Category Archives: relationships

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.

Weird.

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

Continue reading

In a perfect world…

Things I’ve learned: when someone uses the word “perfect” to describe their relationship or their mate…..the relationship or mate is nearly always alarmingly imperfect.

Not that any of us or any of our relationships are perfect (or should be).  And not that I begrudge anyone a hyperbolic, joyful “this was the most perfect day!” kind of declaration–we should all have such days!  But when that’s the only adjective they can think of to describe things, you can bet something is, in fact, very wrong indeed.  Case in point, from Prudie’s Thursday column:

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating my (perfect, wonderful, ideal, etc.) boyfriend for just over two years. Everything is great, except for one thing: Early on in the relationship, I lied in a pretty significant way about the number of sexual partners I’d had. He was a virgin before we met, and he was viciously jealous about any guy I had hooked up with before him. At the time, we had been fighting about one of those guys. All of a sudden, he asked my number. Lying just seemed like the easiest thing to do. I had gotten a full STD screening before we became intimate, so the lie couldn’t hurt him physically. But it would definitely hurt him emotionally to know I had been with more people than I admitted to. Lately, I have been absolutely consumed by guilt over this. I worry he’ll find out somehow, and it makes me feel sick to think how he’ll react. But I fear that if I do tell him, he may never be able to get past it. Please help.

—Worried

Hrm.  Using “etc.” at the end of a long list of adjectives is a red flag, too. It’s like building an eye roll into what you’re trying to pass off as a compliment.  Oh–and if you’re using the word “vicious” to describe your boyfriend…something may in fact be less than “ideal.”

Prudie replies:

Dear Worried
You told a lie, but it was in response to a question that shouldn’t have been asked. I’m not sure how your lie is going to be exposed. In addition to getting “the number,” I hope your boyfriend didn’t ask you to cough up names. It would be a bad sign if he created a spreadsheet of your former lovers and kept tabs of any discrepancies. You say your boyfriend is “perfect and wonderful.” But such people don’t engage in viciously jealous fights over irrelevant events from your past. I understand that he may have felt insecure about your superior sexual knowledge. But I hope over the past two years he has come to be confident about that aspect of your relationship and has dropped his concern about your former partners. If so, then forget about your lie. It’s none of his business, and it’s irrelevant. If he hasn’t, then everything actually is not great in your relationship.

—Prudie

Or, as Dan Savage would say….DTMFA!  Who needs the drama?

That may be easier said than done if she actually fears him, or the idea of being without him.  But I wish Prudie had at least planted that seed.

Let he who is without sin, throw the first tennis ball

Except where children and weddings are concerned, and always when a situation is vague or ambiguous, Carolyn Hax heroically refrains from passing judgment on those who write in to her.  Even when it feel really, really hard not to.  Case in point:

In Friday’s chat, a woman wrote in looking for advice about whether to get a dog.  Wait, scratch that.  Not a dog, a puppy:

Chicago: How difficult is it to raise a dog? I live in a very dog-friendly city (with many parks and beaches and dog-oriented services such as dog walkers and doggy day care). I have friends with dogs, I’ve dog-sat before, so I have an idea of what it’s like to raise one. My boyfriend seems to think I can’t handle it (I did have cats before…didn’t work out, I gave them to the Humane Society when they were still kittens, but to my defense I was only 23 and definitely not ready). I’m in a different place right now, emotionally (now 27) and physically (didn’t live in Chicago several years back), and I would love a puppy. I don’t need my boyfriend’s approval but I’d like him to be on-board with my decision, since we are planning on getting married. Any thoughts?

So much about this makes me want to scream DO NOT GET A DOG!!!!!! The most obvious being

  1. The cliche (but true) “if you can’t handle cats, what makes you think you can handle a dog?”
  2. She’s asking, broadly, “how hard is it to raise a dog?”  This strikes me as comparable to saying “how hard is it to raise a kid?”  Um.  Depends on you, the dog, your job, commute time, home, commitment to exercise and discipline, disposable income, patience, temper, and desire to travel.  Over the next 15 years.  It’s not a question with an answer.  The fact that she’s asking it concerns me–sounds like she’s just looking for confirmation/support, not actually thinking it through.

But, while I was quick to align myself with the boyfriend, who doesn’t think “Chicago” can handle a dog, Carolyn refrained from criticizing her, and instead gave her options to dip her toe into the doggy pool–and called the boyfriend out on his criticism:

Carolyn Hax: First, don’t get a puppy if you’re not sure. They’re much more difficult to have than adult dogs.

And, you might want to consider fostering first. A lot of rescue groups place dogs in temporary homes (a) because it’s better than being in a pen at a shelter, and (b) because most rescue dogs need some TLC, either because of medical issues or just because they need some basic training (housebreaking, obedience) to make them better candidates for adoption.

So, you could narrow down your breed preference–or just figure out your best size and temperament fit–and approach rescue groups as a volunteer. There will likely be some screening involved–there’s less red tape in having a baby (0) than there is in adopting an animal–but you can get that process going today.

BTW, is it possible your BF doesn’t want a dog, or doesn’t want the hassle of your having a dog? Suggesting you can’t handle it is a remarkable lack of faith, and I wonder what his justification is for that.

Hm.  I’m not sure fostering is the best idea….kind of like recommending that someone find out if they like teaching by subbing.  People who fantasize about getting a dog seem to want one for the relationship they’d have with it.  Plus, as Carolyn notes, dogs fostered from the humane society are likely to need extra time, treatment, attention, etc.  I’m not sure that’s a great choice for someone who’s never owned a dog before, period.

Chicago again: He has grown up with dogs his entire life (golden retrievers) and loves them but thinks that if I get one, he’s going to end up doing most of the work and he’s not ready for that just yet. He also doesn’t think it’s right to have a dog in the city (his condo is small, no backyard) and wants to wait until we move to the suburbs (Barf. I hate the suburbs. But even so, that’s not for a while anyway, maybe several more years). He also thinks I’m a bit whimsical in nature, which may be true, but I have been thinking about this for a while. But I think volunteering/fostering might be a good first step.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like fostering makes sense on a lot of levels. Having experience with goldens does matter, but the breed of a dog makes a difference. There are dogs with all ranges of exercise needs, and unless he had extremely mellow goldens, he’s used to dogs that need to get a good workout. (Retriever = working dog, no matter how commonly they’re seen as family dogs; same goes for border collies, shepherds, pointers, hounds, etc.) There are excellent breeds for city life, and some research will point you to them.

Now, many rescue dogs are also mutts, and even the veteran shelter staff can be mystified by some of these guys–but they aren’t mystified by the temperaments they see. That’s another argument for an adult: You won’t be guessing about final size or mood. What you see will be what you get.

This was going to be more about relationships than dog breeds, but I got carried away. Sorry.

Anyway … (more)

Hm.  Carolyn’s right, here…if the bf has only ever had retrievers, then his experience, too, is limited.  No wonder he thinks–and he would be right–that it’s unfair to have such a dog in a small condo with no yard.  In this case, Carolyn’s advice to do good research about what kind of dog would be happy and healthy in that environment is good.…but….read on:

Carolyn Hax: I balk at the idea of your “proving” anything to your boyfriend, since your last post makes him sound awfully patronizing. You’re your own person, and while you’re right to consider the future, it’s still time for you to do with your life what you think is right. If he really has so little faith in you, then it will be important for him to see whether his prediction bears out. I just hope that, if you do flake out on him, he makes up his mind one way or the other, to break up with you or love you (and his new dog responsibilities) as-is. Trying to have it both ways, to keep someone close while also vocally doubting him or her, is a well-tested recipe for misery.

Well said.  But wait.  Something just struck me that I didn’t catch the first time around.  Is she living with him, in his small, yard-less condo?  Or does she virtually live there?  This is never made explicit, but it definitely seems possible.  Why else would the size and layout of his condo matter to the discussion?  If she lives in a condo he owns, and wants to get a dog he doesn’t want (and doesn’t think she needs his “approval,”) there are even more complicated problems here.  But again–this is exactly my point: this is me, jumping to conclusions and filling in gaps to arrive at what I think is a convenient judgment.

Another reader said:

Chicago & Dog: I’m waiting for your more response….but didn’t the “he wants to wait until the suburbs and her saying yuck – bring up a red flag?

Seems like they aren’t on the same page in other areas either.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I was going there when I said he sounds patronizing; their being together does seem to be predicated on his being right about things, like when it’s okay to have dogs, when it’s time to move to the burbs, and when one deserves to be taken seriously. I hope she asserts herself here, if only to make it clear who she is.

Argh, once again to me it sounds like she’s the one being cagey: she’s accepted that the suburbs are in their future, but snidely adds a “yuck” when talking to other people.  He’s obviously been clear about his plans and desires.  To me, it sounds like she hasn’t been.  But that’s not fair of me, right? Why is it so hard for me not to roll my eyes at this woman?

I wasn’t the only one to question this person.  At least one reader wrote in with a similar comment to mine above:

Washington, D.C.: For “wants a dog in Chicago”: if she couldn’t even take care of cats, how does she expect to take care of a dog? Dogs need much more care and attention than cats, not to mention the multiple walks per day. If you feed the cats and make sure their litter box is clean, they’re pretty much good to go.

And Carolyn lays it out on the table:

Carolyn Hax: I think the point was, that was then, this is now. The BF is taking the past miscalculation as evidence that a dog is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to jump to the same conclusion. A dog is a bad idea only if the circumstances that led to the cat reversal are unchanged, and if she doesn’t fully appreciate what having a dog involves vs a cat. A foster situation would be illuminating on both counts. And if her daily schedule is such that any agency would say she’s not a fit for a dog, then that will tell her a lot, too.

Hm.  What do you think?  Did I let my annoyance that she dumped her kittens at the shelter unfairly color my interpretation of everything she said after that?  Or did Carolyn withhold judgment to the extent of not asking questions about some definitely questionable details?  What’s your take on “Chicago”?

Everybody’s got an opinion….

It seems once you’ve lived, loved, and lost someone, you should be free to date and marry again, or not, without fear of glares, gossips, and grabbers.  Turns out, that’s not the case.  A smattering of letters this week from widows, widowers, and those who know them–all with very strong feelings about the dos and don’ts of finding love again:

Dear Abby, July 26:

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I were having dinner with another couple when a conversation ensued that divided the men’s views from the women’s. It concerned a recently widowed man (I’ll call him “John”) who is dating a woman from our wives’ circle of friends, “Peggy.” (Peggy is a widow.)

The wives were appalled that John has begun dating only three months after his wife “Gloria’s” death, and insisted a woman in his situation would not. Furthermore, the women went on to question whether it was appropriate for him to date within Gloria’s circle of friends. Our wives believe that anyone within this circle should be off limits, while we men don’t see it as a problem.

So my question is: What is the proper protocol? (As an aside, the women now shun both John and Peggy.) — JUST WONDERING IN THE BAY AREA

DEAR JUST WONDERING: “The wives” obviously identify with Gloria and feel that John’s not wearing sackcloth and ashes for at least a year after her death is disrespectful to her memory. That’s what they would expect from you. They would also prefer that you not date any of the available women in your circle. They were stating their feelings. So consider yourselves put on notice!

From my perspective, it seems your wives feel neither John nor Peggy has grieved long enough, and so they are punishing them. It is possible, however, that Gloria told John she didn’t want him to be alone and grieve after she was gone, which is why he is being comforted by someone who knew them both. I’d advise your wives to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of shunning them.

Dear Margo, sometime this week:

Dear Margo: I’m a recently widowed man in my 50s. There is a woman who works with me with whom I’ve been good friends for as long as we’ve worked together, about six years. She is several years younger than I and very attractive. Ever since my wife passed away, she has been making advances, and I don’t know how to say no without harming our friendship. I’m not attracted to her, nor am I looking for a relationship right now. She keeps asking me to lunch, buying me coffee and leaving little notes on my desk with messages and smiley faces like a teenage girl. This is getting annoying, and I don’t know how to politely tell her to back off. — Need Time To Grieve

Dear Need: They really swoop in, don’t they? This woman sounds quite aggressive, and it’s clear that “subtlety” is not her middle name. A gentle way to essentially tell her to knock it off would be to say that you are appreciative of her solicitousness, but you are still in mourning and, as your signature says, need time to grieve. If she continues to try to rope you in, then you will have to tell her flat out that she is being rather thick and you see her only as a friend, and the result will probably be that the friendship is kaput. (But a small price to pay, say I, if she is making you insane with her overtures.) — Margo, directly

Dear Abby, July 27:

DEAR ABBY: I was involved with “Ralph” for two years. We live in a senior apartment complex, and women have been coming on to him for years. He is now seeing “Joan,” who happens to be my neighbor. This hurts me deeply.

This is a small complex and it’s difficult to face them. I am desperately trying to hold my words and feelings inside because it is hard not to call the woman a “slut.” I blame Ralph more. He made the decision to humiliate me, but how can Joan do this to her own neighbor? How do I handle this with class? — SHATTERED HEART

DEAR SHATTERED HEART: The smart way to handle it “with class” is to keep your temper in check and do no name-calling. If Ralph didn’t make your relationship official, he was free to start seeing someone else.

While I agree that this is a painful disappointment, do not waste one more minute feeling “humiliated.” Not all romances work out — and a remedy for easing the pain is to become more active. Do not sit around feeling sorry for yourself watching Ralph and Joan come and go. Time can ease a broken heart — but if it doesn’t, consider trading rooms/apartments with someone on a different floor.

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 Fair When Life Isn’t….

OK, first, a re-cap, for context:

Back in November, there was a stir in the blogosphere (or maybe just the advice columnosphere) about British advice columnist Leslie Garner’s advice to a woman (“Eva”) who was raped, became pregnant, told her husband she wanted an abortion, changed her mind, kept the child, husband left–and now wanted advice on whether she should try to get him (the ex-husband) back.

Garner focused on all the reasons a reunion with the ex was unlikely to be successful–answering the question Eva asked.  Amanda Hess then took Garner–and the husband, with whom Hess perceived Garner was sympathizing–to task, insisting that the decision to carry the child to term and raise it was hers and hers alone to make.

OK, end of recap, and on to today’s post.  Sadly, this topic–different couple, same dilemma–came up again, this time in Carolyn’s chat.  Ok, ok, we all know I’m a Carolyn loyalist–but I felt that the responses (from Carolyn and from other chat participants, including yet another victim–jeez) were both thoughtful and practical:

Oakland, Calif.: Hello Carolyn. A friend’s wife became pregnant as a result of a sexual assault. She has decided to not have an abortion, and doesn’t know yet whether she wants to give the child up for an adoption. Would the husband be a [glass bowl] for refusing to raise this child, and divorcing if necessary? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. I think the only happy outcome is one the husband and wife conjure together. Technically, this isn’t something the wife can force on the husband and expect him to agree to joyfully.

That said, technically, this pregnancy wasn’t something to be forced on the wife, and yet it was. So, in a rare case where bean-counting is the way to go, the husband needs to let go of any notion of an ideal outcome here, in direct proportion to the wife’s distance from her notion of an ideal outcome. This is the only fair and decent course.

Finally, there’s the child to be considered, who is obviously innocent, and deserves to enter the world with just as clean a slate as any other child’s.

I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a Herculean challenge for the husband, because it would–but embracing the innocent child strikes me as immeasurably better for the soul than leaving one’s rape-victim wife to be a single mom.

Wife pregant from a sexual assault: Responding to Oakland…what an awful situation for this couple. Rape crisis centers are often very helpful in such cases to both the wife/direct victim and husband/indirect victim. If the wife isn’t getting support from a rape crisis center, she should.

And either way, the husband should seek out a rape crisis center as well. Their counselors are not just for the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, but an ongoing resource. Please encourage your friends to contact an RCC in their area as they work through the aftermath of this sexual assault.

Carolyn Hax: Seconding the suggestion. A good way to find a local center is by calling RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE (rainn.org).

Oakland again: Thanks Carolyn. Obviously this whole situation is devastating for them. I don’t know if this make a difference, but the couple is white, and the assailant was Afircan-American, and the husband isn’t exactly progressive when it comes to race relations.

Carolyn Hax: Oh this just makes me want to scream. The poor kid.

It does make a difference, because it speaks to the husband’s ability to be a good father. Either he gives himself a 100 percent effective crash course in not judging people by their skin color, or he has no business raising this child.

Which would point toward the wife’s divorcing him as the solution, and not vice-versa.

To Oakland, Calif.: I was raped and as a result got pregnant. I kept the child and had therapy to help me deal. I wasn’t married, but I did have a boyfriend at the time. We didn’t last.

What I would tell the friend and the mother to be (if she chooses to keep the baby), is that the main thing to worry about is how the child sees his/herself and how you will view the child. My daughter looks like me, but what if she looked like the rapist? I don’t think I could have handled that. The conversations explaining what rape is to my daughter and why her father is not around were the hardest I ever had to do. Kids have questions, but providing answers is hard. Just something to think about…

Carolyn Hax: So painfully honest–thank you.

Disgrace period?

As my own student loan grace period draws to a close, and as SK and I keep vague tabs on, but don’t interfere with, each other’s loans (we both have them, though we don’t carry any other kind of debt) I was interested in Abby’s response to a woman who questioned her boyfriend’s refusal to marry her while she’s paying hers off:

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend of several years has just told me he won’t marry me as long as I have student loan debt to pay off. I have always been upfront with him about the amount of money I owe. It’s a sizable sum, but my credit is good.
He says he loves me but cannot, in good faith, start a life with me owing that much money. Abby, am I wrong to think that student loans should not stop two people who love each other from getting married? — LOANED OUT IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR LOANED OUT: No, you are not. And furthermore, I suspect that rather than the money being the issue, it’s that your boyfriend has had a change of heart.

I’m inclined to agree with Abby and the writer here, in thinking that the boyfriend sounds less than ideal. However, I also wonder if she couldn’t have done a better, more informative job with her response.

I always like when the columnists call in an expert–I wish she had called a bank, or a lawyer, to confirm whether the guy has anything to fear, before assuming that he’s just looking for an excuse to leave.

Based on my quick-n-dirty google searching, he wouldn’t be responsible for her loans, since they were incurred before their marriage (interestingly, I couldn’t find any reliable answer to this on the directloans website). In fact, he would only become responsible for them if she consolidated or refinanced (which constitutes taking out a new loan) after they were married. But if he didn’t understand this, marrying someone with tens of thousands of dollars of debt (or more) might seem like a scary thing.

If I were her, I’d point out to him that student loans are a very particular kind of debt. Credit card debt, for example, still might not become the spouse’s responsibility, if they keep their finances separate (debt incurred after their marriage would). But even if you won’t be held responsible, your partner’s debt gives you insight into how they live and manage their assets. I could see choosing on principle not to be with someone who has tons of credit card debt, because it suggests they can’t live within their means. Student loans, however, seem to be in a different category: almost everyone has them, and they suggest a desire to learn, improve, and (one would hope) pursue gainful employment.

Which raises another question. Did her loans allow her to complete schooling that led to a job that allows her to support herself while making regular loan payments? Or did she rack up debt pursuing a string of graduate-level degrees, in order to defer both her loans and reality?

Does he, or has he, had loans of his own?

Is the problem simply that he doesn’t want her contributions to their hypothetical household to be limited because her first priority is to pay down her debt?

In the end, it seems that all of this moot, because of one key factor: that he didn’t seem interested in asking any of these questions. If he doesn’t even want to find out what their circumstances would be, or discuss how they’d handle responsibly handling her debt, then why bother trying to explain it to him? I guess that’s what Abby’s trying to get at.

I think what bugs me a bit is the writer’s argument that people who love each other shouldn’t be seprated by the cruel drama of student loan debt. Something about her argument that love and money have nothing to do with each other needs revision–and if that’s how she truly feels, maybe her bf is wise to step back. Abby may have been right to suggest that this pair is doomed, but I wish she’d given the writer some tools to make that decision herself (such as questions to ask of herself and the guy about their debts and their attitudes), rather than just writing him (and the relationship) off as a bad investment.

The Family Budget

This column wins for “random fact” of the week. Just when I thought Margo was being, um, normal, she tosses this in!:

Dear Margo: I am 20 and have been lucky in life … growing up in nice neighborhoods, going to good schools, having parents who were successful financially. I am about to get my B.A. and then work full time at a good job. My wonderful boyfriend is 22 and has been less fortunate. He was raised by an amazing single mother who worked two jobs to support four children. They are from a low-income, mostly Latino community, where the schools were poor. As a result, life has been harder for him. Unlike my parents, who have given me money to save, he’s had to work full time, living paycheck to paycheck. Because of this, he’d been out of school for a short while, but has started working on his degree again. The problem is my parents. They say he’s riding my coattails and taking advantage of me, and that once we’ve been cohabiting long enough, he’s going to take half of what I have. The things they say come off as classist and even racist, and they both know that their remarks offend and hurt me deeply. Should I tell my parents to take a hike? I want to maintain a good relationship with them and my boyfriend, but they’re making it difficult. In some ways, I feel that they should have a say in what I do because much of the money I have saved came from them. What can I do?

— Head Over Heels in Phoenix

Dear Head: I, too, think parents should have a say in a child’s life (and not because they have supplied money), but any child who is a reasonably mature 20 should be allowed to evaluate what it is the parents have to say. I suspect you have things pegged right. Your beau sounds as though he was well, if not lavishly, raised, and your relationship sounds like perfection. I suspect your parents are using stereotypical prejudices to deduce that your young man will never amount to anything. I don’t have to look very far to counter their thinking.

My own father had to work from the age of 13 and dropped out of school in the 10th grade. With smarts and drive and no higher education, his life worked out; he was the founder of Budget Rent A Car. So go with your gut and stick with your fella. — Margo, intuitively

Yes, yes, yes, yes, um…..what?

Ann Landers and Mr. Budget: America’s top 1950s power couple?

SK adds, with great contempt for Margo:
“[snort] Speaking of riding on coattails….”

Earth: that funny green place between Mars and Venus

John Gray, Ph.d., author of the now-iconic Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, writes an advice column based on on this theme. Naturally, he dispenses mostly relationship advice, and while he tends to be a bit more schmoopy than the badass women I typically follow (you’ll see what I mean in a minute), he’s usually readable and, it seems, reliable.

Today, though, I think he’s totally missed the point. His advice isn’t necessarily terrible–I just don’t think he’s gotten to the heart of what the writer is worried about. And I have to admit, my first instinct was that it’s because he’s a man–in other words, that his response to this question demonstrates that, despite his planetary philosophizing, there are things about women that he just doesn’t get. Here’s the question:

Dear John: This is the first time I’ve ever lived with a man. I’d always promised myself that I would never move in with a guy, but instead be self-sufficient. In other words, I would have my own house pay, my own bills and take care of myself. But I love my boyfriend very much, so I broke this promise. Unfortunately, now I am very uptight about everything. Quite honestly, I’m scared that we aren’t going to make it as a couple. We’ve been fighting too much lately, and we’ve only lived together for about a week! What should I do before things get worse? — Regretful, in Mendocino, Calif.

Dear Regretful: You made the decision to move in before you had convinced yourself that this was truly what you wanted to do. Your fear of being abandoned possibly rises from another experience in your childhood or your family.

Consider this: Your current relationship is unique to any you’ve had in the past, or will have in the future. You owe it to your mate and yourself to get beyond your fears. Explain your fear to your mate. Because he loves you, he will do his best to allay your fears. Strong relationships are built on love, trust and compromise. For you to demonstrate these traits, you need to take his assurances to heart. Don’t make big issues out of little concerns. We all have weaknesses, foibles and issues. Remember what attracted you to him in the first place, and appreciate those traits. Live the relationship one day at a time.

At the end of each day, tell him three things that you appreciate about him, and ask that he do the same. By doing so, you’ll soon realize you had nothing to fear after all.

John goes straight to the end of the question–“I’m scared that we aren’t going to make it as a couple,” blowing right by the first three sentences, which is where I think the heart of the issue is.

Yes, this woman is worried things won’t work out in her new situation. But it’s not because she has abandonment issues from a mysterious incident in her childhood. It’s because she’s made a big sacrifice in moving in with this guy–yes, they’re taking the same risk financially and logistically, but emotionally she’s not just afraid of heartbreak–she’s altering her expectations of and standards for success, independence, adulthood–the list goes on.

Her promise to never live with a man doesn’t necessarily have to do with fear of abandonment, but simply with an intention to be self-sufficient and independent–not to depend on or be accountable to anyone.

It’s possible that choosing to live with her boyfriend means she’s no longer living up to the standard she thought she expected of herself–she’s happy and excited, but also probably feels a sense of sadness or dented pride: women who have been fiercely independent often have a difficult time believing it’s OK to want to depend on someone (and have them depend on you). She’s not just reevaluating their relationship–she’s reevaluating what it means to be a (successful) woman and a (successful) partner.

John’s advice isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though the three-things-affirmation moment could start to feel pretty forced and repetitive after a couple of days. But I think a more helpful approach would be for this woman and her boyfriend to work through their budget and responsibilities, finding ways for each to maintain a level of independence (separate discretionary checking accounts? Separate social commitments? “Alone time?”) while building a life together. This woman’s nerves are not going to be soothed by canned compliments, but by developing a new, reasonable standard to live by.