I have a friend who diagnoses people. Her son has Asperger’s; her husband has A.D.H.D.; her dog is hyperactive. She spends a lot of time with doctors. I suspect she’s over-diagnosed and overmedicated the whole family. But I’m not a doctor, so I’ve said nothing. Now that her family is under treatment, she is diagnosing others. “That boy is obsessed with cards. He must be autistic.” Or: “Look at that hyperactive girl. She clearly has A.D.H.D.” This is very annoying, especially when she talks about people I like. What to do?
Bear with me, Amanda, because my first move may really annoy you. After my dad took his life unexpectedly, my mom saw undiagnosed depression everywhere she looked. Makes sense, right? (What made slightly less sense was her buying a blood pressure monitor and driving around town measuring people’s hypertension.) I think she blamed herself for missing something with my father, and she was determined not to repeat that mistake.
Your friend may be anxious about illness, too. What you’re hearing as criticism or judgment of the people she diagnoses may be fear. Plenty of us try to control our uncontrollable world by labeling the things that terrify us. Still, that doesn’t make it any less annoying for an untrained civilian to be passing out medical opinions like Tic Tacs. But it may change the way we approach her.
If she’s anxious, saying something sensible, like “Let’s leave the diagnoses to professionals,” will probably be useless. She’s self-soothing. Try to draw her out, instead. “Have you always been so concerned with illness? Why is that?” Her response may give you a more sympathetic view of her psychology. (You may also learn why she’s the only one without a diagnosis.)
My Sister the Skeptic
Over Thanksgiving, my sister made some nasty comments about the women who’ve come forward in the sexual harassment and assault cases that have been in the news. She disbelieves the women. (For reference, I am a man.) I was appalled but didn’t know what to say. Suggestions?
Color me not as surprised as you, Anonymous. Men and women grow up side by side. It doesn’t shock me (though it bums me out) that a woman raised in a system that allows for harassment and abuse may be more comfortable attacking accusers than questioning a culture that produces abusers. We’re seeped in the power of men!
Next time, walk her through one of the meticulously reported stories of harassment — or don’t. For some nonbelievers, this may be analogous to the gay rights movement: They may need to know one brave accuser personally before believing (and supporting) the others. But never fear: I suspect there are many still to come.
Friend or Ghost?
I have a close friend who doesn’t respond to calls or texts when she wants to get out of a plan we’ve made. Then she claims to have “missed the messages.” This seemed plausible the first time, but after six more, not so much. The last time, I wanted to say something because the lie was transparent, and it hurt my feelings. But I don’t want to spoil our relationship. Any ideas?
This is a common problem — by which I mean, I have behaved as badly as your friend. I was fearful that saying no to invitations, or “I’ve had a rough day. Can we reschedule?” would make my pals angry. So, I froze and did nothing, then cooked up some baloney to feed them later. It’s childish (and scarily self-important), but we all have our weak points.
Be a friend and help out. The next time you have dinner, say: “Amy, I’ll be fine if you want to cancel plans or reschedule. But pretending you didn’t get my texts hurts my feelings. Can you be more careful about that?” It didn’t spoil the relationship when my friend called me out. Like you, he was only asking to be treated respectfully.
He’s the Cat’s Meow — and Allergic to It, Too
I just started dating a very nice guy. And I mean “just.” We’ve had two dates. But he is seriously allergic to cats, and I have one. My apartment is tiny, so I can’t quarantine the cat. Meanwhile, the guy won’t come to my house while the cat is here. Also, I love my cat. How would you deal with this?
Let’s not project too far down the road, either where Mr. Whiskers is concerned or otherwise. Most of us are terrible fortunetellers, and part of the fun of a new relationship is riding the teeter-totter in the moment. (“It’s working!” “It will never work!” “Oh, yes, it will!”) Right now, you’ve met a terrific guy, and you have a magnificent cat. Enjoy them both.
This fellow’s not being able to visit your apartment is a wrinkle. So, go to his place, or when you know each other better, take romantic weekends away. In six months, if things are still going well, we can revisit the cat. But for now, why complicate a good thing?