An individual with the same name as mine has recently been in the news. A lot. For some not very nice things. It’s not simply the supposedly “just joking” jibes from friends and co-workers I’m enduring. I’m not looking forward to going through the rest of my life guilty by association. Besides growing rhino skin or changing my name, how do I deal with this, other than repeating over and over that I am …
—Not That Mark Foley
Dear Congressman … I mean, Dear Not,
Yes, you’re in for a siege of “Hey, don’t ask my son for his e-mail address!” jokes, but you’re probably looking at weeks or possibly months, not a lifetime of this. In response, you can smile wanly and sigh, “I haven’t heard that one in about 20 minutes,” as you wait for the next scandal to take the congressman off the front pages and out of people’s minds. If new acquaintances from work or elsewhere inquire as to whether you used to represent Palm Beach, just say, “No, fortunately, we’re not related.” It’s true there are some names that never lose their power to evoke disgrace—it’s good not to be named Fatty Arbuckle or Benedict Arnold. But Rep. Dan Crane was once the scandal du jour for having sex with a female page. I’m sure the other Dan Cranes of the world no longer have to explain they’re not “that” Dan Crane.
Although I was raised in a Jerry Springer-type family, I have had the opportunity in my life to go to college and get a good job. Through a lot of luck, you could call me middle class now. My humble start has created some problems for me. Over time, I have tried hard to learn better manners and social skills, but I always feel uncomfortable and inadequate socially when I am with my colleagues and peers. However, I also don’t feel I can entirely relate to people from my background and I feel terrible when I realize that I’m probably a snob. It’s a conflict that extends not only professionally, but socially, romantically. I would probably be more comfortable with a simple small-town man, but I want someone who can fit in to my world. I believe I have the right to live my dreams, but I often feel that in pursuing them, I have moved into a life that is isolated and uncomfortable. I can learn many things, but I don’t know how to learn the social skills I need, or how to be more comfortable or relate to people who were raised in such a different way, and I am tired of feeling like a fake.
—Torn Between Two Cultures
What do you mean when you say you can’t relate to people from your background? Are you referring to fellow Jerry Springer Show escapees (and if they escaped, too, you should have a lot to relate to), or to people from modest circumstances? If it’s the latter, you are a snob if you think someone’s economic background determines their social skills or character. As for having more opportunities than your parents—that’s called the American Dream. Did Bill Clinton’s childhood prepare him to lead the life he has? Or Oprah Winfrey’s? If you feel uncomfortable about your manners, read a couple of volumes on etiquette: Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and Emily Post’s Etiquette are good places to start. Yes, you will learn how to eat snails and what to do in a receiving line. But most of all you will see you’ve probably already figured out the mystery of much social behavior—it’s about being gracious to others and at ease with yourself. Another secret: No matter how privileged your colleagues’ backgrounds, every one of them has moments of doubt and awkwardness. Stop worrying that you don’t belong, and be glad that your brains and hard work have gotten you to such a rewarding place in life. Once you accept this, you will naturally start feeling less isolated because you will stop being so harsh toward yourself, and others.
I am a college freshman staying in a triple dorm room. My first few weeks have been fun, hanging out with my roommates and the friends we’ve made doing our respective activities. All was well until a mutual friend came to me and told me that my roommates had started coming up with schemes and ruses to ditch me when they do activities. I have since verified this through other means, including overhearing one of these planning sessions when they thought I was asleep. I’m confused and wondering what my next move should be; I’m in this room for the remainder of the year, since the university barely has enough housing to accommodate everyone in triples, so I can’t switch rooms. My roommates both seem like good people who are fun to be around and I would want to continue hanging out with, a feeling that is apparently not shared. The nature of communal living means I can’t just ignore them, a course of action I might otherwise have taken. Should I confront them, pretend to be aloof, or do something else?
—Confused in College
First, check in with the housing office. There may be other people in triple drama rooms equally eager to flee. In many situations in life, confronting the unpleasantness head-on is the best way to go. But in the case of these mean girls, it will probably only thrill them to see that they have gotten to you. What you need to do is stay friendly, while reducing their ability to bother you. (I wouldn’t go the route of Mean Girls, which requires you to adopt their dark ways; or of Heathers, which calls for homicide.) Your greatest strength is the fact that they can’t ditch you if you don’t want to go. Since you are enjoying your new college experience, keep having fun. Throw yourself into classes, join some campus clubs. You will be so busy, and making so many new friends, that you will spend minimal time in the dorm. How frustrating for your roommates to cook up little conspiracies to leave you out when you’re not there. Since you’re generous enough to say you enjoy this pair, perhaps over time they will begin to grow up and drop the games. If so, you can (cautiously) start socializing with them. If not, you’ll be done with them by the spring.
I have a wonderful husband, but here’s my problem: I’m high-strung and he has all sorts of nervous tics. When he reads or watches TV, he wiggles his leg or scratches his hair or eyebrows or picks at his cuticles or hums under his breath. We are in a completely negative dynamic where I’m always saying, “Please don’t … [whatever].” He says that I won’t let him breathe. I say that I can’t relax with all this activity going on. I’ve tried hard to just to ignore it. I’ve suggested that he might ask his doctor whether these tics have a medical basis, but that just incenses him. Any advice on how to end this negative spiral?
—Want To Relax
During your courtship, did you happen to notice that he had shpilkes? Did you find his leg wiggling endearing then? You married a guy who fidgets; possibly he has a mild form of Tourette’s syndrome. But he’s at peace with himself and there aren’t really good treatments for ants in the pants, so why try to force a diagnosis? As far as medication is concerned, it would probably be easier to treat your anxiety. But I’m not recommending either of you take drugs in order to spend an agreeable evening together. Since you’re the one going berserk because of his tics, you need to address your own reaction. Take some yoga classes, then practice the breathing techniques when you feel the urge to chop off his wiggling legs. And try this change in perspective. Imagine you get a phone call that your wonderful husband has died. Would you think, “Well, that’s too bad, but now at least I can watch TV in peace”? No, you’d give anything to have your Energizer Bunny back on the couch next to you.