Is it time to break up with him? Why did my husband have to discourage our son? Am I exploiting my friends by using experiences they’ve shared with me in my writing?
A little while ago, I started dating a guy who’s a different race from me, and this is a new experience for both of us. It has definitely led to some awkward (and sometimes funny) moments when friends, family, etc., do or say things that elicit a “What’s that supposed to mean?” response. Overall, it has been interesting to see how different people confront and process their own prejudices, if that’s not too strong a word.
To be completely honest, one of the things that first attracted me to this man was his race. I’m endlessly curious about different people, different cultures, different experiences and ways of relating to the world and each other. But now I find that’s ALL there is to our relationship. He’s very quick to assume things people say or do have a racial basis, whereas I think he’s making a little too much of it and taking offense where none was intended. Yet I can’t ever fully see things from his perspective, and I hate to dismiss his interpretation of things. I haven’t lived the life he has.
So I feel this is partly what I was looking for but not ALL I was looking for. Everything now is so weighted with meaning and implications, and nothing is “just” fun. If we go to see a goofy comedy, our conversation turns into an analysis of what the movie revealed about the unconscious racial attitudes of the larger culture. It’s exhausting. I tried to raise this as something we should talk about, but that got turned into a discussion about my own biases and expectations.
So I feel like I’ve gotten what I was looking for and now I’ve decided I don’t really want it after all. I’ve insinuated myself into his life, I’ve put him on the spot a bit in his own family and circle of friends, and now I feel like I’m going to just say, “Never mind.” Is there something I’m not seeing here—an opportunity for this to be both what I wanted but also fun? Any suggestions for how I might steer this in a better direction? I hate to hurt this man because I believe he actually cares for me very deeply, and it’s not as if he’s treating me poorly or even doing anything wrong. I just don’t feel like I can keep doing this.
Need An Unbiased Perspective
I think you have to step back and stop over-thinking this. You’re dating a guy who sounds like a bit of a drag. Do you want to be in a relationship or an endless grad-student seminar with an unsmiling professor? I am in no way minimizing the importance of what he’s saying, but much of life is a trudge, and a date should offer a chance to skip for a few hours. This just doesn’t sound like fun. I don’t think you have to abandon your search for a partner who shows you an entirely different side of life. But until you find the right such guy, there’s nothing wrong with telling the ones who don’t work out, “This isn’t working out.” Even an elevated consciousness needs to laugh.
My husband and I are in the middle of a big disagreement. Our son, who’s 5-years-old, just finished his first experience of being on a team, and he loved it. He was especially excited about receiving a trophy at the end of their season—I believe it’s called a “participation trophy.” You get it just for showing up. My husband, who never goes for these kinds of self-esteem builders, took it upon himself to explain it wasn’t a “real” trophy and if everyone gets an award it’s not much of an honor. He wasn’t mean about it or anything, but it was heartbreaking to see his excitement drain away the more my husband talked. I think what he did was unnecessary and accomplished nothing more than spoiling some harmless fun. He, of course, says teaching kids they can expect an award without having to excel to get it is far from harmless. I’m still angry about it. What do you think?
Dear Participant’s Mom,
Having coached my share of youth sports, I am very familiar with both your and your husband’s points of view. My own take on it is that these are very young kids you’re talking about, and of course they’re excited to get a trophy—they’re excited to get a piece of junk in a cereal box, for heaven’s sake! (Cereal manufacturers still do this, don’t they?) The idea that it would do some kind of lasting harm strikes me as kind of silly and killjoy-ish.
Having said that, I am not entirely unsympathetic to your husband’s opinion, but he could have made his point to your son without ruining his fun. Hopefully, he said something along the lines of, “That’s great buddy! What a great trophy! As you get older, these get harder and harder to win, so you have to work really hard to earn one, but for your first one, that’s a beauty!” Your husband should find a way to emphasize the importance of hard work and practice while remembering that these experiences are supposed to be fun for kids as well as instructive. Too many parents take them way too seriously or not seriously enough. Some middle ground is called for.
I’m a writer. I have an MFA in creative writing and take it very seriously; I just can’t find a way to make much money at it. Which is fine. That’s not why I’m writing; I just want you to understand that writing is important to me and not something I take lightly.
I recently completed a story I was quite proud of, so I showed it around to some friends, as I always do prior to submitting a piece to various literary magazines. Everyone was supportive except for one woman who was incensed that I had, in her opinion, taken things she had told me in confidence and shared them with the world! (If only my stories had such wide readership!) John, in truth, I did base an event in the story on something she had told me and her account was the basis for some dialogue, but no one would ever read my story and think, “(Gasp!) This is about Jane!” There is literally no way anyone would connect it to Jane unless they knew details of the original incident, and even then it would be unlikely.
Here’s my question, though: is personal stuff friends tell me fair game—grist for the creative mill? I frequently draw on the experiences of my friends and their families, and I don’t want to change them beyond recognition so as not to upset people who seem all too eager to take offense. That would rob them of the reality and immediacy that made me want to use them in the first place. My attitude is, you know I’m a writer, so don’t tell me anything you don’t want me to use! This is not the first time this has happened. Am I inconsiderate, selfish, opportunistic, or untrustworthy (all of which I have been called)? Or should I write what seems true to me and bear whatever consequences result?
Good Writer—Bad Friend?
Dear Good Writer,
I think you have to examine your motives and let that be your guide. If you can honestly say that you’re creating stories out of your friends’ experiences because they reveal something fundamentally true that you want to share or expand upon through your art, I think that’s fine. If, on the other hand, you’re using your writing to comment on your friends’ lives, to embarrass them, or to get the literary equivalent of the last word, then obviously that’s wrong. You have to be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this.
I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, so I don’t think there’s anything surprising or duplicitous about finding artistic inspiration in the relationships and experiences of people around you. That someone is upset by it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. One thing you might think about doing is giving someone whose experiences you’ve incorporated into your writing the chance to read something first if you intend to try to get it published. But this would not be to make sure they approve; it would only be a courtesy so they know what you’re doing. Are you selfish, opportunistic, or untrustworthy? Maybe. But what great artist isn’t?
Originally appeared at GoLocalProv.com.