Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
A good friend and I are students in an advanced degree program, the completion of which is a prerequisite for getting a job in our field—I’m about to finish, and she’s somewhat behind me. I’m away from school doing research and have started applying for jobs. The problem is my friend wants a job with a particular organization, although she’s not currently in a position to apply for it. She has said that if I get a job there, she will not be able to, because our credentials are so similar. She’s also said she doesn’t think I’d be happy there. Because of her objections, I did not tell my friend I applied to work at the organization. Now I’ve made it to a first-round interview. I was so excited about the news that I posted it on my Facebook page before realizing that I should have told her first. I e-mailed her, explaining that I’d applied and that I hoped to see her when I got back to school. She wrote back that she had discovered the whole thing from my Facebook page and that she didn’t want to see me. I am devastated. Was I wrong to apply? Should I cancel my interview? Is there any way to fix this?
The solution here seems to be for your friend to contact the human resources department of her dream organization and tell them that while she’s not actually applying for a job, she doesn’t want anyone else to, either—especially any of her friends!—and they should just hold the slot until she’s good and ready. Sure, you understand that your friend feels irrationally jealous and betrayed, but if you two are pursuing careers in a fairly narrow specialty, you may find yourselves competing for choice spots. You can send her another e-mail reiterating your apology for not giving her a heads up, but saying you can’t apologize about the application. Explain that if the situation were reversed, and she was getting out of school first, you’d expect her to apply for every great job available, even the ones you covet. Say that getting launched in this economy may be tough, but you’re confident that there will be enough opportunities for you both to thrive. Add that her friendship means a great deal to you, and you hope to remain friends and supportive colleagues. Then it’s up to her to decide whether to throw away your friendship. On another issue, I understand social networking is erasing any notion that some things are best kept private. But you should know not to post anything on Facebook that you don’t want everyone to see on Facebook. It seems like a poor idea to advertise to your 500 closest friends that you’ve made the first cut for a job interview, and not just because of the situation with your friend. For one thing, you’ve just increased the chances that someone at the organization gets wind of your blabbing and decides you lack the discretion to be a good fit.
I am 23 years old and recently lost my mother to cancer. It has been a difficult time, but I have managed to get through it without succumbing to grief or despair. While all of my friends have tried to be supportive, I have noticed that people my age have a hard time listening or knowing what to do when I talk about my mom. When I say things like, “Oh, my mom loved baking those cookies” or “My mom and dad met at a pizza place,” my comments are met with silence and a look of pity from the person to whom I am speaking. I know they feel awkward and don’t know what to say, but I need to be able to talk about my mom because it helps me remember her and be at peace with the situation. I want to be able to continue as we would any conversation about parents, as opposed to it turning into a pity party. How can I get this point across to my friends?
—Accepting My Loss
I’m sorry for your loss, and you’re clearly doing a remarkable job of coping at a young age with such a big blow. You’re right, younger people in particular may not ever have had to deal with death, so they have no idea how to behave naturally around the subject. And people in general often feel it’s better not to mention someone who has died—as if the silence will really mean the grief-stricken person won’t think about his or her loved one. You can help your friends and yourself by explaining to them what you’ve explained so well here. The next time you mention your mother and are confronted with an awkward silence and sorrowful looks, you can say, “I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable if I talk about my mom. It feels good to think about her. And it might sound odd, but bringing her up actually helps me accept that she’s gone.” This doesn’t mean some of your friends won’t still be uncomfortable, but that’s OK, because you’ll be more comfortable. And don’t let the pitying looks get to you. It’s perfectly natural for your friends’ faces to reflect that they’re sad on your behalf, but as you lead the way, the looks will fade in time.
My son recently turned 1 year old. We adopted him at birth from a young girl who was in no position to take care of him. We had a close relationship with her in the months leading up to his birth and were at the hospital when she delivered him. The biological grandmother made an appearance at the hospital and had a glimpse of our son, and she asked for our address so that she could send a present for him. We complied but never heard anything further from her. Last weekend, we received a hand-made outfit from the biological grandmother, as well as a check to start a college fund for our son. My wife doesn’t want to accept the check because she is afraid that the baby’s biological family will try to worm their way into his life. There is no danger of anyone taking our son from us, as the adoption was finalized. I feel that there is no harm in graciously accepting the check and possibly giving them a yearly update on the progress of our son. If he ever wants to find out things about his biological family, I think it would be helpful for us to have had at least limited contact with them throughout the years. Any advice?
Often, in an open adoption such as yours, there is a formal agreement that the adoptive parents will give yearly updates about the child for at least some period. One of the reasons the biological mother placed her child with you was to give him a better chance at achieving a goal like a college education, so I think it is a very touching gift that the biological grandmother wants to contribute toward that. I can understand your wife’s concern, but it is probably a good sign that the grandmother has not been an intrusive presence and now has simply marked the first anniversary of your son’s birth with some heartfelt presents. I agree with you that the gracious thing to do would be to accept them and write back that when your son does go to college, he will know that the first deposit toward his tuition was made by her. You could also enclose a photo of your son wearing the outfit. Some adopted children eventually want to contact their biological relatives, and some don’t, but when the time comes, the option should be his. Maintaining a degree of contact with his birth family will not endanger your relationship with your son; your openness will only strengthen it.
I am a 32-year-old single mother of a teenager, and I have been dating a great guy for the past year. He is my age and has no kids. Most of my relationships haven’t lasted more than a few months. This guy is perfect in many respects. He constantly tells me he loves me, gets along with my son, helps me around my house, plans his weekends to include me, and has introduced me to his family. The problem is that in the past year he has never bought me flowers. I know it may seem petty, but it’s something I think shows a woman that a man was thinking about her throughout the day and that he appreciates her. I have mentioned to him how much this bothers me, but it doesn’t seem to change. Should I be concerned?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning understood how you feel. In her exquisite “Sonnet 44,” which begins, “Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers,” the poet writes of how the blossoms from her lover have taken root in her own soul. However, reviewing your situation, here is the first line of my sonnet to you: “Flowerless, thou art out of thy blooming mind.” You were a teenage mother who has been alone nearly the entirety of your son’s life. Now, you have someone who loves you, takes care of you and your son, and offers you the possibility of building a life together—and you’re hectoring him because he doesn’t conform to some horticultural cliché you’ve invested with disproportionate meaning. My sonnet for you ends thusly: “Forget the flowers, lest ye be boyfriendless.”