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My friends might be tacky.

I invited some friends over to hang out and swim last weekend. They said, we will bring some food, and brought cheeseburgers to grill and buns. Then they said, you owe us $20.00 for your share of the food. It was so awkward and tacky! What would you do?

I would say, “You owe us $20.00 for the chlorine you used, so I guess we’re even!”

I wouldn’t, really. But I would think they were uncouth. That’s right. Uncouth. Is there a worse insult in the world for suburban people with pools and cheeseburgers? No. I don’t think so.

You invited them over for the pleasure of their company, so I guess you should just enjoy their company. No biggie.


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I want to be a good aunt.

My older sister just had a baby, and I’m in my early 20s and don’t know much about babies or being an aunt. I find this experience amazing so far and am anxious but happy about all the changes in our relationship and our lives. What role can I take and how can I be involved in the little girl’s life? I’d like to be a help to my sister and have a good time with the baby, too. What can I do to be a good aunt?

Well, hello, sis. You came to the right place for this one, because I just happen to be the best aunt in the history of aunts. I have three nephews and six nieces, and I’m probably everyone’s favorite. Not to brag; it’s just true.

There’s one tiny little issue here, though…I know you love your sister, whatever, she’ll be fine. She doesn’t want parenting advice or help from a 22-year-old who doesn’t know shit about babies or kids. She already loves you, and you’re very sweet to want to help her, so let’s just accept the fact that being a good aunt, sometimes, will mean being a terrible sister or sister-in-law. Actually, now that I think of it, just think of the things your sister doesn’t want you to do, then do them, and you’ll be a great aunt.

For instance:

Sister’s Stance: “Susie loves Cinderella, and I hate princesses and all they stand for–patriarchy, needing a man to save you, big poofy dresses, and the concept that women naturally turn against each other. My daughter will never be into princesses.”
Your action: Buy Susie a Cinderella dress, plastic glass slippers, and a tiara. You’re a bad sister, but you’re a good aunt.

Sister’s Stance: “My daughters can’t wear makeup! It makes your eyelashes fall out and they take too long getting ready for school already as it is. They’re beautiful without it.”
Your action: Next time you see them, smuggle mascara and purple eyeliner into their handbags, along with makeup removing wipes and a note that says, “I would never condone this, but here’s something interesting I read on the internet: you can put makeup on, AND remove it, on the school bus!” Your sister will never find out, and your niece will love you, and therefore, you’re a good aunt.

Sister’s Stance: “Thank you for watching the baby overnight. We’re working really hard on getting her to sleep through the night in her crib, so if she fusses, please don’t take her out.”
Your action: The second that little bundle makes a peep, immediately fetch her from the crib, put her in bed with you, and snuggle all night. Babies can’t tell on you, so your sister won’t even know what a good aunt you are, but it won’t matter, because your niece will be happy.

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My wife is miserable and probably doesn’t like me anymore.

My wife was pretty openly miserable this past year, and we were fighting, and she hinted that she wanted me out of the house. Things are a little better recently, but she is very calm and open about how although she is unhappy, she is willing to live with it because of the children. How can I make it better?

I’m wondering how one hints that one wants her husband to move out of the house. Your inbox is full of Craigslist apartment rental listings, your clothes are in boxes in the back of your car, and she’s gone ahead and gotten you a PO Box, and you’re all, “Honey, what’s for dinner? And by the way, why did you change all the locks on the house?”

And now that I’m done making fun of you, I can tell you that there’s a possibility that you can make it better, but you might not be able to. There’s only one person who knows the real situation, and that’s your wife. I’m going to suggest something insane here, but it might just work: talk to her. And listen to her. Don’t accuse or blame or guilt-trip or defend or suggest or make excuses or pontificate or wax nostalgic or screech angrily or interrupt, and just ask her. What’s wrong? What happened? I love you and I want to be married to you. How can we make this better? And then listen carefully to the answer. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand. It’s possible that it’s simple, like you’re taking her for granted, or complicated, like she’s not in love with you anymore.  But if you know the problem, then you can work on a solution.

You’re asking the right question; you’re just asking the wrong person. And if she’s not in love with you and doesn’t want to be married and is willing to suffer for the kids or the house or whatever, you probably owe it to yourself to be happy, and can make a decision on what you’re willing to live with. 

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My son wants to be a fairy for Halloween.

My four-year-old wants to be a fairy for Halloween. A fairy-princess kind of fairy. I don’t have an issue with it at all, but my husband is not happy about it. He says he’s going to get made fun of, but I think it goes deeper than that. More like he doesn’t want his boy to dress like a girl. I told my husband to back off and let him be what he wants. Is this the right thing to do?

Sure it’s the right thing to do, if you want your kid to be a fairy when he grows up. One minute, he’s just a regular kid, eating paste and wearing his underpants on the outside of his clothes, and the next minute, he’s a fairy. Disappearing from his room in the middle of the night to go put happy spells on wood gnomes, growing wings under his t-shirt, throwing dust on people to make them fly, partying with goblins, eating moonbeams and flitting around the town leaving presents for children. Nobody wants that. What kind of life will he have? Certainly not the one you expected for him!

Your husband should shhhh. Let the kid dress like a fairy. He’ll be happy, and I’m sure that’s what you both want for him.

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Should I let my husband stay at home?

My husband and I have similar earning potential. I have been a stay at home mom for the past two years and enjoyed it, but I would like to go back to work. My husband would now like to stay home with the children. We can afford it, but I worry that he is impatient and untidy and will not be able to handle being a stay-at-home parent. Should we both work or should I let him give it a try?

I’m impatient and untidy. I also procrastinate.  My kids let out a cheer every time I swear because I’m supposed to be putting money into a swear jar as a way to stop me from saying bad words, but instead of being a deterrent, it’s just making my kids rich. Sometimes I ask the kids what they want for breakfast, and if it seems too complicated and I’m feeling lazy, I’m like, tough luck , and give them cereal. I have said the following terrible things to my children: Why can’t you color like a normal person? You are a revolting human being! Stop whistling or I’ll tape your mouth shut!

But I’m also a great mom. (Not bragging. It’s a fact.) I’ve learned some patience, and how to be more tidy, because of being a stay-at-home parent. If your husband wants to spend time with the kids, encourage it. He, and they, will remember this time for the rest of their lives. So what if your house is messy for a few years? You can clean it up after they’re all in school.


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I want to have kids. I have no one to have them with and the timing is bad, but still…

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about having babies, like this thought keeps popping up over and over again. But the career path that I am planning to embark on will probably lead to me being an older mom. How do I know if I’m making the right choice, and how can I find out more before getting committed to one path or another? I am in my mid-twenties.

I need perspective on this, being a woman in an urban setting, college educated, and hoping for more education and life experience before having kids. None of my peers or close friends are even married, though many of them have settled down, but none of them want kids any time soon, so it’s hard to discuss this with them.

Career-wise, my goals involve it will involve a long, committed training program that will make kids impossible for at least a few years. The truth is, though, I would love to meet someone and have kids within the next few years. If I feel this way now, what are the chances that at 35, I’ll really regret not starting a family, even if it requires dialing down the career goals?
You can start a family when you’re 35. 35 isn’t 100. You’re not going to be some wrinkled hormonally-depleted dried up old hag with dead eggs falling out of your body with every step. I know a lot of people who had their first kid at 35. I know people who were even older than the ancient, ancient age of 35 when they had their first child. I’m not at all defensive because I’m over 35 and you’re acting like 35 is when your life comes to a screeching halt. I’ll have you know, I went out dancing the other night. It was 80s night, and the young people were all there dancing ironically and my friend and I were dancing for real, but whatever. I was still dancing. And out.
Stop thinking about babies.  They smell good and sometimes they come running at you full speed ahead just to smash their faces into you for a super kiss and scream, “I YOVE YOU!” which is nice. But they also refuse to wear pants in the middle of winter when you’re late for a pediatrician appointment. Sometimes they poop on things, or in things, or under things. They don’t care what time it is–they want a cup of water, and they want it now.
Focus on your career. Go to school, do your training program, have some fun. Chill the f out. Meet someone cool and nice, and develop a nice relationship, and go on some cool trips together, and sleep in on Saturdays. Then have some kids as soon as you’re in a good spot with school and work. You can have a great career and kids, you know. You can even have kids on your own. You can work and your partner can stay home with the kids, or you can both work and send them to daycare, which your mom will probably judge, but it’s none of her business, or anyone’s business, how you decide to raise your family.
Just relax and enjoy yourself. Work hard at doing something you love. For Christ’s sake, just settle down. Or find someone with kids who will let you spend a weekend with them alone, and I bet you change your mind reeeeeaaallllllll fast.

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I would like to go on a social hiatus.

Right now I am going through a very difficult time. My close friends and family are aware and supportive, and I’m getting the help I need personally and professionally. But I don’t feel like going to parties, neighborhood gatherings, happy hours, etc. and I would like to bow out of social events while I get through this. I want to come home from work and nurture myself as much as possible through solitude. I am introverted as it is, and the situation is using up all of my emotional resources. If I were traveling around the world for six months people would say “Cool, see you when you get back!” If I were studying for the bar people would say “Cool, call us when you need a break!” But if I say, “I’m going through a difficult time and don’t want to socialize for six months,” then the responses will range from pity to avoidance.

If I don’t say anything but just turn down invites, which is what I have been doing, the invites will drop off and my social scene will evaporate. What can I say that will stop the invites for a while without introducing drama, and that will give me an opportunity to pick up where we left off in six months or so? I live in a small enough place that once your drama is known, it’s known. And I do not want it known. What are some socially acceptable ways to temporarily drop out socially?

The phrase “nurture myself through solitude” makes as much sense to me as the phrase “that wonderful band Nickelback.”

I don’t need to call my friends to discuss my personal problems until they drive their mid-size SUVs off the road and into a river just so they don’t have to listen to me anymore. When I’m having a hard time, I like to be around people, especially friends, because they make me laugh and take my mind off of my troubles. And a lot of them drink heavily, which can be fun and simultaneously boost my self-esteem because I feel like I don’t drink that much in comparison. I know, I know. You’re different. You like to nurture yourself through solitude. (Still can’t type that without giggling.)

You want to check out for six months, regroup, then magically reappear and get invited to baby showers and housewarming parties and girls’ nights out again. Here’s some news for you: friendship and social events don’t exist for your gratification. They exist because people want to celebrate their birthdays with people they like, and go to happy hour with people who make them happy. Here are some platitudes: if you want to have a friend, be a friend! Friendship is a two-way street! You get out of friendship what you put into it! Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold! You are not the center of the universe so please realize that the world keeps on turning with or without your specialness in it! (Made that last one up, but it’s pretty good, right?) If one of my friends were to announce that they were taking a six month break from life, I would either show up at her house with a gallon of Tito’s and not leave until she felt better, or I would make fun of her overdramatic posturing behind her back.

I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time. But even if you’re introverted and devastated and things are all shitty and confusing, I think you should carry on with your regular life as much as you can. Take strength from your friends, even if you don’t discuss the specifics of your situation. There are so many lonely people out there who would love to be invited anywhere; don’t take what you have for granted.


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My boyfriend is mean. Can I change him?

My boyfriend is rude, mean, and a complete narcissist. He puts people down constantly, talks about them behind their backs, and doesn’t get along well with others. He is insecure, has no friends, and is in constant stress about his job. I have good friends and a good job, and I think he is insecure and jealous about that. He moved into my apartment and convinced me to put him on my health insurance, but if I ask him to do something for me he says I am being demanding. I know he’ll never change. He is a lot of fun, and he is very committed to me and wants to be together forever, but I am starting to think the bad outweighs the good. Can I get him to see that he is not the wonderful partner he thinks he is? Can I get him to change?

Herpes is also very committed and will stick with you forever, but no one sees that as an attractive quality. Of course he wants to be with you forever! You put up with horrible behavior, you let him milk you for health insurance, and you gave him somewhere to live.

I think you know this already, but it’s time for you to break up with him. There are plenty of other fun people in the world who will also support you in your career, be cool around your friends (I’m sure your friends hate him. Even if they haven’t said anything, they HATE your boyfriend.), and do stuff for you when you ask because they love you.

You deserve someone great. Don’t settle. You can’t change people. They can only change themselves, and it doesn’t much sound like he wants to.

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My sister is making some bad choices.

My sister, who I will call Jess, and I have a lot of “Internet friends.” One of our chat groups has become a bit more important (to both of us), however, she’s gotten really close with a few people there. I’ve met all of them, and we talk frequently, and they seem okay. Jess has become really good friends with one of them, named Meaghan (fake name again). Meaghan is three years older, works full time, supports her entire family and a few friends on her own, and dropped out of high school. She has also offered a room to my sister for $100 a month, and set up a job for her. This all seems great, except that now my sister doesn’t want to go to college anymore, and to avoid my mother’s wrath, she’s already saving money to change her name. I would remain in contact with her only through our Internet chats. I’m worried that she’s seriously going to mess up her life. Not only would I end up bailing her out, but I do love her and I’m seriously worried.

Before we get to the problem with your sister, I want to mention something to you: friends from the internet are not real people. I know you met them in real life and now she’s real friends with them, but if you’re heavily becoming heavily invested in a group of people you’ve never met is a sign that you’re just trying to avoid what’s going on in your real life.

You love your sister. One time you were doing her hair and you wrapped a little bronze unicorn in it for fun and then couldn’t get it out and your mom had to cut it out and your sister had a little bald spot for a while, but that was an accident and you love her very, very much and don’t want any harm to come to her. I want you to closely re-read your email, and think about how cockamamie this plan really is: she’s saving up money to change to her name so she can hide from your mother. She claims she’s not going to speak to you again unless it’s over the internet. She is going to live with a bunch of random people who have dropped out of high school, spend too much time on the internet, and, this is my own personal guess here, don’t shower often enough, are loud and stay up too late, and don’t wash their dishes.

She’s going to be home within a week. And when she does come home, you’re going to support her emotionally and spiritually and maybe give her twenty bucks for gas now and again, and you’re definitely not going to bring up that time when she ran away to live with the internet people until she is safely in her 30s. If she doesn’t come home, you’re going to love her and be her friend, on the internet or anywhere else, but you’re going to realize that even though your mother isn’t that much of a help and a lot of this responsibility has fallen to you, you’re not her actual mother. There are limits to what you can do.

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Should we move?

My husband and I are both native Vermonters and live within close driving distance of our family. There is no question that our parents are a huge help to us and I love that my children have all four of their grandparents so close. The problem here is that my husband and I are NOT winter folk and are constantly talking about moving. Seriously, one minute we want to buy a bigger house in VT and the next we’re moving to Boca Raton.

I am so very tired about talking about moving.

I happen to know that you have lived in both Vermont and Florida. Do you have any additional insight into our decision? I should also mention that I absolutely love my job but my husband’s career would be better suited in a more populated place. There is no way to know if I will find another job that I love or whether or not we’ll be able to handle the three kids without sneaking to the grandparents house so we can have a night off.

Please help.

I was just in Florida. It was awesome, because it was warm and we have wonderful friends there, and I got to go to the Sail Inn, which is the most disgusting bar on the face of the earth, and I love it. And now I’m back in Vermont, and it’s also awesome, but there’s less sand, no sunshine, and I think my house just blew up into the air and a wicked witch went by my window on a bicycle.

You shouldn’t even be thinking about this when there’s snow flying and slush everywhere and you’ve spent the better part of the last four months looking for mittens and wiping wet paw prints off your floor and going to look for your car in a parking lot and not being able to find it because it just looks like a giant pile of dirt and you stand next to it for twenty minutes thinking, who would put a big dirt pile in the middle of a parking lot…and then you figure out that it’s your minivan. You should think about this in June, when everything is pretty.

Family adventures are important, and I don’t think taking the easy route, like not moving somewhere because your parents are free babysitters and you’re scared to be away from them, is a good reason to stick around. There are plenty of babysitters in Florida. I don’t know what your priorities are for your family, but when we made the decision to stay in Vermont instead of going back to the Sunshine State and By Sunshine We Mean Burning Hot Relentless Humidity That Makes Your Hair Look Like You Combed It With a Vitamix, we discussed, at great length, what we wanted out of our family life, and what we wanted for our children.

I’m now going to say some things that are gross generalizations and that will annoy both Floridians and Vermonters, but they’re important points to consider:

  • Florida is kind of a shit hole. Parts of it are nice, like the beach, and some parts aren’t so great, like any place that isn’t the beach.
  • The public education system there mostly sucks. And it’s not like most of Vermont, where mere geography gets you into a good school and you can just buy a house in a good school district. So you have to either suffer with sub-par schools, get lucky and get into a good public school, or pay 20 billion dollars a year for private school.
  • There is no Target in Vermont. There are 7,000,000 Targets in Florida.
  • In Florida, I locked the house when I was in it during the middle of the day and slept with mace in my bedside drawer. In my town in Vermont, a couple houses got broken into and the citizens called a special meeting to discuss the horrific crime wave sweeping over us, because if one TV gets stolen, the next thing you know, we’re Chicago and getting murdered is just another thing on your to-do list for the day.
  • People in Vermont often think that getting dressed up, like, say, for a wedding or a cocktail party, involves putting on your cleanest pair of jeans and maybe Bogs instead of shitkickers. People in Florida will get their hair blown out, a spray tan, and a boob job before they go to the 7-11.
  • We do not have 7-11 in Vermont.
  • If you fall in a lake in Florida, you will get eaten by an alligator or flesh-eating bacteria. If you fall in a lake in Vermont, you will immediately freeze to death even if it’s August and you’re wearing a wetsuit.
  • Vermont is not racially diverse. This is the understatement of the century.
  • For me, Vermont winters and Florida summers are comparable. You’re stuck inside for a good portion of both of them; and at least in Vermont, your kids are in school for the bad part of the year.
  • Everything is close in Florida. My friends there were like completely uncomprehending of the fact that I have to drive fifteen minutes to get to a grocery store. In Florida, if you drive for fifteen minutes, you’ve gone by 27 grocery stores and at least twelve Targets. I miss Target so much.

I could go on. But we really did talk about all these things a lot, and my husband wasn’t super psyched about staying here. The reason we moved back in the first place is because my dad was dying, and we wanted to be with my parents. One of the reasons we stayed is because I couldn’t bear to leave my mom. I don’t regret many things in my life, but part of me sometimes wishes we had come back before my dad was sick; one of the joys of my life now is that our mothers have rich, fun, meaningful relationships with our kids, in part because we all live so close. It’s not something to be discounted.

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March 11, 2013 · 10:52 am