I'm thinking of not being the person you can ever complain to about your current or ex-boyfriend, because I've had it with saying, "Yeah, what a jerk, you're better off without the loser," and then having them get back together so I get to pretend I don't know that he's actually quite selfish and mean. Plus, then I lose respect for my friend for putting up with someone who has been so awful to her. So I'll be sympathetic and say things like, "Poor thing, you must feel terrible," but then change the subject. What do you think? Is that not being supportive, or is it actually being a really good friend?

-- New Policy

All poor-thing-pat-pats aren't created equal. Sincere ones offered to those who are just looking for a little validation are the work of a really good friend. Perfunctory ones are not, especially when used as a slightly condescending defense against actual conversation.

It's not that I don't sympathize. I do. Been there. But whenever you're about to deploy a stock answer to anyone, consider it a cue to find a better answer.

Maybe all your friends crawl back to jerks -- been there, too -- but unless all these guys are abusers, chances are your friends just make them sound like jerks when they're bitching about them to you. People are complicated. Relationships are complicated. Life is complicated. Writing about people, relationships and life without saying "life is complicated" is complicated. Would you want the emotional rantings of an ex to be regarded as an accurate picture of you?

So don't assume you have an accurate view of these men amid breakups, makeups and meltdowns. There's always another side. Sometimes that side will be wrong and sometimes you can and should say so -- but the mere fact that you weighed the other side will make you much better at post-makeup flux, as well as a better listener. And, I'm guessing, much less of a hanging judge.


I am an 18-year-old girl. I desperately want to go to art school next year, but my father refuses to help me pay for it. He wants me to become a lawyer like him. I've tried explaining to him that it's my life and I'm happy with art, but he leaves the room. My mother doesn't want to get into the middle of this, so she keeps her mouth shut. I'm still living at home, and I'm trying to find a job, but no one is hiring in my little town.

-- Artist in North Carolina

It's your life but it's his money. I happen to believe parental money is better spent helping kids become a productive version of themselves vs. miserable Daddy clones, but not passionately enough to pay your tuition.

That leaves either the Bank of Dad footing the bill, or you -- with an assist from loans, grants, scholarships, work study, night school, ramen noodles and whatever else children who defy rigid fathers have been using since children began defying rigid fathers. If you're serious, start researching those options.

Last resort, find liberal arts schools with thriving studio art departments. Maybe the suggestion of a major-minor compromise will keep your muse and Dad's wallet peaceably in the same room. A working artist is an artist, art-school-pedigreed or not.

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