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He can be awful

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 26, 2012 07:52 AM

Heavy letter for a Friday. And yes, I'll stay in touch with the letter writer.

Q: I have been married for more than 20 years. My husband had some affairs (with different women) three years ago. I know that he is still talking to these women, as he makes comments about what they are doing and it seems pretty current information. I have not been able to gain back the trust and love that I once had. We have two children who are under 18.

My husband constantly calls me fat [and other inappropriate things] when our younger child is nearby. (I don't think that our child sees it though.) He pinches me until I tell him to stop because it hurts. He jokes, "I haven't even begun to hurt you." He flirts with friends and neighbors until we're all uncomfortable. When we tell him to stop, he says something like, "Oh, you can't take a joke."

He now accuses me (at least once a week) of having an affair with someone. I honestly will say I have never had an affair with anyone. If I refuse sex with, he gets very mad takes all the blankets.

He also threatens to divorce me and leave me with nothing. I used to kiss him after these threats, but now I'm at the point where I tell him to go ahead and leave me. I am at the end of my rope. We have tried counseling, both individual and marriage, and it hasn't worked because he has quit going after a few sessions.

– So Now What?, North Carolina

A: This is an abusive relationship, SNW. And I'm going to reveal to the readers (after much thought) that you emailed me several years ago about similar issues. It was a letter that we just didn't get to -- and it was much less severe than this version (it was about the affairs, not the abuse) -- but these problems have plagued your marriage for a long time. You've been pinched, harassed, questioned, and shamed, sometimes in front of your children. You need a way out. (And for the record, kids see and perceive more than you think they do. I'm sure that your younger child is aware of what's happening.)

You need to check in with a local domestic violence organization. North Carolina has them. (Click here if you're at a safe computer.) Pinching might not seem like real abuse, but it is. So are threats and intimidation. You must meet with a professional who can help you navigate this process. Because it will be process. If you can continue individual therapy, please do.

It's also a good time to reach out to your community. Don't be afraid to call friends and family. You mention that your neighbors have shared your discomfort over the years. Are any of these people real friends? Can you spend more time with them, just to feel less isolated?

You can't go through this alone, and you certainly can't put it off any longer. You might think I'm misusing the word "abuse," but find a safe computer and do some reading. You might be surprised by the definition.

Readers? Is this abuse? What should the letter writer do? Are the affairs relevant? Talk.

– Meredith

Can I convince him to have a kid?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 10, 2012 07:16 AM

Chat day.

Q: I've been with my boyfriend for almost 4 years. I can't imagine life without him. He is everything I could ask for -- except for the fact he does not want any more kids.

He has two children from a previous marriage (11 and 13), and I have none. There is a 15-year age gap between us and he thinks he is too old to have any more children. (He is 45 I am 30.) When we started dating I did mention I never wanted kids. Since then my outlook has changed. I'm so in love with him and his kids now that I want to start our own family. He is an amazing father and I adore his kids to pieces. They have expressed interest in having a baby sibling. We have had many discussions about this and although he has never come out directly and said he doesn't want more kids, I just have this feeling he is stalling so he doesn't have to say it. I know deep down he would love one but is so concerned out our age difference and him being too old to raise another child.

How do I convince him that he would be an amazing father to another child and to not worry about our age difference??

– Kids, Mass.

A: He's either scared of having another kid or he just doesn't want one. Ask him if it's A or B, because if it's B, the conversation is pretty much over.

You can't convince a 45-year-old with two kids that he should have more kids. If he doesn't want to start over, it's legit. He certainly understands the process. Keep in mind that he fell for you believing that you shared his plan for the future. We're allowed to change our minds in relationships, but that's often why we break up.

You need to ask the very specific question -- "Do you want to have more children?" -- and then decide what to do if he says no. It's time for some clarity. No more guessing and talking around the issue.

No matter what he says, please don't lobby him by telling him that his kids want another sibling. They're 11 and 13. They probably also want One Direction tickets and new TVs in their bedrooms. It's nice that they're open to change, but at the end of the day, they just want happy parents.

Go get a definitive answer. He has one for you. You just have to hear it and accept it, whatever it is.

Readers? Is this about his age or about not wanting kids? Can she convince him to have one if he's on the fence? Should she have a kid with someone with these concerns? What if he just doesn't know what he wants? Help.

– Meredith

Having kids ruined our sex life

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 30, 2012 08:27 AM

Q: My wife of almost 12 years and I are from different backgrounds and cultures. Those differences are the glue that has held us together.

We have two beautiful children. We've given our lives to them and are on the same page in terms of their upbringing. She has put her career on hold (it has been 10 years), and I have been fortunate enough to be able to provide a very comfortable lifestyle.

Here's the problem: We have virtually no intimacy anymore. It has been like this since my youngest child (he's 9) was born. We've talked about it millions of times, but nothing ever changes. Her explanation? All women change sexually after having children. I need to get over it. Yes, she's that abrupt. As for me, well, I'm a physical cling-on, which I know can be annoying. I'm also a man, so I could exercise between the sheets on a daily basis.

My problem is, 90% of our relationship works. The other 10% doesn't. She feels everything is just peachy and avoids intimacy as much as possible. Sometimes her behavior makes me feel insecure and sometimes even not loved.

What advice can you offer us?

– Gottohaveit, Boston

A: "What advice can you offer us?"

Am I really advising two people here? Or just you?

If this letter had come from both of you, I'd tell your wife to visit her doctor to see if there's anything she can do about her missing sex drive. I'd tell her that sex is important and that she's lucky to have a husband who's desperate to stay close to her.

But ... she's not asking me for advice, is she? It's just you here. So the real question is: How can you get your wife to acknowledge that this issue is legitimate?

My advice for you is to take it slow. Ask for kissing. Suggest visiting first base with the hope of a trip to second. Sit close to her while watching TV. Your wife might be less overwhelmed by light physical intimacy, and the light stuff often leads to the rest.

Also try to plan a trip for just the two of you. It won't necessarily lead to sex, but it'll give you time and space to talk about your wants and needs without kids around. You can ask her about that doctor idea. You can tell her that you feel lonely when she pulls away. "I feel lonely" is more difficult to dismiss than "I want sex." "What should we do?" is a better question than "How can I get what I want?"

Make sure you choose the right words and ask her questions about her own needs. Find out what makes her feel good. Ask her what used to make her feel great. Don't overwhelm her with demands. Just have a discussion -- as two people who still love each other. Because that's what you are.

Readers? What can he say to get her attention about this? Is it a lost cause? Is her reasoning valid? Are their cultural differences relevant? Help.

– Meredith

Did his grief cause this breakup?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 28, 2012 08:30 AM

Q: My boyfriend of 11 months is the love of my life. We met online and instantly had a connection. We always got along, had a lot of fun, and never had any disagreements. We always made a point of discussing things, knowing that without communication it wouldn't work. He was the first to say "I love you" and the first to introduce to me to his family and friends.

For the entire time that I've known him, he has been the backbone of his family. He helps them with money, with chores, fixing things, etc. They always come first, as they should. One of his older brothers was also sick. Recently, that brother got very sick and was basically put on hospice. I tried to let my boyfriend know that I would be there through it all and do anything I could, but he said he was fine. I gave him his space.

The other day, on our regularly scheduled day to hang out, he came over. I had cooked a week's worth of food for his family, as it was the only thing I could think of to do for him that wasn't invasive. He seemed annoyed. Then he said, "We need to talk." I started to cry. He first wanted a break, and when I said no, he said he no longer loved me. He cried and said he was sorry, then left. He asked his friends to look after me, sent me a text that night to see if I was OK, and that was it.

My question is: What now? I know I need to give him space, and I will and have. But is this the grief talking? This came completely out of the blue! Will he come back?

– Worried and Broken, Mass.

A: My guess is that your boyfriend is so overwhelmed with family responsibilities that he doesn't want to manage another person (you). Or maybe he's been feeling less excited about your relationship for a while and just hasn't had the energy to deal with it until now.

Either way, it makes sense that he walked away. If he sees you as one more responsibility -- as opposed to a partner -- this just won't work. And if he's been thinking about this breakup for a while, there's nothing you can do.

This doesn't strike me as a crazy, heat-of-the-moment-decision. He prepared a speech and delivered it. He sent the stupid "Are you OK" text. He obviously gave this some thought.

My advice is to treat this like a breakup and to allow yourself to be annoyed that he pulled the rug out from under you. The timing is awful and confusing and painful, but you're allowed to feel your own grief and anger even though you're worried about him. Please surround yourself with your own friends and family (not his), and spend some time putting yourself first. It's your turn to be someone's first priority. That's what's been missing here.

Readers? Is this breakup real? What happened here? How can she deal with this loss knowing that he's going through such a difficult time? Would he have been a good partner if his family always comes first?

– Meredith

I don't want to meet his ex

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 16, 2012 08:30 AM

A reminder: I'm looking for updates from former letter writers. Send them to meregoldstein at gmail dot com with "UPDATE" in the subject line. Email me from the same account that you used the first time around so I know it's really you.

Q: Dear Meredith,

My boyfriend (I'll call him Drew) and I are in love and beginning to talk seriously about a future together. I'm in my late 30s and he's in his mid-40s, so we're both older and approaching this with significant past relationship experience and a clear sense of what we want.

We're good at talking things out, and we know how to communicate and compromise. However, one recent issue seems likely to resurface -- how Drew can maintain his friendship with a longtime ex-girlfriend in a way that doesn't interfere with our relationship.

Although it generally hasn't been my experience, I completely understand that many people maintain comfortable platonic friendships with exes, and I have no concerns about Drew's intentions with any of his. Despite Drew's good intentions, and despite my being open and comfortable meeting any of the others, everything I learn about this particular ex (I'll call her Suzanne) gives me reservation.

In Drew's words, he and Suzanne bonded to provide each other support for their extremely difficult young adult lives. They lived together throughout their 20s and into their early 30s, and despite being highly intelligent and well educated, both were socially and emotionally restricted, and also severely clinically depressed, Suzanne to the point of attempting (or gesturing) suicide.

Drew has since worked on his past and grown into an accomplished, stable person. Suzanne, although now married, is still troubled and has "serious limitations" (his words).
What got me thinking and prompted this letter is overhearing the nature of a recent phone call. Instead of casual conversation about their lives, the tone seemed emotionally entangled, with Drew in the role of constantly offering reassurances: Yes, they're "different" when it comes to their friendship, and although neither he nor I have ever felt happier with a partner, he of course "was very happy when he was with [her]," and, yes, I do realize "how important [she] is to [him]." Is this normal behavior?

Drew keeps in touch with Suzanne by occasional emails and phone calls, and he meets her for lunch once or twice a year when he visits Massachusetts, which seems within the bounds of appropriate behavior. I'll be going with him to Mass. later this summer, and although he asked me to meet Suzanne, I said I'd rather not. He understood, and he realizes that I don't want this connection to become a part of our life together.

I feel deeply loved and secure in our relationship. Drew says I mean everything to him, and without my asking, he offered to not have lunch with Suzanne. I said I wouldn't mind his doing so, and I meant it. No matter what their dynamic, meeting up once or twice a year to catch up isn't much, and I don't believe it's right for me to insist he cut contact with someone whom he shares history with and still cares about.

That said, is it rude for me to want no contact with Suzanne? Is his offer to cancel their lunch an appropriate thing for him to do? What boundaries should their relationship maintain so that it doesn't interfere with our relationship, especially if we end up getting married and having a family? Most importantly, is it right for me to ask that he keep personal details about me and our life together out of their conversations (this would upset me)?

What seems reasonable here? Looking forward to the perspectives of you and your readers.

– Trouble with his ex, Out of State

A: It's absolutely appropriate for you to stay away from this woman, TWHE. You're setting boundaries and trying to keep things healthy. There's nothing rude about your attitude. You're just being honest and smart. Good for you.

I do wonder whether Drew needs some help setting his own boundaries. He offered to skip lunch with this woman. Perhaps that was his way of admitting that he doesn't want to see her. Perhaps he was hoping that you'd set some rules for him. Those phone calls sound exhausting. He doesn't seem to have a way out. You might want to ask him what he wants from their platonic relationship and how his occasional interaction with her affects his head. Something tells me that he'd love to talk to her even less than he does now.

You've been so understanding when it comes to this woman. Your boundaries are fair. Your only job now is to talk to Drew about his own needs and what he wants this situation to look like in five or ten years. Help him come up with a plan. Figure this out as a couple.

Readers? Should she want to meet the ex? Should he have asked her to? How do you distance yourself from a needy ex? What about her marriage? Am I right to say that Drew's offer to skip lunch might have been a cry for help? Discuss.

– Meredith

She's having someone else's baby

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 29, 2012 08:46 AM

Q: I am a lesbian woman who has been in a committed relationship for seven years. Although we have had our share of issues, I truly believe that we both love one another. Last fall, I went back to school and was unable to pay my girlfriend the amount of attention she requires. She's not needy -- just needier than I am. She's also unmedicated for bipolar disorder.

We were both working and in school during this time, but we had very different ways of dealing with stress. I work out while she goes out. This led to problems because I didn't like her being out during the week and staying out overnight at her friends' places, and I especially didn't like the amount of alcohol she was consuming. I am not a fan of self-medicating and felt that was what she was doing.

I'm at fault here too because I detest, and I mean detest, talking about my feelings. So I can just carry on like nothing is wrong and then we have some big explosive argument where things get said that are hurtful and disrespectful. Anyway, she has long believed that I was unfaithful in the past because of a friendship I developed with another woman. I didn't cheat, but I guess it's called "emotional cheating," which I am probably guilty of.

She confessed that on one of these drunken nights, she slept with someone to get me back. If that wasn't enough, she slept with a man and now she's pregnant. I feel so lost. She is keeping the baby because she has always wanted to be a mom and we had planned on having children someday. She wants me to raise the child with her and I don't know if I can. A big part of me wants to; I mean, I've wanted this experience with her for a long time. But now I have no rights, my pride and ego are in the toilet, and I don't actually feel like a parent to the child. I mean ... I had nothing to do with this.

Her plan is to keep the father out of the loop so long as I am in the loop. But she says that if I wasn't around, she would involve him because she can't make it financially on her own. The financial part is true. But now I feel so many conflicting emotions. The only constant is that I really am in love with this woman. But this choice, to stay ... it affects my whole life too. How do I raise a child under a lie? What do we tell people?

Despite everything, I love her, and the thought of not having her in my life is devastating. The thought of her raising a child with someone else is heartbreaking too. What do I do?

– Too Loyal for Love, Mass.

A: I've read this letter about 1,000 times and I keep going back to the "unmedicated bipolar" sentence. That's what gets me.

Can your girlfriend parent this child if she's not getting the professional help she needs? How has her behavior changed (the drinking, going out, etc.) since she found out she was pregnant? Does she want you around for this experience because she loves you -- or because you represent the other half of a financial arrangement?

I understand that it would be devastating to lose her, but wouldn't it be more devastating to stay with someone who cheated on you, ignores her own health issues, and copes with stress by drinking too much and acting out?

If the baby weren't in the picture, I'd be telling you to get into therapy and to take some space from this woman. I'd be telling you to figure out why you repress your emotions, why you had an emotional affair, and why you stay with someone who forces you through highs and lows.

The baby doesn't really change my advice. You need therapy and an exit.

We're supposed to feel safe in relationships. Baby or no baby, you're just not safe.

Readers? Can she raise this baby? What about the cheating? What about the bipolar? Can they save this seven-year relationship? Should they be in therapy together? Help.

– Meredith

Should we have a baby?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 26, 2012 08:45 AM

Q: Meredith! I'm hoping that you and your readers can help me. I'm a never-married 34-year-old. I've had a few serious long-term relationships but I'm currently single.

I've recently started dating an ex-boyfriend (early 40s) who I've been off and on with (more off) for the past seven years. We know each other very well. He's ambitious, successful, handsome, smart, and kind ... everything that I've always wanted. We have a strong and intense physical connection even after all of these years. The problem is that he's afraid to commit. He has deeper issues regarding this that I won't get into ... let's just say his dad abandoned him and leave it at that.

During a recent discussion about birth control, he stated that he no longer wants to use any with me. We're both extremely diligent when it comes to protection and we've both been screened for STDs, so that's not the issue. The issue is baby-making. When I probed this further, it came out that he'd be OK with having a baby ... with me. No marriage, just the baby.

What is going on here? Isn't a commitment to have a baby an even STRONGER commitment than being in a relationship? The confusing and scary part is that I'm actually thinking about it. Time is running out for me and I have to be realistic that the conventional marriage and children might not be in the cards. He and I are both financially stable. I know that he would be supportive emotionally and financially. But this isn't the way that I imagined my family to be. Should I be worried that I'm just blinded by the prospect of having a baby and that I'm not really looking at the big picture here?

– Blinded By Baby Fever, Quincy

A: You need to ask this guy about 1,000 big-picture questions, BBBF. Maybe more.

You can start with these:

Would you raise this baby as a couple? Would you live together? What prompted this decision? How does he feel about being connected to you for the rest of his life because of this child? Is he really opposed to a relationship -- or just marriage? Why now? Why you? Does he see himself dating other people after you have the kid?

After you get some answers, please tell him what you want when it comes to family. Say it out loud so that you can hear it too. It'll probably go something like, "I want to have a baby with someone who's in love with me and committed to me."

The moment you disclose what you want (in a loud, confident voice), it'll be clear whether he's up for it. And let's face it, he probably won't be up for it. He hasn't been up for much of anything over the past seven years. He'll either admit that he's actually in love with you and just scared to move ahead, or he'll just sit there. My money's on him just sitting there.

I acknowledge that at 34, the clock is ticking. But that doesn't mean that you should procreate with someone who's so passive about big decisions that he just wants to drop birth control and see how it goes.

Base this decision on what you really want, not what's "in the cards." The cards aren't relevant. There's always time to make choices based on what's best for your heart.

Readers? What is he doing? Does he actually want to be with her? How passive is he? Should she consider this option? Is her age an issue? What is happening here? Is she in love with him? What if he says the right things? Should she believe him? Help.

– Meredith

He went to rehab; I read his journal

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 25, 2012 07:58 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

About a year ago, I met a wonderful (or so I thought) man. We'll call him "George." George is 28 and I am 25. I am more physically attracted to George than I ever have been to any other man, and I thought George felt the same about me. From the second we first met, we had a very strong connection and felt incredibly drawn to each other. After a month or so of getting to know each other, we officially began dating. I knew pretty much immediately that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. George initiated almost daily conversations very early on in our relationship about how much he liked me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He made me feel beautiful and loved. I thought we would be engaged after a year or so.

Sounds too perfect, right? Bingo. Just five months into our relationship George admitted that he struggled with prescription drug abuse. At the time, I knew he had a problem, but I did not know the seriousness of his addiction nor did I have any idea just how bad drug withdrawal could be. All I knew was that I really loved this man and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I decided that I would have stood by him if he had grown seriously ill, so I was going to stand by him now.

George started an intensive rehabilitation program and went through drug withdrawal that made him violently ill. I did whatever I could to support him while he was sick -- his laundry, cleaning his house, caring for his dog. I was at every doctor's appointment and went to family support groups with his parents. I didn't even think about doing these things -- I loved him and he needed me.

After two months of this, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I wanted our life to continue happily ever after, but instead our relationship fell apart. He was angry and emotionless. It was as if he wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn't understand why he was acting this way. I contacted the drug rehabilitation program for answers and was told that this behavior is common for newly sober people but should get better with time. I endured three months of this.

I told him multiple times how much his behavior was hurting me, and each time he apologized, assured me he loved me, and said this was all related to his recent sobriety.

I felt like he just didn't love me anymore and I wanted the truth so I could have closure and move on, so I found the notebook that he uses for therapy and read it. Wrong or not, I have to be honest in saying I don't regret it because it gave me the answers I was looking for.

In his notebook he wrote that he is not attracted to my body type (I have a small frame) but feels obligated to me because I was so nice to him during a difficult time, and that he wishes he was more attracted to me because I have everything he's looking for in a woman.

I was completely shocked and never would have guessed that he felt this way. I have to admit that I'm a very attractive girl who receives a lot of attention from guys (having a small chest has never bothered me) and I've never faced rejection. But most of all, I was so disgusted and hurt that after all this time all he can say is that he wants a girl with bigger breasts. With the love we shared (and frankly at our age), I thought we were beyond that. I didn't think I could ever get over what he wrote about me, so I had to end things (and yes, I told him I read his notebook). Now, just a week after our break-up, he's on a dating website.

So Meredith, my question is simple and one that haunts me every day:

What happened? My chest didn't just shrink overnight. Did he even love me and think I was beautiful in the first place, or was I the only one gaga over him? I don't think I'll ever be able to understand it. Despite all that happened, I want to be with him and think about him all the time and I just don't get it. Why would I still want to be with someone like this? I'm sad, ashamed, confused, and feel ugly and rejected by the one person who I want to be with in this world. And for the record, I have never used drugs and would never envision myself dating someone who did.

– So confused in Southie

A: He was physically attracted to you, SCIS. He was drawn to you. Please don't take the breast comment too seriously. People tend to get pickier about their partner's appearance when they're just not into the emotional part of the relationship anymore. It wasn't about your chest. He just wanted a fresh start.

I commend you for being so committed and loyal during George's ordeal, but I have to ask: Why was he your boyfriend? You jumped into this so fast. You say, "I knew pretty much immediately that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with." That doesn't make much sense to me. You found out within a few months of dating him that he had serious problems. Instead of admitting to yourself that you didn't know him well enough to commit, you jumped in deeper.

You're allowed to be smitten with someone and fall hard at first sight, but please don't decide to spend the rest of your life with someone until they've earned it -- and until you know what it's like to be in a normal, drama-free relationship with them. This guy earned very little. He was just magnetic, exciting, and needed you more than he should at five months.

I want you to start giving some of those other guys a chance -- as soon as you can. Date new people without asking big questions.

And promise me that you'll never read a significant other's journal again. It might have helped move this breakup along, but you learned something that you weren't supposed to know -- something that I'm not convinced was very true. Again, he didn't want out of the relationship because of your breasts. He just wanted out.

You fell for a man who couldn't live up to his own hype. Recovering from that kind of relationship is rough. It takes a different kind of detox. Allow yourself to be angry. Remember what life was like before you met George. Let someone new flatter you. It'll feel good and remind you of your reality.

Readers? What happened here? Why did she fall for him? Is it OK that she read his diary? Was it good that she got the truth? Should she have stuck around during the drug issues? Did you notice that she suspected that he had a pill problem before that? Can you give her a pep talk? Help.

– Meredith

Do I tell his wife?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 11, 2012 08:33 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I recently joined a fitness website for support and encouragement with my exercise regime and diet. The site is similar to Facebook; you set up a profile with pictures, you state your fitness goals, and you add people to your friend list.

I'm a single gal and recently ended my engagement with a man who was deceitful. One of the fitness people on the site sent me a message commenting on how young I looked and we started chatting back and forth. It seemed harmless enough -- he was really sweet and fun to chat with. We then exchanged personal emails and cell numbers and began communicating via text and emails.

He's in the military and lives far away, but he mentioned that he was going to be in the area this summer and really wanted to meet me. I was excited, and after numerous phone calls, emails, and texts, I felt fairly safe. Well, come to find out, he's married.

My gut was telling me there was something wrong. For instance, he never called me when he was home (he insisted that he didn't have cell phone service and didn't believe in a land line). I did a little investigative work via the internet and discovered his wife's name, their address, etc.

I immediately sent him a text telling him that I knew he was married, that I felt sorry for his wife, and I made sure to mention her by name to put the fear of God in him. I told him not to contact me again.

Here's the dilemma: Do I contact his wife and tell her? Also, I noticed that he is still on the fitness site probably trolling for innocent women. Do I contact the fitness site customer service and report him? Or do I leave well enough alone and move on?

– Do I out the cheater?, Boston

A: Contact customer service and then move on, DIOTC. You don't know anything about this guy's marriage. You never saw him in person.

Sometimes I recommend outing cheaters to spouses, but in this case there are just too many questions. Protect yourself by walking away from this mess.

I'm so sorry that you had to follow up your broken engagement with this romantic experience. Not everyone is so deceitful. Please remember that this guy was always going to be a placeholder. He lives too far away.

If you're ready to date guys in your zip code, tell your friends. See if you can get to know someone who has been vetted by the people you trust.

Readers? Should she reach out to the wife? Should she contact the site administrator? Is this just part of life when you're on social networking websites? Do you think he really intended to see her?

– Meredith

He won't exercise

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 25, 2012 06:36 AM

Q: Hi Meredith!

My boyfriend and I have been together for a little over 2 years. We are in our mid-to-late 20s, live together, have pets, talk about marriage and kids, but are in no rush to take the plunge ... just enjoying what we have and where we are for now.

When we first started dating, we would go on hikes and other athletic activities together 4 to 5 days a week. I was a runner by hobby and being active was a big part of my life. He enjoyed being active and shared an interest in staying physically fit as well. After we moved in together, it became more and more difficult to get him to join me in the gym or just a walk outside. After a minor running injury last fall, I found myself sitting on the couch with my boyfriend and becoming sedentary. Depression set in and I (and my boyfriend) gained weight. We were both in a rut.

A few months ago, I picked myself up and decided to make a lifestyle change. I'm back into a workout routine where I'm constantly challenged and setting goals. I have a more positive outlook, I'm noticeably happier, and I'm getting back into a body I'm more comfortable in. I'm working on becoming the best me I can be, not just for myself, but for my relationship. I know that only when you are happy with yourself, can you extend that happiness to your partner.

Here's my dilemma: I need to get my boyfriend off the couch. He's still in a rut and I KNOW he was 100x happier when he was physically active (he's told me so). I know his weight gain has bothered him and he often talks about how he used to be healthier and athletic. I've asked him to run, weightlift, elliptical (anything!) with me, but he doesn't want to. I've encouraged him to work out on his own by telling him how much I enjoy a little alone time with my thoughts, but he doesn't want to do that either. We have tons of workout equipment in our apartment, I have a gym membership that allows me to bring a guest, and we live near some beautiful state parks with trails. I don't know what to do. I love him and I'm crazy about him (he can make me laugh like no one else), but I see so much potential in him to be so much happier with himself ... he doesn't get it. Honestly, I don't have a problem with his weight gain. I'm just as attracted to him now as when we first met. It has everything to do with his attitude. He never wants to do anything and he's crabbier more often than he used to be. The most I can convince him to do is occasionally go for a walk, but after less than a mile, he calls it quits.

I'm all for separate interests and individuality, but it's hard to come home after accomplishing a small victory in the gym to my boyfriend who’s only interested in the TV. I'd love to hear about his accomplishments for the day, but other than work, he's not doing anything.

It almost seems like the more I accomplish in my athletic life, the less he wants to hear about it. I mean, I trained for months for an intense team relay race across the state and I couldn't get him to come to watch one of my three legs of the race (and it went right through our town!). He's supportive in other ways, but when he chooses not to be a part of such a big accomplishment like that it really hurts my feelings. He shows almost no interest when I come home after accomplishing a personal best lift or shed a few seconds off of my mile pace, so I've stopped talking about it.

I guess my questions would be: How can I convince my boyfriend to get off the couch and experience things (like he used to)? Am I trying to change someone who doesn't want to be changed, or trying to bring out the best in someone? Should I lay off of him and hope he eventually comes around when he gets sick of being in his rut? Any and all advice is greatly appreciated!

– Running for Help, Mass.

A: Lay off, RFH. I get what you're trying to do, but he wants a girlfriend, not a personal trainer. You can tell him that you're worried about him based on his moods, but please stop trying to get him to run around and then celebrate your athletic accomplishments. I'm sure that he's proud of you, but it's probably tough for him to separate your milestones from his own habits and how you feel about them.

Something tells me that you're more aggressive about exercise this time around and that it's making him feel lonely. You used to like hikes. Then you liked television. Now you're someone who sets new lifting records. He probably wants a happy medium.

My advice is to stop with the exercise talk and ask him out. If he's not doing anything, maybe he wants to go to the movies. Or to the library. Or to a nice restaurant. Maybe you can take one of your gym nights and turn it into a great date night. Prove that you want to spend time with him without training him.

I'm not blaming you for any of this, by the way. It's great that you're active. I just think that he's overwhelmed -- and that he's never going to be the type of guy who's into relay races. I mean, was he ever that guy? Focus on improving the time you spend together without connecting your activities to weight loss. Understand that watching TV with someone can actually be a really great way to bond. Maybe if you drop the issue for a while he'll find exercise on his own terms, without an audience.

Readers? Is it so terrible that he watches TV every night? Is she too obsessed with working on her fitness? Should she drop the subject or should she be worried about him? What should she do? Help.

– Meredith

Dating a recovering addict

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 7, 2012 08:31 AM

It's chat day.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I met my most recent boyfriend (now ex) at church. He's an alcoholic/addict. We're in our mid-20s. When I first met him, he was smoking pot (more and more as time progressed) and drinking a lot. We slept together the first time we hung out. In the beginning, we were happy and had fun, although I always noticed he seemed unable to have reciprocal conversations. About six months into our relationship, he decided to get sober again, but declined to go to AA or NA meetings. He took on more things in his life (music, school) and had less and less time and mental space for me, as well as himself. We were together for more than a year.

I recently expressed my issues with his inability to be present and engage me in conversation, as well as his lack of time to spend with me. He felt attacked, got defensive, and broke up with me a few days later. He told me that unless I could accept who he is and think of a way to move forward, he felt that we were out of options to continue our relationship.

Then last night we went for a walk. He told me that he wants to make time for me and for himself. That he realizes now that he is just dry and the things I've been wanting in him (and him for himself) occur naturally when he is in a program. He apologized for blaming everything on me and explained that he is now seeing that he was just being stubborn, and the things I wanted were not hard for him to provide. He said he wanted to cut down on his involvements so he can have a personal life again (he literally spends all of his free time doing homework and music). I told him I wasn't sure, that he broke my heart and I don't know if I should compromise on my needs from a partner.

I told him that I wasn't totally closed off to the idea of seeing how he is when he's in a program. We wound up being intimate that night and were both confused afterwards. He kept asking what it meant, and feeling scared that he had ruined his chance of being with me. I'm feeling a little foolish, unsure of where my desire to be with him is coming from. Would it be totally ridiculous to see if this could work?

– Confused in Arizona

A: It sounds like your ex has a lot of potential and that he's working hard to create a better life for himself, CIA, but I'm not so sure about what's going on in your head.

What drew you to him in the first place? What compelled you to stick around when you realized there were problems? Did you feel obligated to stay? Or was it something more?

Rather than focusing on this guy's habits, I want you to focus on you. See a (say it with me everybody) therapist and talk about what comes next in your life, with or without him. I don't know enough about your past to make guesses about why you were with someone who wasn't capable of "reciprocal conversations," but something tells me that it's been easier for you to worry about him than it's been to focus on yourself.

While you figure this out, please be honest with him. Tell him that you don't know what you're doing and that this isn't just about whether he can cut it as a boyfriend. You're not sure about your own motives and you're also in a period of self-discovery.

He's learning how to have a personal life without succumbing to temptation. You're learning about why you need a partner, how you choose one, and what fills your life. For now, I'd put this whole thing on hiatus -- not because I think he's going to relapse, but because you both need to sort out your motivation for being with each other and what you want and need as individuals. Take some space.

Readers? Am I right to say that this is just as much about her as it is about him? He's in a program now and seems quite motivated, so should she stick around to see how it goes? What's happening here? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's a dud in the bedroom

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 29, 2012 08:42 AM

Happy Leap Day.
We have an extra day this month, so shouldn't we have an extra letter?
We won't chat today, but check back at 1 p.m. for a link (right here) to a Leap Letter.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've been dating my boyfriend for a little more than a year and a half. He's 33; I'm 27. We were casual acquaintances for about two years before we started dating, and are fairly serious now. I love him for many reasons, including his sense of humor, his love of sports, his intelligence, his love of dogs, his sociable and extroverted nature, and his unconditional support of me in whatever endeavor I've undertaken. However (and of course there is a however), he is terrible in bed. Our sex life is an absolute dud.

It was incredibly underwhelming right from the start, but he had enough good qualities for me to want to work through this issue. He is a former frat boy and spent his college (and post-college) years with a variety of ladies who he obviously did not try to please. Before me, as he admitted himself, his standard operating procedure was to take, take, take, not give. I told him the status quo was not going to cut it with me, and he has since tried very hard to be a giving partner. At first he complained a lot about back pain, and he blamed that for why our sex life had to be very simple. But then he and I got to exercising together, and dropped a significant amount of weight. His performance got significantly better for months, but the last couple have seen us right back where we started. He's been blaming back/hip/leg pain for his inability to perform, or whatever other physical excuse he can find, and it's making me feel awful. He plays a competitive sport a few times a week and he runs regularly with me, but nothing changes in the bedroom.

I feel ugly and undesirable most of the time we are intimate because I'm not getting what I need from him in this setting, and no matter how many conversations we have about it (outside of the bedroom, usually, when things are calm and there's no pressure to perform at hand), no lasting changes have been made. I'm tired of breaking down in tears after yet another failed attempt, and this is becoming a deal-breaker. I don't know how to fix it. I am out of ideas. Please help.

– Tears in the Bedroom

A: There are many variations of "simple," TITB. Try to figure out other ways that "simple" can work for both of you. I mean, I can't run on pavement or flat surfaces for more than a few minutes, but that doesn't mean I have to stick to the elliptical machine at the gym. I can also do that stair climber machine, and I can walk at an incline on a treadmill. I can also do the elliptical machine backwards without aggravating with my shin splits. Catch my drift?

I'm sure that a sex therapist would have a lot to say about this, but as a brain-focused person, I'm mostly worried about your self-esteem, his apathy, and what the bedroom issue means about your relationship. So much of great physical intimacy is about eye contact, emotional bonding, and the ability to be playful with a partner. It sounds like you're missing some of that big stuff, and maybe not just in the bedroom.

As you try to redefine "simple," please spend some time thinking about whether you feel intimacy in your daily emotional life. Yes, he's a great guy with a dog and a sense of humor, but is there real chemistry in your relationship? Is there a romantic, intimate bond? Or is he basically a fantastic friend who signed on to be your boyfriend? Something tells me that the tears are about the big picture. Please take some time to think about all of it before you decide what counts as a deal-breaker.

Readers? It sounds like she's already approached this guy about their bedroom problems in a thoughtful way. What else can she do? And what's the other side of the story here? Is this just about their sex life? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's obsessed with work

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 21, 2012 08:16 AM

A reminder: All college students (not just BU people) are invited to tonight's event at Boston University.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been in a relationship for more than a year. We love each other very much and I can picture myself marrying him someday. But recently we had a problem. One of my family members passed away, and he couldn't come to the funeral to support me because he was having an anxiety attack about missing work. This need to work is something that has bothered me the entire time I have been with him. My worry is that he cares more about work than me. He says that he doesn't, that he loves me more, and that I am more important than anything. But he just can't be happy unless he completes his work. He is impossibly stressed and distracted, not to mention the occasional anxiety attacks.

I don't want him to be unhappy or stressed, but at the same time, I feel neglected. His response when I talked to him was along the lines of "well this is me and you are just going to have to accept it." He is a kind and gentle person that treats me well, except when it comes to this. I am at a loss. I love him and even the thought of being without him is almost too much to bear. But I don't want to be unhappy for the rest of my life. And most of all, I am terrified that when something like that happens again, the one person I depend on won't be there to help me.

– Holdingontolove, New York

A: I'm sitting here trying to decide what he does for a living and whether there's any profession that excuses this type of abandonment. Because even the president takes time off for funerals. Even international pop stars cancel tours for family emergencies.

He's telling you that you have to accept this obsessive part of him but you don't, of course. You need someone who can finish his work and come home to you without becoming an anxious, resentful mess.

If he admitted that he has a problem -- that he's obsessed with work and needs to be treated for anxiety attacks -- I'd be more hopeful about this relationship. But he's not self-aware about any of this and it's making you miserable.

My advice is to ask him how he defines his work-related anxiety. Does he plan to be this way forever? Does he want to get help? Can he acknowledge that he left you alone during a time of need? How did he feel when he was at work and he knew that you were alone at a funeral? Will there ever be room for compromise?

If he sticks to the "this is me" routine, you can't continue the relationship. You say that you're terrified. That's no way to be. He either wants to make this better or he doesn't.

Readers? Is there any job out there that excuses this behavior? Have you ever dated someone who's work obsessed? Is this a problem that’s related to the economy? Can their relationship be fixed? What should she ask/tell him? Discuss.

– Meredith

Sex after 'the change'

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 16, 2012 08:28 AM

This letter writer didn't tell me where he's from. So let's just picture him living in ... Jamaica Plain.

Please keep your comments respectful -- and PG.

And as for updates on letters in the comments section -- don't assume they're real until I verify them. And letter writers, if you have an update, email me (from your original email address) to let me know that it's really you.

Q: Meredith, here's one I don't remember seeing addressed.

I love my girlfriend of many years, we get along great, she's low maintenance, and we've cohabitated for many years (she's older than me). No problem there! In that time, however, she went through the change of life. I thought, no more birth control, great! But it was so much more. While she's just as loving a person as ever, the entire sexual tension aspect is just gone! She'll still be intimate and enjoy it (when I start it), but the buildup, the teasing, and the sex drive in general is gone.

And the smells are different too, in a bad way, making certain things we used to do (and enjoy) rather unpleasant. While I'd never hurt her, I now can understand why men go for younger women. You'd have to have a pretty golden relationship to survive this. What can I do to reconcile myself to this new reality? I'm not ready to be this old!

Thank you.

– The Big Change

A: I know you're upset, TBC, but there are so many wonderful things about your letter. You love this woman. You want her to be hot for you. You've had a fantastic sex life for years. Even now, as she's coping with a major biological change, you guys are working to be intimate. You have a lovely foundation here. Have faith in it, and consider this an adjustment period, not your new reality.

Go see a doctor. With her. Because you need to find out what's going on and whether there's anything you can do to make it better. The pharmaceutical industry has put a great deal of effort into developing pills that make us want to get it on (and maybe even smell right). Go find out what your options are and whether all of these changes have to be permanent.

I want you to know that menopause isn't the only thing that can mess up your sex life. Many people will tell you that their libido changed after having kids. For all you know, your own sex drive has changed over the years in small ways that have affected your girlfriend. No matter what we do, our bodies are always in flux. Finding a younger girlfriend doesn't prevent these issues.

I empathize. This is all scary, weird, and uncomfortable. The good news is that you're in love with your girlfriend, you can be honest with her, and there are doctors who specialize in this kind of thing. Hang in there, and start getting some answers.

Readers? Is this why people find younger partners? Have you gone through a similar situation? What should he do? How can he cope with feeling older because of his partner? Help.

– Meredith

When he's bad, he's awful

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 10, 2012 07:46 AM

"Cruel Intentions" stars at 8. Be there or be Selma Blair. Get your tickets here.

(And yes, we will be playing the drinking game that I've created with your help on Twitter.)

Q: Hi Meredith (and commenters),

I have been in a relationship for almost 1.5 years with a good-hearted guy that I'm in love with. We're both in our mid-20s. We have been through a lot together, and we live together. We have a lot in common and I can see a bright, loving future with him.

We have occasional to frequent issues. When things are good, they're great. When they're bad, they’re awful. He has a hard time trusting me. I think it has a lot to do with his past. His parents had him very young and they only stayed together for about a year after he was born. They did not show him a lot of genuine affection and care growing up, and he did not have a stable life. He also has had bad relationships, where the girlfriend betrayed him emotionally, physically, and even financially (which I understand, but most people deal with at least one bad relationship experience). When something goes a little sour with us, he overreacts. He also assumes the worst about me -- that I'm lying about being faithful, and he seems to expect to find out negative things about me. He will have outbursts where he is mean and irrational. He has also recently been feeling very depressed.

He is an emotional person, and I knew that from the get-go. But I don't feel that I deserve any of his skepticism. I have been nothing but honest and trustworthy in our relationship. I have worked very hard to make things work in our relationship. I tolerate a lot of his doubts and reassure him when he asks about things (although now I doubt whether I should have kept doing so after a certain point). I pick my battles, walk away when I see we need to cool off, and I also took my current job in order to afford an apartment together (it's not my ideal job).

I have suggested therapy, but he refuses. I suggested other methods to try to feel better, but he ignores me or says I'm pushing him. He hasn't tried anything to overcome his negative feelings, lack of trust, or depression. I know it's beyond my control, but I'm starting to feel helpless. I can't understand why he’s letting this continue when it's harming our relationship. I don't know what else to do. I have thought about breaking things off, but I can't stand the thought of being without him. What do I do?

– Helpless in the Hub, Boston

A: I understand that you already live with your boyfriend, HITH, but at 1.5 years you're still getting to know each other. And you've just learned something important -- that when your boyfriend has a problem that affects both of you, he won't seek out help.

My advice is to go to therapy yourself so that you have a safe place where you can make decisions. Your boyfriend will also see that you're taking your own advice. Ask him to come to your therapist -- as a guest -- and see if he calls that "pushing."

At 1.5 years you're hoping for promises of longer commitments, happiness, more love, etc., but that's not what you're getting. How long will you feel safe in this relationship?

If he won't work on himself, you're going to have to let go -- because the bad stuff is outweighing the good. Get to therapy and see if he follows your lead. If he doesn't and continues this, then you have to walk away. You’re doing too much and he's just not doing anything.

Readers? I imagine that there are many wonderful things about this relationship that we're not hearing, but do these negatives outweigh everything? Is she "pushing" him? What can you do about a partner who won't get help? Discuss.

– Meredith

Men and strip clubs

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 7, 2012 08:25 AM

Buy your tickets to Friday's screening of "Cruel Intentions." Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there to answer questions about this film and why it's so darn sexy. You can also enter this contest to have a free dinner with us.

Also, the woman who wrote this letter did not say "ice cream cones," but I'm keeping it PG. Please keep it PG.

And let's try to keep that off-topic stuff in the message boards (the champagne rooms) -- or save it for late in the day. I don't mind conversation, but these letters deserve some undivided attention.

Q: My fiancé of 3+ years is planning a vacation with his buddies/co-workers to Atlantic City. I asked if I could come along, since we had been talking about planning a similar trip. When he said it was an all-guys trip, I brushed it off until he mentioned that a woman, who happens to be a lesbian, is also attending. This raised a flag to me because I instinctively know what this means: strip clubs. When I asked why she was allowed to go, his response was, "Well, she's not gonna mind if I have [ice cream cones] in my face."

Keep in mind that his friends either have been married for a while or are single. Now I know that it is in every man's DNA to want to see a naked woman, but I can't help but be bothered by this. I am not sure if it's because we were trying to plan a trip like this for the two of us and now he's decided to go with his male friends, or if I'm just bothered that his sole purpose for going is for a strip club.

Regardless, I am bothered by the fact that his whole weekend will be spent blowing money at strip clubs -- money that we're trying desperately to save for a house and a wedding. I never thought of myself as a jealous person, but now that I am faced with this issue, I am beginning to think that's exactly what I am.

It's not that I think he's going to cheat, but cheating for a male means different things than for a female. If I knew that he was [looking at ice cream cones] and was very [close to sampling ice cream cones], I would be extremely upset. The counter-argument I brought up was, "If you found out I had my hands or face in some guy's [ice cream cones], you would be upset too."

Knowing that men go to strip clubs to see beautifully-sculpted naked women (and pay them to be their eye candy) makes me resentful that he isn't satisfied with what he has at home. I will give myself credit and say that I am a stunning young woman, who could stand to lose a few pounds, but nevertheless I am very good-looking and like to make my man happy.

Is this irrational? Am I crazy to get so upset by this, and do I just have to let it go? Or do I have a right to voice my concerns without seeming like a nagging girlfriend who can't let her man go to a strip club for a weekend. I know that telling/asking him not to go will only make him resentful and want to do it even more in the long run, but I won't be able to sleep the whole weekend he's gone, and I probably won't be able to get bad thoughts out of my head. I also probably wouldn't be able to look at or touch him knowing where he's been.

I just need some guidance from some rational men and women, in healthy, long-term relationships who have faced similar situations. Why do men feel the need to touch and look at other women, when they have their own beautiful women at home?! Who they don't have to pay...

– ConfusedAboutMen, Medford

A: I get a lot of letters from people who want to know how I feel about strip clubs, and, well, my answer is too complicated to stick into a simple Q&A.

But I can tell you that the people who write in about strip club issues often have other big problems in their relationships. If your guy was doing a good job of saving money for the wedding, would you be as upset about this trip? If he gave a more respectful, loving answer to your question about the vacation, would you be so focused on the strip club? Are you really jealous about what he'll do with these women -- or is this about your fiancé's priorities?

It seems to me that after a 3.5-year engagement, you're feeling a bit forgotten. I mean, even if the "ice cream cones in my face" thing was a joke, you were obviously upset. He could have comforted you and made you feel safe. He could have discussed boundaries for the trip.

My advice is to take the strip club thing off the table so that you can clear your head. Think (and talk) about the stuff that bothers you on a daily basis. Those are the issues that are worth your attention. And feel free to tell him how you define cheating. He should be open to (and expect) that kind of conversation before this trip.

Readers? Thoughts on strip clubs and cheating? Is this really about the strip club? Am I wrong to say that she'd be more comfortable with the trip if he were better on a day-to-day basis? Discuss.

– Meredith

Coping with my parents' crumbling marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 11, 2012 06:45 AM

We chat at 1 today.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm writing to you and the LL readers about a bit of a different issue today: my parents' marriage. For some background, my parents have been married for more than 20 years and have my little sister, who's in her teens, and me (I'm in my 20s).

My parents have never had a particularly happy marriage due in large part to their different personalities and communication styles. My mom is Type A and has a "my way or the highway" approach to communication. My dad is much more laissez-faire but completely lacks the capacity to communicate. I do not think they love one another.

In the past, my parents would go through ups and downs but generally it was mostly peaceful in our house. Recently, however, my younger sister has experienced some serious psychological issues, and this has sent my parents over the edge. They can't have a conversation about my sister or her treatment (she's in therapy, meds, the whole nine yards) without it turning into a power struggle over who's at fault for the recent situation. I no longer live at home but have been put in the position of playing the moderator between my parents because they can no longer communicate with each other.

The constant fighting is driving me crazy and I believe it gets in the way of what is most important: my sister's health. I'm fairly certain that my mom at least wants to get a divorce but doesn't want to rock the boat until my sister is better. Counseling is also not an option -- my dad doesn't believe in the "mental health system" and getting my sister into treatment was hard enough.

I guess my question is this: How can I best mediate the situation so that my sister is the focus? I'm not looking to "fix" my parents' relationship; I'm only looking to help them tolerate each other until my sister is better and off to college. I have voiced my feelings/opinions to both parents numerous times without much success.

Any insight would be much appreciated.

– My Parents Need to Get Along, Boston

A: You're right, MPNTGA, this isn't a typical love letter. In fact, it barely fits under our LL umbrella. But I want to discuss it because for whatever reason, I'm getting a lot of letters from readers coping with other people's messy relationships. In your case, you're the kid so it's extra complicated.

My advice is to stop trying to mediate. You can't. All you can do is tell your parents how you feel in the moment. As in, "I understand that you're upset right now, but this arguing is making me anxious. Can we move on to the next topic of conversation?" Or, "Mom, I understand that you want me to call Dad on your behalf, but I'm not comfortable with that."

Spend your energy being there for your sister by making her laugh, visiting as much as you can, and helping her define what she sees happening in front of her. You can say, "Yes, they're fighting, but as we both know, this tension predates us. They just want you to feel better."

Of course, I'd love it if they went to therapy, separately and together. I'd love it if they found a support group for parents dealing with the same issues. But ... they're not going to, right? They're not asking you what they can do to get along and cope with this mess.

Your parents might actually learn something by watching how you deal with the situation. So focus on your sister. Focus on you. No one (not even me) has the ability to fix a couple's communication problems, especially if the couple isn't asking for help. All we can do is set boundaries about what we'll put up with as spectators.

Readers? Should she be trying to mediate? How can she help her parents help her sister? Can you help a couple get along (or break up) if no one is asking for guidance? Help.

– Meredith

I've been cut off

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 14, 2011 07:03 AM

Chat day.

Q: I'm in my mid-20s and I recently ended my relationship with my girlfriend of six years. We lived together for several years but I recently moved to another state for work. There were problems outside of distance. I felt like I carried the entire relationship.

I'm ashamed to admit that before we broke up I cheated. My work sent me to another city (4 hours a way) for the month and I met someone who was also in a long relationship. We just clicked instantly and I've never had that sensation before. It started out as something physical, but it very quickly became something more. She told me she loved me and I said the same back. She said she's never felt this way about someone and that I taught her what it means to truly be in love. She said that I am the first person who's made her feel like part of a team and that I'm the first person she's ever liked cuddling with. We became very emotionally attached. I left town and we continued talking on the phone and texting daily. She even came up to visit and said she saw us having a future together.

I realized I needed to break up with my girlfriend -- I had been with the other woman for a month and my relationship was clearly over. The day before I was going to break up, this other woman phoned and said she was pregnant. She decided to end the pregnancy (a decision I agreed with) and I put my feelings aside to help her in any way I could. We still talked about how much we loved and cared for each other even while dealing with the pregnancy.

When this happened we both ended our respected relationships. It was difficult and she had a hard time dealing with the infidelity on her part. We talked a bit about what was going to happen next with us and she was confused and said she needed time but that she loved me so much. A week after the abortion she called and said that we shouldn't talk and that we both needed to move on. She said that I only reminded her of what happened and what we had before meant nothing. She said I have honestly never felt this way about anyone before, but all I represented was the abortion.

I am having such a hard time accepting this. I am really confused that over the course of two weeks I could go from the love of someone's life to meaning absolutely nothing to them. The pregnancy and the abortion were hard on me and I will never know what it must have been like for her, but I still love this person dearly and still see a future with her. I don't want to just jump into another relationship, but I feel like I shared a lot (albeit briefly) with this other woman and wish we could communicate and work through this. I don't know why she just completely gave up on me and wants me totally out of her life.

– Sorry for the long letter, Massachusetts

A: You can't control her decisions, SFTLL, but you need to understand that that you don't suddenly mean "nothing" to her. In fact, you mean plenty -- which is why she doesn't want to look at you. You symbolize the good and the terrible. You symbolize infidelity, the end of a pregnancy, and life-changing intimacy that came out of nowhere. You symbolize the end of a long relationship. Most of all, you symbolize confusion.

You can tell her (via email) that you hope she changes her mind. You can tell her that you're confused too but that you're willing to process what's happened to both of you while continuing to get to know her. You can tell her that you don't want to overwhelm her but that you’d like to stick around so that you can enjoy all that you experienced before the pregnancy. You can also tell her that you could both use some therapy after all of the confusion.

If she bites and wants to talk more, that's great. If she doesn’t, there's nothing you can do. For all you know she's back with the ex, and if she truly wants you gone, you have to go away and start dealing with the loss. And while you're at it, give yourself some time to mourn your ex. You never had the time to think about the end of your long relationship. Take some space. You need it just as much as she does.

Readers? What should he do? Should he be alone right now? What should he tell this woman? How can he process this? When should he reach out? Help.

– Meredith

I've moved on with his friend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 13, 2011 08:46 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

Almost a year ago, the man I lived with for many years passed away tragically. During the last few years that we shared a bed together, we were more like best friends sleeping side by side, having no sexual contact besides hugs and cuddling. We were best friends, however, and every part of the life we lived was together. We were extremely close with each other's families and friends, and I received an overwhelming amount of support after his passing, and still do.

One friend in particular has been an ongoing and consistent source of peace of mind for me. He has talked me out of some of my worst thoughts and lowest points, simultaneously managing to bring back happiness. Our friendship eventually escalated and we became physical. We have a mutual friend who is aware and supportive, but other than that no one else knows. We spend a few nights a week together and I find myself counting down the days until our next date.

Originally we had both decided that it would be best if no one else knew of our situation. On my end, I didn't want to hurt my late partner's family members who might not think enough time had passed. Meanwhile, he worries about what his friends will think. As we approach a new year and my early 30s seem to be flying by, I am beginning to want more out of this and have started dropping hints. I had avoided the sit down conversation until now because I have been so happy with our situation and didn't want to change the dynamics. Despite my hints, he has demonstrated that he is more comfortable keeping us under wraps.

I am challenged with the idea that as long as we stay under wraps, he is able to avoid a commitment, although he has openly said that he is not dating or sleeping with anyone else. At this point, do you think it is healthier for us to just break ties? I wouldn't betray his trust and let it slip out to our group of friends, yet I don’t want to end up in another unconventional relationship. What do you think?

– Going With the Flow, Boston

A: GWTF, have you asked him if he ever plans on telling anyone? Have you asked him whether he sees this as something that will continue? Have you asked the one friend who knows about your situation what this looks like from the outside?

It's time to ask. No more dropping hints. Just explain that you have enough going on in your head without having to keep secrets. His fear of going public is understandable but you can't continue like this for much longer. And he shouldn't be lying to his friends.

Have the talk and figure out whether his secrecy is about guilt or a fear of commitment. My guess is that it's both. My guess is that he's worried about what his friends will think, and that he doesn't know how to deal with the fact that dating you is anything but casual.

It's not uncommon for people to wind up dating the friends of their deceased former partners. There's a shared loss, a strong history, and often, it winds up being a great thing. But these relationships can be confusing. Obviously.

Right now, you need to take care of you. Tell him that while the secrets were understandable in the beginning, they can't continue. Assure him that dating you publicly doesn't mean that you have to stay together forever -- it just means that you're seeing how it works. That's all he has to tell his friends. (And trust me, they want you both to be happy.) If he needs help figuring out what to say to his community, you can take him to a grief counselor for help. That's what they're for.

If he doesn't want anything to do with you out in the open, you need to start making connections and finding new outlets for support. You said it best -- your early 30s are flying by. You want love. I don't want you to keep falling harder for this guy if he's not going to let you enjoy him.

Readers? Is his hesitation understandable? Will his friends be upset? Is this about loss or commitment issues? Discuss.

– Meredith

Dealing with a depressed partner

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 1, 2011 08:19 AM

It was a good chat yesterday.

In other news, information has been posted about the next Love Letters contest/event. Please sign up for the Dec. 15 reading and party. It's all about missed connections.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am a 30-year-old woman who has been married before. My ex-husband was obsessed with video games and basically chose to play them instead of spending any time with me. A few years ago I finally got a divorce and left the situation.

After going on dates here and there, I eventually met my current boyfriend, "Jay," through mutual friends and I felt instantly attracted to him. We started dating and have been together for over two years now. Things have been up and down. We've briefly split up a few times, but things have been great lately and I love him more than anything.

Here comes the problem: We both struggle with depression. Mine is seasonal, while his is sporadic and seems to be more severe. He tends to go through fits of depression where he will sleep all the time. Lately he's been sleeping or playing video games instead of wanting to spend time with me. The problem is that he doesn't realize that it's as bad as it is. When I've gotten upset and said that I feel like I haven't spent much time with him, he thinks I'm being over-dramatic. The other problem is that he hasn't been as attracted to me as he was just a few months ago. He says it's just because he's depressed, but yesterday he said that it's because he's bored with me and doesn't feel like being physical. I asked him if it would always be this way -- because I can't live like that ... so now I'm at an impasse.

At what point does me being understanding and wanting to wait it out through this fit of depression turn into me being a doormat and letting him walk all over me? It's genuinely wearing on me and now I am feeling depressed as well. I love him more than anything and always want to be with him in the future, but is there a future if he doesn't even want to sleep with me anymore?

– Beyond Depressed, Boston

A: BD, you asked him whether it would always be this way. Well …. what was his answer? Is he concerned about these feelings of apathy? Is he seeking treatment for this depression? Is he doing what's necessary to save this relationship? Does he want you around in a year?

Sorry to pepper you with questions, but you should be asking him (and yourself) about all of these issues. I believe that most couples can get through lulls bad patches, but both partners have to put in the effort. You learned in your first marriage that you can't fix a relationship on your own. If Jay isn't willing to help with this, you're doomed.

The big question for Jay is: "What do you propose we do now?" He knows that you can't stay together without having a sexual relationship. He knows that you're unhappy when he's off napping. He either wants to work on finding a compromise and fixing this (which calls for therapy – maybe even with you), or he's willing to let you go.

Get some answers. See what he's capable of. Be honest with yourself about how much you can get done on your own. You can't wait out bad patches for the rest of your life. Depression has to be treated -- yours and his. Are you both getting the treatment and help you need?

Readers? Is this fixable? Should she just leave now? Anyone have advice about dealing with a depressed partner? What's with the video games? Discuss.

– Meredith

My wife stinks

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 11, 2011 08:15 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

My wife has been on a health kick for the last year or so. She regularly goes to the gym and watches what she eats. She looks great and feels good about herself. So what's wrong? She stinks!

Yes, she smells, and not from lack of showers but from the food she eats. In the last year, she has gone from vegetarian to vegan. She is eating a lot of organic foods, greens, soups, etc...

Normally, I would tell her to stop eating things with garlic, as that was my first thought. But even now I find other foods without garlic make her stink.

She does not smell it on her so she is not concerned.

It is a huge issue for me because I no longer want to be intimate with my wife. I don't even want to be in the same room as her when she gives off this aroma. And this especially applies to the bedroom because then she is right next to me and there is no escaping it. I have tried things like going to bed earlier so I'm asleep by the time she stinks up the room. Sometimes the smell is so bad I have to leave and sleep in our guest room.

I know I do probably have a more sensitive nose than others as I'm usually the 1st person at work who yells out when someone starts cooking fish. But this is a deal-breaker for me. I feel like I have a roommate living with me rather than a loving wife.

I feel like I'm ready to walk but wonder what advice you can give me before I make this decision.

– GrossedOutHubby, Boston

A: You have to be 100 percent honest, GOH. Not mean, but honest. You have to tell her that the smell issue is beginning to kill some very important parts of your marriage. Tell her that you're scared. That should disarm her.

Frankly, your sensitive nose might be picking up something important. Perhaps she's eating too much of one thing. Perhaps she isn't getting enough protein. If she's concerned about her health, she's going to want to see a nutritionist about this smell to find out whether the odor is a symptom of a greater problem. You can even offer to go to the doctor with her to help describe the scent.

One thing to know: Even if she's empathetic, goes straight to a nutritionist, and begins experimenting to find out what makes her smell better/worse, this is going to take a while. My advice is to have as many outings as possible in places where scent isn't so important. Like a big, crowded restaurant.

If she refuses to address the smell issue and tells you that this is your problem, this is no longer about the odor; it's about her health kick trumping your marriage. At that point, you have every reason to ask her to go into therapy with you to talk about how to prioritize the individual without losing sight of the partnership.

But you're not there yet. Start with real honesty (and some compliments about she used to smell) and a trip to the nutritionist. And yes, once you have this talk, you're allowed to kiss her good night and camp out in the guest room. At least for now. No one's going to be happy if you spend the night tossing and turning.

Readers? How do you tell a partner that they stink? What if she refuses to deal with this? Anyone vegan? How important is a partner's familiar smell in a relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

Dating with a chronic illness

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 7, 2011 09:00 AM

Q: Hello Meredith (and all you lovely LL readers)!

I have been struggling with this situation for some time and I thought it might help if I gained some perspective.

I have been dealing with a very painful, chronic medical condition that has dominated my life for the past five years. Without going into the boring details I can tell you that this condition is not life threatening (for which I am very very grateful) but does require occasional rounds of IV drug therapy. I also deal with moderate to severe pain on a daily basis, which can be difficult at times but I am much better at handling it than I used to be. To say that this illness has changed my life would be an understatement. It has virtually transformed my outlook on life to be more positive and open to change.

Despite these personal epiphanies, I find I have a blind spot in regards to the dating world. During the first two years of my illness I dated a close friend. It got fairly serious but we weren't meant to be (and it didn't end well). Aside from our other issues, I knew then that my illness put a lot of pressure on the relationship and it was very difficult for my partner to deal with it. This knowledge has become a roadblock during my various dating attempts since my last relationship. When I meet someone I am interested in, I feel very guilty and overwhelmed by the idea that my illness is too much of a burden to ask this nice, unsuspecting guy to take on. I also begin to worry about how and when to disclose this personal information. It is difficult for the subject to come up organically in conversation, aside from asking "Have you heard any interesting medical stories lately? Well, I have this thing..." Usually, I become so stressed I immediately stop any attempt to pursue a relationship with said guy.

I know that I talk a big game about being positive and being open to change when deep down I am afraid. I have witnessed the impact of my health on the people I love and I want to spare others the pain of not being able to 'fix' my situation. My illness is always going to be in the picture, and there is no simple 'cure.' My fear of becoming a burden leads me to choose to be alone and it makes me sad. How should I approach dating in regards to my health? Should I stop dating altogether? I would like to be able to share myself with someone despite all my health-related baggage.

– Suffering From Chronic Fear in California

A: Don't stop dating, SFCFIC. And don't ever say, "Well, I have this thing." This doesn't have to be a solemn disclosure.

We're all difficult to date for one reason or another. Those who are always healthy might not appreciate life like you do. Maybe, unlike other people, you come to the table without mean parents, self-esteem issues, or a career that will take you away from your personal life. I mean, you're an emotionally present person who's self-sufficient despite your illness. You said it best: "It has virtually transformed my outlook on life to be more positive and open to change." I mean, how many people can actually say that about themselves?

I don't want to make you roll your eyes by telling you that everything's peachy and that everyone is open to dating someone with a chronic illness, but I do think that many people would be into you. There are some truly negative and healthy people out there who have rendered themselves undateable just because they have a bad attitude. You sound like a fantastic potential partner.

My advice? Re-frame the importance of this illness in your own brain and then disclose it like you would anything else. As in, "I like hiking, biking, hanging out with my friends, and I'm strangely resilient because I've learned to deal with a chronic illness. You'll never catch me whining about little things." All of that's true, right?

I get this question a lot from people with illnesses -- and from people who are recently divorced. They often assume that their bad experience is the first and only thing that prospective partners will notice about them. But I assure you that the rest of the world sees the entire package.

You're not asking anyone to "take you on." You're not looking to be someone's burden. You're asking nice people to hang out with you and date you. They should be so lucky.

Readers? How do you date with a chronic illness? Would you date someone who's dealing with this kind of thing all of the time? How does the LW bring up the problem? Discuss.

– Meredith

Do I wait out his marriage?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 3, 2011 08:38 AM

Q: I've been friends with "Matt" for about seven years. From day one I felt instantly connected to him. During our first conversation we realized we had one very important thing in common -- surviving the same illness.

Initially, we met, exchanged emails, and hung out a couple times. I started to think, "Hey, this has the potential to go somewhere." And then I met his WIFE and KIDS. So I threw on the emergency brake. I no longer was in the pursuing mode and quickly retreated into friend zone. Only there was one big problem. I had already fallen head over heels for this guy.

Over some time, I tried distancing myself from him and was even in a relationship for a couple of years, but fate (our mutual love for sports) brought us back together ... as friends. The friendship was great. I enjoyed having him in my life. He made me feel completely at ease. Completely myself. Completely safe. Completely happy. We’ve been like that for years.

Which brings us to the present. "Matt" is fighting with his wife all the time. He is not happy. He talks about leaving her because he truly thinks the environment is unhealthy for him. He comes to me to release his frustrations and sit peacefully, watching the game, without any nagging interruptions. Meanwhile, his wife does consider me a friend.

I know that I should not offer much advice to him because my opinion is biased. I know that I should just let him talk and get it out, and just be there for him as a friend. But I'm conflicted. I think there's a possibility that I could love this man -- and have loved him for many years. Because of this, any opinion I could offer would have an ulterior motive.

In any other situation with any other guy, I have always told them how I felt. If the feelings weren't shared, I moved on. Simple. I want to do that now. I want to know if I should just move on. I don't know that I would be able to be with someone else completely until I know if "Matt" and I had a chance. I also know that I can't or shouldn't get involved because he's married. So, in the meantime, I just wait ... and hope ... and pray that the stars align and he somehow gets magic mind reading abilities to hear what is going on in my mind and in my heart.

What should I do? Do I tell him how I feel? Do I just be his friend forever and enjoy what we have (always wondering "what if")? I'm barely surviving over here ...

– Barely Surviving, Great Lakes

A: You have to tell him, BS. Otherwise, you might wind up watching TV with him for years.

He's your friend, so when you talk to him, you can give him the entire story. You can tell him that you've had feelings for him for a long time but that you were able to control them. Now that he's mentioning marital problems, your head is a mess. You don't feel comfortable giving him advice. You don't feel comfortable being his sounding board. You're sitting on the couch next to him with your fingers crossed. It doesn't feel good.

No matter what happens, you are not allowed to get physical with him while he's married. If you tell him how you feel and he leans in for a meaningful kiss, you must push him away. And you must set boundaries. Maybe you should only be seeing each other in a group. Maybe (probably), during this marital turbulence, you shouldn't be seeing him at all. Maybe you won't want to see him anymore after you hear his response to your feelings.

After you force the issue, you have to get your brain open to the idea of dating other people. Matt might give you a big "maybe someday" speech, but that's not good enough. You can't spend your nights watching him watch games.

You say that he makes you feel completely safe and happy. But how safe and happy can you be if you signed this letter "Barely Surviving"?

Readers? Any chance she'll wind up with this guy? Should she wind up with him? Should she stay silent and simply cut him off so that she doesn't get involved or tempt him? Should she confess her feelings? Help.

– Meredith

Sick of being a caregiver

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 26, 2011 08:41 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

"Jack" and I have been together for years. We are in our mid-twenties and met during college. We were on and off a couple of times during school but have been going strong for five years. He is the love of my life, best friend, confidant and savior, and I couldn't imagine being with anyone else. A few years ago, he battled with addiction and depression. After that, he dealt with some family tragedies. But I stayed by his side and helped him get through it. I was his lifeline and his bank during that time, never once complaining.

Fast forward to a couple years later. I moved to live with him and to be near his family. It's a daily struggle for me because it's a long commute to Boston. My work hours are intense. He is employed, but he doesn't make much money and he's unhappy with the work. But for some reason he has zero motivation to do anything about it. He has random bills that have collected around the house that would take seconds to take care of, but he just can't seem to get the motivation to just get it done.

I'm tired and frustrated and over being his caregiver. When I do end up snapping, his response is "No one asks you to do it!" and he's right, but I feel like I have to. I guess my question is: When is enough, enough? Should I get out now before I end up resenting the entire thing and the stress that it puts on me? I have never ever insisted on being taken care of, but I do expect to be a team.

– The Caregiver, Outside of Boston

A: You said it best: "I have never ever insisted on being taken care of, but I do expect to be a team." Your guy doesn't want to be a team. He wants to be helped.

I understand that life has been rough for him, but some guys would have gone out of their way to rally after tragedy and to make sure that you weren't sacrificing too much. Again, your guy just sat there.

My advice is to step back and consider this statement: "He is the love of my life, best friend, confidant and savior, and I couldn't imagine being with anyone else." Is that true? He might be your best friend based on how long you've been dating, but your five years of commitment have involved some truly awful stuff. You say that you want him to change, but what do you mean by that? Hasn't he always been this guy? Can he really become another person?

Decide what you need to be happy (write it down in list form) and be honest with yourself about whether he can ever be the right partner. For the record, based on what you've told us, I don't think he can. He's never going to jump to pay bills. He hasn't asked, "What will make life easier for you?" Your lives have always been about him. And that's just not good enough.

Readers? Should she stay or go? How do you get someone who's dealing with depression, addiction, and family tragedy to rally? Is there anything to save here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Are his personal problems too overwhelming?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 28, 2011 06:46 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

My boyfriend of six months and I have a dilemma. Let's start with the basics. I am caring, understanding, and accepting. I look at him and see a man who absolutely adores me, and our relationship is honest, true, and full of acceptance. Here's the catch -- I found out that he has a slew of problems. On paper, he is a mess. He has had addictions to drugs and alcohol and suffers from depression and schizophrenia. He is 26.

I know ... it sounds horrible and you're probably questioning my sanity for staying in a relationship with him.

The thing is, I see him for the man he is. He has a gentle soul and can always make me smile and laugh. My friends say that we glow every time we are together. We are exceptionally close and he has treated me a million times better than my previous boyfriend who was highly intelligent, motivated, and had a great job -- and looked exceptional on paper.

My boyfriend's family doesn't approve of our relationship because they feel that he isn't healthy enough for a serious partnership. When I say serious, I mean in a relationship, period. We do not live together or have any plans to move in or talk about a future. Still, they've asked me to stop seeing him. I am at a crossroads because I know that he has serious issues, but I also know that we make each other happy.

Am I wrong to stay in a relationship with him? Should I end it because his family thinks he isn't healthy enough for a relationship? What about the good that I do for him? The acceptance, appreciation, understanding, and love that give him gives him something to smile about? But maybe I’m not being honest with myself.

– Love hurts...Am I wrong?, Massachusetts

A: I can't make guesses about boyfriend's metal health, LHAIW. But I bet your guy's doctors can give you some answers. If your boyfriend is treating his mental illness, he's seeing a professional. And that professional can chat with you and your boyfriend (with your boyfriend's permission, of course) about what all of this means and whether it's safe and appropriate to pursue a serious, romantic relationship.

This decision requires fact-finding and soul-searching and it might be exhausting. So ... are you up for it? At six months, with no promise of a future together, are you ready to take on the risks and responsibilities that come with this relationship? Because that's the real question. Is it worth your while, even in the best of circumstances? Only you can answer that one. I haven't seen the "glow."

Go find out what all of this really means and then be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy. Right now, you don't have enough information and I fear that you're not asking enough of the right questions. Go get educated.

Readers? Are there too many obstacles here? What about his family? At six months, is this relationship worth preserving? Discuss.

– Meredith

He was an addict

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 19, 2011 08:08 AM

A noon update from the letter writer that answers some of your questions.

"Yes, he goes to group meetings, has a therapist, is in a long-term rehab program, and yes, has (clean) friends and a supportive family. Yes, I have asked to go to see his therapist. Yes, we are very honest with each other. Yes, I told him if he lies to me/happens again I will not stay in the relationship. Yes I am researching Nar-Anon meetings because I feel it would be greatly beneficial. Nothing else has been brought up in the marriage/child department (was more like a one-time discussion). Instead, we have kept it light, we have fun together: we go on outdoor adventures, take walks, go to events, watch movies, make dinner together, etc."

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm a longtime LL lurker, and I've fallen in love.

I met *Robert* about two months ago. We met on a dating website and hit it off right away. We're both aware that we're lucky to have found each other. We laugh a lot. There have also been some serious conversations, which mostly involve our future and plans together.

One of the serious conversations at the beginning of our relationship was about his history of drug addiction. He told me that he went to rehab about two years ago for prescription drugs, he knew he had hurt a lot of people, he has tried to mend his ways, and has cut off all of his "friends from the past."

He is working hard at starting over and being proactive (working, saving money, going back to school, etc.). He recently admitted that his new night shift job started to take a toll on him and that his stress level caused him to have some "cravings." He said it was just a craving -- nothing that he couldn't handle.

This past weekend, the topic came up again and Robert mentioned that it was more than prescription drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.), and it was just about 6 months ago that he stopped abusing drugs and became clean.

I was caught off guard and a little upset about him not telling me the entire truth at the beginning. I didn't realize how intense the situation had once been and how recent it was. He told me that his life has truly turned around. He is happy for the first time (our relationship), and doesn't want to ruin such a positive thing. He didn't tell me everything because he was scared and embarrassed.

I run with a healthy crowd. We are always active, positive/optimistic, and have never really known anyone who is in recovery. I love to listen and have not judged him, but I am scared that one day he could give in to drugs again. He tells me that he has been taught to handle this one day at a time. We talk about marrying and having children, but I'm nervous.

I forget about our serious discussion for the most part, but the situation still hangs in the back of my mind. How do I not focus on his past and focus on the future without being a little cautious? I want to be able to trust him down the line when we move in together and build a life together. What would Meredith do?

– Nervous but Hopeful, Boston

A: I'd have a tough time forgiving him for the lie, NBH. But it seems like you have, so let's move on from that and address the whole "Will he relapse?" question.

The answer is: I don't know. All of this is pretty new. Is he seeing a therapist or counselor? Is he in a support group? And ... do you get the sense that this relationship is an addiction? Because I find it interesting that he's talking about marriage and kids after two months. You need to figure out whether he's building a whole life for himself or whether he's simply drowning himself in you. Who else does he hang out with now that he's sober? Anyone?

My advice is to slow things down. Get to know him and see how he's adjusting to his new routine. Take a deep breath and just date him. That's all you should be doing this early in the relationship. You might decide to ditch him in a month for reasons that have nothing to do with drugs. No need to jump ahead.

Readers? Should he be dating after six months of being clean? Could you forgive the original lie? Should they be talking about marriage? Discuss.

– Meredith

Help me save my marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 6, 2011 08:24 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

It's very painful for me to write this letter because I'm a middle-aged man who is considering leaving a loving but troubled wife, and I would like to have primary custody of our two young children. My question to you and your readers is: When is it time to leave?

I'd describe myself as introspective, serious, and shy. I've always had a few friends and people generally like me, but until recently it has been hard for me to make friends out of acquaintances. By the end of college, I had never had a girlfriend. My self-esteem was so low that I honestly thought I might never find someone who would love me.

I was in this miasma when I first met my wife. I saw immediately that she's extremely intelligent, caring, attractive, athletic, and that she really liked me. She saw me as an honest and true person and admired my kindness. But from the start, she was also very critical of me, was constantly upset with me and tried to change almost everything else about me. Our relationship was completely imbalanced and I took all of her criticism to heart. After a year of trying to appease her and absorbing her anger, I finally meekly began to defend myself. She'd always say that things would get better after certain situations had passed -- like the death of a loved one, or a difficult apartment situation -- and I'd hope that she was right because she is an extraordinary woman.

If things hadn't gotten better bit by bit over time, we wouldn’t have stayed together, and there were a few golden periods. As is often the case, one of those golden periods led to the conception of our first child. But then, my wife immediately decided that independence and fun were now completely out of the question. Her anxiety and foul treatment reached new highs. Again I rode out the storm, hoping that life would improve as our little one grew up. Our second child is much loved but was unplanned.

Currently our relationship has recovered to some degree but we are struggling. Last week, my wife took a much needed four-day vacation with a girlfriend and I took time off from work to take care of our kids. To say I enjoyed those four days would be an understatement. With some help from family and friends I fed them, got them to their appointments, played with them, got them to bed on time for naps and the night, and generally had a great time. I expected my wife to return with new energy and the patience necessary to attend to our children, but have been sorely disappointed. Nothing has changed. She's constantly battling with them, me, and everyone else close to her.

So when is enough, enough? I am in therapy. She is in therapy. She's still miserable. I'm miserable when I’m around her and ecstatic when she's gone. Tom Waits sang "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay." We've lived that song, "Please Call Me, Baby," so many times that our movie would be a comedy not a drama. The inner peace I experienced during her absence last week came like a revelation. I even stopped reading Love Letters for that time. When I came back to work, I told myself why spend the time. Well, today, two days later, I remember why. Because my inner being is desperately searching for answers, and I want to do the right thing, but the world and my options all seem wrong.

– BG, I can't …

A: BGIC, I wish she hadn't taken that trip with girlfriends. I wish she had taken it with you. Because I wonder if she'd be capable of enjoying herself with you, even on vacation. It's not as though you guys were having a ball before the kids came along. Your golden periods sound like blips.

You say that you're in therapy and that she's in therapy. If you're not already in therapy together, you should be. Because in therapy you can ask this big question: "If we had all the money in the world for babysitters, would you want to stay married to me?" If she says that she would, it's time to make a list. Tell her what you need to be happy, whether it's specific help with your kids, a certain amount of positivity, date nights, etc. Then, with her help, come up with a second list of practical ways to make those things possible. Maybe you need hired help around the house (I know, it isn't cheap), more vacations, or more involvement from friends and family. The lists give you specific goals. And if those goals aren't met, you can feel better about whatever choice you need to make.

Tom Waits sings, "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay," but that's not your lyric. You sang, "I'm miserable when I'm around her and ecstatic when she's gone." You're not longing for your relationship to return to what it used to be. You're longing for brief, unexplained golden periods.

Get to therapy with her if you haven't already. Ask her if she wants you. Then make your lists. Check those lists twice as you move ahead. In the end, if your needs can't be met, remember that doing "the right thing" should involve being able to smile in front of your kids -- and in front of a mirror.

Readers? Any ideas for this LW? Is there something to save? Was his euphoria during his wife's vacation about her being gone -- or about not working and having so much extra help? Is this about the stress of kids or a marriage that was wrong from the start? Help.

– Meredith

I'm meh about dating

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 28, 2011 08:25 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've recently somehow managed to attract a rather lovely woman. This doesn't happen too often these days, as I am somewhat beastly. As such, logic would dictate that I take advantage of this situation to its fullest. The problem is I just have no drive to get out there and date.

A couple of years ago, I was almost married to an ex-girlfriend (let’s call her "She Who Shall Not Be Named"). After about 5 years together, I discovered she was cooking in another dude's kitchen. I was wrecked.

I'm rapidly approaching 40. Never married. And although I had several relationships when I was younger, the urge is just gone.

Some of it is the somewhat irrational belief that every woman out there is a ticking time bomb of heart stomping fury. The rest ... well ... let's just say that when I was younger I was a bit of the old "Knight in Shining Armor," and somehow I've morphed into Shrek.

I'm a chubby, bald, hairy dude who snores, drools on the pillow, and has some random health issues that make me unreliable for plans. Also, I've got a low grade job for low grade pay. (Seriously, I wouldn't just have issues paying for decent dates, I'd have issues with the money spent on the GAS I'd have to use to date.) Not that I'm cheap, I just don't have much extra at the end of the month.

And, of course, since I'm a guy, I have no interest in a female ogre (Continuing the Shrek theme). You can't choose what you're attracted to, and I'm attracted to females of the non-ogre variety.

Basically, aside from being a nice and occasionally funny guy, I don't feel like I've got much to offer anyone. I've talked to a couple of therapists in the past who claim that there are plenty of women who would be happy with just a nice, occasionally funny guy. Personally, I think I'd have an easier time finding Bigfoot.

Sadly, "love" has always been the most important thing in the world to me, and without it, life's just a big steaming pile of "meh."

As for the woman who's interested -- I'm feeling a combo of "I have nothing to offer and since I've got nothing to offer, I'll end up getting hurt in the end if I pursue this."

– Salem Shrek

A:Come on, SS.

Life without love is "meh." But now that an attractive woman is interested in you, you're behaving "meh." Even Shrek had more motivation.

The first thing you need to do is to start looking for a new job. It's important that you feel less "meh" about your life.

Then, after you've sent out a few resumes (and I mean this week), you need to call this woman and ask her out for coffee. Coffee is cheap. You said she's already into you, which means she knows what she's in for. There's no way she's expecting a three-course meal. And, if you follow my resume rule, you'll be able to describe yourself to her as someone who's looking to advance his career.

And here's the tough love part: You must, must get over yourself. We all get older. We all get chubby. Many of us get hurt by somebody who winds up in somebody else's kitchen. And many of us are dealing with chronic illnesses. This self-deprecating routine isn't going to be endearing for very long. You're wasting your 30s wallowing in meh.

You can't be lazy about love. Shrek (the Shrek in the sequels) would tell you to get off your rump, start improving your situation, and call yourself what you are -- a thirty-something, employed single guy who can crack a joke. That doesn't sound so bad, right?

Also, please talk to those therapists about why you feel so meh. If there's some depression stuff here, especially concerning the random health issues, you should figure that out sooner than later.

Readers? Should he call this woman if he's not happy with himself? Is this about the job, the illness, or laziness? Is this about dealing with aging? Do we all go from being Knights to being Shreks? How do you treat the condition known as meh? Discuss.

– Meredith

Scared to see his therapist

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 30, 2011 08:15 AM

I will post all of the hilarious compliments/insults from yesterday's contest tomorrow (without names, of course). And thanks to all who entered -- and to those who came to the play. It was a very fun night.

And ... book reviews will be posted next week.

Today is chat day.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I have been in a solid, loving relationship for the past 7 months. We fell for each other hard and fast.

Here's the tricky part. He was depressed for much of his younger years and has found solace in going to therapy. As our relationship has gotten more and more serious, he is urging me to attend these sessions with him.

My question is this: Should I be worried that a relationship should need therapy after such a short time or should I be thankful that my boyfriend values our relationship and wants me to be a part of this area of his life? Thanks for the advice!

– Therapy Scares the Bejesus Out of Me, Boston

A: Don't be scared, TSTBOOM. He doesn't want to bring you to therapy because he thinks that you're a mess as a couple. He's bringing you because therapy is a big part of his life and because he wants you do understand what's going on in his noggin.

Go at least once if it's important to him. It'll either be OK -- maybe even enlightening and helpful -- or it'll reveal something bad that you needed to know anyway. You don't have to commit to more than one session. You can ask the therapist once you get there whether this is something that you need to be a part of on a regular basis. My guess is that your boyfriend just wants to put your relationship through his system of checks and balances. Nice that he wants you to be a part of something that makes his life better. Right? No need to freak out until he's given you reason to. But once you agree to go, set boundaries.

Readers? Would you go to therapy with someone after seven months if there weren't any relationship problems? Why do you think he wants the LW there? Should the LW be afraid? What boundaries should the LW set? Discuss.

– Meredith

I give away my goodies

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 18, 2011 07:32 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

Let's skip to the chase, shall we? I kind-of-recently got out of a relationship with someone I had been seeing on and off for a period of years. He moved, I dated someone else, he moved back, we got back together, and I cheated on each guy with a few different people (I know -- deplorable). Anyways, with all our ingrained bad habits, my starting school again, and general unhappiness with the relationship, I ended it. So now, here I am, a single lady for the first time since I was 17.

My problem is: I don't know how to not sleep around. I'm so used to "hanging out" with a guy at a bar for the night, going back to his place, and then taking off the next morning that I don't know how to function normally with guys anymore. (But what is "normal" really?) My friends warn me that I need to stop "giving away the goodies" because ... because guys won't respect me? Call me back? I don't even know. I'm not sleeping with every date because I'm trying to make an impression or make them think of me in any particular way: I do it because I've usually been drinking and I want to. Does that make me a bro? So sue me.

I think my question boiled down is this: In a dating culture that emphasizes "meet-ups" instead of old-fashioned, out-to-dinner-walk-her-to-the-door dates, how am I supposed to not give away the goodies? (Short if signing up for eHarmony, that is.) When did we depart from romance and end up with hook-up relationships that predominantly initiate and revolve around Gchat? Stop me if I sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but when I do finally figure out I like a guy that I've been bar hopping with, how do I suddenly declare that I want to be wined and dined? Maybe I've got it all backwards.

– Giving Away the Goodies, Boston

A: I'm glad you made the Carrie Bradshaw comparison, GATG. There's something about that last paragraph that makes me think of Carrie at a laptop. Of course, Carrie never really questioned her own promiscuity. Because she was on TV.

But you're not. And my answer to your big question is: Yes, you have it backwards.

If you want to sleep around, that's fine. I'm totally cool with that. Just be safe. And by safe I mean STD-safe, but also safe from harm -- as in, don't go to some guy's house if you can't say for sure that he's not an ax murderer. And don't go anywhere unless you've told a friend where you are.

But, if you do want to meet a guy who sticks around for more than a night or two, cut down on the alcohol, put on the brakes, and let these relationships play out over the course of more than just a night. You're allowed to bar hop and have a drink with someone to get to know them, but there's no reason to rush the other stuff. I'm not saying that guys won't respect you if they've already "sampled the goodies" -- I've never believed that to be true -- but the goodies exchange is obviously confusing you. It's difficult to figure out if there's potential with a guy if you've already had an awkward morning-after experience with him.

The issue here really does seem to be alcohol, not the dating culture. Without too much bar fun, you'll probably want to return your own home and sleep in your own comfy bed, dreaming of the goodies to come.

Readers? Is she ready to date? Is this about alcohol or the dating culture? Is there anything wrong with having fun until she's ready to get serious? Is her last relationship relevant? How can she tell a guy that she wants to have a traditional date after a night at a bar? Share your goodies. Contribute some Song of the Day ideas.

– Meredith

Our troubles with alcohol

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 9, 2011 07:33 AM

I have compiled a massive rundown of Love Letters history for Saturday's paper – as in, the age range of letter writers, geography, topics of problems, number of times "grilled cheese" references were used (or food euphemisms, in general), and which commenter got the most number of recommends during our second year.

I'll try to have post it online on Friday. It's cool.

Also, we chat today at 1.

Q: Meredith and Gang,

I will start with some back story:

I grew up with alcoholics all around me, my mother and grandfather being the most notable. My mother sobered up when I was a teenager and hasn't looked at it since.

I am 28 and engaged to a wonderful man. He is smart, funny, treats me well, and is very good with my 4 year old son. We love each other very much.

He drinks. Less now than before we met and got serious. We have been together 2 years, lived together for 1 and set to get married in April 2012. We have had both serious, sit-down conversations and big blow out fights over his drinking. He knows it borders on a problem. He drinks every night. If my son is there, he doesn't drink until after he goes to sleep and he will not drink if he's there alone with him. But it's still every night otherwise. Every once in a while he likes to spend his weekday off playing video games and drinking beer. He is home alone when he does this. Most of his friends are the go out and drink type. They rarely do anything else when they hang out. I admit that I like to have a drink every now and then but definitely not every day and not in too much excess.

My previous relationship (not my son's father) was with a severe alcoholic. I am talking first thing in the morning until he passed out at night, with little to no recollection of what went on in between (this man was NEVER around my child). So here's my problem: I know I have had bad experiences with alcohol and alcoholics. I am unable to tell if my fiancé’s drinking is "normal" or if it's a problem. I compare every little thing to this last relationship and can't tell if I am over-reacting. He has altered his drinking habits since he knows it’s a big deal to me. I tend to get snippy and defensive if I know he is drunk, but since this doesn’t happen EVERY time he is drunk I end up sending mixed signals to him. I also feel guilty when we go out together. I told him if he committed to stop drinking altogether I would never touch the stuff again. He is not interested in AA.

There is so much good here. He is respectful, loving, a good father-figure, and he literally makes my heart melt and knees weak when we are together. But I live in fear of putting my son in the same situation I grew up in. So where do I go from here?

– Drunk with Love and Resentment, CT

A: My advice, which might seem lame, is to take the fiancé to therapy. I say that because you can't decide what kind of drinking feels "normal" because of your family and your ex. I certainly can't tell you what's normal. We all have different boundaries when it comes to alcohol. We just have to figure out what they are.

You need to sit down with him -- and a counselor -- and talk about when you're OK with the drinking and when it feels scary. Then allow your fiancé to give his impressions of his own substance use. There's no need to shame him right now; from what you've told us, you can be confident that you're both on the same page when it comes to prioritizing safety. What's unclear is whether his drinking is a habit or an addiction. What's also unclear is whether you're allowed to enjoy some social drinking with him without feeling like a hypocrite. It's time to throw your hands up, admit to your fiance that you're thoroughly confused, and go work it out as a team in a safe place. Because again, boundaries can only be respected if you know what they are. It's best if you figure out your rules together -- and before the wedding.

Readers? Do they need a third party to help? Is she projecting her own family's past onto her fiance? Care to share any stories about partners, alcohol, and boundaries? Discuss.

– Meredith

My forbidden love

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 3, 2010 09:00 AM

Vote Lloyd Dobler in '10! Remember, this isn't about choosing the best romantic movie of all time -- it's about choosing your favorite, the one you want to see with me on Dec. 10. Yes, I'm trying to sway you. Vote here. Buy tickets here.

As for the pre-party, it will be at Orleans in Davis Square from 7 to 8:30. There will be food and mingle time. Wesley and I will take movie ticket holders over to the Somerville Theatre at 8:30 for the 9 p.m. screening. There will be special treats for the movie buffs.

Q: While on vacation over the summer, I met someone special. I had just recently separated from my husband of two years and was not in a good place emotionally. This stranger gave me a much needed compliment and we ended up exchanging contact information. We immediately began e-mailing, texting, and talking on the phone. He was giving me a reason to get out of bed everyday and I was inspiring him to be a better man.

Here's the catch, He's 24 and I'm 33. Although he is completely sober, he has had previous problems with drugs and alcohol. He calls me his angel because I have given him a reason to fight his addictions and make him realize that his past doesn't define who he is.

Through our lengthy conversations and complete respect for one another, we have fallen in love. We had an amazing weekend together and he has made me realize that my marriage lacked many things, as he has given me more respect than my husband ever did.

I know my biological clock is ticking and reality tells me that at 24, this man isn't going to be my future husband. The question it wrong to continue a "forbidden love" with a man who cannot give me what I truly want in life or is is OK to continue my "friendship" with him as he makes me smile during a time of personal pain due to a failed marriage?

– Too Young?, Boston

A: I'm not saying that this guy is your forever-I-love-you-soul-mate -- I have no idea what he is -- but I wouldn't underestimate his potential. He's been through a lot at 24.

There is an age gap here, don't get me wrong, but it's not so bad that it's forbidden. My advice is to stop treating this like forbidden love. How often do you see him? Can you make this feel more like a real relationship?

If you start behaving like this is legit, you'll find out whether your priorities are totally out of sync or whether in reality, you're actually on the same page. Perhaps after a battle with addiction he's looking for a mature 33-year-old who doesn’t live in a bar after work -- someone he can really talk to. And perhaps after a rough marriage, this is all you're ready for. Is your clock really ticking? Are you really ready to find someone else to marry?

If you're not seeing him, ask to visit. If you are seeing him, see him more often. Try to make this as real as possible. It'll either explode or turn into something that feels pretty fantastic.

Readers? Am I being naive about the potential here? Should the age gap matter so much? Is this forbidden love? Is the addiction issue something to be concerned about? Should she be focused on her clock? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should I disclose my health problems?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 12, 2010 08:45 AM

I'm hunting for updates to run over the holidays. I'll be reaching out to past letter writers, but if you're a letter writer who wants to take the initiative and update me on your own, please do. E-mail me from the address you used to send the original letter so I know it's really you. Put "update" in the subject line.

Here's a letter about kidneys before the weekend.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I love your column and all the great advice you give, so I'm hoping you can now assist me. About 7 months ago I was diagnosed with severe kidney disease and renal (kidney) cancer. I am in my 40s, single, and divorced for many years with adult children. After going through all of this alone it has recently started to bother me that I'm single. I would like to meet someone, whereas in the past I really never cared if I was single or not. My question is, do I tell the person I meet about my condition right away or do I wait? And if I wait, how long do I wait? Although the cancer is gone, the kidney disease will never go away, so part of me feels like it's not fair to be a burden on someone. The other part of me says I have the right to meet someone and be happy.

Any advice you or the readers could give is appreciated.

– Me and my kidneys, Bridgewater

A: Not to be a downer, MAMK, but once you're in your 40s, most people in your social circle will have some sort of ailment or chronic illness. You're not damaged goods. I mean, your kidneys are damaged, but that happens. You're not looking for someone to play nurse. You're looking for a partner for the fun stuff, right?

You don't have to share your medical history "right away." I assume that when you meet someone and really get talking about the past few years, you'll organically mention that you were a total hotshot and survived cancer and that you now cope with less-than-cooperative kidneys. You don't have to disclose the experience as if it's a big red flag on your dating resume. Really, most people would rather date a nice person with damaged kidneys than a healthy person who's kind of a drag.

You do deserve to meet someone. So smile. Be nice. Enjoy the company of others. Let the health history come up naturally. And don't be ashamed of it. We're all living in human bodies. We do the best we can.

(And please -- join a support group for people who deal with kidney issues. It'll help you expand your community and answer your big questions.)

Readers? How soon should she share her medical history? Are you less likely to date a person with a chronic illness? Discuss.

– Meredith

He smells like smoke

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 3, 2010 06:30 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: I have been dating my fiance for about three years and we moved in together about six months ago. We became engaged about two months ago. I am in my late 20s and he is in his early 30s. Things have been good and seem to be on track, but there is one issue that comes between us constantly.

He is a smoker and I am a non-smoker. This was always an issue from the beginning, but it became tolerable when we found a way to compromise. He cut back and never smoked around me, and whenever he came inside he would wash his hands and brush his teeth. That seemed to work.

Now that we are living together, things have changed. I'm not sure if he is smoking more or if I'm noticing it more because we are constantly together now. He still goes outside to smoke but he has dropped the routine of washing his hands and brushing his teeth and he brings the stench inside with him.

The main problem is that it has gotten to the point where I don't even want to kiss him and that has definitely put a strain on our intimate relationship.

He knows how much I hate it, and when I make comments about it and ask him to wash his hands, he seems to get frustrated with me. I don't know how to mention how much it bothers me without getting him mad or having him become defensive. The conversation always turns into an argument. Maybe I'm saying it the wrong way.

So, how do I get him to try to quit smoking or at least cut back? If he won't quit, how do I get him back on the same routine as before? Do I even have the right to ask such things of him? I love him and I want to be intimate with my future husband but I can't get around the smoky breath, hands, and clothes. It is such a turn off. How do I fix it?

– Concerned, Boston

A: Well, you've both failed to compromise. He promised he'd wash his hands and he hasn't. And you said you wouldn't push him to quit but you're making it clear that you want him to.

My advice is to start over with a new plan. Reestablish the terms. Explain my theory (you can take all credit) -- that you've both misbehaved -- and he'll probably be open to a discussion. Tell him that you just want to be able to love living with him and to grab his face and kiss him without tasting nicotine. Come up with new rules that you both can follow.

And invest in some major air filters. Put them all over the house.

And if you really want him to quit, if that's the bottom line, please be honest and tell him that. You're marrying a smoker. That's your reality. If he intends to smoke for the rest of his life -- if on cold winter nights he's going to be out on the porch with a pack of butts -- well, that's something to really consider. Better to draw a line in the sand before you walk down the aisle.

Readers? Am I right? Did they both fail? Can she ask him to quit? Is this just about adjustment after the move-in? Is this something they can learn to live with? Discuss.

– Meredith

Sex after cancer

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 20, 2010 08:30 AM

It's a heavy letter today. I hope people who have been through this will chime in.

Also, chat at 1.

Q: I have been a long time reader. Really enjoy everyone's input. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought my issue may be timely.

I've been married for almost 10 years. Right after we were married, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my 30s and was devastated. After multiple surgeries (including a mastectomy), chemo, and radiation, we started to build our married life. We were blessed to have two beautiful children. After my second child, my remaining breast started showing "signs" of potential breast cancer. Over the next year, I had two biopsies and multiple mammograms. Emotionally this tipped me over the edge and I had the remaining breast removed.

My issue? Since my last surgery three years ago, my husband refuses to have "marital" relations with me. No grill cheese sandwiches. No touching. No nothing. I mean NOTHING!!!! A peck in the morning to say good-bye and a peck in the evening to say good night. A few "I love you"s throughout the day. I understand for men breasts are very important. I miss them also. I've tried to approach the topic and his response is "we need to schedule a time." Well, with two children, it's difficult to schedule a time. Counseling? He owns his own business and works seven days a week. He feels he doesn't have time to go. And no, he isn't cheating on me.

I love my husband but I can't remain in a non-physical marriage. It's lonely. He knows I'm not happy but he feels that the marriage is OK. Well, its not. I hate ultimatums but I don't know what else do to.

Meredith ... Readers ... Help!

– Breastless in Massachusetts

A: This isn't about his busy schedule, BIM. And it's not about your breasts. It's about the whole ordeal.

When someone gets cancer, their family and friends become a full-time support group. And when it's over -- if things work out for the best and life is preserved -- there's this massive sigh of relief and everyone tries to go back to their normal lives as best they can.

That's fine, except for the fact that the main caregivers are still emotionally exhausted. They've used up all of their energy to help their loved ones (and themselves) get through the experience. Sometimes they're not just tired, they're angry. Irrational or not, sometimes they're furious with their formerly sick loved one for unintentionally putting them through so much. And no matter what, they're panicked that the illness will return.

There's a lot of literature out there about sex after cancer -- that caregiver spouses are afraid of accidentally hurting their partner physically by taking part in sexual activity, or worse, hurting their partner's feelings if they have a negative reaction to their new body. That could be a part of his problem. Fear.

There's less literature out there that adequately describes the emotional crash that happens after years of compartmentalizing a very scary thing. Having cancer is lonely and scary and weird. So is helping someone with cancer. You've asked him for support for years and now you're asking for something else. He's having trouble understanding that this request is supposed to be a fun one. I think he's still shell-shocked.

I'd start slow -- with cuddling. Sit close to him in front of the television or offer up a back rub. See if you can move it along from there over time.

No matter how he responds to PG touching, he has to make time for therapy -- probably without you. You can tell him that a lack of interest in sex after cancer is very normal -- and fixable. He'll probably be relieved to hear that he's not a horrible jerk for wanting to avoid it all after all that you've been through.

Assure him that you'll watch the kids while he takes an hour to talk to a professional or, better yet, a cancer support group (of which there are many). Do this with a loving smile on your face. Remind him that your marriage is "OK" only if you both think it is.

And maybe plan a vacation. Get some of those supportive friends to watch the kids. The more new memories you make that don't involve waiting for the results of a PET scan, the better it will be for both of you.

Readers? Anyone been through this after an illness? Is this really about her breasts? What can she do without giving him an ultimatum? Talk.

– Meredith

I want to move

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 8, 2010 08:25 AM

Q: I am 22 and have been dating my 24-year-old boyfriend for over three years. His mom died earlier this year, and obviously, that has taken a huge toll on him. He lived with his mom while going to college, so losing her has changed every aspect of his life. He now owns a home and lives alone. I'm a more-than-full-time student and live with my parents.

We are very much in love and I see myself marrying him. I know I'm still young, but I have a good idea of what I want my future to look like. I know he feels the same way, but we are waiting at least a few years until we are both done with school to do anything permanent.

Here's the catch: I'm almost done with my master's degree and ready for a job. I know that in the future I want to live in Massachusetts and raise my family here (I'm from the area), but right now I am dying to get out, just for a few years. I would love to move to California, North Carolina, or Washington D.C. -- anywhere new and exciting, just to get a flavor of what's out there.

But my boyfriend is totally not feeling the moving thing right now. He owns his house now and knows it would be complicated to sell it. He is still in a really rough period after losing his mom. I know that I will have a really hard time moving without him and being alone in a new place, but I also know that if I don't do this when I'm young, it will be harder to do it later.

What do I do? Should I keep prodding him to apply to colleges in a new place so that we can move together, even though I know he isn't really into the idea? I really want to go somewhere, but I'm afraid that I'd hate being alone and that I wouldn't be able to handle it. How do I deal with this? We have a pretty perfect relationship and the last thing I want to do is ruin it (because I see the rest of my life with him), but I need to move away and do something totally new and different. I just don't know how to do this without wrecking my perfect and loving relationship and without making myself miserable.

– Anxious But In Love, Western Mass

A: You're telling us that you're basically as good as married, ABIL. That means you're planning as a twosome. And right now, half of your twosome needs to stay put in Massachusetts for some very practical reasons. That's your answer.

People in serious, adult relationships have to sacrifice and compromise all of the time. They don't get to have the pet they've always wanted because their partner is allergic. They change their sleep schedule to make it easier for their spouse to get ready for work in the morning. They put off plans to go exploring because the love of their life has just lost of a parent.

Staying in Massachusetts doesn't mean you'll never get to see glorious Raleigh or the traffic in Los Angeles. Maybe in a year or two he'll consider renting his house to go traveling with you (assuming he's on the same page about where you stand). Again, compromise.

If you're as confident as you say you are about your boyfriend being your husband-to-be, you have to stick around. He's in no shape to move and could probably use his wife-to-be by his side. But if you're not quite sold on being someone's life partner just yet, go explore as someone who's unattached. Just don’t try to have it both ways. It won't work.

Readers? Am I right? Should she stay? Or should she take this time to travel while he's sorting out his life here? Is she ready for spouse-like behavior? Does she have to be to maintain the relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

Am I Shallow Hal?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 25, 2010 09:04 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Hey Meredith,

I am a long time reader but first time submitter.

I recently met an unbelievable girl. The natural chemistry is something special, we share a great sense of humor and many shared interests, and I find myself inventing ways to make her smile every day. She does the same for me. We are both divorced 30-somethings who have dated a bunch since our respective divorces. The catch is that while I care for her deeply, she is the heaviest girl I have dated by a fair margin. She is extremely pretty, but doesn't take care of her body much at all, despite mentioning here and there that she'd like to lose some weight. Part of the reason is that she has kids, so with all of the demands on the shoulders of a single mom, the gym is hardly a top priority. But every other weekend the kids are with their dad. Aside from exercise, she has also demonstrated a poor diet as she chooses pizza and nachos over more moderate choices when we go out. This is a little hard for me because while I am no gym rat, I work hard on my fitness and diet and take pride in my appearance. She does take pride in all other respects ... she dresses nice and looks great when we go out, except for the extra weight she carries.

I don't need to be with a size 2 or anything. It is actually less about the size and more about the attitude. For example, I find myself more attracted to the size 10 busting her butt at the gym than the inactive size 2 who eats chocolate all day because her metabolism allows her to do so without consequence. It is less about the result, and more about the attitude for me. And right now, it is a turn off.

Sometimes I feel guilty and stupid because everything else about this girl is amazing. The physical attraction just isn't quite there, but it could be. And that is the torturous part. Am I wrong to want a girl who makes me weak in the knees at the very sight of her? She is really pretty, and I think if she slimmed down via a more sensible diet and reasonable amount of exercise, my knees would be giving out regularly. I really want to find her as physically attractive as I find the rest of her, but right now it isn't happening. At this point I should note that I am not a rookie when it comes to dealing with women and image issues ... my ex had an eating disorder and struggled with related depression for years.

So how do I even begin to approach this subject without a) hurting her feelings, b) creating a body image issue that she currently doesn't have? This girl is pretty thick skinned, but after experiencing what my ex went through, I may be a little hypersensitive to subjecting her to what my ex endured. I couldn't forgive myself if I was responsible for bringing that into someone's life ... it is truly horrible. But at the same time, there could be something special here if I could just get past this hurdle. Is it worth it to address it? If so, how do I do it? Or am I being Shallow Hal?

– Wishing For Weak Knees, Massachusetts

A: You're not Shallow Hal. You're just ... Honest Hal. Shallow Hal wouldn't even approach this woman. You're wishing and hoping that you'll suddenly be attracted to her. You're feeling guilty about a pretty honest, natural thing.

You're also not wrong for wanting to feel weak in the knees at the sight of your significant other. Usually, the more we get to know and adore someone's personality, the more their physical flaws become things that make them unique. A big gut starts to look like the perfect place to rest one's head. A limp becomes a swagger.

For that reason, I think you should give this some time. You said you met her recently, which means you haven't had much context. You haven't seen her running around with her kids for two hours before she has that plate of nachos with you.

If her lifestyle is still a turn-off after you've seen more, you can tell her that you fear your health priorities just don't match up. Because at that point, they don't. If you're constantly wishing that you could change the person you're with, it just doesn't work.

But for now, see if she grows on you.

Readers? Should he tell her that her weight is an issue for him? Is it unfair to expect a single mom to order salad after a long day? What’s going on here? Work it out.

– Meredith

Her negativity is making me miserable

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 10, 2010 09:00 AM

You know I love it when guys sparkle.

Q: I'm in a five-year common-law marriage with a woman I love and care very much about. We are in our mid 50s. She has chronic and sometimes debilitating physical problems, work problems, and personal estrangement issues. Her problems seem endless and often self-inflicted.

I have been there for her through it all, and consistently so. She is very appreciative of this and sees me as a "golden boy." Here's my problem. She is a kind, loving woman, but has nasty attitudes. One part of this is general sourness and cynicism. "Those people are awful." "Look at this idiot on TV." "Here's the story (again) of someone who ripped me off." It's endlessly negative and obsessive deep whining. (I've made assertive comments about it, which has improved things slightly.)

The other part is an egotistical attitude and inappropriate talk in public situations if she disrespects someone. This will sometimes be directed at me. Usually when she's having a bad day. It's not often and is usually subtle, but it bothers me.

I have tried to discuss specific incidents and the reaction is overwhelming, but generally a denial. "I didn’t say that," and "I’m not that kind of person." I’ve asked her if she's angry at me. She says she isn't and I believe it to be true. My request for counseling was dismissed. Having an argument is a very scary proposition. I believe her attitudes are basically about anger. Emotional abuse from childhood probably plays a part. (Menopause does not.)

In the past two years I've become kind of sullen, hypersensitive, and obsessed with all of this. It's a difficult undercurrent in our life, but our life is also reasonably good, too. Seems like a contradiction, I know. She is generally a good person. I was aware of her attitudes when we met, but it was very low key then.

– Sparkle Plenty, Boston

A: You are a golden boy, not a whipping boy, SP. I get that she has had a tough life, but she's becoming a jerk. She's abusing the guy she knows will put up with it. You're an easy target.

Tell her that her negativity is driving you away. Like – away, away. Don’t threaten to leave in some big, dramatic fashion (especially if you're bluffing), but make it clear that talking about this with a third party will help you remain happy in the relationship. It's not about her, it's about you. Assure her that you're not taking her to therapy to attack her. You're taking her to therapy to talk about how you feel.

To be honest, it sounds like you're afraid of her. That's bad. At the very least, you can start this process by going to therapy on your own. You need to figure out how to cope with your situation -- and to decide how much negativity you can shoulder before you break. I get that sometimes in life, people have the right to be miserable, but I have a problem with the fact that she's not worried about you. She hasn't said, "I know I can be a handful ... what do you need from me? What can I do to make things great for you?" Even when someone is sick, it's supposed to be a give and take.

I'm afraid that if you allow her to keep making these comments (even if you fight them by being assertive) you're going to lose your sparkle. Please don't. Take this seriously. Talk to someone.

Readers? How can he get the woman he loves into therapy? Can a negative person ever change? Does she have the right to be negative because of her ailments and problems? What should he do? Discuss.

– Meredith

He won't stop eating

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 21, 2010 09:01 AM

1. We chat at 1 p.m. today.

2. If you are one of the people reviewing a self-help book, remember that your one-line review is due by July 31. Don't be late. I will track you down like the English teacher you feared in high school.

Q: Dear Meredith,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years, we live together, and we are both in our mid-30s. We have an excellent relationship. A little over a year ago, he was diagnosed with a medical condition that causes him a fair amount of pain. The treatment for this condition is a steroid, and one of the side effects of the steroid is excessive hunger.

This is the problem. My boyfriend -- we'll call him Frank -- no longer works out because of the pain he's in, and he eats everything in sight. He has put on a lot of weight. I love him, so please believe me when I say that I am concerned about his weight not for shallow reasons, but for health reasons. Don't get me wrong; we both love junk food, but I can control myself around it. He can't. I tried not buying junk food, but then he started buying it. So then I started trying to buy and make lower fat/lower calorie food for him (i.e. frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, reduced fat cookies, etc), figuring that at least he could binge on *slightly* less awful stuff. But instead he just went out and bought the full-calorie version. He bought me a huge box of chocolates for Valentine's Day, and it took me awhile to get through them, so eventually, he just finished them off.

Also, I work out regularly, and I've offered to bring him along. I've even offered to change my workout schedule to go with him to the gym, but he has declined my offers.

A couple of months ago, I bought a bag of candy for myself and hid it in my closet because I didn't want him to eat all of it before I could have some. One day, after I ate one of the candies, I left the wrapper on my desk, and he saw it, and asked where I'd gotten it (not in an accusatory way, but to find out where they were so that he could have one). I didn't want to lie to him (although I guess hiding the candy in the first place was sort of a lie), so I told him I was storing them in my closet to keep them safe. I said it in a joking way, but he felt terrible. He pretended to laugh about it, but I could tell his feelings were hurt - probably both because I'm not the type of person to hide things from him, but also because he feels sensitive about his weight gain. This is the crux of the problem. I want to talk to him about his food consumption, maybe explain to him that I am worried about the stuff he eats and the subsequent weight gain and the potential health problems, but I don't want to hurt his feelings, or make him worry that I am not attracted to him as much because of his weight gain. Weight is such a sensitive topic, and in his case, he has very legitimate, very real medical reasons for his weight gain. It is possible to control it through diet and limited types of exercise, but who am I to pass judgment on him for not being able to manage that? It is hard enough for the average person to eat right and exercise enough, and his situation is not average.

So my question is this: Do I tell him I am worried about him and risk potentially hurting his feelings? Or do I wait for him to realize he needs to change his habits?

– Worried in Waltham

A: WIW, I have to tell you that when my asthma gets really bad, my doctor gives me prednisone, a steroid that makes me very hungry. On the rare occasion that I'm on the drug, I want meatballs. And four bowls of cereal. And those breakfast pastries that come with a frosting packet that you squeeze yourself. I empathize with your boyfriend.

I think the issue here is that he doesn't know how to manage his hunger. A nutritionist can help.

Your boyfriend already knows that you're worried about this. He already caught you hiding candy. He's not going to be shocked if you sit him down and tell him you want him to see a nutritionist so that he can better manage this intense hunger. Tell him that you need him to do this for both of you. You're worried about him, but it's also difficult for you to manage your weight when you live with someone who's making fast food runs.

He's in pain, he's hungry, and he feels bad about himself. It's almost impossible for a person in that position to come up with a plan for weight loss. Be his friend. Tell him that you want him to be as happy as possible and that no one should have to figure this out by themselves. That's why there are medical professionals for this kind of thing.

Again, he already knows what you think. All you have to do is help him come up with a plan.

Also, after you have the talk, I highly recommend making out with him. Let him know this isn't about attraction. It's about love.

Readers? How can she talk about weight without hurting his feelings? After the candy incident, does she have to worry about hurting his feelings? Will he get defensive if she tries to help? Do you ever hide sweets from your partner? Feed.

– Meredith

He won't call me his girlfriend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 19, 2010 07:14 AM

But he will call her his "special friend."

For the record, you're all my "special friends."

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am 27 years old and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The guy I had been seeing at the time was pretty unsupportive and self-absorbed, which were not characteristics I needed in my life. I really loved him but it was an unhealthy relationship that pretty much consisted of me bending over backwards to please him. After my diagnosis, I realized life is far too short to put up with anything sub-par, so I cut him out of my life.

I met this other man who had also recently undergone a cancer diagnosis and treatment. He is a few years older and is mature, understanding, and wonderful to me. He takes me out, brings me surprises, and takes good care of me when I'm feeling down and out. We have a lot in common (especially with our health) and he makes me laugh and feel like no one else can.

The problem arose when we started making grilled cheese sandwiches. We started seeing each other in March and I made him wait a few months before the cooking in the kitchen started. I have to admit that I am/was jaded when it comes to relationships because of how my ex treated me. I tried having the talk with "New Guy" about where we stand and what was exactly going on with us. He pretty much said that the terms "girlfriend/boyfriend" were "elementary school" and that "friend" and "girlfriend" mean the same thing. I personally think that's totally untrue. He has also referred to me as his "special friend," which really rubbed me the wrong way. He has referred to ex-girlfriends in conversation, so I know that he hasn't always felt this way. Needless to say, it really hurt my feelings and made me feel completely rejected after getting up the nerve to even have the conversation with him in the first place.

We're going on vacation together in August, just the two of us. We see each other frequently and he treats me like his girlfriend. He tells me he loves me. What do I do? Do I let it go and just wait to see what happens? I am a little uncomfortable making grilled cheese without a "label" but I don't want to push him away. It's only been a few months, and I don't want to ruin the best thing that has come out of this diagnosis. I also don't want my past relationship to influence the way I act or treat this new one. Should I push it and keep trying to get it official or sit back and wait?

– Living in Limbo, Worcester

A: Isn't the relationship official, LIL? Besides the whole "girlfriend" thing, you're exclusive, from what I can tell. You care for each other and travel together. I think you're where you want to be -- he's just calling it something else. Please focus on the actions. They're as important as the words.

For the record, I'm with you. "Friend" does not mean "significant other." And it's not that I think "girlfriend" is a necessary label, it's just that I'm not sure why he's avoiding it so much. If hearing the word "girlfriend" gives you the peace of mind you need, he should say it. And he certainly shouldn't belittle you for wanting the label. Frankly, "special friend" sounds pretty "elementary school" to me.

My advice is to have another conversation with him. Take all of the labels off the table and define what you are. If he says you're exclusive, that he loves you, and that he has no plans to go anywhere at the moment, then you're in the same place. Chill out and enjoy it. And maybe, when you're both in a fun, playful mood, come up with a new label. Significant other? Partner? Awesome person I'm dating exclusively? Personal grilled cheese chef? Perhaps after you make the list, "girlfriend" will rise to the top as the least "elementary school" of the bunch.

Readers? Does his refusal to use the label mean that he's not all in? Anyone else object to calling someone they love a girlfriend? Do those three words mean more than a label? When are words as important as actions? Discuss.

– Meredith

I shouldn't be leaning on him

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 28, 2010 07:38 AM

It's my birthday today.

I'm telling you that not because I am seeking attention (OK, fine, maybe I am a little), but because I was getting all weepy last night about Love Letters and how lucky I feel all of the time, and how awesome you are, even you lurkers. (Lurkers make the world go 'round, folks).

You are the world's best birthday present. You are iced coffee with two sugars. As Janet Jackson would say, love would never do without you. As Janet Jackson would also say, we are a part of a rhythm nation.

An emotional letter for an emotional day …

Q: A few months ago, your column featuring the man who had just found the perfect woman and had cancer really struck a chord with me. I still think about it from time to time.

My mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am in my mid-20s and in the midst of a lot of "game changers." I have two jobs and am in school. I live with my parents.

I also began dating a really wonderful man a few months ago -- I adore him. He isn't necessarily the "perfect guy" (although he is really awesome) and I don't see Elysian visions of marriage. I don't anticipate anything serious and neither does he -- we just want to enjoy each other's company. He is thoughtful, fun, sweet, caring, hilarious, and considerate. Our relationship is still rather casual, but we spend a lot of time together. So, simply put, my love life is pretty nice right now.

Here is the problem -- I am an emotional wreck. I haven't been dealing well with my mother's diagnosis at all. My routines are shot to bits; I have been acting impulsively (not destructively); I am not quite financially stable; I have erratic sleeping habits; I have been acting extremely flaky and distracted in many areas of my life. Not to be dramatic, but my family members and I are also witnessing my mother undergo a steep and painful decline.

Last week and today there were very intense fights with my family (primarily with my father). My guy-pal has known from the start about my mother. He has been really great and understanding about the whole thing. Up until last week, I only touched upon it occasionally. After the first fight with my family, I tried to hold it in when I went out to dinner with the guy but he sensed something was amiss. I then let it all hang out when we got back to his place. The same thing happened this afternoon, when I called him to distract myself from the situation. I just ended up crying and crying. He is so nice and patient. Still, I have a major complex about divulging my feelings to friends and feeling like I am burdening them, thus there is no doubt that I must go into counseling very soon.

Just as I feel wary of unloading my feelings on my friends, I don't think it is fair of me to do the same to him. I've expressed that to him but he tells me that he doesn't mind listening to me. I am thinking that I might have to end our wonderful, just-fine-as-it-is relationship. Not because of him, but because I don't want him to feel obligated to "deal with me" and my emotions. I don't WANT to end it, but I think it's the fairest thing to do -- to say, "I am an emotional wreck due to my familial situation, and this isn't fair for you." I am writing to you for some guidance on this, of course, because the classic head-heart conflict is taking place. I adore him, but I want to preserve his sanity.

– Mess in Rockland

A: This guy doesn't feel obligated to deal with you, MIR. At least it doesn't sound that way to me. And you're not obligated to marry him even if he helps you out during this difficult time.

You can explain that you're concerned about him. You can explain that you're not at your best these days. If he chooses to remain your companion, fine. He knows the risks.

Maybe this is a temporary relationship and yes, maybe one of you will wind up hurt or burdened. It's also possible that you'll wind up really digging each other, even when there's less drama. You said it yourself -- you don't know up from down right now. For all you know, this thing will grow into something big.

I don't like the idea of putting off relationships until life is less messy. Life is always pretty messy. Your life is especially messy right now, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to enjoy some good stuff. This guy is making life more positive for you at the moment. Don't deprive yourself.

For the record, the tone of your letter suggests that you're handling everything like a champ. Not all erratic, sleep-deprived twenty-somethings stew about their emotional responsibilities and how they might be inconveniencing others. But yes, counseling is a good idea. For you and the fam.

Readers? Should she let go of the guy so that she doesn't lean on him too much? Is it possible that this relationship has more potential than she thinks it does? Is it possible to have a sane romantic relationship during insane family times? Will he feel obligated to stick around because of her family situation? Help, please.

– Meredith

I have a kidney infection

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 16, 2010 11:20 AM

That's not a song lyric. I have one. Yes, I'm treating it. How did I get said kidney infection? Apparently, I don't drink enough water.

Yes, it is moderately uncomfortable. But we'll chat anyway, and I'll do my best to stick it out. Doctor's appt. after we're done.

She was raped

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 20, 2010 09:06 AM

Q: I have a tough situation on my hands and would like your thoughts on how to approach it all. I have been dating a great gal for several months. I have very strong feelings for her and see a future with her.

Everything in the relationship seems to be going well. But I've started to find out more information about her past that just causes me to worry about her. I've come to find out that she was once in a physically abusive relationship, and that two years ago, she was raped. The two are separate situations.

I found out about the latter after we were intimate one night. I said and did something that triggered a flashback; most would construe what I did as a sweet and loving gesture. Unfortunately, what I did/said was very similar to what her attacker did and that's why she broke down. Knowing what I know of her, she probably would have kept this from me but she was forced to come clean after she broke down.

I really admire her strength but she has low self-esteem and is very apt to blame herself for stuff. What I think would help is reinforcing a higher sense of self-esteem by telling her how much I admire her strength, love her, and how I think she's so beautiful inside and out. Unfortunately, it's a Catch 22 because of the circumstances of her attack.

I literally found about the rape earlier tonight and am just floored. To be honest, I'm trying to write cohesively but feel like I'm just rambling. I'm hurting so much right now having found out what she's been through. I care about her a lot and am just so sad for her.

I guess my questions are:
1. Should I lay off trying to reinforcing a positive self esteem because of the Catch 22?
2. Should I also seriously back off getting intimate; she seems to enjoy the sex and has never pulled back or anything like that but I'm concerned that she might have a great poker face and is hiding that our getting intimate affects her and while she's said that she's seen counseling, I'm not sure if she's still currently seeing counseling. Should I bring the subject up again to be certain that she's getting help from people who know how to help?
3. All this just feels like such a heavy burden for her to carry. I care so much about her. She deserves the best and I am giving her my very best but this just feels so much bigger than me and what I can do.


– Wondering What To Do, Boston

A: WWTD, that's quite a letter.

The big thing that I usually tell significant others of rape/sexual assault/abuse survivors is that it's not up to them (the significant other) to decide how important the awful experience was for their partner. It's also not the job of the significant other to do any saving. The act of saving makes a person feel as though they need to be saved. And often, they've already saved themselves.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by reinforcing positive self-esteem. There's no need to shower your girlfriend -- or anyone else for that matter -- with gratuitous compliments. Too much of that begins to sound disingenuous. Your desire to show up and spend time with her is the greatest compliment. No need to go above and beyond with "You're so pretty" rants.

And there's definitely no need to cut out the physical intimacy. If you refuse sex, you're basically telling her she isn't up to having it. This is her call. If she likes sex, fantastic.

This is bigger than you, but so is everything in her past. All you can do is ask questions and be a friend. In your case, it's OK to ask her if she's still in counseling. The bottom line is that she freaked out because of something you did. That gives you the right to ask her what you can do to avoid a repeat situation, and it certainly gives you the right to tell her that you're a bit dumfounded as to what to do with this new information. Explain that it doesn't turn you off to her (in fact, it only makes you respect her more), but you just want to have the healthiest, most awesome relationship with her that you possibly can, and you want some guidance -- from her and maybe whatever therapist she chooses to see, if she chooses to see one. The best thing to do when you don't know what to do is to ask. The question can be as simple as, "How important should I make this?" or "How important is this to you?" You're also allowed to say, "Sometimes I worry about your self-esteem, because you're pretty fantastic and you don't seem to know it."

It sounds like she just had a bad night. And maybe it was just her way of telling you a little more about herself. The best way to handle this new information is to ask questions, to be honest when you're feeling ignorant, to be a friend, to make her laugh, and to understand that she doesn't need you to fix her. Do all that and you're doing the best you can.

Readers? Is he allowed to suggest that she continue therapy? How important is this new information? Is there a way he can help with her self-esteem? Is there any reason to suggest he shouldn't be intimate with her? Share.

Also, on an unrelated note, I have two pairs of tickets for tomorrow's performance of "Prelude to a Kiss" at the Huntington Theatre. If you want them, send a paragraph to my Gmail (meregoldstein at gmail dot com) by 5 p.m. telling me who you want to kiss today and why. I'll pick winners tonight. Tomorrow's performance includes some sort of after-party.

– Meredith

He's a bad drunk

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 17, 2010 09:30 AM


I had a great time at that play the other night. I have to say -- assuming the script is accurate -- Ann Landers and I would have been good friends. She had great pajamas, loved candy, danced around her apartment while she read letters, and thought of her readers as close friends. I can relate.

Q: I have been in a serious relationship with my boyfriend for about 5 months. He is 33, I am 35. Ninety-five percent of the time, I could not ask for a better boyfriend. He cooks dinner for me every night, tells me he loves me all the time, is very affectionate, helps around the house, has a good job, and is great with my son (from a previous relationship). During these times, I am the happiest, luckiest woman in the world. I know it's "only" been 5 months, but we are together everyday for the most part.

HOWEVER ... when he drinks, he becomes a total different person. He gets mood swings -- one minute he loves me and can't live without me, the next minute he is mad at me (just out of the blue). The first time I saw him like that, a family member just died, so I took it as, oh, he is just under a lot of stress, and didn't say anything that night. I did let him know the next day, and he just said "Next time I get like that, just punch me in the face." I laughed it off.

A month later he was out with his buddies from work. I knew he was going out for a little bit and that he would be home around 9. He started texting me around 7 p.m., same scenario -- loving at first, then mean and cruel. I asked him when he was coming home (as he takes the train), and by then (it was 10 p.m.) he was overly drunk, incoherent, and walking around Boston aimlessly by himself. Of course I was worried, drove to Boston, and drove around two hours looking for him, because he was so drunk, he had no idea where he was. Then the whole car ride back he was calling me names, being mean to me, just hurting my feelings.

The next day, I told him about all the things he said (he didn't remember), and he was very apologetic. Now fast forward another six weeks to last night. He called me to tell me he was going to be an hour late. I waited at the train station, and waited, and waited. After two hours I went home. Then, of course, the same texts came in, he was drunk, wandering around Boston, no clue where he was, first being sweet, then being a jerk. I stood my ground and told him he can find his own place to sleep, as I was not going to drive around Boston looking for him again. Of course he was texting me all night.

As I was writing this, being worried about him as I didn't hear from him since around 3:30am ... (I was tossing and turning the whole night), he just called. He again apologized, saying he handles stress wrong, and that it has nothing to do with me, and that he won't do this again, and he will cut down on his drinking.

I am wondering how many times I should give him a chance. Please note that he does NOT drink everyday, or every weekend, as I think he knows how bad he gets. But when he does drink, I always dread it, as he does not know how to moderate, he goes to full blown drunk.

When he is sober, which is 95 percent of the time, he is amazing! As I said before, he takes care of me, bonds really close with my son and my family, and helps around the house, cooks everyday. I get nightly massages, he’s always loving and affectionate, has a great job, and wants to marry me and have children with me. I just don't know how to deal with his drinking when he drinks, as he becomes a horrible person that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

– At a Crossroad, Dracut

A: AAC, I'm about to state the obvious here, but your boyfriend has a drinking problem. It doesn't matter that he only shows it some of the time. It's still a drinking problem. It's a drinking problem that puts you at risk, hurts your feelings, and has you searching for your partner in the middle of the night like he's a lost dog.

You have two options: drop him -- or make a list of demands that include no more booze and major counseling. I'm not sure the second option is really on the table, of course. You can't force him to admit his problem and seek help. But unless he wants to admit that he has a problem and has the desire to fix it, there's not much you can do besides walk away.

Even if this man is open to confronting his problem, you need to think about whether this mostly good (and slightly scary) relationship is worth sticking around for. It's not that people with drinking problems can't manage their issues and aren't worth dating, it's just that you're new to this partnership. You haven't invested too much just yet. This process won't be easy for him. Do you want to be a part of it?

I'd also note that 95 percent of the first five months of a relationship isn't an accurate snapshot of reality. My guess is that 95 percent of your relationship with him in three years would look pretty different. Aren't we usually on our best behavior during the first five months?

The bad 5 percent is an important 5 percent. You said you wouldn't wish this on anyone. Do you wish it on yourself?

Readers? Should she stick around? What is this about? Can he fix the 5 percent? Is the 95 percent real? Thoughts.

– Meredith

Will I be a young widow?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 12, 2010 09:45 AM

Finally, details on the June 4 Love Letters/Extra Bases party.

1. It will be at Game On! near Fenway Park at 6 p.m.
2. There will be apps.
3. It is free.
4. There will be some trivia during the night, but not enough to annoy you.
5. I might bring my cotton candy machine if they let me. We'll see. Pink or blue. Your call.
6. We'll have access to visitor batting cages at Fenway so you can work out your aggression.
7. There will be other surprises. The Extra Bases folks and I are still working them out. Yes, all sports writers who are not on the road with games will attend.
8. Sports fans are welcome. Love Letters fans are welcome. People who dislike sports but like Love Letters are welcome. People who dislike Love Letters but like sports are welcome, but I'll probably give them the evil eye.
9. All ages are welcome. This isn't a singles' event, so couples are also welcome. But if you want to trade some numbers with new friends, fine by me. You know I'm dying for a LL wedding.
10. Please RSVP at I think the RSVP helps us make sure we get enough free stuff to pass out. Remember those ice scrapers from the last Love Letters event? Those were some sweet, sweet ice scrapers. And I'm still using that lip balm.

Sound good? The Sox will be in Baltimore that night. I was raised in Maryland but I promise to root for the right team.

Also, it's chat day. 1 p.m.

Q: Hello Meredith,

I love your blog and like others never suspected I would be writing you one day! So here is my story ...

I am 26 years old. I am madly in love and have a man in my life that I am committed to being happily ever after with. We have been together for two years, share a house, and have a couple of dogs that we may or may not have an unhealthy obsession with. You're waiting for the "but" right? OK, well my "but" is that this man is 11 years my senior.

So, I know it's a lot (Or is it? I don't even know anymore.). The thing is, when we're together, I don't feel this difference and neither does he. We like the same things, have fun together and both of our families and friends are always telling us what a wonderful couple we are. Granted, we occasionally have a generational misunderstanding about music, TV, culture etc., but nothing crazy -- more comical, I would say. I'm mature for my age and he is probably a little less mature than the average 37-year-old guy. He was in graduate school (PhD) until he was 29 and since has been in a tenure track job that is a tad bit demanding. I am currently in graduate school (doctorate) in a totally different field/academic institution. We both have long-term relationships in our past, including one called off engagement for him.

The thing is that we've been talking marriage lately. My problem is that I'm now feeling a little anxious about our age-gap. I'm having thoughts like, "When I'm X age, he'll be X age," and asking questions like, "Will I be a young widow?" I keep talking about these things with my poor boyfriend and he calms me down, but the fact that I'm thinking these things is stressing me out. We were also recently at a party and a man who was introduced to us winked at my boyfriend and said "She's a little young for you, eh?" I was there by the way, and pretty mortified. So yeah, that's not helping and it's making me a bit paranoid about what other people might be saying behind my back. I'm officially losing it, right?

So my questions for you are: What do these anxious questions/feelings mean? Is this age-gap a big deal? Am I being just a Nervous Nelly who is questioning a good thing, just to question it?

– A Little Young for Him Apparently, Boston

A: You're being a Nervous Nelly, ALYFHA, but that's OK. We all get neurotic when we're about to sign on the dotted line. It's normal to try to anticipate anything that might go wrong.

It would be great if you were the same age as your guy, but you aren't. I understand the math (when you're 50, he'll be 61!!), but really, 11 years isn't a big deal. It doesn't mean you'll be a young widow. You're both so young. It really doesn't seem worth guessing about your deaths at the moment. Maybe you'll both be taken out by some sort of crazy wave/poisonous fruit when you're 90 and 101. It's not worth stressing about that kind of thing.

People say that age is just a number and it really is. One of my close family members dated someone her own age for a very long time and it seemed … off. Now she's with someone who's about a decade younger and it seems much easier. Their shared place in life is more important than their birthdays. She watched "The Cosby Show" when it was new, he saw it syndicated. She grew up with Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love," and he probably had "Honey" on a mix tape. No biggie.

The guy who made the comment at the party was probably just jealous. Next time that happens, just wink and smile. The age stuff is only as important as you make it. And at your age, it doesn't seem worth worrying about.

Readers? Is she just being a Nervous Nelly? When is an age gap inappropriate (10 years? 11? 20?)? Is the "Will I be a young widow?" question a logical one? Anyone who's in love with an older person want to weigh in on this? Discuss.

– Meredith

Is this relationship worth saving?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 28, 2010 09:21 AM

You'll notice that there are discussion boards -- or champagne rooms, as I like to call them -- on the side of our page. Feel free to enjoy them. I was reading them last night. Very amusing.

In other news, our next Love Letters event is officially June 4. We'll be co-hosting the party with Extra Bases. Love and baseball. It will be like a Kevin Costner movie. More details to come.

Today is chat day.

Oh -- and before I forget, check out the cover story of the food section.

Q: Oh Meredith,

I'm stuck in a very painful spot in my relationship. We've been together for almost two years and we couldn't be farther apart from one another. A few months into our relationship when things were still new and unsure, I committed an indiscretion. After much pain and turmoil, we pushed past it and tried to make things work. We moved in together a few months later.

Almost a year since we moved in, we've become more like roommates than partners. We are very different people (which I knew would be an issue) but it's reaching a breaking point. He's very compartmentalized, shows little to no emotion, and justifies it by saying that emotion is a waste of energy. He's had a painful few years, lost his mother the summer before we met, and has constant family tension.

I'm an artist by nature, emotional and sentimental. We've had numerous conversations about our relationship and differences over the past few months. He's made countless remarks that degrade my sentimentality and emotion, simply because he doesn't understand it. Talks turned into emotional fits (on my part) and that spawned his anger about my "waste of energy."

I bought a new computer, (I had been without one for months) and he is suspicious of everything I do. I've been open and honest with him about everything, yet he still gives me suspicious looks and makes comments.

I'm trying to let my actions speak in showing my devotion and love for him, but it's come to the point where I feel like I'm beating my head against the brick wall he lives in.

I want to regain the passion and magic that we once had, but a recent health issue has made grilled cheese non-existent. I also feel my attempts at romance go completely unnoticed, even when he says he appreciates it. I know my actions are still the big elephant in the room, but after months of attempts at romance and feeling like I'm getting nothing in return, should I press on and try to find our common ground or accept that no matter how much I love him, he's not the right person for me?

– At the end of my rope, Jamaica Plain

A: ATEOMR, you forgot to give us the list of the things you like about him. You forgot to tell us the good stuff. What was so great about him in the beginning? What made you want to stay with him after your early indiscretion?

I fear that what keeps you around is guilt -- and your need to make things right even when they aren't. You weren't into him enough in the beginning to be faithful, but you went out of your way to prove to him that you wanted to work through it. Since then, he has dismissed your feelings and made you feel bad about your natural temperament, but you've done your best to keep the relationship afloat. You've gotten used to treading water and doing constant repairs to make things work. Sounds exhausting.

I don't like telling people to break up. It feels wrong, especially when I don't have all of the details. But I will say that your letter is quite telling. Many letter writers feel the need to give me a long list of their partner's qualities before telling me what's wrong. Your letter, on the other hand, is basically a list of bad things without any good. Does that mean there wasn't much good to begin with? I have no idea. It certainly means that you're not seeing much good in the present.

Your homework: Make a list of your partner's positive attributes, all of the things you forgot to tell us about. Don't just make it in your head -- use a pen and paper. As you write down each attribute, make note of when you last saw him exhibit that attribute. If you haven’t seen these positive characteristics since the very beginning of your relationship, it may be time for a change.

And for the record, I don’t think your indiscretion is the big elephant in the room. It's the small elephant in the room. The big elephant is your inherent differences, the fact that you partner thinks your feelings are a "waste of energy."

Readers? What can we glean from the lack of positivity in his letter? Is this about his early indiscretion? Is our letter writer simply over-sensitive? Should the letter writer’s guy get a pass because he’s had so many life issues? Discuss.

– Meredith

She's lost that loving feeling

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 15, 2010 08:24 AM

Tax day.

Q: Love your column. I never thought I would I have to write you but my situation is getting to me. Married seven years with three wonderful kids. I love my wife dearly. I'm more attracted to her now then when we first dated. But here's my problem. Our lack of intimacy and her lack of affection is killing me. She is never in the mood, never initiates. She never tells me she appreciates me. I have told her how I felt and how much this hurts me. I have cried during our discussion yet she thinks there isn't an issue (readers, please go easy on me). She is always turning me down. Nothing hurts more then being rejected by your significant other time after time. Sometimes I just want to give up.

She thinks I don't understand her and I'm unreasonable. I do understand we have three very active kids and both work. I cook and prepare dinner on most nights. I help feed, bathe, read and help our oldest with homework every night. (This is the reason why it irks me when she claims she is too tired for intimacy.) When she has had a rough and stressful day at work, I try my best to keep the kids away from her and let her relax. I'm not looking for praises from others. I just want acknowledgement from my wife and not be taken for granted.

I don't want a divorce, it's not an option. I don't want my kids shuttling back and forth between parents. We both adore our kids. If we were to separate, it pains me how this will affect my kids life. I want to work things out. I love her dearly and want to spend the rest of my life with her. But this emptiness is killing me. I have suggested counseling but she thinks we don't have any issue. She's very adamant against counseling and thinks I'm overreacting. Meredith and readers please help me. Can counseling help my marriage? I'm I asking for too much?

– Sometimes Love Is Not Enough, Cambridge

A: Love is almost always enough, SLINE, especially when love involves considering your partner's needs. You're not asking for too much. You want your wife to be more than a friend. You're attracted to her. That's pretty great.

But something seems to be missing in your letter. When she says you don't understand her, what is she talking about? It makes me wonder whether there's a bigger reason she isn't interested in affection. Like … a chemical thing. Sometimes we lose our drives for reasons that are beyond our control. Sometimes a medical doctor winds up being more of a help than a head doctor.

Here's my thought: e-mail her. Write a letter to your wife. She can wave off a problem in person, but in writing, she'll have to put it into words. It might be a more comfortable way for her to say uncomfortable things.

You can tell her how much this is getting to you. You can tell her that you're concerned that the lack of intimacy will drive you apart. You can explain that intimacy doesn't have to mean sex. If she's exhausted and simply wants to cuddle while watching "House," that would be nice. She may believe that this is an overreaction and that intimacy isn't a key part of your relationship, but you don't agree. Ask her in writing what she wants to do about this. You're certainly open to suggestions, unless her suggestion is to ignore the problem.

And most importantly, ask her what you're missing. Is it just the hectic schedule? Is there more? Is it something physical? She's saying you don't understand her. You want to understand her. You're ready to listen.

Something tells me she won't brush you off in writing. As many of our letter writers will tell you, writing is a good way to get some quick, clear honesty. Make her do that. If she can't, therapy is just about the only option.

Readers? How can the letter writer get his partner to listen? Any thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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