Trust Buster

16 Sep

Dear LetterBalm: I’m part of a loose-knit group of friends who hang out. Three years ago, one of the guys in the group, a very good friend, told me he had feelings for me. I was surprised because I never thought of him romantically, and we had a nice conversation. But one night soon after, a bunch of us went clubbing, and he ended up at my place. I had had a lot to drink, but I was mindful when we had sex for the first and only time. (He didn’t force me.) We’ve never spoken of it. He went on to meet someone; he’s now engaged. Our encounter has affected me badly because I can’t shake the feeling that he broke my trust in him. I’m having trouble being intimate with men I’m dating. I used to enjoy it, but not so much since then. I’m now seeing a really great person, and he could be the one. I’ll drive him away if I don’t resolve this.


This is a heartbreaking situation, and Ms. L.B. hopes you have put yourself in the hands of a good counselor who can help you deal with your trust issues. Your friend did indeed take advantage of you, even though you were a willing, albeit drunk, partner. You need to put everything in perspective and find out why sex since then has been a problem for you. In the meantime, talk with your boyfriend, reassuring him that he remains Number One in your life and you want to keep him:

Dustin, I know you’ve wanted us to take our relationship to the next level.  I do, too, but I need to tell you something. You are the most wonderful man I’ve ever been with, and I’m asking you to take things slowly and be kind. I’ve been hurt in the past, especially over issues of trust. I’m in counseling to deal with this. Can we be gentle for now – hugging, kissing – until we both feel comfortable taking the next step? Our relationship is very dear to me, and I want us to be together for a long time. Please tell me how you feel about this.     

A Matter of Degree

15 Sep

Letterbalm Life After PhDDear LetterBalm: I’m 29 years old, and my life hasn’t happened. I got a Ph.D. two years ago, after many struggles, including paying for my whole education myself without student loans. Since I got my degree, I’ve networked like crazy with few job interviews and no success. To survive, I’ve had to cobble together part-time jobs, consulting, tutoring and barista work. No benefits, obviously, and no recognition. I’m trying to stay upbeat, but it’s hard when I see all my friends working at decent jobs, getting married, making down payments on houses and having kids. To make it worse, some friends and relatives think it’s hilarious to snicker and ask when I’ll grow up and get a real job, “now that you’re a doctor.” The rejection is wearing me down already – I have to deal with their mocking on top of it. Help!


Ms. L.B. says congratulations on earning your Ph.D. – and, having no student debt. Clearly, you are a resourceful, resilient person with the ability to take care of yourself. Presumably you’ve mounted a wide-ranging job search. Employers across many sectors recognize a Ph.D. as an asset because of the diligence, organizational skills and intelligence involved. You don’t have to limit yourself to job postings in academia and research. Consider non-profits, civil service, industry R&D, think tanks, healthcare, science and finance, and sectors that call for your expertise (statistics, anyone?). As for your doofus friends and relatives, work up several cheerful, disarming responses:

  • I figure that every job interview or informational chat I have adds to my arsenal and makes me a better job candidate down the road.
  • Rather than mock me, how about passing along one or two names I might sit down with over coffee? After all, you have a fulltime job and know your field. Maybe there’s someone who can steer me in a good direction.
  • [Smile when you say this.] I’m regarding my job search as a challenge. Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger – and, maybe, very rich eventually.
  • If you promise not to mention my being a doctor, I promise not to mention your last best man speech/quarterly review/dinner party/evening out/kid’s play date/boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.
  • Yep, I’m a doctor. Only 2% of us in America have a Ph.D. It took a lot of hard work, and I’m pretty proud of what I did.

The Ex And The Mother-In-Law

12 Sep

Friends and FamilyDear LetterBalm: My husband and I were married for 15 years and had three kids before he had a long affair with a former colleague several years ago. When I found out, it almost wrecked our marriage. It took a lot of therapy and tears, but I forgave my husband, and he hasn’t seen the woman again. But she’s kept in close contact with my mother-in-law since the affair. My mother-in-law knows this is hurtful to me, but she continues to welcome the woman into her home and spend time with her (but stopping short of holidays and family gatherings). My husband has talked with his mother and asked her to curb the friendship, but she shows no sign of doing so. She mentions the woman at every opportunity and seems to revel in my discomfort. What can I say to her to make her stop?


What kind of relationship have you had with your mother-in-law throughout your marriage? Has she always taken such cruel glee in making your uncomfortable? It’s one thing if she and your husband’s former flame develop a friendship; it’s quite another that she parades it in your face. You can’t control friendships, so don’t try to figure them out. Perhaps your mother-in-law is genuinely fond of this woman and regards her as a stand-in for you. Perhaps she wishes her son had married this person. Yes, these are painful thoughts. But consider that you and your husband have remained together, and he is loyal to you. In essence, you have won. Ms. L.B. advises a tactic that is difficult but effective (and, therapy may help): Don’t react when your mother-in-law brings up the woman. Be cheerful, change the subject and be unfailingly kind to her – your true thoughts about her remain private. Your husband’s mother is an emotional bully. Disarm her with your disinterest. She can’t reach you if you don’t react. Work up a few benign statements modeled along these lines:

  • How lovely that you’ve been able to do some traveling/go to lunch in the city/do whatever with Aggie, Mildred. The weather has been perfect for this, hasn’t it? Now, about dinner. How can I help?
  • So Aggie and you had brunch in your garden? Well, I must say it is a beautiful place. Your hard work and talent have made it so. Thank you for having us over today for a barbecue. I won’t be able to take my eyes off your rhododendron bushes.
  • So you and Aggie have joined a gym? Tom and I have recently begun tennis lessons. Can you imagine at our age? But it’s never too late to start a new sport.
  • You and Aggie cook together? Well, I hope she can keep up with you, Mildred. You yourself have said that I’m a good cook, but even I find you’re way ahead of me – your silver cake, as just one example.

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