Dear John: Girlfriend Tired of Second Place
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
What’s your problem? Write to John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been dating a guy for almost two years. He is divorced and he has a difficult ex-wife and two young boys. (I have never been married.) When we’re together, things are great. He’s a really sweet, smart, funny guy and we just click. It seems effortless. But notice I said, “When we’re together.” And those times don’t happen nearly as often as they should due to the demands his ex-wife is always placing on him. She’s very vindictive and manipulative and if she knows we have plans to be together, she’ll insist he has to pick one of the boys up from hockey practice, or take him to a party, or fulfill some other obligation just to interfere. Recently, he called to cancel the plans we had made to celebrate my birthday because his ex-wife was going out and the younger boy was having a fit over staying with a babysitter and insisting he wanted to stay with his dad instead. And my boyfriend gave in! I know he feels guilty about splitting up with their Mom, but it’s not like they’re going to get back together. I think he deserves to be able to build a new life and a new start, but he’s not even getting the chance. And I’m sick of always being the lowest priority, too. What should I do?
Dear Second Fiddle,
Yes, he should build a “new life,” but surely you don’t feel like the old one can be left behind so easily, do you? He has kids and, to his credit, he apparently takes that responsibility seriously. He will always have to take them into account. Twenty years from now, he will still be figuring out how the holidays are going to work, who he’ll be visiting when, etc. That’s just the way it is. For you or any other woman who wants to be a part of his life, that’s the deal. His wife may well be using the kids to interfere with your relationship, and he should certainly discuss that possibility with her – if she is doing that, it’s pretty despicable, by the way – but the bottom line is he has to do what’s best for his kids. That’s what he owes them, and nothing less. If that means you have to change your plans so he can stay with them, you have to accept that. That’s not to say you’re unimportant, but his kids need him. You just want him. Perhaps you can participate in all of this with him if your relationship is serious, but you have to stop framing this in terms of your guy picking his kids over you. If you force him to choose, he has to choose them. And would you really want to be with a man who didn’t make that choice?
I recently had an extremely unpleasant encounter with a man on a train and I am still very upset about it. I was sitting next to my nine-year-old daughter, and a passenger across the aisle was watching the most vile movie on his laptop – very violent with several graphic shooting scenes. I didn’t want my daughter to see any of this, so I asked the man if he would mind either moving or not watching such a violent movie with a child nearby. He was very rude, scoffed at my request (which I made politely), and said if I didn’t like it, we should move, not him. I called a conductor and explained the situation, and he basically took the man’s side, claiming that unless a movie was “really bad,” whatever that means, his policy was to re-seat the people making a complaint, not the person causing offense. So I had to move all our luggage several cars so we could get two seats together when I was doing nothing whatsoever wrong. As I said, I’m still angry about this. What else could I have done...anything?
With more visual media being consumed in more public places, I suspect your complaint is a common one. (As an only slightly relevant but completely true aside, a while back I fell asleep on an Amtrak train while watching the movie “Woodstock.” When the woman next to me jostled me awake, I thought it was going to be to complain about the hippie skinny dippers on my screen at that time, but it was to inform me that a snake was loose in our car. This was a very disorienting way to wake up.)
If you’re so inclined, you could write to the management of the rail line you were traveling and explain the situation. They may be willing to refund one or both of your tickets. But it’s really incumbent on the person viewing the movie that he or she exercise good judgment, and invariably, there will be times when people disagree about what’s appropriate. When that happens, it would be nice if someone were to graciously accommodate the offended party (as long as the complaint is reasonable), but we know that won’t always happen, don’t we? In that situation, you can either try to ignore the material in question or you can move. I try to avoid giving advice that amounts to, “Stop feeling that way” but this is one of those times it’s really not worth letting this eat away at you. In the future, if something is offending you and your only choice is to move, just move and forget about it.
Why oh why do people always assume I will completely agree with them when they make the most extreme political comments, and then why do they look so flustered and hurt when I have the audacity to disagree with them? The latest was the flap over whether Catholic institutions should have to offer insurance coverage for birth control. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think any church should have to violate their conscience or their teachings, but I don’t understand how anyone would choose to be a part of a religion that discourages birth control, of all things!) So do I just let people make their silly statements and pretend to agree with them, or do I refuse to violate MY conscience and challenge them to defend what they say? I think what bugs me so much is their assumption that I agree with opinions I actually find pretty stupid. It’s insulting!
Come on. This is hardly a matter of conscience. People share their opinions with you and assume you’ll agree because most of the people they share them with DO agree. From the example you’ve provided, I suspect you hold many opinions out of step with the prevailing attitudes of your colleagues and friends. (I also suspect you revel in your role of “thinker of outside-the-mainstream thoughts.”) Of course you can challenge what people say; you can also just mutter something non-committal. I suppose it depends on how you feel at the time. Should you choose to engage in a little back-and-forth with them, though, please keep in mind that someone isn’t stupid simply for disagreeing with you. You sound less interested in exposing people to a different point of view than in berating them for their ignorance (at least as far as you’re concerned). Enough of that and eventually they’ll stop talking to you altogether. Problem solved!
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at email@example.com.
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