Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi friends. Hope you had a good weekend. Let me know what you’re thinking about …
Q. Tired of guilt and the ex: I’ve been with my boyfriend for several years now. We were both married before and then divorced. We both have children with our exes. His ex-wife is remarried, but she filed for their divorced, and it devastated him. (I filed for divorce in mine.) We got an invite from his grown daughter to go to his ex-wife’s milestone birthday soon. I don’t want to go. Their “old friends” (couples they hung out with) will be there, and I’m not comfortable. He is upset with me! I have to see her enough at their children’s and grandchildren’s events! Am I wrong for not wanting to go? He’s making me feel guilty.
A: Nope, you’re never wrong for avoiding a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Remind yourself of that again and again. If you really believe it, your boyfriend may try to make you feel guilty, but it won’t work.
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Q. Collections department: A few years ago, I hired a cleaning lady. She had a small business, with a few employees working for her. I’d prepay her in batches, and on occasion she’d ask for additional funds due to something unexpected, but she’d always work it off. Then the pandemic hit. Her staff abandoned her, and she had become too unwell to clean herself, so she closed her business, with $1,200 of prepayments from me. I told her back in January she’d need to pay me back, since she could no longer clean, but I wasn’t in a hurry for the money and knocked the repayment down to $1,000. I’d asked her to send me $100 payments and wanted it paid off by the end of the year.
So far, I have only received $500 back and have had to hound her. She comes back with sob stories of getting fired from various delivery and driver services and saying she doesn’t have any money, after agreeing to pay me when she gets her monthly Social Security deposit. This month, after not receiving a payment in August, I have tried contacting her, and this time no answer. I’m tired of hounding her and could live without the cash, but I can’t live with the resentment of getting taken advantage of by her. I have three choices: Let it go, continue to hound her, or give her an ultimatum that I need to be fully paid back by the end of the year, or I’ll take her to court. I feel like I’m working for my money all over again. What should I do?
A: I don’t know if “I can live without the cash” means you can possibly find a way to scrape by without the cash or if the cash really won’t make a difference to you. If it’s the latter (and I’m guessing it is, because you’re a person who could afford to prepay for cleaning services), consider letting it go. This might be easier if you don’t think of your former cleaning lady as taking advantage of you, but rather as seriously struggling like many people have as a result of the pandemic. Lots of people paid their cleaning services even when they weren’t using them. You could think of this as a similarly generous act.
Q. Not daddy’s girl: My dad raised my siblings and I solo—mid-’80s divorce and custody battle, and the man got the kids. He did all right by us, as best as he could. Down the line he met a “Karen,” and we became the Brady Bunch on paper. But after 20 years of manipulation and crazy involving my dad’s wife, I’ve mostly kept my dad at bay. He sees the grandkids, but I take no comfort or peace hanging with him in person. I am able to do surface relationships with him through text and calls. My mom, while she was alive, was worse, and after four years I’m still working on dealing with the aftermath of her.
My dad wants to spend time together and rebuild and reconnect, and I’m interested—except I don’t trust him, in the sense that my feelings don’t look like a priority. And he just doesn’t listen to me. He will ask a question about something, but in the middle of my answer, he will turn to another person and start talking to them. Or my favorite is him offering to do something and “I’ve got time; I’m retired now” and then complains forever about what he volunteered for.
I’ve tried to have conversations with my dad about how I feel, but because his wife has a drinking problem, any time someone talks to him about difficult issues, he asks, “Are you drunk?” I’m left feeling like I can’t try to work out our issues because it upsets him. I asked if he would do counseling with me, but he said only if it didn’t hurt too much. I want to model healthy behavior for my kids in terms of family and speaking up for yourself, but I can’t take another try speaking about how I feel and getting gaslighted. How do I maintain a civil relationship for my kids, give my dad the time he wants, and keep my sanity?
A: It seems like you have the right instincts here and have started to do exactly what you need to. You tried to tell him how you feel, and you asked him to try counseling together. Now you have to push through his resistance. When he asks if you’re drunk, don’t let that shut down the conversation. Call him out for projecting his wife’s issues onto you and push forward with what you want to say. And revisit the invitation to counseling. It’s fair to assure him that therapy isn’t designed to hurt, but to build a better (and less painful) relationship.
If he still refuses, you might find that being in therapy on your own helps you to take his behavior less personally. But if you’re really suffering every time you’re with him, don’t hesitate to pull back. I’m sure your kids appreciate their time with him, but they need a happy and healthy mom more than a jerky grandpa.
Q. I can’t force her to get vaccinated: I have a very good friend—I’ll call her Sarah—who I’ve known for about 15 years. She’s not vaccinated and has no plans to get vaccinated, but I am fully vaxed. We’re both in our 40s, live alone with no kids, and don’t work in any “risky” jobs. It was her birthday about a week ago, and I went to drop off a gift, and we went for a walk in the park to catch up, since I hadn’t seen her in several months.
I mentioned this in passing to my mom, and she practically had a meltdown, along the lines of “I can’t believe you went to see her! What if you caught something?” and so on. My mom has always been shocked that Sarah won’t get vaccinated, and she sometimes goes on brief rants about it if I mention Sarah’s name. I always agree that it’s selfish of Sarah not to get the shot, but I told my mom that I’m not cutting Sarah out of my life. She’s convinced that I’m now doomed to catch COVID, despite the risk to me being low. Should I just stop mentioning Sarah in conversation? It seems like the easy thing to do, but my mom does ask after my friends, and I know if I reply with something like “I don’t want to talk about Sarah,” it won’t go over well. Any suggestions for a script I could use?
A: With so many people having lost their lives to this virus and so many others dealing with breakthrough infections and long COVID, I can understand your mom’s anxiety. One of the hardest things about this pandemic is that everyone has to decide on their level of risk they’re OK with, and what we know about the level or risk presented by different situations feels like it’s constantly evolving. I can see why your mom wants your risk to be as close to zero as possible! But spending time with Sarah outdoors seems relatively reasonable. Perhaps you could find some trustworthy resources or expert voices to share with your mom to explain to her that you aren’t taking a big chance. If that doesn’t work, I’d support a white lie—just don’t mention that you saw Sarah. If you prefer to be honest, your best bet is probable “[Dr. Fauci/the CDC/whoever] said the risk of outdoor transmission is low, and I’m willing to take my chances. I’ll wear a mask and test after spending time with her, but I’m not going to stop, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Q. Artfully unemployed: I am a very talented artist. I am internationally known in my field. I work regularly. I am respected by people in my industry. I make very little money from it. I think the reason for this is I have debilitating social anxiety and ADHD, which means I completely fail at the business end of it. I recently broke down and got a part-time desk job to bring in some cash, until, hopefully, either or both of my businesses take off and I can quit. Even though, for the most part, everyone is nice to me at the desk job, I die a little inside every time I go. I am a thirtysomething woman with a master’s degree and an international portfolio, and I spend my days scanning and answering phones. How do I keep my self-esteem in this situation?
A: This is much easier said than done, but can you work on disconnecting your self-esteem from your desk job? Artists have been working day jobs to pay the bills practically since the beginning of time! Maybe connecting with others in similar situations, or checking out memoirs and biographies about creative people who lived similar lives would be helpful? And keep in mind, lots of people who aren’t internationally known artists work jobs about which they aren’t passionate and still manage to feel good about themselves—by focusing on their families or friendships or hobbies or just the kind of people they want to be. Try to tap into some of that kind of thinking. And in the meantime, can you take some time to start to get help with your social anxiety and ADHD? If those are the only things standing between you and making an income from your art, it seems worth trying to find ways to navigate living with them so you can have the life you really want.
Q. Re: I can’t force her to get vaccinated: Do you see your mom? That also involves your mom’s health. Please don’t lie to her in that case. Why don’t you tell your mom that you’ll only see her outside masked? Adding the mask is a belts and braces and really reduces any breakthrough virus potential.
A. Very good point about not lying to Mom. This really does involve her health too, so she has a right to know what’s going on.
Q. Re: Artfully unemployed: What about an agent or gallery representation? Yes, they take a cut of your hard-earned cash, but for you especially, they’d likely make you far more in the long run managing the business and promotion end of your career and letting you focus purely on the creation.
A. I have to admit that I don’t know a single thing about the world of making money from art, but this sounds like a good idea. It’s also something that might feel less overwhelming and easier to manage once the letter writer’s social anxiety and ADHD are treated.
A few years ago, my little brother had an affair. He was eventually found out and filed for a divorce, which my sister-in-law fought tooth and nail. My brother is still involved in a relationship with “the other woman” and they are planning to take the next step. To be honest, I never liked his ex-wife. The “other woman” and I have a lot in common, and had we met in other circumstances, I am certain that we would be friends. My mother absolutely refuses to entertain the idea of inviting her to family functions, and as a result, one round of Christmas and Thanksgiving have already been destroyed. I would really like to put the past behind us and move on—with the other woman—but my mom feels that there is a moral red line against ever including her in our lives.