Archive for the 'communication' Category


holiday gift ideas for the hopeful BF

Reader M. B. writes:

The holidays are fast approaching and I am at a complete loss about what to get my girlfriend this year. We’ve been together for a while and I want to really get her something special. I’m not really good at getting gifts, and I really don’t want to mess up. So what do you suggest?

Dear M.B.:

I’m so glad you asked! You might remember this piece once upon a time, wherein I spent several hundred words consoling a lady to be glad her husband got her any gift at all for their anniversary, and telling her that it was her job to let her husband know what to get her if she didn’t like his gifts.

That still goes — it’s your girlfriend’s job to let you know if your gifts are terrible. But the fact that you know you’re a terrible gift-giver to begin with and are asking for advice means maybe you don’t want her to have to have that conversation with you. Good job!

Gift-giving around the holidays can be a pretty stressful event, but there are a few things I can say for sure about what you should look for. It all depends on your girlfriend, of course. You’ve got to know what she likes, However, most of the ladies I know have the following rules for gift giving on “major” occasions (aka anniversaries, winter solstice holidays, and birthdays):

  1. Give me something I wouldn’t just buy for myself (either because it’s too expensive, or it’s impractical, or any other number of reasons).
  2. Give me something that I will actually like or use (i.e. not something you’re getting because you actually want it).
  3. Give me something whimsical and romantic.

Now, let’s be honest: there are girls out there who don’t care about gifts. These girls are actually angels, and as we all know, angels are sexless, so be careful with them.

If your girl does care about gifts, then you’re going to have to figure out what she likes for yourself and go from there. If she has said over and over again how much she loves X, get it for her. She’s making life easy for you.

Low on money? Services count, too, but not IOUs for services. Don’t give her a promise that you’re going to clean the house; actually clean the house. It’s a much better surprise if you just do it without promising beforehand than if you say you’re going to and then never get around to it.

I decided to conduct one of my highly scientific surveys and ask my girlfriends what they want for Christmas this year. I told the girls to “dream big”. Here’s what I heard:

"Yay! Presents!" Image: photostock /

  • A massage and/or spa day (mani, pedi, facial, soak). This was definitely the one all my girlfriends could agree on. These can get expensive, but they’re extremely thoughtful and say “go on, pamper yourself”.
  • The house cleaned (not just “picked up” but seriously scrubbed). The laundry done. The dishes done. Not just now, but forever. In other words — buy her a year’s worth of a cleaning service. Even just one visit from a cleaning service can make everything better for a long time. It doesn’t sound really romantic, but it’s extremely thoughtful.
  • A trip somewhere (with you!). “A vacation” came up more than once (we must be a stressed out group — massages and vacations for all!) Of course, you can take her somewhere that isn’t too far away and isn’t too expensive. Even just cleaning up your apartment, lighting some candles, and turning off the phone for a night can be good. Your time can be your greatest gift.
  • A CSA or Co-op membership. If she’s a foodie, being able to get amazing ingredients at lower prices will matter immensely. Having them delivered to her door every other week? Amazing!
  • A wine club membership. So you can share a bottle or two together every month.
  • Extremely nice lingerie. Nope, not Victoria’s Secret — try La Perla or Aubade. Worth the price upgrade, plus you’re going to have to do a little detective work to get the size right. And, you know, it’s kind of great for you, too.
  • An iPad or Kindle pre-loaded with some of her favorite books or magazines, and a few new ones to boot. Technology + you’re thinking about what she likes to read.
  • All the work done on the car (oil change, tune-up, a fix for “that clicking sound” — this is stuff you can maybe do yourself!)… Followed by a nice little drive to a romantic dinner (food you made yourself counts!).
  • A piece of designer clothing (“boots” was a big response among my friends) that you know would look sexy on her and is maybe a bit out of her price range. Again, you’ve got to know the girl’s taste, and her size. When you get this one right, you get it exactly right. Also: consignment stores and good antique shops are excellent for this. And the women who run those shops will be tickled that you’re looking for your lady.
  • Tickets to a show — her favorite band, opera, or musical. Bonus points if you get them a few months in advance. Extra bonus points if she didn’t even know the show was coming through your town.
  • Jewelry. Girls love sparklies. BUT WATCH OUT. If she’s expecting “the ring” and you get her diamond studs, it’s going to be a really awkward moment. Furthermore, if she’s not sure how serious she wants to be and you get her a really expensive necklace, you’re heading for doom. Just put some thought into it and be smart. If you know a jewelry designer and can have something made for her, that’s pretty awesome.

Here are a few gifts I’d steer clear of:

  • Any pet. Yes, kittens and puppies are cute, but they’re also a huge responsibility. No one should ever be given a pet as a gift unless a lot of discussion has gone into it first. (Don’t even get me started on people giving bunnies as gifts. Oh man.)
  • Any exercise equipment or gym memberships unless she has specifically asked for it. Are you encouraging her new running habit, or inadvertently telling her that you think she’s fat? Careful!
  • Nothing. This is absolutely the worst thing you can get a girl for a holiday, even if she swears she doesn’t want anything. Get her a card, at least.

Now, again, I must stress that every girl is different, and my girlfriends are probably crazier/funnier/awesomer than most, so don’t just trust what I write. Listen to your girlfriend and take some time to think about what she likes. That’s the most important thing about gifts — the thought. If you really, really can’t think of anything, ask her for a list. It’s a bit lame, but you can’t go wrong that way. You already know you’re not great with gifts, and if she’s the right girl for you, she’ll be able to accept that, too.


your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro /

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.


you vs mom + facebook

Reader G. F. writes:

I’m a pretty moderate Facebook user (I think) — I log on once or twice a day, check on what my friends are doing, and post interesting information if I think of anything. My mother, however, is kind of obsessed with Facebook, and stays logged on most of the day via her phone. I don’t mind this per se, because she still leads a relatively normal life, but I can’t stand her Facebook habits. For instance, she’ll accept friend requests from anyone, whether she’s met them or not. She doesn’t even check who they are or if they’ve got friends in common. Also her status updates can verge on the TMI, and she comments on everything. As her daughter (and therefore the more tech savvy person in this relationship), do I have a responsibility to school her on Facebook?

Dear G.F.:

Do you ever wish there were parental controls for things like TV and Facebook, but instead of it being parents controlling it for their young kids, it could be us grown adult children controlling it for our parents? Yeah, me too. Sigh. (Just kidding — my mom and dad would never DREAM of getting on Facebook, so I’ve got nothing to worry about.)

Mom n Daughter Yay

I hope your mom posts this picture on Facebook somewhere. Image: digitalart /

In any case, the fact is, as I say over and over, the only habits you can change are your own. So no, you do not have a responsibility, or even a right, to tell your mom how she can use Facebook. And I really doubt Zuckerberg is looking into that parental controls app I just dreamed up.

But you can tell her how you feel about it. And you do have a responsibility to warn her if she doesn’t know the danger in what she’s doing.

Now you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. Facebook is harmless… generally. But not always.

The thing about Facebook is that there’s a fine line between annoying Facebook habits and unsafe Facebook habits. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to assert that the people who do the most annoying things on Facebook are also the people who are clueless as to their safety. People who indiscriminately “friend” anyone or “like” anything are also likely to click on whatever links come their way, causing spamitis for everyone on their friend list and possibly even worse outcomes, like identity theft.

So perhaps your responsibility is to draw those lines for your mom.

I can see how it would be annoying that your mom accepts friend requests from anyone all willy-nilly (although that’s not really any of your business, ya know). But more importantly, it’s her doing so could be very unsafe, especially if she has personal information on her profile (like her address or phone number) that could be used against her. Identity theft, stalking, and other hazards of the modern world are infinitely easier if you’ve got all your info up on Facebook and just let anyone see it.

You probably aren’t ever going to get her to stop posting TMI status updates or stop asking you to join her in Farmville, but you can make sure she’s got good privacy settings. Sit down with her and go through them. It’s going to be painstaking work, but it’s the best thing you can do for her. Make sure she knows how to use lists so that only the people she really knows and trusts that can see her personal information, if you can’t convince her just to leave that information off her page altogether.

It’s quite possible she hasn’t considered the risks of Facebook the way you have. She may change her ways entirely once you tell her the risks, or she may not. She’s an adult, and you can only do so much to influence her ways.

You can also tell her that there is etiquette to Facebook that she may not be aware of. Commenting on everything makes you look kind of obsessive.

Keep in mind that she may have things to say about your behavior (on Facebook or elsewhere) that you may not be ready to hear, too. She’s your mom, after all. She may get defensive. Try to make the conversation more about your concern for her safety than your meddling in her personal life (which is what keeping track of someone’s Facebook habits is, FYI).

But do not expect her to change her behaviors at all. You need to just let it go. The fact that you’re upset by your mom’s behavior is pretty natural (close relationships bring easy annoyance), but obsessing over it is worse for you than her Facebook habits may be for her. Take a deep breath and remember that Facebook is not real life. Everyone has limits to what he or she does with Facebook, and your mom’s limits are just different from yours.


asking for a raise

Reader H. U. writes:

I have been working for the same company for over a year now, which doesn’t sound like much, but most of my friends tend not to stay longer than six months at any one place, so it feels like a lot. Like most overeducated kids my age, I’m underpaid (and underutilized, but whatever). I’d like to ask my boss for a raise. What do you suggest I do?

Dear H.U.:

I have read so many columns about this exact question. What’s one more?

Having done this several times myself, I can tell you it’s only worked once for me. So here are my tried and true tips for asking (but maybe not actually for getting):

Get all the encouragement you can. Yep, this is exactly why one more column on this subject can’t hurt, in my opinion. You may read the same advice over and over, but you need to get psyched. So do it. Google up, kiddo.

– Make sure you deserve it. If you want an increase in pay, you’re going to have to prove that it’s a good investment for the company, not just because you’re a precious snowflake. Definitely put together a list of all the amazing successes you’ve had in the past year. They should be proof that you increase the value of the company or the company’s product, and if you can prove that the place can’t get on without you, you’re golden.

Don't do this

Wait to do this until you get home. Image: Ambro /

Make sure you don’t NOT deserve it. On the flipside, make a list of the mistakes you’ve made, because if your boss has been paying attention, he or she may bring these up to counter your question. Be prepared to say what you’ve learned and how you can assure things will not go sour that way again. You don’t have to bring these lists into the meeting with you, but they may help you keep track of what you’re saying.

Know what you’re worth. Don’t just ask for “a raise”. Do the research. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, and anywhere else you can think of to list what the salary range is for your job title, actual work, experience, and education.  A lot of people are underpaid these days, so you’ll probably be pretty grossed out at how bad your pay is for the work you do. Don’t get emotional about it; just be armed with the statistics so you know a good range.

Know what you want. Decide how much of an increase you expect, and how much you would actually accept. While you shouldn’t ask for too much, if you have proof you’re worth a lot more than they pay you, they may give you a compromise that won’t be too shabby.

Don’t be a nuisance. If you wander into her office during a huge campaign and whine about your low pay, you may just get fired. Pretend you have an idea of what’s going on in the company on an emotional and fiscal level, even if you really don’t. Wait until after a big financial success (especially if you caused that success), and make an appointment.

– Ask earlier in the day, when your boss doesn’t have anything else huge on her/his plate. There is such a thing as decision fatigue, and you have a better chance of avoiding that if you ask in the morning than in the evening.

Have another offer waiting in the wings. This sounds like a dick move, but it’s really the only way to let them know you’re serious. “I’ve got an offer from X&X and they’re offering me 15% more” is a lot more powerful than “I’ve been here a year and think I deserve a raise”. (BTW, telling them you’ve got another offer should be your opening line.) This is, however, also the hardest part of job negotiation in the current economy. There aren’t that many jobs out there to begin with, let alone many that will offer you 15% more than the job you make now. But you can still look, and your current company will be faced with a decision about whether they can and will keep you.

Practice. You don’t have to memorize a speech, but you should know what you’re going to say. Go over it in your head a few times, or take a friend out to coffee and have them play the devil’s advocate. You want to go in prepared and relaxed. This may be the most nerve-wracking thing you’ll ever have to do at a job, so the more prepared you can be for it, the better. (You’re trying to prove you deserve it, after all.)

Don’t settle for “no”. Be proactive. If your boss tells you the company can’t give you a raise right now, ask for tips on how to assure they can in the future. Ask for more responsibility. It’s up to you to make the company want to keep you. And remember that company with the raise waiting in the wings? You might need to head that way if you really need the money.

Good luck!


the highly sensitive person

Reader S. I. writes:

I have a friend who freaks out about everything, and it’s really starting to bother me. She takes everything really personally. Like, one of our friends got her email address wrong in an email about a girls night out, so she didn’t hear about it until I forwarded the email, and then she said she didn’t think she was really invited, so she wasn’t going to go. Stuff like this happens all the time. What can I do?

Dear S.I.:

I understand the frustration you feel. It sounds to me like your friend is a Highly Sensitive Person, and the bad news is: if it really annoys you, there’s not much you can do about it, beyond leaving the friendship altogether.

The good news is, you can be aware of what’s going on, and maybe clue her in, too.

A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who exhibits traits of higher sensitivity than others. (Kinda’ obvious from the title, I think.) It’s not a diagnosis of  mental illness, it’s not on the autism spectrum, and it’s not caused by eating too much gluten, so don’t get too excited. It’s a personality trait that some scientists estimate 1 out of every 5 people is born with. Your friend was born this way.


Image: Naito8 /

HSPs tend to take things more personally than others, and many HSPs are also shy. However, the sensitivity doesn’t just center on their personal interactions; they also tend to be sensitive to physical stimuli, like noise, light, and even caffeine. HSPs get overwhelmed easily because for some reason, they are more sensitive to what’s going on than many of the people around them. If your friend is an HSP, she can’t help “over-reacting” — her sensitive nature just processes stimuli differently, and she honestly feels like your other friend left her out of the email chain on purpose.

As someone who is apparently HSP herself, I can tell you that it kind of sucks. I am often convinced that people don’t like me because of flippant comments, or how they react to my blog, and I don’t respond well to teasing. It’s embarrassing sometimes how personally I take things. Also, I can’t have more than one cup of coffee in the morning, because I get shaky and can’t sleep at night. I also get overstimulated by jack hammers in the street, loud parties, barking dogs, and screaming babies. It makes me feel really impatient and kind of ridiculous. I’m aware of what’s going on, but there’s not much I can do about it other than accept that it’s happening, and/or try to escape into a dark, quiet room.

However, there are benefits to being an HSP. People who have this trait tend to be more aware of nuances around them, and are great hosts at parties because they know exactly what someone else would need to feel comfortable. HSPs are also deeply moved by music, theatre, and art, which is kind of a bonus. We’re supposedly a bit more empathic, too; I’ll bet when your friend isn’t freaking out over some misunderstanding, she’s one of the best friends you’ve got.

Your friend probably has no idea that she’s an HSP. The best thing you can do for her is understand her condition yourself, and be a little forgiving. You can also let her know you think she may be HSP. Send her a link to an article about it, like The Highly Sensitive Person. (NB: She will probably be upset that you felt you had to send her a link about her behavior, but that will pass.) Let her read up on it, and if she can be more self-aware about it, she may be able to pick up on when she’s being over sensitive, and at least temper her reactions in a more positive manner. Why don’t both of you take the self-test and see where you land?

If you don’t think you can handle her sensitive nature, you may need to cool things in the relationship. It’s not your job to make her personality change, and if you are still annoyed with her even after you know what her condition is and have talked to her about it, maybe you two weren’t meant to be friends. That doesn’t make either of you bad people. Sometimes you can’t be friends with everyone.

Hopefully you can both come to terms with her sensitivity, and enjoy a less frustrating friendship.


unwanted competition

Reader B.C. writes:

I have a friend who keeps making everything a competition between us. And I mean EVERYTHING — boys liking us, clothes fitting, our jobs. We both do freelance work, and we made a deal a long time ago that we would only go for clients in different fields so we wouldn’t ever be in direct competition with each other. But these days, if I get a client, she has to point out how many more she’s got, or what a crappy client it is, or whatever. The other day I got a weird, extremely critical comment on a blog post I’d written from an “anonymous” commenter, but it included a lot of information about me that I don’t advertise on my blog, so I have to believe it was a friend, and I honestly believe it was her. I don’t want to be in competition with her — I want to be friends. What can I do?

Dear B.C.:


You can't win if you don't compete, you know. Image: Ambro /

It sounds to me like your friend has an inferiority complex, which you will never be able to assuage. The best you can do is call her out on it, and let her know it’s bothering you. Hopefully she’ll be mature enough to admit what exactly has brought this competition spurt on, and the underlying issues will come forth so you can resolve them. Don’t even bring up the fact that you suspect her of trolling on your blog, because that will make her immediately defensive. Just tell her you’ve noticed she’s been more competitive recently that usual, that it bothers you because you prefer not to compete with your friends, and you’re wondering if something new has gone on to make this change, or if there’s something you can do about it.

You could also ignore it and let her burn herself out. If she’s got an issue with you that she can’t bring up and can only address through passive aggression, then the problem is in her head. If you can ignore it, do. Continue with business as usual. Maybe point out to her when she’s being unnecessarily mean, but other than that, just ignore her tirades. In fact, be extra nice to her so that she feels even worse. If you quit reinforcing a behavior, it should eventually stop. Criticism can be good for you, even if it’s mean spirited or unwarranted, because it brings us to question what we know, and can help you grow. So even if she’s just being mean, you can use it as a tool to better yourself.

If she doesn’t stop, you can lessen your interaction with her (like, quit telling her who your clients are, and hang out with her less), or you can even end the friendship altogether. It can be hard to tell a girl you don’t want to be friends anymore, and for the most part, relationships between girls tend to just putter out rather than end with any discussion. If neither of you is willing to discuss where your relationship is going or why, I bet this is what is going to happen anyway.

But you could compete back. A little competition is healthy, even for those of us (like myself) who don’t like confrontation. Like criticism, it makes you question your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Why not push back? Get more clients than her; be a better freelancer (are you writers or graphic designers or what?); get more boys to ask you out. Maybe it will give you more confidence and make you feel better about yourself.

I know, I know, it’s not what nice girls do. Nice girls politely step aside when their friends get fussy, or allow their girlfriends to shine instead of tarnishing them, or whatever. The whole “girls are supposed to be nice” thing is a recurring theme I have to admit I fall into myself. But standing up for yourself is as important as being nice. And forget being viewed as nice. You can’t please everyone all the time.

I’m sure that as a working girl, you’ve been viewed as a bitch, or pushy, or awful at least once in your life. Hell, even outside of the workplace, no girl is nice all the time. Or at least no girl I’ve ever met.

Try fighting fire with fire. If you two can’t have a civilized conversation about what is going on in your relationship, or she can’t admit she wants something you have, then just prove to her how out of reach your life really is. It’ll probably knock her on her ass. If she wants a flame war, start a flame war. Get your friends to leave critical comments on her blog, too. Purposefully bid on work she’s said she wants. Go nuts. Be as bitchy to her as you feel she’s being to you.

True, it probably won’t end well. But you’ll improve your game. And you may scare her out of her present state of mind while you’re at it.


political familial emails

Reader B.C. writes:

You wrote about what to do if a coworker sends you a political email you’re not interested in, but what about if it’s a family member? My uncle keeps sending out these awful, spammy fowards about ridiculous conspiracies (usually political ones) that have been disproven on so many times it’s not even funny. But he’s still my uncle, and I don’t want to be disrespectful. What should I do?

Dear B.C.:

Just as I said for political emails from coworkers, my advice continues in this case to be: delete delete delete. If you don’t read it, it can’t bother you. If he sends exclusively spam, you can even create a rule (in most email services) to send his stuff directly to your spam folder or even to delete it immediately so you never even have to know it arrived in your inbox.

pillow fight

If only all political familial debates were solved this way. Image: photostock /

This will work as long as he doesn’t ask you about it. Most people who send out spammy emails don’t have time to ask you about it, though; they’re too busy looking for the next political conspiracy to be able to discuss what they actually sent out.

You can, if you want to, think of it this way: He believes so fervently in these conspiracies, and is so excited by them, that he wants to send them out to everyone he loves, so they can share in the warmth he feels. Clearly his trust in your beliefs is misplaced, but at least you know he loves you.

On the other hand, he could be sending them out because he believes they are so true that they will convert anyone. In which case, his belief in the power of conspiracy emails is misplaced, and there’s nothing you can do. As we all know, the pendulum of belief swings both ways — as much as he can’t convince you to believe his tripe, you can’t convince him not to believe it.

This is because belief in conspiracy has nothing to do with fact. Most beliefs have very little to do with fact, actually; they’re based in opinion and interpretation, but not fact. When you admit that this is the case, you become a lot less likely to insist that everyone share your beliefs. And you may even be willing to shift your beliefs when new facts are presented, if you ever get around to listening to them. But this is generally not true of beliefs you hold most dear and are most willing to fight for. In fact, I would argue that the more fervently you believe something, the less likely you are to allow facts to interfere, even if they directly refute your belief. And I would argue that this is true of everyone, not just your wackadoo uncle, and you’re probably guilty of it, too.

I’ll bet he talks about this stuff at the dinner table, or at family reunions. In which case you and your family probably exercise the age-old trick of changing the subject. Or you all chime in and have wonderful fights, including throwing mashed potatoes at each other. This is what makes families fun. But I doubt the latter scenario. Generally, in order to keep things civil, most people opt just to change the subject, and I have absolutely no problem with this.

If you really want to start a fight with him, you can send him the Snopes articles that disprove his chain emails. I’m going to guess he hasn’t discovered the BCC function, and therefore you can even reply to all of his friends and family members who have been subjected to his spam. This will not accomplish anything beyond probably embarrassing him and/or making your ego feel better, though. He’s not going to be convinced, I assure you, and he’s going to be mad you’re arguing with his “truth”. If you’re not the kind of family that throws mashed potatoes at each other “all in good fun” during an argument, then this is not the route I would suggest.

You could also ask him to quit sending them to you, which, once again, could make things awkward. I’d say you should be nice about it, and tell him you don’t read them, rather than telling him that you hate his political views and think he’s crazy. No matter what you say, though, he will believe that the truth of these emails is what’s bothering you, and he is not very likely to recognize that his “truth” is really annoying to everyone else, which means he may send them to you even more fervently. (Backfire!)

But I think you’re probably better off just realizing your uncle’s nutjob opinions aren’t going away with your wonderful reason and logic, and you’re better off just ignoring his spam. Delete. Delete. Delete.


the disappearing act and texts vs calls

Reader K. F. writes:

I hung out with this girl 4 times (twice alone) and was getting a good vibe from her. I texted her (shoulda called….) last weekend to see what she was up to and never heard back. I haven’t contacted her since, and she hasn’t contacted me either. Do I chalk it up as a loss or give it another go?

Dear K.F.:

I cannot reiterate it enough: If someone likes you in a romantic way, they will be in touch and they will have time to spend with you, even if they’re technically really busy. It’ll be obvious. Continually obvious, even if you’ve been on four dates together; even if two of those dates were in a group with friends; even if you texted instead of calling.

So, yeah, you should chalk it up as a loss.

text message

Is this the last shell see of you? Probably should be. Image: Darren Robertson /

You can pretend she was in a serious accident or something (like in the movie Amélie, where she decides her date must be late because he was kidnapped by bandits and shipped to a country far away and he now herds goats with a hat shaped like a tea cozy on his head), but if she hasn’t gotten back to you, she’s just not that into you.

For some reason, the human psyche responds to being ignored by wanting to be with someone even more. This is probably why you’re freaking out about it a little bit — she’s ignoring you, therefore you want to jump up and down and make her notice. The very best thing you can do is forget about her, or at least, pretend to forget about her. Go do something else; date someone else; have a good time without her and move on. Easy enough, right?

Keep in mind that if you see her again, you can casually mention the fact that she never responded to your text, and you were hoping everything was okay. If you call her a few thousand times between now and seeing her again, you’re going to be really embarrassed when she dives behind a table or runs in the other direction upon seeing your stalker face. I’m just saying.

The disappearing act is a passive-aggressive form of rejection. It’s polite, and it usually doesn’t mean that she hates you or can’t stand you. It means she’s just not interested in anything more serious and has found something else to do. You’re not hideous; you’re not awful; you’re not so bad you merit a full-out rejection. So that’s good, right?

However, since I’ve already written about getting over that kind of passive-aggressive rejection, I’d like to address the issue about thinking that calling is better than texting. This just isn’t so. Hardly anybody calls anymore, unless they’re old or don’t have text capabilities, or unless there’s an emergency or you just want to chat. Just ask the New York Times.

I was personally a die-hard anti-texter back in my heyday — phones are for calling, you knuckleheads! But I am a full convert nowadays.

Talking on the phone is loud, takes time, and you can’t do anything else while you’re doing it (or at least you shouldn’t). I get annoyed at sales people who call me at my job. Send me an email, I’ll remember the details; call me and I’ll just think you’re intrusive and awful. I call people who are over 30, definitely — they prefer it, and lord knows my boss would prefer a call to my emails. But people who have been texting for a while tend to prefer it.

Why? Because you can send a text and get information across in about 30 seconds. To do this while talking, it’d take five or ten minutes of preliminaries. Plus, cell phones are often not great for talking on — you can’t interrupt each other, things get lost, bad signal, blah blah. Talking on a cell phone actually stresses me out. If I do call someone (like my parents), I use a land line. Talking on the phone just feels gnarly these days, even though (or perhaps just because) we can do it almost anywhere.

You may feel that calling would have secured her answering you, or given a certain “personal edge” to your contacting her, but honestly, if she’s not going to answer you via text message, she’s not going to answer your phone call, either. Texts are less obtrusive to begin with, and much easier to respond to, as well. If she didn’t have the time (or grace) to respond to your text, a phone call would have failed even more miserably.

Get back on the horse, kiddo — meet someone new and move on. If Murphy’s Law holds any sway in your universe, this girl will fall for you the minute you’ve fallen for someone else, and by then, you won’t care anymore anyway.


stop calling

Reader S.N. writes:

A friend of mine keeps calling me late at night, drunk and crying because her dad is really sick. I want to be a good friend and help her through her problems, but I go to work really early in the morning and her late night convos are starting to take a toll on my work life. To add to the difficulty, I can’t turn my phone off because I’m often on-call overnight. What can I do?

Dear S.N.:

Being sad sucks, and your friend is definitely lucky to have a friend like you who is willing to put up with her behavior while she’s going through such a rough time. Of course, you’ve got to take care of yourself, too, and you can’t feel guilty for not being available 24/7.

Your goal in this situation is to preserve the friendship and offer help while also balancing your own needs. You have a few options depending on how confrontational you want to be.

the dreaded phone

Image: Suat Eman /

1. When she calls, tell her you’ve got to sleep and you can’t talk. I’ve found that people who are crying while drunk are generally very apologetic about it. It’s part of the depression caused by the booze, I guess. She’ll probably feel really badly about this, so be ready to hear a lot more crying. You can encourage her to call another friend, but stay firm and if she keeps talking, just hang up. This is a very direct approach, and perhaps not the most helpful. It may send her into a spiral of depression, nobody loves her, life’s terrible right now, etc. And you may not be as gentle with her in the middle of the night as you probably should be. But it will get the point across.

2. Call her right now and tell her that she needs not to call you in the middle of the night anymore. Explain to her that you love her, but you’ve got to work early and you can’t answer her calls anymore. Another thing about drunk people is that they tend to be oblivious to other peoples’ responses or body language, so she may not notice your more subtle attempts to get her off the phone when she’s wasted. Telling her when she’s sober is a better idea, although she may not remember the conversation the next time she’s drunk. You could help her out by getting her one of those drunk dialing apps that will keep her from calling you. This may be the best option if you’re going to confront her about it, as you’ll both be in a better headspace than you would be in the middle of the night, and you can be gentle.

3. Send her calls directly to voicemail. This is my favorite solution. Most phones these days have an option where you can select to send certain peoples’ calls to voicemail. This way your phone won’t ring if she calls you late at night, and she’ll just assume your phone is off. If you want to receive calls from her during the day, you’ll have to turn this option off again in the morning, and remember to turn it back on at night. Of course, if you only have a landline, you may not necessarily have this option. Many phone service providers offer a blocked number function, which may not be as p0lite as sending her calls to voicemail, but will at least allow you to sleep through the night. If you do have to resort to blocking her number, make sure you warn her, or she’ll be extra mad. You may have to block her number if she forgets that you asked her not to call you, anyway, so just give her fair warning that you mean to sleep through the night, and if you have to take extreme measures, you will.

4. Ask another friend to hang out with her and take care of her at night. If she’s got a friend over at her house already, she probably won’t need to call you. Unless, of course, that friend goes home. This doesn’t really solve the problem in its entirety, but if you have a friend who is willing to hang out with the late night caller (and maybe help keep her from getting so drunk in the first place), it could at least put your mind at ease to some extent. You’ll know she’s got someone to talk to, and you’ll know that you can sleep. True, it’s hard to find people who actually want to hang out with a drunk, sad person, but hopefully you’ve got a group of friends who are willing to share the load (and don’t have the same work schedule you do).

As an aside, you might help her out by convincing her to go see a therapist to talk to. Also, if you think she’s got a drinking problem, you should have her seek help. We all know we’re not supposed to turn to alcohol to deal with our problems, but many of us still have a glass of wine or two when we’re down. If she’s drunk every night, this is a problem that extends beyond the fact that she’s calling you to complain and keeping you awake. Being drunk and sad is an especially bad combination if she’s ever had suicidal tendencies, so keep an eye on her for that.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you remind her that it’s not because you don’t love her or don’t want to be there for her, it’s just that you’re human and you can’t stay up all night the way she can. I think being direct is a much better approach than being indirect, but you may have to resort to other measures if she forgets herself when she’s been drinking.


more ex communication

Reader S. G. writes:

My new BF still talks to his ex. It is obvious to me that she is still in love with him. This really bothers me. Does he just like the attention? Is he just keeping her on the hook if things go sour with me? Does he still love her? What’s the deal? And is it wrong for it to bother me so much or just normal?

Dear S.G.:

Fret not, you are completely normal. It would bother almost anyone if their current fling were talking with an ex who was clearly enamored.

The number one way you can figure out why he still talks to her is to ask him.

But first I think you need to address what’s really up here. The only emotions you can be sure about are your own. So let’s focus on those.

Why does this bother you? Why are you jealous? Do you not trust him? Are you afraid he loves her and not you?

just talking

He still talks to his ex. Image: photostock /

Remember, you have absolutely no control over what he does with his life. Anyone who feels certain that nothing wrong will ever happen in their relationship is blissfully unaware of the truth of the situation. The only aspect of the relationship you have any control over is your input into it.

So let’s address first and foremost why this bothers you.

If you confront him about it before you’ve gotten to the bottom of why it bothers you, you’re not actually addressing the problem. He can tell you that there’s nothing going on between them, and if you’re just destined to be jealous regardless of what he says, that’s not gonna cut it. Or he can quit talking to her altogether, which will make you feel even better until you find some new reason to be jealous about something. Or you can confront your jealousy head on and figure out if this is something that will bother you for the long run, and if it’s a chronic issue you have with all boyfriends, in which case, you need to figure out how to deal with it yourself.

After you’ve admitted you’re jealous, figured out why you’re jealous, and figured out how you’re going to deal with that, you can move on to what you should do in your relationship.

Jealousy is a projection of our insecurities on someone else. This does not, however, mean that you don’t have anything to be worried about from his end. It’s quite possible he could hurt you very badly because he’s not over his ex, but being hurt is just one of the risks we take in being with anyone, anyway. If, after you’ve owned your jealousy, it still really bothers you that he talks to her, make an ultimatum out of it — “her or me”. And if he picks her, well, problem solved.

I’ve talked before about dealbreakers. If something your BF does bothers you, you confront him about it. If it bothers you so much you can’t be with him because of it, it’s a dealbreaker. And if he can’t stop the dealbreaker, then you break up.

So after you’ve admitted that you own the reasons it bothers you and this jealousy is yours, then you can let him know it bothers you. My advice is to be completely open about this with your partner. Either you will get over the fact that he talks to this ex, or he’ll quit talking to her, or you’ll break up. In my mind, the best way for you to get to any of these eventual outcomes is to talk with him about it.

Rest assured: lots of people talk to their exes. I do, in fact. Not all the time. And not in the same way we talked when we were together.

If he is talking to his ex as if she’s still his GF, okay, yes, you have a big problem, and it’s coming from him rather than from you. You’d probably be better off dumping him and finding someone who’s ready for a current relationship, rather than one that’s in the past. This is a hard thing to decide. It’s very easy to be cut and dry in an advice column on a blog on the Interwebs instead of living in the real world.

I’m going to say what I always say: trust your gut. I broke up with a guy when I was in 7th grade because he wasn’t over his ex. It took me exactly two weeks to figure this out. And I broke up with another one when I was 28 because he wasn’t over his ex either. It took me two months to do this because 13-year-old me is better at listening to her gut than 28-year-old me. Trust me — you’ll feel better if you cut it off than if you just wait around for him to realize how much better you are than she is. He either knows that already or he never will.

Furthermore, if you’re not capable of being in a relationship without being extremely jealous, you’ve got issues you need to address in your head before you subject someone to this kind of relationship stuff. It’s quite possible he’s not doing anything wrong, and it’s your problem. Be aware of that — it’s not fair to him to be jealous about everything he does.

If the two of you are interested in each other, and want to make it work, it has to be about what you two are doing, not who else in the world is in love with him. Work it out between the two of you. Just make sure you’re not projecting your own issues onto the relationship. You can work through your individual issues with him to some extent, but it’s got to be open and fair. Just communicate with each other, and things will work out how they may.

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