I'm a 21-year-old college student in need of advice on how to deal with my father. My girlfriend recently went home with me for the first time to attend my older sister's birthday. Her opinion of my father was that he "kinda creeped me out." Several other close female friends have admitted things like this before as well. He stands too close to them, talks only to them too much, touches them on the arm when it seems out of place to do so, weird things like that. Of course, he would say he's just being friendly, but I'm quite sure that's not all it is. Even worse is when he acts this way when I'm right there! My father and I have had talks on this before, but he will never admit to being wrong and doesn't seem to get the idea to stay away from women (particularly my female friends). How do I deal with this, short of just never taking my girlfriends to spend time with my family, especially since it's worse on short-term visits?
—Don't Stand So Close to Her
From what you describe of his violations, your father could certainly make a defense that's he's just a warm, gregarious guy. But I will accept the reactions of you and your friends that there is an abnormal undertow to his friendliness. So, maybe your father is a dirty old man. You've talked to him with no effect, and it's probably useless to try to enlist your mother's help (she's had to make some kind of accommodation all these years just to bear it). It sounds as if your father is careful just to dance up to the line of what's socially acceptable (as far as you know). Part of growing up is being able to step back and see our parents as the flawed people they are—although in your case, his flaws are of a particularly icky sort. So, what to do? First, you can warn any woman you take home that your father is overly flirtatious, and if he makes her uncomfortable, she should just excuse herself and walk away. Keep your eye out for when he tries to corner your friend, and step in to lead her off to show her the clay figurines you made at summer camp. At mealtimes, make sure the old goat is not seated next to her. And although he may not want to hear it, if you see he is behaving egregiously, pull him aside and calmly (and quietly) tell him that he's bothering your friend and embarrassing himself.
I'm a 46-year-old unmarried Caucasian woman. I live alone with my three cats, whom I love dearly. My friends always pick on me because I love cats but haven't managed to find a man who shares this love with me. Sometimes I feel very alone, although I have my cats. I feel like my friends are talking about me behind my back all the time! I'm very content with my current lack of love, but I sometimes worry that my friends aren't. They are all happily married with children. I feel as though I'm left out of everything since I haven't gotten married and had kids. Because of this, I'm thinking of adopting an African baby. Although I feel that I would love this child as much as I love my cats, sometimes I wonder if the only reason I'm considering adopting is to fit in with my friends. What should I do?
—Alone and Unsure
Why limit yourself to one species or one continent? Get your African baby in Ethiopia and also pick up an Abyssinian cat while you're there. Then you could fly to Thailand and adopt another child and a Siamese cat! Or, you could consider that neither social pressures, nor reading too much about the personal lives of Angelina Jolie and Madonna, are sufficient reasons to travel across the world and bring a child into your life. Other than being paranoid about what your friends are saying, you sound quite happy—and not as though you long to be a mother. Do you really want to add to your life a small creature who doesn't purr or use a litter box? If you feel so out of sync with your married friends, instead of embarking on an ill-conceived adoption quest, seek out friendships with other middle-aged cat ladies.
I've had this problem all of my adult life. People think I am angry, or depressed, or in a bad mood. I have even had strangers ask me, "Are you OK?" In the middle of conversations, people will stop and ask me, "What's wrong?" I try to be upbeat and smile when I approach people, but I must have expressions on my face that people misinterpret. My age is really starting to betray me, because now gravity makes me look even more like I'm frowning. The other day I had a conversation with someone at the office. They must have thought I was disagreeing with them, based on my facial expression. They got angry and said, "Don't look at me like that!" and then walked off. I have considered getting a T-shirt that says, "I AM NOT MAD!" Any suggestions on how I can change people's attitude toward me?
Since the pervasive reaction to you is that something is wrong, it will be easier to make a change in yourself (not that it will be easy) than in everyone else. I talked to my friend Nancy Mathis, who runs a communications and media training company, and she says many people have no idea how they come across until she puts them on videotape. Some people, she says, when listening, intently knit their brows and frown. So, while you may be thinking, "That's interesting," your face is saying, "Boy, are you annoying me." Nancy suggests setting up a video camera and having several friends and co-workers volunteer to carry on conversations with you. Looking at the results—and asking your friends to watch and critique with you—could help you see how some simple changes in expression or posture could make you seem more open. Also consider joining Toastmasters, an organization that helps people develop their communication skills. Even after all this, you may never remind anyone of the tiny optimist Olive in Little Miss Sunshine, but neither will you make them think of sullen Dwayne.
For a couple of years now I've received invitations from female friends and co-workers to attend various "home parties." The hostess acts as a representative of a particular company and merchandise of some type is presented to all the invitees for purchase "at a discount," with a percentage of each sale going to the hostess. I've been invited to candle parties, jewelry parties, purse parties, house-décor parties, fancy cookware parties, fancy frozen-food parties, and lingerie parties, none of which I attend. The word party implies to me a fun event where I can gather with friends, eat, drink, and be merry, not an event that offers the pretense of a party but is really a sales presentation in disguise. I've been using a variety of excuses, most involving prior plans, but would like a polite but firm way to make it clear that while I appreciate their thinking of me, I'm just not interested in these kinds of affairs and never will be. I continue to receive invites even though I always turn them down, and I realize being honest would probably stop the flow of what is basically a request for money for the hostess. How do I make them stop without blatantly telling the hostess I'm not their second source of income?
—The Party's Over
I, too, have wondered at the perverse incentives of these affairs (if I buy stuff I don't want, someone else gets stuff she does want). I did feel pressured to purchase something at one of the kitchenware parties I attended, so I ended up with a microwave dish with a built-in colander top that I have to admit I use almost every day. Since you've never even shown up at any of these events, you certainly don't need my help to tell you how to decline these invitations—just keep not showing up. The invitations are only an occasional annoyance, so why bother telling the hostesses you will never, ever help finance their new measuring cups or bra cups? A simple, "Sorry, I can't make it," is enough.