A: Stop letting yourselves be collateral damage. I have the feeling poor, old dad has a sneaking suspicion that his infidelities have something to do with his angry wife. He may appreciate her treating him miserably since it allows him to utter the immortal phrase to other women: "My wife doesn't understand me." If being with your parents is a misery, you siblings should sit down with them and explain the wear of tear of spending time with them is getting both of you down, and you're going to tail off your visits unless they can behave decently when you're all together.
Q. Fiancée Weight Issues: Over the past few years, while my fiancée has been in medical school, she has gained somewhere between 10-15 lbs, and to be honest, I don't care—I'd love her if she had gained 200. That being said, she complains and complains and complains about how she's gained all this weight, and no matter what I say she ends up blowing up on me. It feels like displacement. I, too, have gained weight, but because I'm not a medical student, I have more time to go to the gym, and it's also easier for me to lose weight—she had her thyroid removed and her synthroid messes with her weight sometimes. I love her more than anything in the world, but hearing her complain and complain and then tell me to keep my mouth shut drives me nuts, and it always ends in a fight. How do I talk to her about this in a productive way? I just want her to be happy.
A: Endless hours, crappy food, and stress, stress, stress. Becoming a doctor is a good recipe for being unhealthy, and your girlfriend is suffering from this syndrome. As you've discovered, your girlfriend doesn't want advice, she doesn't want encouragement, she just wants someone to listen to her rant. But you're her boyfriend, not a backboard, and you have limits. Tell her you understand she's overwhelmed at work and frustrated by her weight gain. Say you think she should make the time to get her thyroid medication checked say. Explain you'll go to the gym with her or do whatever she'd like that would help. Tell her she looks great to you. Then say she has become fixated on this topic and you don't want to get into fights with her over it. Say you'll let her vent on this for about 10 minutes, then you'll both have to agree to change the subject. And if she won't, get up and say you're going for a walk and you'd be happy to have her join you, but only if you talk about something else.
Q. Re: "Aunties": My mom's best friend was "Auntie First Name" when I was little. Since we lived three hours or more from my "real" aunts, it was great to have a stand-in. There was never any confusion about blood relations and everyone treated everyone else like family (good and bad).
A: I'm getting lots of letters from people who had unofficial "aunties" in their lives, were never confused by it, and who basked in their love.
Q. Future In-Laws Haven't Acknowledged Engagement: On Valentine's day, my boyfriend proposed and we became happily engaged. We announced our intentions to both sets of parents months earlier, so we didn't feel an obligation to announce the engagement to them privately before sharing it with others. The next day, I posted a picture of the ring on Facebook to share with my short list of Facebook friends (which includes three of my fiancé's siblings). Congratulations came pouring in for both of us, but his family remained mum through the weekend—even as they called him to discuss other topics. I know they've been online to see the update (which takes priority in our friends' news feeds because it's tagged as a "life event"), but my boyfriend says they may be expecting us to come over and deliver the news in person, since his family is neither as informal or as high-tech as mine. The problem is that neither of us want to do that. His mother reacted with displeasure when he first announced his desire to propose almost a year ago, and my fiancé fears that if we tell his family in person, we'll subject ourselves to the scathing criticisms they feel entitled to make in the comfort and seclusion of their home. They are more like hermit crabs than homebodies and will certainly not meet us anywhere else to discuss it. What's the best course of action?
A: Even technophobes have telephones. So your fiancé should call his parents and tell them he wanted them to hear the good news that you're formally engaged. If a negative word passes Mom's lips, he should say, "Gotta go" and end the call. Not getting close to the crabs is the best way not to get caught in their pincers.
Q. How To Tell Mom?: I've just discovered that my dad has children by another woman (Note to cheaters: Facebook isn't as secret as you think it is). This other woman has held herself out as my father's wife. (My parents have been married for the past 30+ years.) Suddenly, my father's money problems and "traveling salesman" job make a lot of sense. I plan to tell my mom, but I'm not sure how to do it. Do I try to get iron-clad proof? (All my proof is Web-based.) Do I confront him alone? My mom's been through some rough patches lately, and I know this information will devastate her.
A: You definitely need to talk to your father about this first. Sure, you may have stumbled on the truth, but you need confirmation from the source. Then discuss this with your father. You don't know if you mother knows, or perhaps she kind of knows and doesn't want to know. As I mentioned earlier, tread lightly when you're stepping into the middle of your parents' marriage.
Q. Should I Say Something?: My best friend, who is a delightful person in all sorts of ways, is a horrible storyteller. Her stories are typically of the "you had to be there" type or they go on forever without much of a point. Last week, a bunch of us were at dinner, and someone asked her about her vacation to Florida. She spent a good five minutes describing how difficult it was to find a parking space at the airport, then told us a very detailed story about having to repack her bag to get through security, at which point someone gently asked her to tell us about the beach. She's such a nice person that it's hard to get irritated, but I do find myself drifting off and thinking about other things once she launches into a story. Should I say something to her and, if so, how? I really don't want to hurt her feelings.
A: If in order to survive a story by your best friend, you have to mentally take yourself to a desert island, then she needs help. You need to tell her that you love her, but she needs to be more aware of the prolix nature of her anecdotes. Suggest she go to Toastmasters. For a nominal fee this organization will give her feedback and training in speaking effectively that will benefit both her personal and professional lives.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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