Q. Mistaking Clumsiness for Domestic Abuse: I have always joked that I misjudge corners, which means I sometimes bang into them, or tables, or doors. Recently I've acquired a few bruises, on my arms and one leg, from my carelessness. I resolved to be more careful where I walk. My neighbor Jean is involved with a well-known local domestic abuse organization. She saw my bruises one day and has since reached the conclusion that my husband beats me. Jean has cornered me twice—once to ask if he beat me and the second time to give me pamphlets about her organization. When she saw a bruise my daughter got in a kickball game, Jean asked her if she's been abused. While I appreciate Jean's work, I feel she's crossed the line. The implications of her accusations could be dire for my husband and my family. What should I do? I've told my husband, and he's pretty upset, but also unsure how to proceed.
A: I'm also one of those bump into things people. I once went for a discount massage at a massage school and I must have had a couple of bruises on my back because the masseuse-in-training started grilling me about them. There I was, laying on the table thinking that I came for some cheap stress-relief and now I was going to end up being reported as a victim of domestic abuse. Fortunately, nothing happened, but your neighbor Jean sounds like a menace. If you find your reassurances have mollified her, then all is fine. But if she raises this issue again, you have to be blunt: "Jean, I understand your concerns, but you are simply wrong in your assumptions, and as you know making false accusations about abuse is incendiary. You need to drop this. And if you don't, I'm going to have to take action because you are potentially harming me and my family. " Then contact a lawyer. It may be that a cease and desist letter from an attorney will shut her up.
Q. Big Momma Stretches Clothes: I love my mother-in-law. But I hate shopping with her. My M-I-L is a big woman who, when we shop, chooses medium-sized clothing instead of the plus-sized clothing that would fit her. She ends up stretching and/or tearing the clothing she tries on. She leaves the clothing in the dressing room and moves on as if nothing's happened. Obviously, I need to talk to her about this, because it's wrong to stand by and watch her ruin merchandise. But while I think I should take a gentler approach, my husband thinks I should be very blunt with his mom. What would you say?
A: I would say, "Anita, I'm not much of a shopper. Let's just meet for lunch."
Q. Sister-in-Law Giving our Niece an Awful Name: My sister-in-law has decided to name her future baby—if it's a girl—"Serenity Grace." My husband's irate and worried that the name is going to haunt our niece—and said with a name like that, there are only two "professions" his niece could enter. I did say that it's his sister's child and there's little that we can do. But, his sister has not directly told us about this name. I suggested that we send them a congrats card along with a small baby name book. The baby's due in December, so there is still plenty of time to reconsider. At the end of the day, the choice is theirs, but I do think finding a balance between very common names and very out there names is important.
A: I can see that Serenity Grace might be a good name for the cloister, but I'm truly baffled at what your husband thinks the other profession might be. Of course anyone named Serenity Grace is likely to be a wild child, but the name itself is quite lovely. More important it's none of your business. (Repeat the previous sentence to yourselves.) Forget your passive-aggressive gift and be a loving pair of relatives, even if the baby ends up being a boy named Roughand Tumble.
Q. Can't Shake The Encounter: A few weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles on business (I live in Chicago) and met a very attractive and famous man at a coffee shop. He and I talked over coffee for an hour and exchanged e-mails, but I had a seminar to go to and left it at that. He seemed genuinely interested in me, and has sent me an e-mail since the encounter, saying how nice it was to meet me, etc., etc., wanting to talk again. Ever since the meeting, I can't stop thinking about this guy and how he seemed really honestly nice and how I'd like to get to know him. The only problem is—I have a boyfriend who I was previously VERY happy with. We live together. But this encounter has me thinking constantly of this guy. I've no plans of leaving Chicago for the next five years, and I love my boyfriend. But how can I get over this celebrity encounter? -Notting Hill in LA
A: Who was it? George Clooney? Ryan Gosling?? Is Notting Hill a clue? It was Hugh Grant!!! (In that case, stay away.) I can understand how heady this encounter must have been, but you are not on the market. Likely your famous would-be flame is in the market for encounters with attractive and willing females and it's convenient for him to have some lined up in the various cities his travels might take him. If he wasn't famous, you probably wouldn't be obsessing about the attractive guy you chatted with in the coffee shop. Do a search on his love life and note what I assume will be the many, many relationships this guy has had. Then consider that you don't want to throw away what you have to be added to that pile.
Q. Easy Bruising: Some of my family members (including my mom and me) have a connective tissue disorder and bruise very easily. People should be very careful when making assumptions. My husband is the one who is always telling me I have to be more careful—he's never ever hurt me, but people who see my legs sometimes think I'm either abused or have cancer.
A: Thanks for the reminder about assumptions.
Q. The Erotic Story-Writing Boyfriend: It is possible that the boyfriend purposely put that story in his term paper in a bid to see not only how his girlfriend would react, but to see if she would be willing to "act out" the story with him. If there is nothing that disgusts the GF except the subject, then maybe a way to get around this is to tell her BF that she is more than willing to become the heroine of a new erotic novella for him. One that they can play out together.
A: It's a bit much to expect the girlfriend to pretend to be "Serenity Grace" for the sake of fulfilling her boyfriend's lust for a classmate.
Q. Distant Father: My mother got pregnant by accident while dating my father 26 years ago. They broke up while she was still pregnant, and he went on to marry another woman and had a family with her. My father felt that my mom got pregnant on purpose and trapped him into 18 years of child support because she knew he was well off. Whether or not that is the case has never concerned me. I love my mom. My dad however has never been able to get over this. Growing up, he was in and out of my life, and now when I'm in my mid twenties, our relationship is cold and formal. To make matters worse, his wife has a daughter around my age from a previous marriage. He has always been a doting and loving father to her, as well as to his other biological children. My father has never addressed this with me, or apologized for all the hurt he caused me over the years. I thought I would get over it, but the older I get, the worse it feels. I would like to confront him about this, at least to have him acknowledge that the way he treated me was wrong, but I'm afraid that doing so would damage the relationship I have with his wife and children (my siblings). What do you think is the best course of action?
A: You need to talk this out with a therapist who can then help guide you through a conversation with your father. Confrontation will get you nowhere. You'll be hurt, he'll be defensive: status quo ante. Being rejected by a parent is terribly painful and is something you need to address. You may have to accept that your father is a limited man and that he is the one who has lost out on having a close relationship with you. But I'm glad you and your mother are close and that it sounds as if you have found acceptance with your father's wife and your siblings.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. I hope your week is filled with serenity and grace. Talk to you next Monday.