I recently scheduled an appointment for a massage-therapy session at one of my favorite day spas. When I mentioned this to my boyfriend of five months, his demeanor was clearly one of disapproval. He expressed that he didn't want "some man rubbing on my woman," and I understood his point of view. As many times as I frequent day spas, I've always felt more comfortable with a female masseuse, and I reassured him of that. But it seems I can't even negotiate with him! I offered to take him for a couple's massage session, but he refused. He's willing to give me massages (and I love that); however, to effectively reduce my level of tension and stress, I need at least an hour to an hour and a half of massage time. I feel uneasy asking him to spend that much time after his day of work to work on my back. How can I convince him that a day spa is just a relaxation oasis to help reduce stress, tension, and worries?!
—In Need of a Back Rub
I can just imagine how relaxing it will be to have his hands around your neck while he questions why you stay in touch with that old high-school beau—now that you're his woman—and asks if it was necessary for you to have lunch with the guy from accounting—now that you're his woman. What business is it of your boyfriend's of five months (what business would it be of a husband's of 50 years?) that you enjoy getting a massage? Stay with this guy and you'll have to spend day and night at the day spa to get the tension, stress, and worry out of your back.
I've been dating a great guy for almost a year now. He's kind, funny, we enjoy each other's company, the sex is great, and my usually critical family seems to like him well enough. Although I've always said I would get married to the right guy, and he has mentioned he may want to marry me in the future, we're not going to get married. He's sure he doesn't want kids, but I may want to in the future (we are both in our late 20s). He likes to spend his money on going out, gambling, and hobbies. He has no insurance, home, or retirement plan. I have all of these things, and don't like the idea of marrying someone with such a different approach to finances. The problem is, I realize that eventually this will have to end, but I don't want it to! I really feel like I could fall in love with this person and am scared that if I do, I would end up in a marriage that isn't right for me. Is there a good time to break it off, or just wait and see if it ends on its own? Am I being unfair to myself by staying happy in the short term? I have considered the possibility of dating other people while dating him, but I am a one-man woman.
—Happy for Now
Certainly there are many twentysomething men who plan never to have kids and blow all their money on toys, who, by the time they're fortysomething, are doting fathers who can bore you with discussions of their 401(k). There are also plenty of rolling-stone twentysomethings who end up as rolling-stone fortysomethings. It sounds as if you are convinced Mr. Good Sex is the latter. You're in your late 20s, and you will not believe how quickly your mid-30s creep up on you. Since you know you want marriage, would like children, and already have a mortgage, enjoying the company of a pleasant but not long-term companion for several more years could leave you scrambling to get your plans back on track. So, how is this relationship going to "end on its own" unless one of you decides to end it?
It's that time of year when school ends, and some receive diplomas. A colleague and former supervisor, who has been with our agency for only two years, recently passed out his daughter's high-school graduation invitations to most of the staff (his subordinates) and his colleagues at another enterprise that shares office space. Inside the invitation was this handwritten note: "Susie respectfully accepts graduation gifts to help with college expenses. She starts State University in the fall. Thank you, the Smiths." Prudie, this would be different if we had known Susie since she was a wee lass, but most of us think this was beyond the pale. Are we overreacting?
A high-school graduation at which you know the graduate, at which you've given birth to the graduate, can be an excruciating event. Obviously, Mr. Smith is not expecting you to actually attend the graduation, he would just like everyone he knows to help pay for Susie's room and board. It used to be that one marked joyful milestones—a wedding, the arrival of a child, a graduation—with a party for close friends and family, to which guests brought items useful for the occasion. Increasingly, these occasions are seen as the vehicle for setting up an automatic payment schedule for the honoree. As rude as the "invitation" was, you can be polite and send a note simply wishing Susie well, and regretting you will not be able to attend.
My younger sister is a manipulative bully. When I left home a decade ago to attend college, she joined herself at the hip to my mother, with whom I had an excellent relationship growing up. Now she calls my mother several times a day and sleeps over, often despite the fact that she's married and lives a few miles away. Since I can never spend time with my mother absent my sister, I have two options when I visit: 1) take my sister's abuse quietly and keep the peace, or 2) explain to her the inappropriateness of her actions and have a fight with both her and my mother. I'm a happily married adult with many friends and a good job, so I no longer need my mother's approval and have resigned myself to the situation. I do, however, feel horrible for my stepfather. He is a very nice man and treats my mother like a queen, but is treated like a third wheel in his own house and verbally abused by my sister. If he responds to her jabs, my mother jumps in to put him in his place. I called him about the situation and know firsthand that he is very hurt by my mother's and sister's actions. At this point, I want very little to do with them, but I would like to help my stepfather out. Do I suggest to my mother that she needs counseling for her co-dependent relationship? Or do I just pretend like nothing is wrong?
While it's nice for you to be concerned about your stepfather, that's not really what your letter's about. Despite your protestations, you haven't really resigned yourself to this situation. But why should you? Even though you're an adult, it's terribly painful and baffling to lose a good relationship with your mother. I promise you my mail indicates that a surprisingly common and intractable syndrome is the rotten adult sibling who sucks up all the parents' emotional energy (and often money). However, it's not clear in your case why you can't have a separate relationship with your mother. Can't you invite your mother to come visit you? When you're in town visiting her, can't you suggest quietly catching up with each other and suggest the two of you go out for a meal? If she refuses to see you without your sister in tow—and what reason does she give?—then you do have to find a way to accept that you can have only the most circumscribed relationship with your mother. As for your two self-described options, I say choose neither. You shouldn't take abuse, but you're not going to effectively enlighten your sister about her behavior, either. Despite your good and satisfying life, you might want to explore—or vent about—the loss of this relationship with a therapist.