My boyfriend won't stop tickling me.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 29 2009 7:05 AM

Ticked-Off by Tickle Attacks

My boyfriend thinks it's funny, but I don't. How can I get him to stop?

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Dear Prudence,
I am currently in a relationship with a great guy. He is sweet and caring, and we get along very well. There is, of course, one problem that has existed for quite a while but is really starting to bother me now. I am very ticklish, and I hate being tickled. He found out about this weakness when we first started dating, and since then, barely a day goes by when he doesn't try to tickle me. Whenever we are lying on the couch or in bed together, he will start tickling me, and when I react he gets on top of me and pins me down so that I can't defend myself. I have repeatedly told him that I hate being tickled, that it makes me feel vulnerable and no longer in control of my body, and when he continues to do it, it is disrespectful. He insists that because I laugh, I must enjoy it. He adds that I need to learn to master my mind, and once I "convince" myself that I am not ticklish, then I won't panic when he tickles me. What should I say to him that gets my point across?

—Tickled Pink

Dear Tickled,
There are some people who, when they're having sex, may look or sound as if they're being tortured but are actually having a great time. Your boyfriend knows that though you're laughing uproariously while he's tickling you, it doesn't mean you're having a great time but that you're being tortured. Torturing you is the great time for him. If he were a decent person, a simple "Please don't tickle me again. I hate it" should have been enough to end the sessions once and for all. But you've explained ad infinitum what a violation the tickling is. In response, he plays ridiculous mind games with you about how you're responsible for your own reaction when he dailyclimbs on top of you and pins you down so he can force you to endure his digital assaults. You're asking me what you can say to your "great," "sweet," and "caring" boyfriend to get him to stop attacking you. I think you should boil your remarks down to their essence, and what you should say is "Goodbye."

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm a 30-year-old woman who grew up with an alcoholic mother. Mom is celebrating her sixth year of sobriety this month, and I am very proud of her. She recently told me she wanted us to get together for lunch so I could fill her in on my adolescence, which she missed. She was there physically but says that, due to her drinking, she has almost no memory of those years. I was a little appalled that she would want to hash this out over lunch, so I told her that I would be more comfortable putting my thoughts in writing. But now I realize I don't want to revisit those years. I don't bear my mother ill will for her disease, but I also don't feel I owe her a memoir of the time that she missed. I don't think this will help me heal in any way. Am I obliged to participate, or is it reasonable to tell her I'd rather not share?

—Tight-Lipped

Dear Tight-Lipped,
There you were, staring at the computer screen, realizing that to fill her in, you'd need to write a memoir-length work you could title My Childhood, Your Blackout. If this were a project you wanted to undertake because you felt it would be therapeutic or cathartic for you in some way, then it is your story to tell. But it turns out you don't want to relive those miserable years. And there seems to be something blithe in your mother's tone ("So by the time we order coffee, we should have at least gotten up to your high-school graduation!") that is deeply annoying. It may even remind you of how you felt back then: that she just didn't think about how her behavior would affect you. Your mother needs to learn that since she was drunk during the years her daughter was growing up, she's lost something she simply can't get back You can reiterate to her how proud you are of her sobriety, but say you'd rather not disinter the memory of her drinking.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm new to grown-up-style socializing. I would like to invite about 10 friends over for a dinner party. We all went to graduate school together but rarely meet up anymore. Almost everyone in the group is married or partnered now. My home is small, and space is limited. If everyone brings their significant other (most of whom I'm not especially close to), there's no way we can all fit at my small dining-room table. Is there any tactful way of phrasing an invitation to politely convey: "Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse is not invited?" That sounds horrible, but can't I invite whomever I wish to my home? I'd just hate to forgo inviting friends I'd like to see in order to make space for significant others who aren't significant to me.

—Am I Rude?

Dear Rude,
I don't think your graduate degree is in biology, because then you might have absorbed the lesson that all life forms move through stages of development, and no stage lasts forever. Graduate school may be fixed in amber for you as the perfect, golden time, but trying to ignore the fact that your fellow students are in a new place socially will neither bring back those days nor endear you to your friends or their significant others. If you want to have the whole gang over at one time, instead of a sit-down dinner, throw a cocktail party—with all the spouses, etc., invited. If you want to start having dinners, then invite a few graduate-school friends—and their partners—and mix in some interesting people from other parts of your life. Once you get over your resentment that your friends have paired up, you will surely realize that expanding your social circle brings more pleasure to your life.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
We adopted our wonderful, amazing daughter from foster care when she was 5 years old. She is now 12, and we love her more than anything in this entire world. Over the years, we carefully brought some members of her birth family back into her life with the help of a great therapist. They now see her one to two times a year and speak to her regularly. They haven't always made the best choices for themselves, but we never denigrate them. However, she is now saying she's no longer interested in speaking to or seeing most of them. She just says, "I live here, and I'm happy." We are committed to a healthy, well-managed open adoption because we feel it is in her best interest. Do I force the issue with visits and calls? Any suggestions on a compromise?

—Torn

Dear Torn,
Your daughter knows she was adopted, and she has some memories of what must have been a painful start to her life, but she is telling you that what she wants at this point is to simply be a member of your family, not the wonderful girl who was taken in from foster care. You have obviously handled all this with great sensitivity for everyone concerned, but your primary consideration has to be your daughter's feelings. If it is a burden for her to be constantly pulled back into the life she left, then that should take precedence over your desire to manage the openness of her adoption. She may—or may not—want to explore this part of her heritage more as she gets older. You've made those connections for her, and she knows she can renew them if she changes her mind. But to force her now to see people she doesn't want to see could undermine her sense that she is simply part of your family, without an asterisk attached. Tell her you understand how she feels, will respect that, and will also help her if she wants to resume contact. Then tell the family members that you will send them periodic updates about your daughter's life, but as she's becoming a very busy teenager, you're going to take a break from the get-togethers.

—Prudie