‘Burning’ questions abound in this week’s Dear John.
I am upset with my husband, but I’m not sure if I should be. I’d like an objective opinion without having to talk to someone who knows us.
We’ve been married over 25 years. We have a very happy, comfortable life with three kids, two of whom still live with us, and one who lives in California. My husband’s job recently took him to the West Coast near where our son lives, so after his business trip was over, he spent the weekend with our son. They had a nice visit, but I was in for a shock when he told me that while he was with my son, they smoked pot together. A couple of times, in fact.
My husband and I haven’t done that in probably 15 years, and to tell you the truth, doing so never even crosses my mind. As far as I know, it never crosses his, either. My kids are good kids, but I’m realistic. When they were all in their early teens, we talked to them about drugs and that was that. They never gave us cause to think the message hadn’t gotten through. I can’t say that I’m shocked that my eldest smokes marijuana, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed. But my husband doing it with him is a shock. It just seems like very poor judgment to me.
I’m still pretty mad about it, and he thinks I’m blowing it way out of proportion. In fact, he told me about it as if it were amusing, so he was a bit taken aback by my reaction. I have yet to call up my son and talk to him about it.
What do you think? Am I making too big a deal out of this?
Wife of Cheech, Mom of Chong
I can certainly see how you’d be surprised, but I would try to let this go. You don’t say the circumstances under which your two guys got stoned, but unless either of them got behind the wheel of a car afterward—which would be a serious mistake—this does not reflect poorly on your husband’s judgment.
Yes, people will say what they did is illegal, but unless you’ve never sped while driving, spare me the sanctimony. And speeding is arguably more dangerous.
If your husband knew you would object, one could make a case that he would have been wrong to do it without discussing it with you first. But obviously, he had no idea.
He had an opportunity to have a little fun with your son and to relate to him as another adult instead of as his little boy, and he took it. It doesn’t sound like either of them has a substance-abuse problem, so I would consider this a reminder that people we know almost as well as we know ourselves are still capable of surprising us.
My husband and I live in an apartment building next door to an elderly couple. Despite an age difference of around 30 years, we have become quite friendly with them. They are fascinating people: they come from another country, they have traveled the world, and they are both born storytellers. The first time we went to their house for dinner shortly after we moved in a couple of years ago, we were bracing ourselves for a night of tedium and forced conversation, but by the time we left, we felt like we had known them for years. One of the charming things about them is how sweet and considerate they are toward each other.
Which brings me to our problem. Occasionally, and sometimes fairly late at night, they have the most hair-raising fights. More than once, I have heard things shatter amid the screaming, and while most of it is not clear enough to understand, the snippets that are audible are quite shocking. We like these people and this is extremely upsetting—sometimes even frightening.
It is awkward to run into them a day or two after one of these donnybrooks, exchange pleasantries, and pretend everything’s fine, but that’s precisely how they act. They cannot possibly think we can’t hear their fighting.
We don’t know what to do. We’re not close enough to sit down and talk with them about it; they are old-fashioned and proud and I think they would be mortified if we brought it up. But now every time I hear any noise coming from their apartment, I am on edge wondering if an eruption is about to ensue.
Waving the White Flag
Your very first concern has to be the safety of both of your neighbors, but I don’t get the impression from your letter that this is a case of one person being physically abusive toward the other, right? It sounds like these are “just” very noisy fights. If you do think there is physical abuse involved, you should call the Department of Elderly Affairs right away (or whatever the equivalent social services agency is in your state).
This is probably a long-standing dynamic of your neighbors’ marriage. They may not even think about whether they can be heard; they may be so absorbed by whatever they’re fighting about that it never occurs to them there are people on the other side of the wall.
I don’t think you can change the way they relate to each other, nor do I think you should try. But I definitely think you have a right to a quiet, peaceful home. I understand your reluctance to embarrass them, so maybe you can give them a way out. The next time this starts, immediately go over and knock on the door. Tell them you heard yelling and you thought someone needed help. You wanted to make sure everything was OK.
Hopefully, that will make them a little more aware of the disturbance they’re causing. If it happens again, though, I would dispense with any reluctance to make them uncomfortable. Knock on their door and tell them that they’re making a lot of noise, it’s very upsetting, and would they please keep it down. There’s no reason your domestic tranquility should be a casualty of their fights.
So Valentine’s Day is approaching, my least favorite holiday. Why? Because it’s my husband’s least favorite holiday. He thinks acknowledging Valentine’s Day in any way is “giving in to the card companies,” evil multinationals that they are. He goes out of his way to not acknowledge the day. When I first met him, this attitude didn’t bother me at all; in fact, I thought, yeah, we are being manipulated with this fake-love holiday. But as the years have gone by, I’ve lightened up a bit and think it’s not such a bad thing to have a day that reminds us to pay special attention to our spouses and partners—life has a way of turning a marriage into a convenient arrangement if you don’t make an effort to stay connected. The other thing is, I wouldn’t mind if he expressed his love for me on days other than February 14 so he didn’t need the reminder of Valentine’s Day. But if I’m brutally honest, I think his attitude has more to do with getting out of having to shop or plan something special.
Am I making too big a deal out of this? And I’ve gone along with it for a long time–is it too late to change the rules?
Sad Valentine’s Day
It’s not too late to change the rules. You don’t forfeit your right to rethink your attitudes when you get married. I would caution you to be realistic about what you expect, though. Your letter doesn’t make it sound as if your husband’s views have softened the way yours have.
Tell him exactly what you said so eloquently in your letter. You have come to appreciate the idea of setting aside a special day to focus on your marriage and your love for each other. It doesn’t have to be February 14 and it doesn’t have to involve a card he buys at the store. If this is about commercialism, it doesn’t have to involve buying anything at all. But you can still celebrate the spirit of Valentine’s Day without its trappings. If he doesn’t want to do that, then it sounds like you have a stubborn, cold husband. And that makes for a sad Valentine’s Day. Not to mention the other 364 days of the year.
What’s your problem? Write to John at email@example.com.
—Photo (caveman_92223)/via Flickr