I recently got back in touch with an old college friend. We’ve lived far apart for years and now both have teenaged children. We were very close in college: we roomed together, had the same major and joined the same sorority, so we were pretty much inseparable.
Somehow once we got married and moved far apart (2,000 miles), our relationship fell apart. We sent each other the occasional email, maybe one or two a year, but that was about it. As far as I know this didn’t cause any grief to her, and it didn’t really to me either. Our lives kind of got swept in opposite directions and are so separate now that our kids haven’t even met.
Well, I just got a very strange email from her and I don’t know how to respond. She is doing a major life overhaul — really major. She has divorced her husband, changed jobs, and — this is the part I’m really having trouble wrapping my head around — she’s changed her name. It’s not back to her maiden name. It’s a brand new name. She’s doing some kind of total personality reinvention.
This creates all kinds of questions in my mind — what kind of trauma could have caused her to do all this? What about her two teenagers? Are they okay with the things Mom is doing? What about the Dad, where is he now? And what on earth is up with the new name?
She seems to want us to go back in time to our old status, when we would confide everything to each other. She didn’t give me many explanatory details in her mail but is clearly eager to spill everything. I am very curious to understand what’s happened to her but feel a strong reluctance to enter into any kind of exchange with her. It sounds as though she’s flipped out a bit, and I find myself going into a sort of defensive crouch when I think about her — that if she’s this unstable I don’t want her showing up on my doorstep and hanging out with my kids, for instance. I also have zero desire to spill my guts about my own life to her, and she clearly wants me to. Is this selfish? Am I being a bad friend? Is there some way I can respond politely but keep her at arm’s length?
– Konfused Kappa
I sympathize with your reluctance to walk back into your friend’s life at a time of such upheaval, but you might be overworrying the consequences of a response. Judging from the ages of your children, I’m pegging you both as somewhere in your early forties. It sounds as though she’s experiencing an old-school mid-life crisis. You might want to try to encourage whatever compassion you still feel for her as an old friend and ease up a little on the summary judgment. With two thousand miles between you, the odds are probably slim that she’s going to plant herself in your kitchen, especially since she’s got kids of her own to take care of.
It might take the edge off the weirdness to just talk with her. Email can be a deceiving medium because it creates an aura of intimacy where little really exists. Try picking up the phone and calling her. You will probably feel more at ease as soon as you hear her voice — and its familiarity might bring back some of the warm feelings you once had for her, which will make your compassion easier to summon and to express. Give her a chance to explain the dramatic choices she’s made recently. Her explanations might be more rational than you expect. If she does start making unreasonable demands of you, and it’s by no means a certainty that she will, you can set boundaries and ground rules at that stage.
I am a 22-year-old man. I’m three weeks away from my wedding to my high school (and college) girlfriend and am totally ecstatic. We can’t wait to get married, even though we are not exactly financially stable (we both have huge student loans to pay off and although we are lucky to have jobs, it will take a long time until we can set up a really comfortable life together).
I’m writing to you because all four of our parents are against our getting married right now. They insist that if we love each other now we’ll still love each other in a few years when we’re both more financially secure, especially since we’ve stayed together since we were fifteen. Her parents love me and my parents love her, but they’re all afraid we’re going to be starting our married life together on the wrong foot and it’ll ruin it for us. At least I think that’s what they’re thinking. I actually think they feel some guilt that they can’t help us out more financially, although I’d never say that to them.
Anyway, we’re getting married in three weeks no matter what, but I’m sad that our parents can’t seem to be happy about it. It puts a dark cloud over this wonderful thing that my fiancee and I have been looking forward to for years. Is there anything we can do?
– Get Me To The Church On Time
First of all, congratulations! What a lucky man you are to have found your mate so early in life. The best ally you can have, particularly when times are hard, is a helpmeet who truly knows you and loves you. Frankly, it sounds as though you and your fiancee are getting off to a much better start than many more financially secure couples.
Unfortunately, I must tell you that there is little you can do to ease your parents’ apprehensions. You say that the four of them approve of you as a couple (no small thing!), so you will have to be satisfied with that, and trust that they will come around after you have been happily married for a while. I suspect that they might be remembering the early days of their own marriages, when financial straits might have made things very difficult. They might also — who knows? — have been influenced by the wider culture, which tends to raise an eyebrow at marriage at 22.
Stick to your guns, cleave unto your beloved and show the folks what a happy marriage is all about. You’ll have plenty of challenges to face — all couples do — but your ability to withstand them will ultimately have little to do with the bank balance on the wedding day. When things improve, think what a special joy it will be to remember the old days, when you and she had to make do on a shoestring budget. Managing the tough times is good for the character and great for a relationship, if you’re both truly committed. Best of luck to you, and enjoy your wedding.
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