Dear LetterBalm: A few months ago, my sister’s husband died in a car crash. She and he were married only 5 years, and they had no children. She’s understandably depressed – she’s in a therapy group for young spouse survivors. So, to cheer her up, her girlfriends and I hired a male stripper for her birthday party. We were all having a great time, laughing and stuffing bills in his G-string. He was handsome and funny, and he really got into the dancing and flirting. We had a lot of champagne, and, as the party was winding down, I walked into the bedroom and caught my sister and the stripper having sex. Afterwards, she and I had a big fight and we called each other names. She cried, and we haven’t spoken in weeks. I still think she was wrong to do what she did. What can I say to her?
–Bump and Grind
Please don’t delay. You need to reach out to your sister right away. Sure, what she and the stripper did was inappropriate, but alcohol was involved and your sister’s judgment was impaired. (Ms. L.B. leaves to her imagination what the stripper was thinking.) Having a stripper at her birthday celebration maybe wasn’t the best thing to do, good intentions aside. Clearly, your sib is sad, depressed and, perhaps, angry at her loss. She’s grieving. She probably was embarrassed by her indiscretion and defensive about it. Please don’t judge your sister; don’t press her for an explanation. She needs warmth and kindness from you. Apologize unconditionally. If she won’t take your calls or texts, mail her a note, something like this:
I’m sorry for hurting you on your birthday. It was meant to be a fun celebration, and I never should have judged you for what happened. I can’t possibly know what you’ve been going through since Dean’s passing, and I should have shown more understanding.
As an apology, I’d like to take us to the Mimosa spa for one of our relaxing days together – my treat.
Please, can we go back to the loving relationship we’ve always had? You and I are each other’s touchstone, and I always want to be there for you. Can you forgive me?
Dear LetterBalm: Years ago, when our daughter was only four years old, we left her overnight with a babysitter, a family friend we trusted. The next day, she told us that the man had exposed himself and had fondled her on top of her underpants. Our child wasn’t physically hurt and didn’t seem upset. My wife and I called the police right away, and they handled it remarkably sensitively. The man admitted his guilt and eventually went to prison for this and other similar incidents. Thank God our daughter didn’t have to testify in court. We never saw him again, nor did we ever talk about it. She’s now in her early 30s, married with two children. She told us that she and her husband have talked to them about “good touching” and telling an adult if someone does “bad touching.” My wife and I wonder if she remembers her own experience. Do we tell her, and how?
Ms. L.B. commends you and your wife for your responsiveness to your daughter’s incident of abuse. You believed her, and you went to the proper authorities. And, you helped stop someone from harming others. Because your daughter is protecting her own children, her memories may be returning, and she may be showing subtle signs of distress. Or, maybe not. After all, she was so young when it happened that she may have no recollection. You might gently reopen her conversation about your grandkids, their development and what kids today need to know to protect themselves. This could give her an opening to talk about what she remembers. Don’t force your daughter to open up, if she has no anguish. Keep the conversation light and take your lead from your daughter. If she reveals her memories, you want to stress that her parents believed her right away and sought to keep her safe:
Ellie, you and Bert are doing a great job with your kids. You were telling your mom and I how you’re teaching Jesse and Lila about protecting themselves against bad touching. Boy, kids these days really need to understand a lot about the world at such a young age. How are they handling it? Is their school teaching this, too, or is it up to the parents? What do you and Bert think? Should schools even broach the subject?
Dear LetterBalm: Now that I’m retired, I’m traveling and having a great time seeing the world and meeting interesting people. I take tours, mostly, because for a woman traveling alone, they offer safety, convenience and transportation. My closest friend has asked me many times if we can travel together. She has income and can afford to pay her way. The trouble is, she’s demanding, snobbish and entitled, and she runs me ragged in everyday life. I know she’ll over-research every aspect of a prospective trip and judge everything to death while we’re on it. So far, I’ve been able to discourage her, but I’m running out of excuses. There’s no way I’ll ever take a trip with her because I’ll be miserable. I need to leave her at home, permanently.
One has to ask why you’re such good friends with this woman. But let’s assume you and she go way back, and you don’t want to end your friendship with her. Your goal should be pleasant traveling without her. If you’ve used every excuse in the book, and she still won’t take no for an answer, you must be firm. Ms. L.B. takes the view that planning a trip and taking it is a very personal statement – not the least because the traveler is paying for the privilege. Sit your friend down for coffee and say this (and, if you ever decide to take a trip with a more agreeable companion, you better have an excuse God will accept or your friendship is over):
Lorena, you’ve been pressing me to include you in my travel plans – you’ve asked me more than once. I’ve been saying no to the point where we’re both uncomfortable, and you’re disappointed. You need to understand once and for all that I prefer to travel alone. I gladly pay to take tours because they offer safety and convenience and give me an opportunity to meet new people. I like not having to worry because everything is taken care of. I can relax. And, I don’t have to worry about whether a friend is having a good time or not. Call me selfish, but traveling is one of the true pleasures in my life now, and I won’t change anything about it. Dear, please don’t take it personally, and please don’t ask me again. If you want to see new places, why don’t you plan a trip of your own?