I recently attended two events, one involving my niece and one involving a colleague’s spouse.
The first event was a local gymnastics meet for middle schoolers—just an informal, rec center thing. In my niece’s cohort, there were seven kids competing. My niece, who had won First Place at the previous meet, was very excited and did what I thought was a very nice routine. Anyway, it turned out that there were five awards, for First through Fifth Place, which were announced in reverse order à la Miss America Pageant, with many pauses and lots of drama. By the time they got to First Place my niece was practically jumping up and down with anticipation. When another girl won I could see her blushing and trying to hold back tears. The presenter then announced a sixth award, for a specific apparatus—and my niece didn’t get that one, either. So the result was that she in effect was told that she was the worst person competing.
Zeb, a guy who works at my office, just gave notice because he got a job teaching art at a private school. Today when we were all sitting around after our monthly all -staff meeting—which is one of the only times I’ve ever seen him, since he’s in another department and building—somebody asked him about the school. After telling people where it is, how many kids go there, and so forth, he summed it up as “a fancy school for spoiled fucked-up rich kids.”
Dear June, So my boyfriend and I go to the home-improvement store to buy a scale and I go to the nearest help kiosk or whatever you call it and ask one of the sales associates for advice. Specifically, I am wondering how reliable the various digital scales are because mine totally lost its accuracy after a year, even when I changed the battery. The associate, a guy maybe 18 or 19, says “Are you sure the problem’s with the scale?” Then—my boyfriend denies this, but I saw it—the guy looks over at my boyfriend and sort of rolls his eyes at him, man to man. I say, “Thanks, that’s helpful,” and march out of the store, my boyfriend hurrying after me. My boyfriend tells me that it was stupid of me to storm out like that. He says that the kid was just trying to make a joke, and … chop! chop! read more!
I am a reserved and, I am afraid, timid woman. Despite having grown up in an enlightened family and then gone to a college where people would have been very supportive, I did not come out to anybody as bisexual until I was 23, when I had my first experience, with the woman who is now my girlfriend. My finally coming out hasn’t created any real problems with anybody I’m close to, with one exception—who, unfortunately, is (or was) my best friend “Gaby.” She’s straight, so I never thought this could possibly be an issue, but it really seems to bother her that I’ve never had any romantic or sexual interest in her!
Dear June, “Jack” and I have been dating for over two years now. We’re planning to move in together when my lease runs out in June, and are starting to talk in very general terms about settling in for the long run. I think he loves me, but I have started to worry that he loves me more for my family than for myself. There are five of us: Mom, Dad, Nonie, Jack, and me. Except for Nonie, my kid sister who is away at college, we all live within a few miles of one another. My parents still live in the family home, which is a great place—the house all the neighborhood kids always wanted to hang out in, not just because it is very comfortable and has a pool and a basement with a ping-pong table and other great kid amenities, but also because of my parents, … chop! chop! read more!
Over the past year I lost a great deal of weight and am much healthier and happier. I also look good, if I do say so myself. I worked hard and I am proud of my accomplishment. But I am not so happy when this coworker of mine, whom I will call “Jefferson” although she is actually named after another president, keeps telling me that she is proud of me.
Mallory is furious. She says that she will have to put Luther in a kennel because of me, that it will cost a fortune, and that she would never have taken this vacation if she knew she would have to board her dog. Then she said that even though she hoped I would reconsider and walk Luther, she was willing to compromise by sharing the cost of the kennel with me —but that she hoped I appreciated that doing so would practically break her financially.
Almost ten years ago, when I was in college, I was raped by a stranger. They never found out who did it. It took me several years and some poor choices before I got over the experience, but I believe that I am now fully recovered not especially afraid or angry, and no more flashbacks. In fact, I rarely think about it. And even if—despite all the evidence, including my terrific marriage—I am not fully recovered, it is not something I choose to discuss unless I have a good reason, such as helping another person.
My father, who is 83 years old, is a good man but a bad tipper. I do not know if the world has changed since he was a young man just starting to take people out, or if it is some peculiarity of my dad’s, but he only leaves 15% (of the pre-tax amount!) if he thinks the service is outstanding. If the service is good or average, he leaves ten. If the service or the food is bad, he leaves somewhere between ten and zero. I have tried to talk to him about this, and I have let him know that most servers do not get paid very much at all and that the tips are what make them end up with a living wage, if they even do, but he does not accept this idea. He says that the point of tips is to give a little something extra to somebody who does good work—that that is why they are called tips, and that they are an incentive, yadda yadda yadda.
I met a smart, handsome man at an art opening last week. “Theo” and I ended up talking for the whole two-hour reception, then went out for coffee and closed down the place. He asked me out to dinner on Saturday and it was lovely. We like the same music and art and movies, have a similar sense of humor, care about the same issues, and vote the same way on them. Icing on the cake: he does fascinating work and makes a ton of money doing it. The problem—which begs the question, since I am about to ask you whether it actually is a problem—is that Theo turns out to be deeply religious. I am an atheist.
Now I am not sure he is even third-date material. Do you think we have a chance?
—Skeptic in Schenectady (I’m not really in Schenectady, but I like the way that sounds.)
The problem—or, rather, the question, since I would be embarrassed to call such a minor blip in happy life and a good set of relationships a “problem”—is Beth’s parents, and especially her mother. We are Jewish and they are super-WASPs. They wear clothes with little anchors on them and so on, and she has one of those “Muffy”-type nicknames. But so far the religious/ethnic divide has not been an issue. They seemed to be fine with the kids’ ecumenical wedding, and I have never heard an anti-Semitic remark pass their lips (although the Irish have not fared so well). They even came to the twins’ bris. And we are all very pleasant and friendly to one another, exchanging photos and recipes and so on.
But Muffy is a relentless and vocal supporter both of Donald Trump as a leader, and of what I consider the Republican policy agenda’s worst elements. I suppose that her husband basically agrees with her, but he is too wise, or cowardly, or maybe uninterested, to talk politics with the rest of the family. Beth and her brother are both quite progressive—like everyone in my family—but Muffy seems willing to let the younger generation be. Not so with my husband and me, although she hardly ever talks to my husband so he is mostly off the hook.
I’m thinking of asking Gary’s son if he would like to read the account of his father’s life, but I don’t know whether it is ethical to share emails that may have been written in confidence. The son wrote to thank me for the childhood photos I sent to the huge listserv of Gary’s friends and family. Gary had often shared photos and thoughts on that listserv.
My mom’s big sister, Aunt Barb, loves to criticize me. She is never openly mean, but always “helpful,” and in fact many of her worst zingers take the form of backhanded compliments. She will tell me that I have a beautifully proportioned figure, and so imagine how great I would look if I could just lose 10 or 20 pounds. Or that she always regretted that my parents didn’t force me to practice more, because there is a real chance I inherited my grandparents’ musical talent but now we will never know. The other day she told me that I am a nice person inside, but should pay attention to the way my face looks “in repose,” because people might think I was angry or unpleasant. I am pretty sure this was her way of saying that I should smile more because I have Resting Bitch Face.
When my parents moved to a smaller place this past winter they gave us some of their furniture and art. One of the works of art—to use the term loosely—is an oil portrait of me at sixteen, basically copied and enhanced from a prom photo, that had been languishing unseen in their attic for years. It is very expensively done, all by hand, with a frame worthy of a Sargent. I actually looked forward to owning it, and was pleased when my husband “Max” said how much he liked it and suggested that we add it to the paintings in our downstairs hallway. But now Max seems to like it too much, and it creeps me out. He stares at it all the time, and even copied it onto his phone—to look at when he is away from home on business.
When I try to read in bed, I fall asleep. When I try to sit in a chair and read, I usually lose my concentration, or remember something else I should be doing. When I listen to books in the car, my mind wanders and I have to keep replaying stuff until I am out of patience and just switch to music or a podcast. I tried setting aside some time in the morning before work, but that was a bust because I cannot survive without checking my email and other media as soon as I wake up, and once that happens I am gone—all caught up in emailing my coworkers, reading a link to some story about the latest presidential scandal, making an angry call to my senator, playing Solitaire to calm down, etc. I feel as if I have lost a whole world, and a part of myself. Any ideas?
I got more and more upset—and when the dad slammed his fist down, some other customers started shaking their heads and raising their eyebrows at one another and so on. Finally, without really thinking much about it, I stood up and told the couple that corporal punishment is against the law in our state and that if they made good on their threat I was going to call the police. And I added something about how nobody wanted to hear any more of their abusive language, but by then I had started to trail off…
My parents wrote up a will many years ago leaving everything to whichever one of them survived (it was mostly all joint property anyway), and then dividing the estate equally between my brother and me. But my brother is objecting to this, saying that my mother had been paying for his med school tuition and living expenses at the time of her death, and that the clear understanding was that my parents would always cover educational expenses for both of us until we finished school. (I have an M.S.W, and have no current plans to return to school, although the thought of a Ph.D. in the nebulous future is very attractive.) He is demanding that the cost of his next two years, until he gets his M.D. and starts his cardiology residency, should come off the top of the estate before it is divided.
My sister is about to have a baby girl—her first child. For privacy reasons I don’t feel that I can tell you the actual name she has chosen for her daughter. Suffice it to say that my sister wants to name her kid after the drug she credits with making the pregnancy possible. She says that the name is interesting, and will be a conversation starter! What has actually happened so far, conversation-wise, is that my mother nearly had a coronary when she heard the name, and my brother had to run out of the room to control his hysterical laughter. I have told my sister several times that it’s wrong to inflict a name like that on a kid. She tells me to butt out. Is there anything I can do?
I have fallen horribly in love with my neighbor, who is my co-chair at our community theater company and has been in many productions with me. She does not know anything about it, and I will never tell her. I can’t think of any way I could get my family to move away, although I would almost like to, so that I would not have to see this woman any more. I have no intention of breaking up my family. I am happy enough with my wife and we have two kids and wish I could take a pill, or get hypnotized or something, to make this go away. What am I to do?
Yesterday night my husband and I got into a big fight. This morning I found an enormous, perfectly ripe avocado in our crisper and instead of saving half of it for him, as I usually do when we have a finite amount of fruits and veggies, I ate the whole thing myself. Was I wrong?
I am five months pregnant. My partner and are both very happy about it. We have been together for several years and consider ourselves a stable couple. There is only one serious source of conflict right now: I gave up smoking a year ago when we decided to start trying to have a kid, and he still smokes. Lately the second-hand smoke has been making me sick to my stomach. He always goes out on the balcony when I ask him, unless it is raining or something. But he never just does it on his own. He does not have any plans to quit smoking, and I am worried about the baby. What should I do?
Dear June, The other day I called a local politician’s office to talk about an event they were hosting to sign people up for a senior discount program. The staffer who answered the phone chatted with me for a minute or two about one of the politician’s favorite causes, which I also support. Things were going fine until I mentioned that I was calling about the senior sign-up. “For a loved one?” she asked. As soon as I said “No, for me,” her tone changed completely—she switched into this saccharine, singsong, much louder voice and started talking way, way down to me. She asked me if I knew what photo I.D. was and, when I said I did, asked me if I thought a credit card was photo I.D. Before I managed to end the call she had reminded me twice to bring the I.D., and asked me if I … chop! chop! read more!
Dear June, I read your letter from the woman whose date stole a bottle of rosemary from her cabinet, and I thought you could help me with my problem. Recently I went on a first date with a guy some friends set me up with. He took me to dinner at a very nice restaurant. Everything was going pretty well for a first date. I thought he was cute, if not super handsome, and we had some things in common as far as books and politics and basic life goals are concerned. But then came dessert. I ordered a slice of their famous chocolate cake with raspberry butter cream icing, and he said he would have the same. He asked me if I wanted more wine, and I said no and ordered tea. He ordered a large glass of milk! I was totally turned off by this. What do … chop! chop! read more!
Dear June, In most ways I am a good mother, wife, and friend, but I realize that I am a bit critical and nitpicky. Even when I make an effort not to, I find myself suggesting that my (adult) daughter’s hair needs combing, or that my husband should stop starting every sentence with “So,” or that my weight-loss buddy should do more lifting and less swimming if she wants to see results. I really am working on keeping my mouth shut. But I fail often. How can I stop myself from giving so much advice? —Critical in Carolina Dear C in C, Funny question to ask an advice columnist! And, indeed, I may be the wrong person to ask because I have been told that I share your problem. But, then again, I may be just the right person if you want the empathy that comes from having walked down … chop! chop! read more!
So many people I know get depressed in the winter. Some of them take medicine, and some use special lamps to mimic sunlight. Although I do not especially like being cold, or walking home in the dark, winter has never really bothered me. But for the last few years I have been feeling sad and restless and wondering what it all means and so on as soon as winter ends and spring comes around. I get all full of longing and I keep asking myself why, with the world so beautiful—I have a fellowship at a place where the birds twitter and the fruit trees blossom and the air is fragrant, the whole bit—I feel so antsy and blue. What do you think? Is it really true what they say about April being the cruelest month?
The problem is that I just got into my dream school, with great financial aid. My boyfriend was accepted at some good colleges, but none of them are within 500 miles of my dream school. The other problem is that I am not even sure I want to stay with Allston. I still love him, I guess, but there are lots of days when I would just as soon not see him. I get bored and then I feel guilty. What should I do? The world seems like such a mean dishonest place. Most men treat women like pieces of meat. And here I am with a kind, smart, respectful boy I know I can trust, and part of me just wants to leave him and break all my promises and go off to Massachusetts.
I am in a writers’ workshop—some fiction, mostly poets—with a total membership of twelve, nine or ten of whom usually show up for our biweekly meetings. We have been meeting, with just a few changes in membership as people come to town, or leave town, or lose interest, for almost ten years now. One of our members, a founding member actually, has been creating problems for us because she almost always monopolizes the conversation. Ivy, as I will call her, is a wonderful poet and a good critic, but she loves to be the one who speaks first and she is forever interrupting people.
You know what makes me mad? People who say “diminishment.” What’s wrong with good old “diminution?” And now I am seeing “abolishment,” too, for God’s sake. What is the matter with people?
I know this seems like a small thing. Okay, it is a small thing. But language can make a big difference: look at that dairy farm that would have saved $10 million dollars if they had used the Oxford comma!
Dear June, My father died several years ago. Mom and I have always been close, partly because I am the only daughter—I have three brothers. Since Dad died, Mom and I have become even closer, talking on the phone almost every night and sharing confidences. She never talked to me about her love life, but I just assumed this was because she didn’t have any. It turns out that I was very wrong. Since about a year after Dad’s death, she has been dating women on a regular basis, and now she is in what she calls a very serious relationship. I am totally fine with this. I am glad Mom has somebody, and am actually kind of relieved that her lover, Glenda, is a woman and not a man, mostly because women tend to live longer. The one thing that bothered me just a little was worrying whether Mom … chop! chop! read more!
Dear June, I teach English at a public high school, where I am the advisor to the writing club. For a few years, including during the summer, I have also been meeting informally every week or so with a group of the most motivated current and former club members to write for a couple of hours. I have been available to read their work, brainstorm ideas, critique, etc., all pro bono. I love their enthusiasm and imagination, and am pleased to have played a small role in their creative development. Recently, to my delight, one of my former students, who is now in college, has achieved national recognition for his poetry and has a contract with a small press. A local library, knowing about my connection with the student, asked me to invite him to read. I included a few other talented students as well. The student requested an honorarium, … chop! chop! read more!
My mother has cancer and is unlikely to live out the month. She and my dad (who has dementia and is not part of this equation) belong to a devout and strict religious denomination, in which my siblings and I were raised. The last time I saw her she told me, and apparently she has also told everyone else in the family and half the nurses in her personal-care facility, that she will not be able to rest easy in the afterlife unless I promise to give up alcohol and non-marital sex (although she calls it “fornication”). I have no intention of giving up either one. That is not my question. My question is whether I should promise anyway.
Dear June, This is the most minor of problems, but to me it is a recurring annoyance. My topic is tea! I am a tea drinker, and nobody in this coffee- and now beer-obsessed country seems to know anything about it. The “better” restaurants and cafes are the worst. The greasy spoons and fast-food places may only offer two kinds of not-so-great tea—regular and decaf—but at least those are real, unflavored black teas, not some mixture of herbs without any tea in it at all, or some flavored tea like Earl Grey. This has been my recurring scenario: I ask for tea and the they either recite a long list, or bring me a big box, full of flavored and non-tea teas. When I ask for just regular black tea, they point to the spiced Chai or to the Earl Grey, which, as I am sure you know, is flavored … chop! chop! read more!
I am growing more and more upset at the level of vitriol and vulgarity in political discourse, if you even want to call it discourse, these days. At the same time, I can’t help feeling happy and as if “our side” has scored a point when I read about a really good insult. Daylin Leach made my heart leap the other day when he called Trump a “fascist loofa-faced shit-gibbon. ” Lately I have been sharing and retweeting all sorts of coarse and insulting stuff, even writing a few mean and/or filthy lines myself. Should I stop?
Jean-Michel is a music professor. He sometimes writes reviews, and he gets free thickets to things. Yesterday he called me and said he had two tickets to the symphony for next Saturday night. When he told me the program and soloists, I said, very sincerely: “That sounds fabulous! Thank you!” I was just about to add that my husband and I would be thrilled to have the tickets when he said: “Great! I’ll pick you up at six and we can have dinner first.”
My husband “Albert” has stage-four cancer. He has been given no more than six months to live, and possibly much less. So far he has been able to do some work in his home studio, but he tires easily and is starting to look quite frail. He has been very brave and, considering the circumstances, cheerful about the situation. I am glad to do almost anything I can to make things easier for him. But there is one big area of disagreement: except for our kids, who are both in school hundreds of miles away, and of course our doctors and lawyer, he refuses to tell anyone about the cancer, and has sworn me to secrecy. He says that he does not want people to feel sorry for him or treat him differently from before.
After my initial shock wore off I found that I was very, very happy at the thought of being a mother. But Jeremy’s attitude is freaking me out. The absolutely first thing he said when I told him was: “I don’t want you to think that this means I’ll marry you.” This response devastated me for a lot of reasons. It seems ominous that this was the very first thing he thought of, not the joys or even the burdens of parenthood, much less my or our child’s welfare. I was also insulted by the tone of what he said, as if I were the supplicant for some wondrous gift he was withholding from me, not half of an equal partnership between equally committed people.
My husband likes to tell people that he pulls his weight at home and does his share of the family chores and daily housework. The problem is that he always seems to do the jobs I actually like to do, and leaves the less pleasant, usually harder, jobs for me. I will come downstairs after a shower and he will say: “Honey, I just wrote little personal messages on the Christmas cards—now if you can only address them… and make sure the addresses are up-to-date. You might want to do some cross-referencing. Oh, and get stamps.” Or he will announce that he has emptied the dishwasher—which leaves me to sort and scrape and prewash all the dirty dishes and load them, and then do the pots. After these announcements he will pause so I can thank him. It makes me crazy….
…I am troubled and, although I haven’t yet spoken to her about it, a bit angry that, without consulting me, my wife decided to put all her art-therapy earnings in a separate bank account. The account where my salary gets deposited is a joint account, and has been since before we were married. So is our small savings account, all of which is either money from my earnings or sale proceeds from a house I used to own before we moved in together. She is the beneficiary on my 401(k) and insurance. I just don’t see why the money I earn is our money, and the money she earns is her money. What do you think?
Last week we went to a dinner party for ten, hosted by our friends Barry and his husband James. Barry, who always makes the main course, is a good cook, but his meals are usually on the bland side. This time the linguini sauce was wonderful—if anything, it was a little challenging, a little edgy. Although I did notice that James was silent and looked a bit discomfited, everyone else at the table praised the meal and Barry, the cook, seemed delighted. I remarked on the uncharacteristically flavorful sauce to Frank, my husband, during the drive home. He laughed and said that while Barry was off serving drinks, he (Frank) had seen a container of salt, along with jars of some other spices, standing near the simmering saucepot and had doctored the sauce with liberal additions of salt and two or three of the spices. I was appalled, but Frank—along with the couple we were driving home—said that there was no harm done, and indeed some good, since we had gotten a funny story and a tastier meal out of it.Who was right? And what, if anything, should I or anybody else do about this?
I think I am a thoughtful person, but I am really terrible at predicting who is going to give me gifts at Christmas and Hanukkah, and how lavish, or not, these gifts will be. Last year I was very embarrassed on more than on occasion. How does one respond in such cases?
Dear June, My boyfriend “Eric” and I have been together for three years now, and neither of us ever talks about ever splitting up. But I have a problem: until about six months ago, or maybe a year, we had a normal, satisfying sex life, by which I mean that we found each other attractive and enjoyed ourselves making love. We had sex maybe twice a week, on average, and probably would have done it more except that we were both so busy. Nobody kept track of who initiated it; it just seemed to happen naturally. But then it started to get so that he never initiated sex, and never responded when I did. The only time he wanted sex was after the two of us had a fight—which, now that I think back, happened maybe twice a month at first, but is happening—the fights and the sex, I mean—somewhat … chop! chop! read more!
About a year ago a coworker and supposed friend of mine betrayed various confidences and otherwise badmouthed me to my supervisor. I am pretty sure this led to my termination. Even if it didn’t, I have no desire ever to see this man—let’s call him Nick—again, and have actually changed my life in a few small ways (go to a different Starbucks, blocked some mutual friends on Facebook, changed food coops) to make it less likely that our paths will cross.
I host our annual Thanksgiving feast. My family, who is a mixed bunch in terms of what we believe in, and how much, has adopted the secular Thanksgiving tradition where we go around the table and each person in turn says what they are thankful for. This year it was a total shit show. My uncle started off by saying he didn’t have anything to be thankful for this year, because a bunch of morons just voted our democracy and probably the planet into oblivion, which reduced his little great-niece—who, though only eight, has a large vocabulary—to tears. I do not totally disagree with his sentiments, but there is a time and place for everything.
I am a graduate student (in Clinical Psychology, not English or Literature) and have been writing short stories and novellas off and on for about six years now. I worry about how caught up I get in my fiction. I find myself laughing out loud, or crying, or getting turned on, or becoming really angry. My own sex scenes have sent me off to find my partner, or take a cold shower, and one time I got so mad about the way one of my characters was treating his son that I threw my coffee mug across the room, where it cracked against the wall. Is this normal?
Do not give way to despair or complacency: the middle way, hope, is the only one that leads anywhere. Keep working for the causes you believe in, even if it may be hard to see the point just at present. Start working for new causes. Shore up causes that are threatened. Contribute as much time and money as you can. Remember to be grateful for all we have in this country and on this Earth, and do your damnedest to preserve these blessings and see that they are shared more fairly. “Don’t mourn, organize,” Joe Hill told us. “Pray for the dead, but fight like hell for the living,” added Mother Jones.
Dear June, I am in a creative writing workshop with seven other people. One of the writers in my group, “Don,” just submitted a story that has a very similar plot line to one I showed the workshop a month ago, as well as the same rather unorthodox format. I was already annoyed with him because his previous story contained snippets of dialogue virtually identical to some in a novel chapter I had submitted a few months before that, and used an epigraph from the same poem I had quoted under my chapter heading. Now he tells us that he is planning on writing a memoir about life with a sibling who has Asperger’s, which (except that my sister is on the more severe end of the spectrum) is exactly what I recently told the group I had on my back burner. How do I stop this? It is getting so I do not want to submit to the workshop any longer, but I would really miss the other members’ critiques.
I was completely amazed at my good luck at having found such an attractive, interesting, sexy, and thoughtful man to build a life with…. Or so I thought, until the other night when Jason tearfully and drunkenly confessed that he and one of the female housemates, Melissa, had slept together on and off for over two years, almost since he joined the household. At first he said that it ended when I moved in, but after I pressed him for details about the affair, or whatever you call it, he broke down and confessed that one night last month, while I was out of town, she came into his—our!—room at two in the morning and “one thing led to another.”
Dear June, I had an abortion last spring. I was very sad about it, but do not regret it in the least, for many reasons. I decided not to tell my mother because she is a fundamentalist Christian and completely anti-abortion. But, thanks to one of my cousins who knew my then-boyfriend, Mom found out a few days after I had it. She actually came to my town—I work about 100 miles away from my parents—to have a big fight with me about it, and we did. In the intervening months we have sent emails and letters back and forth, most of them from her with short responses from me.