Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chinqua Penn Dwarfs

On Saturday, I took a mini road trip to the lovely Chinqua Penn Plantation in Reidsville. According to our tour guide, the plantation has been featured on A&E's America's Castles and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a 27-room English countryside mansion filled with elaborate furnishings from 30 countries.

Unfortunately, photography isn't allowed inside the house, so I don't have pictures of the 15th century Chinese frescos, or the Louis the XVI Chippendale style furniture, or the 700-year-old East Indian marble relief. All of which I highly recommend seeing.

However, I was able to photograph these unusual and slightly unsettling statues. (Perhaps the implicit message is "don't smoke or your growth will be stunted"?)

HTT, I don't like someone my husband works with, and she wants to be my friend.

Dear HTT:

I am very good friends with the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues. The guys don’t really work together, but they’re both in the same division of the company, they know and like each other, and introduced me and Madeline at a Christmas party hosted by another colleague a few years ago. Madeline and I have a lot in common and have hit it off.

Madeline’s husband has an ex-wife who also works with the guys in the same division of the company, in the same branch as my husband. My husband doesn’t know the ex-wife too well, but says she’s nice and she’s friend with my husband’s boss because their kids all attend the same small private school. I met the ex-wife a few months ago at an office Christmas party. She did seem nice, but kind of weird also--she raved about a pie I made two years earlier for an office pot luck, telling me what a great cook I was to the point that I was a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. It was overdone. I’ve since seen her at a few functions hosted by my husband’s boss. We have polite exchanges and that’s about it. I still think she’s weird.

Lately, the ex-wife has started aggressively pursuing contact with me through my husband. She dropped by his office recently to give him a copy of “Pomegranate Soup” which she wanted him to pass along to me. She thought I’d like it because the novel includes recipes. Today she approached my husband and told him she wanted to get to know me better, she wanted to have lunch with me, and asked my husband what my schedule will be over the next few weeks so she could call and set something up.

My friend Madeline has never met the ex-wife. Apparently the divorce was amicable, but they aren’t friends and have no contact. The ex-wife married a guy that works in another division. Despite all these damn work-related social functions, I’ve never seen the two couples at the same party let alone in the same room.

The ex-wife told my husband today that she was going to call me to set up a lunch date. I’m really not interested--her interest in me seems out of place given what little we know about each other plus I see potential for awkwardness given that I am close to her ex-husband’s wife. I honestly don’t know if the ex-wife is aware of my friendship with Madeline, it is very possible she doesn’t know anything about it. My guess is she would want to know (I would if I were in her shoes).

What would you do in this situation? What could I tactfully say to get out of going to lunch yet not burn a bridge (given all these work-related social events)?

Too Many Wives

Dear Too Many,

Oh what tangled webs and all that. To be honest, this situation befuddled me to such an extent that I’ve put off answering your question, while waiting to be struck by a flash of brilliance. Sadly, no such flash has occurred, but I will procrastinate no longer.

To start, let me try to break this down to the basics:

  1. You like Madeline.
  2. You’re not crazy about Madeline’s husband’s ex-wife, whom, for the sake of space, I’ll call “Jane.” (Although I can understand why it might be awkward to befriend Jane, I’m not really clear why you object to her personally. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ll take your word for it.)
  3. Your husband works with Jane, albeit it not closely.
  4. Jane is friendly with your husband’s boss.

It would be easy for me to say that life is too short to spend your free time with people you don’t particularly like. And while I whole-heartedly believe that, I’m not naive. I understand the exigencies of a social life that revolves, at least in part, around your husband’s colleagues. I’m guessing that because of the interconnectedness of this group and the variety of functions at which you’re likely to bump into all involved, you have to make nice.

First, yes, I would tell Jane that you’re friends with Madeline. Just say something like, “I wasn’t sure if you already knew, but I wanted to clear the air. I hope my relationship with Madeline doesn’t make you too uncomfortable.” If you’re lucky, it will and Jane will decide on her own that a friendship with you would just be too odd.

Or, depending on what Jane’s like, you might be able to get away with claiming awkwardness as a reason for not pursing a friendship with her. If you think she would see the logic in that and not take it personally, you could avoid burning that bridge.

If not, then, you’re left with figuring out how to be polite to Jane—since she works with your husband, is friends with his boss, and will likely see you at future social gatherings—while encouraging as little social interaction as possible. Can you say yes to an occasional lunch or coffee date, but turn down her invitations more often than not, pleading a hectic schedule? I imagine that she would eventually give up. I hate to admit that I’ve taken this very tack in several similar circumstances. I warn you that this isn’t the sort of behavior that will make you feel good about yourself. But short of saying, “I don’t like you very much and would rather not spend time with you,” I can’t think of a way other than the passive avoidance I’m recommending here.

Perhaps by now you’ve already got this conundrum all worked out and, if so, I’d love to hear how you managed!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

HTT, my doctor is sick...can I send a card?

I've been going to the same doctor for about seven years and I really like him as a person. I had an appointment with him yesterday for the first time in about a year and he has cancer. He didn't say anything, but when he walked in the room I knew. He was so thin and had the look of someone in the middle of chemotherapy. It shocked me and broke my heart. Once he left the room, the nurse confirmed my suspicions and said that he is very sick and doesn't work very much anymore. He's not old and was a very active man.

I want to acknowledge his illness and let him know I'm thinking about him. Is it inappropriate for me (a patient) to send him a card? Is it an inappropriate thing to do in general?


I think it’s rarely inappropriate to show care and compassion. I would send the card.

There is a chance your doctor would prefer his illness were a private matter, but his obvious poor health coupled with acknowledgment of such from the nurse lead me to believe he’s probably accepted the idea that people know.

You’ve liked him for seven years. You are saddened that he’s sick. Go ahead and send the card.


Monday, May 21, 2007

False advertising

As I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly handy. But my utter lack of competence was revealed last night, as I attempted to assemble a screened gazebo in my backyard. To be fair, I'm fully aware that dexterity with tools is not one of my strong suits, so I've put off purchasing one of these things for years, waiting until I found one that didn't require five different kinds of wrenches et al.

Here are some images from the box of the item I bought. "Instant Up Garden Gazebo." Yes, "instant up" is just what I need!

And just to reinforce the alleged ease with which this garden gazebo can be assembled, to lull you into thinking it practically assembles itself, there's this:

"Easy set up. No tools required. Takes MINUTES, versus HOURS." And look at that, one fairly slight woman, who is not only not sweating and cursing, she's smiling as she sets this up alone, presumably minutes before her party guests arrive. (She's not wearing an outfit like the ripped jeans and threadbare t-shirt I reserve for yard work.) This is it, I think to myself, this is the gazebo I've been waiting for all my life.

Easy set up my ass! I'm here to tell you, that it took me and a friend a total of two hours to assemble this thing, and there was sweating and cursing. Later, as I stood in my yard admiring our handy work, I noticed one little thing amiss. So I pulled out my ladder, set it up on the none-to-stable patio flagstones, climbed to the top, and proceeded to fiddle with the roof, only to snap two pieces of the frame, as if it were made of toothpicks. And this was the result.

I will admit: I cried. I ranted and raved. But in the end, I'm very lucky, because I had several wonderful friends offer to help me disassemble it, load that f-er right back in my car, and put up whatever garden shelter I should choose as a replacement.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dear HTT, you're going to have to find a really clever headline for this...

Dear HTT,

(Ok, so I'm way too lazy to set up an anonymous email account just so you don't know who this question came from, so you're just gonna have to live with knowing this about me.)

Today I shit my pants at work. All afternoon there was some gurgling going on in my gut as I sat happily working in my cubicle. Finally, I stood up to go to the bathroom and my ass exploded! My intestines did somersaults and it was not a silent affair. I have no clue how many people heard. I made it to the bathroom without being sighted but had to dump my undies in there. I got cleaned up and left commando-style. Someone came in as I was washing my hands; went into, then back out of, the stall I had been in. Poor thing! I sneaked out of the office without seeing anyone else. As I sit here typing I am laughing and crying at the same time. How the hell did I lose control of my bowels? Is this age? Disease? Is it gonna happen to me again? How can I face that person?

Just last week I was visiting someone in the hospital and had to listen to the patient in the next bed use a bedpan. I laughed about it and told my "horror" story to my friends. Is God punishing me?

Left My Dignity in My Shorts, Stall 1, Fourth Floor

Dear Dignity,

I might never read a more compelling opening line as long as I live. You pack a lot of drama into that short, declarative sentence with its bold active voice. Your second sentence? A thing of beauty. Look at the alliteration! And…and…”your ass exploded”? How vivid! Way to go, following the “show, don’t tell” rule!

What? You say I’m missing the point? Maybe I’m not missing it. Maybe I’m just too uncomfortable to address it. And that’s what people do. They change the subject and they don’t talk about that which they find awkward or dirty. (But for god’s sake, you can turn on Fear Factor and watch people eat fetid piles of fish guts and live hissing cockroaches and pickled cow colons. What could possibly be more disgusting than that? And what about the people who make complete asses of themselves on these reality tv shows? Talk about loss of dignity!) Anyway, the more people don’t talk about something, the worse that something becomes in our own minds. Have you ever been in therapy and worked up the nerve to tell your therapist something you thought was a deep, dark, terrible secret about yourself, only to find after giving it air and light that it wasn’t so horrible after all?

My point is not to tell you not to be embarrassed. I won’t patronize you. But I’d like to try to convince you that there’s nothing shameful about what happened to you. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that I doubt it’s even all that uncommon.

I’ve had two friends, besides you, relate similar experiences. Now, for the sake of argument---and my below-average math skills---let’s just say I have 10 friends with whom I feel close enough to share this level of detail about bodily functions. (Right, I’m all for making bodily functions less taboo, but I’m not saying anyone is likely to take out a billboard describing the details of their pants-pooping experience.) So, if 30 percent of my close friends have like tales to tell, how does this translate to the general population? I don’t know, but you are not alone.

Now, I’m not a doctor. Obviously. But unless you have other symptoms or this becomes a more common occurrence, I’m guessing that you were just so enthralled with and wrapped up in your work (circumstances I cannot, unfortunately, imagine myself in), that you procrastinated a bit too long. If we’re all honest with ourselves, I’ll bet most of us could recount some extremely-near misses.

As for your question about God, I’m also no theologian. However, I do believe that life is a long series of humbling learning experiences.

Hope you’re feeling better,

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I've been Googled

Not to make anyone paranoid, but I know a few things about you HTT readers. Of course, this comes as no surprise, as I know most of you personally. But I also have a web tool that compiles statistics like how many people visited the site, how many page views the site got, etc. And because I am a total goober-head, I check these stats frequently. This tool also tells me the operating system and browsers you use, as well as the "referring sites." For those of you who don't speak web (and I include myself in that illustrious group), I gather "referring site" means the site from which you've navigated to HTT. Now, often this information isn't very illuminating, as the majority of the visits are simply listed as "direct hits," or people who just typed the HTT URL into their browser or have the site bookmarked (there is no IP address or any other anonymity-busting detail).

But from time to time, I'll be able to tell that someone came to my page after finding it on Google, and the search terms that have brought them to HTT are often amusing.

For example, someone Googled "toughening up feet," and, I'm perplexed yet proud to say that HTT is the SECOND site on the list of search results.

Someone else Googled "wwmpd," and HTT comes up first!

And my favorite to, someone Googled "htt gay truck stop" and, that's right, I topped the list again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

HTT, am I just grumpy?

Dear HTT,

Can you tell me if I have a valid complaint or if I'm just being grumpy and need to lighten up?

I have a certain circle of friends that, over the years, has grown quite large. There is a core group of us "regulars" and some others that might join us once in a blue moon. We get together about six times a year and have a great time. Since the people in this group are spread out all over the state, there are lots of logistics involved in planning our get-togethers and we do a lot of emailing to figure out when, where, whose bringing what, where do we meet, etc.

Recently, a guy in the group set up a listserv to facilitate the planning. It's set up so everyone gets all the emails. And therein lies the rub--we all get all the emails and there are gobs of it. Gobs. Beyond the actual planning of the event, there are side conversations, lots of teasing and joking, multiple responses to the teasing, harassment to those who can't make it ... and on and on. There are two or three people that are the main contributors to this and they enjoy the email banter. I can't stand it. The emails have become more of an event than the get-together and, for some reason, it really gets under my skin. I know it's easy to just press delete. But I don't want to see most of these emails at all. I just want to know where and when we're going and show up with whatever I need to bring.

So here's the thing--I never signed up for the listserv because I didn't want all the emails. My problem was solved. But yesterday I got added to the list by a friend who thought he was doing me a favor, like "You forgot to sign up so I did it for you." And immediately the flurry of emails filled my mailbox and I began to seethe. Should I reply to my friend that I deliberately didn't sign up and ask to be removed? Or just suck it up and press delete?


Dear e-nnoyed,

You might be grumpy, but not without cause!

Your friend breached email etiquette when he signed you up for the list without asking for your permission. I’m not saying it’s the most egregious cyber crime I’ve ever heard of, but you do have every right to be annoyed. Especially because you practiced restraint and good manners by staying out of the fray and off the list, rather than grousing to everyone about how many emails the listserv generates and how frequently people wander off topic.

Yes, if I were you, I’d ask to be removed. Sure, pressing the delete key doesn’t take that much energy, but sorting through tons of emails that you didn’t ask to receive will only irritate you more and more over time.

That being said, how will you learn about plans for the next get-together? Are group dynamics such that you’re expected to help arrange these activities, or are you under no pressure to participate in the planning? If you eventually feel the need to join the listserv in order to give your two cents about location and logistics, consider suggesting some sort of labels for email subject lines. Nothing too complicated, maybe just “Trip plans” and “Other.” At least that way, it’ll be easy to delete the casual banter and read only the emails that apply to main event.

(And besides, you want to save some on-line time to read HTT!)


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

HTT, how can I tell if he likes me?

Dear HTT,

After living in Raleigh for nearly two years, I recently returned to DC, where I spent my undergraduate years. I never felt at home in North Carolina and I had a hard time meeting people. (I know, I know, I didn’t try very hard and I lived in a soul-less apartment complex that you tried to warn me off of.) Anyway, I’m thrilled to be back in the Capitol and I’ve even started to hang out with a guy I met through work. Just to be clear: we don’t work together, although our paths cross once in a while because our companies do similar stuff. We share some interests and believe me, it’s not easy finding a sci fi geek who likes rock climbing! I’m starting to take a shine to him. He seems to like me, but I’m not sure how much. How can I tell?

16th Street and Loving It

Dear 16th Street,

I have no idea.

Good luck!!!

No, seriously, can’t I help with a question about finances or parents or bad hair…or bad sex even?

Yours is a situation I’ve found myself in innumerable times. Given my vast experience in the Friend Zone—that iffy territory between “he likes me-likes me” and “he’s just not that into me"—you’d think I’d have it all figured out by now. But you’d be wrong. And judging from the number of heated, hopeful conversations I’ve had with friends, both men and women, about this very topic, I’m not the only one who has trouble reading the signs or lack thereof.

Attempts to figure out one’s status seem to boil down to three key strategies:

  • The Band Aid: This is the rip it off and get it over with approach, whereby you take a risk, express your feelings, and hope for the best. Oddly, this approach seems to be favored both by those who are depressingly used to rejection AND by those who have never been turned down for a date in their entire lives. Oh, and by people who have attained an uncommonly robust degree of mental health and resilience. Benefits: saves time, saves friendships (because your friends won’t have to listen to you agonize about him for weeks or months), shows maturity and courage. Drawbacks: potential for humiliation (no matter how short-lived) and awkwardness, cuts into your fantasy life should things not fall out as you hoped.
  • The Toe Dip: You know how some people run full throttle into the freezing surf? And then there are the others, who wade in, step by tentative step, splashing a little cold water on their stomach and arms? Well, the Toe Dip is for those people. And if you are one of those people, you continue to hang out with Mr. Star Trek-Rock Climbing Guy, enjoy his company, get to know him more, and see what happens. Benefits: less potential for humiliation; you spend time with someone you like, engaged in activities you both enjoy; if a relationship ever does unfold, it will be based on a solid foundation of friendship. Drawbacks: requires great patience; can cause you to become even more fond of someone who ultimately might not share your ardor; if you and he are both shy Toe Dippers hell could freeze over before you figure out if you’re “just” friends or more than.
  • Combination Toe Dip – Band Aid: As you can probably surmise, this approach entails toe dipping until you can’t stand the suspense, and then ripping off the Band Aid once fear of rejection is less agonizing than the wondering.

Believe me, I wish I had a fool-proof answer. But you’ve got to determine what your constitution can handle and what feels right for your situation. I wish for you the courage for the Band Aid AND the patience for the Toe Dip.

Let me know what happens,

Saturday, May 5, 2007

They're alive!!

Well, compared to how they looked about two weeks ago, these guys are pretty darn healthy. I didn't manage to kill them after all.

Still not a garden expert, but...

HTT, breaking up is hard to do.

Dear Advice Goddess,

I’ve been dating a woman for several months. She is wonderful. She is smart, cute, funny, mature (i.e., not at all neurotic), and I enjoy doing things with her very much. I also enjoy doing nothing with her. It’s a very comfortable, relaxed relationship. She really has her stuff together. She brings out the best in me. It’s everything anyone could hope for in a relationship, except one thing: sex. The sex just doesn’t work for me.

It isn’t incompatible sex drives. It is the actual act. I just can’t “get there” with her, and I don’t know why. I’ve had to fake it more than once. When was the last time you heard of a guy faking it? She seems to enjoy it. Either that or she is really good at faking it too. She tells me she loves it and that I’m good at it. It’s not just some sort of emotional/mental-holding- myself-back or fear-of-intimacy psychoanalysis stuff. It’s physical incompatibility. I’m old enough that I’ve been around, but I’ve never experienced anything like this. And speaking of old enough, just to make sure I’m not destined to be the next poster boy for Viagra or Cialis, I slept with a few other women recently and it worked great.

You could take the attitude of frustrated married couples everywhere and say, “There is more to a relationship than sex.” True, but was it Nietzsche, or maybe Dr. Phil, who said “When sex is good it’s 10% of the relationship, but when it’s bad it’s 90% of the relationship”?

I know I should tell her the relationship is going nowhere, but I don’t know how to do it without hurting her feelings. I think anyone would feel terrible if told, “You’re great, but the sex is horrible, and practicing isn’t going to make it better,” but that is the situation.

How can I break up with someone so wonderful? I don’t think I can. You know the saying, “Sex is like eating cookies. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good”? I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Have you ever had bad sex? I feel horrible.

Dear Feeling Horrible,

Yikes, this is a tough situation. Speaking from experience, I know how much it sucks to find someone with whom you think you’re compatible in all the important ways, only to learn that there’s one major deal breaker.

Of course there’s more to a relationship than sex. But intimacy is important. I’m not saying we need fireworks every time; but a relationship in which one partner lacks sexual attraction for the other is bound to fail, assuming that both people involved want a sexual relationship. (I knew a couple once who maintained a platonic marriage, but that’s another story.)

You sound pretty sure that this situation cannot be salvaged, but I’m compelled to ask: have you talked to her at all about this? I mean, thank goodness, you don’t seem the sort to declare, “I have to fake it when we have sex,” but have you made suggestions about what trips your trigger? Offered to show her what you like and how you like it? Tried to spice it up in whichever manner works for you both?

And speaking of her, is it possible she’s just not completely comfortable with you yet? Sometimes it takes a while to develop a deep trust, let go of inhibitions, and let the freak flag fly! Also, not to cast aspersions, but are you positive that she’s having as much fun as she lets on? If she thinks things are a little lackluster as well, she might not be giving it her all.

I guess what I’m getting at is I’d hate for you to toss in the towel on a good relationship with a wonderful woman you care about unless you’re sure the sex will not or cannot improve.

If you’ve made up your mind about that, then the question becomes how to break up with her. Right, clearly you can’t be brutally honest. (Funny, some friends and I were just talking about brutal honesty, a discussion sparked by another friend’s email signature, which says: “People who are brutally honest are usually more interested in being brutal than in being honest.")

I don’t have any magic words for you, I’m sorry. Because there is no good way to be broken up with. There’s nothing you can say that isn’t going to hurt her feelings. Well, aside from a bald-faced lie, like, “I’m moving to another country,” “I’m becoming a priest,” or “I’m gay.” (And I think we’ve already established that you’re not.)

If you’re going to break up with her, do it soon. You will upset her, and you'll feel horrible for a while longer. But know that ultimately it’s the right thing. You’re not a terrible person. You deserve a good sex life. And she deserves to be with someone she thrills.

Good luck,