Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I have a supervisor who knows her stuff, and I respect her judgment and guidance. My problem is that she’s very emotional. When she gets upset at something that someone says—which happens constantly, and is usually over nothing—she talks about the person endlessly and vitriolically with her other friends in the office. Also, when she gets upset about a work-related issue, she cries—to me, in my office. For example, the other morning she came into my office, closed the door, and sobbed about what she thought was a snippy comment that someone made in a meeting. She will now hate this person with unbridled passion until a superficial conversation makes them friends again. I have no idea how to deal with this drama. My wife says that women are just different, and I should learn to accept it. I’m at a loss as to how to react.
I have to disagree with two premises here: One is that your boss has good judgment; the other is that her behavior is to be expected from a female. She may have good technical knowledge and make sound business decisions. But to be a competent boss also requires managing both subordinates and one’s own emotions. Instead, she incites feuds and draws everyone into her psychodrama. Unfortunately, she has designated you as her involuntary therapist. So you should have long-term and short-term treatment goals. Long term, you want to fire her as a patient. That is, you should be looking for opportunities inside and, if necessary, outside the company to escape from having her as a supervisor. You could also talk about her emotional volatility to human resources. Praise her good qualities, then specifically describe how her constant talking about “enemies” and weeping in the office is undermining productivity and morale. Short term, you want to stay dry and on her good side. So put a box of tissues on your desk, and when she bursts in, make noncommittal, empathetic-sounding statements, i.e., “I hear what you’re saying,” “I can see that was very upsetting.” You could try to shape her behavior by helping her see that she’s overreacting, i.e., “That’s annoying, but Jack’s brusque to everyone, so he probably didn’t mean anything by it.” If she bridles, stick to the anodyne remarks. The danger here is that you get so good at this that she orders a couch for you and comes in for 50-minute sessions. I know none of this is your actual job, but the better you are at managing her, the faster you will be able to attend to your real work.
I recently moved back to my hometown and reconnected with a bunch of my old buddies. While visiting my best friend, whom I’ve known my whole life, I saw that he had a new dog. The dog spends his entire day in the apartment in a crate much better suited for a smaller breed. My friend lets his dog out of his cage only twice a day, 20 minutes at a time. If the dog doesn’t respond at first call, he swiftly kicks it until it whimpers and crawls back into the cage. I told him that’s no way to treat a dog. I checked with our other friends, and they’re also horrified and have told him the same thing. He has no family here anymore, so if I called the authorities and he was arrested, he’d lose his lease and be homeless. This poor dog doesn’t deserve its life, but I’m afraid I can’t do anything without also putting my best friend onto the street.
Since you’ve known this guy forever, and you never before felt you were best buddies with Michael Vick, I’m wondering whether your friend is perhaps suffering from a mental disorder. It sounds as if abusing an animal is totally out of character for him. And your concern about causing him possible homelessness indicates a lot of things are very wrong with his life. I think you need to perform an intervention for both the dog and your friend. First of all, get in touch with his family and tell them why you’re worried. Since there is a group of you who are disturbed by what’s going on, have a few pals come with you to your friend’s house and explain you’re concerned about him and his pet. Tell him you’ve always known him to be a caring person, but his dog is miserable, and it doesn’t seem like him to treat an animal cruelly. Ideally, you could take the dog immediately, and then find a rescue group that will give it a new home. If the conversation goes well and your friend acknowledges his life feels out of control, then all of you can offer to help find him a doctor. If, however, he becomes angry and defensive, you have to back off and back out. Then go ahead and report his abuse to the authorities—whatever the cause, this animal has to be saved.
I’m going to marry my boyfriend of six years in a few months, and we are excited about starting a family. We were best friends during college, and our relationship has matured into a very loving and supportive one. There is one issue that bothers me: his alcohol consumption. We are both moderate drinkers, but he will go through phases of binge drinking that lead to unsavory results. I find his slurring and stumbling unattractive, and he has broken promises to me about drinking with his friends. Last night he soiled himself on his walk home, something he’s never done before. He has a family history of alcoholism and is defensive about this issue. Whenever I discuss my dissatisfaction with his drinking, I come off as judgmental, so I go the route of forgiveness. But I’m feeling angry about his behavior, and I’m even starting to get cold feet. I don’t want to police his drinking habits, but I don’t know how to make him understand that I’m not comfortable with his recent antics.
What a coincidence—this email, dated April 2020, just landed in my inbox:
My husband got arrested last night for drunken driving. It’s not his first arrest, and this one means he’s going to lose his job. The only good news is that he didn’t have the kids in the car with him—he has driven with them after having too much to drink. I have stayed home since the children were born, so I don’t know how I’m going to find a job that can support us. When he’s not drinking, my husband is the man I want to spend my life with—but the times he’s not drinking are fewer and fewer. If only I could go back to before our marriage. I wish I had told him that I’m postponing the wedding until he acknowledges he’s an alcoholic, goes to A.A., and shows that he can stay sober. But I didn’t want to be preachy, and the wedding invitations had gone out, and I’d already bought my dress. At the wedding, my brand-new husband got drunk and spilled wine all over my dress, which should have told me something. The ruined dress no longer matters; I’m terrified that I’ve ruined my life and my kids’ lives. Prudie, what do I do now?
I dated a girl in college in the late 1970s. She was my first love, but after graduation we returned to our home states. We got together a few times, then lost touch, but she never really left my thoughts. I mentally marked her birthday every year, though she remained frozen in my mind at age 22. Then Google made it possible to find out about her. I saw she had married in the ‘80s and had two kids, just as I had. A few weeks ago, I saw an ad for a new TV series in which “first loves” find each other and reunite romantically after years apart. It felt as if the producers had peered into my soul. I looked up her name again and found a single new entry: her obituary. Cancer. Age 50. She’d died one month prior. I’m crushed. It’s like part of my youth has been snuffed out. Any thoughts I ever had about contacting her, catching up, or even reuniting are gone forever. Further, I cannot tell anyone about it, certainly not my wife. I would like to know more about her life. I would like to send a card. How do I grieve?
To you, she is the other path in life, the girl who is always 22. But even though her life ended far too young, she wasn’t 22, and she didn’t exist just to be your fantasy. She was a real, middle-aged woman with a husband and children who are mourning the loss of the life she actually led. Maybe during that life she had occasional thoughts of you but remained glad she had found another love. After all, you would have been easy for her to locate, but she never reached out. It would be strange and intrusive now to get in touch with these grieving strangers as a way to keep your fantasy alive. Given that Facebook makes one’s past ubiquitous, I suppose you could ‘friend’ old college classmates and try to find out more about her through them. But what for? Maybe the best way to honor the girl you let get away is to refocus on the girl you chose, the middle-aged woman with whom you share your real middle-aged life.