Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. Next week's chat will take place Tuesday at 1 p.m. due to the Labor Day holiday. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Spokane, Wash.: I have been in love with a very close male friend of mine since we became friends as children (almost seven years ago). I have always been reluctant to tell him how I feel for fear of rejection and ruining our friendship. My solution has always been to endure the pain of this impossible romance and then part ways with him when college came around. My logic was that there would be another chance for me to find the love of my life.
My problem lies with the fact that we happen to be looking at similar schools. During my college search, I have consistently tried to eliminate him as a factor in my choice, but I am afraid that if I do attend the same university as him, I will never be able to let the possibility of a relationship go. My question is: Should I a) attend whatever university I like and accept the fact that he will (or will not) continue to be part of my life, b) avoid him and go to another school and try to restart my love life, or c) go to the same college as him and continue to build up the nerve to tell him how I feel?
Emily Yoffe: I love that your generation demonstrates that males and females truly can be just friends. It's wonderful to see the mixed-gender gangs you form and how easy you all are with each other. But sometimes you take it too far! Inevitably particular males and females are going to be attracted to one another. This is good for humans as a species and for aging Americans hoping that people will continue to create young workers to pay for our Social Security benefits. Perhaps your close male friend secretly feels the same way about you, but both of you have been unable to speak because you live under the prohibition of not ruining a beautiful friendship.
Well, you should consider ruining it and take the risk of telling him you realize you have feelings for him that go beyond friendship. Before you do so, prepare yourself that it's equally possible he doesn't share these feelings, and so you have to be able to graciously tell him you accept that and want to continue to be friends. Then, in either case, you should look at schools completely apart from him and make your decision solely on the basis of the school that's right for you. Whether or not he's there, whether or not you're in love, it's a good idea for high-school students to be open to the new life that college presents to them.
Midwest: My sister has excluded me from her life. She's back for a one week (not exactly sure how long) respite from Iraq and visiting with her family. I have tried calling her, and she hangs up on me.
I have read several books on sibling rivalry and alienation and believe there is nothing more I can do to try to repair the relationship.
Do you agree? We were 14 months apart at birth, and I used to hit her as a child. I have tried apologizing, but she demonizes me, so there is no remedy. I do have two nephews, but since we are not close, I have seen them only a few times (including during the entire two-year period when I lived in the DC area). I have never been invited to my sister's house. Should I just give up?
Emily Yoffe: You could try once more by sending her a letter saying you are pained by the estrangement between you, that you are so proud of her and what she's accomplished in her life, and that you would like to repair your relationship and develop one with your nephews. You could even say you know you weren't the sister you should have been when you were little (jeez, the statute on that should have expired), but you are both adults now and you would like to have a chance to start over. Then after you're sure she's gotten the letter, call or e-mail. If she still hangs up or doesn't reply, then, yes, sadly you need to accept that she simply wants to be your ex-sister.
Washington, D.C.: I am 31 years old and most recently have been having vivid dreams of my high-school boyfriend, who was my first everything. First love, first sexual partner, first heartbreak. He enters my mind from time to time, but I think this is very odd to have reminiscent moments of him so often and to feel so strongly for him after such time has elapsed. I have been in a loving relationship with another man for the past seven years and know I should not be longing for the ex. We saw each other at a reunion two years ago, had a long talk, and kissed—he wanted more, but I refused. I am wise enough to know that we both have changed and grown, and you can't pick up where you left off. Still, a part of me thinks we were meant to be. I think a lot may have to do with how I hurt him back then. I love my current boyfriend and he is a good man. So, what is wrong with me and what can I do to get my ex out of my mind?
Emily Yoffe: This sounds like a warning for the letter writer hoping to turn her high-school friend into her high-school boyfriend. Actually, I find it hard to believe you two aren't communicating daily on Facebook. My mail has convinced me that site's true mission is to convince former high-school beaus that they should chuck their current relationships or marriages and pick up where they left off in the back of the their parents' station wagon. It's perfectly normal that seven years into a relationship (ever heard of "The Seven Year Itch"?), some of the excitement has gone out of it. But the excitement never went out of that old high-school relationship, the pimply glory of which can be evoked by a song on the oldies station. You also primed yourself for longing for what was by your illicit kiss. The best way to deal with this is to simply recognize the cliché you've fallen into. But maybe also, you're wondering where your seven-year relationship is going—are you going to marry? Do you want to have kids? Concentrate on the good man you've built your adulthood with rather than mooning about the guy you dumped back when.
Alexandria, Va.: Help! My father, who's 75, is going through a late-midlife crisis. He's trying to recapture his youth, which would be fine, but he now wants my mother to recapture hers. She had a double mastectomy 25 years ago but never had reconstructive surgery; he's insistent that she get it now. It's a serious process that would require two bouts of general anesthesia, which is a big deal for a 70-year-old. She agreed but backed out at the last minute after discussing it with my siblings and me and deciding it wasn't worth the risk. My father stopped speaking to her, telling her she was condemning them both to old age. She's hurt he would place brand new hooters (and he wanted her to get big ones) ahead of her safety. I love my father, but he's suffered bouts of depression and irrationality his whole life, and my mother has always coddled him. He's like a narcissistic child who never had boundaries, and until now my mother never really said no to him. He doesn't leave the house much and just sort of sits and broods and isolates himself. Now he's not speaking to my siblings and me—he blames us for talking her out of it. My brother is getting married soon, and we doubt he'll come to the wedding. He won't get professional help on his own, and my mother refuses to insist. What, if anything, can we do?
Emily Yoffe: You all can continue to be loving and supportive of your mother, but as you describe it, their dynamic is that he is a pouty baby and she coddles him. His recent demands don't sound out of character—you say his whole life he has been an irrational narcissist and that your mother has enabled this. You could encourage your mother to see a therapist on her own to help her sort out her feelings about her life. Maybe a therapist will help her with some strategies to get your father to at least get a mental health evaluation. But it's going to be hard to get Dad to recognize just how appalling he is acting. The book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists will help you understand your father better and to see that while you can't change him, you can decide how you respond to him.