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At the age of 21, I dropped out of college midway through my senior year to take care of my ailing mother. My father continued to work while I cared for her day in and day out for two and a half years. I borrowed $4,500 from my father to pay for my expenses during that time. After she passed away, my father collected her life insurance money and began receiving a hefty pension from her state job. Imagine my surprise when I not only received nothing from her life insurance money but was also presented with the bill for the money I borrowed! It’s been more than a year now, and while I have not paid any of the money back, he never fails to bring up the fact that I “owe” him. Should I just pay the money and keep quiet, or should I present him with my own bill for the two and a half years of my life that I gave up?
Your father must be very confident that he’s going to live robustly and just about forever, because it’s hard to imagine your working up much interest in caring for him when he’s ailing. It’s too bad you didn’t get more clarity during your mother’s illness about how you would be supported while you put your life on hold to help ease the end of hers. Your father is not only cheap; he’s cruel. It sounds as if you didn’t know that about him, but presenting you with a bill for the meager living expenses he “loaned” you while caring for your dying mother is pretty irrefutable evidence. You need to have a conversation, preferably not a confrontation, with him about what’s happened. Explain to him that it was worth it to you to put your education aside temporarily to help your mother. Say you’re sure it would pain her to know that her illness has come between you. Tell him you should have asked directly for money to live on while you nursed your mother, but that he never could have gotten anyone to put in two and a half years of work for the $4,500 you “borrowed,” and you are deeply hurt and shaken that he is asking for it back. Acknowledge that her life insurance and pension go to him, but you think your mother would have wanted some portion of it to help you get started in life. I hope that by now you have finished your degree. If not, please do so. And know that however your father responds, the best tribute you can make to your mother’s memory is to go forward and have a full and satisfying life.
My husband and I are both in our mid-20s. My husband is an only child, and his parents gave him a gift of a generous amount of money for the down payment on our home. His parents, who live overseas, have decided they want to move to the United States. They have also decided to move into our home instead of getting their own place. After I had time to think it through and come to terms with the idea of living with my in-laws, who are in their early 50s, they dropped another bomb. They wish to move into the master bedroom—and my husband has agreed to it! I know that they have paid off more than half the cost of the house for us, but I’m at a loss for what to do. I don’t want to feel like a teenager again, living in my parents’ house. I love my husband and in-laws dearly and don’t want to hurt them, but the idea of it becoming “their” home rather than “ours” is very upsetting to me. Am I being too sensitive over a room?
—Wife Without a Home
I understand that in some places it is family tradition for the generations to live together and the parents to get the most palatial bedroom. Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito both live in compounds with their parents—and in both cases these living arrangements helped lead to the daughter-in-law losing her mind. I don’t care if your in-laws paid for the entire house and opened an account for you at Restoration Hardware to furnish it. It was a gift, and it’s your house. The idea of you permanently moving into the guest room so that your fiftysomething in-laws (who could be around for another 30-plus years) can have the master bedroom is enough to make any daughter-in-law suffer from an “adjustment disorder,” as Crown Princess Masako is said to. Go along with this, and you run the risk of dropping a bomb on your husband in the form of divorce papers. Have a frank discussion in which you say you love him and your in-laws, but you would prefer to sell the house and move somewhere smaller than live with them. Say moving in together will be bad for your relations with them and disastrous for your marriage. And insist this be cleared up before Mom and Dad get on the plane and show up at “their” house.
I am divorced and live in a condominium complex with my 7-year-old daughter. There is a man we run into at the pool constantly—he is a wonderful person and very nice to my daughter. I have absolutely no romantic interest in him, but it is clear that he would like to be more than friends. Usually we chat about current events, but this past weekend he came over to me, suntan lotion in hand, and asked whether I would “do his back.” I am squeamish generally, and he has a hairy, acne-covered back. I applied the lotion, but I do not want to do it again. I feel he crossed a very obvious line. What should I say if he asks again?
I’m baffled that you were not able to refuse this creepy request by saying, “Sorry, Roger, I don’t do backs.” He may be the wonderful person you say he is, but your description is rubbing me the wrong way. Since it’s obvious he’s interested in you, he should have asked you out long ago. Then you could have declined, and you two could just be neighbors. But now you’re stuck by the pool every weekend worrying that he’s going to come up with some new creative way to get you to stroke him like a hairy, acne-ridden dog. Since this guy is unavoidable, and since he hasn’t actually menaced you, you need to handle him gently but firmly. This means being polite but not chatty. It may mean picking up to go shortly after he appears at the pool (a “See you later” will suffice). You may even need to find a friend with a pool, so your daughter can swim elsewhere. You want to reduce your interactions with this guy to a minimum. If he asks you where you’ve been, just say you’ve been busy. And if he gets the nerve to ask you out, tell him you’re not in the market.
I recently signed up for a walk to help raise money for a worthy cause. I sent out e-mails to friends, family, and colleagues soliciting support. I stated that even a $5 donation would be appreciated. I’m delighted with the amount I’ve been able to raise, and for those who have not donated, I understand that it’s not everybody’s cause, finances are tight, people don’t like to donate online, etc. I don’t harbor any resentment. Except, there are a few people on the list for whom I have done significant favors. Writing résumés and cover letters for one friend, designing business cards and brochures for another, buying junk for a colleague’s kids’ school fundraisers. One friend even requested a donation on behalf of a cancer walk! I happily gave my time and money, never even considering some sort of payback. So now I find myself dismayed at both their reactions and mine. Not even $5—really? Should I send a reminder e-mail or say something? It feels so petty, but I’m having trouble letting it go.
So deeply embedded is our sense of fairness that even other primates get pissed off when they feel it has been violated. You say you completely understand that not everyone you solicit is going to cough up a sponsorship. You also say you did the favors without any expectation of reciprocation. But then, there you’ll be, muttering the entirety of your walk, “That’s the last time I help you with a résumé!” “Want a business card? Design it yourself!” “By the way, I’m no longer buying your kids’ junk.” “I support cancer walks—that’s why I’m sponsoring someone else!” We all keep a mental tally of favors done, and it seems like a breach when a request as small as yours goes unanswered. But keep in mind that a mass e-mail feels impersonal, and even if people meant to contribute, your e-mail was soon swamped by the daily deluge. So go ahead and send another one. Then, for the sake of your mental health, and your relationships with people who may not have meant to snub you, but just didn’t bother to hit the “contribute” button, give them a pass and let it go.