Why is my boyfriend acting differently? How do I teach my sister to be responsible with her money? And why can’t my friend stop playing video games?
My boyfriend of almost two years has been in graduate school on the West Coast for about a year now. (I am on the East Coast.) When it became clear California was where he was headed, we talked quite a bit about how we could make our relationship work long distance. We really wanted that to be the plan. It’s been okay – a challenge obviously but workable – and we always felt that when he was finished with this phase of his education, I would join him or he would join me, wherever we ended up. It wasn’t going to last indefinitely.
But he was just home for Thanksgiving and now I don’t know what to think. Things just were not the same, but he kept insisting they were, there’s nothing wrong, he’s just as committed to making this work, etc. But I am certain there’s something he’s not telling me – I can just tell. I was looking forward to seeing him so very, very much (it was only his second visit back since he left!) but from the time I met him at the airport, he was just really reserved. I can’t explain it, but there was a distance there I’ve never felt with him before. Only, like I said, he insisted everything was fine. And the capper was that he wouldn’t be coming back for Christmas because he couldn’t afford it! No discussion of whether I could help him pay to get here, no talk of my going to be with him, just a done deal.
I am so hurt and confused. I want desperately to believe that nothing is wrong, but I can’t kid myself like that. And yet how can we deal with a problem he won’t acknowledge? Please say something encouraging!
Feeling Far Away
Dear Feeling Far Away,
It’s hard to make a long-distance relationship work under the best circumstances. But it’s impossible if one of the people involved shuts down efforts to communicate.
Whatever’s bothering him could be anything from a new romantic interest to problems at school. But you shouldn’t have to guess. Stop trying to control what you can’t control (namely, getting him to open up) and focus on controlling what you can: your own response to your boyfriend’s dismissal of your concerns. Let him know thatsomething is wrong – you’re not imagining it – and the two of you have to get to the bottom of it. If he refuses to do that, there’s not much cause for optimism about your future together. Hopefully, whatever it is, he’ll muster the courage to be honest about it. If he can’t be, though, painful as it may be, breaking up will spare you a lot more pain in the long run.
I’m afraid the only encouraging thing I can say is that you – the singular “you”, not the couple “you” – will get through this.
I have a sister with what I think are some major financial problems. She is a stay-at-home mom. Her husband has a different extravagant job or business idea every time I talk to them (promoting a rapper or some new actress, contributing to the building of a new casino, going in with a millionaire on some new drug). It often seems like he is “in between jobs, but about to get a really good gig.” They have tried to move multiple times. They bought and made additions to a new house (and sent pictures), then they said they sold it. They do some really mysterious things involving money! She hints on the phone that they have trouble paying their utility bills. The police paid them a visit for having a messy yard and for keeping a tarp on their roof for a long time (covering a hole in the roof). They have credit cards (that I’m guessing are maxed out). Yet, on first impression, they seem to be doing well.
My sister is much older than I am and she grew up differently than I did, having money and going to private schools and private college. Is it possible that she simply has no clue how to properly budget expenses? Sometimes I wonder what her husband really does for work. When they do get money, they seem to blow it on new electronics, fancy clothes, etc.
So, the problem for me, mostly, is how to talk to her about this. My mother has helped her out some, but neither one of us is in any position to bail her out of any major crises. We don’t ask her about her financial problems, because my sister is an adult (almost forty) and we worry about insulting her with our serious doubts about them. Also, she has not asked for money lately, though we know they are in trouble by the hints given over the phone. Neither my mom nor I trust my sister and husband with money, even if we were to give them some. We love her and want to help her family without being pulled down financially. So, again, how do I approach this? Should I do anything right now?
The Sound Sister
Dear Sound Sister,
I don’t think people like your sister and her husband have a problem with budgeting. They have a problem with priorities.
It’s really hard to resist trying to keep someone we love from engaging in self-destructive behaviors, but as you say, she’s an adult, and there’s very little you can do besides offering support. Next time she hints at money problems, don’t agonize over what to say or whether to say anything. Just be honest: say she’s alluded to such things before, and you’re concerned. Is everything okay? Does she want to talk about it? If she does, listen.
You certainly shouldn’t give or lend her any money. Until she and her husband understand that they have a problem, giving her money will only drain you and delay the financial crisis that will force her to come to grips with this. I know that sounds harsh, but she and her husband are the only ones who can solve their financial woes, and they have to be motivated to do so. (Of course, if it gets to the point where their health or safety is threatened, you may have to intervene by paying to have the heat turned back on or buying some groceries, assuming you can afford it. But don’t give them cash; pay for these expenses directly yourself if possible.)
Frankly, the people I would focus my concern on are their kids. I’m not sure how many they have or how old they are (you just describe her as a stay-at-home mom), but if you want to help, you should make sure their immediate needs are being met, and you should also see if there’s some way you can offer them a respite from what I imagine is a stressful home life. If you can spend some time with them regularly, you might also try to teach them basic lessons like the importance of paying bills, not abusing credit, living within your means, etc. But depending on their ages, just doing something fun would probably mean a lot to them. They’re the real victims in this.
I have what I guess could be considered an etiquette question. I have a friend who, if you don’t know where he is, just look a room or two over and you’ll find him doing something on his phone, and 90% of the time, that “something” is playing a game. It’s kind of a gray area because he doesn’t do it in front of you – he’s not at all a rude person and that would be rude – he just disappears for a few minutes, then pops back. And this will happen 3-4 times an hour if you’re together the whole night. He’s actually pretty good at it – most people wouldn’t notice he’s gone. But he’s not excusing himself for any important reason, either. So what do you think? Rude or okay? This letter is prompted, by the way, by me finding him in the bathroom playing on his phone. And we were at a wake.
Dear Gamer’s Friend,
It sounds like your friend’s game playing has a slightly compulsive aspect to it, but I wouldn’t consider it rude per se. I don’t think something can be rude if no one is offended by it, and if people are unaware of what he’s doing, they can’t be offended. It’s the type of thing that may well have unpleasant results at some point, though. (What if a close relative of the deceased had walked into the bathroom and seen what he was doing?) So I can’t really go along with your two choices. I don’t think it’s rude, but I don’t think it’s okay, either, exactly. Let’s call it somewhat inconsiderate and potentially problematic depending on the situation. He should exercise better judgment – at the very least, he shouldn’t be playing games at solemn events.
Originally appeared at GoLocalProv.com.