Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Well, dear family, friends, and other readers, 2007's on its way out. Soon, I'm off to doll up for a fete and put on my fancy party shoes. I hope 2008 brings you peace and great happiness. Thanks for supporting me in this advice column venture of mine!

Did I disclose my feelings too soon?

Dear HTT,

A couple of weeks ago, a woman named L started working in the same department I work in. We've had some friendly conversations, have found several points of common interest, and seemed to get along well. I found out she had a boyfriend, but in our conversations she never referenced him, which I notice women tend to do when they want to let you know they're not available. The only reference came last week when she mentioned she had "been dating this guy, but he's an a$$," so they split up. She came back to work after her shift last week to go over some things (this is when she mentioned splitting up), then invited me to meet her and some friends out for drinks. I joined them, and had a nice time, and was invited by L's friend to attend a party the following night. I showed up the next night, had a great time, got to hang with L and meet more of her friends, and generally enjoyed myself. As I was saying goodbyes at the end of the night, L gave me a noticeably full hug, and told me she was glad to have a work-friend. I asked her (our arms still around each other) if I should then NOT have a crush on her, because "I can be your work friend, but I could also easily crush on you." L told me she was a wait-and-see person, and we smiled and said good night.

So, did I just give her too much info? Would it have been better to have just kept it to myself and wait-and-see? There are all these things that would be great about dating her, but then again, I work with her! I've always been one to think (and observe) that work relationships are bad news. Also, I'm in the midst of a time in my life when I question whether I should even BE dating! I'm letting the issue rest there unless she brings it up. I get along really well with just about everyone I work with, and L is no exception. As far as the crushing, I can keep it pretty compartmentalized... That is, if I don't have a few cocktails in me, which won't be an issue at work.

Was it OK to let her know? I wanted to put it out there so she could know where she stands, I guess: if she keeps inviting me out and giving me full body hugs, she's gonna' fan the flames. If she just keeps the friendship relegated to work and sees that I'm not stalker-material, she can be comfortable knowing that we can be friends, and a crush is often just a crush...

Signed,

Don't Want To Creep Her Out


Dear Don’t Want to be Creepy,

I might not have confessed my feelings so early in the relationship, but then again, I’m a bit of a chicken in these matters. (See my description of toe-dipping.) I rather envy you your chutzpuh. You handled your disclosure exceedingly well: you were sweet and light-hearted about it, and you seem to be going into this with the right attitude. That is, you’re not love-sick and moony but rather a bit more devil-may-care. If I were this girl, I’d be flattered and, even if I didn’t share your feelings, I wouldn’t be at all creeped out by you. As long as you are true to your word and don’t start stalking her or acting mopey at work if your feelings aren’t reciprocated.

It’s been a few weeks since you wrote—sorry, I’m still in slacker mode—and I’m curious how things have progressed. From your description of events, it’s hard to tell whether she was behaving in a friendly or flirty manner, although, personally, I don’t tend to give long, full-body hugs to my guy pals. Especially not guys I work with. So, if you’ve read her wrong, I wouldn’t take it too hard or start to question your own judgment.

If you get a chance, let me know where things stand.

Happy New Year!
HTT

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My friend suggested I was smelly!

Dear HTT,

A friend just called to arrange to carpool to a clothes swap tomorrow. She closed by making sure I wasn't planning to go running right beforehand, since she doesn't want to try on clothes someone sweaty has tried on first. I didn't know what to say, so I said I, uh, planned on being clean. Then I hung up and started fuming.

How does one interpret a comment like that? The obvious choices are:

(1) You're always running and you smell; or
(2) You're too dumb to know that you should shower before trying on clothes, so I'm just letting you know.

A reasonable third option might be,
(3) I have an aversion to sweat, and that time I dragged you to the thrift store right after you went running, even though you pointed
out you were all sweaty, actually really grossed me out, but I didn't know how to tell you then, so I've saved that thought for three months and am letting you know indirectly now.

This is a friend who prides herself being "direct" about verbalizing
what she wants.

How does one respond to a comment like that? And how does one explain to an adult that there's a difference between being direct and being tactless? I have enough baggage with this friend already that it's hard to imagine discussing this without pulling out all her dirty socks. So I'd also appreciate advice on how to stay focused on the insult-at-hand rather than generating some new ones.

--Fuming But Not Smelly

P.S. If she ever discovers your website, she's gonna be pissed...


Dear Fuming,

I think the best response would have been something quick and sharp like, “Actually, I was planning to eat a head of raw garlic, run a few miles, and smoke a fat cigar before we went to try on clothes together. Duh.”

You have to consider the source of this comment. She obviously lacks tact, but since I’m feeling charitable, I’ll suggest that she’s probably not aware of how rude she comes across. Perhaps a tart response would jerk her back to the reality of how she sounds to others.

Once, I strutted into work, proud of an electric-blue faux leather jacket I’d found over the weekend. One of my friends gawked at it and declared, “My, you do love a gaudy accessory, don’t you?” I just burst out laughing and thanked my lucky stars that, unlike her, my entire wardrobe didn’t come from the old-lady rack at Talbots!

So, I guess if I were you, I’d just shrug it off, unless these sorts of comments start coming more frequently. If she continues in this manner, the next time she offends you, calmly point it out to her. (You know, use “I” statements and all that jazz.) Try not to pull out every example you have tucked away. But one or two might be helpful to show that your anger is caused by a pattern of rude behavior and isn’t just a factor of you being overly sensitive.


Good luck, thanks for writing, and sorry for the very late response!

HTT

Swamped

Wow, I knew I'd neglecting my blog, but now I realize just how much: I couldn't remember my password when I tried to log in just now! I've been traveling (to Florida for fun and to Arlington for work), the holiday season and all related errand running and festivities are underway, and I've just been super busy. So, my apologies to all the friends and other readers who've sent me questions over the past few weeks. I really, really appreciate them (and you!), and I promise to get to them all soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My daughter's friend's mom hates my kid; what should she do?

My 17-year-old daughter has a friend whose mother hates her (my daughter). According to my daughter, it is because she sat on a pool table at their home 4 years ago. My daughter weighed about 95 lbs. at the time. I am sure there had to be some other incidents where my daughter irritated this woman. She reads her daughter's emails and I would guess at sometime my daughter wrote something that gave this mom the wrong idea. This mom has a reputation for having a bad temper and getting so angry every profanity you can imagine comes out.

There have been several incidents of this kind in the past. This anger was aimed at all of the girls. However the grudge she holds is only against my daughter. After the pool table incident I told my daughter not to go to their home anymore and she says she has stayed away.

This problem reared its head again: My daughter and her friend are part of a group of about 12 girls. They all go to the same high school. Her friend is pregnant, and the group wants to give the girl a baby shower, which would include all moms.

My daughter says she is uncomfortable being around this woman since she has this grudge against her. This woman actually said she would not go if my daughter were there unless she had changed.

My daughter plans to make sure she works that evening so she can avoid going. I think that is probably a wise thing to do as I would not want there to be another incident.

Any thoughts?

**********************

I’ve been a 17-year-old daughter, and even though I was a pretty good kid, there were times my parents didn’t quite get the whole story. Oh, I told few outright lies. I thought then, and often still do, that my mother could read my mind. So lying seemed pointless and, frankly, less smart than either telling the truth or avoiding anything lie-worthy in the first place. But I might have left out a few choice details now and again.

Like me, maybe your daughter hasn’t told you everything. You seem to accept that there’s probably more to this woman’s ire than the pool table incident of four years ago. I don’t mean to suggest that your daughter is a bad egg, but it’s always possible that her friend’s mom has some legitimate reason for being displeased with your daughter.

However, even if she does, she’s certainly not behaving like the adult in this story. Yelling and cursing and holding grudges and “hating” a 17-year-old girl? Yikes. No, if your daughter committed some serious transgression, the mother should have called you or, at the very least, calmly asked your daughter not to return to their home.

If I were a mom, I might be tempted to go all mama-bear and defend my kid from this woman, who sounds unstable and immature. However, even in my advanced years, I can remember being your daughter’s age, and I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have wanted my mother to intervene. I think your daughter’s plan to avoid her friend’s mom is probably a good one. It’s too bad that she’ll miss the shower, but at 17, she just doesn’t have any negotiating power in that antagonistic relationship.

Your daughter might be completely blameless. But consider asking her to take a mental inventory of her behavior and honestly assess whether she did anything that would make even a more mild-tempered parent see red. (Emphasis on mental inventory in order for there to be honest assessment.) No matter what, there’s still no excuse for the way her friend’s mom has handled the situation, but your daughter might have to admit to herself that she shares some responsibility for this rift.

Thanks for writing,
HTT

Monday, November 19, 2007

HTT, our friends are screwing up and we can't stand to watch any more!

Dear HTT,

Do you have any suggestions to help us deal with the
guilt of having to end a friendship?

My husband and I started hanging out with another
couple of similar age and interests about two years
ago. At first we really liked them, but over the last
18 months we’ve stood by and watched them make one bad
decision after another and right now their lives are a
mess. We respect their right to make decisions for
themselves, but can no longer stand by and watch, so
we are trying to remove ourselves from the situation.
It has been difficult.

The problems started when they decided to move to what
they consider a more desirable area. All they could
afford is a lot in the worst neighborhood, and they
thought they’d save even more money by building a 650
sq ft home for their family of three, doing most of
the work themselves. They hired people to frame, roof
and plumb the place, which took about a month, and
then they’d do the electrical, siding, tiling, etc.
themselves. They have no previous construction
experience—she’s in landscape design, he’s a
geologist. It’s now been eight months, and they
haven’t finished any of the jobs they intended to do
themselves. We’ve gone to the lot to help,
but they are so disorganized and unfocused that it
takes five hours to do two hours of work, and we don’t
have that kind of time. But they don’t seem pressured
to work, either—they have time to go fishing several
times a week, go out on weekends, leave town for
mini-breaks, go to sporting events, etc. They also
had the money two months ago to hire a contractor to
build a garage so they can keep a boat—they don’t have
a boat, and can’t afford one, but they want a garage
for some future boat. Unrealistically, they also keep
expecting the house to get finished in another three
months—they’ve just finished another lease at another
short-term rental. Last month they planned to move
into the finished garage, but they fired the
contractor half-way through that job and the garage
sits half-built as well. This weekend we helped the
wife and daughter move into a 30-year-old travel
trailer they hastily rented and parked on the lot.
The husband was out of town for work. The wife and
daughter were visibly upset about the move into the
trailer, but the husband, who is the primary
decision-maker, doesn’t seem to have a problem with
it. Actually, he seems to resent advice or suggestions
from others to the point where it seems as if he does
the opposite of whatever you suggest. The husband
rejected the offer of a friend to give them a
month-to-month rental, changed his mind two weeks
later and is now angry at the friend because the
rental is no longer available. He also rejected my
offer to connect him with a retired electrician.

In the meantime, the wife is on Lexapro and the
10-year-old daughter has attended four schools in the
past two years, and is not only bringing home failing
grades but also demonstrates emotional and behavioral
problems. She had several serious conflicts with
other children. Our friends blame the parents of the
other children involved—those parents are “snobs” and
“social climbers” who won’t let their children play
with the daughter.

This is just the tip of the iceberg--they never had
the lot surveyed, started wiring the house without a
permit, and hired a new neighbor to roof the garage
for cash under the table and he fell off the roof and
was injured. As friends, my husband and I feel like
we should be there to support them through tough
times. But we also have a hard time feeling too much
sympathy—they aren’t the victims of circumstance as
much as their own decision-making. We don’t want to
butt in and force our opinions on them, so we’re trying
to get some distance. In the response, they seem more
aggressive about spending time with us. We feel
guilty.

Do you have any advice? Are we doing the right thing?


Dear Friends of Bad-Decision-Makers,

It certainly sounds like your friends are making construction decisions that are probably illegal and definitely dangerous. On top of that, they seem to feel no remorse about squandering their friends’ good will and offers to pitch in. When my friends and I help each other tackle home projects, we agree upon a strict time limit for the activity, and the helpee does all project prep work before the helpers arrive. Plus, bagels and coffee are usually on hand during these Saturday morning tasks.

But do you actually need to end the friendship? Do you enjoy their company under other circumstances? If so, I wonder if it’s possible to remain friends with them, but to remove yourselves from any discussions about the house. And definitely stop volunteering your time toward never-ending, ill-fated projects! If you like them enough to give this a try, I’d be really honest about your boundaries. You could say something like, “We have very different ideas on how these sorts of things should be done, and we don’t want to cause any hurt feelings by constantly offering up advice or suggestions that run contrary your plans. We want to support you, but maybe it would be better if we just didn’t discuss the house together any more.” If this tack can work for disagreements among friends over politics and religion, surely it could work under your circumstances as well.

If that plans falls flat, and if the friendship has few other redeeming qualities, then I suppose ending the relationship, or at least withdrawing from it for now, is all you can do. If they were very close friends, I suspect you wouldn’t have written this letter; you’d have just sucked it up and supported them the best that you could without losing your sanity. Most friendships go through rocky periods. At one time or another, we’ve all probably wanted to shake a friend for making lousy decisions. Good friendships survive those times; casual ones might not.

If you legitimately feel you've done what you could for this family and for your relationship with them, then you should try to let go of your guilt. Like doomed romantic relationships, some friendships just aren't meant to be.

Good luck!
HTT

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oy. I have been lazy about attending to the blog these past few weeks, and now I've got three VERY interesting questions to ponder. I'm back to it, so please stay tuned.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

HTT, how do I tell Mom I no longer want her furniture without looking like an ingrate?

Dear HTT,

Years ago my mother gave me a bunch of really nice furniture that was actually the stuff I grew up with in our family's home. It's really nice, walnut veneered, solid REAL furniture -- a large dining room table and chairs, some desks and night stands, and several occasional tables. She even paid to have the pieces refinished for me. It has been fabulous having the furniture, and I am so grateful to have had it.

But, as my decorating taste has evolved over recent years, I find that the furniture just doesn't "work" for me any more. I have plenty of other family hand-me-down dolls, pictures, and various tchotchkes that I have been able to box up in the attic, hoping that someday I'll have a space for them. But, the furniture -- not so easy to shove into a box and stow it away.

I don't want to appear unappreciative, HTT. But I need to figure out how to talk to Mom about my feelings without coming across as an ungrateful brat. She's a great parent in every way, and I wouldn't purposely hurt her feelings for anything in the world. Can you help me figure this out? How can I have the home and furnishings that I want without making my mother feel bad? Or, should I just suck it up and live with the furniture until my mother's gone to the great beyond?

Daughter in Distress


Dear Daughter,

Technically, when someone gives us a gift, it becomes ours to do with as we please. But, sure, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You quietly exchange the polka CD from Uncle Joe for the newest from Iron and Wine. The giant, feather-covered hair clip your sister-in-law made in her crafting circle? You strategically place it on your dresser before she visits, suggesting that you’d just used it the day before. Nana’s sweatshirt covered with holiday-themed embroidery? Wear it only when you visit your grandmother.

As you point out, however, you can’t just whip out your mother’s dining room table the day before her visit and stow it away once she leaves. So honesty’s the best policy. Unlike the hair clip example, you actually used to like the furniture and got years of good use out of it before your decorating aesthetic evolved. So tell your mother how grateful you are that she gave you the furniture and about how you enjoyed it all this time. But explain that your taste has changed and that you have the opportunity to buy some new furniture that now suits you better. Offer to return the furniture to her, and take responsibility for moving it back.

Chances are, your mother will understand. She’s probably redecorated her home several times over the years (like, after she gave you the walnut-veneered furniture you’re currently feeling guilty about), so surely she’ll empathize with your desire for something new.

Good luck!
HTT

Sunday, October 14, 2007

HTT, how do I overcome restoration envy?

Dear HTT,

Several years ago, my husband and I moved into an older neighborhood filled with bungalows and Victorians. Our house was in a state of mild disrepair---not falling down, but definitely in need of some pretty major repairs involving plumbing and foundation, as well as a bunch of updates. We’ve been working on it in waves since we moved in, and it’s starting to come along.

So, what’s the problem? Well, in a word, jealousy. Since a lot of people in this neighborhood are in the same boat and doing a lot of work to their homes, neighbors frequently tour each others’ houses to see what progress has been made, offer tips, suggest handymen, etc. And every time I go on one of these informal tours, I get envious over how nice their places look! It’s not like our house is a tar paper shack or anything, but we’ve spent most of our money on repairs that don’t show (aforementioned plumbing and foundation) and, even if we hadn’t, there’s no way we could afford stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

How do I stop from comparing our cute little house to all these others, that look like they just walked out of American Bungalow magazine?

Signed,
Green with Envy


Dear Green,

When I told a friend about this question, she laughed and said, “Do you think you have any frame of reference, any experience to draw on to answer that letter?” She was kidding.

I, too, live in an older bungalow, and I’ve sunk a mint into foundation, porch repair, and plumbing. I’ve bitched and moaned to friends and family about how I could have overhauled my entire kitchen or built a screen porch for what I’ve spent on these boring repairs. Up next at my place? Knocking down a non-functioning chimney no longer even attached to a fireplace, and patching the roof where the chimney now stands. Try highlighting that when you’re showing friends around your house! Not quite the same impact as, “And then, we installed this gorgeous claw-footed tub and period Craftsman-style lighting.”

So, yes, I know just where you’re coming from.

There was a time, not long ago, when middle class people were happy to have a decent, affordable home in which to live and maybe raise a family. Sure, people wanted a house they liked, a house that more or less reflected their sense of style. But these homes were practical places, where toasters rested just as easily on a Formica countertop as they do on granite. Where plain, white (or maybe avocado) refrigerators kept food just as fresh as stainless steel does. Where a fiberglass tub got you just as clean as a 100-year-old enamel-covered metal claw-footed tub. At some point, though, we all went a little crazy. Blame it on HGTV, or Martha Stewart, or Architectural Digest, or American Bungalow, or Restoration Hardware or their ilk. Our idea of what a home should be was transformed from a comfortable sanctuary to a showpiece. Some of us started to feel like we just weren’t trying hard enough if our homes didn’t have glass-fronted kitchen cabinets, or expensive period fixtures, or gleaming refinished hardwood floors.


I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of these things. I, myself, salivate over Frank Lloyd Wright / Charles Rennie MacIntosh styled anything. If people can afford to have their floors refinished, or have the moxie to do it themselves, right on! Get granite, go for stainless. But if these updates just aren't in your budget now, if you’re spending your money on keeping your house standing, don’t despair. Here are a few tips:

  • For god’s sake stop watching remodeling shows on HGTV. They only make you feel badly about your skills and your home. Those shows where the homeowners supposedly do all the work, remodel their entire house in a month for a couple thousand bucks? That’s pure trickery, my friend. There are tons of skilled workers and designers buzzing around off camera.
  • Cancel your subscription to American Bungalow and recycle, without first reading, all your home furnishing catalogues until you actually need to purchase something.
  • Walk through your house with your husband and discuss every feature you like about it. When you show friends around, don’t apologize for anything or point out all the negatives.
  • This sounds silly, but ask a good friend to “admire” the work you have done. For example, when my foundation work was completed, several friends gushed about how they had never seen a more level house or straighter porch columns. I actually felt a little burst of pride!
  • Finally, be grateful. You own a cute home that was within your means, and you live in a funky neighborhood that you love.

Maybe I’ll run into you at Home Depot one of these days!

Best,
HTT

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

HTT, in the middle of an argument, my boyfriend asked me if it was "that time of the month"!

Dear HTT,

I need your help. In the midst of an argument, my boyfriend committed a cardinal sin. This is a man who is normally very kind, supportive, and understanding. This *event* might have been a minor lapse in judgment. However, I'm still pretty steamed over it -- so I need your help to figure out, objectively, if I am overreacting!

OK -- here was the situation. He and I started to have a disagreement about something that he felt was trivial. The fact that he thought the issue was trivial caused this disagreement to blow up into a full ARGUMENT. At this point in the argument, I'm feeling really frustrated that he appeared to have a complete lack of regard for something that I felt was very important. So, we go 'round and 'round... things are getting really heated... he still thinks this whole thing is ridiculous... when he says, "What time of the month is it?" OHHHHH let me tell you, I was NOT amused. I flew off the handle. What started as frustration because he wasn't giving as much care to an issue that *I* felt was important - became anger that he overtly stated that I was irrational for even feeling upset in the first place. Like I said, he's normally very kind and supportive. What he said really shocked me. Is he secretly a real jerk?

Am I overreacting? What should I do?

Signed,

Not Laughing


Dear Not Laughing,

At first, this line of questioning struck me as extremely sexist. If a woman and a man disagree about something, what makes it o.k. to assume the only cause of the disagreement is the woman’s hormonal state? Why can’t it simply be because the man is wrong? I mean, having a period is not the same as having a botched lobotomy. And I don’t know any women who, when arguing with a man, say something like, “Oh you just can’t think straight because you’re still distraught over your failure to achieve an erection last night.” Or, “honey, your sensitivity about your ever-growing bald spot is really clouding your judgment.”

But then, to be fair, I’m also willing to admit that some of us (and by “us” I mean some of womankind in general…certainly not me) do become a little emotional, a little hair-trigger-tempered when Aunt Dot comes to town.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s even say your hormones did rear their heads that day. Still, even if your boyfriend guessed correctly, did he actually gain anything by smugly mentioning it? Clearly not; you became more enraged.

So, guys, a tip from me to you: pulling the “is it THAT time of the month?” card will never help you win an argument. I’ll bet that no woman in the history of menstruation has ever, when confronted with that question in the middle of a heated discussion, responded, “Gee, you’re right honey, I’m just being totally irrational because my hormones are screwing with my head and my entire torso is wracked with cramps. Don’t even bother paying attention to my opinions for another four days.”

Now, men, if the woman in your life does suffer from mood swings when her period rolls around, and if you choose to track her cycle clandestinely for your own well being (or, better yet, to avoid arguments and to remember to bring home chocolate and red wine), feel free to do so. But mention it at your peril. And remember, just because we’re crabby doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

Yours truly,
HTT

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wendy's

So, I worked at Wendy's for about three months while I was in high school. It was a pretty terrible job in all the ways you'd imagine. But my store manager had a special humiliation lined up just for me: every Saturday, I had to dress up as Wendy and hand out balloons. When I asked why no one else ever had to don the itchy, yarn Wendy's wig and put on her pinafore, the manager said, "You're the only white girl working here. Does Wendy look black to you?" Well, he had a point. But still!

Anyway, on the way to Atlanta a few weeks ago, my friend and I stopped at Wendy's for lunch, and I got to relive a few fond memories of my Wendy's days:


Thursday, September 27, 2007

HTT, traffic blows! How can I cope?

Dear HTT,

I'm writing to see if you can send an APB to all of my fellow Triangle residents. Please let them know that when you see an upside down yellow triangle with the words YIELD on it, it does not mean that you must stop. If it was a red octagon, then yes, stopping would be appropriate.

I'm simply fed up with trying to get on the Durham freeway or 40 and having some schmuck- because they ran out of pavement- stop on the freakin on ramp! People, either you slow down or speed up, please don't stop on the on ramp- its dangerous! And if you’re on the lane that the person needs to merge on- slow down, speed up or change lanes- let them in people! For the love of all that is Holy!!!

But my real beef is with a specific Triangle traveler today. I was trying to get off 540 onto 40 this afternoon and I'm one lane away from the exit lane when my fellow traveler, ahead of me, slams on her brakes. I suspect she did this because she couldn't find a way to get onto the off ramp- so she slammed on her brakes to see if she could get on. Not only is this dangerous, it’s extremely non-conforming to the rules of the road. In this situation, one puts one’s signal on (showing intent) then merges into the lane- okay? - one does not slam on the brakes or stop to smell roses. Because if you did that, you would have a wave of rush hour traffic bearing down upon you at 70 plus miles an hour!

So then, (hopefully I'm not boring you), I'm finally merging onto 40 and I look in the mirror to see if I can merge when lo and behold someone behind me is merging into traffic from 540 way before the dotted lines appear…i.e., cutting right into high-speed travelers. I mean I saw cars swerving to get out of the way to stop an accident from happening. I shook my head and looked in rear view again. Who could it be except the same rider who gave me trouble on 540 previously.

Sorry to rant and not ask for advice- but if I may be so bold and venture my own advice- get off the damn cell phone, watch where you’re going, and please, please don't stop on the on ramp when you’re getting on the freeway.

Zorro


Dear Zorro,

You’re lucky to be alive!

Yes, I think we can all agree that many people on the road simply don’t know how to drive. Oh, sure, they can operate a car, but should they? I myself had two near misses on a recent drive to Atlanta (to see Crowded House, who were fantastic by the way). Both times, people attempted to move into my lane without even looking. I had to swerve to avoid them and was lucky not to hit the median or another driver.

And let me tell you: the horn on a Suzuki Reno does not inspire fear or awe in other drivers. It’s got this tinny “meep meep” like the Roadrunner, which is sort of cute if you’re tooting your horn outside a friend’s house, but straight-up embarrassing if you’re trying to go Medusa on some jerk talking on his cell phone in the Escalade that almost ran you over. Even my road trip companion burst out laughing the first time she heard me beep. “Whoa, watch out,” she said, ostensibly to the other drivers but really mocking me. “She’s really mad now. If you know what's good for you, you won't get in HER way.”

But I digress. See how traffic makes us hot under the collar? Even just in the retelling two weeks later? You offer some excellent advice, although I think you’re giving me too much credit if you think that publishing it here is going to reach a wide spectrum of the Triangle! And although you didn’t technically ask for advice, I have some. Are you shocked?

So how do you deal with bad drivers and horrible traffic? Obviously, you can’t just stay off the roads, at least not in these parts where public transportation options are so limited. It sounds like you already employ excellent defensive driving skills. So, you might try one of the following:

  • Deep breathing: Sounds corny, but it really works for me, unless I’m PMS-ing, in which case, Katy bar the door. Then, in the throes of moodiness, migraines, and cramps, my NJ roots begin to show, and certain fingers get waved and curses uttered. I’m not proud of it. Just being honest.
  • Good music: If I’m singing along to a great song, I’m far less likely to be bothered by idiot drivers, at least in situations where my life isn’t endangered.
  • Smugness: When someone zooms past me at 90 mph, I just gloat about how much more they must spend on gas. And about how I am in no hurry to get to work, so clearly I have my life priorities in order while they clearly don’t.
  • Calling 911 or *HP: Oh, I’m like Gomer Pile doing a citizen’s arrest! I’ll call the police at the drop of a hat and rat out someone driving erratically (aka, possibly drunk). Granted, this doesn’t work for your typical one-off stupid move, but it makes me feel better. And isn’t that what we’re talking about here? Not losing your mind (or life) on the highway.
  • Refraining from tailgating: The surest way to remain in a Buddha-like state of calm is to try to keep as much distance as possible between you and everyone else. I know, sometimes easier said than done, but try it when you can.
Let’s all be careful out there!

HTT

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I want to be a cop, but my girlfriend parties all the time

Hi,

I've been in a relationship with a girl for almost 3 years now. I am 20 and my girlfriend is 18. From day 1 her friends have not liked me for no reason and have tried to break us up. They don't like me, and I don't like them. But her and I have only been able to see each other on weekends because of different schools and jobs. That is all we see each other and we have made it work. But lately we have been fighting because she wants to go out with them and drink and do stupid things. I know it is a thing younger people do now, because I was guilty of it too.

But I don’t trust her friends, and I know she gets pretty drunk off of 1 beer. Not to mention about all her friends are guys. I really don't like that. But she says I am controlling....I mean who wouldn't be right??? Who lets their girlfriend (who I only see once or twice a week anyway) go off and party with almost all guys???? That just seems morally wrong. Last time she did it she got in a vehicle with a drunk driver. I won’t party because I am seeking a job in law enforcement. I don’t want to date someone who wants to party.

We have been fine all these years but now she say she wants to be a "teen." And that I am holding her back. I look at it as I am being protective of her. Who lets their girlfriend party with guys, not hang out with me on weekends when we barely see each other anyway?? She at least gets to see her friends at school, before and after. She sees them in the hallways, at practice and at games. But she and I only see each other on the weekends. And now she wants to see them all week long and rarely see each other AND keep a relationship. I think she wants to do like the old phrase "have her cake, and eat it too." She just now started this phase.

So what am I supposed to do? I don't want to throw away all the good times and all the years just because of this, and she is going to be graduating. Should I stick it out a few months more, or break it off? Thanks for your help.



Dear Letter Writer,

Sometimes the answer to our questions could not be more clear, but we ignore all the signs because the solution makes us unhappy. I think you know what to do.

You are a young man with a plan. You’ve left high school behind. You’re done with the crazy partying and drinking. You’ve set goals for yourself. Goals that include law enforcement and busting people who do stupid things when they get drunk. People like your girlfriend.

She wants to be a teen because she is one. And, it must be said, a reckless one at that. But it’s not up to you to “let” her--or not--get drunk or party with the guys or have her cake and eat it too. Obviously her behavior drives you crazy, so I understand your desire to change it. In this respect, though, you have been controlling, no matter whether your motivation was her safety or your jealousy or a little bit of both.

So try to keep an eye on that impulse as you move forward into other relationships. With luck, you’ll soon date women whose lifestyles are more aligned with your own, who are more mature, and who don’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming into spending time with you.

I doubt that her graduation is going to be a quick fix for what ails your relationship. I'm sorry, but I think she’s telling you through her actions that you should move on.

Good luck to you.

HTT

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cap'n Slappy weighs in on hooks

As some of you might recall from an earlier post, my stepmother, Faith, is a loyal fan of Cap'n Slappy, who founded International Talk Like a Pirate Day and writes his own extremely entertaining advice column. Well, when Faith read the question I answered about the hook, she just knew the Cap'n would have an opinion, so she passed on the question, and my reply, to him. See what he has to say! When you get there, scroll down a ways...or just read the whole column.

What do you call a man who has oral sex with another man?

Dear HTT,

I've had this question forever. I'm a practicing hetero male in the Triangle. I'm wondering if a male receives oral sex from another male, does that make him gay? In light of the current revelations about the Senator from Idaho who claims he's not gay, but nonetheless has taken part in some less than straight illegal behavior, and who claims not to be gay, would I be gay, had I engaged in such behavior.

Keep up the good work,

Your fan in Triangle
Zorro


Dear Zorro,

I don’t think that having oral sex with a man necessarily means that Sen. Craig, or anyone else for that matter, is gay. But he sure isn’t straight, either.

Labels are so limiting, aren’t they? I buy into Kinsey’s theory of sexuality. He said

Males [and he came to feel this way about women, too, eventually] do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual…The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history... An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life.... A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.
  • 0--Exclusively heterosexual
  • 1--Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
  • 2--Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
  • 3--Equally heterosexual and homosexual
  • 4--Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
  • 5--Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
  • 6--Exclusively homosexual
  • X--Asexual
Notice that once this business came to light, Craig said, “I am not now, and never have been, gay.” O.K., right, but my guess is he’s not a zero, although I don’t know where exactly he falls on the scale. And I wouldn't care, either, if he weren't such a hypocrite.

I mean, please. He voted to deny gay men and lesbians the right to marry, claiming that the "sanctity of marriage" could be upheld only between a woman and a man, and all the while he's trying to cheat on his wife and hook up in a public bathroom? Yeesh.

Thanks for the question and for being such a loyal reader!

HTT

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I stared at a guy's hook and I feel terrible!

Dear HTT,

This might just be too offensive or politically incorrect to address, but I think this might be an issue for others and I'm hoping that asking this question (semi) publicly might make us all feel a little better.

Last weekend, as I was approaching the door to enter a restaurant, a couple with small child was coming out. I reached out to catch the door as the man held it open for me when I noticed (not too subtly I'm sure) that he had a prosthetic hand. More specifically, a hook. Now, I'm an adult with good manners and I'm a healthcare professional. I know it is rude to stare. But you know how people who survive a car crash describe the whole thing as seeming to last for several minutes when in reality it only lasted a couple of seconds? That's how it felt for me. Here's how it went: I look at the hook, my mind processes, "Is that a hook? Hmmm... That is a hook. I knew someone with a hook once, I wonder what ever happened to Syd... Oh my god. I think I'm staring, did he notice?" I glance up, make immediate, accidental and very uncomfortable eye contact then say, with a pitiful look (as in with "a look full of pity"), "Hey... How are you?" He smiles back and nods and we keep going our separate ways. Basically I got busted staring at a guy with a hook.

Uhhggghhh! I have thought about those few seconds and winced with embarrassment countless times since it happened. I'm trying to figure out why it was so awkward and why I still feel so guilty. Is it as simple as seeing something outside the norm and my brain taking a few extra seconds to process? Isn't it normal to take few extra seconds to process what you're not accustomed to seeing? It's not as though there was any judgment involved or fear or revulsion. But what if he thought there was? Am I just an insensitive clod? Isn't honest curiosity or extra processing allowed? What do you think?

Signed,
Red-faced



Dear Red-faced,

You are not an insensitive clod. The fact that you’ve written this letter, the fact that you’re still cringing with embarrassment days after this incident, these things tell me that you are not a boor.

Yes, I do think the brain does a little hiccup of sorts when faced with something visually jarring. And unless one comes into regular contact with someone who has a similar prosthesis, a hook in the place of a hand will strike most of us as unusual. It is, in fact, not usual. So your description of your thought process makes perfect sense to me. Your brain is a wonderful thing! Even though it felt like minutes, your brain needed just a few extra microseconds to make sense of the hook. It then helpfully fired up some synapses and pulled out a memory of someone you know who also has one, thereby attempting to normalize that which is not normal in your day-to-day life.

Having established that your reaction is probably pretty typical, let’s talk about why you feel so badly about it. I think shame rears its head if we believe we’ve been caught in the act of pitying, not simply looking. Plus, as you allude to, we’ve had it drummed into our heads that staring is rude—and that staring at someone with a disability is super rude. So with all this conditioning, your tiny slip-up felt enormous, which only made your interaction all the more uncomfortable. Imagine if you hadn’t instantaneously felt like you’d broken a social taboo, done the unthinkable…maybe you’d have stared at his hook for a moment, then simply looked up and smiled.

A quick side story: I have a friend—I’ll call her Jane—who used to live in New York City. Every day, she faced a long subway commute. She hated it. She grew more embittered with each trek. She hated the smell, the noise, the heat, rude people pushing and shoving. Most of all she hated people who did not follow the cardinal rule of escalators: you can stand on the right, but you must walk on the left. One day, in a hurry to catch the train, she got caught behind a woman planted on the left side of the down escalator. The more Jane huffed and muttered, the more this woman clung steadfastly to the handrail. Finally, Jane found an opportunity to pass on the right. As she did, she flashed the woman a look that could kill, which then prompted the woman to cry out, “I can’t help it that I only have one arm.” And she did. A left one. You know what my friend did? She laughed! At herself, at the situation, at her mistake. Then she apologized for being rude, but no more profusely than she would have to anyone else she might have sassed on her flight down the escalator stairs. The woman accepted, and my friend dashed off for the train. End of story, no lasting guilt or trauma.

My point is not that we should laugh at the disabled. I am not advocating gawking at people with hooks. We should do our best not to be rude to anyone, but don’t assume that the disabled are more delicate in the self-esteem department than the rest of us.

You’re human. Forgive yourself. It sounds as if he did. He smiled at you, said hello, and moved on.

Thanks for writing!
HTT

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Crafting: a Labor of Love

Two excellent questions await my response, but I proved too lazy to answer them this weekend. So, for now, I'll instead regale you with Tales of a Very Short Road Trip.

My friend Tina and I decided to take a mini (or maybe micro) road trip on Labor Day to a nearby town known for its stately Victorian homes and quaint downtown. One of the downtown attractions is a refurbished warehouse, partitioned into booths that display the wares of local craftspeople. In fact, not just craftspeople...this place bills itself as "yesterday's architecture, today's artisans."

Well, I'll leave it to you to determine whether the offerings qualify as artisanal.

Yes, indeed, that's a hand-made Elvis knick-knack box.


Tina, looking very stylish in this lovely hair bow.

You know, Tina, Dawn, and I are planning a trip to Rome. Maybe the chic rolling bag, above, will come in handy. Or this special purse, as Tina demonstrates with her cab-hailing pose:


But, then, these are nice, right? Dignified pictures of someone's great grandparents, perhaps?




Nope. Wrong. When you shift your head from side to side, Maw-maw and Paw-paw morph into this freak show:


After hamming it up throughout the store, snapping pictures and giggling like little girls, we were somewhat chagrined to find this sign tucked away amidst the Barbie doll fairies:


Yikes. At first I brushed it off, figuring that this sign was just a ruse to put off would-be shoplifters, but then I noticed a huge monitor that was, in fact, being monitored by a salesperson in the front of the store. Fortunately, because the views from about 12 cameras appeared on one television screen, no one picture was big enough to do justice to our antics.

And, finally, on the way back to Durham, we stopped at a grocery store, where I was sorely tempted to purchase this magazine:

I mean, I've been fed up with squirrels digging up my impatiens, so maybe this would be the perfect subscription! My birthday's coming up in November, hint hint.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer's almost over, and I'm totally bummed! What should I do?

Dear HTT,

I want to write to you for advice but not sure about how to disguise myself. You would know from my email address who I might be.

I thought it would be a good place to put a comment on your vacation pictures and pose my dilemma.

I am in a panic about summer ending. I have to say that it’s been a blast and I am afraid that the good times will end. And I don't want to wait another 10 months for summer to start again.

What advice can you give me to keep the good times rolling???

PS: Football season does start in a few weeks so there is some light on my horizon.

Party Girl


Dear Party Girl,

First, thanks for your ingenuity…posting your question in the comments section is a great way to disguise yourself! The rest of you anonymity-challenged readers/would-be letter writers should take note.

Now, on to your dilemma. I’m not sure how old you are or where you live. If summer’s end means back to school (or work, if you’re a teacher), I can imagine falling into a funk this time of year. Or, if your main form of fun involves a beach and a bottle of pina-colada-scented tanning oil, maybe the passing of 90-degree days is cause for mourning. Or, if you reside in a state that might see snow in a few weeks, I guess I can imagine bumming out as August slips by.

But for me, the end of August is cause for celebration. Soon the high temperature will dip below 99! Being outdoors will become a pleasure and not just a test of endurance. I might be able to take my hair out of a ponytail, once even the thought of a few strands on my neck doesn’t make me sweat. Before too long, we’ll be enjoying a little nip in the air, some mulled cider, bulky sweaters, and an energetic spring in the steps of our stylishly boot-clad feet.

Honestly, if you work year-round, I don’t see why summer holds any more party promise than the rest of the year. All right, maybe pool parties will drop off the calendar for a while, but what else can’t you do in the fall that you can do in the summer? Where I live, fall’s a nicer time of year for a cookout, a picnic, drinks on a bar patio, a bike ride, a hike, a road trip, a street fair, a wedding, most vacations, a walk on the beach, a party on the porch, a stroll around Duke Gardens, a trip to the farmer’s market, hand-holding (fewer sweaty palms), dressing up, gardening, dancing, exploring new places, oh, I could go on and on.

But, o.k., I’ll assume that the passing of summer is, for you, reason to despair, whether it marks the end of aimless days of pleasure or the beginning of an early and long, dreary winter. I guess the closest parallel from my own life that I can draw on to feel what you might be feeling is the end of a fantastic vacation. (And you posted near my vacation pictures, so you know how depressed I can get when I return from a great trip.) This is what I do when vacation ends: I start planning another one. Not just dreaming. Planning. I need some concrete fun to look forward to. If you know me at all, you’ve probably heard me say, at least once, “In order to be happy in life, one must always be on vacation or planning one.”

So, Party Girl, start cooking up some fun for the fall and winter. Sure, if you’ve had the luxury of partying every night over the summer, you’re going to have to make do with less. And certainly, unlike a vacation, you can’t just plan to have summer again in a few months. (Although if it’s beach weather you’ll crave, remember it’s always hot somewhere in the world.) Think about the kinds of events that will add joy to your life this fall and winter and make real plans to do them. Get other people on board. I know for some people lack of spontaneity is a buzz kill, but even a few exciting, sure-to-happen events on your calendar can make the end of summer (for you) or vacation (for me) easier to bear.

Party on, my anonymous friend!

HTT

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More on crushes

A guy friend of mine begged to differ with my advice to the previous letter writer. He said that he'd prefer the object of his crush to be less opaque about her feelings so that he's not left guessing. But, when pressed, he couldn't come up with what she should actually say. I maintain that there's no polite way to tell someone you're not interested in them, particularly if they haven't expressed interest in YOU.

The burden is on people with a crush to rip the band aid off if they really want to know where they stand with the object of their affection.

However, as I tried to express to "Crushed," I think it's humane....a kindness, a mitzvah...to try to get the point across somehow that she's not interested in dating her pal. Don't make him rip the band aid off if he can avoid it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Should I crush someone who might have a crush on me?

Dear HTT,

I have a small group of loosely connected friends that I hang around with on a fairly regular basis, some of them more than others. I have reason to believe that one of the guys in the group has a crush on me. He’s never said so straight out, but it’s just a feeling I get. I like spending time with him, but I’m not interested in dating him. Should I tell him? I don’t want to hurt him or make it awkward for the two of us to show up at the same events, but I don’t want to lead him on either. I don’t flirt with him, but I am friendly, and it’s possible he could be misreading the signals.

Thanks for any advice you can give.

Crushed


Dear Crushed,

You know, this whole crush business generates more visits to my site than any other topic. People who arrive at “Here’s the Thing” from Google leave a visible trail of search terms, at least half of which include the word “crush.” (Don’t worry. As I pointed out earlier, I can’t tell WHO is doing the googling, so your secrets are safe.) It’s fascinating, really, to imagine just how many people at this very moment are nursing a secret crush on a coworker, friend, teacher, buddy of a spouse, barista, bartender, or girl across the hall. As widespread as this situation appears to be, it’s puzzling that someone hasn’t figured out how to profit somehow. Or, more philanthropically, to come up with some kind of cure and distribute it widely, free of charge. I'm sure a cure would be welcome. Because by their nature, crushes are fun for a few weeks or months at best before they give way to frustration and pining and pints of Ben and Jerry’s. (Unless they happen to turn into relationships, in which case, they’re no longer “crushes.”)

After all, crush is violent word:

–verb (used with object)
  • to press or squeeze with a force that destroys or deforms.
  • to squeeze or pound into small fragments or particles, as ore, stone, etc.
  • to force out by pressing or squeezing; extract: to crush cottonseeds in order to produce oil.
  • to rumple; wrinkle; crease.
  • to smooth or flatten by pressure: to crush leather.
  • to hug or embrace forcibly or strongly: He crushed her in his arms.
  • to destroy, subdue, or suppress utterly: to crush a revolt.
  • to overwhelm with confusion, chagrin, or humiliation, as by argumentation or a slighting action or remark; squelch.
  • to oppress grievously.

–noun
  • the act of crushing; state of being crushed.
  • a great crowd: a crush of shoppers.
  • an intense but usually short-lived infatuation.
  • the object of such an infatuation: Who is your latest crush?

It’s probably no coincidence that “an intense but usually short-lived infatuation” that can cause no small amount of depression and googling isn’t called—I don’t know—a “nurture” or an “encouragement.”

So, getting around to your specific crushing issue: since this fellow hasn’t laid bare his feelings or asked you on a date, you can’t be certain he thinks of you as more than a friend. As such, I think it’d be a bit presumptuous to explicitly state that you lack romantic interest in him. For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume that he does have a crush on you. It’s quite possible that he already knows you aren’t interested and is just biding his time until the crush fades, as they tend to do.

I think your best bet is to remain friendly but pay attention to your boundaries. It’s flattering to be wanted, but continue resisting the temptation to flirt. If you usually only see one another in a group, keep it that way; if you have hung out alone in the past, maybe for a while it would be better to include others. If you have, or develop, an interest in someone, mention it to him as you would to any other friend, but take care not to be heavy handed or cruel about it.

Bottom line, treat this guy as you’d hope to be treated if the tables were turned.

Best,
HTT

What other advice columnists say

A friend and reader sent this to me. I'll try not to follow this example, even though it made me laugh.

Monday, August 13, 2007

How will reclaiming my virginity affect me in the romance department?

Dear HTT,

I'm a divorced woman who wishes to 'reclaim her virginity' (i.e., be sexually abstinent, as younger women in HIV-prevalent settings are being urged to do to protect their health). Do you think that will affect my romantic prospects, and if so, how? Reclaiming one's virginity might be seen as akin to "detailing and garaging/protecting one's car" for a time before putting it on the market. Though used, it feels rather new. Also, in this day and age, maybe virgins -- of whatever age, pure or reclaimed -- are a refreshing, albeit puzzling novelty.

What do you think?
*************************

Dear Virgin Wannabe,

If you think reclaiming your virginity is a simple matter of announcing your abstinence and beating back suitors, you are mistaken my friend. Thanks to Google, I came across The Society for the Recapture of Virginity, which, FOR NO MONEY DOWN, assists you in the complex process of revirgination.

Three not-so-simple steps:

First you enter some information into the VRS 3000, a “state-of-the-art software which takes in factual information from the non-virgin, performs complex, rigorous calculations, and through a process called virgination, finds the algorithm needed to restore your virginity.” According to the site, “a group of highly skilled scientists set out on a multi-million dollar research study that eventually led to a breakthrough in the understanding of virginity.”

Next, based on the number crunching done by the VRS 3000, a microchip is custom encoded with a unique algorithm. “This microchip is then attached to a wristband, which you wear at night while you sleep. During the night, the microchip emits harmless radio waves that adjust and correct your virgin biorhythms. While you dream, your virginity will be restored. You will not feel a thing, but you will wake up a virgin!”

(How do you know it works, you ask? Easy. According to the web site, “You will know.” Period.)

Finally, you will receive a certificate with your name on it (emphasis not mine) to prove that you have been reflowered.

I suspect (desperately hope) the creators of this site are pulling our legs, and kudos to them for making me nearly shoot coffee out of my nose. But all joking aside, your question about how this second virginity business might affect your romantic prospects deserves some serious discussion.

Are you looking at the process as one of detailing/garaging before going back on the market sometime soon? I mean, after all, you mention reclaiming virginity, not adopting life-long celibacy. And being a virgin means that you haven’t had sex yet, not that you intend on never having it. Given that, I think many men will view your revirginization with great enthusiasm.

First, you’re the best of both worlds: you do actually have sexual experience (I’m assuming), but of late you are pure. You’re the Madonna and the whore all in one person! (Um…I don’t mean you’re a whore. That didn’t come out right.) Second, lots of men love a challenge. You might very well be wined and dined and showered with flowers and candy by men with amorous intentions.

Now if don't plan to re-enter the market in the foreseeable future, I think you should make your parameters clear to any potential suitors. Are you wishing to remain a new virgin for a certain length of time? Until you fall deeply in love? What’s the purpose of your new-found virginity? Do you crave emotional, platonic relationships with men and don’t want sex to get in the way? I think a guy’s got a right to know, particularly if he is sincere and kind and not just looking for a booty call.

I’ll be curious to see how this situation unfolds!

Best,
HTT

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Summer slump

Nothing particularly pertinent to my blog is going on right now, so I'll spare you any stream of consciousness rambling. (This is not to say life isn't good. It is.) But I didn't want lack of entries to cause any of my family members to think something distressing had happened to me.

Keep those questions coming...it's too hot and steamy to spend any time outside anyway! And lately, my in-box is filled only with notices that I've won the Irish Lottery.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

My girlfriend gets hammered, her friends hate me, what should I do?

Dear HTT,

Girlfriend's friends are a problem.

When I first started dating my girlfriend a little over a year ago (we live together now), I met all of her friends and although a few of them were annoying, I took it in stride and decided they were along for the ride. Since then, I've helped them move, watched their houses and animals while they were out of town, hung out with them, basically accepted them as friends and put my heart and soul into that just as I would any friend.

When my girlfriend and I began to argue about alcohol (she drinks too much and has admitted that several times; she can never have just "a few" - always has to get hammered; she said several times she would change for the better but consistently failed at that after just a few days at most and we would argue again), she would seek the help of these friends as "second opinions". Of course, being her girlfriends and drinking buddies since long before I knew her, they supported her. They told her that I was "controlling", that I "didn't want her to have any fun", that I was "trying to take her away from her friends", etc etc the list goes on and on. It has degenerated into them flat-out declaring that I am an "asshole" and a "dick".

I have never done anything wrong to these friends - have only been genuine and treated them like my close friends as well. Now that they are picking me apart and beating me and us down, I tell her that this is too much and I no longer have any use for any of them. She says that I am the one with the alcohol problem (for not accepting her getting hammered frequently) and that I am alienating myself as far as these friends are concerned. I told her that they are the ones who screwed up.

Everything else is my fault. My girlfriend never apologizes for anything. When she is wrong and we argue, I apologize just so that we can move on; with the hopes that such forgiveness and understanding and work toward the greater good will be met with relief and she will work harder.

I know she loves me and she tells me that she does. She has a new house and new car (all in my name because she has no credit; I'm 5 years younger). I tell her I love her each night and each morning.

How do I fix this craziness of denial and friends?

Thank you for any advice.


Dear Anonymous,

I’m afraid that her friends are the least of your problems. When I boil your letter down to its core elements, this is what I see:

  • Your girlfriend “gets hammered” whenever she drinks
  • She has admitted she drinks too much, yet says you’re the one with the problem because you don’t accept her drinking
  • She counts on her drinking-buddy friends to enable her behavior
  • She thinks everything is your fault and never apologizes for anything
  • She has used your good credit to purchase a house and a car

These are red flags. Briskly waving flags. Giant ones, like the enormous American flag that flies over at least one car dealership in every town in this country. You ask how to fix this situation, but your girlfriend seems to have problems that you can’t fix, no matter how much patience, forgiveness, or understanding you muster.

Believe me. I know all too well the appeal of “helping” or fixing someone. Hello, I’ve got a crush on Gregory House of the television show “House.” If you watch the show, you know he’s a pill-popping, emotionally distant, ass who is also brilliant and handsome. I imagine his character as possessing a kernel of goodness that would blossom with the love of the right woman (aka me, if House were actually a real person).

To some of us, people who go off the rails have their own crazy allure, but we have to fight the tendency—and hubris—to think we can make them better. And in case you’re thinking, “easy for you to say…House is just a television character and I’m talking about a living, breathing person whom I happen to love,” rest assured that I’m not delusional; I know it’s only t.v. But I also briefly dated a man who was an alcoholic. He readily admitted as much and was working hard, albeit not very successfully, to stop drinking. He had more than a kernel of goodness, but a relationship with him would have been unhealthy if not impossible.

Your girlfriend might not be an alcoholic, but clearly her drinking is of concern to you. And that’s a problem. Also, I’m troubled for you about the possible ramifications of having put her house and car in your name.

I trust that you love her. I even trust that she loves you. But, cliché though this may be, love isn’t enough. I’m going to stop just short of suggesting you break up, because maybe your girlfriend is capable of change, although it doesn’t sound like she thinks she needs to. I do recommend disentangling yourself financially. And then spend time alone, someplace restful and quiet, and think about whether this relationship really makes you happy.

Good luck,
HTT

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A sort-of-crazy woman works with my kid. Should I talk to her boss?

Dear HTT,

My job involves interacting with a good number of volunteers. While most of these volunteers are lovely people invested in being helpful, one is so difficult to get along with that many of us suspect she has a borderline personality disorder. In person, she's more or less OK, if whiny; but in the 2,000-word passive-aggressive vitriolic e-mails she sends out at 4am, she complains of offenses against her, tosses out unpredictable insults, and threatens to remove herself forever from our workplace in a "goodbye cruel workplace" sort of way. Pretty much everyone is aware of her dysfunction, and frankly, more than a few of us would be happy to see her move on; but since the nonprofit I work for is in a rehab business of sorts, our jobs include letting her volunteer and helping her feel safe. We're all well practiced at turning the other cheek, and we're developing strategies for not getting emotionally punched out every time.

My problem isn't my workplace, where she's a volunteer, but her workplace, where she's a tenured employee who comes in contact with many children, including mine. As I wrote before, she seems OK in person, but it's those split-personality e-mails that have me worried, especially because I seem to be a convenient focus for much of her anger at the world (though others who receive messages from her also report being foci). In person, she doesn't seem like she'd take out her anger at me on my child, but I wouldn't put anything past her e-mail persona. Recognizing that she's likely only to be in occasional in-person contact with my child, should I nonetheless speak to her supervisor to request that she not be allowed to be alone with my child? I imagine her boss also knows about her idiosyncrasies, and I don't want to get her in trouble--I suspect she does her job pretty well, even if she bombs as a volunteer--but I also want to feel that my child is safe.

Sincerely,--What Would HTT Do?

Dear WWHTTD?

If you have any qualms about your child’s comfort and safety, you should talk to the woman's supervisor. But before you request that she not be allowed alone with your child—a request which is, let’s face it, an implicit accusation—why don’t you first simply express your concerns, calmly present what you know about this woman’s behavior, and see what the supervisor has to say? Phrase it just as you have here: “I don’t mean to get Ms. X in trouble. I suspect she does her job well, but I have witnessed some troubling behavior at her volunteer gig and I want to make sure there isn’t any spillover in her work with my child.”

It’s possible her boss will be able to put your fears to rest in any number of ways. If not, then ask that your child not be left alone in her care. If there’s only the occasional opportunity that he would be anyway, it’s not like you’re demanding any major changes or concessions.

You don’t want any niggling fears about your child’s well being, especially when this is one of the few situations in his life over which you’ll have some control. It’s good of you to turn the other cheek on this woman’s semi-abusive volunteer behavior, but I don’t think you need to be as tolerant while your kid is in her care.

Good luck!
HTT

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's been too nice to blog.

This weekend's weather was a mid-summer gift. High of 84, low in the upper 50s. In July. In North Carolina. It's this type of climate that used to make me pine for Seattle or Portland every summer before I decided my mental health would probably suffer during their rainy seasons (all three of them).

At any rate, I've been away and I haven't quite gotten back in the swing of things. Heather Havrilesky, who writes a hilarious column about t.v. for Salon, said something that rings so true for me: "My personal rule is, if I don't sink into a major existential crisis when I get back from vacation then I wasn't gone for long enough." This happened both times when I returned from Ireland. I moped and shuffled around my house, listening to nothing but traditional Celtic music, drinking hot milky tea, scanning on-line dating sites for men named Seamus, and setting the AC low enough to pretend I needed to bundle up in my new Blarney woolen throw.

A week in St. Lucia wasn't long enough to set off a crisis. (For better or worse. On the one hand, I'm glad not to be full of existential angst; on the other, I wouldn't have minded being gone longer). But I did get out of the habit of writing.

I'm getting back to it, though, and I've got a question to answer. So stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a shot of the Caribbean from the plane.


And one of the Pitons, St. Lucia's signature site:


One of The Black Pearl, allegedly featured in "Pirates of the Caribbean":



And, finally, one of a little fishing village on the island's east coast:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Crispy around the edges

Quick update from St. Lucia: Though slightly burned in typically-ignored spots, my SPF 30 and 55 sunblocks seem to be doing the job. Have yet to find a hat for my huge noggin. Fortunately, I brought an old baseball cap, which I was desperately hoping not to resort to. Dorky though I may look, at least my face isn't fried.

It's an hour and a half drive from the airport to the hotel, and my cab driver was a great tour guide. The island is lovely and green, with mountains, banana plantations, rain forests, rocky coasts on the eastern side, and sandy beaches with turquoise water in the west.

Work starts tomorrow, for three days, and then a bit of vacation. I'm hoping to arrange an official tour, but if that falls through, I can always call the cab driver and plan my own day trip. He knows his stuff!

Friday, July 6, 2007

My SO's social life still revolves around his ex-wife. I love him but enough is enough!

Dear HTT,

SO and I have been living together for 8 months. Dating for almost 4 years. Last night at dinner with friends he called me by his ex-wife’s name. About a year ago he introduced me by the name of his ex-sister-in-law. He is very close friends with his ex-wife and her present husband. They are the focal point of 95% of his social life, the ex-wife and her large extended family. My SO has remained a part of this extended family. They have been divorced about 14 years. She calls him and tells him about family dinners, parties, religious events for her family (they/we are jewish). He has called her “baby” on the phone while I was standing there. Told me when we first started dating that seeing her remarry was a humbling experience due to the fact that he loved her more than anything.

I have about decided that I am not an SO in his life but rather a housekeeper/roommate. I really don’t think I need to stay in the relationship. I love him but enough is enough. I’m at a loss –I am 62 years old and am too old for this kind of crap. He treats me well otherwise. He apologized and I accepted his apology but I just feel like I get more doses of his ex-wife than I care to have. She is a nice woman but controlling and domineering.

****************************

I’m so sorry that this situation is causing you pain and frustration. I can imagine the sting of being called by the name of an SO’s ex-wife. I’m prone to jealousy (though I fight it), so I’d have to summon a lot of strength, and not a little pride, to graciously accept his continuing friendship with his ex and her family.

But if I loved him enough, and if I thought he loved me as much, I’d try. I could probably find ways to work around the social life problem; namely, I’d make sure I had an active social life of my own and work out some compromises about how much time we/I had to spend with the ex. If I truly felt loved and appreciated, I would forgive his slip of the tongue--although I’d not be above hurt feelings and an argument about it first--and eventually accept that this probably wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me. I conducted an admittedly unscientific poll and found that several of my friends had called their well-loved current partner by an ex’s name (or had been called by the ex’s name).

But reciprocal love would be the key for me. You say you feel like a roommate and housekeeper, who is “treated well.” Is that how you feel most of the time, or did you write that in a moment of frustration? Honestly, if I regularly felt that way in the presence of my partner, it wouldn’t matter whether he addressed me as Goddess and had no ex-wife. I’d have to move on.

I don’t know if I have a jaded or practical view of relationships, but I think all of them require regular and healthy doses of compromise and forgiveness. But two important caveats:

(1) Compromise and forgiveness are extremely hard work, so the relationship has to be worth it.

(2) Compromise and forgiveness have to flow both ways.

Only you can decide whether your relationship is worth the work and whether your guy is worthy of forgiveness. And if you haven't already done so, I think you should find out whether he is willing to compromise on how much time he socializes with the ex. (If he's been divorced for 14 years and still spends 95% of his social life with her and her extended family, he might not be.) You sound like you've already made your decision; if you have, I hope you're feeling that you've done the right thing.

Good luck,
HTT

Monday, July 2, 2007

I don't want my picture posted on my friend's web site. Am I a privacy nut?

Dear HTT,

A friend of mine keeps a personal website with tons of personal information posted. I, on the other hand, am an extremely private person who doesn't want anything personal posted anywhere.

My friend and I travel together and he posts photos from our trips. That's always been fine with me because he used an online service that
required an email invitation or password to view the photos and it was
nice to share among friends. Now he's switched to a different service that allows anyone anywhere to view our photos. Granted, not many people out of our circle of friends visit his website and wouldn't have a direct link to his photo album. And I doubt strangers would look at another stranger's vacation photos. But they are out there and I feel very uncomfortable with it.

I realize that I am a little nutty about personal privacy, so that's why I need your advice. Am I being too nutty? And how offensive is it for me to ask him to password-protect his online photo album?


Dear Private,

You might be asking the wrong person, since I put personal anecdotes out there all the time and practically beg people to read them!

Then again, self-centered though this may be, I mostly only talk about myself in my personal posts. When I do mention friends, I don’t give their names, and sometimes I change details about them to protect the innocent. I think I’ve posted only one picture of a friend, and I asked her first if she minded. (She didn’t.) I have talked about family, but only in general terms, not naming any names.

So, no, I don’t think you’re being irrationally protective of your privacy. In my case, vanity would be an even bigger issue. I wouldn’t necessarily want the whole world to have access to a picture of me, say, climbing on horse when I was in Costa Rica. (I wasn’t exactly nimble at it.) And I’m sure people have plenty of other unflattering pictures of me that I’d rather were kept in a drawer somewhere, in the old-school manner of photo storage before it was easy to dump all 500 vacation pictures on a web site.

But, whatever the reason, be it privacy or vanity, I don’t think you’re being nutty. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the picture-posting options out there, but just the other day my brother was extolling the virtues of a site that lets you password protect some albums and not others, easily. So, given that you don’t need to be some kind of web programming genius to do it, I think it wouldn’t hurt to ask your friend to install some kind of privacy feature on his pages. Or, at least, to take down the pictures of you.

Take care,
HTT

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Durham's got cojones

On Saturday, a friend and I attended the "Durham Rising" event, a celebration that marked the end of a long downtown revitalization project involving realigned streets, brick sidewalks and public squares, new trees and decorative streetlamps, and a general hope that downtown Durham is on its way to becoming hip and vital.

As part of the festival, the city officially unveiled an enormous bronze sculpture of a bull, our city's mascot (we're the Bull City, home of the Durham Bulls, etc.).


"What a handsome bull," I thought, filled with beer garden-induced civic pride. And then the man in the blue shirt stepped aside, revealing the bull's bullish attributes.


Sure, I know it's totally juvenile to note just how anatomically correct our bull is, but how could you not? I wasn't the only one noting, believe me. There were plenty of snickers and shy pointing.

But when I got done having a chuckle, I couldn't help but feel warmly toward my oft-maligned city. In a region where public art is derided as a waste of money, and anything more risky than a bronze acorn draws outraged criticism (heh hem, like Raleigh's snub of renowned Spanish sculptor Plensa), it took, well, balls to embrace this sculpture as the city's icon. And if there was ever a city that thought of itself as ballsy, it's New York, and even its famed Wall Street bull can't compare.




HTT: How do I tip a curbside delivery person?

Dear HTT,

This is more of a 'modern etiquette' question than a 'life, love, and the pursuit of happiness' question, but here goes... I know how much to tip waiters/waitresses in a restaurant: 15% of the check is traditional, and in the New York metro area 18-20% seems reasonable. (I assume such an amount is reasonable in most North American metropolitan areas.)

I would always rather over-tip than under-tip. I figure that anyone who's waiting tables for a living is working harder than I've ever had to work, and I know that person is counting on my tip as part of his/her salary. So unless the service has been really bad, I tip 20%.

But what about when those same waiters/waitresses deliver take-out food to the 'Curbside To Go' (or "Curbstyle To Go' or whatever cutesy name the chain restaurant uses) parking spots? Surely some sort of tip is in order, but since the waitperson hasn't taken my order, answered my questions, delivered my food, cleared away the dirty dishes, and refilled my coffee, 18-20% seems a little steep. What do you think is appropriate?

*********************

I’ve never taken advantage of curbside delivery, so I did a little Web research. Let’s just say, as is often the case when you ask the entire world of web-posters for advice, opinions vary. In fact, I ran into a number of long and heated threads about this issue.

I agree that 18 to 20 percent seems over the top. As you point out, the person who brings food to your car doesn't have to do nearly the amount of work that someone who waits on your table throughout an entire meal does.

Some argue that the curbside delivery person makes the same lousy salary as tableside waitstaff and, hence, should be tipped equally. However, I would imagine that curbside folks can serve far more customers per hour, so they might get smaller tips but more of them.

From what I can tell, tips for curbside delivery range from nothing (which I do not advocate), to $1-$2 per bag of food delivered, to 10 percent of the bill.

I’d probably lean toward 10 percent, but my decision might also be affected by the following factors:

  • Did they get my order right?
  • Was service relatively quick and friendly?
  • Am I a regular at this establishment?
  • How’s the weather?
  • Would an extra buck or two kill me?

I’d be curious to see what others think.

Thanks for writing!
HTT

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

HTT, I don't like my girlfriend's friends!

Dear HTT,

You give straight-forward and logical advice. I like that you don’t mince words! I’ve got a big problem I hope you can help me with.

I’ve started to become serious about a woman I’ve been dating for six months. Not marriage serious, but maybe move-in serious. She’s great: smart, beautiful, sweet, laughs at my jokes. Really, what more could I ask for? Well, the problem is that I dislike her friends! They’re loud, drama queen types who draw a lot of attention to themselves and need a lot of hand-holding and support from my girlfriend. They’ve known each other forever, and go on and on about people I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad people, just annoying. We go out with them about once a month, and I never have fun. What can I do about this? Should I tell my girlfriend how I feel? Or can I subtly suggest that we not spend much time with them?

Like the girl, not the posse



Dear LTGNTP,

Good that you appreciate someone who isn’t a word mincer, because I have to deliver some tough news: your girlfriend comes with her friends, so either find something to like about them or break up with her now.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but you haven’t given me much to work with. Under different circumstances, a kinder middle ground might have presented itself. Say, if you disliked only one or two of her friends. Or if you and your gal rarely spent any time alone and hung with her friends several nights a week. Or, if you sounded less pouty that someone besides you was on the receiving end of your girlfriend’s attention, support, and hand-holding. If you’d thrown me any one of these bones, I might have been able to suggest some compromises or strategies for keeping the peace. I’m a peace-keeping expert!

But, come on. You dislike ALL of her friends? You only have to see them once a month? You’ve known your girlfriend for six months, she’s had these friends “forever,” and you think you’ll come out on the winning end of a conversation about how all of her friends are annoying, loud, drama queens? You never know. Maybe she’ll capitulate, in which case, her friends deserve better anyway.

However, I’m going to assume that a woman who has friends she’s known forever has held onto the friends through at least a few other boyfriends. So, I think it’s in your best interest to examine your feelings, stop expecting to be the center of attention, and grow to appreciate, or at least cheerfully tolerate, a few of her friends.

HTT