September 7, 2017
I have a brilliant, intense and dramatic daughter in her 30s who works in the theater in New York. I am a retired schoolteacher in the Midwest. She nurses many grievances against me that I don’t understand: If I don’t send her flowers on opening night, for instance. (I received no flowers for my decades in the classroom.) She is also unhappy if I don’t praise every play she’s involved with. (Some I like; some I don’t.) I come from a working-class family who worked hard and never sought praise for our labor. So, we’re stuck in an ugly pattern. Advice?
Let’s say you’re 100 percent correct, Mother: No opening-night flowers for your whiny daughter. No tactful praise for dud plays. Sure, you can wave this column in her face to prove your point, but what does that get you — other than an unhappy child? The response to “You hurt my feelings” is not: “No, I didn’t.” (They’re her feelings. She should know.) Better for you to decide whether you care.
Trust me, I know that you and your parents probably had it rougher than your daughter in many respects. I myself had a magnificent mother who bragged endlessly about eating mustard sandwiches as a child (occasionally, without mustard). But you can also trust me when I tell you that your daughter’s life in the theater is probably no picnic. Statistically, it comprises rejection and grueling side work in restaurants.
So, here’s a question for you: Do you want to be right, or do you want a more loving relationship with your daughter? You know what being right feels like. If you’re willing to give the other a go, send her a rose on opening night. Say something nice about the flops. Life is hard on all of us. Why not be a soft corner in your daughter’s world?
Friend or Fashion Critic?
I have a not-close girlfriend whom I mostly see with mutual friends. She has this habit of looking me (and other women) up and down, from head to toe, to see what we’re wearing before she says hello. I agree that it’s fun to observe what friends are wearing. But I find her behavior rude and shallow. Should I say something?
In my elementary school, starers got a snappy: “Take a picture, why don’t you? It lasts longer.” That’s probably too aggressive here. (It was probably too aggressive for elementary school, but kids are famous for being mean.)
Let me suggest another reading: Your pal’s obsessive study of your duds signals insecurity, not rudeness. If she felt confident in her appearance, she wouldn’t be so vigilant about yours, right? Still, I get the sting of feeling judged. (Notice a common thread here? None of us feels easy in our skin.)
Not every grievance needs an airing, though. This one seems pretty petty. You’re not even objecting to the behavior, only her obviousness about it. If you’re still not mollified, the next time she gives you the once-over, say: “I noticed you staring at my jeans. I wasn’t sure about them, either. What do you think?” It lets her know you know, which may, in turn, make her more subtle.
Explaining a Mysterious Bodily Odor
I was heartened by your recent answer to a question about a smelly co-worker. You suggested there may be a medical cause. Well, I am that co-worker. I have a disorder called TMAU that causes me to emit a fishy odor, even though my hygiene is immaculate. I work in retail banking where staff turnover is constant. My manager is aware of my problem, as are some co-workers. Should I tell every new co-worker? I don’t want anyone thinking I’m unclean, but it’s an awkward conversation.
Save your breath, Anonymous. If someone you’re working with closely looks uncomfortable around you or raises the issue, feel free to clue them in. But many of your colleagues will probably never notice your disorder. In my experience of self-consciousness, it’s rarely the thing I’m worried about that people actually observe. (Never fear! People are always judging — just for different reasons than we think.)
Heated Over Leftovers
My friend and I go to lunch frequently. My husband gave me a gift card he had received as a gift to the restaurant we had chosen. When my friend heard about this, she was delighted. She said she would order something that she could eat part of, and bring the rest home for her husband. This bugged me. My husband gave me the gift card for us to enjoy lunch, not to feed her husband. Am I being petty?
Under oath, I would have to admit you are having a petty moment. Assuming your friend did not order the chateaubriand for two, what difference does it make if she eats her entire entree or takes part of it home for her husband? I get your sensitivity to perceived mooching. But focus on your good fortune, instead. How lucky that you have a good friend to go to lunch with.