Dear Carolyn: My first love emailed me out of the blue, after 10 years, to make amends as part of his AA program. He was an incredible person, but after many years and many chances, the alcoholism won.
While it was a traumatic break — we lived together and talked marriage — I soon met a wonderful man who is now my husband.
The lengthy email detailed my ex's love for me, regrets, and urged me to consider a phone call or FaceTime to help free him of pain. Memories both good and bad came flooding back, along with some anger that he imposed on me this way. It seems narcissistic, especially not knowing what I may be going through in my life.
I'm grappling with how to think and feel about this grand gesture. How do you suggest I respond?
— Clueless in Chicago
Clueless in Chicago: If he's looking to you to free him of his pain, then he's not paying close enough attention in AA.
Asking you to help him — via phone, FaceTime or interpretive dance — isn't making amends. It's an attempt to outsource his emotional work to you.
It's important for the health of both of you to decline that assignment. Be kind, of course, but don't be available to him in this way.
So respond as if he were actually making amends: Say, by reply email, that you accept his apology, forgive him and wish him the best in his recovery. Gentle, brief, goodbye.
Hi, Carolyn: I am the mother of two very young children. The elder child looks just like me, with dark hair and eyes and olive skin, and the other is the polar opposite — blond hair and blue eyes. People will approach me in the street to comment on how different they look, and ask where my younger child's coloring came from. I start going into chapter and verse about my mother's blue eyes and my husband being blond as a child, and that answer never seems to satisfy them.
This baffles me, but even more baffling is why I feel the need to explain my family's genetics to perfect strangers.
I don't want my children to think this is a big or important issue. Could you suggest a polite but unresponsive response to this question?
Baffled: You can make this question go away in no words (death stare); one word ("Really?"); two words ("Genetic quirks"); or the smartassery of your choice.
I'm not baffled by reflexive overexplaining. It's tough to disentangle overt questions on a child's coloring from covert questions on a child's parentage, and it's pretty much impossible to ignore the dated and inappropriate but persistent tinge of scorn that comes with parentage questions.
And even a whiff of judginess about their children can poke Mama Bears hard.
Even without that subtext, too, the fact of being nosy-parkered over and over and over and over and over on the same topic is a provocation unto itself.
So while I hear regularly from people who don't endorse (with apologies to Mad Magazine) the snappy-answers-to-stupid-questions approach to dismissing busybodies, I'm all for it. It's your life, your business and others' boundary blindness — so you have every right to streamline this nuisance away. In snarky words, few words or none.