Advice from the Trenches: Dealing with the new wife

Dear C and Dr. B;

I’ve been divorced for about 20 years now. It was totally demoralizing – he left me for another woman. I don’t ever want to see him again, especially not with his new wife. 

My daughter has come to her own understanding with Dad and includes him in most milestone events and holidays. He always brings his wife. My daughter says they are always decent and respectful to her, so I accept her decision. But there’s no way in hell I will ever sit through an event with the two of them. 

The problem now is that I’m starting to realize that this is isolating me over time. I’ve dated, but I can’t trust another man enough to form a relationship. I’ve been with men who were dumped by their partners too – you’d think we’d be able to understand each other, but two neurotics usually just make for a neurotic mess. 

I want to get past my suspicion and distrust. But I just can’t. Talking to a therapist just makes me feel like I’m a job on their schedule. I just can’t get into it.

I know I have to do something or I’ll wind up like my spinster sister who lives with her cat and bitches at everyone. Help!  – Constance

C says: If you are at the point where you can see that your behavior is isolating you, then you’re ready to do something about it, Constance. Here are some tips that will make it easier.

First, there’s no reason you should face down your ex alone. He has it easy – he always comes with his partner to support him. Walking in alone sucks. Bring a friend and he won’t have you at an unfair advantage. If you don’t have a male date, bring a girlfriend. Then let them guess. It’s fun. 

Here’s a great secret for keeping it together when you feel vulnerable: Deliberately put a warm smile on your face, even if you have to make yourself do it, and your mood will immediately brighten. Things will seem easier to handle. There is scientific research to back this up! The facial muscular activity that produces a smile mysteriously increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, our feel-good hormones. Try it out in front of a mirror and see for yourself. It’s like wearing a Happy Face that tells everyone that you’re a nice person to be around and you feel good about yourself. 

There isn’t a human being on the face of this earth who wouldn’t rather hide in an empty garbage can than get seated across from an ex and new partner at a dinner party. But girl – if you can look them both in the face and just smile back – then you can move on. 

Dr. B says: When you experience a break up or the loss of a loved one, there is serious oxytocin withdrawal. We call this grief, and it can feel like heroin withdrawal. It can feel like you are dying. People often focus this loss into anger or blame because it’s less painful to deal with; but a state like this can go on forever. Letting go of the anger and blame will rekindle the loss and sorrow, but that seldom lasts. Time may seem to drag on forever with sorrow…but life stops under anger. 

We can’t control life, but that’s what you are trying to do. It turns life into a win-lose game; but the way you are playing, he’s already won. You are living your life with a competitive philosophy, it’s why many couples break up – one of them is trying to make things perfect and makes sacrifices for the other. The partner on the receiving end starts feeling like they’re living in a cage. They often escape.  

You have to let go and learn to go with the flow or you will grow old alone. If you want to control life there really can’t be anyone else in it. Real people  are full of messy imperfections..   

The crazy thing is that husbands often leave one marriage only to pair off with another version of the wife they just left. By the time everyone gets old, the ex-wife and new wife might find they have a lot in common. They might even become best friends. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Trying on Something New: Her friend’s gender identity is changing — how can she be supportive?

Dear C and Dr. B;

My friend Donny has me confused. We’ve known each other since high school and she has always dated guys, just like I have. When we were growing up, there just weren’t as many “gender identities” out there. Being gay was gradually becoming more acceptable, but the idea of transsexuals gaining acceptance was basically unheard of. Now I know that transgender rights are even being defended in the military, but I don’t think I knew it existed as a kid.

Imagine my surprise when Donny announced to me that she wants to be called Dannie from now on, and that she also doesn’t want to be called she OR he. I don’t know what to call my friend anymore. What am I supposed to do when asked, “Where is Dannie?” Say, “They are over there?” 

I’m not judging, this is just weird and awkward. What’s the socially correct thing to do, and is my friend going to be cruising gay bars now?

Terry

Dr. B says: There are a lot of new labels out there now, your friend might be pansexual, rather than transgender, but you didn’t give enough information to narrow it down. All humans are naturally pan sexual, which means they  can be attracted to anyone, regardless of their sex or gender orientation.  

Culture limits most expressions of people’s desires, but given the right circumstances, these limitations fail. All young people are sexually curious, and if culture didn’t limit this curiosity, there would be all kinds of experimentation and variations in relationships. Even with cultural limitations, studies show that all kinds of experimentation goes on in most colleges. I am not convinced that any labels are true or even help. You may lean toward one category at one point, but who you are attracted to can sometimes change. You might not normally be attracted to the same gender yet one day, you meet someone – and then you are.

There is less stigma on experimentation these days, but I don’t see less anxiety around it, only different things people worry about, like the correct label or the correct way to express oneself or how to talk about it. People today don’t want to be hemmed in or limited by labels themselves, yet they are often anxious about using the “correct label” when with other people.  This can cause a lot of miscommunication. Happiness doesn’t lie in the label you use. Get to know yourself, then find like-minded people. How you feel can change and you can change groups if need be.  

We see everything through the lens of our cultural programming, but that doesn’t make it true. All labels are problematic. Take race for example – skin color is no different than hair color or eye color. There is no such thing as race, but there is culture and that is a much more useful conversation.

C says: When I was in high school, we had two choices – you were either heterosexual, or you were some loser/nerd that no one wanted to date. I asked my sister about it, just to make sure my memory was correct, and it was. Neither of us had even heard the term “gay” or knew what it meant until we went off to college.

In my personal opinion, labels are only useful if there’s a logical reason to standardize – like with screwdrivers. You don’t want someone handing you a flat head when you’re taking out a Phillips head screw. Otherwise, a label doesn’t really help in the long run when it comes to relationships and sex. Either you’re attracted, or you’re not. Either you fit or you don’t. 

Trying to find an ideal mate is like trying on dresses at a rummage sale. Just like any adult who isn’t still a virgin, they’ve all been used. Obviously, they didn’t work out for somebody. They may have designer labels, or they may come from the J.C. Penny catalog – but you’ll never know if one fits unless you take a chance and try it on. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




A Generational Divide: Do 20-somethings have different life expectations than previous generations did?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I work at a museum and there is a collection of new college freshmen who are there doing internships. I am having a hard time dealing with them – I’m in my 40s and they are all 20-something, and we have very different expectations and ideas about life.

Growing up, my expectations all had to do with achieving goals. The goals weren’t about emotional satisfaction as much as they were practical. Not all of them were that evolved – my mother drilled it into my head that I was supposed to find a man to take care of me and raise a family. If not, I was supposed to get trained to do some kind of secretarial work, or possibly teach. That’s what women did when she was a girl. My goal is somewhat different – I want to be the next director at my company – but what neither of us expected was to be “happy” all the time. It was all about being responsible, starting a family or establishing a means of support. She grew up during the depression, so maybe that’s why.

These young girls seem to react to everything that happens to them in a very black and white manner. Either it makes them happy – or it doesn’t. Anything that doesn’t make them happy is judged as bad or wrong. Everything else is “awesome.” I don’t know if this Happy=Good, Unpleasant/Difficult=Bad attitude is as predominant in all younger people as the ones here, but there really does seem to be a trend. Did their moms all read different books on raising kids than I did?   – Portia Past

Dr. B says: You’re right; two generations ago life was hard in America: WW2, the Depression … and people had different expectations. The environment we live in shapes our culture. Today, people are no longer in survival mode. Now, not only do they expect to be happy, they believe happiness is a right. Something got lost during the transition from survival to individual expression and self-fulfillment. We lost the sense of collectivism and duty that WW2 brought out in us.  

Reality is affected by what we do, not by what we feel. It’s our actions that affect those around us. If we make our feelings top priority, things get messy, because not only do feelings change from moment to moment, but no one can read your mind. People only see the results of what you do.  

Reality is perplexing, and truth is often the opposite of what we intuit. Many things that seemingly make us unhappy are things that ultimately bring us happiness: hard work, challenge and problems (if we solve them).  Some people are even happy being unhappy. 

Your goal-directed happiness requires only the satisfaction of accomplishment. Doing meaningful things is more far-reaching than mere happiness. Happiness alone is a poor life goal based on nothing but fleeting moments. Contentment is a sustainable well-balanced system – and a much better life goal.  

C says: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has an interesting take on emotions that gives another perspective to this issue. TCM views happiness as an integral part of living, but it gives equal importance to sadness, worry, anger and fear. All of these emotions together lead to a balanced life, but any one of them in excess may lead to illness. If we are to lead a healthy life, we should experience all emotions equally, giving no favor to any one emotion for too long. Each emotion is ascribed to an internal organ that is either benefited in the short term by its expression or damaged by dwelling on it. Too much happiness can burden the heart.

We are all made of good and bad. It is the contrast of elements that gives meaning to each. Without pain, we have nothing to measure joy against – our multi-layered depth of feeling would become one long, flat line. I can’t think of a shorter route to boring and blah.

The 20-somethings will figure this all out eventually. Or not. Either way, I wouldn’t worry about getting along with them. They will all move on soon enough, and by the time they are your age they will probably have gotten kicked in the teeth enough times to have developed either strength of character or sizable drug habits. Bon voyage! 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Decision Paralysis: What’s one reader to do with all her options?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I wanted to change my internet/TV/phone service plan, because I was paying a lot for a bundle considering I usually watch mostly Netflix or Hulu. My current plan includes at least 40 of the network and cable channels, and all I ever watch is the news. But when I decided to look into my options with my current provider plus a few others, all I got was a pounding headache – there are SO many choices out there now that just listening to them all, I wanted to give up. I still haven’t done anything. 

This happens to me a lot – I get so concerned about finding the BEST price, because there are so many different stores with different prices and sales – then there’s that one free tax weekend they have every year that I try to plan around. The thing is, if I go online, there’s unbelievable deals, but can I trust them? Or will I find a better deal later in the day AFTER I bought the thing?

Is this an obsessive compulsive disorder of some kind? Or does everyone find it hard to move when there’s too many choices?             

– Wanda Waxalot

Dr. B says: 

No it isn’t OCD; it’s normal. Studies show that the more choices we have, the more anxiety we have. That’s one reason we create institutions and traditions – they simultaneously limit our choices and create a sense of security. 

On the other hand, if we limit choices to the extent that there’s no free will, people become depressed. The key is in flexible limitations. For example: Your cable company offers these fixed plans but when you call, it’s: “just for YOU, today, if you sign up now, you also get…” Feeling like we got a bargain or won something makes us happy and gives us the sense we are special. We feel like you beat them at the game. Marketing has this scheme nailed down.  

The best option is to first examine and try to understand what your actual real need is, and then try to match that. Ignore the noise and don’t give in to the pressures and expectations of others. That is a skill that has to be learned and practiced, because it is not taught in our culture. Counseling can help if you can’t find a place or setting to master it in. 

C says: We all have our crosses to bear, Wanda. Your unlimited entertainment choices are giving you a headache … and in other parts of the world, people are living in conditions where their most important decision is limited to: “Do I try to make my home in this empty shipping container, or build one out of this tarp I found in the garbage?”

We live in a privileged society. What that means is that we waste an extraordinary amount of time fretting over crap that really doesn’t make that much of a difference – oh, no, you paid $8 a month more for your bundle than your thrifty friend did! So freakin’ what? You’ll live. Your kids won’t have to work after school in order to help the family make rent. Your village won’t be attacked in the middle of the night by psychotic militants who burn the place to the ground. You’re out $8 a month until you change plans again. Live with it.

It is very normal for Americans to worry about status, bargain hunting, the condition of their lawns and their sparkling white teeth. Do you know what scathingly few of us seem to worry about at all? Our own sense of decency and compassion, the unnecessary deaths of our most vulnerable population, and whether other people get what they need as long as we get ours. 

I don’t mean to be unkind, Wanda, but geez! Stop looking for someone to give your chronic indecision a cool medical name, and just get a grip. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Everyone Has Baggage!: How should this reader navigate the dating mine field?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am single and I’m okay with it, but I’d be happier if I had someone to share things with — things like the rent and everyday problems, as well as emotional and physical intimacy. The problem is that now that I am almost 40, just about everyone I meet has excess baggage. I end up feeling like I am not only dealing with them, but also everyone they ever dated or were married to who left them feeling hurt and disappointed. I met one guy who had been to therapy after his divorce, and he seemed like a possibility at first. But the more I got to know him, the more he seemed like someone who would need therapy forever … and was probably going to drag me there with him if he didn’t stop analyzing everything that happened between us as if he was going to have to take a final exam on it.

My brother suggested that I would be better off looking for someone who just doesn’t have excess baggage. You know, someone who isn’t divorced or doesn’t have past traumatic relationships cluttering their psyche. But I can’t help but think that if someone my age has never been in a real relationship, that’s a little weird. What do you think? – Judge Judy

Dr. B says: A 40-year-old who has never been in relationship most likely will be avoidant and screwed up in their own way, and someone who has been divorced obviously didn’t have the skills to pick well or the ability to communicate well. And, yes – someone who was married and has four kids will have issues that might not be obvious to an outsider. 

The fact is, all humans are imperfect and many are broken. This is unavoidable since we are raised by humans and live in a world populated by them. As a result, everything is imperfect and many things are a mess. You noted that at 40 most people have baggage, but I would argue that most 16-, 25- and 36-year-olds have baggage, too. It’s just different baggage. Young people carry unrealistic expectations, entitlement and fantasies with them. Sometimes they already carry real trauma from domestic violence at home or sexual abuse. Baggage comes from being lied to about the nature of reality, sexuality and relationships and from our role models who have messed up values. Show me someone who isn’t screwed up and I will show you someone you don’t know very well.   

That guy you described who’s in therapy for life? Well, we should all be. Isn’t a life unexamined a life not worth living? At least he knows he has issues and is working on them. Most people just blame everyone else like you are doing. It seems like you are looking for someone just like you. There is only one you, that doesn’t mean everyone else is a pain in the ass. If you don’t want to be alone, you need to learn to embrace imperfection. Conflicts are a part of life. Having good boundaries and communication skills, learning tolerance and humility, and balancing these with self-assurance, goals and mutual intent makes relationships work. If you don’t know your own flaws, it will make it hard to see how someone else’s might help to challenge you to grow. I am not saying you should tolerate disrespect or abuse. Avoid the assholes, but if you find a saint, you’ll learn they can be assholes, too. All relationships take work and commitment. Given the average relationship expectations and skills most people have, all relationships need therapy.  

C says: Honestly, in my experience, those guys who went to therapy and come out analyzing everything are the pits. They just don’t know when to quit, and who wants to live with an amateur therapist? Even the professionals have family problems that are just as messed up as anyone else’s. God save us from the dilettantes. 

Look, instead of searching for some guy who has all the qualities you want, concentrate on developing those qualities yourself. If you want honesty, be honest. If you want humor, lighten up. If you want perfect, go ahead and try to be perfect. Eventually you will figure out it doesn’t exist. In the meantime, you are far more likely to draw people of quality if you are a person of quality yourself.

If you want to find a good partner, look for someone with whom you can find balance in life, not someone who is just like you. It’s not necessary to want the exact same things, but you should both have the same integrity toward what you do and respect for what the other does. Sometimes people who make the best partners are opposites in many ways. But life is like a jigsaw puzzle – it’s not about the pieces all being the same, it’s about finding the right fit.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Unmasked Too Soon: What’s one reader to do with her overly optimistic friends?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Yay, the pandemic is over! Except it isn’t. But some of my stupider friends are acting like it is. Three of them have already made plans to go south and head to the beaches for Spring Break. When I expressed my concern, I got: “Oooo…the bio chem major thinks she’s already a doctor!” Then yesterday when I was hiding out in a corner of the library, these four people walked in wearing masks to get past the door monitor, then they all came back, sat at the table next to mine, and took their masks off to study. When I politely asked them if they could either move to a safe distance or put their masks back on, one of them sneered, “Back off, bitch!” and the rest laughed and snickered.

OK, maybe I am just more aware because in my classes we’ve discussed what the medical consequences from opening restrictions too early could be. But come on! This is something we all should know. News about the variants is in the headlines every day! Our teachers have been vaccinated, but none of the students are going to qualify for months. What can I do to protect myself without alienating everyone around me?  _ Safe Sadie

Dr. B says:

You are 100% correct. Ignoring the truth and clinging to a belief we desire to be true is the current American way, probably even the human way. Going to Spring Break unmasked and crowding together to party is just plain stupid. There will be an increase in COVID afterward, and some people will die as a result of these actions.  

Being right is often associated with being disliked. It becomes a question of – what do you value? If you try to compromise and go along with the crowd but mask up and keep a distance, not only will you be made fun of and ostracized, but you will  probably be exposed anyway. There’s no way to protect yourself in uncontrolled circumstances. In legal terms, you are “guilty by association.” You chose to be there! 

The best advice is: Don’t agree to that which you don’t agree with. If you go along with your friends, you will get trapped in their bad decisions. Find like-minded people who are making better decisions and hang out with them. The quality of your life is determined largely by the skill set of the people you associate with.

The “cross the divide” attitude that we hear so much of now just doesn’t work – this thinking is premature and based on denial and wishful thinking, not science – it’s one reason why the infection rates aren’t going down. We are being misinformed and manipulated by certain sectors of the media that ignore both facts from experts and  basic common sense. You won’t become popular for sticking to the truth – but you and those around you might live longer. 

C says: Let’s face it – as a nation, we are largely self-entitled. Right or wrong, it is not an attitude that is going to change just because of a pesky pandemic. Many people take the motto “Live Free or Die,” quite literally.

Spring Break was doomed to be a fiasco. It’s spring! Youthful hormones are bursting forth and the adolescent brain is consumed with lust, not common sense. Young people always feel invulnerable … until they are smacked in the face by a life-altering catastrophe. Until then, they just don’t get it and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it except stay the hell away.

People will always want to kill the messenger. Ironically, after the dust settles, it is sometimes only the messenger who is left to tell the tale.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Grrrr!: Should this reader embrace the anger or expel it?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I want to know what I can do with my anger, and if I hear one more person suggest meditation I’m gonna slap them. I DO meditate. I do yoga every day. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve tried medication. None of it does a damn thing to change my reflexive nature. Through good times and bad, my most readily accessible emotion when things screw up is anger.

I have come to accept my anger. I think there may be a genetic component to it. My grandfather, I hear, was one of the angriest men ever. He was on his way to becoming a top prize fighter when his dad died and he had to take care of the family. He channeled that boxer’s aggression and anger into success – even during the depression, he rose to the top of his sales force and never knew when to quit. I do think that anger can propel people past their comfort zone … if it doesn’t tear them apart first.

So this is why I am wondering if you have anything other than the usual “yoga, meditation, bipolar meds, blah blah blah” BS to offer me here. I think I’m getting ahead of my other coworkers in our company because my drive is greater than theirs. I don’t want my personality artificially altered. I just need something that can expel excess agitation when it builds up, before I jump out of my own skin. Got any bright ideas?

Angry Alice

Dr B says: Do what your grandfather did. The technical term is called sublimation. Join a sport that will utilize your aggressive nature as a plus and use up most of that energy for the day. Studies show running a mile will give you two hours of calm focus. You can take a run every two hours at work if it makes you calm and productive you can probably get it worked into your accepted work plan. You can always get a medical note from your doctor if your work requires it. Or you can do what a lot of school kids do – join a sports team and practice in a 5:30am slot. Go to the gym, take up lifting. Any of these things have worked for a lot of people. If it doesn’t work for you, then you might have to rethink your preconceived ideas about medications to adjust your genetic predisposition. Why not? It is just what the medications are for. Those that target anger work very well if the patient is not living in a stress-producing life.

C says: I beg to differ. This textbook advice based on academic studies doesn’t address a very key issue here: There is a huge difference between anger and energy. Running and team sports work off excess energy, but if physical activities were all it took to tame anger, then you would not see so many professional athletes being charged with acts of  brutality and violence off the field. Let’s face it, Alice – if it is your nature to get angry at just about everything, I doubt if team sports or running will calm you. You will probably just end up getting pissed off at your bumbling teammates or your untied shoe laces. 

There’s something else going on here and you need to address whatever has turned your energy into anger. A wise person once said: “The cause of all anger is unmet expectations.” So which of your expectations are not being met? Figure it out! This is a different world than the one your grandpa lived in. During the Depression it was a dog eat dog world and powerful, ruthless men prevailed. In our modern world, success in civilized society requires the ability to cooperate and gain the support of others. With your attitude, you are just as likely to eventually be met with lawsuits as with success.

Current stress is not always the source of anger – people who were abused as children have an increased risk of something called intermittent explosive disorder. This can cause seemingly unfounded rage, but the source is in the past. A number of mental health disorders can cause disruptive emotions. Back in Grandpa’s day, a great deal of abusive behavior was written off as the natural entitlement of powerful men, but your grandfather may have been mentally ill. 

As far as the “why not?” advice on medication – this is what makes ME angry. We have an incredibly casual attitude toward taking pills in this country. Advertising and the pharmaceutical industry have conned us into believing that all it takes to improve our lives is the right pill. The problem is that this idea is not making us any healthier, happier or wiser. According to international health studies, the United States has some of the worst mental health–related outcomes of any industrial country, including the highest suicide rate and second-highest drug-related death rate. 

Medications are for sick people who can’t live without them. Anger with a real source has got to be faced, not buried. And self-control is something every adult needs to learn. Don’t confuse anger with power, Alice. It is just another negative emotion that will ultimately lead to only more of the same.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Pandemic Pod Person: His vibrant wife was replaced with a couch potato. What gives?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Before COVID, my wife almost never watched TV. She’d tune in for news, but that was about it. Now all she seems to do anymore is surf Netflix and binge on series she had absolutely no interest in before the pandemic. These new sports are doing nothing for her cardiovascular system, and it’s changing the things she talks about. 

I asked her what the deal was, and she bitched for half an hour about how much she hates Zoom and how all of the virtual programming that is supposed to connect everybody just makes her feel more separate – the sound and picture quality is so bad it’s like communicating with an orbiting space station. She likes the familiarity of the polished film production on Netflix; she likes being in control of what she watches.

I feel like my wife has been replaced with a pod person. But it’s not just her, it seems like everyone is either living a virtual life or living on entertainment apps. It’s scaring me. Is real life becoming a thing of the past? And what is going to happen when the pandemic is over?    – Shudder To Think

Dr. B says: We all have to survive in our own way. With frigid temps, snow and most things closed, what life is there but the virtual one? Since watching Netflix is what most people are doing, the shows are what they are talking about. Watching the same programs gives your wife a way of connecting  with her friends on Zoom. I suggest not fighting it. Why not find some mutual shows you both enjoy? The weather will break soon and then you can turn off the TV and get outside. Take day trips to  nature preserves and maybe start a garden. 

Since she wasn’t a TV fan before, when other options become available again, there’s no reason she would choose to be a couch potato. Is skiing an option for the two of you now? Don’t worry. Summer is coming. 

C says: I am not so certain that the new habits your wife has developed will go away like seasonal allergies. No one knows what is going to happen when the pandemic is over and for now the point is moot – despite popular demand, COVID ain’t over yet. 

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, Shudder, but I don’t think we are ever going to return to the way of life we had before. Just as 911 forever changed our collective perception of national security, the COVID pandemic will forever change our awareness of contagions and personal space. We have all become more wary of each other, and with good cause. Every day, new viruses and mutations pop up, ready to take over where COVID leaves off. 

So it looks like Zoom and binge watching will be with us for a while. If your wife’s friends are still watching and talking, she’ll likely continue watching and talking too. I’m sure you can get your her out  when the weather warms up, but do not be surprised if as soon as you get back home, she’s turning on the tube again. For now, those shows are a reliable comfort food for our befuddled souls.

It could be worse – as far as addictions go, the monthly cost of Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime is far less than the cost of heroin or crack. And if your wife overdoses on seven seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy,” she isn’t risking a trip to the ER unless it’s from hypochondria. I’m sure that the woman you love is still in there – put some effort into wooing her back. If you give her a good reason to turn off the tube, she will.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Time Travel: It is okay for her man-child ex to live in her basement?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am wondering if I am losing it, or if what I am doing is a reasonable way dealing with difficult and unchangeable realities. I’ll explain.

My ex husband lives in my basement. Ha ha. Funny, except it’s true. He really screwed up our marriage and I divorced him for good reason, but two years after that he screwed up so badly that he ended up homeless. I took him in because I did care what happened to him, but after a while he really started getting on my nerves. I was making plans to oust him when the pandemic hit and there was literally no place for him to go.

He is about 6 years old emotionally. During our marriage, I drove myself nuts trying to reason with him like an adult, but I finally got it – he isn’t going to change. So now I have changed my approach. Instead of talking to him as if he were an adult from whom I can expect adult reactions, I imagine that my best friend asked me to be the godfather to her son years ago, then last year, she died in a car crash, and I now have custody of her teenaged son – this role is played by my ex husband. When he throws pointless tantrums, I pretend that I have to be patient with him because he still hasn’t processed his mother’s death. Instead of yelling in frustration, I speak calmly and patiently. How can I get angry? His mom died and he’s just a traumatized child.

The really funny thing is that this works beautifully. He responds far better to being treated like a child than he did when I expected him to be an adult.

Since I have my own friends and my own work, and I don’t depend on him for my personal happiness, it’s a fairly easy role to play. Almost too easy.

So, I wonder – is this a good way to deal with problems that are momentarily unsolvable…or have I gone over the edge into La La Land?

Dr. B says: You are under no obligation, yet you made a decision to care for someone else who has difficulties caring for themselves. It isn’t crazy, but it’s not easy either. There are no right answers, just choices. If this works for you and seems to work for him, then more power to ya. 

Many Americans have the relationship and emotional skills of children, so a useful way to get through work, abusive customers and infantile behavior in general is to imagine you are dealing with 5 year olds. It helps set better boundaries. Use clear and precise language and have more realistic expectations of others. Repeat what the person said back to them, and ask if you heard correctly to make sure everyone is on same page. This is an important communication skill. 

I just wish they didn’t let those adult 5 year olds drive. 

C says: Role playing is a good coping method for times of unpleasant necessity, but don’t get too comfortable with it. When something becomes a habit, it’s hard to change. You divorced your ex for a reason, and however well you get along now, having him in the house really hinders your ability to establish a new life.

I know that you might be tempted to think: “If I’d been capable of using this approach during my marriage, things may have turned out differently…” But let’s get real. The world is made up of two kinds of people – those who can learn and grow, and those who can’t. Since your divorce, you’ve learned and you’ve grown – you’re an adult now and you’re handling things like one. Your ex, however, seems to be enjoying his child role a little too much. Do you really want to play Mommy for the rest of your life?

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Is Valentine’s Day a Made-up Holiday?: Or is this reader’s relationship a fake?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and, as always, my boyfriend of four years blew it off. He says it’s a BS Hallmark holiday made for corporate profits only and then sold to the masses to feed their romantic delusions. He says that 50% of Americans don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day any longer. He is armed with statistics that prove that gift shops, florists and restaurants that rely on this holiday to increase profits in February are having a real tough time because fewer people buy now. He says Valentine’s Day as an American tradition is doomed. 

I know he’s probably right. But it just makes me feel depressed, like he doesn’t care. He tells me to grow up. Should I grow up, or is he an asshole?

Valencia Blue

Dr. B says: There are two issues here. First – on one level, he’s right. Society has changed. When you look at it as a whole, Valentine’s Day is pretty much a male chauvinistic tradition. It assumes the woman is taking care of the family and home, and that having her man fretting over her is a token sign of love and devotion. Today, the reality is that in our culture women are as likely to be away at work as any man is, and she can buy her own flowers if she feels the need to have flowers. 

Love shouldn’t be about buying things. It’s enough that Christmas cheer and goodness have become represented by one manufactured and faked perfect day. Those things are either there, or not, in every day we live. Having one pressured day to be perfect can’t and shouldn’t make up for 364 other days where things are lacking. I personally don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day and won’t miss it if it disappears from the culture. But don’t fret – I hear there is already a corporate move to replace Valentine’s Day with other manufactured holidays.

But the second issue – if you like it, he should non-the-less just do it for you.

C says: If I get a vote here, I’d say that your boyfriend is an asshole about Valentine’s Day. I can’t say if he’s an asshole about anything else, because you haven’t mentioned how he is about the TV remote or cleaning up after himself. But about Valentine’s Day? The guy is still an adolescent.

The typical mistake adolescents, and small thinkers, make is to confuse theory with reality. They set their minds on an idea that they have worked out in their head, and they search for facts to back up their theory, and they find those facts because they are ONLY looking for stuff to back up their theory. You can find anything to back up a theory if that’s all you are looking for. This is how crap like QAnon conspiracies get their tentacles into people’s brains.

However, if you take the horse blinders off and look at the big picture, you will always find some other facts you didn’t look for that paint an entirely different picture. This is what every defense lawyer in the world stakes his/her living on, and what spin doctors and conspiracy mongers thrive on. You can create an argument for any theory if you are conveniently willing to overlook a myriad of other existing facts and possibilities.

In the case of Valentine’s Day, the point isn’t whether your boyfriend is right about his economic philosophies and theories or not – the point is that he is making you feel like garbage and he doesn’t seem to care. 

I have a suggestion – on his next birthday, instead of doing anything special for him, present him with a reasonable explanation as to how since nearly 100% of Americans don’t celebrate his birthday, you see no reason to either. (I’m laughing already.)

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com