Maria’s Musings & Advice: Not His Valentine

Dear Maria,

I became friends with someone I go to church with. I appreciated his company in the months I was adjusting to being single again and to spending time alone when my daughter was with her dad. But over time he developed feelings for me that are not mutual. Our interactions have become awkward because: 1) he’s socially awkward on a good day, and 2) I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

He’s resorted to avoiding me and then sending me long emails telling me he’s sorry and listing all of the things he wished he’d said in person.

I responded to his email with a firmer response than I have mustered in the past. I reiterated that I was not going to change my feelings about being more than friends, and that I wanted him to stop avoiding me and sending long emails later. I also expressed concern that he was navigating a lot of things alone and suggested he seek the help of a professional.  I feel good about my stance and the kind way I conveyed it.

My question is: What do I do now? I want to remain kind and sensitive to his feelings. His strange behavior has strained our friendship. I want both of us to feel comfortable in our congregation, but it’s still awkward.

Sincerely,

Not His Valentine

Dear Not His Valentine,

Mutual attraction is like a sharing a sense of humor. You either get it or you don’t.  This could be a meet-cute, he hopes, with every email:

Instead, he just doesn’t get it:

He came along at a vulnerable time for you (thanks!), but you both came at it from two different directions (awkward!). What do you do now?

You’ve done all you can. You’ve been honest about your feelings, in a kind way. Your earlier fuzziness, however, unintentionally encouraged him. He focused on the little non-verbals that fueled hope that his feelings might be reciprocated. As you healed from your separation and divorce, your new-found clarity and emotional strength helped you be brave. Your reply to his email, and his reading of it, were painful moments on both sides of the screen. Yours in summoning the courage to press “send”; his in facing the truth of the written word. It was the right thing to do. There was no way around hurting his feelings. That’s a casualty of unrequited love. As you move ahead, continue to keep your words and actions in alignment with your truth. Integrity, m’dear. To thine own self be true. And all that adult-ing stuff.

You may have some grief going on, too. You may not like him that way, but his support and companionship were there for you at a critical time. This may be your work for now: to grieve this loss, and to maintain healthy boundaries with him. By doing these, you’ll come into greater alignment with yourself, and you’ll release him so that he can move on.

I caution you in your efforts to help him through this break. You mentioned that you advised him to see a professional. That could be very helpful for him; he needs to lean on other people now. Any further counsel from you runs the risk of being misinterpreted. At church, keep a kind but polite distance, and keep other people around when you interact. Hopefully the awkwardness will diminish in time. In the long run, though, it may be too much to ask that you resume your friendship. He will probably not be able to go there. If he continues to contact you via email, or you feel threatened in any way, take the necessary steps to be safe. Here are great guidelines and resources from the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I couldn’t find a decent break-up song that is sung from your perspective. This one was about as honest and grown up as it gets:

Congratulations on emerging from a difficult life passage as a stronger and wiser woman. That’s a happy ending!

Dear Readers: what music helps you through difficult, but necessary, losses? Let us know in the comments!

 

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Is There a Cure for Crabby?

Candle treeDear Maria,

A lifelong friend of mine is going through a very traumatic time. Her husband of 50 years died suddenly, and her daughter has been diagnosed with cancer. Now, she had a car accident and sustained pretty significant injuries. The problem? She is an absolute terror to her family and medical staff. She’s screaming at the nurses and her family. She’s mean to everyone who is trying to help. Honestly, she’s used to having things her way and has been pampered all her life. Now, no one knows what to do for her. They all try to help, and always leave angry, hurt, and confused. What can I do to help her be kinder to the people who love and care her?

Signed,

On My Last Nerve

Dear On My Last Nerve,

How much can one person take? I’m so sad for your friend. Grief is a powerful emotion, and she’s dealing with losing two people at the top of the Most Painful Losses List, if one exists. There is no how-to process with grief; we all do it differently. But one aspect of grief that we all share: we never know when the feelings will hit us. A song may come on the radio, or a clerk will use an expression our loved one used to say, or we notice while fixing dinner that we’re cooking hard boiled eggs the way mom taught us. These little, daily life reminders hit hard, the tears come, and steal our breath. For someone like your friend, who’s used to being in control, grief is a messy, chaotic, feels-like-you’re-herding-cats emotion. There’s no schedule or clean way to do it. Which is why, for many people, grief goes unresolved for years, tucked deep inside and revisited when the next big loss comes along.

On top of this, she suffers a serious car accident–another loss of control and safety. Automobiles create a false sense of security, with the airtight windows and radios. We plummet down the highway at high speed under the illusion of control. Conditions change in the blink of an eye, and accidents happen at a sickening pace: slow enough to see it coming, and too fast to stop it. Then the pain, slow healing and physical therapy, possibly. Her future is unclear, and all she may know for certain is that more pain and grief are on the way.

I’d be a bit snippy if I were in her place, too. With the heavy emotional weight she’s carrying, it’s hard to find a way to gratitude. On the up side, she has loved ones trying to help, and quality healthcare to guide her recovery. She may be, even before this traumatic time, the kind of person who has difficulty accepting help. If she’s fiercely independent, assistance in what she once did for herself is frustrating. Every act of kindness is a humiliating reminder that she’s dependent on another.

So, what are you to do? Some consolation comes in knowing that the professional staff has no emotional investment in your friend. They deserve to be treated kindly, of course, but her meanness doesn’t get to them the way it does with family or friends. They’ve cared for all kinds of temperaments, and have been trained to deal with difficult personalities. As long as your friend is being treated at a healthcare facility, she should receive the attention she needs from people who are compassionate through a thick skin.

Let that shit goAs for her family and friends, this behavior may or may not be surprising. Each person will have to figure out how much they will tolerate. A wise person once advised me to put on a “duck suit” when going into an emotionally-charged situation. Water doesn’t get to a duck. For me, the goal was to let painful remarks roll off my back and not take things personally. Perhaps you can zip into your duck suit before you visit your friend?

As overwhelming as this time is for your friend, it is also an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. Hopefully, she will find inner reserves of strength she didn’t know she had. If she allows herself to cry, her tears will become less frequent, given time. You may be the one holding the tissue box. Perhaps this onslaught of pain will teach her empathy and compassion. Sometimes the keys of life have to be pried from our terrified grasp before we find joy in surrender, and new life on the other side of loss. (Joan Didion, who endured similar losses, wrote a powerful memoir of her experience called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her reflections may encourage your friend.)

I’m so sorry your friend is such a PITA. Let her story unfold. For your part, put on your duck suit, do what you can, and let that s**t go. Hold your friend in thoughts and prayers of healing and peace. When you think of her, imagine her happy, not quarrelsome, self. No amount of fretting will help, and you can’t stand sentry between her angry barbs and the people around her. They all have a part to play, too. Their interactions with your friend are part of their stories. Let them play out.

 

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.