My boyfriend is absolutely not a sadistic sex killer. He is a kind and generally considerate person. But he loves listening to gruesome death metal—music best described as blasting noise with deranged growls and shrieks that often (from what I can tell) celebrates horrendous misogynistic violence. He respects that I am not a fan of this music and doesn't usually play it when I am around. But he gets a huge charge from listening to it when we have sex and is comparatively lackluster at the deed when he doesn't have it to fire him up. Although I find the music unpleasant and distracting, I don't object when I feel focused enough to block it out. What really bothers me are the awful themes. It disturbs me that a seemingly well-adjusted man in his 30s is aroused by torture fantasies set to music. He says it's just about the "energy" for him, but I really don't know what to think about someone who wants to listen to Cannibal Corpse when he makes love to me. Am I being oversensitive about this?
It's always a comfort to know the person you love is not a sadistic sex killer—so right there you have something to build on. I like the image of you two making love: He's cranking up Cannibal Corpse's romantic classic "Bloody Chunks" while you're sticking in the ear buds of your iPod and desperately turning up the volume on Michael Bublé's version of "I've Got You Under My Skin." When you're not having sex, you say he's "generally considerate," which is not exactly a declaration that "I've got you under my skin/ I've got you deep in the heart of me/ So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me." But couples need to have sex, and he finds it hard to perform unless you are forced to listen to songs of female dismemberment. As you describe it, you get through these sessions by trying to disassociate yourself from what is going on. This does not sound like a formula for sustained intimacy. I don't think you're being oversensitive about the gruesome nature of your boyfriend's favorite erotic imagery, especially since you are supposed to endure it. I have a hard time seeing where this relationship is headed—it already sounds like a Cannibal Corpse.
My husband and I have a wonderful daughter. She is kind, funny, articulate, and intelligent. Extremely intelligent. She began speaking in complete sentences before she was 1 and reading when she was 3. She just turned 4. Our problem is that other parents in our social circle seem a bit intimidated by her. Their children are sweet kids, too, but not at the same developmental level as she is. They say things like, "Wow, your daughter just read that sign to me. Little Timmy can't even talk normally. What's wrong with him?" or "My goodness, we are behind! Your daughter is reading, and our kid isn't even potty trained!" It embarrasses us. Yes, she is advanced, but she is still a normal kid. More importantly, there is nothing wrong with their kids! My sister-in-law and her husband are the worst with insulting their own child when they compare our kids. My first instinct is to stick up for their children because it bothers me so much that their parents are insulting them or thinking there is something wrong with them. But when I say something like, "Don't say that. Timmy is a great kid!" this seems to offend the parents. When I say, "Everyone plateaus at the same time," that seems wrong, too. I worry that this comparison behavior will alienate my daughter from her peer group. One family has already begun to avoid us, and our daughter noticed right away. What should I say instead so the parents quit focusing on this and start appreciating how much fun the kids have together?
—My Kid Is Normal
Dear My Kid,
Those first years of parenthood in particular can set off a competitive genetic gong. Many new parents are looking for signs that—despite their own obvious limitations—they've somehow produced a chromosomal champion. So they try to see genius at work when their little one swims in the toilet or eats out of the dog's bowl. And then they go for a play date, and there's your toddler reciting the Gettysburg Address and working out quadratic equations on her Magna Doodle. It's deflating. Fortunately, time will take care of much of their resentment as their kids gain bladder control and become intelligible and literate. Of course, some parents (hockey moms, chess dads, members of Skull and Bones?) never let go of their competitive instincts about their kids. But as the children get older, most parents tend to be able to see them for who they are and worry less about how they stack up. For right now, when other parents make comparisons, you can shrug and say, "She is precocious in some ways. But we're just happy she's a good kid." When they observe how dopey their children seem, you can laugh it off as if they were making a joke, then add, "I'm so crazy about your Timmy!" And for your own pleasure, keep good notes in your baby book about your extraordinary daughter.
I am 55. I married when I was 20, had two children, and divorced after 16 years of an abusive marriage. A few years later, I fell in love. That relationship ended after more than 10 years of makeups, breakups, and turmoil. I have now been involved with a man for the last two years. He's in his 60s. I am not in love. However, the relationship is easy and without drama. We spend every weekend together and do things that I never did in my entire life. I enjoy our time together but have no intention of marrying this man or living with him. I feel that there may be someone else out there, someone I can fall in love with. Any ideas?
—Not in Love
If you look back on when you were in love, those relationships tended to be stimulating but rotten. Maybe you are actually confusing thrills with love. Yes, it's wonderful to be in an exciting relationship, but not if the excitement is of the "Is he going to punch me in the jaw?" or "Is he going to break up with me tomorrow?" variety. What you describe as "not in love" would sound to an awful lot of people like love. You simply enjoy being together, you make each other feel safe and contented, you are experiencing the world in a new way. If that's not love, it sure is lovely. Yet you are dissatisfied—though you don't enumerate why. If it's because you think of love as a rollercoaster, maybe you should start appreciating the pleasures of a placid ride in a rowboat.
My boyfriend and I recently moved into the first floor of a two-family house. Because we're both nesters and because we're getting a puppy in a couple of weeks, we eagerly cleaned up the backyard, which had clearly not been tended to in a couple of years—beer cans, trash, hip-high weeds, invasive vines, gutters clogged with cigarette butts, you name it. We ended up with a dozen 30-gallon bags full of waste, from a yard that is no bigger than your average dorm room. About a week after this massive cleanup, before we'd had a chance to plant anything, we discovered that—once again—the backyard was polluted. This time, littered with yet more cigarette butts. Our upstairs neighbors have a porch that overlooks the yard, and it seems that they threw the butts over the edge. I'm all for giving them an ashtray as a housewarming gift, but my boyfriend thinks that might be too direct. What's the best way to handle this?
Ah, smokers—the world is their ashtray! Besides inflicting their foul habit on those nearby, they are the last remaining people who believe that if they have a piece of refuse in their hands, the proper way to get rid of it is to toss it in the street. Your idea to give them an ashtray will surely be interpreted as a hostile gesture. You could go up there with a nongermane gift—a jar of nice jam—and say you've been meaning to introduce yourselves. Then, at the end of the introduction, mention that you hope they enjoy the new look of the backyard, explain you're planning to do some landscaping, and you wonder if they could dispose of their cigarette butts elsewhere. This will likely make them want to stub out their cigarettes on your bare flesh. (Have you ever noticed smokers tend to be a little hostile about their habit?) Since you're planning on getting a puppy, you will be picking up plenty of unpleasant stuff out in the yard, so if the filters rain down again, just think of them as something else you have to scoop.