divorce, Ex, family, marriage, narcissists

Carolyn Hax says, “There isn’t enough hell for this no!”

This morning, as I was waking up to another Monday morning, I happened to read a letter to an advice column in the Washington Post (it’s unlocked for people who don’t subscribe). Sometimes letters to Carolyn Hax trigger me a little bit. And then I read other people’s comments, and I get triggered all the more. That’s what happened this morning. So now I need to vent in my blog. Below is the letter that got me all hot and bothered:

Dear Carolyn: I very recently had a baby with my boyfriend of several years. We were both married when we met, but after developing feelings for each other we divorced our spouses and committed to each other. Neither marriage was fulfilling, but I’m on very good terms with my ex as we co-parent our children as a united team.

My boyfriend’s ex-wife, however, has continued a pattern of manipulative and controlling behavior. For example, she told my boyfriend that the pastor at their church expects him to apologize to the church leaders for having divorced his wife. When my boyfriend sought to clarify this with the pastor, the pastor was stunned and assured him she never had a conversation like that with the ex-wife.

His 16-year-old, “Sam,” also refuses to meet the baby without his mother present. And JUST his mother present. My boyfriend is desperate to reconnect with his son (whose estrangement is enabled by the ex) and thinks meeting the baby will soften his son’s heart. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the conditions. For context: I’ve learned his ex-wife has on multiple occasions made fun of the name we chose for our daughter. She also demanded to know all sorts of intimate details about me, such as my plans for breastfeeding.

His ex-wife has been pushing hard to meet the baby. My boyfriend says she and Sam are a package deal. But my mama instincts are screaming that my baby is not safe around this woman. She recently made it clear she expects to meet the baby soon, whether Sam does or not.

I am obviously sleep-deprived and hormones are crashing, but am I being unreasonable? I know she will someday meet her, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for her to have this experience with my newborn.

— Mama Bear

I actually liked Carolyn’s advice. Her first sentence summed it up nicely. She wrote, “There isn’t enough hell for this no.” I totally agree with her. I’ve never had a child, but I can plainly see how inappropriate this demand is. But other people didn’t see it Carolyn’s way at all. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, because we’re dealing with people in a culture who automatically see men and any subsequent female partners at fault when a heterosexual relationship falls apart. And some people seem to think that the jilted woman is automatically entitled to whatever she wants. Can you believe the ex wife in the above example thinks she’s entitled to meet the baby even without her son in tow?

To Carolyn’s credit, she simply looked at what was written in the letter. She didn’t attempt to recreate the letter from the ex wife’s perspective, as one reader did. It’s not that I don’t think it’s useful to consider the ex wife’s perspective so much, as that the person who did it added details to the situation that didn’t exist in the original letter. I saw a lot of people projecting their own opinions and experiences into this situation, complicating what, to me, looks like a pretty cut and dried situation. The letter writer has a brand new baby. It’s HER baby. She’s the mom, and she gets to decide who is around her newborn baby. Ex wife has ZERO standing to demand anything regarding the letter writer’s brand new baby, her son with the boyfriend notwithstanding. Below was one commenter’s take.

Um… did this person miss the part where the EX said her ex husband needed to apologize to church leaders for the divorce? And the church leader said the conversation never took place? Also, the original letter says that the couple had been together for several years, and made no mention of the mom’s age. And personally, I think gifts related to breastfeeding are inappropriate, unless it’s something the person specifically requested.

As for “Sam”, my comment would be that it’s regrettable that he evidently doesn’t want to meet his half-sister. He can meet her when he grows up, if he wants to. But his mom is not in this, and needs to butt out immediately. She has absolutely no right to demand to meet the baby, at all.

I write this from the perspective of a second wife whose husband was denied access to his daughters for many years. One of them finally came around five years ago, and we continually find out more about the total fuckery that went on during those years they weren’t talking and continues to go on today. I know, in our case, there really is a wacko ex involved. I also know that when there’s a wacko ex, you have to be careful not to give ’em an inch, or they will take a mile. The bit about the fabricated church leader story, coupled with the demands to know about breastfeeding habits, makes me think the ex in this story could be a bit looney.

I also write this as a woman who DID NOT have an affair with a married man, but many people assume that I broke up his marriage to his ex wife, simply because people often think that about second or subsequent wives and girlfriends. Many people commenting made the assumption that this couple had an affair. Nowhere in the letter does it say that. It’s entirely possible this couple met and had a platonic relationship until they got divorced. That’s how it happened between Bill and me.

We met online in a chat room back in late 1999. Both of us were lonely. I was single and in graduate school. He and Ex had separated because he had decided to rejoin the Army full time. She was already dating #3. Bill and I chatted for three whole months before he finally sent me an email explaining his situation. I was shocked by the email and sorry about Bill’s marriage breaking up, but I never expected to ever meet him in person, let alone marry him. I had never thought to ask him about his marital status, because we weren’t talking about or doing intimate stuff that would necessitate my knowledge of his marital status. Our relationship at that time consisted entirely of chatting online and emails. We also lived in different states and time zones, and at the time, I had never met anyone offline that I had originally met on the Internet.

A couple of months after Bill explained his situation to me, it was time for that infamous Easter confrontation in his father’s house, where Ex dramatically presented an ultimatum that Bill bend to her will, or dissolve the marriage. She knew nothing about me or my existence, and I had absolutely NOTHING to do with her ultimatum. She didn’t find out about me until we had been dating for about eight months; by that time, #3 was already living in the house Bill was still paying for, and had proposed to her a couple of times.

At the time Ex demanded the divorce, I was just Bill’s Internet acquaintance, anyway. We were completely platonic until after his divorce, which happened less than nine months after we encountered each other online. Bill decided to accept Ex’s divorce proposal because he knew his marriage wasn’t working and wouldn’t get better. He was tired of living hand to mouth, and wanted to have a job that paid better than factory work. He loved the Army; it’s his vocation. And he and Ex have nothing in common, other than their kids and where they went to high school.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Bill when the idea first came up. When were still talking online a year later, I agreed to it. And even after the first in person meeting, I wasn’t sure where our friendship was going.

About three months after that dramatic Easter scene, their divorce was final. Bill and I met in person almost a year later, when the Army sent him on a work trip to the city where I was living at the time. That’s when we started dating offline, as Bill later relocated to Virginia, which is my home state. On long weekends, I would drive from South Carolina to Virginia to see him, and he would sometimes return the favor. We did not have a sexual relationship until two weeks after our wedding.

I know some people might not believe me, but I swear it’s the truth, and yes, of course it’s possible. Neither of us were much into dating when we were growing up. When I met Bill, he was my first boyfriend since high school, and he is my only sexual partner, ever. Besides Ex, I am his only partner. And if we can do it that way, anyone can.

I’m not implying that what happened in my case is what happened in the letter writer’s situation, only that it could have happened that way. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that this couple had an affair before they divorced their ex spouses. All it says is that they were both in unfulfilling marriages, and that they had been together for a few years before their daughter was born. No, they aren’t married, but not everyone wants or needs to be married to have children. God knows, that happens every day, although personally, I would not want to have a baby out of wedlock. But that’s just me… and at my age, it’s no longer a possibility, anyway.

“Sam” is estranged from his dad. Regrettably, that’s not uncommon when parents divorce, and it’s often the fathers who wind up alienated. The letter writer’s boyfriend obviously loves his son and wants to be in his life. It sounds like his ex wife is not facilitating things, which is also a common and, perhaps, even an understandable reaction after divorce. A lot of people are bitter after a divorce, and that leads to asking other people to take sides, especially if they are the custodial parents of a child that came from the relationship. But you know what? In two years, Sam will be an adult, and he can make his own choices.

If Sam’s parents’ divorce is the most painful thing he ever deals with, he’s going to be lucky. Maybe his father is a jerk, but maybe he’s not. It will be up to Sam to decide if he really wants to jettison his father forever. He may eventually realize that this isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. But, it could turn out that after a few years and some perspective, Sam may come to realize that he was used as a weapon. Or maybe that isn’t the situation. Either way, it’s not up to him or his mother to dictate, if, when, or how he meets his half-sister. At age 16, he’s allowed to say no to visitation with his dad, even if it’s not the wisest decision. At age 18, it will be entirely up to him, legally speaking. Of course, if his mother is anything like Ex is, she might still make it extremely difficult for the wounds to heal. It might take a few years of adulthood before the blinders come off and Sam is ready to have a relationship with his father on his own terms.

In twenty years of marriage, I have only met my husband’s daughters in person once, and that was many years ago, because his ex wife refused to cooperate and actively sabotaged the loving relationship Bill once had with his kids. She did this for purely vindictive, selfish, narcissistic reasons. And now, younger daughter can see, plain as day, what happened, because she’s been treated in the same disrespectful way that Bill was. Now that they’re finally speaking, younger daughter is finding out things she hadn’t known, and I have a feeling that some of what she’s learning is very upsetting. Pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together… and if I’m honest, I worry what will happen when she finally understands just what she was denied when she was growing up. Her mother betrayed her by alienating her from her father and trying to force her to bond with #3, a man who clearly doesn’t care about her.

For Bill’s part, he now very much regrets not fighting much harder for his daughters. That was a terrible mistake. All he can do now is be there for the present and future, if they want him around. On the other hand, we’ve also learned that life continues to go on if there’s estrangement. There are some things you can’t control, like trying to force a horse to drink water. I would say reconnecting with estranged children often falls into this category. Sometimes these situations happen even when there hasn’t been a divorce. One person can’t control how another person feels or reacts. Ha ha… Ex actually said that to Bill once. “I can’t help how you feel.” Well, that goes for her, too… It goes for EVERYONE.

Another one of Ex’s expressions that Bill brought into our marriage is “Murder will out.” I had never heard that expression before I married Bill, but he’s said it many times over the years. And I can see by Ex’s very public social media accounts that she says it, too. Things are coming home to roost now, and I suspect they could get very dramatic soon. I probably shouldn’t read Carolyn Hax’s advice column, because letters like the one I read this morning are still very triggering for me. Our situation is extreme, but it’s been educational for me, and it’s taught me that stereotypical explanations of situations aren’t always accurate. Many commenters were assuming that the boyfriend in this letter was a spineless coward who cheated. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.

But… bottom line is, the ex wife in this situation has absolutely no standing to demand that the letter writer surrender her baby for a private meeting with the ex and “Sam”. As I mentioned up post, I have never been a mother myself, but I would imagine that those mama bear instincts are there for very good reason. Yes, she’s the girlfriend, but she’s also the MOM of that baby, and it’s her job to protect her child. So she should politely tell the ex to fuck off, if she deems it appropriate. If it means Sam doesn’t meet his half-sister for the time being, so be it.

Edited to add…. Sorry, this letter really got under my skin. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of upsetting new information that has me a bit spun up.

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family, memories, mental health

WaPo advice column reminds me of mealtime meltdowns of yesteryear…

Today in the Washington Post, I read an advice column in which a letter writer asked if it’s “wrong” to force a child to eat. The writer explained that he or she was born in 1952, and their mother used to compel them to finish everything on their plate. She would either force the person to sit at the table for hours until everything was eaten, or she would use a fifteen minute timer and warn that if the food wasn’t finished, the child would be spanked and sent to bed early. The writer later found out that they have food allergies.

Yes… I think it is very damaging.

The advice columnist, Meghan Leahy, wrote that she thinks the letter writer is traumatized. She points to the level of detail included in the letter, so many years later, and explains that remembering that much about the experiences indicated psychological damage. Leahy comments:

There are three main activities one person cannot force another to do without inflicting some pretty serious harm: sleep, eat and use the toilet. These are driven by deep impulses, and each human runs on their own internal clock. When parents take draconian measures to control their children’s eating, it is about more than just getting them to finish their chicken. The parent is saying or sending messages such as: “I don’t care about your feelings or impulses. I control them.” “You don’t get to say when you eat. I do.” “I will withhold love and affection until you eat.” “Not eating or not making me happy will make me hurt you, physically and emotionally.”

I found myself nodding as I read her comments. Suddenly, I remembered my own traumatic experiences at the dinner table when I was a very young child. My father and I had a difficult relationship. He was an alcoholic who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He could be very controlling and demanding at times. Other times, he acted like he didn’t care at all about things. Sometimes, he was even kind and reasonable. Unfortunately, I never knew which version of my dad I was going to get.

When I was very young, I was a rather picky eater. There were, and still are, a lot of things I don’t eat. My mom was a pretty good cook, but she wasn’t above using processed convenience foods. I didn’t mind eating canned things. I loved Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese, for instance. I remember eating a lot of Campbell’s Soup– especially Bean with Bacon or Chicken Noodle. Sometimes I’d have frozen chicken pot pies that, of course, I would heat up before eating. These days, Bill and I make most things from scratch. He doesn’t like eating food from boxes and cans.

But then there were times when my mom would make things I didn’t like. My dad would get on a power trip and try to force me to eat things. I’d sit at the table and cry as he yelled at and threatened me.

The one thing I could never eat under any circumstances was mushrooms. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have a phobia of them. When I was very young, I was literally petrified of wild mushrooms growing in the yard. I would freeze up and panic when I saw them. I think it stemmed from being told, when I was very young, that they were very poisonous and I must never touch them. I took the directive very seriously. I also had sisters who enjoyed tormenting me by chasing me with the mushrooms or drawing mushrooms with ugly frowns and shark teeth in my coloring books.

So one time, my dad, who was quite exasperated about my phobia, decided he was going to force me to eat a mushroom. My mom had made meat pie, and it had mushrooms in it. I remember him standing over me– I was maybe nine or ten years old– screaming at me to eat the pie. He had to go to choir practice that night, so I was under pressure. I was crying uncontrollably as he demanded that I obey him. I think I did eat some of the pie, but I never forgot that experience… or another one we had at a chain restaurant called Mountain Jack’s. My parents took me there one night and ordered sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer. My dad tried to make me eat one in the restaurant, and I started crying. My mom snarled at him to leave me alone, which he grudgingly did. But he would often get on these control freak power plays, sometimes in public. And yes, it was humiliating and traumatic.

As I read that article about forcing kids to eat things in the WaPo today, I was suddenly reminded of all the times my father bullied, harassed, and belittled me over things like food, body image, or even the way I laugh. Like several of my family members, my dad hated my laugh, and claimed I sounded like a witch. By the time I was eleven, I was very preoccupied with my body image and weight. For years, I struggled with disordered eating, although I never fell into a diagnosable eating disorder. Nowadays, instead of being obsessive about my weight and body image, I drink too much alcohol.

I looked at some of the comments people left on this article. One reader left what I thought was a really good comment. I took a screenshot of it; it was so good.

I wish all commenters were as wise as this person is.

Someone else left this comment, which made me feel really sad…

Eating should be a pleasurable activity. But this person’s mother turned it into a battle.

Below is one rather contentious comment thread on Facebook regarding this advice column. “Mike” obviously thinks that being controlling about food is a good approach to child raising… and now he’s raising his grandchild.

When I was growing up, I could not eat the hot lunches served in the school cafeteria. In those days, the food was actually cooked on site, but the smell of it usually disgusted me. There were certain items that smelled so bad that I would get nauseous if someone sat next to me eating it. I seem to remember being completely revolted by the smell of the vegetable soup, which was always served with a big piece of government cheese. I always wondered how it was that the cafeteria ladies could make ordinary food so unappetizing in appearance and aroma. I used to skip lunch during school, partly because I was always dieting, and partly because the whole experience of eating lunch at school was so traumatizing. I think it must be worse today, as schools now police what children are allowed to eat more than they did in the 80s, and food is not always cooked on site.

I remember practically starving myself in the summer of 1982, when I went to 4-H camp. The food there was even worse than what was served in school. The smell of it turned my stomach. I never went back to 4-H camp, mainly because I could not abide powdered eggs and the other barely edible stuff served there. I was fortunate in the the food served at my college was mostly very good, but I remember going to 4-H Congress at Virginia Tech and being grossed out by the food there, too.

I’ve probably shared this before, but it bears repeating. I agree with George, and his take on “fussy eating” is funnier than this post is. 😉

To this day, there are a lot of foods that some people find wonderful, like cheese, that I don’t enjoy. I don’t eat a lot of cheeses, myself. There are maybe half a dozen I will eat, and they have to be melted. Bill, on the other hand, loves stinky cheeses. He will not think twice about buying cheese that, to me, smells like dirty feet, and enjoying it with wine. I can always smell the cheese through the refrigerator door. On the other hand, I do like fish, which I know a lot of people can’t abide.

I’m sure my dad’s tendency to hypercontrol at the dinner table, back when we ate dinners together, was formulated in part because he was a child of the Depression era. He had eight siblings, and the family wasn’t wealthy at all, so food was a precious commodity. My dad was also an Air Force officer, so sometimes he would use that identity to make demands of his daughters. Sometimes, he could be strict, but his method of punishment was, in my opinion, quite cowardly. He used physical and corporal punishments to get what he wanted. Imagine, being a grown man taking out your frustrations on a little girl by walloping her whenever she challenged you. That was my dad. And, sorry to say, he did traumatize me with that treatment. Maybe that’s why I am so fucked up today. 😉

I did love my dad, when he was still living. I think a lot of his issues stemmed from his own abusive childhood, in which he was the eldest son of a violent alcoholic. I think a lot of the things he said to me were things that he heard from his dad. In fact, although I never knew Pappy, because he died when I was two, I have heard a lot of stories about him. Some of the stories are funny, but most pointed to the fact that he was an angry bully and a tyrant, and he had a biting, sarcastic sense of humor that could be devastating. I know that, on some level, my dad hated his father. He didn’t like to talk about him. When he did, it was usually after he’d been drinking. And sometimes, he told me things that sounded pretty awful.

Anyway… I don’t know what made me fall down this rabbit hole. But reading that advice column today really reminded me of those days when I was younger, and eating was traumatic and stressful. It’s too bad that we couldn’t have peace in those days. And it’s too bad my parents weren’t more careful about making a baby they didn’t really want.

Bill just left to go back to Bavaria for the next few days. It was good that he came home. Arran is doing well on the chemo. He’s eating well, enjoying his walks and snuggles with us, and doesn’t have huge lymph nodes right now. I don’t know how long the chemo will keep him feeling better, but I’m grateful for the extra time. I was very worried about Arran a couple of days ago, and I think if we hadn’t started treatment, we might have had to say goodbye this weekend or soon thereafter. As it stands now, he’s mostly back to normal, save for the rancid farts, need to pee, and increased appetite caused by steroids.

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family, lessons learned, love, modern problems, sex, slut shamers, social media

Kids don’t owe their parents anything… do they?

This morning’s post comes courtesy of a recycled article on The Atlantic’s Web site. Therapist Lori Gottlieb, who once wrote a very entertaining book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa, has an advice column. Because I read her book about anorexia, and because I’m a sucker for advice columns, I read Lori Gottlieb’s advice somewhat often. The article I’m writing about today has appeared several times on Facebook, as The Atlantic has an annoying habit of recycling its content, even when it’s woefully outdated, as it often is during the COVID era.

The Atlantic also attracts a lot of obnoxious commenters, one of whom is prompting me to write today. I ran into one of them after reading the 2019 era letter Gottlieb responded to in June of that year. Have a look at this letter from Lynne, of Oakland, California.

Dear Therapist,

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Lori Gottlieb points out that perhaps Lynne’s daughter hasn’t thought long enough about why the baby girl she gave up in 1994 might not want to meet her birth mother. Gottlieb reminds her that children who are given up for adoption don’t have a choice in the matter; those life altering decisions are made for them by adults. They also don’t have any say in who gets to adopt them. Sometimes the adoptive families turn out to be wonderful people. And sadly, sometimes adoptive families are abusive or worse.

When those adopted children become adults themselves, they must have the right to make decisions for themselves. Self-determination is something that all kids should grow up to expect for themselves. It’s probably even more important for adopted children, who often have to listen to other people opine about how they should handle their experiences with being adopted. Sometimes, people tell them they should find their birth families. Other times, they are told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, since that will presumably be “hurtful” to the adoptive parents. I wasn’t adopted myself, but I do know several adoptees. I’ve learned that every story is unique. Most of the adopted people I know have found their birth families and satisfied their curiosity about what led to their being given up for another family to raise. But I know there are some adoptees who would rather not know any family other than the one that raised them. That should be okay. They don’t owe their birth families anything.

But really, if you think about it, that should be true for all children. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. They had no choice about being born. While it may be very hurtful for parents to understand this, not everyone is happy to be alive. I know there have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve wished my mom hadn’t had me. It’s not so much because I’ve had a terrible life. In my case, it’s because depression is a constant companion that has left me feeling worthless, no matter what I do. When I was a child, I was told that I was neither wanted nor expected. I was frequently told I was an inconvenience, as if it was my fault my parents made me. I know that my parents came to appreciate me, but I was told enough times that I was a pain in their asses that it made me feel very rejected. And that has made me wish abortion had been an option for my mother and she would have considered it, even though I know some people are glad I’m around. Of course, I doubt my mom would have had an abortion, even though I “crashed her party” and made her life more complicated. Many people don’t realize it, but treating kids like they aren’t loved or wanted is often how personality disorders and neuroses are born.

Adopted children probably have a different kind of trauma inflicted on them. I think of the super toxic line in the campy 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, reminds her daughter, Christina, that adopted children are the “luckiest”, because they were “chosen”. Then, Joan makes Christina give up her birthday gifts to all of the “poor orphans” who don’t have parents. Meanwhile, a lot of them wonder why they were given up. What were the circumstances? Was it a case of a teenaged mom who couldn’t afford a child to raise? A sad situation involving parents who were killed in a freak accident? Or was it a more sinister situation involving extramarital affairs, rape, or incest? I can understand why some adopted children might not want to know. Or maybe some of them are simply not looking for the baggage that can come with discovering one’s origins.

How lucky was Christina Crawford?
Narcissism is not a family value.

So… while I can understand why Lynne is distressed that her daughter’s biological daughter doesn’t want to meet with her bio mother, I can also see why the now adult child isn’t interested. I agree that Lynne and her daughter should respect the young woman’s wishes. There may come a day when she changes her mind, but Lynne and her daughter should probably resign themselves to the idea that she might not come around. Sometimes this also happens to bio parents who didn’t give their children up for adoption. My husband’s older daughter hasn’t spoken to him since 2004. It’s been the source of tremendous pain for him. Frankly, I think older daughter is very stupid for throwing away her father, who is a kind and decent man. But it’s her life, and when it comes down to it, she doesn’t owe him anything. And since she’s a grown woman now, he doesn’t owe her anything, either.

As is my habit, I looked at the comments left on the Facebook post for this article. Naturally, some of them were terrible. Reading one of them made me realize that people who give up babies for adoption are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. A number of people felt that the bio grandmother and mother had a lot of “nerve”, expecting to meet the now grown bio daughter. It seems that many people lose sight of what a tremendously painful decision giving a baby up for adoption is for many birth mothers. Does it not occur to them that the birth mom might wonder about her long, lost offspring? Do they forget that a lot of women would prefer to have an abortion rather than give up their baby? As awful as abortion may seem to the pro-life crowd, a lot of people who unintentionally get pregnant would rather not have to wonder about where the baby is and how the baby is doing. Being pregnant is a burden that has the potential to be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

But there was one commenter who was especially horrible. In case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not the original poster. I just noticed how “Richard”, who really should go by the name, “Dick”, was taking her on in an abusive way.

Why does “Richard”, who claims to have voted for Jill Stein, have this idea that “women can’t control themselves”? While it’s definitely possible for women to be sex offenders, it’s mostly men in that contemptible role of not being in control. It’s a fact that sometimes women do get pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Generally speaking, it’s not the women who are out of control. When a woman does get pregnant and keeps the pregnancy, she’s not going to get pregnant again until those nine months are up. But the men who are out there fertilizing those fertile wombs can theoretically get hundreds of women pregnant every year. So I really think Richard should STFU… but I also wonder where he got such a hateful attitude. It sounds to me like he had an unhappy childhood or something. Or maybe he has an unhappy adulthood. I wonder how much fucking he’s doing. However much it is, he’s probably doing it alone. That would account for his mean spirited comments.

One other thing I notice from the above exchange is that both people seem to be hurting. Why else would their responses be so vitriolic? And why do people feel the need to get into fights with strangers in comment sections? Is Richard really as big of a dick as he seems to be? Why is he “slut shaming”? Makes me think that there’s a woman in his life who made him pay for something he doesn’t think he should have to pay for.

I think Lynne’s daughter can take some solace in knowing that she made a couple happy when she gave up her daughter for them to raise. That was ultimately a selfless decision, in spite of the many comments people are leaving that indicate that she was “selfish” for not raising the girl herself. The alternative could have been for her to have an abortion. Of course, personally, I happen to agree with “Richard” that people shouldn’t have casual sex if they aren’t prepared to be parents, even if I think his actual comments are extremely rude and insulting. But that’s just me, and that’s what worked for me.

Sometimes I do regret that I never had children, but then I realize that I would have wanted Bill to be the father of my children. I didn’t meet him until after he’d had a vasectomy at his ex wife’s behest, so pregnancy wasn’t destined to happen without significant medical intervention and expense. When the timing was optimal for an intervention, life got in the way. Bill went to Iraq, and we had significant debt. I have never wanted to adopt a child, and one of the reasons I haven’t wanted to adopt is because of the very special problems and issues that often come up due to adoption. But again, that’s just me. I understand why some people think adoption is wonderful. I don’t think they’re wrong; it just wasn’t for me. Neither was medical intervention to get pregnant. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me that motherhood isn’t for me.

My heart goes out to Lynne’s daughter. Not just because she wants to meet her now grown bio daughter, but because so many people apparently think she was terrible to give the baby up for adoption in the first place. It’s the same kind of disdainful attitude people have toward sperm donors– guys who give up their sperm so that people can have birth families. I have often pointed out that I don’t agree with labeling irresponsible fathers as “sperm donors”. Actual sperm donors provide a valuable service for which they are paid. Guys who knock up women and leave them high and dry are not in the same category. And women who decide to give up their babies instead of aborting them presumably offer something of value to other people. They should be treated with compassion, instead of contempt. Giving up a baby is not an easy or painless decision for most people. At the same time, I agree that the birth daughter doesn’t owe her bio mom anything. But then, that’s really true for every child, when it comes down to it. That feeling of obligation toward one’s parent is a construct of civilization, not a biological one.

I hope Lynne and her daughter find peace and comfort.

Here’s a link to Stick Figure, the book by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you make a purchase through this link, I get a small commission from Amazon.

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communication, controversies, expressions, family

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Yeah, sing it, Avril…

Apologies for the old hit from Avril Lavigne. I’m not even a big fan of Avril’s music, but this song seems appropriate for today’s topic, which comes courtesy of Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. I had other topics in mind to write about today, but it’s Sunday, and I figured it would be better to write about something less serious. And today’s post from Carolyn Hax is definitely lighter than my subject matter has been lately.

Here’s the letter in question, which was adapted from an online discussion:

Hi Carolyn! 

I’ve recently started to attend family functions with my boyfriend. He always says I don’t need to bring anything, but I never go anywhere empty-handed.

His mom is preparing the entire meal for the next event, including desserts. I’m a baker and usually bring desserts but Boyfriend says mom might be offended if I bring a dessert when she’s already taking care of that. This party is for his sister’s birthday, and I don’t know her well enough to choose a gift, and he won’t give me any ideas because he insists I don’t need to bring a gift. I asked if I could at least get a card, and he said he’ll add my name to his card — but he and his sister have been passing the same card back and forth for 12 years as a joke. This is their thing and I don’t want to impose.

But I just can’t fathom going empty-handed. Any ideas as to what I can bring?

— Never Empty-Handed

Carolyn’s advice to the letter writer was to try to call the boyfriend’s mom and ask her directly what she should bring for his sister, if the boyfriend won’t “work with her on this”. She also said that the letter writer should explain to him that telling her that she doesn’t need to bring anything is easy for him to say, and maybe even well-intentioned by letting her off the hook, but it actually puts her in an awkward position. Carolyn further writes:

He is seeing this through the family lens, but you are not family and you’re newish to everyone, so you don’t know how you’ll be judged.

You want to make a good impression. If he wants to set you up to succeed, then he either needs to give you a token way to contribute, or be more thoughtful in explaining his family culture to you, or connect you to his mom (or whoever’s hosting) to find out for yourself.

This advice makes sense to me, I guess. However, there is also hopefully a good chance that Boyfriend is telling the truth. It’s possible that his mom and/or his sister really don’t want her to bring anything. Moreover, I would expect him to tell me the truth. So my response, which so far is being well-received was this:

I would just take the boyfriend at his word. If it goes awry, then I’ll know I can’t trust what he says and move on.

She can always warn the guy that if he’s not being truthful, and she shows up with nothing and his mom or sister thinks it’s rude, that will mean that she can’t trust him to be honest, and that might mean they shouldn’t continue the relationship. There is a good chance, though, that the mom and/or his sister really are among those people who doesn’t want guests to bring things. My mom is one of those people. She’s at a point in her life that she’s trying to get rid of things she doesn’t need. I have been the recipient of many lovely gifts people have given her that she just didn’t want or weren’t her taste.

If you think about it, bringing something for the host/hostess actually can lead to embarrassing situations. Here’s an example from my personal history.

Recently, I wrote about how I have a phobia of mushrooms. I can’t eat them or touch them, and I prefer not to look at them or smell them. One time, years ago, a woman invited me to her house for dinner. She was a vegetarian. Because I wanted to be a good guest, I baked two loaves of bread and brought one of them with me. Guess what… hostess wasn’t a fan of bread. And guess what else? The dinner she made was LOADED with mushrooms. And yes, it was very embarrassing. I explained to her, honestly, why I couldn’t partake of the dinner. Fortunately, she had a good laugh at my expense, and even told some of her colleagues about it.

People love to leave comments on the Washington Post’s Facebook page about this post, when it’s clear that they didn’t read the article. It’s mainly because they don’t want to pay for a subscription. If they had read the article, they would see that other people offered reasons why bringing the usual go-to gifts of wine, flowers, and candy might not be the best idea. Here’s what a couple of people wrote:

Re: Guest: Yes, please arrive empty-handed. I find hosting people who are compelled to bring something, anything, very tiring. Fine to ask if you can contribute to the meal, for instance, but if the answer is no, then accept that.

— Tired

Tired: Yes, yes. When I tell my guests what (not) to bring, I want them to take me at my word, not send me looking for a vase for the lovely and well-meant flowers.

In the case of someone new being invited into the fold, though, the standards shift a bit. The balance of power is more precarious. The boyfriend can be more helpful here. That’s all.

I have a policy that when people say they want no gifts, I take them at their word. I assume they had a reason for making that statement. If they didn’t mean it, they shouldn’t have written or said it, and they shouldn’t be upset when people abide by it. If Mom is annoyed with the girlfriend for coming to visit the family empty-handed that early in the relationship, that’s another sign that the letter writer might want to consider, should things go further in that relationship. I would hope that the boyfriend’s mom and other family members would be just as eager to make a good impression on his girlfriend, especially if there is a chance she might one day marry him, or otherwise engage in a more serious relationship. Because– that could one day be her mother-in-law… and you want to pay attention to red flags. Divorce is expensive, and marriage can be challenging enough without a mother-in-law with whom you don’t mesh. Fortunately, my own mother-in-law is awesome, and my mom adores Bill.

A lot of commenters seem to think that the letter writer should just ignore what her boyfriend says, and go against his advice on dealing with his family. I don’t know about other people, but it would really annoy me if I told Bill about what to expect from my family– people that I’ve known my whole life– and he didn’t believe me. I can understand the letter writer’s dilemma in not wanting to be rude, but I would consider not trusting my boyfriend’s word as kind of rude, too. I’m big on trust, and I don’t like it when people don’t take me seriously, even though I joke around a lot. Joking around is one thing, but I’m not the kind of person who would deliberately set someone up to fail. If I care enough to bring you home to meet the family, that means I’m serious. And I would not tell you not to bring a gift if I knew that not bringing a gift would make my mom or sister think you were a jerk. I would hope for the same consideration.

I also noticed that the people commenting were suggesting gifts that could be problematic. That bottle of wine might not be appreciated by someone who is fundie Baptist or LDS, struggles with alcoholism or some other health issue, or someone who just doesn’t drink. Flowers might not be appreciated by someone who has severe allergies or, like Madonna, hates hydrangeas… or whatever other flower. Some people don’t like plants because they have a brown thumb, and kill everything they touch.

Ouch!

Or maybe it will be an awkward exchange, like when Melania Trump brought Michelle Obama a fancy Tiffany box on Inauguration Day…

Nice of Melania to bring a gift. Too bad the Trumps didn’t have enough class to show up to the 2021 Presidential Inauguration.

Someone who prides themselves on being a great cook or baker might not appreciate it if you take it upon yourself to bring dessert. A lot of people go to great lengths to plan when they have a party. If you show up with a cake from a bakery or even one you’ve made yourself, it may send a very embarrassing message that won’t be well received. Or, again, it could turn out that someone has diabetes and has to watch their sugar or carbs for health reasons. I had a friend, years ago, who had an allergy to chocolate. She loved chocolate, but couldn’t eat it, because it made her break out in hives. Imagine showing up at her house with a lovely, expensive chocolate cake that took hours to bake. Hopefully, other people can enjoy it.

Here’s what I think is a fairly foolproof gift– sincere gratitude for the invitation, and authentic, attentive, and appreciative company. That’s it. Maybe that gratitude could be augmented by a handwritten note expressing thanks, mailed a day or two after the gathering. One of the nicest “gifts” I have ever received from anyone was a lovely, handwritten note from Bill’s younger daughter, who was considerate enough to think of me when he went to visit her in March 2020. I will treasure it always, for there’s no other gift like it. It came from the heart and, best of all, it cost her almost nothing in money, but yet it’s priceless to me. I will keep and treasure it always, especially since it doesn’t take up any room or collect dust.

Now THIS is what I call a good– and very classy– gift. There’s not another like it.

There’s no reason to sweat the small stuff. There’s no reason to make things more complicated than it needs to be. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. While giving a small gift to a host or hostess is usually considered good etiquette, when it comes down to it, the best etiquette is considering what will make the other person feel most comfortable and at ease. I would expect that the boyfriend in this situation knows his family well enough to advise his girlfriend honestly. She should take what he says at face value. If it goes wrong, that will be a sign of things that could be coming in the future. At the very least, it could be a signal that he’s not going to be straightforward about other things.

Damned right.

Some of the comments on this remind me of the American attitude about tipping. So many people seem to think that everyone loves gifts. Not everyone does… just like not everyone expects or appreciates a tip. Seriously… in some cultures, tipping is actually considered rude or just isn’t a thing. American culture is not the end all, be all, and there’s a lot to consider in any relationship. If you don’t know the guy’s parents, I actually think it’s better to wait before you bring a gift, unless you’ve been assured that they would appreciate one. Gifts can go awry. Besides, meeting new people is a two-way street. I see no reason to complicate that meeting by adding in an unnecessary element, like what gift to bring. Especially when it’s been made clear, by someone who should be in the know, that gifts aren’t expected or even desired. I think it’s smart to learn about the culture in any new situation before assuming you know what should be done.

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Ex, family, rants

This letter in Carolyn Hax’s column really hits home…

This post has brought out some of my deeply ingrained, still raw anger toward Ex. It comes out in this post, and there is profanity… Proceed with caution. And please, if any readers feel compelled to lecture me about how inappropriate my anger is, do me a favor and buzz off. My anger is perfectly reasonable and justified, and I can write about it on my blog if I want to. That’s what blogs are for.

As some readers know, I like to read advice columns. One column I read fairly regularly is Carolyn Hax’s. I think she’s very sensible and gives good advice. A recent letter in The Washington Post gave me pause. Here it is.

Dear Carolyn: We never spent time with my dad’s extended family, but one of his siblings and I have a lot of similar interests. I emailed her once to ask something, and we now exchange emails regularly. We haven’t spoken since I was a teen and I’m in my 30s now.

My parents are Not Pleased. My mom is actually really upset that I am talking with her; in high school she made me stop talking to her completely. My father just tells me she will eventually hate me, give it time, she’s a horrible person and not really interested in me at all.

Let’s skip over the emotional baggage that comes from all the times my parents told me people have no interest in me and are just using me. There’s clearly something that really bothers my mom but she won’t openly discuss it with me, so I can only guess what the issue is. I would not be surprised if my mom actively sabotaged my relationship with this person in ways I don’t know about when I was younger, and now she’s afraid it’ll come up.

Am I wrong to continue talking with her?”

I was glad to see that Carolyn gave this writer good advice (in my opinion). She reminded the writer that she’s in her 30s, and she has the right to speak to anyone she wants. If her parents have a valid reason to discourage the connection, they need to explain themselves honestly. And even then, it should be up to the letter writer, who is in her 30s, for God’s sake, to make the choice as to whether or not she should speak to her relatives.

If you have followed my blog for any time, you probably know why I feel the way I do. It’s mainly because my husband and his daughters were estranged for many years. Ex wanted to punish Bill for agreeing to her divorce demands, so she sabotaged his relationship with his daughters. That was absolutely wrong for her to do, although it was not surprising that she did it. She did it to her first husband, too. Then, she claimed that both of her ex husbands were awful people and she was simply protecting the children from their “shitty fathers”.

In the one and only email I ever sent to Ex, I explained that if she was being truthful about her exes being shitty fathers, then she clearly has bad judgment and terrible taste in men, and she should not have married a third time and had more children. Every time she divorces, she forces her kids to be estranged from their fathers and their families. That’s very hard on them, and totally unfair. If she was really as good of a mother as she claims she is, her focus should have been on raising her “traumatized” children, and helping them recover from her poor choices in fathers for them. Otherwise, she’s just a liar, and is simply being spiteful and mean. And that makes her a shitty, toxic mother. Having been married to Bill for 19 years, I know, without a doubt, that Bill is definitely not an irresponsible father, as Ex tried to make him out to be. His ex wife just hates her exes more than she loves her kids.

When a person becomes an adult, they have the perfect right to make their own choices. But having parents who impose their petty bullshit grievances with other people on their children, simply because they’re their children, and they demand “loyalty” from their children, can cause making those decisions to be difficult. I know Bill’s daughter didn’t summon the courage to speak to Bill until she was about 23 years old and married. And even then, she was terrified to speak to him, even though she remembered him to be kind and loving.

Bill and his younger daughter missed out on about twelve precious years together, all because Ex imposed her hateful craziness on her own children. Younger daughter could have lost Bill forever when he went to Iraq, or when 9/11 happened. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now they can bond. Younger daughter is also talking to her grandmother again, after Ex tried to ruin that relationship. Younger daughter and MIL have a lot in common, and they clearly love each other. They never should have been forced into estrangement simply because of Ex’s manipulative and toxic ploys.

I remember when younger daughter and Bill started talking again. She said she didn’t want to tell her mother about it. She said it would be an “unhappy conversation”. Ex eventually did discover that younger daughter and Bill were in contact. Quite predictably, Ex gave younger daughter a ration of shit, telling her that Bill had really “hurt” her and that the divorce was “so painful” for her.

But Ex is the one who initiated the divorce in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She’s the one who shacked up with #3 in a house Bill paid for. She’s the one who practically forced Bill to join a restrictive, culty religion, and caused him extreme financial distresses in the forms of bankruptcy and foreclosure. She’s the one who tried to ruin his relationship with his family of origin. And she is the one who sexually assaulted him. She has some nerve claiming that Bill ever “hurt” her. She was not the one who was left with literal scars in private areas of her body.

I think it’s interesting that Ex seems to have absolutely no concept of how painful it was for Bill to be divorced, forced to pay her half his salary for years, and was STILL prevented from having a relationship with his daughters, whom he has always loved very much. There was no reason why Bill should have been denied visitation with his daughters. I have often wish he’d taken her to court and either forced her to comply, or taken custody of them. But he allowed her to leave his finances so depleted that that option was out of the question.

Ex told outrageous lies about Bill to those girls, and even forced them to write hateful letters to him, disowning him. Yes, I am still pissed off about it. I was there to witness the pain she inflicted with her lies and vengeance. She lied about me, too, and made me out to be a horrible person… or maybe just a whore. And yes, I know the truth about myself, and I know that being angry about what’s already done isn’t productive. But I can’t help it. Reading letters like this one bring up the pain again, and piss me off anew.

Older daughter is still estranged, and continues to miss out on knowing her wonderful father. Maybe older daughter wouldn’t think he’s as wonderful as I do, but she’s never tried to find out for herself. She just takes her mother’s word for it. And, you know what? It’s her loss. All I can do is hope she’s happy.

It’s hard to tell why the letter writer’s parents have such an acrimonious relationship with the writer’s extended family. Whatever it is, it’s obviously between the parents and the relative, and the letter writer has never been clued in to what happened. Seems to me the parents need to come clean and offer a *rational and provable* explanation as to why there is so much strife, if they expect their daughter to consider heeding their wishes.

If they aren’t willing to explain what the problem is, then she should tell them to mind their own business. I did that with my own dad when he tried to involve himself in my personal affairs. It was very liberating for me, and shocking for him.

Either way, the letter writer should still initially proceed with caution, in case there was a good reason for the split. But my guess is that the rift was due to someone being stubborn, offended, or just plain petty. And there’s no reason why an adult should be compelled to choose a side in a situation like this one, especially when the person who is imposing the shunning can’t or won’t offer an explanation.

I also don’t think there’s any reason why the writer’s parents need to know who she talks to, particularly if she isn’t living in their home. It’s simply none of their business.

I wish this letter writer well. I understand her dilemma. It sounds like she’s doing some healing within her family, which is a great thing to do. She may find that reconnecting with this long estranged extended family member brings her much joy, and new insight into her own origins. As an adult, she has the perfect right to seek this healing and potential joy. Her parents need to butt out… or, as I frequently like to put it in my profane way, they need to fuck off.

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