I am a 17-year-old with divorced parents. This fall, my aunt (my dad’s sister) is getting married. My brother and I have been invited to the wedding, but not my mom. Despite the divorce, my mom is still close to my dad and his family. She comes to holidays, is friendly with my aunt, and is clearly part of the family. My dad’s girlfriend, who is not close to any of us, is invited to the wedding. I think that’s wrong. Can I tell my aunt that my feelings are hurt?
SAM, NEW YORK
So close! Just as I was reaching for a flannel to shine up your “Super Son of the Year” award, I got to that final sentence. Who cares about your hurt feelings? It’s your mom who was excluded. If you want to be a kind person (which you clearly are), support her. Say: “I’m sorry you weren’t invited, Mom. Does it bother you?” Then listen.
But do not speak with your aunt. This is her wedding, and she and her partner get to make the guest list. There may even be some family engineering afoot: Maybe you and your family don’t have a relationship with your dad’s girlfriend because you rarely see her without your mom around. There is no disloyalty to your mother in giving the girlfriend a chance.
So go to the wedding and behave like the good person you are. And when you come home, be extra tender with your mother. She may be hurt; she may be fine. But it’s safe to say that you have entered the more reciprocal stage of your relationship with your parents: in which we all try our best to look out for each other.
He’s Pulling My Hair Out
I have been dating a guy for three years; we are very serious. But he does something that drives me bonkers. He suffers from bad anxiety and constantly plays with my hair. His mother told me he’s done this since he was a baby, screaming and crying until he could touch her hair. I thought it was endearing until he continued doing it after I asked him to stop. Now, I stop him every time, but he goes right back to it after a few minutes. What can we do?
Other than invest in hats? I fiddled with my hair as a boy. It drove everyone crazy but me. Then my mother gave me a few inches of bright red ribbon to keep in my pocket, to rub between my thumb and forefinger, and the whole business resolved itself. Obviously, handling a decades-long habit of self-soothing will be more complex. (Still, have you tried silky ribbon?)
Two questions (out of drive-by curiosity): When you are not around, does your beau fiddle with his own hair, or does the impulse disappear? Because if you, as his mother before you, are bound up with his habit, it becomes even more essential to tell him clearly that you are sympathetic about his anxiety, but using your mane as a crutch is unacceptable. Have you done that? (It’s different from asking him to stop.)
Then he should ask his primary care physician for a referral to a behavioral therapist. You can’t sweep his anxiety and your bodily integrity under the rug. And I say this even though many readers become almost comically angry when I pass the buck to actual professionals — by which I do not mean Dear Abby.
Flying the Coop Over Bird Issues
My brother-in-law and his husband have a lovely beach retreat on a street where the houses are close together. They love their front garden, watching the antics of the birds at their feeder. Unfortunately, some neighbors have complained about the bird activity. The situation has become so stressful to them that they avoid using the house and are thinking of selling it. What to do?
May I suggest they pull on their big-boy pants and tell their neighbors that they will use the bird feeder as they see fit? (Over the years, I have heard stories of increased bird droppings and rodent activity near bird feeders — to which I say: Tough luck!) If their nerves are too delicate for this trivial conflict, perhaps they can find a sanitarium nearby.
Chorus of One
I work at a hip start-up geared to millennials. I am a writer and editor. I sit opposite a 21-year-old colleague. The company plays music all day, and my colleague sings along quietly, but relentlessly. We’re both new, but I am 10 years older than he is. He sits next to his boss, who hasn’t said anything about the singing. I would like to say something, but don’t want to come off as an ogre. Help!
I can’t identify. The all-day music alone would have sent me scurrying for a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Still, if you are able to deal with the music, but not the singing, how about a friendly: “I find your singing a little distracting. Could you take a break — or make a big-money deal with Spotify and cut me in?”