Dear LetterBalm: I’ve known that I was adopted from an early age. My mom and dad were open and reassuring, and, with their blessing and guidance, I found my birth mother when I was 22. She gave me over for adoption because she was very young and not in a position to raise a child. We are in regular contact – I have a couple of half-siblings. I consider myself fortunate to have had a life filled with love and two great families. Recently, in a passing conversation with a co-worker, she told me that she has an older uncle who was adopted but was never told. She said the whole family knows, and her uncle thinks his adoptive parents are his birth parents. I didn’t say anything about my being adopted – I was too surprised. This seems to me so unfair. I want to say something, but what?
–Lucky in Life
You are certainly a fortunate person in many respects. And, you are in an excellent position to help your co-worker help her relative because you have intimate knowledge. He has a right to know his heritage, even if it will come as a shock. Ms. L.B. says that such vital, personal information should never have been withheld from him, especially since his whole family knows. Take your colleague out to dinner; you want to have this conversation away from the office in a relaxed setting. Take your time, don’t judge, be revelatory about your own life, and let your co-worker know you’ll help with advice if she decides to urge her family to reveal the truth:
Juana, I’ve asked you to dinner because I want to talk with you away from the office about something very personal. The other day, you told me you had an older uncle who was adopted and doesn’t know it, even though his whole family has known all his life. What you don’t know is that I was adopted as a baby. My adoptive parents told me early on, and they were wonderfully supportive when I started searching for my birth mom. I found her when I was 22, and we connected. I have a whole second family, including two half-siblings. Given how adoption experiences can go, I realize I’m very lucky. Juana, your uncle has a right to know his heritage – it’s not fair to keep this knowledge from him. You should talk with your family to urge them to tell him the truth. It will be a shock for him, and he may well be angry and hurt. But if it were you, wouldn’t you want to know the truth? I’ll support you every step of the way – I don’t deny this will be difficult for you. And, ask me anything about my own experience.
Dear LetterBalm: I’m a victim of subtle bullying in the workplace. I’m embarrassed to admit it’s like being back in high school, and I don’t know what to do about it. Everything was O.K. until several months ago when a new co-worker was transferred in. There are several of us, all on the same level of responsibility and pay. She’s become an instigator. The group “forgets” to inform me of deadlines and meetings and tries to meet without me offsite at coffee breakfasts, lunches and impromptu sessions. None of this is serious enough to threaten my job because I’ve become vigilant about figuring out what’s happening – I usually hear about stuff and show up to forestall the group’s efforts. But it’s stressful and demoralizing. What can I say to break this cycle?
–Odd Person Out
You’re quite right that your work situation is wearying and tiring. Clearly, the newest team member has spurred a dynamic that wasn’t there before. But first Ms. L.B. wants you to examine your own behavior. Are you a true team member? Do you denigrate the work of your fellow members or do you support their ideas? Do you hog the discussion? Are you pulling your weight and volunteering? Do you take more credit than you’re entitled to? If you can honestly say you’re a valued member of the team (and don’t have body odor, halitosis and other off-putting conditions) try killing your colleagues with kindness and professionalism. Remain upbeat, cheerful and engaged. Play dumb – if someone makes a snarky comment about you, pretend you didn’t hear it. Come armed with suggestions – which you probably already do – and offer them in a non-overbearing way; you’re all in this together for the good of the work. It will take time and patience, but eventually they’ll give up because one can’t fight with somebody who won’t fight back. Develop several neutral, supportive statements along these lines:
- We all did a great job on that last-minute fix. Alexis, your idea was particularly creative, and it will save a lot of money.
- Hello, everyone. It was a good idea to meet here – more relaxed than at the office.
- I’ll be happy to run the statistics for the Acme project/take notes and distribute them to the team/whatever.
- Jackie, your original suggestion was so strong. Can we build on it?
Dear LetterBalm: I’ve been dating a man for a month. Both of us are divorced seniors (I’m 66, he’s 69). We aren’t serious or anything, so the sex is casual, and we aren’t exclusive. He’s said that he has several other older lovers, which I’m O.K. with. But something is bothering me. He doesn’t use a condom with any of us. He claims that if a woman is clean, there’s no problem, and he says we’re all too old to get a sexually transmitted disease including HIV. Is any of this true? I’m afraid that if I tell him that he and I need protection when we have sex from now on, I’ll drive him away, and the sex is really good. What should I say?
–Last of the Red-Hot Lovers
Where to begin? Visualize an apartment complex jammed with twenty-somethings. Add 40-plus years. Put a group of sexually-active seniors together in close proximity, add Viagra and ignorance about safe sex, and you have copulation disaster. One is never too old to get an STD, including HIV. There’s no age immunity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011, chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and over increased by 31 percent and syphilis by 52 percent. Those 55 and older accounted for 19 percent of HIV-infected persons in 2010 and more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection later in the course of the disease, which makes treatment more challenging. All this is due in part to Viagra, Cialis and the mistaken belief that condoms are unnecessary. The 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that condoms were used in only about 6 percent of sexual encounters among those 61 and older, and it’s likely this statistic has remained unchanged. So, Ms. L.B. says: Talk with your guy right away. If he won’t use protection every time, stop seeing him. In any case, get tested for STDs. Don’t buy his bluster or spare his feelings:
Milton, we must have a serious talk. I’m not concerned that our dating relationship isn’t exclusive. If you’re seeing others, that’s no problem for me. What is a problem is that you’re not using protection. I’ve done research. Age doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. You’re playing sexual Russian roulette with yourself, me, your other women and every sexual partner those women have ever had. It could be hundreds of people. And, you’re putting me and everyone at risk. Unless you get tested for STDs – which I’m doing this week – and use latex condoms every time you have sex, we’re over. The danger isn’t worth it. If you don’t stop your reckless behavior, it could have disastrous consequences.