Dear Carolyn: Father is elderly and in poor health. Has been verbally abusive to me my entire life as well as a control freak. After getting into yet another argument on the phone, we’re not speaking.
I’m getting married and seriously not feeling him at my wedding since he will inevitably turn it into his day; he has a perverse need for attention that has disrupted many major milestones and events in my family, including my mother’s funeral.
Am I being too rigid about this? He’s so negative about everything I do, I can’t take it anymore — especially on my wedding day. — Dilemma
I won’t give you any lines about “your day” or “you deserve the wedding of your dreams” or etc., because I just ate. Plus, a wedding-based sense of entitlement only distracts from what matters and opens you to regrets down the road.
What matters is what you need to satisfy this goal: Take care of yourself.
One of the most crucial roles a parent plays is of protector — yet children of abusers need protection from parents. All these kids, to some degree, are forced to protect themselves.
Once your father gave you the job of watching your own back, you earned the right to keep it. That means you’re free to go into any event involving your dad, no matter how significant, with an eye to what’s best for you. Guilt-free.
So. The question becomes, what’s best for you? Or, if it’s useful to think of it this way, which choice is least likely to ripen into lasting regret?
It’s not a black-and-white choice. Even a decision not to engage with him ever again can be served both by including him and by shutting him out. Predicting the future is also, obviously, a gray business at best.
But you know your nature, and his. You know how he’ll probably respond if excluded (or not); you know whether this response scares you (or not); you know how it feels both to indulge him and to deny him; you know whether unfinished business tends to haunt you (or not).
So, you have an idea which choice will have the lowest emotional cost to you. And that’s the one I advise you to make.
Dear Carolyn: I live abroad, in a city that is well-known for its night life and narcotics. My husband was deeply involved in that scene “back home”; part of why we moved away was to give him a chance to start over. He’s made a sincere effort to change and has made some progress, but it’s a long, complicated process.
Now, an “old friend” of ours (more of an acquaintance) is thinking of coming here on her globe-trotting journey, and I have no doubt the “night life and narcotics” are a major attraction for her.
Do we offer her a place to stay, or do we avoid temptation and have her stay somewhere else? I worry that if she were to stay here, she’d drag him into some sort of trouble, but I know I can’t build walls around my husband and he has to learn self-control. If it matters, she was more my acquaintance than his, so it’s really up to me to respond. — An Expat in Party Town
For your husband’s fresh start, you moved to Ibiza?
Tell your friend that you and your husband are trying to break away from the club scene; no need to single him out. Then, say you’re asking would-be houseguests to stay in hotels, to minimize temptation; you hope she understands. TMI? Maybe. But there’s no shame in being tempted or in fighting it, so who cares if this acquaintance knows?
And while you’re right that you can’t isolate your husband, it’s also just common sense to avoid obvious temptations until he’s at the sturdier end of this “long, complicated process.” As you know, there are few temptations more powerful than someone who rationalizes the behavior you’re trying to leave behind.
Hi, Carolyn: I received mass e-mails from people I haven’t been in touch with for a while, fundraising for the causes they are volunteering for. One is an ex-boyfriend and the other a friend who threw a temper tantrum at me in public (taking her general unhappiness with life out on me). A friend of mine thinks they are trying to reach out to me and I should be the bigger person and respond.
Frankly, I don’t have much desire to be in touch if they can’t even send a personal note to say hi. But am I being mean and childish? — Tired of Being the Bigger Person
You are under no obligation to give to people’s causes, whether they’re nice to you or not.
About your friend who sees mass charity solicitations as overtures of friendship — perhaps you’ll share her e-mail with us?