family, musings

On being a black sheep who isn’t missed…

This is kind of a depressing post… but although I wrote it a few years ago, I found myself saying almost the exact same things last night. And although we had a fun evening at the wine stand, I started thinking about this stuff that I probably shouldn’t. I also think I need to see a doctor… but I can’t bring myself to make an appointment. The thought of seeing a doctor fills me with dread and anxiety. And, to be honest, I also don’t really feel like I’m worth the effort. Just the idea of asking for an appointment and getting there seems overwhelming and pointless. I worry that it will set off a cascade of other appointments that I don’t want to deal with. I probably feel this way because of the way I was treated when I was a lot younger.

For much of my existence, I’ve gotten the message from various important people in my life that who I am isn’t okay.  I was always too loud, too opinionated, laughed too much, weighed too much, said too many weird things, overshared too much, offended too much, and simply needed to be taught how to be a lady of some sort.  Many of the people who shared this message with me, either verbally or non-verbally, were close relatives.

I don’t know what Joanna Connor’s life is like, but I relate to her.  I suspect people have the same opinion about her they did about Susan Boyle, before they heard her sing… and the way some people do about me before they get to know me.

The most hurtful messages came from my own father, who often criticized me.  More than once, he left me with the message that no man would find me attractive and I would never make more than minimum wage.  Then, sometimes he’d reverse that comment and say I was “good looking” (after assuring me that he didn’t have to say that even though he was my dad) and, sometimes with surprise, he’d say I was smart.  Although I do remember a few times when he genuinely seemed proud of me and my accomplishments, other times, he acted like I was an embarrassment and a huge pain in his ass.  

Far from having a protective attitude toward me, my dad sometimes actually put me in danger.  I still have physical scars formed in childhood that were a direct result of his boneheaded decisions.  I have a deep scar on my left arm caused when he forced ten year old me to use a box cutter to break down cardboard boxes.  I wasn’t very adept at using the box cutter.  It’s not like he gave me a safety lecture beforehand.  Before long, there was an accident.  The blade slipped from the cardboard and punctured clean through all of the layers of skin on my arm.  I should have gotten stitches, but he didn’t bother to take me to the hospital.  I said I didn’t want to go, and he didn’t insist.

A couple of years after that, my dad took me bike riding.  He wore a helmet and I didn’t.  I had a pretty bad accident when my tires hit some gravel on the side of a busy road (Rt. 14, for Gloucester people who know the roads).  I fell and slid on the pavement, in front of several cars.  I got road rash, sprained a pinky, and had gashes on my face and legs.  I still have a three inch linear scar on the back of my thigh caused by the large sprocket on my bike cutting into my skin.  A nice lady picked me up in her car, while another passerby put my bike in their truck and drove me home. 

Dad rode home on his bike and, once again, neglected to take me to the hospital, even though I had also hit my head.  The next day was the first day of school and I went, looking and feeling terrible.  I remember I made a bad decision to wear an angora sweater.  Little hairs from the sweater were stuck to the huge road rash I had on my side.  There were other situations like this, where I was either neglected or forced to do things that weren’t age or experience appropriate.  I suffered the consequences while simultaneously hearing that I hadn’t been wanted and was a source of shame.    

I also think my dad was very jealous of the fact that I can sing.  In fact, I think he sometimes tried to compete with me.  Like, for instance, in 1998, when I decided to start studying voice privately again, he decided to take lessons from the same person.  He’d bring my mom to his lessons.  When I left the area to go to graduate school, he quit the lessons.

When I first told my dad about Bill, he made jokes about the fact that Bill was LDS.  In fact, everyone in my immediate family seemed to have doubts that I could be dating a really nice, good looking, gainfully employed man.  They also seemed concerned about my competence in picking my own mate.  I got comments from family members who said things like, “I’m surprised at how cute Bill is.” and “Are you sure you want to be dating an Army guy?”  More than once, I heard from my sisters about how unhappy my mom was as an Air Force wife.  They apparently wondered if I had considered her unhappiness when I made the decision to marry Bill.  

Evidently, despite seven years of post graduate education and two years spent living abroad, I wasn’t competent to think about these potential issues.  My mom was nineteen years old when she married my dad.  I was thirty when I married Bill.  Curiously, I don’t remember anyone in my family being concerned about Bill’s psycho ex, who has been the real source of any discontent I’ve experienced (and it’s been pretty minimal, actually).  Later, after we did get married, they mostly seemed to like Bill better than me.  Especially, my dad, who toward the end of his life, clearly preferred Bill’s company to mine.  I don’t blame him for that.  Most people prefer Bill to me.  I’d rather spend time with Bill than almost anyone else, myself.

Later, I’d hear criticism about how Bill and I spent our money (Are you sure you can afford a Mini Cooper?), my looks (Oh my God, you’ve gained weight), my behavior at age 30 (You’re causing a disturbance!), and how I spent my time (Why don’t you get a job while Bill is deployed for six months?).  Sometimes, family members would try to manipulate me into doing things instead of making respectful requests (How long does it take to drive from Atlanta to Durham, North Carolina?).  This was a question I was asked by a sister who felt she knew how I spend my time and wanted me to hop in the car, drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister, and put in an appearance at my dad’s hospital bedside so she’d feel less guilty about living in Minnesota, where plane tickets and time off from work are too dear.  Instead of asking me directly, she tried to be manipulative.  When I called her on it, she got nasty and accused me of being selfish.  

I’d also get criticized for the things I wanted to talk about beyond trivial subjects like the weather (Why do you always have to talk about such personal things?) or the way I dressed (Why don’t you put on some makeup and fix your hair?  Wear something nicer than what you have on?).  Often, when I’d call home to talk to my mom, I could tell she wasn’t interested.  Then, they wondered why I didn’t want to spend time with them and quit calling home so often.  Oh… and a lot of people in my family hate the way I laugh.  My dad said I sounded like a witch.  My sisters said my laugh sounded fake.  Even my grandmother complained about my laughter, which I will admit is distinctive.  I can’t help it, though.

As I got older, I started to recognize the same attitudes I got from my immediate family expressed more subtly by my dad’s side of the family.  Most of them are Christian Republicans who engage in very black and white thinking.  I didn’t used to notice it because I was surrounded by it all the time.  Then I moved away and started getting to know other people outside of the family.  It changed my thinking and a lot of my previous attitudes.  I started clashing with certain people in my family.  Others just simply seemed to stop talking to me.  In fact, the last time I went “home”, I literally felt like a stranger.  Like… there were family members who literally didn’t seem to recognize me.  Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket and hours of uncomfortable time on a plane to be treated like that?   

Some time ago, I noticed that a beloved cousin of mine, close to my age and someone I used to play with when we were little kids, kept commenting and responding to posts by other family members.  But she ignored me.  Like, I’d see her “like” something posted by one of my sisters or even one of their friends, but I never got so much as a “fuck you” from her.  It made me feel shitty to have to keep seeing that.  It’s not even like it could have even been a “two way street” situation, since she clearly looks at social media, but doesn’t post anything herself.  Or maybe she has me restricted.  In any case, repeatedly seeing her respond to other family members’ posts and not mine made me feel bad, so I decided to delete her.  It wasn’t easy to do that, but I think it was the right decision.  In fact, I doubt she’ll miss me.  

I deleted another cousin for whom I’ve had some hard feelings for a long while.  Some years ago, I discovered she inexplicably had me blocked on Facebook.  I’d see her at family events and she’d be nice to my face, but then I’d notice some shittiness leaking out that she thought she’d kept well-hidden.  In this case, I think it’s yet another situation where there’s some jealousy and insecurity.  Like me, she’s a musician and used to be the only “singer” in the family.  I sense she resents that I am also a female musical type and, while I don’t play guitar or write songs like she does, I have a much better singing voice.  That sounds like bragging… and you know what?  I don’t really care.  It’s the truth.  (ETA: I wrote this in 2018. This cousin died in 2020. I don’t miss her.)

A few years ago, when my dad was on his death bed, this same cousin, who once had me blocked, re-friended me on Facebook.  It didn’t take long before I began to realize that she mainly did it because my dad was her uncle and I was the most active Facebook poster in my immediate family.  It was like she wanted in on this particular chapter of family drama– to make a show of caring, probably because she thinks it’s the “Christian” thing to do.  I soon realized that even though she’s my cousin, she doesn’t like me.  And frankly, the feeling is mutual.  If we weren’t relatives, I definitely wouldn’t choose to be friends with her.

There were a couple of other cousins and relatives by marriage I deleted mainly because of a total lack of engagement or a subtle air of disapproval.  They’d become names on a friends list rather than “loved ones”.  A few years ago, I deleted a couple of cousins because they refused to do anything but argue with me about politics.  They weren’t interested in anything else.  Or they’d post smarmy, condescending bullshit about my being “loved and respected” while they proceeded to insult my intelligence. 

For instance, one cousin wanted to know what my master’s degree in public health (with a health administration focus) has to do with knowing how health insurance works.  He insisted that his time as a former life insurance agent meant he knows more about health insurance than I do, despite my having an advanced degree in the subject.  I certainly wouldn’t discount his experience and basic knowledge about how insurance works, since he used to sell it, but why couldn’t he acknowledge that I also have knowledge of the subject?  Maybe he’s just one of those people who thinks college is for chumps.  But you’d think he could at least recognize that I do know something about health insurance.  I didn’t buy my degree from a diploma mill.  My guess is that he sees me as a simple female, which automatically makes me inherently dumber than he is.  

For years, I’ve tried to be a bigger person about this stuff.  I’ve ignored subtle disses from family members.  Except on this blog, I’ve not really acknowledged that no one from my family of origin values any input from me.  I’ve tried to detach from the drama and mostly tried not to take things personally.  I think I’ve finally just gotten to the point at which I’m ready to be done with the stupidity.  Maybe there will be no one at my funeral.  Maybe I won’t even have a funeral. 

It makes me sad to see people with loving family relationships because I don’t really have any myself.  What I’ve had is basically a facade of a loving family.  Underneath that facade is the unspoken message that in order to fit in, I need to change who I am.  I’ve tried to do that and it just leads to major depression and anxiety.  So I’ve decided that the picture below is my new motto.  

Seriously… because a lot of the stuff that pisses me off is stuff that shouldn’t matter.  It’s better to cut bait and be done with it… and them.

I’m done with swallowing criticism from other people, especially those who aren’t even involved in my life.  From now on, I’m going to do what I want to do.  It may mean I’m done with attending all family events, once and for all.  But, I’ve had it.  I live thousands of miles away and it costs a lot of money and time to visit my relatives.  They don’t value my presence in their lives, so fuck them.  I’m going to spend time with people who actually want to spend time with me.  So far, that seems to be mostly Bill and my dogs.    

You probably have to go to YouTube to listen to this, but this song pretty much sums up how I feel today…

And here are the lyrics by James Taylor… a man who knows the trouble I’ve seen.

I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I mean, God bless the child that can learn to live alone, yeah.

Thinking about my cousin, what it was that did him in.
Could it have been that whiskey, rotgut, bootleg, bathtub gin?
It’s like it took a lot of liquor just to let him live in his own skin.

Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, you got to ride it on back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The ship set down on the shore of this uncharted desert island,
me and my people fanned out, I guess we settled down a little while.
Ah, but the devil came with the dark days of winter, man, the children ran wild.

I used to know why, no, I don’t know why anymore.
I used to know why, no, I don’t know why no more.

I get to wonder at the Kundalini thunder, down under my floor.

You got to ride it on back, take me back.
Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, yeah, do you wanna go?
Way back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Well… in my case, it’s Natural Bridge, Virginia.  But you get the idea.

communication, complaints, family

“I’m fine, thank you.”

How do you feel when someone gives you advice you didn’t request? I have to admit, it often bothers me when I get it. Unsolicited advice may be given with the best of intentions, but when it comes down to it, it’s often just plain old criticism given under the guise of being helpful or loving. Even when the giver truly wants to be helpful, their attempts to advise others can be taken as judgmental, unkind, and unloving. You may unwittingly leave an impression that you think the person you’re trying to advise is incompetent, or even stupid.

As the youngest of four daughters, I’ve spent my whole life being the recipient of unsolicited advice. I know that it’s usually given as a means of being supportive. What I don’t think some people realize is that when your response to someone’s thoughts is to immediately offer them a solution, it can be taken as an insult to their intelligence. Because, in order to feel the need to offer unsolicited advice, you must have passed judgment on them somehow.

I have a sister to whom I don’t speak much anymore. I grew up really admiring her, but as I became an adult, she didn’t seem to realize that I no longer needed her “sage wisdom” about everything, especially since her advice was usually unasked for and came off as critical. My sister has offered her negative opinions about everything from the man I chose to marry, to the car I chose to buy, to how I should speak to my mom after our dad died, to my decision to not be friends with Bill’s ex wife. Many things– like how I dress, how I wear makeup, and even how I laugh– have been subjects for her to comment on and critique, and/or offer tips on how I should change. Here are a few examples.

When I told her I was going to marry a divorced father of two in the Army, she said “Are you sure you want to marry a man in the military? Mom wasn’t happy as an Air Force wife. Bill has a lot of baggage, too. You shouldn’t just marry him because you think he’s cute.” It didn’t seem to occur to her that Mom was only 19 when she married and had never lived on her own. I was 30 and had been to college and was in the Peace Corps. I certainly was competent enough to choose my mate. So was our mom. She and my dad never divorced, unhappy though she might have been as an Air Force wife.

When we decided to purchase my brand new 2009 Mini Cooper as we were leaving Germany that year, her comment was “Aren’t those cars expensive? How can you afford it?” It’s true that I don’t pull down a salary, but we can handle our financial affairs just fine. That car has been paid off for six years and we still have it.

When my dad was on his death bed and later passed away, my sister gave me instructions on how I should speak to our mother, even though I have a graduate degree in social work and have actually formally studied how to speak to people in distress. She’s also tried to dictate from afar, issuing orders to me in a rude, manipulative, and presumptuous way. I generally catch on to her manipulations and get angry, because I think they’re disrespectful. Instead of changing her tone, making a straightforward request, and treating me like the adult that I am, she gets nasty and petulant. And when I have tried to point out that she’s treating me like a child, she gets even ruder. It’s like she thinks she has the right.

When I expressed anger that Bill was being denied visitation with his daughters as his ex wife extorted an obscene amount of child support from him, including for one child that wasn’t even his legal responsibility, she told me to just “let it go”. Instead of being empathetic, she said, “You should just forgive her. That is the ‘Christian’ thing to do.” I found that laughable, because I have never known her to be particularly religious, although she’s probably more so than I am. But even if she was a very religious person, it’s odd that she would use religion as a means of persuading me not to be justifiably angry that Bill didn’t have contact with his kids. Especially since he is CLEARLY the better parent, as we’ve found out in spades now that his younger daughter can speak freely to him about her childhood.

When she asked how I was doing last year, I told her truthfully about what had happened to us after we moved from our last home. She dismissed it as if we were making much ado about nothing. My sister basically said we should just let our former landlords get away with insulting us, making false accusations that we committed a crime, and illegally ripping off our money. That was the last communication I’ve had with her, because I don’t appreciate being talked to like I’m stupid and I expect family members to be genuinely supportive instead of just judgmental. She doesn’t seem to want to know how I am and doesn’t connect on more than a superficial level, so I don’t bother trying anymore. I suspect it’s not a big loss to her.


I suppose that last year, when she asked me how I was, I should have just said “Fine, thank you.” and been done with it. Like a lot of people, she’d rather not know the answer to that question. In fact, I can remember her telling me that she doesn’t want to hear about my problems, as she wonders why I don’t care to have much of a relationship with her, at least not under those conditions. It seems like she’d rather be acquaintances than friends. I have enough acquaintances. Too many times, after I’ve talked to her, I’ve been left feeling angry and belittled. Life is too short for that, no matter how many times someone reminds me that I should give her a break because she’s my sister.

If I were to ask my sister what she meant by her hypercritical comments, I’m sure she’d tell me she was giving them out of love. She’s older than I am by a number of years. She’s lived longer, and still sees herself as my “big sister”. And yet, she doesn’t seem to realize that I’m not 12 anymore. Moreover, she also doesn’t seem to realize that I haven’t made a lot of egregious mistakes in my life, so there’s probably no need for her to explain life to me.

I managed to finish college on time. I’ve never been in serious financial trouble. In fact, when I married Bill, who had serious financial issues with his ex wife, I insisted that we would not have those problems in our marriage. And we don’t. I even helped him recover from his financial mess, and he helped me pay off my school loans.

I never got pregnant out of wedlock. I never got arrested. I have not been divorced. I wasn’t a superstar in school, but I still managed to earn three college degrees mostly on my own. I’ve never been fired from a job. I’ve lived abroad several times and have traveled many places. I didn’t make a lot of stupid mistakes in my younger years that haunt me today. Even my choice to marry a divorced father in the Army whom I met off the Internet in a chat room turned out to be a very good decision.

As annoying as my sister’s habit of offering me unsolicited advice is, it’s one shared by a lot of people who know me. I’ve been told by people that there’s something about me that makes people think I’m clueless somehow. Well… they don’t usually put it that way, because that would be egregiously rude. A few people who actually have affection for me have said that they’ve felt like “taking care of me.” In fact, that’s how Bill is, although he’s pretty respectful about it. But then, he likes taking care of everyone and doesn’t want people to be upset. He’s a classic people pleaser. I, on the other hand, am not.

I’m sure other people who don’t have affection for me– and there are quite a few of those people out there— don’t feel like taking care of me, but they still seem to think I need a clue. The funny this is, generally speaking, I have a clue. I just don’t always follow the crowd. I’m opinionated and outspoken about some things, especially when I know I’m right, like when it comes to our dealings with Bill’s ex wife.

A couple of years ago, I got a comment on my old blog about how I come across sometimes. A woman who doesn’t know me offline wrote that I come off as “snotty, bitter, and petty”. She was perplexed and dismayed that I air “so much personal business” and “TMI” and am so negative, especially about Bill’s ex wife. I thought it was interesting that she would complain about my negativity by leaving me an insulting comment. I wondered why she was choosing to read and comment on something that obviously distressed her so much. Moreover, I wonder how she expected me to know what constitutes “too much TMI” in her opinion, and why her opinion matters so much more than mine or anyone else’s who consistently reads my writing.

Upon thinking about it, it occurred to me that the commenter’s decision to leave me her unsolicited advice to “let it go” was probably more about her own problems than mine. I realized that the commenter was probably a first wife and she felt compelled to stick up for Ex out of some sense of first wife solidarity. I completely understand that not all exes are like my husband’s ex. In fact, I am very relieved to realize that the vast majority of people are not like Ex. Thank God for that. Our situation is fairly unique, although it’s not totally unique. I mainly write about her to process my own feelings and let others who are in similar situations know that they aren’t alone and things can get better. They certainly did improve in our case.

I also have blonde hair and am short and giggly, which some people think is kind of childlike. Maybe I don’t seem like a very serious person… especially when I joke around, which is most of the time. But I assure you, I’m quite competent about most things. I’ve had to be. My parents pretty much forced me to be that way. As history has shown, I’m often right about things. I still get a lot of “advice” from people… especially people who have known me my whole life and should know that I’m competent.

I realize that I sound bitter and petty to some people. I imagine that if they were in my shoes, they might understand my perspective better. Or maybe they wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t be me. I suppose I’d like to say to some people who feel compelled to try to “fix” things that no matter how well-intentioned you feel, offering people unsolicited advice is often a bad idea. However, I hasten to add that no one should take this observation as my unsolicited advice to them. 😉

This topic comes up a couple of days after I posted about feeling inadequate. I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago– the story about how I was treated on a cruise by a drunk. The reactions I got to that post were mostly of the comforting sort. Several people offered advice and consolation. It’s probably my own fault because of the way I wrote those stories. They elicited sympathy.

But, as I told one commenter, I live pretty well for a “fat, ugly, stupid person who needs special help.” 😉 I’m doing okay now, and mostly share those stories because they’re in my head, not because I’m necessarily still hurting. The comment I appreciated the most came from someone who didn’t feel sorry for me. Instead, she kindly and sincerely thanked me for sharing my thoughts. That made me feel really good.

I’m fine… thank you. I hope no one pities me or really thinks I need special help. I do appreciate those who offer advice truly in the spirit of kindness because they honestly think I need help. But before you offer advice, please consider why you feel the need to give it and remember that most people don’t enjoy being criticized.

In other words, if I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.