Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone, and thanks for your patience. Let’s dive in!
Q. Outed my friend: I met Ray the first week at college. He’s gay and I’m a lesbian, and it’s been great to have a friend who gets it. Last week his parents were in town and I ran into them all at a local restaurant and asked them if Ray’s boyfriend was going to join them. It kicked off. His parents were livid, there was a very frosty fight, and then they left town early without a word. He’s livid with me and is telling all our friends what I did.
The thing is, while I’m really sorry this happened, Ray told me he was out to everyone. I was the one still in the closet when we met, and he encouraged me to come out to my parents because he’d never felt such relief as when he told his. I have emails where he told me about this and told me I had to come out to my family if I wanted to have a good, honest relationship like he did with his parents. He told me the details of that conversation and about the uncle who didn’t accept him and how his family cut that uncle off. I guess, in hindsight, I should have realized it was a bit perfect—that maybe the reason he was so insistent I come out was a sort of trial run to see how it could go—but I never thought it wasn’t true.
I am not mad at Ray for being angry. In my case, coming out was for the best and he helped me with that, so I owe him. And even if I didn’t mean to, I caused him a lot of pain with this. It’s just that everyone that I’ve met here at college also met Ray, and now they’re all really angry at me and I’ve been told I’m not welcome at some events because I don’t make people feel safe. Would it be OK to tell some people that I was under the impression that Ray was out? It might make my life easier, but right now Ray’s the one who needs more support and this could complicate that. Besides, maybe I should have known to keep my mouth shut.
A: I don’t think you should have guessed that Ray was lying about coming out to his family just because the picture he painted was a particularly rosy one! You have every right to clarify to your mutual friends what actually happened, since Ray is now misrepresenting your behavior too, not just his family’s. He’s clearly in a lot of distress, and you can certainly discuss the situation with compassion, but what he’s saying about you is both untrue and having a negative effect on your social life. You weren’t “under the impression” Ray was out—he told you he was out. He went so far as to describe the details of his coming out to his parents, and you had no reason not to believe him. Tell your friends the truth and don’t let yourself become a pariah just because you feel sympathy for Ray.
Q. Feet of clay: My mother was abusive. I’ve dealt with it in therapy, but it’s still difficult.
She died while my children were still young, so they only have the vaguest memories of her (and they were never left alone with her, if you were wondering). For whatever reason, they have built up this image of a loving, “awesome” woman. Sometimes they say “Grandma was amazing!” which bothers me a lot. I don’t want to shatter their image of a loving, cookie-baking grandmother, but every time they talk about how awesome Grandma was, a tiny knife twists inside. Should I say anything (even something mild), or just let it go?
A: I suppose it depends on how old your children are. If they’re nearing adulthood, you might let them in on a broad-strokes version of your mother’s abuse; if they’re still fairly young it might be best to talk with your therapist about how you’ll talk about her to them in a few years. You certainly have scope to speak to them about your experience with her, so I don’t think you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of pretending your mother was a loving, kind woman, but I do think it’s a conversation you should plan out carefully. Since she’s already dead and you don’t have to worry about the kids asking to visit her, you have time on your side. After you do have the initial conversation, whether that be tomorrow or a year or two from now, it will be helpful to reassure the kids that it’s OK to have fond memories of her and that you’re available to answer questions if they have any.
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Q. Moving out: I’m in my last year in college, and my third year living with one of my best friends, “Amber.” I had a difficult semester last fall, and my emotional well-being took a hit. My relationship with Amber suffered during this time. Now, as I’m preparing for my last semester, I can’t stand the idea of living with her anymore. I’m still angry with her for some of the things she did while I was struggling.
I’ve made the decision to move out and live on my own. I’m happy with this decision; I think it’s the best choice for me and my mental health. However, I don’t know how to tell Amber. She’s been a great friend in many ways, and I’m Amber’s only friend (which, admittedly, has contributed to a dysfunctional dynamic at times). How do I tell her that her only friend is moving out and doesn’t want to see her anymore?
A: If you were moving out and wanted to take some time apart but hoped to resume a friendship with Amber in the future, I might have different advice, but since you don’t want to see her again and plan on ending the friendship, all you have to do is be polite but honest. Give her as much notice as you can since this decision will affect her financially—she’ll need to either find another roommate or another place to live that she can afford—and just tell her you’re moving out. Don’t spend too much time telling her what a great friend she’s been “in many ways;” if you’re not interested in staying friends it’s going to ring fairly hollow. Friend breakups can be extremely painful, but it sounds like this friendship has been dead in the water for a while now. The kindest thing you can do is be honest about what you want, accept that she’ll be hurt and angry, and don’t try to pressure her to see the end of this friendship with the same relief and acceptance that you do.
Q. Future mother-in-law: My fiancé’s parents generously offered to help pay for our wedding, which we happily took them up on. His mom is super excited—she bought me bridal magazines, offered to take me dress shopping, and she sent me money to go toward my dress after I politely declined.
I want her to be involved, but it’s clear that our wedding visions do not align. The biggest issue is that she wants to double our invite list. She thinks that if they’re willing to pay for it, it’s fine. I don’t want to piss off my future mother-in-law, but I also don’t want more than half of the guests at my wedding to be people I’ve never met. It’s causing a lot of stress on my relationship with her, on my fiancé who feels caught in the middle, and on my mom who feels shut out of planning. Should I cave or put my foot down?
A: Neither, exactly. Talk with your fiancé. Pick a compromise-number of guests that you’d be happy with that’s higher than the number you have now, but still something short of twice, then have a conversation with your fiancé’s parents as a team. Don’t go into that conversation as the sort of good cop/bad cop dynamic you’ve had, where you want something and your fiancé turns green around the gills and doesn’t commit to anything. Tell his parents that you don’t want to have such an overwhelming guest list on your big day that you feel lost in the crowd, but that you want them to be able to extend invitations to some of their close friends, and suggest a number somewhere in the middle.
Q. I’m scared of my boyfriend catching up to me financially: I make significantly more money than my boyfriend. He grew up with a mother who made much more than his father, so he doesn’t have any hangups when it comes to who is the primary breadwinner in the household.
The other day he talked about the raises that are coming up, and when I realized by the end of the year that he would only make a few dollars less than me an hour, I felt a little bit of panic. I have been encouraging him to reach higher when it comes to his career because he was underpaid when he first started with the company. I am so proud of him for working his way up and earning significantly more in the short time that he’s been there, but I can’t help but feel competitive about our wages. Part of me doesn’t want him to surpass me, and I know it’s wrong to think this way. Shouldn’t I feel happy that he is climbing up the ladder and earning more?
A: If nothing else, I think reading through a backlog of this column should disabuse you of the notion that most people feel what they think they should upon receiving good news. More often than not, I think the initial response to change (even, maybe especially, a good change) is mild panic, bewilderment, and resentment.
Rather than trying to talk yourself out of your own feelings, I think you should treat them with curiosity: What about the idea of your boyfriend making more money than you feels the most upsetting? Do you worry that he’ll try to use money to control you? Are you worried that you’ve developed part of your relationship around a dynamic where you have to make more money than he does? What aspect of your personality or idea of yourself feels most threatened? Did you expect it would take him longer to go from being underpaid to making almost as much money as you do, and does it feel like you had to work harder or wait longer to get to where you are now? Do you want to ask for a raise at work yourself?
Spend a little time with those questions before sharing your feelings with your boyfriend. I don’t mean you should lead with, “Hey, I’m actually resentful at the prospect of you making more money,” but I think once you have a stronger sense of what you’re feeling insecure about, you can communicate that you are both proud of and excited for him, while at the same time struggling with some fears you hadn’t realized you had. Make sure that on balance you spend more time celebrating his success than dwelling on your fears, but don’t feel like this is a deep, shadowy secret you have to keep from him.
Q. Re: Feet of clay: While my mother wasn’t physically abusive, she was, and still is, manipulative. What I told my daughter, who is now an adult, is that Grandma was a much better grandma than a mom. As an adult, my daughter now understands Grandma and calls her out on some of her antics. My daughter doesn’t have the emotional baggage that I have regarding my mother and that was my goal. There are appropriate ways to discuss this with your kids without either completely crushing their image of their grandma or deifying her.
A. That will be useful to stress, I think, so that the kids don’t feel guilty for having enjoyed their grandma’s company when they were little. I hope the letter writer can talk to a therapist or a close friend or even a journal about some of the more painful aspects of hearing their children say they loved their grandmother. It’s not appropriate to say to the kids, “Every time you say something nice about her, I feel a knife twist in my heart,” but the letter writer deserves to be able to share that with someone.
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Q. Wedding un-invite: A year ago, one of my very good friends asked me if I could commit to being his date for two weddings. He is on a two-year program out of the country, and as it happens, he can no longer attend the first one, which is fine. The second wedding however, is still a go, and he has reminded me multiple times to keep my schedule open (as I travel a lot for work).
I just had a conversation with him, and while we were catching up I discovered (when I asked) that I am no longer invited, if his non-citizen girlfriend is able to obtain a visa and attend the wedding with him instead of me. If she is not able to attend, he assumed that I would still want to accompany him. Am I wrong for feeling like this is very rude? This is a close friend of 10 years. I have already indicated that I do not want to attend at all, as I was not aware that I was a backup plan.
A: It’s totally rude! You two have been close for a long time, so tell him that you feel hurt about being asked to keep your normally busy schedule wide open for something you’re not actually invited to. It’s not like he asked you to go see a movie at the last minute because his girlfriend had to work late. Tell him that you feel slighted, that you wish he’d told you about his simultaneous attempts to get her invited as a guest instead sooner, and that you’d appreciate an apology and more consideration from him in the future.
Q. Re: Moving out: Why move out in February? You only have four months of college left. Give Amber a break and stay in the apartment until you graduate. Don’t cause her to have a difficult semester, too.
A. I don’t know if the lease is up now and the letter writer might have to sign on for another year if they don’t leave this month, but assuming it wouldn’t be totally ruinous to stay until graduation, I suppose it’s worth considering. It’s pretty awful to have to stay in the same house with a former friend after the relationship has deteriorated this badly, but if the letter writer is hoping to part on at least sort-of friendly terms, it might be worth considering, even if it means spending a lot of time in their room with the door closed or spending the weekends at other friends’ apartments.
Q. Stubborn mom, haven’t spoken in almost a year: My mom tends to find ways to sever relationships with everyone in her life. At the end of last March, she and I had a big falling out and have not spoken since. I have reached out to her multiple times via calls, texts, and even email, mostly in the beginning, seeing as it was right before both of our birthdays and Mother’s Day. We live about four hours apart, and the only way I have not tried to contact her is by showing up at her house.
The reason for the falling out is sticky, and up until my brother told me otherwise, the reason I thought she was upset with me was completely different than what she told my brother. I have apologized countless times and am tired of being the only adult in this parent-child relationship. She has never been one to apologize and is as stubborn as they come. She has not said a peep to me and I am convinced if I don’t reach out (yet again) or show up at her house, we will never speak again.
If that were to happen, how does our relationship go back to normal? I don’t foresee it ever being normal again. I’ve even gone as far as to have the thought that I wouldn’t trust her with my future children just because she may be the type to be spiteful and harm them to harm me. She has no money for therapy and I assume doesn’t think anything is wrong with her, but instead that everything is wrong with me. How do I proceed with this situation?
A. You can’t continue with this strategy, I don’t think. It sounds like you’ve barraged her with attempts to reconcile through every nearly every medium of communication, and she’s made it extremely clear that she doesn’t want to talk to you. You have every reason to believe your mother would be as spiteful and mercurial with your children, if you had any, as she is with you; however, you do not need to wait until you have children she can snub in order to change the way you try to relate to your mother. I say the way in which you try to relate to your mother and not your relationship with your mother because right now you don’t have a relationship with her, and there’s not much you can do about the fact that she doesn’t want to talk to.
But you can figure out what you would do with your fears, insecurities, and impulses if you stopped trying to get her to call you back. If you can afford therapy, I think you should go yourself even if she never does, and spend some time with the question, “How do I build a happy, calm life for myself that doesn’t depend on my mother coming around to seeing things my way and apologizing?”
From Care and Feeding
Q. I Can’t Bond With My Baby. What Do I Do? Of course I love her and want her to be happy and healthy, but I have no desire to care for her or really even hold her. Is there something wrong with me? Am I emotionally stunting my sweet daughter by not bonding with her?