy cause there. But even those aren’t the end of the world, they’re just life.  One lazy /selfish/entitled decision does not a lazy /selfish/entitled person make. That’s step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. As long as you’re at peace with the cumulative result, you’re fine.

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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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bad flashbacks

….also from the CHLC:

Washington, DC: Hi Carolyn, I find myself feeling increasingly angry lately. I find myself resenting my co-workers for asking stupid/seemingly simple questions and acting like they can’t something small done without panicking. I find myself wanting to hide from the world. I find myself resenting my roommate. I find myself annoyed with my parents, and ready to snap at my close friends for almost no reason. I find myself worrying about things that are out of my control. Rationally, I know there is nothing I can do, but I still let the emotional side take over and worry me a lot. I haven’t been sleeping well. I feel this urge just to snap/scream at someone. I’m tired of getting attitude from people. I’m tired of having to worry about what I say to people and how it will come off to them. I’m tired of having to be diplomatic. I’m tired of worrying in general. What is wrong with me?

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High school graduate doesn’t make the grade

It’s hard to believe that summer’s practically over, and a new school year is upon us.  And yet, it’s been hard to get away from these nutty graduation horror stories.  Today, we hear from Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: As a young child, my daughter Lauren was best friends with another little girl, Heather, and my wife and I enjoyed her parents as well, so we all socialized often.

As the girls hit middle and high school, Lauren joined the cheerleader squad and began to spend most of her time with that crowd of kids. Heather was not part of that group, and the two girls grew apart, and as that happened, we also spent very little time with her parents.

At graduation we discovered that Heather had garnered almost every award the school had to offer and also received a scholarship to a very prestigious university to study something like bioengineering. Lauren was an average student, and she will be attending a local community college next year to prepare for a future four-year school.

Some weeks after graduation, we received a card from Heather’s parents. It said: “Congratulations to Lauren on her high school graduation, and to you as her parents. It seems just a minute ago that the girls were flying up from Brownie scouts and now here they are ready to really spread their wings and fly.”

I thought the card was fine, but my wife insists that this is a real insult to how we did our job as parents. She has been furious about it and has been on the phone with friends and family planning how she should respond. She’s also angry at me because I don’t agree with her; she says if I was a woman I’d see this for what it was. So I thought I’d ask you if this was bad or good manners.

Gentle Reader: It is certainly bad manners to take a gracious letter as an insult, gossip to others about this and to plot some sort of return insult.

Miss Manners, who is of the same gender as your wife, is something of an expert at reading subtexts. The one she finds here is that although Heather’s parents never complained of her being dropped for the cheerleading crowd and did not brag of her scholastic honors, Lauren’s mother is dissatisfied with her own daughter’s achievements and resentful of those of someone who was, after all, her daughter’s friend and the daughter of friends of her own.

She joins you in begging your wife to stop damaging the reputation of your daughter, who will be presumed to have exhibited envy that inspired the fury.

I think Miss Manners is right on in reading what’s going on here.  I speak from experience when I also wonder if there’s also a measure of guilt coloring the mother’s interpretation of the situation.  That is, perhaps she feels deep down that she or Lauren or all of them really did wrong Heather and her family.  Whether or not she actually regrets it, she’s on the defensive now–the only communication she expects from them is an attack, so that’s what she reads into their letter.

But at least Heather and her parents can (and probably will) keep their distance.  What seems worst about this situation is how obviously ashamed of and embarrassed by her daughter this woman is.  Consider: she’s so defensive about her daughter going to community college–so very  un-proud of her–that she interprets any congratulations as obvious and inevitable sarcasm.  We don’t know anything about Lauren, really–her abilities, challenges, effort, goals, temperament or readiness for higher education–but I feel bad for her.

Like I said about last week’s kooky moms–how sad.

Hrm. I feel like I’ve been picking on (admittedly, batshit crazy) moms a lot lately, and I don’t know why that is. (Well, yes I do–it’s because these, as it turns out, have been the most interesting and/or shocking letters out there each day.  Where are the helicopter dads?)  So, disclaimer: most moms, of course, are awesome.  Hug an awesome mom today.

Thank you, thank you very much….

I was cruising around The Stranger tonight to see if the new Savage Love column was posted yet (it’s supposed be published on Thursdays, but sometimes shows up on Wednesday and even, occasionally, Tuesday).

It’s not there yet, but while wandering, I happened upon “I, Anonymous.”  This is not an advice column at all, but instead a place where people can rant (you guessed it) anonymously about….whatever they want.  Of course, since people most often rant about their co-workers, family members, and their own and other people’s weddings, they frequently cross over into advice column territory–especially when the commenters get involved.

For an entertaining survey of How People Feel About Thank You Notes, see the July 20th edition.  The rant is below.  The comments I’ll leave for you to discover on your own.

I suck at writing thank-you notes. Yes, I am a shitty self-involved human being for being a non-thank-you-note-writing person. You all talk about me behind my back for it, you all complain to my husband about it. Funny, none of you helped me pay for my wedding, and every single one of you had an opinion about where it should be held and what time of day it should occur. I don’t want your gifts if I am going to be cast in a horrible light for not killing trees and wasting time on something that is going to be thrown away when you get it. And why do you not think my husband is the bad person for not writing the notes? Why is it always the woman’s fault?

I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t LOVE the number of commenters who blasted this person.  The only point I’ll grant her is that this is a task that should be shared between partners, and too often the responsibility (and blame) falls disproportionately to women.

Other than that, I could rant right back at her for paragraphs and paragraphs.  (Really?  You’re mad at everyone who gave you a wedding gift for not helping you pay for the wedding?) But I won’t (well, maybe just a little), because the commenters have done it for me–from the point that gifts create way more waste than notes (they do!  I had to fight with SK to save all that paper! And it was so worth it.  We’ll never have to buy tissue again for the rest of our natural lives) to the point that she’s….just rude.

It’s a big job, and of course it’s possible that someone may get missed, mixed up, or forgotten (I’m terrified now that someone’s going to read this post and call me out on not sending them a wedding thank you!) But to not even care, or try?  It’s just mean, in the OED definition 5a sense: “lacking moral dignity, ignoble; small-minded”

The last thing I’ll add is that not everyone throws away the notes.  Or even if they do, they keep the memory of the gesture.  Thank you notes are probably most important for the people you’re not so close to–folks who don’t make it to the wedding at all, or to whom you barely talked because they’re your great aunt and you were distracted. It takes a very small amount of effort and about 50 cents to let these people know that you know who they are and you’re grateful they put themselves out for your sake.  It’s not just a social obligation.  It’s a genuine kindness.

On the flip side: I guess I tend to feel sort of how this woman does about things like birthday cards and balloons.  They’re like $5 apiece, half the time you don’t even write a personal message, the recipient is getting 50 of them at once, half probably duplicates.  I’d rather greet the person, um, in person, and spend the money on a beer or ice cream to toast them.  In fact, I’ve been blessed with a number of friends who are masters of creative, thoughtful, joyour birthday celebration, and they’ve been curse with….me.  So it’s fair to say that I am negligent in some areas of social correspondence.

But on thank you notes, I will not bend.

Still sulking two months later…

…or at least Abby’s editors give us that impression, by waiting until April 14 to print this:

DEAR ABBY: For Valentine’s Day I bought a dozen red roses and had them delivered to my girlfriend’s workplace. On her way home that evening, she made a stop at the grocery store and encountered a distraught young man near tears because he couldn’t afford to buy flowers for his girlfriend. She offered him money but he refused, so she gave him the roses I bought for her. (Abby, they had cost me more than $82!)The whole episode still has me upset. I know the roses were a gift and she had every right to do with them as she wished. But I think what she did was thoughtless and insensitive and didn’t take my feelings into consideration. She says I am narrow-minded because I don’t see it from her perspective. What do you think? — GRINCHED IN IOWA

DEAR GRINCHED: I can see how, having spent as much as you did for the roses, you could be upset. I can also see how your kindhearted girlfriend might have had pity on the guy and acted on impulse. While the roses were hers, she could have accomplished the same thing by giving him one or two of the roses to give to his girlfriend. However, if you care about this relationship, you’ll stop brooding and drop the matter.

Yikes!  I know flowers are expensive, and I know prices are hugely inflated around Valentine’s Day, especially for your classic DRR.  But I did not know that a dozen roses ever cost more than $82.

My first guess is that, like me, the girlfriend has (or had–I’m sure by now she’s been made well aware) no clue how much the flowers cost.  It’s tricky, because she encountered this guy at the grocery store–she offers him money for, say, a $30 bouquet, and he refuses–so she gives him her fancy schmancy one.  Kind of like offering your diamond ring to a guy who can’t afford CZ.  A person who understood the difference–if only in market value–between the two would probably never do it.  Sounds like, when it came to roses, the girlfriend didn’t.

If she’d known, she might have thought twice about giving away her boyfriend’s pricey gift.  And if she’d known in advance that he was going to spend so much on flowers for her, she might have suggested a nice dinner out instead.  I know I would have.

I have a sneaking  suspicion that, given his resentment over this, no delighted reaction from her could possibly satisfy him.  What if she’d forgotten them at work, or simply didn’t feel like hauling them home?  What if she’d given one rose to every lonely co-worker without a Valentine’s Day date, keeping only one for herself?  What if she’d dropped the bouquet, not in the hands of a stranger, but at a hospital or nursing home?  What if she’d simply dropped it, in a puddle or in front of a bus?  Or what if she’d brought them home, buds and vase intact, and simply shown lukewarm appreciation?  Would any of these outcomes bring him any more satisfaction?

I sort of doubt it.  Because he simply spent more than he should have–more than the entire situation was worth.  For some men, $82 may be a small price to pay for 12 roses and a free pass on the weeks of punishment I’ve heard some women can inflict on their partners for failing to provide Valentine’s Day roses.  Our letter writer has learned that for his $82, all he got was….12 roses.  All that extra Valentine’s day baggage that justifies the huge price tag?  His girlfriend doesn’t seem to have it.  That’s a good thing.

So if it makes him happy to give her flowers, he should do it–but he should choose what to spend with the knowledge that at least one of the following is true:

  • She’ll get the most happiness from his gift by sharing it with others
  • She doesn’t distinguish between grocery store flowers and florist flowers
  • All he’s guaranteed is that flowers will show up wherever he pays for them to be delivered.  No guarantee on her reaction, what she does with the flowers, or how this reflects on him, in her eyes.

And as a final note…if you find that your girlfriend doesn’t swoon for red roses (and some do, I hear), put some effort into finding out what she does swoon for (lilies?  Coach gloves?  beer?).  Red roses can say “I love you.”  They can also say, “I haven’t bothered to figure out what you actually like.”

On being–and paying–upfront

If there are two things I’ve learned from the advice columns, they’re 1) Don’t date married dudes and 2) Don’t expect to be paid for work if you haven’t billed for it.

Both were featured in Annie’s Mailbox today.

LW1 is depressingly predictable:

Dear Annie: I am at a crossroads and need your advice. For the past two years, I have been dating an older married man who works at my office. I started seeing him after my husband and I split up.

Our time together is limited. He comes over to my house once or twice during the workweek and spends some time with me every other weekend when my kids are with their father. We are in contact by cell phone, and I text him throughout the day and evening. We are never together in public unless it is out of town.

My problem is, he has told me he will leave his wife, but he hasn’t yet. When I don’t see him on a night he is supposed to come over, I get angry. He later apologizes, and I forgive him. This has gotten to be our regular routine.

I feel like I have wasted these past two years, but for some reason I keep coming back for more. Should I give up? — P.H.

Le sigh.

LW2, while perhaps less cliche than the “other woman,” is just as common.  Year after year, bitter doctors, lawyers, plumbers, roofers, and interior decorators write letters, complaining that their friends and family are taking advantage of their services in (what’s supposed to be) their off-time.

Thing is, though, most times the person complaining hasn’t made it clear what their services cost them–in time, expertise, or supplies–and therefore how much compensation they require.  For example:

Dear Annie: I respect and love my ex-brother-in-law, “Joe,” like my own kin.

I am a carpenter’s apprentice with excellent skills. Joe, along with several family members, called and asked for my help with some repairs on his home so that he could receive family and friends after his second wife died last year.

I agreed, for a fee, but didn’t specify the price. I told him I’d leave that up to him. The repairs were extensive. I fixed two roofs and the interior ceiling, replaced shingles, patched many holes throughout the house, put up window coverings and painted most of the interior.

Knowing that this is my livelihood and I am currently out of work, I expected to hear from Joe when I finished.

// //
//

I gave him a two-month grace period before I mentioned the money. He responded as if I were being disrespectful of the dead. He yelled at me and hung up the phone.

Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I sue him for the repairs or let it go? — Sick and Tired in Connecticut

Should the XBIL have yelled and hung up the phone?  Of course not.  But clearly the arrangements had never been clear from the start.  How do you agree “for a fee,” without saying what the fee is?  How do you sue, when there was no agreed upon payment?  How is it a grace period, if the person you’re gracing isn’t aware that you’re counting down the days until you lower the hammer?

S&T and the XBIL should have reviewed the repairs, and S&T should have given an estimate.  It doesn’t have to be what he would charge a regular customer–of course he’s free to cut friends and family as good a deal as he wants.  But it’s asking for trouble to expect unspoken, unwritten, undecided payment.

Further, as an expert in the field, it’s not fair to ask non-experts to determine how much to pay.  Say the XBIL gave S&T $1,000.  No doubt that’s far less than the value of the repairs.  And yet it also seems like a pretty large sum to pay to a relative and friend doing some fashion of a favor.  Would S&T be affronted to be paid so little, or embarrassed to take so much?

Plus, how should the bereaved XBIL know what the going rate is for window repair and roofing, or when S&T expects to receive a check? Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, but most people don’t want to stiff their loved ones, either.  They just don’t know what’s appropriate.  I expect even if LW2’s phone call had gone well, and XBIL was eager to pay, he still would have asked, “how much do I owe you?”

It’s easy to think that with friends and family, talking about money will be awkward and unpleasant–so it should go unmentioned.  But the awkwardness of telling your buddy how much you’ll charge him to repair his roof is nothing compared to the awkwardness of attempting to sue him for not paying you the fee you didn’t ask for.