Dear LetterBalm: My boyfriend and I have been dating for about a year. During all this time, I’ve never met his parents, his brother and sister and his friends. I don’t think he’s married or that he has another girlfriend because he’s pretty open about his cellphone, Facebook and Twitter, and he spends a lot of his free time with me. He just doesn’t acknowledge me as his girlfriend. I know his sister casually because we belong to the same gym. I’ve tried to ask him about this, but he blows off the subject. He says he loves me, and I love him. But I don’t like feeling that I’m not at the center of his life. Should I be concerned? Will he ever come around? And, how can I handle this?
You have good reason to be concerned because, indeed, you are in the backwater of your boyfriend’s life. He’s never put you front-and-center and acknowledged you publicly, and – buck up, girl – it’s unlikely he ever will. Frankly, Ms. L.B. wonders why you haven’t yet caught on after a year of dating. Your man is your boyfriend in name only. There may be any of several reasons for this: He fears family disapproval, he is stringing you on until a better lady comes along, he’s nervous and doesn’t want to move the relationship forward, he says “I love you” to keep you docile. You need to do some thinking – a therapist will help you craft the right questions – and make some serious decisions. You know what to do. When you have a good handle on the reality of the situation, have an earnest talk with the guy along these lines:
Sheldon, you and I have been dating for more than a year, and both of us have said we love each other. But there’s a big, serious piece missing. I’ve introduced you to my family and friends, and you have made no move – nor have you wanted to discuss it – to bring me together with the significant people in your life. If I’m not even worth public acknowledgement from you, I have to believe that I’m not that important to you or that you’re ashamed of me. When people are in love, they want to introduce the person to everyone in their world. When and if you decide to have a real relationship with me in the future, maybe it will happen, maybe not. But now, as painful as it is for me, I’m not going to be your secret girlfriend anymore. We’ll be going our separate ways. I wish you well, but it’s definitely better to end things now.
Dear LetterBalm: My husband’s best friend is marrying a woman we have great misgivings about. She’s a few years older than he is, and she has a job that pays much more than his and that gives her a lot of visibility and prestige. All this wouldn’t make a difference because our friend is hard-working, honest and talented – plus, he’s a great guy everyone likes. The problem is that his fiancée is overbearing, sharp-tempered and demanding. She orders our friend around, belittles him to his face and behind his back and limits his time with friends and hobbies. Our formerly exuberant friend has become reticent and, frankly, henpecked. He rarely laughs or smiles. They’ve set the wedding date and are about to move in together. What can we say or do to make our friend reconsider?
–Friend on a Leash
This very personal state of affairs can give the frustrating feeling that it’s really none of your business. But human emotions interfere; it’s painful to see your friend diminished. People need to stop talking about the situation, which only fans the flames and could cause your husband’s friend to dig his heels in and defend his beloved more than ever. Ms. L.B. suggests that your husband is the person to talk to his close friend – and, he can only do it once, delicately. Your husband needs to broach the subject gently with no outright criticism of the fiancée, and he must reassure his friend that he isn’t judging him and that he’ll always be there for him. He must pick his moment carefully when the fiancée is nowhere around – perhaps a private dinner while she’s away on business (and, no debriefing with the circle of nosy friends after the fact):
Caspar, you know that we’ve always been there for each other for more years than I can count. If for nothing else, we are each other’s best man at our weddings – I’m honored that you’ve asked me. Kate certainly is a dynamic woman, extremely accomplished in her work and many aspects of her life. It’s only natural that you and she are building a new, blended relationship. I know you love Kate very much, and I know you’re an adult who has carefully considered your pending marriage. Because you and I are such good friends, I feel I can say this: I’m concerned that you’ve adapted a lot of your life to Kate’s, and, in the process, that you’ve gotten lost in the equation. It seems that you’ve changed in basic ways, and that you’ve moved away from things you used to enjoy. I don’t want to lose my friend, and I certainly don’t want him to lose himself. I want you to be happy, and I want you to know two things: I’ll never judge your decisions, and I’ll be there if and when you ever need me.
Dear LetterBalm: My wife and my daughter have never gotten along. It began when she was a teenager (she’s now in her thirties) and has simmered for years. They just rub each other the wrong way. In fairness, my daughter is on her own with a good career. But she sees red when my wife comes out with overly critical zingers about her friends, her job, her apartment, her hair and clothes, just about anything. I try to placate both of them, but neither listens to me. I can’t stand it anymore. Any help?
– Family Referee
You need to have separate, serious discussions with each of them. Suggest family counseling to help them relate to each other more effectively. Tell your daughter and your wife that their difficult relationship means you must spent time individually with them – a less than desirable family dynamic. Ms. L.B. says don’t hold back: Tell each of them you’re disappointed with the situation and you are bowing out as family umpire:
Candace, you’re a grown woman out on your own. You may not believe this, but your mother is as proud of you as I am and she loves you as I do. She tends to be nitpicky, and it’s up to you to learn how to handle her. I think you and your mom would benefit from family counseling to get to the root of your mutual difficulties and learn to deal with each other better. I’ll spend time with you without your mom – this is far from a good solution, and I’m disappointed in both of you. But I refuse to get in the middle anymore. And, I won’t tell tales about you to your mom and vice versa. It’s up to you.
Honey, you need to develop a better relationship with Candace. She loves you and looks up to you, but your constant criticism beats her down and she overreacts. She’s on her own and you need to respect that. I think you and she should consider family counseling to learn how to deal with each other. I’m disappointed in both of you because it means that I have to spend time with each of you individually – we can’t even get together as a family. I’m not going to get in the middle anymore, and I refuse to tell tales about you to Candace and vice versa. It’s up to you. Are you willing to try?