My friend recently bought a new house. The previous owner, whom I knew, was murdered in the house. It was horrible. This woman was a good person—a teacher at a local school. My boyfriend was her student, and he loved her. I understand that it’s part of life to move on, and that the woman’s family had to sell her house. What I don’t understand is why my friend had to buy it. My boyfriend has made it perfectly clear that he will not visit my friend at his house ever.His teacher was murdered in her kitchen, and my boyfriend cannot accept that someone else will be living in her house. I’m not comfortable going there, either. It makes me uneasy that someone died so violently in that place. I don’t believe in ghosts; I just have an odd feeling about it. How do I tell this to my friend without upsetting him?
You don’t tell your friend, because that would be a terrible burden to put on someone who wants to make a pleasant life in his new home. I understand your unease over the horror that happened in the place, but I assume your boyfriend doesn’t expect that his teacher’s house should stand vacant forever, cordoned off by fraying, yellow barricade tape. You’re right—the family had to sell the house, so try to think of this situation as your friend helping these bereaved people instead of doing something malign. You say you don’t believe in ghosts, but wouldn’t the teacher have preferred, as a tribute to her memory, that her house be filled with happiness and good times again? Since you are less adamant than your boyfriend, be the one to break the boycott—go to the house and welcome your friend. Surely, you will quickly realize that he is not living in an endless loop of The Sixth Sense. Then try to convince your boyfriend that shunning the house, and your friend, permanently memorializes his teacher’s loss, not her life.
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with a rare, but not serious, neurological disorder—prosopagnosia, also known as “face blindness.” I have a severely impaired ability to recognize facial features. My whole life, I’ve always thought I was just “bad with faces,” but I (and many people with this condition) learned to compensate by recognizing people by other clues—hair color and length, glasses, style of dress, manner of walking, etc. The diagnosis has been a relief, making me feel better about all the social blunders I’ve made in the past, like not recognizing good family friends when I ran into them unexpectedly. I recently started working at a great law firm as a “floating” secretary, which means I rotate to different desks every day, depending on which secretaries are out of the office. Everyone is wonderful; the problem is that I’m meeting a lot of new people, and with everyone in suits and in the same age range, I often can’t tell people apart. My condition is difficult to explain to people who see normally, but it’s a little more embarrassing when I mistake, say, a partner for a summer intern. Should I be upfront with people about my condition, and if so, what can I say that doesn’t make me come off as stupid?
—(Face) Blind as a Bat
Your condition doesn’t impair your intelligence, just your social interactions. Keeping it a secret seems likely to lead to awkward encounters and inadvertent snubs when you fail to recognize people who think you should know them by now. But by being direct and comfortable about this disorder, you will put others at ease and make it more understandable when you don’t know someone because she’s gotten new glasses, or you repeatedly have to ask someone’s name. Go to either the human resources department or the managing partner and explain your disorder. Take with you information from this Web site at Harvard, where there is a prosopagnosia research group. At the meeting, you can discuss a strategy that makes you most comfortable. Perhaps that means the lawyers you work with will receive a brief memo about your condition, and be asked to remind you of their names before they give you a task. And be aware that “floating” around an office is a less-than-ideal situation for someone with prosopagnosia. Make it your goal to land in a permanent place, which will allow you to focus on telling one suit from another.
I just turned 30, and my younger sister “Caity” is in her late 20s. Caity and I generally get along very well, love each other, and enjoy spending time together. However, since we were very young, I have felt inadequate when compared with her in terms of intelligence, abilities, and looks. My feelings of inadequacy have been complicated by the fact that we grew up in an emotionally disturbed household and our single mother openly favored Caity. Throughout our lives, my sister has taken part in the same classes, sports, and pastimes as me. She excelled in all of them, far beyond what I was able to accomplish. It was a struggle to maintain my self-esteem. As we grew older, I developed my own identity and have been able to take pride in my life and accomplishments. Today, I’m a doctor. Now, however, Caity is thinking of pursuing the same profession, and even going into the same specialty. This has dredged up many old, unpleasant feelings, and I find myself dreading this possibility. I have even thought about moving to a different area. (Due to education loans, changing careers at this point is not a realistic option.) Caity is extremely and openly competitive, and I would not enjoy working within the same field as her. Also, due to the real difference in our innate abilities, I will inevitably fall short of what she is able to accomplish. So far, I have not discussed this with Caity, though I have been thinking about her plans frequently. Is it fair even to broach this topic with her? Or is it my responsibility as an adult to deal with my insecurities on my own?
—Neither the Pretty nor the Smart Sister
Let’s say you’re an endocrinologist. Your patients are not going to whisper to one another in your waiting room, “Psst, for your goiter treatment, go to this one’s sister, Dr. Caity. She’s a real piece of eye candy, and smarter, too.” If it’s any comfort, the Hebrew Bible has a deep understanding of the noxious effects of parents favoring one sibling (often the younger) over another—think of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. It is no surprise that you were scarred by your upbringing, and it is a tribute to you that you are able to maintain a decent relationship with your sister. But look at your letter and see the contradictions in it. You say you take pride in your accomplishments, but then you call yourself the not-smart sister. You say you love your sister and enjoy spending time with her, but then you say if you could afford to, you’d relocate so you don’t have to be near her. Since your sister’s announcement has provoked such distress in you, this is a good time for you to explore in therapy the effects of your childhood, and try to put to rest your mother’s disparagement, which you still carry in your head. After you have worked through some of these issues, you then need to figure out whether you want to talk to Caity about this. Though she got the bulk of your mother’s praise, she too, has to have been affected by your mother’s sickness. Perhaps she sincerely has found in herself a love of your medical specialty; or perhaps, as she faces adulthood, she is seeking to relive the patterns of her youth, when she could always triumph over you. If you do decide to have a conversation with her about her career thoughts, don’t accuse her of trying to undermine you. Instead, tell her you’ve been taken aback by how her choice has revived what you thought were long-vanished feelings of rivalry and inadequacy, and you wanted to be able to talk to her about your painful childhoods.
I’d been dating a guy for almost two years when out of the blue he told me he wanted to date other people. We agreed to still date each other, as I am completely in love with him. We still talk about once a week, sharing jokes and everything we did when we were a “couple.” But it’s been over two months since I’ve seen him. I asked whether we were ever going to go out on a date, and he said, yes, he’s just been short on cash. I understand, as I knew about his financial situation when we were together. So I guess my questions are: Do I keep waiting for him to ask me out again? Do I ask him out? Or do I say bye-bye?
—Confused With Love
His tough financial situation has probably been exacerbated by all the money he is spending dating other women. Say bye-bye.