Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Spending Christmas with the Family of Boyfriend's Late Wife

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My boyfriend, "Eddie," is a 61 year old widower. Since his wife's death ten years ago, he's always spent Christmas Day with her parents and her brothers and sisters. (His own parents are deceased and he has no kids). He asked me to come with him this year (it's our first Christmas together), and although I wasn't wild about the idea I agreed to go. I wish I hadn't. I found the whole situation unsettling. Everyone was nice enough, but it was impossible not to be reminded every minute that I just don't fit in. Even worse, it made me feel like Eddie's past is more important to him than his future. On the drive home, I told Eddie that I wouldn't be doing this again, and that if he really cares for me the way he says he does, he should want to spend holidays with me only, or come with me to visit my daughter and her family in Oregon. He got really hurt, and barely spoke to me the rest of the way. We had dinner last night, but he still seemed offended. Was I wrong to say what I said? ("Confused" in Indiana)

DEAR CONFUSED: I sympathize with you, and I think that Eddie could have done a better job of anticipating how stressful the day was likely to be for you. But I do think you were wrong to say what you said.

I think a big part of the problem is that it was Christmas. For better or worse, Christmas and other holidays are loaded with anticipations, expectations, and---inevitably---disappointments. If Eddie went to see these people on a non-holiday, it probably wouldn't have been such a big deal to you. Yes, you might still have felt uncomfortable if you accompanied him, but it probably wouldn't have led to your issuing a "them or me" kind of ultimatum.

I doubt that it's true that Eddie's past means more to him than his future. Rather, I think that he values the important people in his life, and one of them is you. He wouldn't have asked you to accompany him to the Christmas get-together if he wasn't proud of you. He wanted them to meet this wonderful new woman in his life, and he wanted you to meet some nice people who meant---and still mean---a lot to him. As I said, he probably was a little insensitive with respect to your insecurities, but I think his heart was in the right place. And I think the reason he's hurt is that he had such high hopes of pleasing you.

You should tell Eddie that you're sorry for overreacting to a stressful situation. Let him know that you're not trying to undermine the relationship he has with his former in-laws. Stress to him that you love the fact that preserving relationships is so important to him, and that you hope that the relationship the two of you have is worth preserving, too.

And be willing to compromise and be creative. Christmas Day is obviously meaningful for you, but it's still only one day a year. Maybe next year, the two of you could start your own Christmas Eve tradition, even if he still wants to see the ex-in laws the next day. Or the two of you could leave on December 26 to visit your daughter. And, since you don't actually dislike these people, maybe you'll be more comfortable in their presence next year. You never know, you may actually, in time, reach the point where you look forward to seeing them.

Good luck, "Confused," and please let me know what happens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To Tell---or Not to Tell---Her Husband She Has a Male Friend

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: The letter from the lady who likes to dance but her husband doesn't [see blog entry dated November 19, 2010] is a bit like my situation. I, too, am retired and have become enthusiastic about watercolor painting, something I used to do but never had enough time for when I was younger. My husband, though, has never had any interest in art. That's OK with me, but I've met a really nice man in my class who is a very good painter and who has invited me to a couple of art openings and receptions. A part of me would like to go, but I haven't said anything to my husband about having a male friend, and I don't know how he'd react. My friend, by the way, is divorced, but he's been nothing but a gentleman and I'm sure he's not looking for anything other than friendship. Should I say something to my husband, or would that just be asking for trouble? ("CJ")

DEAR CJ: I definitely believe that it's possible for a man and a woman to have a Platonic friendship, provided that they're both careful about crossing the line from friendship to romance. However, because some people do cross that line, I believe that married people should be honest with their spouses about such friendships, and, if necessary, hash out any issues that may arise.

Your husband hasn't told you he doesn't want you to go places with your friend, and for all you know he might be totally agreeable to the idea. So, coming out and telling him might resolve the problem on the spot.

And even if your husband reacts negatively, at least the situation is out in the open. My guess is that, if you didn't say anything to your husband, eventually you'd go to one of those art events anyway, because that's what you seem to want. And if that happened and your husband heard through the grapevine that you were there with a man---a man he had never heard about---your motives would immediately be suspect.

If you can present the facts to your husband the same way your presented them to me---that you and your friend have a common interest in art but that neither of you is interested in anything more than a friendship---he ought to react in a mature way. If he doesn't, you'd still be within your rights to go to the occasional art opening with your friend, although you'd want to be careful not to rub salt into your husband's wounds. So, don't go out to dinner afterward with your friend, don't start seeing him for drinks, etc. At some point, your husband would realize that he has nothing to worry about.

Good luck, CJ, and please let me know what happens.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Her Dancing Makes Hubby Jealous

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My husband and I have been retired for three years. We moved to an age-restricted community where we have met many other couples, and we frequently socialize with them at our community center, especially on weekend nights when they have live music and dancing. I love to dance but, unfortunately, my husband doesn't. I've tried everything to get him interested, but he won't even go to the free lessons they have here. I could live with that---after all, I don't enjoy everything he likes, such as golf---but I can't stand the fact that he gets jealous if I dance with other men. He won't say anything at the time, but after we leave he'll ask me why I can't just do line dances the way a lot of women who don't have partners do. Jim, I enjoy dancing with a man! Is that so bad? All the men I've danced with are happily married and their wives don't mind. ("Phyllis")

DEAR PHYLLIS: Your husband is being unreasonable and immature. Unless you're doing something inappropriate out there on the dance floor---dancing way too close, for example---or unless you've been unfaithful in the past and your dancing with men is reminding him of that, you have every right to enjoy yourself when you're out listening to music. And you've done your best to bring him into the world of dancing. If he's not interested, that's his choice, but he has no right to stop you from doing something that's perfectly innocent.

Of course, you still have to deal with the fact that you're married to a man who is at least sometimes unreasonable and immature. If this is the only situation that brings out his jealousy, it's probably no big deal: just stick up for yourself, ignore his petulance, and dance all you want with a clear conscience. Of course, it probably wouldn't hurt if you showed him extra attention when you're not out on the dance floor, and avoid making unnecessary comments about the men you were dancing with.

But if your husband's pouting gets worse, or if he starts getting suspicious of other interactions you may have with men (questioning you at length if he saw you talking to some guy at the supermarket, etc.), you may have a more serious problem on your hands. Be watchful for any red flags that may be telling you that he's got control issues, which may well require the help of a professional counselor or therapist.

I hope it doesn't come to that, Phyllis, but let me know if it does. In the meantime, have fun!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

She's Tempted by an Ex-Lover

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I need some advice in a hurry. The other day, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from a guy I was involved with nearly twenty years ago, telling me that he's coming out to my city on business for a week and would like to see me. Back then I was very much in love with him, at least until I found out that he was seeing two other women at the same time. He and I supposedly had a committed relationship, and it hurt me deeply to learn that he had been unfaithful. We had a big argument, and never contacted each other again until now.

We both eventually married other people, but now I'm divorced and he's still married (unhappily, he says). I normally wouldn't get involved with a married man, but the truth is he was a great lover, and right now I have no sex life whatsoever (I've got two teenage kids who take up most of my time). Would I be crazy to see him again, or crazy not to? ("On the Fence" in Florida)

DEAR "ON THE FENCE": I don't know if you'd be crazy to see him, but I think you'd regret it.

Do you honestly think you could have sex with this particular guy without becoming emotionally involved with him all over again? I suppose it's possible, but I tend to doubt it. And if those feelings were to come back, how would it feel to have to break up with him---in a sense---a second time? It hurt bad the first time, and it could still hurt bad now---despite the fact that this time you'd know all along he has someone else.

Being hurt a second time would be a genuine concern even if he were unmarried. But his marital status only makes the situation worse. If he's telling the truth that his marriage is an unhappy one, do you want to get pulled into the drama of whether he should stay with his wife or leave her? Could you handle being the "other woman" in a divorce case, or simply knowing that you've violated your principles about not getting involved with someone who's married?

And if he's lying about his "unhappy" marriage in order to make you feel less guilty about having sex with him, how will it feel to know you've been lied to (again)?

All in all, I see this ending badly for you, one way or another.

I'm not ignoring what you said about your nonexistent sex life. That's a legitimate problem for you and countless other women in your situation. Having a fling with a married man may appear to solve the problem, at least temporarily, but it's only going to create new problems. If you have time to be thinking about, and sleeping with, your former boyfriend, you have time to take some steps to meet men who are truly available. And who knows? Some of them might be great lovers, too!

Good luck, "On the Fence," and please let me know what happens.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

His Girlfriend is Micro-Managing her Adult Daughter's Life

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 59. I've had some relationships in the ten years since my divorce, but until I met my current girlfriend ("Marti") most of them were pretty casual. I really like Marti and I think the feeling is mutual, and I can forsee a time when we might move in together.

The only thing that bothers me about Marti is her relationship with her 26 year-old daughter, who is unmarried but has two kids. I don't think an hour goes by---even when we're having dinner out---without either Marti calling her daughter or her daughter calling her. Most of the time, the calls are about trivial things that could wait until after dinner or even the next day. For example, just last night the daughter called to tell Marci about some new guy she had met on a dating site. That took up ten minutes. A half hour later, Marti called her back because she had forgotten to ask about how her granddaughter's dental visit had gone that day. And then a half hour after that, as I was driving her home, Marti called her again to remind her that she had to set her alarm early for a job interview in the morning.

The daughter is an only child, and Marti is a widow, so I can understand that the mother-daughter relationship here is a close one. But I feel sometimes that the relationship is too close, and that I'm the odd man out. Any thoughts? ("Bill" in California)

DEAR BILL: I think mother-daughter relationships often seem too close to men who are observing them. And when you add grandchildren into the mix, the relationship can get even closer, and more complicated. So, if you're going to be involved with a woman with kids---any woman with kids---there's a certain amount of mother-daughter communication (and sometimes mother-daughter craziness) that goes with the territory.

However, from what you're telling me, Marti's relationship with her daughter goes beyond what I would consider normal limits. It appears she's micro-managing her daughter's life, or at least is over-invested in the details of her life.

It also appears that Marti has no idea of how rude it is to be constantly taking and making non-emergency calls when she's having dinner with someone, especially when the "someone" is a man she's supposedly involved with romantically. That would be a huge turn-off for me, and I would think for just about any man. Usually, people are trying to make their best impression in the early stages of a relationship, so if nothing changes in this regard you can only imagine what things will be like if you move in together.

You don't want to criticize Marti or lecture her on the dangers of over-involvement in an adult child's life. But you have to let Marti know how you feel about being the "odd man out." My guess is that Marti and her daughter have had this 24/7 kind of communication pattern for so long that neither of them sees anything unusual about it, or stops to think about how someone else might be affected by it.

I know it's never fun for a man to have a "relationship talk" with his wife or girlfriend, but this is a talk you really need to have. (And maybe you should tell Marti to turn off her phone before you begin).

Good luck, Bill, and please let me know what happens.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Trials of Trial Separations

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 42 and have been married for three years (first time for me, second for my wife). We have no kids. Two months ago, my wife and I separated. It was her idea. She said she needed some time and space to think things through. (We had been arguing a lot, mainly about lifestyle issues---she likes to stay home all the time while I like to go out with friends, etc.). I moved out and am living in a very small studio apartment. I talk to my wife a few times a week, but haven't seen her in person since we separated. I'm feeling really lonely, and two weeks ago I met a woman on craigslist who is also separated, although in her case she's already filed for divorce from her husband. She's telling me I'm a fool to be waiting forever for my wife to make up her mind. She's not exactly pressuring me to file for divorce, but she says that if I know I'm not getting back together with my wife I can move in with her. How long should it take my wife to make up her mind? ("Robbie" in Missouri)

DEAR ROBBIE: Your situation is a good example of why people shouldn't separate---even on a "trial" basis---without coming up with some mutually-agreed-on ground rules.

One of those ground rules involves the length of time needed to work out the problems that led to the separation. Your wife evidently hasn't given you a clear idea of how long it will be before she's "made up her mind," nor has she asked you to work with her in some way to resolve the problems (e.g., going to counseling together, or at least meeting for coffee once or twice a week to talk things over). This is just asking for trouble.

Another necessary ground rule in any trial separation involves seeing other people. In general, forming new relationships during a separation is a very bad idea. As you've already seen, the new person may have a completely different agenda from yours, and that agenda is not likely to include saving your marriage. It's understandable that you're feeling lonely and rejected, but it's vital that you understand that relationships that begin out of desperation almost always end badly.

My advice is to break off with this new woman immediately, and take a more pro-active approach with your wife. Explain to your wife that resolving your marital problems is not something that she can do by herself; you both need to work together on it, and that you're ready, willing, and able to do what it takes (or at least I hope you are, because words without actions won't get you very far).

If, after a few months of sincere and intense effort, it's clear that your marriage just can't be saved, then you can proceed to divorce knowing that you've done everything you could. But, even then, I wouldn't be quick to get into a new relationship. Unless you truly understand what went wrong the last time, and resolve to change any faults of your own that contributed to the break-up, you'd only be setting yourself up for another failure.

Good luck, Robbie, and please let me know how this turns out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

40 Years and 40 Pounds Later: a Beauty Contest Winner's Lament

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 62 and have been a widow for five years. I met a very nice man---"Sam"---a few months ago who seems to be crazy over me. Believe me, I appreciate the attention, but he sometimes goes too far. Whenever we're out with friends, or when he introduces me to his family members, he always mentions that I was once a beauty pageant winner. Jim, that was forty years ago! And it's not like I was Miss America. It was a local pageant in my little hometown in Minnesota. The problem for me is not just that I'm older, but that I've gained forty pounds over the years. I don't look anything like what you'd expect a former beauty pageant winner to look like, and I can sometimes see the skeptical looks on peoples' faces. I told Sam I was embarrassed by these references, and I could see his feelings were hurt. He says he's proud of me and wants everyone to know it. Again, I don't want to seem ungrateful, but is there any way to get Sam to stop without hurting his feelings? ("M" in Dallas)

DEAR "M": I guess your situation proves that there really can be too much of a good thing. A lot of women would love to have a boyfriend or husband who brags about them---or at least they think they would. Sam's heart is clearly in the right place, but he needs to be more sensitive about your sensitivity in this matter (although I have to wonder whether the people you meet are really that skeptical; no rational person expects any 62 year old woman---beauty contest winner or otherwise---to weigh what she weighed when she was 22).

Anyway, I think you should try talking to Sam again about this. Pick a time when you're both relaxed and in a good mood. Tell him that you love all his attention and his compliments, but that you'd rather he not mention the beauty pageant stuff. You might have to say that you're being a little over-sensitive, but that it's not uncommon for women to be over-sensitive about weight and age. Tell him you're happy you're still a beautiful woman in his eyes, but you'd rather he keep the flattering remarks private. If his friends and family truly think you're beautiful, they don't need him to tell them that.

I also think the "problem" should take care of itself before too long. Your relationship is a relatively new one, and you're meeting the people in Sam's life for the first time. At some point, Sam will have told everyone he knows about your beauty contest past. Unless he's prone to repeating himself, he'll probably stop making these references.

Good luck, "M", and please let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are Long-Distance Relationships a Waste of Time?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 56, divorced, and live in the mountains of North Carolina. I work in a female-dominated field (medical claims administration), and don't meet many eligible men in my daily life, so I've registered with a couple of online dating sites. I've received very few responses from men who live anywhere near here, and the two dates I've had were disappointing (one guy had totally distorted his work and marital history, and the other one was incapable of conversation). Just this past weekend, though, I was contacted by a man who looks and sounds great, but who lives nearly a thousand miles away. He says he's always fantasized about visiting this area, and would like to come for a long weekend next month. He's not suggesting he stay with me or anything like that, but I'm wondering now if the whole thing is just a waste of time. I'm not looking for a three-day romance, nor am I looking for someone who's just going to be a pen-pal afterward. Is this doomed from the start? ("Shelly" in Asheville)

DEAR SHELLY: Well, it's probably doomed if you think it's doomed. It seems to me that, as long as you're not leading this man on in some way (e.g., implying that you'll have sex with him that weekend), there's absolutely no harm in seeing what happens. If he turns out to be yet another disappointment, so what? What will you have lost?

But if he's as great in person as he seems on the computer screen, you're not necessarily limited to either a brief fling or a pen-pal relationship. A relationship could evolve in any number of ways. If he likes the area enough (and likes you enough), he may come back more often, possibly for longer periods. He might even , at some point, want to move to Asheville. That may sound far-fetched, but people move all the time for all sorts of reasons. You haven't told me what his employment situation is, but maybe he owns a small business that can be relocated; or maybe he can work for extended periods from remote locations; or maybe he's close to retirement and could move anywhere. The fact that he took the trouble to contact someone in Asheville seems to imply that he at least has a genuine interest in the area.

A long-distance relationship can actually be a good thing, especially for people in their fifties or beyond who have gotten used to a fair amount of independence. Seeing someone every so often, but communicating frequently by phone or e-mail in between those visits, is a way of developing a relationship without the pressure of having to see a person all the time, or without disrupting a daily routine that may be comfortable for you.

Given that you don't have any other romantic relationship right now, I see no reason not to give this a chance. So think positively, enjoy whatever time you spend with this man, and don't try to force things afterward. Good luck, Shelly, and please let me know what happens.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is She Asking the Wrong Question?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: A woman I work with filed for divorce recently after thirty-three years of marriage. I'm not that close to her and have never met her husband, but she told me at lunch last week that it just hit her one day that she didn't find him attractive any more, either physically or in a personality sense. She said that when she asked herself if she would be attracted to him if she had just met him today, she couldn't honestly answer yes. She felt she had been going through most of her marriage with blinders on, ignoring faults and shortcomings and incompatibilities.

Since that lunch conversation, I've been asking myself if I would be attracted to my husband if I met him today for the first time, and I'm not sure I could say yes. He's a nice guy, but he's let himself go physically over the years and our sex life is almost non-existent (he's 59, I'm 55). I don't want to do something I'll regret, but I don't want to wake up someday and realize it's too late to start over again. Can you help me figure out what to do? ("M.J.")

DEAR M.J.: Your co-worker's story seems to have touched a nerve. It sounds as if you've been aware---maybe for a long time---of frustrations in your marriage, but the co-worker's divorce has brought it all to the surface. I don't advocate ignoring problems and hoping they'll just go away. But neither do I advocate taking drastic measures when less-drastic ones may solve the problems.

My guess is that there's more to your co-worker's story than she's told you. I'm not saying she's lying, but because you're not her close friend you're probably getting a simplified, sanitized version of what happened. The question she raises ("Would I be attracted to him if I met him today for the first time?") is, in my opinion, the wrong question. It's artificial. If you really met someone today for the first time, he would be, to you, a blank slate. He'd have no faults (unless they were obvious ones), no baggage. He's never disappointed you. He could be just about anything you wanted him to be. With your husband, it's impossible to think of him as a blank slate. You know his faults all too well, and you can't pretend you don't.

I think the right question to ask is, "Do I still love this man enough to try to make our marriage more satisfying?" If you can't answer yes to that, then drastic measures may be called for. But if you feel you still love him, your focus should be on working to enhance the marriage.

Because sexless marriages are often characterized by a combination of medical and psychological causes, as well as by avoidance and embarrassment, you're going to need outside help. I can't tell you for sure if that help will include medical specialists, sex therapists, or marriage counselors, but you and your husband should probably begin with frank discussions with your primary care doctors. You might have to gently but firmly urge your husband to do that, but as long as you avoid blaming him or berating him for the situation you're in, he shouldn't resist too vehemently.

Good luck, M.J., and please let me know what happens.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Is it Wrong to Say "I Love You?"

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 34 and have always been single, although I've twice lived with men and have had several other serious relationships. I'm currently seeing a great guy, but I'm having the same frustration with him that I did with almost everyone else. He never says "I love you" unless I say it first. And even then I can tell that he's just kind of embarrassed and wants to say something. Are all men like this? Am I doing something wrong by expressing my feelings? ("Nicole" in California)

DEAR NICOLE: I don't think all men are like that, but, in general, men tend to feel awkward about expressing their emotions verbally. And as you've noticed, the awkwardness can increase when men are put on the spot. Saying "I love you" to a man does tend to put him on the spot.

Having said that, I certainly wouldn't discourage a woman from expressing her love for a man. If you're truly in love, and have reason to believe the feeling is mutual, why not say it? But I'm wondering if perhaps you're expressing it too early in your relationships. Some people fall head-over-heels in love almost from Day One, and saying the magic words "I love you" just intensifies the pleasure and the rush of emotions they're experiencing. The problem is that the man may not be falling in love quite so quickly (or, sadly, maybe not at all). At the very least, he may need more time to process his emotions.

Maybe you could make it easier on your boyfriend by using the word "love" in a way that is less threatening to him. Instead of saying "I love you", say "I love the way you make me feel", or "I love the way you kiss me", or "I love being with you." That way, he gets to hear the word "love" in a romantic but non-intimidating context. Before long, he might start telling you, without prompting, that he "loves" the way you smell, or the way you laugh, or the way he thinks about you throughout the day. It may or may not lead to his saying "I love you," but it can certainly pave the way.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that a lot of women have had their hearts broken by men who are too quick to say "I love you." Some guys---the pick-up-artist types---will say anything, no matter how insincere, to get a woman into bed. Others will perhaps mean what they say when they say it, but will lose interest in the woman soon afterward. Whatever pleasure you get from men like that is going to be very short-lived.

Anyway, good luck, Nicole, and please let me know what happens.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Insights on Relationships from a Nutritional Consultant

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions posed by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I am a professional nutritional consultant. I think it's important for your readers to know that some of the behaviors that can negatively affect relationships can be the result of hormonal imbalances and compromised immune systems. I was speaking on the phone yesterday to a computer consultant about some website matters. I could tell from his tone of voice that he was tense and probably dealing with some issues in his life. He eventually opened up and told me that his wife has been behaving erratically and is threatening to leave him. From what he told me about his wife, it seems likely that she has hormonal imbalances that have affected her immune system and caused her to frequently lose control and become enraged. I urged him to go to my website and learn about nutrition in general, and specifically how his wife can rebuild her immune system and restore her hormones to their proper balance through nutritional means, such as juicing and taking kale.

I hope you can share this story, because so many people are dealing with problems that they don't realize are nutritionally-related. Typically, their doctors are not trained in nutrition, and thus often fail to diagnose the underlying conditions, leaving the patients frustrated and desperate for a solution. Doctors might unfairly label such patients as hypochondriacs, which only increases the frustration. The good news is that many of these problems can be addressed easily and effectively by preventative nutritional care. I would be happy to discuss any of these issues in greater detail with your readers. Thanks for helping me get the word out!
Andrea Yvonne Lee
Palm Harbor, Florida
(727) 449-0944

DEAR ANDREA: Until I received your e-mail, I confess that I had never given much thought to the role that nutrition plays in human behavior and interpersonal relationships. But now, when I think back on some of the "difficult" clients I used to deal with (and some difficult people I'm still dealing with), it seems quite plausible that they were struggling with hormonal imbalances of one sort or another. I'm glad you're so concerned about people and their well-being, and I urge anyone reading this to go to your website or contact you directly. Thanks for your insights.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

She's Sick of Being Called "Stupid"

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 26 and have been going with a guy for about a year. There's one thing about him that bothers me. He is always either saying that I'm stupid, or that something I'm doing (like watching certain TV shows or reading People magazine) is stupid. I've told him plenty of times that I don't appreciate being called stupid, and he always replies that it's only because he knows I'm a smart person that he's being tough on me. In other words, he's holding me to a higher standard than he'd hold someone else. Because of this, he thinks it's sort of a compliment when he criticizes me. Am I being too sensitive? ("Kim" in Oklahoma)

DEAR KIM: No, you're not being too sensitive. Your boyfriend is trying to put a good spin on his obnoxious and insulting remarks, but, to your credit, you're not buying it.

When a man habitually calls a woman stupid, it's a red flag. It's often a sign that he's trying to control the woman or bully her into becoming something other than what she is. It can also mean he's contemptuous of her, or that he's contemptuous of himself for not having a "smarter" woman in his life. At the very least, it's a sign that he's arrogant and tactless.

I'm not necessarily saying your relationship is hopeless, but it will be if your boyfriend doesn't make some big changes in a hurry. You've got to keep standing up for yourself whenever he utters the word "stupid," and you've got to cut him off the minute he goes into the bogus
explanation that he's really complimenting you. Tell him politely but firmly that that's not the kind of compliment you appreciate.

You could also tell your boyfriend---in a lighthearted but serious way---that you're going to fine him five dollars each time he calls you or something you do "stupid." And then do it. As soon as he utters the word, stop him dead in his tracks and say, with a smile, "Five dollars, please." If he can smile back, then maybe there's hope for him. But if it just makes him rant all the more about your "stupid" fines and your "stupid" sensitivity to his words, then you should throw in the towel on this relationship, because the situation will only get worse.

Good luck, Kim, and please let me know what happens.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Do They Have an "Exclusive" Relationship?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 36 and have been single for about a year, after a marriage that lasted six years. I don't have any kids. Not long after my divorce, I joined the Plenty of Fish dating site, and quickly met a guy I really clicked with. He lives about fifty miles away, but we talk every day and we spend most weekends together. After we had been dating a couple of months, I discontinued my membership with Plenty of Fish, but I recently found out that he's still very much an active member. (Even if you're not a member, you can search the site and find out when someone was last logged in. Every time I checked him out, it said, "Online Today"). When I asked him about it, he first got offended that I was cyber-stalking him, and then after he calmed down he said there are a couple of women on the site he still enjoys corresponding with, even though he's never met them and has no intention of meeting them. My friends think he's lying. I want to believe him but I don't really know what's considered normal behavior on dating sites. Also, was I wrong to search the site to see if he was still active on it? ("Brandi" from South Carolina)

DEAR BRANDI: I'll answer your second question first: I don't think you were wrong to check out your boyfriend's membership status. Given that your relationship is still relatively new and that you only see him on weekends, you did what a lot of people in your position would do. Until you know someone well enough to trust him instinctively, it never hurts to verify the situation. However, if you're obsessively checking his status every day, you're only going to make yourself a nervous wreck, and you'll soon cross the line and become a real stalker.

As to whether his continued presence on the site is an innocent one, there's no easy way of knowing with 100% certainty. He could be corresponding with someone a thousand miles away about their mutual interest in foreign films, or he could be lining up weeknight dates with women from his home town. I would think, though, that if his relationships with the women he mentioned are purely Platonic, he doesn't need to correspond with those women through the dating site. They could simply give each other their "real" e-mail addresses, and he could discontinue his membership and still keep up the friendship. So, I guess I'm a little skeptical of his story, even though I do believe in the possibility of men-women friendships.

I think the bigger issue here is that you seem to want a committed and exclusive relationship with someone so soon after your divorce. Maybe it would be better for everyone if you scaled back your expectations for a while and tried to meet a variety of people---or even put the dating process itself on the back burner and get to know yourself better and be comfortable with being single again. You don't necessarily have to terminate your current relationship, but maybe a bit of breathing room might be good for both of you.

Good luck, Brandi, and please let me know what happens.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Caregiver Blues---Part Two

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please direct any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: The letter from the lady from Florida [see previous blog post, dated June 21, 2010] brought back some sad memories. When I was 50---I'm 64 now---I married for the second time. My new husband was twelve years older than me, but seemed to be in great health. Unfortunately, six months after we married he started showing symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. It didn't turn him into an invalid overnight, but slowly but surely it took over his life---and mine, too. To make a long story short, he lived another ten years. By the time I was 55, I had to give up my job in order to care for him, and, to be honest, I was pretty resentful much of the time. Unlike the lady from Florida, I wasn't tempted to have sex with anyone else, but there were times I just wanted to pack up my car and drive off into the sunset. I didn't, but I have to admit I felt a great relief when my husband finally passed away.

I find myself now in a situation where for the past nine months I've been seeing a man my age. I met him at a widows/widowers club, and he's very marriage-minded. I enjoy his company immensely, but whenever he brings up the subject of marriage all I can think about are my years as a caregiver. I hate to be morbid or selfish, but I just don't think I could go through that again. Am I destined to be alone? ("Sally" in Texas)

DEAR SALLY: You've been through one of the toughest experiences I can imagine. It's difficult enough being a caregiver to someone you've been married to for thirty or forty years. But to take on that role so soon after you've gotten married requires almost superhuman dedication.

I also admire the fact that you're honest enough to admit that the caregiver role was a difficult one for you. Many people are afraid to confront their supposed weaknesses, or are too quick to forget the lessons they learned about themselves.

I don't think you should ignore your fears. Statistically, men tend to die six or seven years younger than women do, and most of those deaths are preceded by a period of illness or disability. So there's a fairly good chance that you may be called on again to be a caregiver.

On the other hand, I don't think you should let your fears overwhelm you. The man you're seeing could beat the odds and live another twenty or thirty healthy years. Or it might turn out that you'll need him (or someone, anyway) to be a caregiver---good health, as you know, can change overnight, for a woman as well as a man.

If you haven't already, I think you should tell your gentleman friend what your fears are. It may or may not make him feel differently about you, but he has the right to know if you're reluctant to take on a caregiver role. It's possible that he may even welcome the conversation; since he's a widower himself he's no stranger to illness and death, and he may surprise you with his insights.

It's also possible, of course, that he could end the relationship and look for someone else. If it happens, it happens, but if this particular relationship doesn't lead to marriage it doesn't necessarily mean you're destined to be alone. It might only mean that---for now, at least---you might be more comfortable with men who are not so determined to remarry. Believe me: there are plenty of non-marriage-minded men out there, and one of them might offer you all that you're looking for.

Good luck, Sally, and please let me know what happens.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is She a "Horrible Person" for Wanting Sex?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 58 and my husband is 67. We retired to Florida two years ago, and we were barely settled in our new home when he had a massive stroke. He can't talk intelligibly, and probably never will. He also can't walk without assistance, or feed himself, or do much of anything on his own. Sex, obviously, is out of the question. I have an aide who comes in five days a week, but otherwise I'm pretty much a full-time caregiver. I feel terrible for saying this, but I can't accept the fact that my sex life is over. We used to have a good sex life, and it's a torture to have to be celibate, on top of all the other issues I have to deal with. I'm not going to abandon my husband no matter what, but all I can think about is finding someone I can be with once in a while and feel like a woman again. Am I a horrible person? Help! ("No Name" in Southwest Florida)

DEAR "NO NAME": No, you're not a horrible person. You're a conflicted person, an honest person, and---I would think---a normal person.

I'm not necessarily saying that you should go out and find someone for sex and comfort, but I am saying that your motivation is significantly different from the motivations that usually drive people to have extramarital sex. Most of the time, affairs are an escape from problems that could still be worked on and improved within a marriage. One of the many reasons I advise against affairs is that they usually solve none of those problems and, in fact, they create new problems within the marriage---especially if the affair is discovered.

In your case, though, the problems you're having are impossible to resolve merely by working on them. It's no one's fault, but the reality is that you and your husband are never going to be able to have the kind of life you used to have. There's no single right-or-wrong way to deal with your situation, but you might want to keep a few thoughts in mind:

  • If you're a strongly religious person and/or have always believed in monogamy, you may never forgive yourself if you have sex with someone else.
  • If you have sex with someone and it blossoms into a true relationship, you may become tortured with indecision. You may not be satisfied with just seeing him for a couple of hours every week or two. Could you handle those complications?
  • On the other hand, if you don't have sex with someone else, are you likely to start resenting your husband? In fact, in your heart of hearts, are you resenting him already? (And if the answer is yes, don't beat yourself up over it; it's normal for caregivers to feel a degree of resentment, sometimes a big degree).

I think you might profit from seeing a counselor or therapist who has experience in dealing with caregiver issues (my guess is that it's a common situation in places like Florida). There may also be caregiver support groups in your area that would allow you to speak frankly to people who can personally relate to what you're going through. You'll be making a decision that you should not make lightly, so think hard about it before you place an ad on craigslist or start flirting with some guy in the supermarket.

Good luck, "No Name", and please let me know what happens.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

His Business is His Entire Life

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I've been married four years and don't have any kids, which is a good thing because my husband would probably never see them if we did. He's the owner of a convenience store that's open from 5:00AM to 11:00PM. Until the recession hit hard a couple of years ago, he'd open the store in the morning and work until about 5:00PM, at which point his assistant manager would take over for the rest of the day. The assistant manager would also be in charge on weekends, although my husband would usually go in for a few hours on Saturday. Now, with business slow, he's had to let the assistant manager go. His only help are a couple of part-time workers who work mainly in the afternoons, allowing my husband to come home for a quick nap before he goes back to the store. Because I work an 8 to 5 office job, I hardly ever see him. I've thought about quitting my job and going to work at the store, but I hate the thought of giving up a secure position, and I'm not sure what it would be like to go from never seeing him to being with him 24/7. I suppose I could work some nights at the store, but I'm tired when I get home. I really don't want a second job, I want a normal married life. Is there any hope? ("Karyn" in Minnesota)

DEAR KARYN: Being a small business owner has never been an easy life, either for the owner or his family, and things are even tougher now. From my observation, the most succesful small retail businesses are the ones in which the entire family---husband, wife, teenage kids, maybe a nephew or niece as well---pitches in, which tends to keep labor costs lower and reduces or eliminates the possibility of employee theft and other problems.

However, not every family, or every couple, is suited to working together. As you point out, there can definitely be such a thing as too much togetherness in a marriage. This is especially true when one spouse thinks of the business as his, and doesn't take well to constructive criticism or even well-meaning suggestions. My guess is that, after four years or more of running the place, your husband has his own ideas about what should or shouldn't be done.

Beyond that, if you were to give up a job with a steady paycheck you'd probably resent your husband and the business itself if you couldn't come close to matching your previous earnings.

It's not going to be easy, Karyn, but you've got to somehow find a time when the two of you can be together for a few hours and start talking about this. You need to stress to him that you appreciate all the hard work he's doing, but that your marriage---and possibly his health---will be jeopardized if this keeps up much longer.

You'll want to take the initiative in coming up with possible solutions, because your husband---like most small business owners---is doing things the only way he knows how. You might want to suggest that the store be open shorter hours; maybe the sales after 8:00PM or before 7:00AM don't justify keeping the place open, or maybe the store could be closed entirely on Sundays. You might also want to suggest that the part-time people work a few extra hours in the early evening, so the two of you could at least have dinner together most nights.

As I said, he may resist these and other suggestions you might make. But if he does, then press him to come up with better ones. The key is to let him know on no uncertain terms that the present arrangement just isn't working out, certainly not for you and for the marriage, and probably not for him, either (unless he's using the job as an excuse to avoid you, which is a whole other issue).

Good luck, Karyn, and please let me know what happens.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Important Message for People Suffering from OCD

(NOTE TO READERS: I received the following e-mail from Elizabeth Persons, MPH, of Columbia University, in response to the previous (May 26, 2010) blog Q&A about a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you or someone you know might be a candidate for the study Ms. Persons describes, please contact her as soon as possible).

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your recent post about how a girlfriend's OCD symptoms are putting a strain on her romantic relationship. Many of us have routines or even eccentric superstitions that get us through the day; we read our horoscopes every morning, keep our calendars clean and up-to-date, or pray each night. But for the 2.2 million American adults suffering from OCD, unceasing thoughts and compulsions can get in the way of living. These symptoms of OCD are not mere habits but persistent, distressing and, at times, debilitating impediments.

In an effort to better understand this common disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health is sponsoring a study to examine possible genetic contributions to OCD. Five research institutions in cities across the country – in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York – are looking for participants who have been diagnosed with OCD or exhibit symptoms such as obsessions, compulsions or hoarding that could lead to a diagnosis. The study involves a 2-3 hour interview with the participant about their mental health. We also ask that the participant and their family members (parents or siblings) provide a blood or saliva sample for DNA. Participants are compensated $75 for their interview and DNA sample, and each family member receives $35 for their DNA sample. Participants and their family members may participate from home or at one of the study centers.

If you think your readers would be interested in helping us gain a deeper understanding of OCD, we would greatly appreciate it if you could publish this letter or our study information for them to view. Readers who would like to participate in the study may contact Columbia University research staff at 212-543-5364 or e-mail CUOCGAS@gmail.com

OCD Collaborative Genetic Association Study
Columbia University

Elizabeth Persons, MPH
Research Worker
Columbia University/NYSPI
(212) 543-5377

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Girlfriend's Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior is Threatening Their Relationship

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm going out with a wonderful and accomplished woman---she's a professor at a well-known university---who has one habit that absolutely drives me crazy. Whenever we go out somewhere, she invariably becomes panicked a few minutes later that she left the back door of her house unlocked, or that she didn't turn off the burners on the stove, or some other situation that requires us to turn around, go back to her house, and verify that things are OK. This has happened at least ten times over the three months we've been going out, and not once has the problem she was worrying about been true. Because of this, we've been late to movies, concerts, and restaurants, and beyond that it's just tiring having to deal with this. I've suggested she see a psychologist, but she insists that she's just being careful, and that several times in the past (before I knew her) she did actually leave a door unlocked, or whatever. Any thoughts? ("Going Nuts" in the Midwest)

DEAR GOING NUTS: I'm not a psychologist, but your girlfriend's behavior certainly sounds like some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). From what I understand, OCD is not something that resolves itself on its own, especially when the person feels it's a rational response to a potentially-dangerous situation that could happen or---as you say---has happened.

I agree with you that she would profit from seeing a psychologist, particularly one who specializes in OCD. (And because OCD is relatively common, it shouldn't be that hard to find one). Because she's resisted the idea so far, you might want to soft-pedal your suggestions so she doesn't feel you're trying to run her life, especially given that your relationship is still relatively new. Perhaps you could show her articles from the Internet about OCD, especially if they describe symptoms similar to hers.

If she still resists seeking treatment, you may need to go through a checklist approach every time the two of you leave her house: doors locked, windows closed, stove off, coffee maker unplugged, etc. My guess is she may still think of something that wasn't on the list, but it's worth a try, anyway.

I suppose you could also put your foot down and simply say "No; we're already late and we're not going back to the house." But that's a calculated risk. It might turn out OK, but then again it might only increase her sense of anxiety and lead to a calamitous evening---and possibly even to the end of your relationship. Because of that risk, I feel the psychologist approach is the best one.

Good luck, and please let me know what happens.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Can Dating Sites Really Predict Compatibility?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I read your article in this month's Connections [www.connectionsforwomen.com] about all the different dating sites out there, and how the sites that do "compatibility" matching, like eHarmony.com, have disproportionately high rates of women members. It got me wondering: do you think that it's really possible to test for, and accurately predict, compatibility? (Naomi in Boston)

DEAR NAOMI: I'm sure the people at eHarmony would insist that it is possible to devise tests that accurately predict compatibility, but I have my doubts.

For one thing, no one on eHarmony or any other site verifies the truth of a person's answers to their compatibility questionnaires. Some people are clueless about themselves, their motivations, and their goals in life. They may honestly answer a question one way, but the answer they give may bear no relation to reality. Other people will deliberately lie or distort the truth. If they decide that the "right" way to answer the questions is to come across as warm, open, affectionate, and people-centered, they'll answer that way, regardless of what they really feel. The end justifies the means, in their mind.

Another problem is that the same word or concept can mean totally different things to different people. One person may think he has a great sense of humor because he laughs so hard at his own jokes that he amost falls off his chair. Another person appreciate wit, but only when it's subtle, and would cringe at the thought of being out in public with the joke-teller.

Even if everyone could agree on the definitions and answer the questions one hundred percent honestly, the only prediction anyone could confidently make about two people is that they match up well on paper. They both want kids. They both love animals. They both watch reality TV shows. They both believe in sharing household chores. OK, fine; that's a start. But that's all it is. Interests, attitudes, and goals may be important, but they don't automatically guarantee chemistry. And without chemistry, all the "on paper" compatibility in the world is meaningless. This is why I urge people who are doing online dating to actually meet the other person as soon as it's clear there's a strong interest. You can learn more about someone in five minutes face-to-face than you could in five weeks, or five months, of e-mail exchanges.

I'm not necessarily trying to discourage you, Naomi, from joining eHarmony or any other "compatibility" site, but I think you should take their claims with a grain of salt. On the other hand, as I pointed out in the Connections article, any man who will fill out a 200-question form and pay $60 or $70 a month to belong to a dating site, is probably serious about forming a real relationship with someone, even if he may be fudging the answers a bit.

Good luck, Naomi, and please let me know if you meet someone good!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Won't Her Boyfriend Introduce Her to His Kids?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 35 and have never been married. For the past seven months I've been dating a slightly older guy who is divorced and has two daughters, 9 and 11, who live with his ex-wife about a hundred miles away. His divorce decree allows him to see his girls every weekend. For as long as I've known him, he's driven to a halfway point early on Saturday morning, where his ex-wife meets him and drops off the girls. He then drives them back to his home where they stay until mid-afternoon on Sunday, when he and his ex do the drop-off in reverse. I've never actually met the girls. I'd love to meet them, but he always says something about how they're not ready yet to accept a new woman in his life. I love the fact that he's a good father, and I know that kids can resist the idea of their parents seeing new people, but I'm troubled that he won't take even small steps to introduce me to his girls. Is this normal behavior for divorced fathers? ("Ana" in California)

DEAR ANA: Well, I'd say it's normal behavior for a man who's uncomfortable about something.

If the two of you have been seeing each other for seven months (and I'm going to assume it's an exclusive relationship), your boyfriend ought to be comfortable enough by now to let his daughters know that there's a woman in his life. He doesn't have to overdo it. You don't have to spend every minute of the weekend with him and the girls. You don't even have to spend the night; in fact, it might be advisable not to spend the night until the girls have completely bonded with you, which could take many months.

But the process has to start somewhere. One weekend, you could all go out to lunch on Saturday. The next weekend, it could be Saturday and Sunday---as you say, small steps. But until some steps are taken, I think I'd be careful about becoming over-invested in this man. Something is causing him to hold back. I have no idea what it is, but I've seen situations where divorced husbands (or divorced wives) are holding out hope that they can get back together with their ex. I've also seen situations where divorced people didn't feel committed enough in their new relationship to "go public" with it, at least with respect to their kids or other family members; or situations where divorced people are worried that the kids will somehow cause trouble by telling the ex everything after they return home from a weekend visit.

Whatever your boyfriend's motivation may be, his reluctance to let you meet his daughters is something of a red flag. I think you need to explain your concerns to him, fully and frankly. If you don't get a satisfactory answer, you should think about putting this relationship on the back burner until he's resolved whatever issues he seems to be struggling with.

Good luck, Ana, and please let me know what happens.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Happy Ending

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I just wanted to tell you that I was worried for nothing [see previous blog entry, dated April 27, 2010]. While my husband was on his business trip, I received a beautiful floral arrangement from "Flowers by Gina." It was my birthday yesterday, and my husband wanted to be sure I'd get the flowers on time. We went out for a wonderful birthday dinner last night, and I never mentioned that I had found the post-it note [with Gina's name and phone number on it]. Thanks for helping me to be stay calm. ("M" in Canada)

DEAR "M": You're welcome; I'm glad at least some of these stories have a happy ending.

There's no question that people can worry themselves sick over something that, out of context, looks suspicious, but which later proves to be innocent. If there is an affair going on, there will usually be a pattern of suspicious behavior, rather than a single unexplained incident. I'm not saying a person should wait forever before confronting his or her spouse, but a premature confrontation can cause serious resentment on the part of an innocent spouse. It can also be a tip-off to a guilty spouse that he's not being careful enough in hiding the tracks of his affair. It's always better to wait until the evidence is strong and a pattern has emerged.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Telltale Post-it Note?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I've been upset all day. I drove my husband to the airport this morning---he left on a business trip and won't be back for three days. I took his car, because mine needed gas and we were in a rush. When I got home, I noticed a folded-up post-it note on the floor near the driver's seat. I opened it and saw, in my husband's handwriting, the name "Gina", along with a phone number. Jim, I don't know anyone named Gina and I've never heard my husband mention anyone by that name. I did a google search on the phone number but nothing came up. I know, though, that there are sites that, for a fee, will tell you who has a particular phone number. Should I find out whose number it is, or should I just call it and see if it's a business number? Or should I call my husband tonight and ask him to explain? We've been married ten years and I've never had suspicions about anything before, but this is really bothering me. ("M" in Canada)

DEAR "M": I know you're dying to get answers right away, but I think you should wait until your husband gets home before doing anything. For one thing, you need to calm down. If you were to call your husband tonight, your stress might get the better of you. There's a chance you would start accusing him of something that he didn't do, and that never goes well. Beyond that, if you disclose your "evidence" over the phone, you'll never get to see how your husband reacts. Yes, you'll hear his voice, but you won't get to see his eyes, his facial expressions, or his body language---all of which can tell you a lot about whether he's lying to you or telling the truth.

And I wouldn't, at this point, play private detective. Before you know it, you'll be obsessed with finding out everything about "Gina": where she lives, where she works, what she looks like, how old she is, how she knows your husband. If your husband's explanation is clearly evasive or just doesn't add up, you can start doing some digging, but it seems premature right now, especially given that there has been no pattern of suspicious behavior on your husband's part.

For all you know, "Gina" could be a hairdresser, a personal trainer, a business contact, or some other person your husband had a legitimate reason to call. Of course, she could also be someone your husband is seeing on the side. But don't jump to conclusions based on the tiny bit of evidence you have.

Good luck, "M", and please let me know what happens.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Was I So Tough on the Husband?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I think you were too hard on the guy who spent the lottery money [see prior posting, April 12, 2010]. If you can't blow your money on the lottery, what can you blow your money on? The guy's wife is no worse off now than before he bought the lottery ticket---except in her head. ("Ralph" in L.A.)

DEAR RALPH: I would agree with you if the guy had won, say, $500 and blew it the same day on something without telling his wife in advance. I play these lottery games myself, and I know what a rush you get when you win even a modest prize. It is fun to spend it. But the guy won $200,000. From what his wife said, they'll probably never see that kind of money, or anything close to it, ever again. I think the husband had both the moral and the legal obligation to consult his wife before spending the money.

Technically, you're correct that the wife is no worse off financially than she would be if he hadn't bought the ticket. But that's like saying that if someone gave you an expensive watch or piece of jewelry, and then you lost it, you shouldn't feel bad because you're no worse off than before you received it as a gift. It ignores the human aspect of it, which in the wife's case is her knowledge that her husband didn't care enough about their future financial security to even consult her before he spent the money.

I appreciate your comments, Ralph. Feel free to disagree with me anytime you'd like; it keeps me on my toes!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Her Husband is Blowing the Lottery Winnings!

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: About six months ago, my husband won $200,000 in a state lottery game. What's my problem? He's blowing it like a drunken sailor! He dropped $55,000 on a new Corvette, then took a couple of his buddies to Vegas to see a big boxing match, then gave $25,000 to each of his three adult kids (we were both married before). With all the taxes that were taken out, there's basically nothing left. I've been fuming over this, because it's not like we're made of money. We're not getting any younger, either, and we could have used the $200,000 to supplement our retirement funds. My husband says he has the right to do whatever he wants because he's the one who bought the lottery ticket. Am I right to be mad? ("Mrs. X")

DEAR Mrs. X: Yes, you do have a right to be mad.

The fact that he was the one who bought the lottery ticket is legally irrelevant; the money belongs (or belonged) to both of you. That's true automatically in states that are "community property" states, and in most other states it's standard practice to treat lottery winnings as money to be "equitably divided" in the event of divorce---usually meaning fifty-fifty.

So, legally, half the money he blew was your money. As a practical matter, though, there's not much you can do about it at this point unless you were to file for divorce. In that case, a judge might order your husband to reimburse you for your share of the winnings (maybe to be paid out of his retirement funds). Short of filing for divorce, you should at least insist that the Corvette be sold. Even though it's probably already worth considerably less than your husband paid for it, it's a constant reminder of your husband's selfishness. It might be worth getting what you can for it rather than to have to see the thing in the garage every day of your life.

Whatever you wind up doing, do it soon. You don't want this to be a festering wound for the next ten or twenty years. You need to explain to your husband that, legally, he's wrong, but you also need to explain to him that it's not just a legal issue. If your husband's attitude is that he can do what he damn well pleases, without considering your needs or your feelings, he needs to know that your marriage may be on very shaky ground.

You should, though, try to control your temper when you bring up these matters. Letting your anger get the best of you will just invite retaliation. (I'm sure there are things that you've spent money on over the years that he could throw back in your face). If the two of you can't have a rational discussion, you may want to bring in outside help in the form of a marriage counselor.

Good luck, "Mrs. X", and please let me know what happens.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Are Unmarried Men Over 40 All Losers?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 42 and have never been married. I had the chance to when I was a lot younger, but I thought I was too young. Maybe I shouldn't have waited, because it seems like every unmarried guy in the age range I'm looking for (40 to about 50) is a loser of one sort or another. If the guy has never been married, he's either got commitment issues, or he's lacking in social skills, or he drinks too much or has some other unattractive qualities. If he's divorced, he's either angry at women or so desperate to find a new one that he wants to hook up before he even knows you. The really good men I know are all married, and I'm beginning to think that I'd be better off having a part-time relationship with a married man than a full-time relationship with a single one. Am I wrong? ("Lynne" in Las Cruces, New Mexico)

DEAR LYNNE: I certainly sympathize with you, and I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I think you're wrong that a married man is the answer to your problem.

Yes, in general the best men over forty are married. But not every married man is a good one. Some are worse than unmarried men; the only reason they're still married is that their wives are, for various reasons, not willing (yet) to divorce them. And a married man who is looking for an affair wouldn't seem to fit the definition of a good man.

I'd rather see you look harder for an unmarried man who's right for you---and I have to believe he's out there. You could start by going where the men go. Living in New Mexico, you have access to a wealth of outdoor activities. There are singles groups---often with more men than women members---devoted to hiking, biking, rock-climbing, skiing, softball, and just about every other athletic pursuit you could imagine. If sports are not your thing, I'm sure there are music festivals, wine-tastings, street fairs, and other events nearby that bring out plenty of singles in the age group you're talking about. Getting involved in political, conservation, or social-action groups is a great way to meet passionate, like-minded men, some of whom are going to be single.

If you're into online dating, you should consider e-harmony.com. Even though they have more women than men in their membership (about a 60-40 ratio), the men who are members tend to be serious about forming "real" relationships. Unlike the men who post free ads on craigslist or join free sites like plentyoffish.com (where men greatly outnumber women), men who are willing to pay a substantial monthly fee and answer a lengthy compatibility questionnaire know what they're looking for and are willing to go the extra mile for it. (By the way, I have no financial interest whatsoever in e-harmony or any other dating site).

Good luck, Lynne, and let me know what happens.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is the Coupon Queen Going Overboard?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My wife and I are in our thirties and have two pre-school kids. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, which is what we both wanted. (My income, fortunately, is enough to support all of us). I feel a little guilty writing to you about my wife, because she's a wonderful wife and mother, but over the past year or so she's really gone overboard, I think, with using coupons to buy things for next to nothing. I appreciate the fact that she's saving us money, but our home is starting to look like a warehouse. What used to be our guest room is now packed almost to the ceiling with napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper. I'm afraid to open a closet door for fear that some cereal boxes will come crashing down. As I say, I hate to complain because my wife's intentions are good and in the long run she's saving us money, but I'm starting to worry about her. Is there a way I can get her to stop, or least slow down, without sounding like I'm criticizing her? ("Scott" in Tennessee)

DEAR SCOTT: In the interest of full disclosure, let me confess that I tend to go a little overboard myself when it comes to sales and coupons. We probably have a two year supply of tooth paste, dental floss, liquid hand soap, and other health and beauty aid products. Fortunately, our house has a lot of storage space, and I'm careful not to buy too many perishables, or products with a short shelf life.

So, I'm sympathetic to your wife. She's undoubtedly motivated, at least in part, by a desire to contribute more to your family's financial well-being. Even though, as you say, you're happy with the job she's doing as a stay-at-home mom, she may feel she needs to do more. She probably had a job outside the home before the kids came along, and she may feel guilty that she's not generating any income these days. To compensate, she's saving money. If she can save fifty or a hundred dollars a week, or even more, by buying things on sale and using coupons, it's like having a part-time job. As long as she's not charging everything to a high-interest credit card that you're only making the minimum payments on, or buying so much frozen food that you have to buy a second freezer just to store it, she is undeniably helping out the family financially.

But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Many years ago the psychologist, William Glasser, coined the term "positive addictions" to refer to activities that were fundamentally positive ones, but which, if overdone, could become negatives (such as a person who takes up running to lose weight, and then runs far too many miles each day and winds up needing knee surgery).

My guess is that coupon-clipping has become a positive addiction for your wife. I'm not necessarily saying she needs psychological help, but addictions---even positive ones---should at least be closely monitored and kept from becoming harmful. You want to be sure that your wife's sense of self-worth isn't tied too closely to her ability to keep getting incredible savings each week, because then she'll never be able stop or even slow down.

Because your living space has already been affected by your wife's shopping, it shouldn't be too hard to suggest to her that she take a breather for a while. You want to be careful not to criticize her; in fact, you'll want to stress how grateful you are that she's saved all of you so much money. You might want to suggest that you "spend down" your supplies until you're down to, say, six months' worth of non-perishable food and twelve months' worth of paper goods and other non-food items. That way, you'll gradually get your house back to normal---or something close to normal---and still let her have fun saving money when it's time to re-stock.

Good luck, Scott, and let me know what happens.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Don't "Sexy" Women Want Sex?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 48 and have been divorced a little less than a year. I've been using online dating sites for the past six months, and I'm getting frustrated with women who say in their profile that they're "sexy" or "sensual", but when you meet them are not really interested in having sex. Do all women like to use sex as a kind of bait-and-switch tactic? ("Alan" in Washington, DC)

DEAR ALAN: I suppose there will always be a certain percentage of women who use sex as a come-on and a tease, but my guess is that you're dealing with something different. The vast majority of women in their thirties, forties, and beyond do enjoy sex but they only want to have it with a man they feel a genuine connection with. It's a rare woman who will have sex on a first date, even if the man is interesting and attractive. Most women need to know a man better, need to trust him and be comfortable with him, before they'll go to bed with him. Even a woman with a high sex drive is going to wait until the time seems right.

It could be that you're trying too hard. If, when you go out with a woman for the first time, you're constantly hinting that you'd love to sleep with her, she's going to pull back. She probably knows, instinctively, that a relationship based primarily on sex is not likely to be a long-lasting one. And if you make uninvited sexual suggestions in your initial online messages, there probably won't even be a first date.

My advice is to be more relaxed and less goal-driven. Don't go on a first date with the mentality that either the two of you are going to have sex that night or the date was a failure. Let things evolve naturally. If you're genuinely attracted to her and want to see her again, you can let her know that in a subtle way. Don't drool over her or keep glacing down at her breasts. Compliment her, but don't go overboard with the compliments. Let her know you're interested in seeing her again, but don't appear desperate or pushy. In fact, when it comes to sex, the harder you push, the less likely it is you'll get it.

Good luck, Alan, and please let me know what happens.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Should She Confess Her Bisexual History?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 34 and will be getting married this coming October. "Scott" and I have been with each other for four years and we've told each other about our previous lovers---not all the details necessarily, but who they were in a general sense---and it hasn't been upsetting to either of us. However, I haven't told Scott about a gay female roommate I had in college. She made no secret of the fact that she found me attractive, and I found her attractive, too. For a few months we were lovers. She graduated before I did and I haven't seen her since, nor have I had a sexual relationship with any other women. I do enjoy looking at women's bodies, but I have no desire to ever go beyond that again. My question is, should I tell Scott, or would that be just asking for trouble? ("Nicole" in the Pacific Northwest)

DEAR NICOLE: I don't always recommend full disclosure about prior sexual partners. A while back [8/11/09], I advised a woman who had had a one-week affair not to confess the affair to her husband. I felt that a confession was unnecessary, partly because there was virtually no chance the husband would ever find out otherwise. (The woman met her lover at an out-of-town conference; no one other than her lover knows about the affair, and he's also married and lives halfway across the country). More importantly, a confession would almost certainly have hurt her husband and jeopardized her marriage. Whatever relief she might have felt from coming clean would have been temporary, whereas the repercussions could have been long-term.

In your case, though, I think you should tell Scott. Unlike the situation with the woman who had the short-term affair, there is a chance that Scott might find out inadvertently about your bisexual past. My guess is that most of your friends from college knew about it when it was going on, and in this Facebook age you never know who might post something that could find its way to Scott. And the woman herself may pop up again in some fashion. Obviously, you don't owe Scott any apologies for what you did before you met him, but you have given him the impression that you've told him at least something about all your prior sexual partners.

Chances are, though, Scott won't be bothered by any information you give him. For one thing, he wasn't bothered by your disclosures about your male lovers. Yes, this is different, but, unless a man's girlfriend or wife is about to leave him for another woman, he's usually not disturbed by her bisexual fantasies or prior bisexual relationships. In fact, a lot of men are turned on by the thought of their wife and another woman. Scott may see your story as evidence that you're a woman with a strong sex drive in general, and most men would see that as a positive. (And if Scott is threatened by your sex drive, you're better off learning that now than after you're married).

However, I think that, before you tell Scott, you might want to seek some counseling from a therapist with experience in sexual identity issues. I've seen enough cases of married people---male and female---who have suppressed their sexual identities for many years, and then leave their spouses for another man or another woman. And those cases are usually a tragedy for everyone involved. Even if you've already resolved any sexual orientation issues you might have had, an experienced therapist may help you come up with the best way to tell your story to Scott.

Good luck Nicole, and please let me know what happens.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting Her Boyfriend's Eyes Off the Computer Screen

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My boyfriend and I have been living together for six months. He's a wonderful guy but he has one habit that annoys me: he often doesn't look at me when I speak to him. He'll be working on the computer or watching TV, and he'll answer me without looking up from what he's doing. I'm not bothering him just for the sake of bothering him. I'm usually asking him something that I need to know right then, such as when he would like dinner to be ready, or, if I'm on my way out to the store, if there's anything he needs. I hate to make a big deal out of it, but sometimes I feel invisible. ("Rachel" in Virginia)

DEAR RACHEL: You have a right to feel annoyed. Your boyfriend may not be aware that he's being rude, but he is. When two people are sharing a home---or sharing any space, really---each person has the obligation to acknowledge the other person's presence. In my opinion, answering questions without looking up from the TV or computer is insulting. It's as if he's saying that you're not as important at that moment as what he's looking at on the screen.

The fact that he's not trying to be insulting is an explanation, but not an excuse. It's a bad habit that will get only worse if it's not broken.

I suggest that the next time it happens, you say to him something like, "If this isn't a good time to talk, you can come and see me when you're done with what you're doing." Say it it a calm tone of voice, without any sarcasm. Chances are, he'll be a bit confused: "What do you mean? I can talk now." This gives you the chance to say, "Well, when I see you so engrossed in something you're looking at, I figured that was the most important thing for you right now. I'd appreciate it if you would just look up at me if you really want to talk."

It may take a while before your boyfriend completely breaks the habit, but if you're consistent in not allowing yourself to be invisible, and he understands why this isn't a trivial matter, I think it should work. Good luck, Sarah, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why is Husband "Overtipping" the Waitress?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 36, my husband is 40, and we have two daughters, 12 and 9. The four of us go out twice a month to an Applebee's nearby, and we've been doing that for over a year. The past couple of months, I've noticed that when we have a particular waitress, "Kim", my husband gives her at least a 30% tip---once it was close to 50%---whereas he never tips anyone else more than 15 to 20 percent. Kim is nice, and always talks sweetly to the girls, but she's not that much better than anyone else there. I should mention that Kim is about 22 and extremely cute. I'm starting to feel that this is my husband's way of flirting with her. Am I right to feel annoyed? And is this how some guys try to soften women up for an affair? ("Maria" in Orlando)

DEAR MARIA: Yes, you're probably right about the "flirting-by-overtipping" behavior. But, to put it in perspective, probably ninety percent of men---including ninety percent of happily-married men---are guilty of it. And that's why it's a well-known fact in the restaurant business that the cuter the waitress (or bartender), the bigger the tips.

Unless you have seen signs that your husband is seeing Kim anywhere other than at the restaurant, or has been phoning, e-mailing, or texting her, I wouldn't be concerned that he's giving her big tips as a way of trying to seduce her. Your husband has undoubtedly noticed how cute Kim is, but he'd have to be a total fool to think that a 22 year old waitress is going to want to get involved with a forty year old married man who comes in with his wife and daughters. Trust me: Kim gets hit on by customers ten times a day, and a lot of them are single and closer to her age (and may tip a lot bigger than your husband does).

I think what often happens with any server is that once you give her (or him) a big tip, it becomes hard not to keep overtipping. If you've been giving someone thirty to forty percent, and then give twenty percent, the server will think something is wrong, even though twenty percent is a perfectly good tip in most restaurants. It's a vicious circle, and by definition vicious circles are hard to break.

Look at it this way: assuming your pre-tip check twice a month is $100.00 (which, for Applebee's, is probably on the high side), and assuming that Kim is the only waitress you ever have (which is apparently not the case), and assuming that the tip your husband gives her is $40.00 each time instead of $20.00, in an entire year the difference would come to $480.00 ($20.00 x 24). As I suggested, the actual amount may be quite a bit less. I'm not saying you couldn't find a more pressing use for that $480.00 (or whatever the amount may be), but if that's your husband's biggest financial indulgence, and there's no hint of any extracurricular conduct with Kim, I would consider it a relatively harmless one.

By the way, Maria, I didn't suggest one obvious "solution"---having you be the one who pays the check and thus decides what the tip will be---because your husband would probably take that as a blow to his ego, especially when he's well-known by the staff at a particular restaurant. You'd be risking too much for too little reward.

I'm not sure if this is what you wanted to hear, Maria, but I hope it helps. Good luck.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is He Your Husband or Your Roommate?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: My husband and I are both 33 and we've been married a little over a year. Even though we're married, he insists on having separate bank accounts and separate credit cards---the way we did when we were living together. If he wants to buy something for himself, he pays for it out of his funds, and he wants me to do the same with my purchases. He pays the rent each month, but then I have to reimburse him for fifty percent of it from my chacking account. The same goes for groceries and other common expenses. I see this as unfair, because he makes nearly twice what I do. Do you agree? ("Jen" in San Antonio)

DEAR JEN: Yes, I do agree with you. Your husband's system may have made sense when you were living together, but it is not appropriate for a marriage, even if the two spouses are both earning the same amount. Separate checkbooks imply that there's no common financial bond betwen the spouses. If he wants to buy a new Corvette, he can just do it without consulting you, even if you're trying to save for a down payment on a house. The only question becomes whether "he" can afford it. To me, that's a sign of a lack of commitment to the marriage.

Beyond that, he needs to understand that half of the money he earns is yours (and half of the money you earn is his). Texas is what is called a community property state, which means that any money earned by either spouse during the marriage becomes the property of both spouses, 50-50. The only exceptions are funds received by one spouse or the other as an inheritance or as a gift.

You have to explain to your husband that the two of you are no longer just roomates or "friends with benefits." You're a married couple with (I would hope) common financial and life goals. That doesn't mean that he can't treat himself to a new set of golf clubs, or you can't enjoy some pampering at the day spa once in a while. But it does mean that your various purchases and indulgences should fit into a joint budget, and shouldn't be based solely on who earns what.

If your husband continues to be stubborn on this issue, I think you should explore marriage counseling; as I say, his attitude may reflect deeper issues that you should both address now, before they seriously threaten your marriage.

Good luck, Jen, and let me know what happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

He Won't Tell Her Why He Broke Up With Her

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I was dating a guy I met on a dating site for about three months, and I thought things were going great. But then all of a sudden he stopped calling and wouldn't return my calls or e-mails. He finally sent me a one-line e-mail that basically said he needed to take a break and think things over. That was it: no explanation whatsoever. We never had an argument, and I can't imagine what caused this. I saw yesterday that he's back on the site, and he says he's looking for something "long term." Well, he could have had something long term with me! At this point, I'm not trying to get him back, I just want to understand what went wrong. Maybe it will help me the next time. Am I stupid to keep contacting him? ("Marci" in Scottsdale, AZ)

DEAR MARCI: It's understandable that you want an explanation, but you're not going to get one from this guy no matter how hard you try. At best, he'd give you one of those "It's not you, it's me" lines just to get you off his back.

Sad to say, his behavior is pretty typical. Most guys hate having uncomfortable conversations with women, hate having to explain their actions and motivations, hate the feeling of being attacked. Most guys, after a breakup, just want it all to go away quickly and quietly. To put it bluntly, most guys are cowards in dealing with women.

So, Marci, you have to stop contacting him, and accept the reality that you're never going to get a full and satisfactory account of what caused him to bail out of the relationship. It might comfort you to know, though, that it almost certainly was him and not you. My educated guess is that, despite what he says about wanting a long-term relationship, he's uncomfortable with commitment. He likes the early stages of a relationship, but gets nervous when a woman seems to want more than casual dating. The closer a woman gets to him, the more he pulls back. Sooner or later, it was inevitable that your relationship with him would have ended.

But even though most men are cowards with respect to explaining why they broke off a relationship, not every man is afraid of commitment. There are definitely good men out there, but you'll never meet them until you stop obsessing about the last guy. Good luck, Marci, and let me know what happens.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pulling the Plug Prematurely?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I disagree with the advice you gave the woman in Las Vegas whose husband was lying to her about all the money he was losing at the casinos [see December 23, 2009 blog Q&A]. In my opinion, lying is just as bad as having affairs. They're both a violation of trust. I wouldn't give him a second chance. By the time she does everything you tell her to do, he'll probably blow what little money they have left, and she'll wish she had divorced him while there was still some money left to divide. ("Deb" in North Carolina)

DEAR DEB: I appreciate your thoughts, and I agree with you that both lying and sexual infidelity involve serious breaches of trust. I also agree that there's no guarantee that the suggestions I offered will solve the problem quickly enough to avoid even more money being wasted.

But I think it's important to recognize that the husband's gambling and lying were recent developments. Until he was laid off, the husband was an excellent provider for his wife and kids, and there's no indication from his wife that there are other issues threatening the marriage. I think he's earned a chance to overcome his gambling addiction and any related psychological problems. But I definitely think he should be kept on a short leash; any future relapses and cover-ups should not be tolerated.

Divorce is not a step to be taken impulsively or in the heat of anger, especially when kids are involved. And divorces are expensive, no matter how much---or how little---money you may have. I think it's worth the risk of further financial losses to see how the situation evolves over the next two to three months. If the husband refuses to co-operate in overcoming his addiction, his wife will know it very quickly, and at that point I would encourage her to at least seek the advice of a divorce lawyer.