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About five years ago, a dear friend of ours announced that he was tired of the 9-to-5 and opened a bar after doing some fundraising among friends and family. The bar was a lot of fun, and great for local musicians, but a total financial disaster, mostly because my friend has no head for business. After a few years of running on fumes, he ran out of money and had to close down last fall. His friends and family were all relieved. The stress of running that bar nearly killed him, and he became a very mean person with a short temper. He lost a lot of friends as a result.
Since the bar closed, he has tried to rebuild some of those relationships. All seemed well until recently, when some of his musician buddies convinced him that after the pandemic subsides, he could resurrect the bar by starting a GoFundMe or similar crowdsourcing app. He thinks it will be different this time and that he knows which mistakes to avoid. He lives in his mother’s house, and she’s begged my husband and I to stage an intervention with some of his other friends. I’m torn, mostly because I think it will fail, but also because stubbornness isn’t quite the same thing as a physical addiction to drugs or alcohol that responds to treatment. Yes, it’s somewhat delusion, but he isn’t actually stealing from anyone. He’s just clinging to a lost dream. I also think his mother could give him a reality check of her own but refuses to stop bailing him out and wants someone else to be the bad guy. We don’t want him to go back to the guy he was when he ran the bar, but is there really anything else we can do?
There’s a lot of room between a full-scale intervention and pretending you think it’s a good idea the next time he mentions his plan to resurrect the bar. I agree that a formal intervention is over-the-top and unlikely to succeed, but I wonder if you’ve ever spoken directly to your friend about any of his choices or behavior in the past five years. Does he know you think running the bar nearly killed him? Does he know you think he became a “very mean person with a short temper”? Has he ever hurt you specifically, and if so, have you ever told him? Does he think you plan on donating to his future fundraiser, and if so, when were you planning on telling him you (presumably) won’t?
Decline his mother’s request to stage an intervention, wish her the best in finding ways to set her own limits, and then say something to him: “I’m really worried to hear you talking about bringing back the bar. There’s no good way to say this, but for five years you turned into a different person. I love you, but you were mean, short-tempered, defensive, and wouldn’t listen to anyone. You drove a lot of people away, and you hurt me personally. [Feel free to go into greater detail here, as you see fit.] I can’t support that plan.” Even if he doesn’t listen at first, it might plant a seed that leads to further reflection and change someday down the line. You don’t have to convince him he’s doing the wrong thing. You just need to speak to him honestly at least once after holding back for five years. You might gain a lot, with very little to lose.
Help! I Got a Dog Sitter Fired for Walking Around Our Home Naked.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Ben Gullard on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
My husband of 40 years and I are in our early 70s. His health has always been excellent, but I’ve suffered from a progressive neurological disorder for 20 years that causes chronic pain. That pain is constant and usually undermedicated because my doctors are worried about opioid abuse. I’ve decided to refuse hospitalization if I contract coronavirus. I have a physician-signed “do not resuscitate” form that I carry with me whenever I leave the house and have left clear instructions that limit future medical treatment to pain relief only.
The problem is getting my otherwise-practical husband to agree to honor my choices. We are best friends and respectful of each other’s boundaries, but he avoids any discussion about end-of-life care. I cannot get him to promise me that he would make sure I only received palliative care or that my DNR would be honored if I were hospitalized. We visited a “green” cemetery a few years ago, but he won’t discuss buying plots there. It’s as if he thinks avoiding the issue will make it go away. This worries me. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m terrified of dying in pain and distress or being forced to endure “heroic measures” I don’t want. I love him. How can I convince him we have to face reality? And how can I make sure I won’t be tortured by excessive attempts to keep me alive at all costs?
—Afraid of Pain, Not Death
There may be more you can do to ensure your wishes are respected even if your husband never comes around. Having a DNR is a great start, but you may also want to draw up a living will, which can address treatments beyond just resuscitation, such as ventilation, tube feeding, dialysis, and antibiotics. You can also set up a trusted friend or relative with power of attorney. The Mayo Clinic has a rundown on the difference between a living will and a DNR directive, as well as what you might need to enforce and validate both.
It should be easier to insist that your husband have a practical conversation with you about end-of-life care if you’re not also worrying that your fate lies in his hands. You can tell him: “I know you don’t want to think about either of us dying. Death is going to happen whether we plan for it or not. I can’t force you to talk about it, but if we avoid the subject forever, it won’t make death any less real. It will just mean that I have to make plans alone, and I would rather go through this part of our lives the way we’ve gone through the last 40 years—as partners. I want you to know which directives I’ve established with my medical proxy, and I’ve made a copy for us to review together. I know you’re not up to acting as my advocate yourself, but I want you to know what you can expect. Can you give me an hour of your time to discuss this?” If you think it would help to have a mediator, you might schedule an appointment with your doctor to review your various directives and ask your husband to join you. That way he won’t have to participate in anything he finds too overwhelming, but you’ll have the peace of mind that he knows what’s going on. I hope you can find ways to get through to him: It’s easier to get through even the most painful scenarios if you have a companion, and he needs you as much as you need him.
Any advice about how to be a more likable person? I have a long history of awkwardness in pursuing friendships, where I’m either too standoffish or try too hard to engage. I don’t think I’m on the spectrum—I’m just one of those people others might tolerate in small doses but will avoid spending much time with. I used to think there was something in my manner or appearance that put people off, but it happens online, too. Usually I’m OK living inside my head and get adequate social interactions through my work (which I’m good at) or structured activities like volunteering and role-playing games. But the isolation of the pandemic has really driven home how superficial these interactions are. It’s the same with my family. We get along fine but don’t have a deeper connection than our shared history.
I don’t know how much of my personality I can really change, but at 49, I’m pretty sure the standard advice of “just be yourself and seek out people with similar interests and friendships will happen” isn’t going to work. Is there anything else I could do to be a more likable person, but still me?
—Ready for More
I agree “just be yourself and everything will work out” isn’t helpful advice, in part because so often it’s not true. I think the most important question you can ask yourself at this point is: More likable to whom? Trying to become broadly likable so that everyone you meet takes a shine to you is unlikely to result in many meaningful connections. I often recommend therapy, and it may come as no surprise that I recommend it particularly in your case, because you’re attempting to learn more about the habits of a lifetime and address a broad, pervasive dissatisfaction with your ability to establish and maintain meaningful connections. Talk therapy is made for that sort of thing. That doesn’t mean your therapist will act as a best friend dowsing rod, but it should help produce insights more specific and actionable than “people seem to avoid spending much time with me.” They can help you figure out what “trying too hard” has looked like in the past and how you can learn more about yourself so you can avoid repeating that mistake in the future.
Other questions will naturally follow, both within therapy and without: What kinds of people are you hoping to attract? What stage of getting to know someone do you think you need the most help with? What kind of friendships are you looking for? Do you want a best friend, someone you speak to almost every day? Do you want a few close friends so you don’t risk putting all your social eggs in one basket? What do you think you can offer potential friends? And there are general tips—many people like friends who are good listeners, who are emotionally present without tipping over into neediness, who ask thoughtful questions, who believe they have something to offer, even if that something is modest. The easiest and most natural place to start may be trying to deepen those surface-level relationships with your fellow volunteers and RPGers. It also helps to try with more than one person at a time, so you’re not overwhelming a single person with all your hopes for friendship in the future. That’s not to say that your overtures of friendship will be inherently overwhelming, merely that you should look for opportunities whenever possible to take the pressure off yourself. Good luck!
More Advice From Care and Feeding
I was recently on a flight where I was seated behind a family with a toddler. I was trying to read my book, but the child was playing games and loud music on his tablet. (That “Baby Shark” song actually slaps but makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.) I leaned over and politely asked the mom, who was in front of me, if her child could use headphones or turn the volume down.
The mom told her kid, “You’re annoying people! You have to use headphones.” The dad got the kid headphones, which he used for a while before unplugging, which I totally understood, because he was a tiny toddler and toddlers like to unplug things.
The mom then literally told her son, “People are mad at you.” I felt so embarrassed and angry on this kid’s behalf! I wasn’t annoyed with him, but I did become very annoyed with his parents. They also offered to get their son apple juice, but when it turned out it wasn’t free (budget airline) they lied and said the plane was out of juice. But each parent got a $9 alcoholic drink.
Was I totally out of line to say anything about the volume of the music? I know parenting on airplanes is tough and I never get mad at parents when babies cry. I know that these people were probably stressed and tired, but I worry that by intervening I just made things worse for their kid. Should I have said something more to them? After my initial comment I stayed quiet, but perhaps I should have told their son I wasn’t mad at him. Or should I just mind my own business?
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