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, Volume one, seventh edition

Candle treeDear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check out my advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask one, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

 

 

Dear Maria,

I live in a pet-friendly apartment complex and I always clean up my dog’s waste. Several of my neighbors do not, even though there are signs posted throughout the complex reminding people to pick up after their dogs. I don’t want to alienate my neighbors by pointing out when they don’t “use a bag,” but I also don’t want to have to tip-toe through the grass to avoid their dog’s poop. What’s the best way to handle this situation?

Signed,

It’s a Poopy Problem

Dear Poopy Problem,

This question has plagued humanity for at least 15,000 years since these wonderful pets were first domesticated! I share your disgust, as our neighborhood has lots of pets with a few owners who abandon the leavings on the sidewalk or grass. One day, I was walking our dog and as I cleaned up after him, my neighbor came out to thank me! (He used positive reinforcement, an effective method our dog trainer taught us!)

The sun rose over the house behind our yard. Here's Shannon on his version of Pride Rock.

The sun rose over the house behind our yard. Here’s Shannon in a more relaxed position!

This is a sticky situation, and I’m not sure there’s a solution. Maybe there’s a metaphor for life here: Ultimately, we can only take care of our own [dog’s] s***. We tiptoe around those who are too caught up in their own mess to see how it’s affecting others. Great things are going on around the smelly stuff, though. One early morning, I took our dog out to do his thing. Our yard sits on a slight hill and faces east. As he squatted, a gorgeous sunrise was taking place over my shoulder, but I was staring at him, wishing he’d hurry up. The light caught my eye, and I looked up in time to take in the sky’s beauty. He was quite capable of finishing his business without my surveillance. In his own way, he taught me a lesson then: Do I focus on the messes of life, and miss out on what’s beautiful and good?

Okay, philosophical musing aside…let’s talk practical tactics. Frankly, I’m stumped. You could sigh loudly when you catch someone leaving poop in the yard, but there’s something very crabby-passive-aggressive-ugly about that. Try the positive reinforcement route and give treats to those who clean up. Perhaps you could persuade the apartment management to put up some of those biodegradable bag dispensers? They may balk at the extra expense and work, so you could petition or survey your neighbors to make your case. These tactics make you the self-appointed Poop Police, though, so it’s up to you to decide how hard you want to work for poop-free common ground. Any time you’re feeling blue about the situation, you might hum a sweet tune that goes a little like this:

Dear Readers: any suggestions for our good neighbor with the poopy problem? Please comment below!

 

Dear Maria,

I have a much loved in-law whom I trusted with a confidence regarding another relative of hers. She promised to keep my thoughts secret, but she eventually told the relative what I had shared with her. I am angry and sad, I deeply care about her, but I don’t think I can ever trust her again. I will see her in the future at family events, how do you suggest I handle this situation?

Signed,

Betrayed and Embarrassed In-Law

Dear Betrayed and Embarrassed In-Law,

Oh no! I’m so sorry your in-law broke your confidence. She’s deeply wounded not only her relationship with you, but yours with the relative you spoke of. Of course you are angry and sad!

Family loyalties create slippery situations. I take it you married into the family? In-laws are often judged by blood relatives as less-than members of the clan. Perhaps your in-law perceives herself as closer to this relative, and concluded she had the right to gossip. Information is power, so maybe she saw this as a way to gain the relative’s confidence. Or maybe she agrees with your assessment, but doesn’t have the courage necessary to speak to the relative in her own voice on the issue. My head spins with all the possibilities. And none of these soothe the sting of her actions.

So, how to move forward? Your letter doesn’t say how you discovered this betrayal. Have you considered gently confronting her? You might simply say, “I’m angry and sad that you told our relative what I shared with you in confidence.” Don’t over-explain your perspective, just state your feelings and let her sway in the breeze for a bit. Her response will speak volumes. If she acknowledges your feelings and sincerely tries to make amends, the healing can begin. On the other hand, if she gets defensive and explains her side of things without acknowledging yours, then that tells you a lot, too. Confronting her puts you in a vulnerable spot, however. You may be too bruised right now to approach her. Give it time. The opportunity to talk with her may present itself. Or, you may already know this is a conversation you don’t want to have. That’s okay, especially if there’s any history of her breaking confidences. Old habits are hard to break, and family dynamics and loyalties are even harder to change. Long-term relationships, as with family, will go through deep wounds like this one. They’re not impossible to heal, but require thoughtful, intentional effort on all sides. For now, when you see her, be kind, brief, and elusive. Forewarned is forearmed.

As you recover, take good care of yourself. Spend time with people who love you, and with whom you feel safe and appreciated. When you’re sad, you may recall feeling a pang of hesitation before you confided this secret to your in-law. Forgive yourself for not heeding that intuition. Celebrate that you’ll honor it the next time you feel it. When the anger comes along, listen to “You Told Me”, by The Monkees. (They just released a terrific album which I intend to make my summer soundtrack). This song is the first track on their 1967 Headquarters album–the first one playing and composing as a band after years of being derided as “the Pre-Fab Four.” This Mike Nesmith (the one with the hat) composition takes a swipe at the critics, and ushers in a new chapter in their songbook. Maybe it’ll help you turn a page, too.

 

Thank you for your questions! Send in more for next week’s column!

*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.