Annie's Mailbox: Week of November 30th

Annie's Mailbox

Dear Annie:

I am concerned about one of my friends, “Amanda.” She and I are both middle-aged housewives with only part-time jobs. For the past six months or so, we’ve been having lunch together once a week.

Amanda comes from a much more repressed background than I do. She was raised to believe that wives should be submissive to their husbands, etc.

Our weekly lunch is in a restaurant that’s located inside a supermarket. I like the food there. Amanda used to say she liked the location because when her husband asked about her day, she could truthfully tell him she had only gone to the grocery store. She said it would take time for her to let him know about having a new friend.

Amanda has complained about her controlling husband. She told me he checks her phone and e-mail all the time. However, she has such an upbeat, happy disposition, I thought she was exaggerating. About a month ago, she told me that since she’s gotten to know me, she’s had the courage to speak up to her husband about some things for the very first time, and it has led to some positive changes in their marriage.

The next week, Amanda’s husband just showed up with her at our lunch. I welcomed meeting him because I knew he could see that I’m a straight woman who poses no threat.

Since then, however, he has come with her every week. He owns his own business, so he must have rearranged his whole schedule to lunch with us! He sits with us but doesn’t say much. He mostly plays with his phone. Of course, my conversation with Amanda is quite different with him sitting there. This whole thing seems weird to me. I’m afraid that if I were to say much, our lunches would end altogether. Do you have any suggestions? — Silenced in the Supermarket

Dear Silenced:

Though you might be limited in what you can say to Amanda, your mere presence speaks volumes. It tells her she’s not alone — that someone cares. To someone in an abusive relationship, that’s an invaluable message. And that’s why the best thing you can do for Amanda right now is to continue attending these lunches and pretending her husband’s presence is welcome. Any perceived rejection of him would be used to separate you from her. Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) for more guidance.

Dear Annie:

I certainly sympathize with “Concerned Legionnaire’s Wife.” Many years ago, I attempted to sign up for an American Legion post but was told by a misinformed individual that women could not join the organization. Rather than judge the entire organization by the erroneous view of one individual, I found another American Legion post. Today I am the national commander of The American Legion, and that original post displays my official photograph with the words, “She could have belonged to this post. Remember, women are veterans too!”

Though I cannot speak about the specific allegations that “Concerned Legionnaire’s Wife” mentioned, I would like to encourage her to report any malfeasance to her state’s American Legion headquarters. With 13,000 posts spread throughout the United States and even overseas, there will be some personality conflicts and irregularities in some areas. But I encourage people to visit our website, at www.legion.org, to learn about the many contributions offered by the 2 million men and women who make up the nation’s largest veterans organization.

Created in 1919 by a group of World War I veterans, The American Legion was founded on the pillars of veterans care, a strong national defense, Americanism and patriotic youth programs. Every day, our members support their communities by conducting blood drives, raising money for disaster assistance, welcoming home military troops, helping veterans obtain and understand their benefits, and operating the best youth programs in the country.

It is an organization that America can be most proud of. For God and Country... — Denise H. Rohan

Dear Commander Rohan:

The behavior “Concerned Legionnaire’s Wife” described might have taken place at an American Legion post, but it had nothing to do with The American Legion — a point your thoughtful letter hammers home. Thank you for all that you and the organization have done.

Dear Annie:

I have a solution for “Free Bird,” the man who wants to be clothes-free but whose wife does not want to attend nudist events.

He said he researches nudist locations online. If he found all-male events, he could satisfy his joy of being naked outside, and his wife would be satisfied that his joy is not being around naked women. — Linda

Dear Linda:

I like your idea. It’s a simple, practical way for “Free Bird” to find a like-minded flock without ruffling his wife’s feathers. Thanks for writing.

Dear Annie:

The other day, I was out for lunch with a woman I recently became friends with. At the end of the meal, we asked the server to split the check 50-50. He brought us our receipts. I was waiting for my friend to finish using the pen, and I wasn’t trying to peek, but I noticed she’d left the tip line blank. She noticed my noticing and, only a little sheepishly, said, “I’m just not making that much money right now” — as if that were an acceptable reason to stiff our (very kind) server. I was mortified but said nothing, took the pen and began writing in an extra-big tip to try to make up for her. She saw what I was doing and told me I shouldn’t worry about it — that I was overreacting. I think she was being rude. What do you think? — Tipped Off

Dear Tipped Off:

Anyone who can’t afford to leave a tip shouldn’t be eating out in the first place. The next time this friend wants to get together, suggest something free — though, if you’re the type of person who regards tipping as a sign of character (I do), you might not want to get together again at all.

Dear Annie:

For 37 years, I’ve been married to a sociopath.

When “Robert” and I met, he was sweet, charming and thoughtful. His father was an alcoholic, mean physically and emotionally. Robert said he never wanted to be like that. When our first child was born, he was a good father. But when I was pregnant with our second child, things changed. He cheated on me. When I had the child and was released from the hospital, I waited for three hours for him to come pick me up and meet his new daughter. He never came. He was out with another woman.

I was going to leave, but he sought forgiveness. Being in a deep depression, I agreed. In the years since, he’s cheated on me many more times.

I went back to work. Robert got off work at an early hour and was supposed to pick up the kids from day care. But he wouldn’t. He often went out all night “fishing,” yet he never caught any fish.

When the kids became teenagers, he started abusing them verbally. My two elder children and I eventually ended up in therapy, where we learned to deal with this man. Now they are in their 30s, and they still bear emotional scars from things he did or said. Robert has always refused counseling, by the way. He will not discuss his moods with the family doctor. He thinks the problem is everyone but him.

I became disabled a few years ago. We have a younger child, a 16-year-old, and my main concern right now is protecting him. Robert is technically still my husband but is never around; he calls just to make sure I’m taking care of his stuff. He will be 59 1/2 in a few months, and he’s planning on taking the money in his 401(k) and leaving us all.

Robert and I have properties. He promised that each child would be added to the deed of one place. I also need his medical insurance, and I feel that I am entitled to half of everything plus child support and maybe even spousal support. But I cannot get the money to retain a good lawyer. How do I leave this man and not be a pauper so I can protect my minor child? — Desperately Need Help

Dear Desperately:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides assistance to victims of abuse, whether physical or emotional. The people there can refer you to resources in your state. Call them at 800-799-7233 today so you can begin safely planning for a new life that doesn’t include your abuser.

Dear Annie:

You’re going to get a lot of mail about the letter from “Alive and Well,” but I’d like to chime in. The 30-something daughter who admired a piece of furniture and asked for it in her parents’ will was perhaps just being direct, not rude. If they haven’t had any conversations about their end-of-life planning, she may just be doing the sensible thing by mentioning her desire while they are younger and still healthy.

My husband and I have handled the estates of our parents in recent years and can tell you that this is a multistage process that can quickly escalate if there isn’t a plan. After the legal details and during the grief process, the family will be left with “stuff.” Most of it has little value other than sentiment, but having in writing who gets what may keep the remaining family intact. Family heirlooms should be given to those who plan to keep, not sell, them.

Additionally, as you approach retirement, it’s wise to stop collecting “stuff” and to start downsizing before you are forced into it. Surveys show that the younger generation values experiences over things, so ask your kids now, “What do you want?” I think this is exactly what the daughter was trying to say; she probably still sees her parents as very capable and meant to be practical, not predatory. — Jacksonville Reader

Dear Jacksonville Reader:

Thanks for your letter. Indeed, I’ve heard from several others echoing the same sentiment. In hindsight, I was too quick to validate “Alive and Well’s” feelings of offense. I wish I’d advocated for end-of-life planning and talking to adult children about last wishes — perhaps an uncomfortable subject for some but an important one.

Dear Annie:

I’ve been married for almost 20 years, and for all of those years, my in-laws have ruined my holiday season. From the very beginning, I’ve tried really hard to be gracious, kind and generous. These are all of the attributes that my mother (now deceased) always told me that family is about. I come from a big close-knit family. We all share and contribute not only to family events but also to help one another out in general. Not my in-laws. My husband and I have hosted or paid for every single meal we’ve had with them. In fact, they don’t call us unless they need something.

My husband has been very protective of my feelings. He is so disgusted by the way they treat all of us that he would like to just cut them off. I can’t do it. I keep hearing my mom telling me that this is his family. I think he would regret it later, and I don’t want to be the cause.

Let me tell you what a holiday meal is like. I cook all of the food. They come without contributing anything and then take home all of the leftovers (which they actually fight over sometimes). They lie around and watch TV until it’s time to go home. They don’t talk to my kids or me. In fact, they couldn’t care less about anything that is happening with my family. Did I also mention that my brother-in-law and his wife guilt my husband into helping financially every month?

After 20 years of this, I can’t stand the sight of them. Knowing that I have to be cordial and expend all of my energy cooking for them spoils my whole holiday season. I just want to run away, but my kids love Christmas with the family. Help me. How do I cope? I want to have a nice Christmas, not one that is filled with anger and resentment. Is there a way to do that, or am I doomed to let them ruin my Christmas? — Bah Humbug

Dear Bah Humbug:

I commend your mother for instilling in you the importance of grace, kindness and generosity. But it’s hard to feel gracious, kind or generous when you’re too busy feeling resentful. So you have two options. You can keep the celebration cozy, with just you, your husband and your children. There is nothing wrong with doing this, and I encourage you to give it a shot.

If you can’t bring yourself to change your plans, then change your attitude. Channel the Whoville spirit. Make your mind up to have a delightful time no matter how frightful your in-laws’ behavior. The main takeaway here is that whether or not your holiday is “doomed” is entirely up to you.

Dear Annie:

My friend bought a condo in Florida. She wants me to come stay for a week while she is there but thinks she needs to charge me $350 to stay with her. Why would a friend need to charge you if she is there, too? If I chip in for some food, what am I paying $350 for? Is this fair? — Feeling Used

Dear Feeling Used:

It does not seem right to me to ask that of a friend. If it were a vacation rental and you were splitting the cost, sure. But this is a condo she owns, and she’s invited you to come visit. Perhaps the strain of the cost of the condo was more than she fully realized it would be; that’s the only plausible explanation I can think of for her charging a fee. Regardless, treating friends like customers is no way to pay the mortgage. If she is looking to make $350 a week off houseguests, she should open a bed-and-breakfast.

Dear Annie:

I read the letter from “Family Matters,” whose son and daughter-in-law have not yet invited her to their new home, and I related completely. You are absolutely right; giving the benefit of the doubt is very important in this situation, and I love what you had to say. But time may not change much, either. I have a similar situation. My son and daughter-in-law spend virtually every holiday with her family.

I have also gotten very blue over this and felt very slighted and had my feelings hurt. But I finally decided that is completely pointless. Dwelling on hurt and anger breeds more hurt and anger. My husband and I have started our own tradition of combining Christmas and Thanksgiving and having a family dinner at our home between those holidays. We try to plan it early and give all of our family members time to work it into their holiday schedules. I don’t ever fix turkey and dressing, because it’s a lot of work and everyone’s had it recently. So the meal is simpler, which saves work and stress, leaving time to enjoy the day. I invite everyone to bring a dish, but I let everyone know it’s not necessary.

My perspective has changed. I no longer focus on being slighted or alone with my husband during the holidays. It’s our time to do what we want and give to others through charity or goodwill. Our dinner with the family is all about stress-free fun — enjoying the family, the grandkids and the day, guilt-free. I have a much better attitude, I get to host in my own home, and I get to make our own tradition. And there’s a lot less work. It’s fun, and I am all about fun at this age. Happy holidays! — Working on Me

Dear Working on Me:

Your good spirit is contagious. Thanks for serving up some perspective with an extra helping of holiday cheer.

Dear Annie:

Our daughter, husband and family moved in to a small house next door to us as they both work, and their living close to us enables us to keep an eye out for their three daughters, ages 11, 11 and 15. Until they get two bedrooms built on the cottage, the 15-year-old and one of the 11-year-olds will use our spare bedroom to sleep in. My husband gets upset over their bringing friends home and doing the typical stuff children this age do. He really gets upset if their friends are of the opposite sex.

When my (now adult) son was a teenager, my husband allowed him to have girls stay in his room, yet he would throw a fit if his sister (the mother of these girls we are talking about) even had a boy over watching a movie. He would actually call her derogatory names. Now we have a 16-year-old son, whom he lets do whatever he wants. I’m the only disciplinarian for him, but even then, my husband will override me.

Now my question is to your readers. Do parents let their teens stay the night at the house of someone of the opposite sex? It seems to be the norm around this area nowadays. My daughter lets the girls have mixed company and requires that the boys sleep in one area and the girls in another. My husband says this is not so. So I want to hear opinions from your readers on this.

I am not comfortable with either my 16-year-old son or my granddaughters sleeping in the same room with members of the opposite sex, but separate rooms and nightly checks by adults are fine with me. — Not Comfortable

Dear Not Comfortable:

Let me get this straight:

Your husband called your daughter a derogatory name because a boy watched a movie with her at your house and then went home, but he let your son do anything he wanted? You need to have a serious private talk with him and set down guidelines for your grandchildren that treat boys and girls equally. As for co-ed sleepovers, I’m in agreement with you. Until they are 18 and living on their own, I would say that sleepovers should stay single-sex. However, you asked for opinions and facts from our readers, so I am as curious as you to see the feedback.

Dear Annie:

I just read the column about the woman who compulsively looks at men. She describes going into a kind of trance in which she becomes totally unaware of others, much to her distress and her husband’s dismay.

For many years, I was a practicing psychotherapist, and I have seen many people experience profound changes as a result of their work with a therapist. However, I think this woman needs to have a neurological work-up. What she is experiencing reminds me of a client of mine who had a seizure disorder. When it was treated, my client was able to manage her life extremely well and use therapy to enrich it even more. — Hoping Help Is on Its Way

Dear Hoping Help Is on the Way:

Thank you for the medical insight. Perhaps it will save a life.

Dear Annie:

At the recent Thanksgiving celebration, I was again faced with a situation that has bothered me for some time now.

We take turns in my family hosting a holiday. This year, it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. I truly love cooking for this feast. Everyone brings a dish, and I usually do the turkey and dressing. Our group consisted of about 15 people this year, as it usually does. The problem is that every year, without fail, when everyone is packing up to leave, “Rhonda” starts grabbing leftovers to take home. She prepares several plates for herself. She does this at every gathering, even when she hosts the holiday (she will pack food away in her refrigerator while no one is watching). I don’t mind when people take dishes home, but I find it rude that Rhonda helps herself without asking. What can I do to discourage this at future gatherings? — Roasting in Kentucky

Dear Roasting:

The best defense is a good offense. The next time you’re preparing to host a family feast, pick up 15 containers you don’t mind parting with. After everyone’s done feasting, pass out the boxes and encourage everyone to load up on a little of everything. And if anyone has a friend, neighbor or relative who is homebound or hospitalized, tell that guest to pack some extra containers and take Thanksgiving to that person.

Dear Annie:

Hurray for your reply to “James,” who excoriated the teenage children of a hoarder for not doing the housekeeping their mother wouldn’t do. You were correct to point out that the children of a hoarder are unlikely to have learned how to keep house from her. But even if they did, they might not be able to do much because she’s so deeply invested in her hoarding habits.

My mother was a hoarder. She taught my sister and me how to keep house, and she was OK with our doing the dishes and the laundry, vacuuming, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks, etc. But when we tried to clean up the biggest problem, her bags and boxes of stuff (junk mail, worn-out clothes that she was going to mend “someday,” old newspapers and magazines, 5-year-old grocery receipts), she got very upset and wouldn’t let us touch anything. When I was 13 and my sister was 10, she had surgery and was hospitalized for two weeks, so we cleared out the junk and repainted several rooms. But no sooner did she recover than she filled the whole house with stuff again. The same thing happened over and over for the rest of her life.

The thing people need to understand is that hoarding isn’t a case of a lazy person who won’t do housework and family members who won’t step up and help. Hoarders have an abnormal attachment to their stuff, even items that most of us view as trash, and if someone tries to get rid of any of it, they behave as if it were an attack on them personally. My mother was friendly, funny, kindhearted and intelligent, but if I tried to throw out one of her bags of ancient junk mail, she turned into Raging Tigress. Hoarding is not a bad habit that a person can overcome by exercising discipline and willpower; it’s a mental illness that requires professional help and is notoriously difficult to treat. Thanks for helping to raise awareness of the problem. — Been There

Dear Been There:

This is the first time I’ve heard from someone who grew up with a hoarder parent, and your personal insight is invaluable. Thank you for writing.

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