Dear Carolyn: In my childhood, criticism from my parents was the constant theme. My grades were never good enough, my room was never clean enough, whatever. As a result, I feel little to no affection for my parents now that I’m an adult, and I don’t spend much time with them or talk to them much. I just don’t like them very much.
However, some people who know this say I’m going to regret distancing myself from them when they’re gone. Do you think that’s true? Should I make more of an effort to spend more time with them now so I don’t regret it later?
Criticized: Your friends would regret distancing themselves, if they were in your position. That doesn’t mean you will.
So, no, I don’t think that is universally true that distance equals regrets.
However, I do believe that seeing parents as people, instead of just as parents, is a more useful way to determine how to adapt your relationship with them over time.
What you describe of your parents is a child’s view of people who, apparently, thought that being a parent meant being strict and teachy all the time. I agree with you that it’s a cold way to go, and tough to forgive, but there are other aspects of parenthood that could provide a fuller and fairer picture. Were their parents that way with them? Was the culture around them one of “seen and not heard” and “spare the rod” orthodoxy? Did they tend not to question things about life in general, their parenting views among them? Was one of them softer but not strong enough to counteract the other?
And: What did they become after their active child-rearing years were over? Did they remain locked in a cold orthodoxy, or did they bloom a little when the weight of responsibility was removed? Are they trying to get to know you now, or are you still 12 to them?
Do you know them all that well as people, or did you distance yourself effectively enough that your last real impression of them was formed as you fled their home after high school?
I ask these questions entirely without judgment. People have their natural, even reflexive ways of looking out for their own health, and kids of unhappy childhoods can even have this need as their central motivation. It makes sense.
But when you get to the point where you’re asking whether this is the right way to go, my inclination is to suggest that you keep asking questions and see where your inquiry leads you. If you don’t feel up to digging all that out, that’s reasonable. Your prerogative. It might also make sense to spend a few sessions with a skilled therapist.
And it might be liberating just to try, once or twice, with no great expectations, to talk to your parents with a different image of them in mind as you do it.
They’re people. Possibly kind of stunted people who meant no harm but had no clue. People who might have interesting things to say if you asked them different questions, and/or with a different objective in mind. Not “I want them to say they’re sorry” or “I want just once for them to be warm and welcoming,” but maybe “I want to see them how their friends do,” or one of my favorite suggestions from a long-ago chatter, “I want to approach them as an anthropologist would and see what I find out.”
Dear Annie: I am 23 years old and have been dating "Tom" for two years. He works in a demanding job that requires an extensive amount of travel. He's away almost six months of the year.
When Tom isn't traveling, he's with me during the week, but spends most weekends going places with his fraternity or visiting his parents. This means for the six months he's in town, I get perhaps one weekend.
We are saving for a house, and Tom's constant recreational travel is cutting into our budget. I want our couple time back, as well as time to take care of things at home. I've suggested compromises (such as two weekends away and two weekends home), but things always come up that he "has to do." Two months ago, I was let go from my job. That same afternoon, Tom left on a trip with friends that could have easily been cancelled. I can't use those same weekends to visit my family because they are too far away, so I spend a lot of time sitting home alone.
I know nothing unsavory is going on. Tom is a wonderful guy. I have no intention of leaving him. I knew when we met that his job would require a lot of travel, but these personal weekends are difficult for me. I know he hates being inactive or staying home, but it seems excessive. How can we come up with a workable solution? -- Home Alone
Dear Home: Tom thinks he already has a workable solution and has no incentive to compromise. After all, he sees you all week. Right now, his schedule is a minor hardship for you, but if you marry and have children, it will be a major problem. You'll have to revisit this issue then.
Meanwhile, we are never in favor of sitting home alone moping. Please find things to occupy yourself during the weekends when Tom is absent. Look for part-time work. Take classes to bone up on your skills. Go biking. Accompany him when he visits his family, and get to know them better.
DEAR ABBY: My husband refuses to wear headphones. This means that when we sit in the living room together, I must put up with the blaring noise of whatever he is watching.
I do a lot of writing, and in order to think, I need silence. I have tried earplugs, but they don't muffle enough of the noise. Now, when I have had enough, I leave the room. This results in us being in two separate places, which he hates. Is there another solution I may be overlooking? -- LOUD IN MAINE
DEAR LOUD: You might try noise-canceling headphones. However, if that doesn't work, because you need to "hear" in your head the sentences you are trying to write, you may have to do your writing when your husband is not at home.
I have cranio-facial hyperhidrosis, which means that I sweat (a lot) from my scalp and face. It doesn’t take much — the slightest exertion, hot/humid weather, or wearing a hardhat — to trigger sweat pouring down my face and soaking my hair. It’s really unpleasant and embarrassing.
I work in a factory environment and split my time between the office and the factory floor, and when I work on the floor (where it’s always warm because of the machinery, especially in the summer), I usually end up sweaty. When I go back to the office, I do my best to cool off and dry my face and hair, and I often wrap a scarf around my head to absorb the sweat. For some reason, people think this makes me look like a ninja warrior. I’m not making this up — many people (mostly from outside my department) have said this on numerous occasions, and they seem to think it is a hilarious observation. I have lost count of how many people have asked me, “Haha, are you a ninja warrior?” or simply stated, “Oh, you’re wearing your ninja headband today.”
How do I even respond to this? I am really self-conscious about my hyperhidrosis, and the “ninja warrior” comments make me feel like people are mocking me. I don’t understand why so many people think it’s hilarious, and I don’t think they mean to be hurtful, but they are. Once when I was having a particularly bad day and someone asked me if I was a ninja warrior, I replied, “No, and I don’t appreciate being made fun of.” She apologized so profusely that I felt terrible for mentioning it and I ended up apologizing to her. How can I get people to stop making these comments without hurting their feelings?
I really don’t think people are mocking you — this sounds like the kind of joking comment that people make as a way to establish camaraderie or warm feelings, especially since they don’t know it’s linked to a medical condition.
That’s probably why your coworker apologized so profusely; when you told her you felt she was making fun of you, she was likely mortified that you thought that when she intended just to be friendly.
But none of that means that you can’t ask for it to stop! Start say this to people who joke about it: “I know you’re just joking, but it’s for a medical condition.” Say it without smiling and in a serious tone. Most people will stop after hearing that. For anyone who doesn’t, say this: “Like I said, it’s for a medical condition. I really don’t like calling it that.”
DEAR ABBY: I recently got married to a wonderful man who is 19 years younger than I am. He's the love of my life. The problem is, he sleeps totally on one side of the bed and isn't affectionate at night except when we are making love. Then he is amazing -- affectionate, sensitive, and very attentive and kind.
He says his mother was very cold toward him, and he was reared by his grandparents, who loved him, but were not "touchy-feely." He treats me like a queen, Abby. Should I just forget about it and be content sleeping un-hugged and un-held all night? -- ON MY SIDE IN MARYLAND
DEAR ON YOUR SIDE: No, you should talk to your husband and explain what your needs are. Although the sex is wonderful, many people -- of both sexes, by the way -- need to feel the warmth of human contact. Because he treats you like a queen, tell him you need more, and perhaps he will make more of an effort on your side of the bed and outside the bedroom.