Carolyn Hax: Merry widow has friend worried

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 27, 2012

Dear Carolyn: Eight months ago, after a brief illness, my 57-year-old friend’s husband passed away. Their marriage had always been a bit rocky, and after his death, we’d learned that he’d had been involved in some questionable activities. Needless to say, her emotions ran the gamut from disbelief to anger to grief.

During this time, I was there for her to listen, care and encourage, and supported her decision to seek professional counseling.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

But now, I’m concerned she might be moving too quickly through this process. In the past five months, she’s had cosmetic surgery, lost a lot of weight, traveled internationally and moved into a new home. My friend is an exceptionally bright woman, and far more capable than most. She tells me, “Life is short, and I’ve decided to be happy.” She’s excited about potential summer romances with men she’s meeting online. Our conversations are now 95 percent about her: her new body, all the men who are smitten with her, how great her job is, her new house and how much fun she’s having. She shows little genuine interest in my life, which I suspect she considers a bit boring.

While I’m truly glad she’s not miserable, our time together has become intolerable! Her self-absorption and lack of insight into how others might react to so many radical changes so quickly is perplexing. I briefly expressed some of my concerns, but her response was, “Would you rather see me as a maudlin, grieving widow?”

Is it possible to power through so many life changes so quickly without collateral damage? And how can I handle my discomfort in spending time with her? — S.


You can stop conflating your dismay about her rudeness with concerns about the appropriateness of her recovery.

She had her disbelief, anger, grief and counseling. Now, she’s having a party. If that sums up her emotional progression accurately, then I don’t have much to say about it — except, good for her.

If there’s more to it, if she’s suffering, unmoored, overcompensating and headed for trouble, then that’s obviously a concern; laying on the distractions is one common response to grief. However, she hasn’t asked you — or me — for an opinion. Until you see some sign that she’s in trouble or you’re invited to comment, your place is on the sideline.

Full disclosure: Her “lack of insight into how others might react to so many radical changes so quickly” is a quality I wish I could patent and sell. It’s her body, passport, address and life; if only more people were willing to perplex their loved ones with a giddy burst of renewal.

When “she shows little genuine interest” in your life, on the other hand, that’s not about the way she’s conducting her recovery; that’s about the way she’s conducting her end of your friendship, and that is your business.

So the answer to your second question, how to handle your discomfort, is to treat it as separate from her merry widowhood. Accordingly, tell her of your frustration without editorializing on her boob job. As in: “I don’t begrudge you your new life. It’s just that when we talk about it to the exclusion of other things, I feel as if my life no longer matters to you.”

It might not accomplish much besides getting her defensive on the correct topic, but, in general, an uncluttered message is a more effective one. It’s about the friendship, it’s about the friendship, it’s about the friendship: a mantra to keep you on track.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My niece recently graduated from college. I am not close to her mother (my sister), but thought I had a good relationship with my niece. We did not receive a graduation announcement and were not invited to any of the graduation festivities. I knew about them because we are Facebook friends.

I am happy for her and very proud of her accomplishments. I bought a card for her and my husband feels we should send her a gift. What do you think? — B.

It sounds as if you and your sister are flirting with estrangement, if not fully estranged. That points to sending a gift, resisting the urge to take it personally that you weren’t invited, and continuing to hold up your end of a relationship with your niece.

It’s always tempting to read milestone events as statements on your value to the hosts or honorees. However, these aren’t just one-time events that fail the test of statistical relevance; they’re also emotional, often chaotic, and typically orchestrated by people who are (rightly) preoccupied by a major, multifaceted change in their lives.

And so the biggest contribution loved ones can make is to act as agents of the long view, seers of the forest, keepers of heads, sayers of “Yay!” — without regard for the score.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.
com
. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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