Darn you, Facebook — you made water come out of my eyes!

By Amy Dickinson

April 18, 2014

In my job as an advice columnist I handle a whole subset of questions brought on by social media, especially Facebook. Mostly these questions involve the challenges and dilemmas brought on by people connecting – or reconnecting – on social media.

Therefore, it is so refreshing to share a Facebook story that contains nothing but a nice, modest dose of humanity.

It involves a connection, a reconnection, and behavior of far flung FB friends who answered a simple question: “Will you?” with a resounding “Yes.”

Alan Bradley and I went to high school together. We were in different classes and didn’t know each other all that well, but I remember him because our older sisters were besties. The four kids in the Bradley family roughly paralleled the ages of the four kids in our family.

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This is a photo of the Bradley family: Pam, Jeff, Alan and Cynthia

In a small town high school like ours, there is a likelihood that parents and siblings know one another well. Before the era of Facebook, these tangential relationships connected us and our families moved through time in parallel tracks.

Alan’s brother Jeff is my age but we didn’t go through school together because in the era before mainstreaming kids with special needs, Jeff was placed in the Special Ed class in our school.

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Jeff with his “special grade” class, 1974. He is in the center with arms folded, smiling directly into the camera

I remember running into Alan at a reunion a few years ago. He has lived in Nashville for many years and had traveled north to Upstate New York to attend our reunion. My own life had taken a number of twists and turns and I followed an opposite path — returning to our hometown after a life on the road. I married a hometown honey and am happily settled right back where I started.

Over the past couple of years I have noted Alan’s posts among the dozens of updates and photos I scroll past on Facebook. I’ve learned that his folks moved to Nashville to be closer to Alan in their elder years, bringing their disabled son Jeff with them. Jeff has adjusted to the extreme change as well as he is able to, but his abilities are very limited — roughly at the level of a 6-12 year old.

Scrolling through Alan Bradley’s posts, I’ve learned that he works at a local college. He is an avid musician. His Christian faith is important to him. 

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Alan Bradley

Alan is not the kind of guy who promotes himself or asks for favors, so when he made this little request last month, it got my attention.

Here it is:

"….Since living here, Jeff has often watched as my father would walk out each afternoon to the mailbox just below Jeff’s bedroom window and fetch the mail.  Recently, I was told on good authority (my mother) that Jeff has often asked, “How come I never get any mail? How come you and Dad always get mail, but I never do?”  This touched my heart. Hey, how can it not? My two sisters, who live far away in other States, visit us a few times each year and talk with Jeff by phone quite often. They send him hand-written cards or letters now and then, too. I‘ve seen firsthand how much these handwritten letters – the old fashioned ‘personal touch’ - means a lot to Jeff. One thing Jeff really enjoys - and actually does fairly well - is reading out loud. This gives him a sense of accomplishment.”

Alan asked his FB friends: "Hey — who is willing to send my brother Jeff a birthday card to celebrate his 55th birthday?"

Alan posted his brother’s mailing address.

And here’s what happened.

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 imageJeff retrieving his mail

Over the course of several days, cards and letters poured in. 

In all, Jeff received over 200 cards and letters.

And it made him really really happy.

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Jeff with the contents of his mailbox

Here’s Jeff’s response, posted on his brother’s FB page:

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Ask Amy: Erotic dreams cause nocturnal admissions

By Amy Dickinson

April 15, 2014

DEAR AMY: My roommates and I have breakfast together on the weekends. Your columns keep us entertained. We play amateur psychologist and come up with our own answers before reading yours. Now I have a dilemma to share with you.

A very casual acquaintance of mine, “Patricia,” randomly sent me the following message at 2:15 a.m. recently:

“This is completely inappropriate, but what the h—l. I enjoy analyzing and talking about dreams. In my dreams, I have sex with a whole slew of random people.”

(Readers, Amy here. I am officially redacting the middle portion of this message. Trust me, it is for your own protection. Earmuffs on the children, please. And now, back to our dream sequence.)

“In my dreams, I’ve had nocturnal relations with you at least three times in the past year, including last night. We were in an old study on an English estate. It’s like a hall pass to do anything without repercussions.

“No, I’m not hitting on you. This strange phenomenon just inspired me to say hi. Life is so enjoyably weird sometimes.”

Amy, I am a single man and she is in a long-term relationship with a guy I know. How should I respond? Or should I respond at all? I’m not sure what to think!

— X-Rated Dream Object

DEAR X-RATED: Life is weird. And guess what makes it weird. People.

Your acquaintance starts her message to you by saying, “This is completely inappropriate, but what the h—l.” Do you care about the appropriateness of this behavior? I think you do.

She also says she is not hitting on you. Do you believe her? I think you don’t.

I find this creepy and stalkerish and agree with your basic bewilderment as you ponder what to do.

Not responding is an option, but she might take that as an invitation to further share her horrifying dream journal. If you don’t want this contact, you should respond: “This is definitely not cool, and I don’t enjoy or appreciate it.” Then you should maintain total radio silence.

Ask Amy: Husband worries about wife’s shopping addiction

By Amy Dickinson

April 14, 2014

DEAR AMY: My wife is a shopaholic. She is constantly buying clothes, purses, shoes, gifts for people and things we don’t need. Our house is starting to get full of all this stuff, and I am really worried about our future.

I have tried to help by selling the things that we don’t need, but she just goes out and buys new things that we don’t need. She has a job that pays really well, but she has not saved anything. I try to confront her about her spending, but it is tough since I don’t make as much as she does.

Her family and friends treat her shopping addiction like a joke, and they encourage her by going on weekend shopping trips together. They also take advantage of her by purchasing stuff from her for almost nothing. What can I do?

— Worried Husband

DEAR WORRIED: Shopping addiction is a real and serious affliction, and it doesn’t matter if you can basically afford to blow your money; the behavior is what’s important, and based on your description, your wife is out of control. Also, like many addicts, she is surrounded by enablers, users and people who basically benefit in various ways from her affliction.

Characteristics of addiction are the inability to change one’s behavior, in spite of the negative impact it has on the addict’s life.

Your wife needs professional help, but she won’t seek help if she doesn’t acknowledge the problem. You should focus on trying to protect yourself from the realities of this. Untangle your finances in case your wife spends herself into a mountain of debt (she may have already done this, despite her high income).

You should not resell this stuff, or rent a storage locker, etc. for her hoardings. You should urge her to recognize this as a problem and seek help.

A support group such as Debtors Anonymous might help you (and her) get a handle on this. Check debtorsanonymous.org for information and local meetings.

Hookup holidays can land you in hell

By Amy Dickinson

April 13, 2014

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I went out for a year and a half, and then he broke up with me four months ago. Even though we are not together we continue to see each other and hook up. When he says he wants to hook up with other girls I’m okay with that, but when I come to him about guys he always finds something wrong with them.

We don’t want to be in a relationship with each other, but I feel he still cares and has feelings for me even if he doesn’t say it.

When we do hook up or spend the day together, he treats me as if I’m still his girlfriend and I love that feeling, even though I know it ends when he leaves.

I don’t know what I should do. Should I continue seeing him or end it? Should I ask him how he feels?

I’m confused about what to do. If I end what’s going on, then I will be hurt. But if I continue I will probably end up getting hurt in the end. — Upset

DEAR UPSET: When I ponder your question I get this rushing noise in my ears and all I can think is: “Birth Control, STDs, heartache, oh my!”

Look — if you were happy with your guilt-free, attachment-free hookup holiday, I would suspend my judgment about your behavior. But you’re not happy. You are filled with anxiety. And your confidence is such that you will have sex with someone but you don’t dare to ask him how he feels?

Essentially, your question boils down to: Shall I have my pain now or later? I choose now. Because the more you delay this breakup, the more time you will spend in this unhealthy limbo, which does a number on your self-esteem, making it harder to recover.

Mom tries to parent through the porn

By Amy Dickinson

April 10, 2014

Dear Amy: My 18-year-old son and I were sharing a computer. I stumbled on his activity when he left it open. It was deeply disturbing to view the sites he had visited. Our 22-year-old daughter states, “It’s no big deal, Mom. All the boys do it now.”

This is not Playboy on steroids. It is shockingly graphic in real time.

How should we respond but simultaneously promote healthy sexuality and the notion of responsible erotica? How should parents respond to the tsunami of Internet pornography that our children discover, visit and revisit? It is readily discovered on any smartphone, laptop or desktop.

This could highjack young brains big time! I am liberal, but this is almost sickening that he might think this approaches normal sexual behavior. Help! 

— Concerned Parent

Dear Parent: According to a survey of 4,000 men and 4,000 women by Cosmopolitan magazine (probably a credible source, given this subject), over 30 percent of men surveyed said they watched porn every day. Seventy-one percent of men age 18-34 watch porn at least once a month.

Quoting a Time.com article on this subject, “Results show that women are from Venus and men are from whatever planet watches porn all the time.”

Psychologists refer to one effect of hard-core porn on the consumer as “sexual script theory.” The pornographic storyline replaces real-world sexual experience. Studies have concluded that obsessively viewing porn actually rewires the neural pathways of the brain, much like opiate drugs do.

And, like opiates, porn can be addictive. It can supplant — or destroy — real-world relationships. It can also (ironically) deaden, rather than enhance, a person’s actual sexual relationships with real people.

Your job as parents is to do exactly what you are doing, which is to be aware and to question your son about his habits and behavior. His father (or another adult male) should talk to him about the difference between pornography and real-world sex (and love). Even though your daughter reports that this is “no big deal,” I wonder if she has had experiences with guys who consume pornography and if so how this might have affected her. Male consumption of pornography has a profound effect on how women are viewed, how sex is viewed and the expectations on them sexually.

As his mother, you should tell him exactly how you feel about this and that you expect him to make choices that are healthy.



FB fans the flames of frustrating friendships

By Amy Dickinson

April 6, 2014

Dear Amy: A person I’ve known a long time who considers herself a good friend of mine, recently let rip with a stream of anti-gay nonsense on her Facebook page.

I’ve drifted away from her over the years, but her latest antics have left me ice cold. She attempts to keep inserting herself into my life, saying, “You’re my best friend, and we’ve had such fun for the past 30 years!” Since I’ve lost so much respect for her, it’s hard for me to pretend to want to be around her.

I believe all people have a right to their own opinion, but I also feel everyone on the planet is entitled to human rights.

To add to the problem, our husbands are good friends. How do I gently shake her off my hind leg? — Faded Friend

Dear Faded: When people you know well post objectionable comments on Facebook, I think it is best to comment respectfully (also) on Facebook: “Wow, I couldn’t disagree more.”

Depending on how that interaction goes, you can then choose to ignore or block future posts, because sometimes it’s just not worth the aggravation to continue to be exposed to views you find consistently objectionable.

Your friend may feel that you are longtime besties because of your shared history. She has the right to express her fondness, even if it doesn’t match your own feelings.

The way to gently “shake her off your leg” (I love that, by the way) is to do so coolly but cordially. Don’t seek her out and don’t confide in her if you are thrown together socially.

If she doesn’t adjust to this subtle change, then you will have to break up with her.

How I Mistakenly Married Your Mother

the-mistake-maven:

Another Blog by The Mistake Maven

~Tripping Over Steps Since 1988~

Well, How I Met Your Mother, my favorite show about the merits of making mistakes, has come to an end, and I am at once horrified with how it all went down, and gratified because I now have something disastrous to write about.image

Pick your battles — and never fight a hair war

Jesus Christ! Had long hair…

By Amy Dickinson

April 4, 2014

DEAR AMY: I hope your answer will settle a disagreement my mid-50s husband is having with me and our 15-year-old son, “Bart,” regarding his choice to have long hair.

Bart is a good student, plays a sport for the high school and is well liked on the team. He has buddies who are also good kids, is liked by his teachers, participates in church activities, has a good sense of humor and is occasionally “sassy” at home (he is a teenager, after all).

While he’s not perfect, as far as teenagers go he’s an all-around good kid except, apparently, for his hair, according to my husband.

Bart has hair just below his shoulders, and my husband has been on him (and me) repeatedly over the years to get his hair cut. He has now issued a deadline.

When asked why, he replies, “Because it looks stupid.”

I’ve tried to probe my husband on various occasions to understand his possible true feelings on this, but to no avail.

I’m tired of the tension this causes and feel that if this is the biggest point of rebellion for a 15-year-old, who cares? Viva la long locks!

Your thoughts?

— Wife and Mom

DEAR MOM: As someone roughly your husband’s age, I well remember the “hair wars” of my own childhood. When your husband and I were young, having long hair signified more of a social statement about rebellion, and boys wearing their hair long were often judged harshly.

I thought the lesson those of us who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s learned was that hair can be an important identifier for a teen, and that how a teen wears his/her hair truly should not matter to anyone else, even parents.   

STEVE JOBS

Your husband saying your son “looks stupid” is rude and alienating. It is not your job to persuade and/or tackle your son to have his hair cut against his will.

You should discuss this with your husband privately. Find his old high school yearbook and leaf through it with him. Surely there were guys he knew who had shoulder-length hair and turned out OK (I looked up teenage photos of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and both sported long locks).

NOT TO MENTION THIS GUY..

I have a feeling your husband’s attitude can be traced back to how he was treated by his father. Urge him to be respectful and to pick his battles more carefully, because even if he “wins” this one, he still loses.

To text or not to text; that is her question

By Amy Dickinson

April 3, 2014

Dear Amy: I am a single female in my 50s. I’m interested in dating and settling down.

The problem is that the men who have shown interest in me recently have inundated me right out of the starting gate with needy text messaging, out-of-control IMing, plus FaceTime calls (as well as regular calls).

The latest guy started texting me all day during work hours and was asking me what time I get off work, presumably so that he could know when I’d be available to receive his phone calls and texts at home.

It strikes me as unprofessional that this man would be texting me all day during his work hours.

I find this disruptive when I’m at work. I don’t enjoy it at home, either.

Is this just something that I have to endure, or is there some way for me to politely set boundaries and get these guys to cool it without them being offended?

The last time I tried saying something politely to one of these guys, he completely stopped contacting me. I didn’t want that. What do I do? Textually Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: Excessive contact can feel intrusive (and worse) when you don’t want it. Don’t pass judgment on someone else’s commitment to his work if he chooses to send text messages to you during the workday. All you need to do is pay attention to your own comfort level.

You should tackle this the minute you feel it starting. Reply to a text, saying: “I’m not into frequent texting, but if you want to set up a time to get together (in person), let me know.”

Don’t answer calls (FaceTime or “regular”) if you don’t want to talk. The guy who reads you the best in this context is the guy you will want to see.

Some “girl” performers just can’t grin and bear it

By Amy Dickinson

March 31, 2014

Dear Amy: Last night my girlfriend and I attended a live concert by a country/western band of four men and a girl, all playing instruments and singing. They were very good, but the girl kept frowning through the whole performance, which was distracting.

When the concert was over and the audience was filing out through the lobby, the performers were there, greeting the departing guests.

The girl had a great smile on her face, and I told her she had a great smile but then added that she should have shown her smile during the performance.

My girlfriend admonished me that my follow-on comment about not smiling during the performance was hurtful. I thought I was being helpful. In your opinion, was I being hurtful or helpful?

Can you suggest another way to give constructive criticism to a performer? 

— Audience Member

Dear Member: First, a question for you: Why are the male performers “men” but the female performer is a “girl”?

I ask because you seem to feel that the female performer should be all smiles, kittens and rainbows during the time she is exerting herself onstage. Would you have made a similar comment to the male musicians?

Given the double standard I assume exists, it is completely legitimate to offer a performer feedback after a show (but only if you buy a CD). Here’s how you do it: “You guys were awesome tonight! I’m a huge fan. But are you willing to hear some constructive feedback?”

Even if this makes the performer feel slighted or defensive, if she is savvy, she will work on this. In fact there is some likelihood she has heard it before.

Ok. I’m sharing this for two reasons. First off, can we please stop goading our children into losing their shit and then filming it and humiliating them? That’s just selfish and abusive. Secondly, these children are named Gunner, Paisley and Harper. Stop it, stupid people.

What to do with your old tractor. #askamy #fingerlakes #upstateny

What to do with your old tractor. #askamy #fingerlakes #upstateny

Cheating now, amnesia later

By Amy Dickinson

March 29, 2014

Dear Amy: Recently, my husband went out of town with an ex-girlfriend. I refused to go with him. His relationship with her has caused many problems in our marriage.

After returning from the trip, he said he couldn’t remember anything from the last few weeks of his life, although he does seem to recall some details about his weekend away.

For instance, he claims he did not share a bed with her. He also says they have not communicated since the weekend.

This is confusing. I received an e-mail from this woman telling me things they have talked about, but if he had not had further contact with her, how would she know what was going on in our lives after this weekend occurred?

A therapist said he has anxiety-related amnesia.

I love my husband and I am willing to do what it takes to get past all of this, but he continues to be in denial about what happened.

Wouldn’t it be better for him to be honest? I’m sure it would help him feel better about himself, and then we could salvage a future from this entire mess. 

— At a Loss for Words

Dear At A Loss: People sometimes ask me if I invent the letters sent in to me. My answer is always the same: I lack that kind of imagination. Of course, you could have invented this story, but, well, what can I say? Like you, I sometimes choose to believe the implausible.

On to your question. I don’t want to undermine your husband’s therapist’s diagnosis, but I’m going to take my own amateur, third-party stab at what’s going on with him.

His anxiety-related amnesia was triggered by the fact that he went off for the weekend with his ex. This is also known as: Cheating, lying about it and then conveniently developing amnesia.

You may continue to buy his story — because you want to. But if I were you, I would tell this man, “Your amnesia seems to be contagious, because now I’m forgetting we were ever married.”

Family must NOT put young child in path of predator

By Amy Dickinson

March 27, 2014

Dear Amy: I have a 6-year-old granddaughter whose parents are not together. In a couple of months, when she goes to visit her dad (my son), she may be in proximity to a man who was incarcerated for molestation. This man is the brother of my son’s girlfriend, and the two siblings live together in their parents’ home. I am very anxious about this.

I plan to tell my son that it would be best for his daughter’s safety and security if he would change the visitation location.

I have spoken to my granddaughter (when she visits me) about speaking up strongly and loudly if anyone makes physical overtures toward her. However, I am concerned about whether I spoke appropriately and specifically enough.

I usually spoke to her when giving her a bath and used the correct terminology for the body parts.

Where can I get some information and training on how to raise awareness and educate my granddaughter on protecting herself? 

— Anxious Grandma

Dear Grandma: I appreciate your desire to teach your granddaughter to “protect herself,” but a 6-year-old cannot protect herself from a pedophile, and your training puts the burden on her to somehow fend off molestation. Body awareness, age-appropriate information and confidence-boosting encouragement is all good; this might help the girl in all sorts of ways. But a 6-year-old cannot realistically protect herself from an adult predator.

The person you need to “train” is your son. His daughter is not safe in any proximity to a sex offender. You don’t say where the child’s mother is, but she should be informed.

If you believe your son will take his daughter anywhere near the household where the sex offender lives, or if he allows the offender any contact at all with the child in another environment, you should call the police or child protective services, and (in my opinion) the whole crew should be charged with child endangerment. And if you know this contact might happen and don’t do everything in your power to prevent it, then you are culpable too.

In addition to the child’s safety, the terms of the offender’s legal status might mean that if he comes in any contact with a child (even unintended), he could be rearrested.

Your son’s visitation with his daughter should take place at your home, which sounds like a safe environment for everyone.

A straightforward book on this tough topic is “Predators and Child Molesters: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Keep Kids Safe,” by former sex crimes prosecutor Robin Sax (2009, Prometheus Books).