Dear Auntie BubboPants,
I have a question about the right way to answer well meaning people’s questions. My boyfriend (who I have been dating for 3 years) and I live and work in a small-ish town. I generally really like it because everyone looks out for one another, and this is certainly one of those cases.
You see, my boyfriend’s sister died unexpectedly in an accident a little over two months ago. They were extremely close and he was heartbroken. In the first week or two after the funeral when I would see people who would ask how he was doing, I knew what to say (“Oh he’s still quite sad. He misses her. Etc.”) But now that some time has passed, I don’t know what to say. Life has resumed its normal patterns for us both at work and in our social circles. When people ask how he’s doing, “fine” isn’t the right answer, but “He’s still quite sad” really isn’t the right answer either. So what do I say that doesn’t make him sound colder than he really is, or more of a basketcase than he really is?
I really appreciate the sentiment and am always happy to tell him that “jane” or “joe” asked how he was doing. I’m just not sure how to answer in a way that is both gracious and to the point.
Speechless – For Once In My Life!
What a tough thing, I’m very sorry for all involved.
Quite often people do not know what to say after the death of a loved one. This isn’t unusual, death is something perplexing and word killing. Everything feels so inadequate in the face of death. But here the situation is turned a bit. Usually it’s the person on the outside unsure of how to proceed. You are the person on the inside unsure of where to lead people.
As a society raised on sitcoms and 90 minute blockbusters it can be easy to forget that there is an intermediate stage between situation and resolution. Those intermediate times are at best displayed as quick montages and then everything gets wrapped up nicely and off we go.
There is an intermediate stage in grief that can be so unquantifiable and intangible that we find ourselves unable to describe it. How IS your boyfriend? Is he still working through his grief? Does he find that he can mostly get back to the routine but is still struck breathless at the feeling of loss? Is he perhaps working through his grief?
I imagine he’s not ‘fine’ not by a long shot, losing someone you are close to and losing them suddenly is a very hard thing to endure. I think you should tell people the truth of the matter, that he is working through his sadness, but it is still very hard on him. People will recognize this. They will relate to that intermediate time because they have also been there and they will appreciate that you also know about it.
Grief is a very long and very personal process, and yet is so utterly universal. You are very lucky to live among people who take interest in and care so much about each other.
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
My husband has recently become obsessed with catching the mice in our house. Does he use traps? No. Does he use poison? No. He has become obsessed with trying to catch the mice with his own gloved hand! When he sees the mouse, he will set up barriers all around the room that the mouse is in to keep it trapped in that room. Then he will sit in a chair or on the edge of the bed with a glove on his hand and WAIT. If he sees or hears it, he will go racing after it. The biggest problem with this is that it doesn’t matter what time it is and what else is going on! It can be 3am and he will have lights blazing and cardboard thumping around! I know he is bored because his new employment doesn’t start for awhile, but it’s really aggravating me!
I’ve tried talking about it to him honestly and openly, but he doesn’t seem to see the problem. What else can I do?
I Think My Husband May Have Been a Cat in Another Life
He wants to catch the mice in his hand? He wants to put his hand down there and grab the mice? HA! I watched Chester chase a mouse around a campsite once and I know this…If a dog who has been specifically bred to find and kill small vermin cannot easily catch a mouse (he did not catch the mouse at all) then a guy who has been specially bred to drive a car and buy Mentos when they are on sale is not going to catch a mouse in his hands.
If that were the case then there would be a sudden and precipitous drop in the mouse population as we could all just reach down and pick them up.
So what can you do? As you know, I don’t like ultimatums. Ultimatums have a tendency to blow up in really unintended ways. I do think that this is the time to pull out the ‘angry from lack of sleep and absurdity and complete obliviousness to the needs of the wife’ card. You’ve tried open and calm and honest and now it is time for “NOW! Get back into bed NOW! You stop making noise now or so help me I will soak every single pair of your underpants in water and then freeze them! You stop this thumping and get back into bed and let me sleep FOR I AM YOUR WIFE!!! AND I DO NOT WANT TO BE ANGRY!!!”
If that doesn’t work, beat him with a shoe and then kick his ass out to the couch.
Or go adopt a batshit crazy, mean tomcat! You won’t even have to feed it, he’ll find his own food.
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
My need doesn’t pertain to relationships, but I’m confounded by the situation so I thought I’d ask you, oh-wise-one, for advice.
First, you’ll need some history so I’ll take you back to when my sister was 14 and 16 and my parents bought her a 1991 Bronco (which she quickly totaled) and classic 1965 Mustang respectively.
Fast-forward 4 years, and it’s my turn. I didn’t get to choose, instead I inherited my mother’s 1997 Sonata, and at the time I was happy. I loved it very much. I drove it all through high school and college until the wheels quite literally fell off (the transmission needed a 2nd replacement).
Meanwhile, they also bought my sister a 1994 Blazer because you can’t have a pretty girl in a smoking-hot muscle car in the shady neighborhood she moved into.
When the beloved Sonata got hauled off to the Junk Yard in the Sky, it was replaced by the most horrible 1989 Oldsmobile you can imagine. I admit I did throw a bratty, hissy fit when my parents bought it on the cheap. I wanted nothing to do with that car because it was nowhere near worth what they paid for it. We had several other options at the time that were A) better quality, B) newer, but C) more $$$. But, Mom pulled rank on me and said I’d better get used to it. So I slapped a KLUNKER bumper sticker on it and bit my lip.
Which brings us up to speed on the current issue, my gut reaction to the Oldsmobile proved correct. It’s a HUGE lemon. I have driven it for less than 1 year and we all know there is no way of fixing a cracked engine block of doom. So I have no car AGAIN.
All of that back story to ask this, is it ok to ask my parents to help buy / buy me a car? They’ve bought my sister 3 cars in the past. or is that just a whiny reasoning? I’m not opposed to compromise so maybe you could help out there, too.
No Wheels and Broke
Dear No Wheels,
You wrote a lot but the answer is pretty easy. You know your parents better than I do, but from what you’ve written I can see no reason why you should not be able to ask them for some form of help (besides your bratty hissy fit, but it sounds like bygones are bygones and maybe you’ve all moved past this…I hope you moved past this or we need a different bit of advice!)
So, sure, go to your parents and ask, I think that would be okay. The thing that would not be okay is to use your sister’s cars as a bargaining chip. As kids, especially kids with siblings, we are always looking for ‘fair’, but any parent of siblings can tell you that ‘fair’ is not always what the kids think it should be. Most parents make decisions that seem really really unfair to kids but their reasoning goes well beyond sibling parity.
Come up with a plan before you go to your parents. Talk about what you can or cannot afford. Discuss insurance costs and maintenance and fuel costs. Go over why you need a car more than a bike or bus pass. Essentially, sit down at the table like an adult, show them that you’ve done your research and you understand that they are not an ATM and you are not still that hissy fit teenager. I don’t know many parents that would not be impressed by a show of responsibility and understanding of the situation.
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
Here’s a hypothetical question for you,
is it possible to be a gracious, compassionate, and graceful person without getting walked on and taken advantage of? And if not, how does one graciously, compassionately, and gracefully tell others to perhaps go take a flying fuck at the moon?
NonSigning Chicken Butt
yes. yes it is very very possible to be gracious, compassionate and graceful while still maintaining your dignity and not getting walked on.
Set some boundaries. The first set of boundaries you set within yourself. It does you no good to have a set of boundaries for your interactions with others if you do not even know yourself well enough to maintain them.
From the sound of this hypothetical letter, it would seem you’ve found yourself pushed to the edge of something and you’re pissed. And you should be pissed! At yourself! You need to learn to understand where your limits are and then make a commitment to yourself that you will maintain those boundaries. Every time you find yourself grudgingly pulling a boundary line back a few inches at a time you also find yourself getting crabby and cranky. You think you are being gracious to the person, but if in your head you are thinking ugly thoughts then you are being gracious to no one, yourself included.
If you find yourself in a situation with a boundary that is being pushed and you are unhappy about it, then do not let it get pushed. Do not ‘give in’ and then find yourself fuming and trapped. Now, please be sure you understand. I am not say that you should be entirely inflexible. What I am saying is that flexibility should happen when you know it is the right thing to have happen. If someone needs to borrow some cash and you know that this is a situation that you understand and you know you can trust this person, it’s okay to be flexible if you are comfortable. If, on the other hand, there is someone who consistently borrows money in order to place bets on football games being shown on ESPN Classic and consistently loses and consistently cannot pay you back, then grudgingly lending him money is a violation of your boundaries.
It takes some time and practice but soon enough you will find that the need to tell people to take a flying fuck at the moon is diminishing.
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
I’m really worried i going to end up a crazy cat lady, help!
I’ know i’m only 21 but i can feel myself getting so bitter and jealous and sad and lonely. I have fantastic friends and im pretty happy most of the time but since i split from my first and only real BF nearly 2 years ago its been really tough. It took me a while to get over him, so it was 10 months later that i had a dalliance, a friends with benefits arrangement with an acquaintance, that was quite short lived due to the benefits being quite one sided. Then i got fed up of trying clubs after meeting a few guys there and tried online dating, had a few nightmare dates then met R who messed me around for 4ish months, he would leave the country without telling me, turn up 5 hrs late if at all or come round and manage to arrive, have sex and leave within the hour! I felt like the non yarny kind of hooker without the cash! I learnt alot from him about when to call it a day. And most recently there was my close friend L, who i had such a crush on years ago and i really fell for him but his feelings for me didnt really develop, but i kept on hoping they would but a couple of months in we had the “theres something missing talk” and so that was all over too. That was a while back and we are still friends.
The trouble is i cant keep picking myself up and getting over them and trying again. I know it always happens when your not looking and stuff like that but i just cant keep getting so close to having a relationship, and being loved, not just as a friend. I do remember that not every thing was perfect but when i had a real bf but i had an ally, a lover and someone to snuggle up to and i miss it so much. I’ve had “you cant hurry love” and “with a little help from my friends” as emergency comfort songs and relied on my knitting when im low and been crying on friends shoulders for nearly 2 years now. I’m getting fed up of being the single one when my housemate/best friend goes from relationship to relationship, it was 2 weeks between guys last time, both pretty serious and I’m getting really jealous. I’ve tried online dating, ive tried salsa dancing and societies and clubs but now i can salsa and i know that online dating didn’t work for me. I don’t like this bitter person im becoming, Help!!! Ive tried telling myself this time is for getting my degree, its my last year and that i shouldn’t worry about blokes at least until after that but i feel ive waited so long and it doesn’t seem fair, especially with my housemate finding it all so easy and having lots of sex the other side of our thin dividing wall.
I’m so scared its me, being the common denominator and all or that im somehow becoming unlovable, its like each guy leaves me more crazy,
Thanks for reading, any help would really be appreciated! I think getting this off my chest will have made a big difference no matter what you say! Sorry it ended up such an essay, thanks for listening,
A Potential Bitter Spinster
Nah, you’re not going to be a crazy cat lady. I envision you with a house full of angry (ANGRY!!!) guinea fowl and a slot on the local news every once in a while!
You said a lot! So let’s get started here.
When I first skimmed your letter this popped out, poked me in the eyes and smacked me upside the head:
The trouble is i cant keep picking myself up and getting over them and trying again.
This, my chicken butt, this is the essence of learning, the essence of survival, the essence of growing! We do not learn or survive or grow unless we fall down and get back up. Life is a series of falling down and getting up! and that should not be depressing in the least. We fall off the bike, we get up, we get on the bike and we fall off again. It’s frustrating and stupid and it hurts and who wants a dumb bike anyway? Right?! But every time you fall, your brain gets the message ‘oooh, okay that was not right’ calculate calculate ‘alright, let’s try THIS’! and eventually your brain gets the right mix of balances in the body needed to keep a bike upright and forward moving and you can ride your bike.
If you never fell off that bike then how would your brain have figured out what not to do when balance was needed? How would your brain have figured out the best ways to keep your falls from being super injurious? How would you have learned to trust the person teaching you this lesson?
We fall down and fail all the time and we do that because the brain can’t just learn what to do, it has to know why the other way does not work. We sometimes have to lose a game, lose a bet, lose a boyfriend to learn how to play stronger, stop betting or find healthy relationships.
being the common denominator and all
This also surprised me because it is something I tell people. The common denominator in all of your failed relationships is you. It sounds really harsh (and sometimes when I say it, I mean it to be because the person I am talking to can’t understand why his girlfriends can’t just be silent robots!), mostly, it is not meant to be harsh. It is meant to make you stop. Full stop. Right now. Relationships aren’t something that just show up mail order. Relationships don’t come solid, prebuilt, plug and play, ready to wear!
Relationships are built. Each one is built starting with very little and slowly added to over time. The first part of a relationship is finding the right person. Finding the right person is not always what we think it should be. The ‘right person’ is not always the person we decide it should be. You need to come to a full stop and start contemplating yourself. Why do you consistently seem to pick potential mates that are unavailable to you? The jackass guy who treated you poorly, friend with benefits, friend without the spark?
You are absolutely seeking something in your life. You are trying to fill a gap or a need. You have an emptiness that you are trying to patch with ‘relationship’ and ‘boyfriend’ and ‘love’. I don’t want to sound corny, but relationships cannot patch you, they cannot fill what is missing in you. A relationship requires that you give more than you take.
Stop focusing on other people’s relationships and what you think you should get in a ‘fair’ world and start looking inward. What are you really missing in there? Until you find a way to make your own self whole, you will not be able to offer 100% to a relationship and that’s not fair to the other person.