Advice: Surprise! There’s a Camera in my Bedroom

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I was raised Catholic, and my parents and I go to church semi-regularly. I am 19 years old and in college, and still live with my parents. Recently, I learned something that’s kind of freaking me out and I don’t know what to do.

Our house was broken into several years ago, and after that my parents installed perimeter cameras. I didn’t know they had installed any cameras inside the house. Surprise, surprise. Suffice to say, when I’ve been alone in the house I have occasionally done things to relieve certain urges, and I sometimes walk around nude in my room after a shower.

On the one hand, I want to confront my parents about this, but I don’t want them to have a reason to go into their video archive and watch anything for themselves. I suspect that since they haven’t said anything they haven’t watched anything, but that’s the problem. I don’t know what they know. On the other hand, I feel like I should just let it drop. I mean, they’re my parents, right? It’s not like anything bad has come of this.

I’ve been hearing all about the sins of self-love for my entire life. I don’t totally agree with the way the church talks about it but I still don’t know how I would feel about confronting my parents about it.  What should I do?

–Not As Alone As I Thought

P: Pssst… Set ‘em up, Terri, we need to steady our nerves if we’re going to talk about parents who spy on their kids when they’re grown ups. Yikes.

B: Imma answer this as soon as I’m done beating my head against the bar.

Dear Not Alone,

It seems like paranoia runs in your family. Your parents are paranoid that someone might be manhandling their little girl, and you’re paranoid that your parents might know that all the manhandling in your room is being done by you.

What’s a Catholic girl with burgeoning sexuality to do?

There are a few things happening here. One: you’re going through an enormous growing pang. Two: you’re an adult now and need to set down some new parameters. Three: your parents are, unfortunately, a little bit creepy, and need to stop.

The first thing I want you to do, regarding growing pangs, is to start calling things by their real names. Whether you’re “doing things to relieve certain urges”, or tickling your taco, or flicking the bean, what you’re actually doing is masturbating. Say it at least once before returning to the more adorable-sounding bean-flicking. Masturbate. See? It’s just a word, and an adult one, at that.

I also want to take a moment to redirect your focus. This isn’t a letter about whether or not you should masturbate (because oh, honey, you should get to know yourself in every way possible, and this is simply an avenue of your blossoming sex life) or what your parents might think if they know you do it. It’s a question of adulthood and privacy, and where boundary lines need to be drawn. It’s also…not really…a question of what they have or have not seen, because you’ve done nothing to be ashamed of (walked around naked in your own room? Played the flesh fiddle?) and besides, what’s been done is done, what’s been seen is seen. Do you need to know exactly what they saw and when? Because…why? Your issue ought to be more that they respect the privacy you deserve.

P: Not that I think it’s particularly relevant to your parents’ spying, but since I’m the priestess, let me address the whole masturbation thing from a religious standpoint. There’s only one mention of what we think of as masturbation in the Hebrew Scriptures. You can look it up (Gen. 38.9). When Onan’s elder brother died, O was forced to give the brother’s widow a child so she had a way to claim a livelihood. He did not, and his babyjuice hit the dirt, which then became a sin. It had to do with wasting “seed” which at that point was considered to “belong” to the patriarch, who decided where wombs were impregnated and seed was spent. So it was a flouting of responsibility that had nothing to do with his having a great time on his own.

But worries about masturbation are ways to control people, and in particular women. Although in my youth, there were plenty of “worried” jokes about boys growing hairy palms — which come to think of it, might have added some welcome friction… but I digress.

If you read the literature, the worries are more about your knowing what you want, and anticipating a good sexual relationship with your future partner. Can’t have that.

It also conflates masturbation with obsession rather than natural urges. Sigh. Glad you’re taking care of yourself. Hope your fantasies are lovely and not demeaning. If because of your training they’re not great, you might want to work on redoing your fantasy life. Because as the Bartender says, and she hears as much of this as I do, exploring yourself and your sexuality is a wonderful, important step in your life.

P: If in fact there’s a camera in your bedroom that is active. this is creepy. It’s also weird. Be very sure it’s an active camera before you talk to them. But …

The fact that the first thing you think about when you say your parents are looking at you is masturbation probably means you’re not doing hard drugs, so it’s not as if there were any reason for them to be suspicious, even if it weren’t still furtive and icky.  And yes, I’d be completely weirded out if I thought my parents were watching me walk around naked in my room or watching me “take care of urges.” Because this? Is spying. Or even creepier, voyerism.

B: You don’t specifically state in which room you’ve discovered this unwanted gaze, but since we’re talking about masturbating then I will assume it’s in your bedroom, since a camera in the bathroom is far too disturbing for me to contemplate.

If the camera IS in a public space, like the living room, then all bets are off. Stop wanking off in trafficked areas! And rewrite this letter so we can discuss your secret desire to get caught.

So you have a camera in your bedroom. Ick. One that your parents never told you they installed, double-ick. And it needs to be un-installed, or at the very least, blocked.

You can do one of a few things. You can cover the camera with a T-shirt and wait until your parents say something to you. This is passive, but you can at least feel comfortable knowing you aren’t being filmed in your down time. Or your get-down time. And if your parents do mention something, then you can tell them you don’t appreciate being filmed without your knowledge or consent, and you consider it a violation of the general principles of privacy that a parent ought to bestow upon their child.

You might want to practice saying that part until you get used to it.

You can address the issue straight on, and tell your mother and father that you discovered there is a camera in your bedroom. You can tell them you don’t think it’s right, that it violates your privacy, and that you expect them to remove the camera tout de suite, or you’ll pull it out of the wall yourself.

Can you disconnect it yourself? Because if you can, that’s a possibility. Leave it on the kitchen table with a note: Hey, you must have left this in my room, because I know it’s not mine.

Or you can leave the camera where it is, and walk around resenting them for being intrusive.

Because a camera in your bedroom IS intrusive, and it robs you of your autonomy and your sense of well-being. Have you felt “normal” since you discovered the camera? Or have you felt freaked out and vaguely guilty, even though you’ve done nothing wrong? My guess is “freaked out and vaguely guilty”, because otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing to us. And you need to understand: NOBODY ought to be permitted to make you feel like that. Especially not if it’s you granting the permission. And if you don’t take any course of action and leave the camera as-is, then you’re giving tacit permission for them to continue to make you feel bad. Inaction is an action. Bonus! The negative feelings will stay, too. This is a major test of your status as an adult. The problem with being an adult is, often (and for me as well), figuring out how to act like one.

Now, it’s possible your parents will push back and offer up the “If you’re living in my house then you’re living by my rules”, which once again invalidates your status as an adult. If that happens, then you’re at another crossroad (and believe me, the crossroads never stop appearing in front of you, no matter how slick you think you are at organizing your life). It will be up to you to decide if you want to move on campus, or move out, or continue as you are in their house—camera and all—until you graduate from college. Because of your age they can absolutely withhold your ability to get financial aid (and can do so until you’re 24) so if you intend to stay in college you probably don’t want to alienate them entirely.

I wish I had an easier answer for you, because the question really isn’t about whether or not you—like pretty much every other human being in the world—masturbates, and whether or not your parents know. It’s about whether or not you deserve the privacy a closed door ought to signify. I say, of course you do. The trick is getting your parents to see it that way too.

P: Privacy. Yes. They don’t believe in it. And sadly, what comes up is that whatever your parents have taught you about honesty… they don’t believe. They have chosen lying over honesty so that they can spy on you. And how did you find out? Have you been sneaking around? This is not a family trait you want to take on…

I understand that it’s nice to live at home and inexpensive. And you may be going to school and pursuing dreams. And I want you to have dreams and pursue them.

It is not good for a 19 year old to be under secret surveillance. They’re saying, whatever they think they’re saying, that they think you’re going to run off the rails. We internalize what people think of us. So we start thinking about running off the rails rather than pursuing our dreams.

If you think they’re open, and I have my suspicions, you can talk with them about stopping it. You can say you’re aghast, you feel invaded, that you’ve never given them cause to be suspicious and this is a terrible way to relate to you. Do you have siblings? Because if you do this is information they need and they may want to join you in this intervention.

But siblings aside, I think you’d better be prepared to move out. Which means you need to prepare. Do you have a job? Get one. Doing anything. Until you can afford to move out, you might start paying rent. Get a contract with them that precludes their spying on you. If you think they can be trusted. And so far, they haven’t shown you that they can.

I know it’s easy to have them pay for things. But they’re stealing your independence. Even for love, that’s too big a price to pay.

Bottom line: it's time to start standing up for how you want to be treated.

Bottom line: it’s time to start standing up for how you want to be treated.

If you have a question for The Bartender and The Priestess, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Non-spambot humans, remove spaces and insert proper punctuation.

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Advice: He Cheated Once. Now What?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Some years ago, my husband was unfaithful to me with a co-worker. We decided we still loved each other enough to stay together and put this nastiness behind us, and have managed to rebuild our marriage since then.

But. Of course there’s a but. He used to work with this one woman that he’s still friends with. When they worked together they often exchanged conversation during their down times (mornings before work, or during a coffee break), and from what I understand nothing ever came of it. She has taken another job at a different company, but they maintain their friendship. She’ll send him emails asking how he is, or forward jokes to him.

I can’t help but think that he’s connecting with her through his work email to keep this relationship secret from me. Why not just use our home email account? Am I just paranoid, or insecure, or what? This is driving me crazy. If their friendship is just platonic, why try and keep me from knowing about it? Why not just tell me? My guess is he would say he is keeping this friendship from me so I wouldn’t have to endure the knowledge that he’s friends with her. But why all this going behind my back?

–Fretting and Fearful

 

Dear F&F,

P: I think there are a lot of questions to be looked at here. Marriage. It’s complicated.

I guess the first question I’d want to know is what kind of work did you do to put the “nastiness,” or as we like to call it infidelity behind you? Did you actually do therapy and talk about what happened or did you just pave over it? Because (am I really going to use a paving analogy here?) roads crack if the road bed isn’t solid. (I guess I am.)

If you’ve done the work, and somehow I’m not hearing that in your description, then it should be fairly easy to enter into an ongoing conversation.

B: My initial question is: How long do you plan to conduct a relationship with someone you don’t trust?

The unfortunate thing is when a relationship suffers a betrayal, and the parties agree to stay together, it inherently requires that both parties work to move forward in that relationship. Which means leaving the past in the past and facing the future together. Which is, of course, easier said than done. You don’t mention whether you two went to marriage counseling.

It is entirely understandable that you are gunshy about your husband’s making friends with a woman at work. It’s also understandable that you spend more than a reasonable amount of time thinking…and thinking…and thinking…about his history and how it matches up with his present.

It’s understandable. It’s not acceptable. Note the distinction.

Hmmmm…conducting this through his work email, so you don’t find out about it…

Does that mean you’re snooping his emails? Going through his phone while he’s in the shower, hacking his work email account when he goes out to run errands?

P: I also noticed that you don’t say how you found out about the email relationship he’s having with this former co-worker. You don’t make it sound like it was through a conversation you had with your husband. If you’re snooping, and perhaps not without reason, then you haven’t really put the past behind you. We all need our space in relationship, but when there’s been infidelity, some things, more than others require disclosure so as not to arouse suspicion. He was the one who was unfaithful, he needs to avoid certain behaviors, honoring you, your relationship and your realistic fears.

That said, snooping raises another flag. I would find it difficult to be in a relationship where I was tempted to spend my time keeping tabs on my partner rather than reading or writing the next great American novel… or even playing solitaire on line.

B: Seriously, honey, if that’s the case then you need to settle down. First of all, if you’re compromising his work email, you may place him in a precarious position at his job, since there may be sensitive business information there that is only meant for employee access. And secondly, his cheating on you does not immediately void him of any sort of privacy. He has a right to a personal life that doesn’t include you. Would you like it if he read your diary? Or hacked your email, or scrolled your phone? Of course not, it’s your private stuff, your inner life. You deserve that much, right? Why doesn’t he?

Take our advice, friend!

Take our advice, friend!

P: But snooping is an awful waste of your time. You deserve a relationship where that’s not necessary. And you deserve to be a person who isn’t constantly suspicious. You’ve got some of your own stuff to deal with — which doesn’t in any way negate his responsibilities!

B: There are three elements in every relationship. There is Partner 1. There is Partner 2. And there is the relationship. Both partners come to the relationship with baggage, and history, and quirks, and humor, that have been formed and are independent of the formation of said partnering. Being in a relationship doesn’t eliminate the boundaries between one person and another; you are still separate, distinct creatures. Your husband, independently of you, can be friendly with other people, particularly ones that he’s had to share a third of his waking life with. That share at least a nominative professional interest.

Then you say, “I can’t help but think…”. So, you assume. You are finding him guilty every day of a past offense, and not even giving him the benefit of explaining himself. Is it because you ARE snooping and don’t want to admit that to him? Regardless of why you’re doing this, the thing is, you’re having entire conversations with him INSIDE YOUR HEAD that he’s not even aware of. Partner 1, Partner 2, the relationship. You’re having your relationship without including Partner 2, which is no relationship at all. If you choose to stay in a relationship, then choose it in all its fully-formed, three-pronged messy glory. Tend to it. Have the difficult talk wherein you lay out your fears and concerns and insecurities. If he’s hiding an innocent friendship from you then believe me, he senses this already.

P: We don’t know what kind of relationship he’s having with her. If he’s on a list of people she emails jokes to, then that’s one thing. If it’s a deeper friendship then that’s another.

Responses would be different depending on what they’re doing. People don’t need to be doing the bed mambo to be unfaithful to their vows and relationships.

So, I’m never buying the “but we’re not sleeping together.” Sex? It’s sex and it’s complicated. But emotional infidelity? If he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you. And if he’s hiding that he’s sharing with her, he’s holding back from you and she’s… oh, right we don’t care so much about her.

B: The fact is, your husband has a job which involves him going out into the work force, and unless he works at the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, he’s going to encounter female co-workers. Also, people tend to try and get along with—even befriend!—people they’re in an office with for forty hours + per week. I would worry that he wasn’t making any sort of friendship with female co-workers, because when people work together that’s a normal thing to do.

P: In healthy relationships, you don’t always gauge the people according to whether your spousal unit will like them, but you pay attention, especially when they’re the opposite sex. Generally, it’s good when we say, hey, I know this great woman from work, let’s make a double date and go out with her and her husband, I think we’ll get along.

But if that didn’t get suggested when they were working together… you’re not wrong to ask questions. And the oh, I wouldn’t want to hurt you? Um… too late. You are. Lying to me hurts me. And this is lying. Omission, commission, schmomission… Lying!

Because, if you develop a friendship with someone your partner doesn’t particularly want to hang with, you find something in the relationship with this new friend to share with your partner. Share the jokes or progress on the joint project. All of us, if we’re healthy, have friends with people of the opposite sex. Certainly my husband and I do. But we know what’s going on in one another’s lives. We know who the friends are and why we’re hanging out. I don’t want to go to his music meetings. He doesn’t particularly want to go to my ministerial stuff. Both of us have challenging and interesting relationships with other people outside our marriage… and we’re glad to share that with one another. This doesn’t sound like that. Sure, one of us may forget to mention we had lunch with so-and-so, but that’s really different that hiding that we’re talking to someone by private message every single morning.

B: While all that is true, the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. How do YOU want to handle this? Do you want to confront him about his friendship and explain—calmly, with reason on your side—why you don’t like it? Or do you want to be tense in your guts and hope to that he just figures it out on his own? No matter what you think he might think, he’s not a mind reader, and neither are you. I can hear you right now…but he..! But he..!  Yes, but he. I know, right? He did it. He cheated. And years later, he is still being tried daily and found guilty of an offense he committed, by your own admission, years ago. Two? Ten? I don’t know. But you haven’t moved on, since you’re living in his betrayal every day.

Sure, I would most certainly have things to say to him about this, too. But I’m talking to you.

P: So, I want to know are you getting counseling? In a healthy relationship, it’s good when we want more than for our partner not to fool around on us. What do you want from this marriage? Is that realistic with this partner. Because his lying and cheating negates he knows how to build an addition on your house. One you can hire out for… the other, not so much. And if he’s NOT lying and cheating, you’re wasting precious time and narrowing what you are getting for one another.

B: I almost think you have the harder job than he does in the recovery of an affair, because you’re the one whose feelings were trampled on. If you want to function more healthily, you’ve got to learn to let your anger and resentment go, and put your trust in someone who has already violated it once. That’s tough, I get it. But right now, the options before you are A) living with stress-inducing, crazy-making insecurity or B) agreeing to find a way to put this past in the past and truly, as partners, move forward together. Or C) splitting up, if neither A nor B are feasible options. You may want to find a marriage counselor to help guide you through this rocky time. But the sake of your health and your heart, find a way to live in the present, and come to understand the husband you have now, not the one who betrayed you then.

P: I’m just big on people’s being happy and healthy. Sneaking peeks at the relationship is like sneaking chocolate. Sneaking and good health and good relationships are not compatible. (I know. That is so not fun to hear.) If he’s going to have these relationships while being in your marriage, are you willing to accept that and develop other interests? Or are you going to set some firm boundaries about what’s ok and what’s not — for you?

That's how it is.

That’s how it is.

 

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photography!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

Thanks to glamorous model Marjorie for joining us on our photo shoot!

If you want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Got a question? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. If you are a non-human spambot, remove spaces and insert punctuation. All questions are confidential.

Thank you for reading!

Advice: Eating Disorders, Honesty, and Marriage

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have always believed that couples are allowed to keep portions of themselves locked away from their partners. You know, the part where we keep our deep secrets, where we can turn thoughts over as we work to understand how these thoughts and memories and philosophies have helped shape us into the people we become. (I mean, does my husband need to know that when I was a kid I had a secret crush on Walter Matthau? But he was so funny..!) My husband similarly keeps things to himself; I didn’t know about when he nearly got expelled from high school, until we had been together for quite a while. Suffice it to say, we both have our skeletons, and I think they can, for the most part, stay deep in our respective closets.

I do struggle more with some issues than other, however. For more than a decade, I’ve hidden my binge eating from my husband. It kind of didn’t matter. I was handling it, you know? And it wasn’t like it was something I did every day. I reasoned that I would keep it from him because it was my problem, not his, and…OK, I admit it, I’m ashamed of it. And I’ve started to realize just how bad this is for me.

I need to fix this. It’s not going away, and I am not getting better. My kids are getting older, and I don’t want them to normalize any of my behavior. I feel so trite when I think about by binge eating, because it connects to a litany of problems. Oh, great, I’m Therapy Girl. But I need to be free of this, and I have to say…I have no idea what to say to my husband. What’s my opener? Hey, honey, funny story, but I thought you should know I compulsively cram food in my mouth until I’m ready to burst, and then tearfully throw out all the evidence?

Sincerely,

Sick And Tired Of All This

Dear Sick and Tired,

B: Indeed, you are absolutely right. A coupled relationship is made of two separate individuals, both of whom have the right to keep some things…

HOLY POCKETS! Hold the phone! Wait one second…did you just compare having an oddball man-crush (for the record, I crush on Oliver Platt, want to make something of it?) with having an eating disorder?

You do realize, these two things are not legitimate comparatives, right? That’s not a matter of pitting apples vs. oranges, that’s like trying to compare apples vs. nuclear submarines.

What I find interesting, and heartbreaking, is the way you diminish yourself and your issues under a jokey mask. You ha-ha, push away, then denigrate yourself for being some kind of pathetic “Therapy Girl”. Do you think you don’t deserve to spend time on yourself? Does asking for help give you heartburn?

I understand, it can be incredibly difficult to admit that you’re vulnerable. That you have a problem, that you need help. There is a culture in the US that glorifies the idea that you can A) pull yourself up by your bootstraps as you B) stoically suffer in silence. You know what that brings? Worn out boots and endless suffering. And, in your case, a face full of whatever’s in the fridge. I want you to repeat after me: THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. Again. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT.

P: I’m really glad you wrote to us, because it means you’re scared enough to do something about it. Terri’s points are really well taken. There is no shame in getting help, in fact, there are only kudos for thinking you’re worth it.

I think you’re missing the point that this isn’t just a shameful habit, it’s a disease that is harmful to you. Eating disorders aren’t a problem just because you’re controlling your world through food (and of course binge eating is giving up all control), they do your body damage.

You’re owning up to living with this for at least a decade. Now is the time to get help. This isn’t about calling a therapist (this isn’t JUST about calling a therapist.) This is about calling your doctor immediately and getting enrolled in a program.

Many food disorders need to be dealt with in live-in programs. This could be a question of life or death. I think writing to us is a statement that you’re willing to choose life. Because nobody writes to the Bartender and the Priestess thinking we’re going to say, there, there, don’t bother.

I’ve known two people who died of eating disorders and many who have spent years in in-house programs. We don’t want this to be you. We want you to live and be happy and healthy.

We hope you want the same.

B: What Ann says. Binge-eating isn’t just a “thing”. You don’t have a weirdo quirk, like having to put your left shoe on before you put on your right. And it’s not like having an inexplicable crush on a potato-faced celebrity. You have a legitimate disorder and it is serious. Your binge eating could impact your health in the long run, as it has been shown to contribute to various diseases, like type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers, just to name a few.

P: Of course, ultimately, you’re right in that this is your problem. Addictions have family implications, but they’re an individual’s problem and disease. It’s the weird thing about addictions — They are diseases, to be sure; but they’re also a problem. It is up to you to decide you’re worth saving. This is your chance. Take it. Do something with it.

And, this is your partner, your mate, to whom you promised faithfulness. Lying about anything is cheating. Lying about addiction that is potentially harmful to you and to your family system is big time cheating. Marriages need honesty: first, with yourself; then, with each other. Hell, every relationship needs honesty. Who else are you lying to? And is being a liar how you want to think of yourself? No, it’s not. So you need to stop. However painful that is. But when you’re telling the truth, remember, you’ve said you’d handle this for years now. You haven’t — because it is both a problem and a disease.

So now you need to try something different, something that admits the imperfections, (everyone has them, know that, everyone), and starts working on honesty in self and in marriage. Imagine a life where you had no dirty, little secrets. It would be so freeing. It would be so healthy.

B: Why do you think your husband doesn’t need to know this? If he were, say, an alcoholic, do you think it would be his problem and his alone to manage? I would hope you’d say, of course not. I would hope you’d say, I married you, and we are a unit, and I will be there to support you as you struggle to regain control of your life. I would hope you wouldn’t say, “La la, your problem, bud, not mine. See you later!” And if you would say that to your life partner, then I would have to ask, why are you even married? We are supposed to find comfort and support in a relationship, not every-man-for-himself-ism.

P: You have children. Giving life means honoring it. It means honoring your own life and sticking around to raise the ones you brought to life. You need to model good health. You owe them the healthiest you you can possibly give them.

PS, your children probably know more about your disease than you think. You probably spend more vulnerable moments with them than with your husband. You’re used to hiding it from your husband; in even the closest marriages, you have a lot of time apart. The kids are with you and they’re always watching. And learning. Do you want to teach your kids to binge, or do you want to teach them that it’s really, really unhealthy.

And kids have a keen nose for lying. You not only want them to think their health is important, you want them not to lie. Lying’s a lousy way to go through life… you’re recognizing that now. That’s what you came to us wanting to change.

You also want them to know they can trust the people they love — family and friends to know the worst about you and love you still.

B: I’m glad that you’re motivated by not wanting this behavior to seen normal to your children, because they deserve better than to have to grow up under the burden of your issues. I just wish your primary motivation was because you loved yourself too much to keep hurting yourself. You talk about your concerns about your husband (does he really need to know…) and your concerns about your children, but where is your concern for you? When you finally say you know it’s bad for you, you immediately counter that by declaring yourself “trite”. Oh, dearest. How I wish you would make yourself a priority.

Going back to your initial question: yes, it is OK to keep skeletons in the closet. If you cheated on your high school boyfriend, learned life lessons from your un-stellar behavior, and don’t feel like that needs to be listed on your disclosure sheet, that’s fine. I don’t think anyone in a relationship needs to discuss former lovers, their “number”, or what your aspirations at age 12 were for your adult career. I don’t think you necessarily have to talk about your awkward period, what color bike you had, when you had your first beer, or any of that. UNLESS it is still impacting your life. You had your first beer at 15 and haven’t stopped drinking yet? Disclose. You cheated on your high school boyfriend and now he’s stalking you? Disclose. When you were 12 you really wanted to be a marine biologist but your parents would only send you to school for accounting, and you’re still resentful and angry about it? Disclose.

You have a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that you’ve struggled with for a decade?

Disclose.

There’s no way to soften the telling, there’s no jokey mask to hide behind. Send the kids away for an overnight with a babysitter, then sit your husband down and talk to him. Just say it. Write it down if you need to, so you have a script in front of you that you can simply read. Forbid him from speaking until you’re done, if you think you don’t have the wherewithal to get past interruptions. But for mercy’s sake, tell him. And then make yourself a priority, so you can let the healing begin.

P: Right. This is not an insignificant issue that might make him think less of you; this is your life, and your sense of self worth. Even if you think he’s going to bolt if you tell him, hiding this is not an option; not if you’re going to get better. I do think you have a couple options in the way you tell him. Which will feel better to you? Which will help him cope?

Do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests: Make the time and the space, tell him.

See your doctor; be clear with the doc and yourself that this is an emergency. Be ruthlessly honest. Find out what your options are — and then, sit down and do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

To find out more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

If you have a question you’d like us to answer, please email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and insert punctuation. 

Central PA Living: Jerseytown Tavern

Snuggled into a northeastern corner of central PA, tiny little Jerseytown (pop. 184) is home to the Jerseytown Tavern, the (self-proclaimed) Bluegrass Capital of Columbia County.

The banner says so.

It’s true. The banner says so.

The Tavern is, basically, a house that’s been converted into a bar and restaurant, and from what I understand, the food is pretty good. Next time, we’ll go for dinner. Every Wednesday night, local musicians pile into this little road house and find a spot for themselves on their one small stage. With one condenser microphone between them. And they bust out some fiddlin’, banjo-in’, dobro-in’, guitar-in’, singin’, butt-shakin’, boot-scootin’ down-home bluegrass and old-school country.

What's that thing overhead..?

What’s that thing overhead..?

And they do it all surrounded by some of the strangest decor I have ever seen in a bar.

Look carefully over the guitarist’s head. That’s right. It’s a “hang in there” raccoon, painted onto the ceiling tile. Every other ceiling tile has some kind of adornment on it, like a chess board full of bizarre.

There’s this zebra.

Hey, buddy! Why the long face?

Hey, buddy! Why the long face? *nyuk nyuk*

And these floating space rabbits and bears. Are those rabbits wearing…is that lederhosen?

 

Wait until they bare their fangs. #TheHorror

Watch out, deer. We’re here to turn you into pants. #TheHorror

No, no lederhosen. They’re just wearing rompers. Boring floating space bunnies in rompers. But…why?

This one is my personal favorite. It’s former President Bill Clinton, playing saxophone.

Nice, uh...shorts. Bill.

Nice, uh…shorts. Bill.

The entire bar is covered in wood etchings. Dig the squirrel who guards my beer.

Thanks, Mr. Squirrel!

Thanks, Mr. Squirrel!

Bonus: They had some really good beers on tap.

And then…the wooden support post…there’s…uh…

Dreamy. Thanks to George for playing along!

Dreamy.
Thanks to George for playing along!

OK, OK, the decor is fun and quirky and all but, there’s the music, right? We went there for the music. What about that?

Because that is how we roll in central PA.

Sing it, Mary.

Oh, we’ll be back.

See you at the Jerseytown Tavern, everyone!

The ’80s Pin Project: So Much Sexy

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

Oh, the crosses one must bear.

Today’s random-pick-a-pin-out-of-the-box generator bemoans the difficulties of trying to cart around a burdensome amount of sexy.

Bow-chicka-wow wow.

Bow-chicka-wow wow.

You know, the funny thing is, I never really felt this way about myself, especially not when I was busy wearing pins. This would have made its way onto my jacket/purse/being in my late teens or maaaaaaybe early 20s (though, really, smart money says this was on me in my teenager-hood). During that time, I was plagued by vicious attacks of non-confidence. I felt chubby. I felt insecure. I felt like I needed external validation regarding my feminine pulchritude. (And don’t let my mother try and tell you any different!) Oy. If only I knew then what I know now.

I generally lean toward the practice of “fake it ’til you make it”; it’s what I did when I went to college (no, really, I am smart and belong here! That’s what I said, until I finally believed it). Thus it makes sense to me that I would have purchased something declaring my abundance of sexy, and worn it with a shirt that let me show off my breasts like they were trophies. It’s what happens when we begin to recognize our sexual power. And have breasts.

Now, I’m just pissed that I bought something that promotes such bad grammar and graphic design. Was that ellipsis really necessary? Right after the comma like that? Especially since the copy space couldn’t accommodate the third period in the ellipsis? And oh my word, what is up with the ridiculous porn font on the word “Sexy”? Ai, me! What was I thinking?

Clearly, in those days, my sense of taste was only in my mouth. Hooray for adulthood!

Mark my words, children: some day, you’ll get to a point where sexiness isn’t a top priority. Not that it won’t be nice, on those days when you’re feeling like you are on time and ready to rock. But in general, the day-to-day burden of sexy will be gone from your shoulders. And what a blessed relief that day will be.

Advice: Non-Wedding Bell Blues

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I was supposed to be getting married in less than a month. Instead, my ex-fiance and I have called it off and completely broken up. Now, I feel like I’m left to my own devices. I am overwhelmed by my sense of loss and pain, and am already seeing a therapist to process everything. I am heart-sick, and can’t even put everything to the side because I have to de-plan everything we’d planned. I never knew I could feel this exhausted.

But still. I am left wondering…just what in the heck am I supposed to do on what would have been my wedding day? I was supposed to be a bride, it was supposed to be the start of my new life. I’ve been told I should try something I’ve never done before, but I don’t really know what I would want to do. I don’t have the energy to plan anything. I understand that I am grieving and eventually this will pass, but that doesn’t change the amount of pain I’m in right now, and I stare at my calendar and the approaching non-wedding day with dread. What can I do to get through this?

–Signed, Never A Bride

P: I’m so sorry. What a painful, horrible thing. Your poor heart. Of course you’re grieving. No matter the reasons for the break-up, this was someone you’d planned to spend your life with and you had dreams together. Those dreams are now shattered. It may be that grieving is exactly what you need to do. And if you don’t feel up to planning something fabulously memorable, wait until you’re healed.

B: I know roughly where you’re coming from. I remember hating the calendar after my ex- and I split, wondering what on Earth I was going to do when our now-pointless anniversary date rolled around. I spent twelve years celebrating that date. And…now what? I remember the weight settling in my chest, the short, panicked breathing when I thought about what to do. It’s not fun. Yes indeed, your poor heart.

P: If doing something is something you want, where are your bridesmaids? They’re the women you wanted to stand by you in your happiness, are they ready to stand with you in your grief? If you want something fun, will they help? If you want to go out and build houses for habitat for humanity, will they go? Will they go out on a canoe trip? Or a museum weekend? If you want people to mourn with you, will they dress in black and come to the funeral? (more about this later.)

And are they willing to help you unplan? Have you asked them? Because they surely don’t know what to do to help.

B: Help. Yes. Ask for it. I’m a big fan of calling in your tribe. Like Ann said, talk to your bridesmaids. Your family. Recruit them, because you shouldn’t have to do everything alone. Most of the time, friends want to be there but don’t know how. They don’t want to intrude, or seem like they know best. So tell them what will work for you. You asked a community of people to stand with you and support you at your wedding. You should, hopefully, be able to call on those same people to support you during these more difficult times. We form social units for a reason, so circle the wagons around you. There is hardly more reason to call for support than when one undergoes heartbreak like this.

P: Just as a starter thought, and I’m sure your therapist has already brought this up, but what ever you do, stay away from the alcohol. Your body is already processing this shock to your heart. Alcohol often lowers your inhibitions so now you’re a hot drunken mess (usually in public, eek). And you don’t want to wind up having a fling or a rebound relationship with someone that you entered via alcohol.

Lots of us have done this. And you don’t need anything else to extricate yourself from!

B: Believe me: these are the customers that bartenders dread. Don’t be the drunk weepy girl at the bar. You may come in to my place but once; those stories live on forever.

That better be a Shirley Temple in that glass, young lady.

That better be a Shirley Temple in that glass, young lady.

P: The ritualist in me has two thoughts here. One is something private that might help. I had a lover “ghost” me, just disappear from my life a long while back. It was dreadful. Someone taught me this ritual and it worked really well. It worked particularly well because I did it in another state… It’s a ritual of release. It takes a week, so you may want to start beforehand and release on the day of.

You need Paper, Pen, matches, salt.

Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper ¾ of the way down. Then draw a line at the bottom of your line. Under that line write: I release this relationship and my sadness in the unrealized dreams. (or whatever mission for this ritual makes sense to you.)

Then to the left of the line, right all the things you’d hoped for, all the things you’d liked about your relationship and this partner.

On the right, jot down every big problem and every petty annoyance that you had in the relationship and with the partner. Hated her hair? Write it down. Chewed with his mouth open. On the list. Wasn’t trustworthy? Write that. Write until you’re done. Take a couple days.

Then make a small circle of salt on some land or in a parking lot, or, or, or… I left my boyfriend by a fishing pond in Colorado. He liked to fish, I hated it, and I was never going back there.

Read your mission statement aloud. Read the good qualities. Put that aside. Then read the bad qualities aloud, adding anything else that occurs to you. Then set the list on fire and place it inside the circle. When it’s burnt, add some more salt to the ashes. I had to go back to that circle a couple days to add a few more “and another things.”

Then every day for the rest of the week, read your mission and the good things list. Because there were good things. You didn’t just make bad choices. At the end of the week, read your mission; read your list.  Then say I am done with this relationship and I release it to the world. Burn it and the mission, not inside the circle, and scatter the ashes. Walk away.

I was greatly relieved by the time I was done. Honestly, I did pieces of it again, because I was heartbroken. And I always felt as if I were taking a step in the direction of my own well-being and self-esteem.

B: You’re such a priestess. But I think you’ve hit what’s most important for the letter writer right now, which is rebuilding her self-esteem. We tend to define ourselves and our well-being by our significant others, which creates such problems in the aftermath of an ended relationship. We have to understand who we are, anew, without this other person beside us. The important thing is that you do reconnect with yourself. Figure out who you are and what you stand for. Figure out what you really like. You’re in therapy, and I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion with your therapist regarding your former relationship and its demise. But you are still here, with or without the fiancé, and you need to merit your attention too.

I say you should do what you want to do, on your not-wedding day. I don’t mean that you need to do something new and wild—you don’t need to hang glide, or travel to Tahiti, or spend the day building a better mousetrap. But you should spend the day honoring who you are. IF (and only if) that means spending the day alone, in your pajamas, watching Steel Magnolias and eating ice cream, then do so.

P: Seriously. You don’t have to overlook the possibility of a stack of sad love stories or movies and a huge box of tissues. You’ll need popcorn and chocolate. Your jammies. Eat bad things. Go to bed and cry yourself to sleep. Get up and remember, you may have sad memories, but no date is ever going to be that bad again.

B: The catch, though, to a day in bed with movies and tissues: you need to be moving toward something. You’re not allowed to dig out the foundations of a new rut to wallow in. Be in the moment as you cry and pound your fists and honor your pain. And then release it. Emotional pain should not be your closest companion. Honor and acknowledge it, because if you don’t, pain has a sneaky way of hanging around. Oddly, I’ve found that once I’ve said, yes, I hurt, yes, this sucks, yes, I deserve the cry of my life, yes, I feel miserable and all I want to do is shake my fist at the sky, the pain becomes less antagonistic. People often try to get their loved ones to turn away from the pain, because they don’t want to see them hurting. I say, embrace it, because you are human and your pain is real. What you’re going through sucks. Unfortunately, to get to the other side of something, you need to be in it, you can’t get through it from the outside. How’s that quote go? When you’re going through hell…just keep going.

P: And if you’re really feeling awful and want closure…

B: I hate the word “closure”. I think it’s overrated. Can’t she commemorate and move on?

P: Yes, sure. Whatever. Gather your friends, ask them to dress in black, and have a funeral for your relationship. There are three things you’ll want to pay attention to: Talk honestly about why this relationship ended, what killed it. Talk about the things you loved about it and the things that weren’t so great. And then talk about what kind of life you will now have, incorporating the wisdom you’ve gained or will have gained at some point when your heart stops hearting. Don’t hesitate to burn a picture and scatter the ashes. Or cut the ex out of a picture and burn that half.

B: It’s funny how burning pictures can help. Just be careful, of course. No errant flames, no injuries.

P: And then go out to a lovely lunch with your besties spending some of the money you get back from all your deposits, etc. Charge the cost of that to whatever (if any) money you’re splitting with your ex. Should she/he complain, point out that you’re doing the settling up of accounts and that it’s the cost of doing business.

B: My answer to my anniversary quandary was to have an anti-versary party. I gathered my friends and family around me. Like I said, I’m a big fan of circling wagons. It was a great way to remind myself, even though my life had gone so not how I had planned, I was still loved. And I know that can be difficult to remember, right now, but it’s true. You might not have the romantic love you’d envisioned, right now. But you have people who love you, and want the best for you.

P: Again. I’m so sorry for your broken heart and your dreams.

To sum up: be good to yourself.

To sum up: be good to yourself.

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

If you would like to ask us a question, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com; human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert appropriate punctuation.

Thank you for reading!

 

Advice: Sister on the Rebound

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My two sisters and I have generally been close. Recently, we have undergone a bit of an upheaval, and it’s causing some issues in our family.

The youngest, Susan, has been married to Stan for 13 years. Susan and Stan separated four months ago. Last month, Susan started dating again. She seems to have clicked with one man in particular, and has even introduced him to her children. The children are, understandably, confused by what’s happened between their parents. They told me and my other sister they’re unhappy. Of course, we know my sister’s separation isn’t the boyfriend’s fault, when he’s around he reminds the children of their parents’ problems. We see that this hurts them. When we tried to talk to Susan about this…suffice to say that talk didn’t go over very well.

We are planning a birthday party for our aunt, and I know Susan wants to bring her new boyfriend. My other sister and I haven’t invited him and, quite honestly, aren’t ready to meet him yet. We are still mired in the emotional conflict between Susan and Stan. And, we know that the boyfriend’s presence at the party won’t go over well with Stan. It will damage whatever chance of reconciliation they may have, or affect their ability to have a working relationship if they do divorce.

I don’t want to sound mean, but we are exhausted with Susan’s current situation. I don’t want to have to fake it with the boyfriend. We don’t condone any of this, and we know it’s hurting the children. How can we show support to our sister when we see how much this hurts her kids?

Sad Sisters

~~~The Bartender and The Priestess respond~~~

P: Wow, so, Terri, How many people were in that marriage bed? Do we need to count toes?

B: I know, right? This question comes with a lot of holes in the backstory, so much of what I want to say about this is probably going to be more general than I would like. And yet, there’s still so much to talk about…

Or rather, I would have a lot to talk about, except I’m suffocating.

My lovely Priestess has hit one of my initial questions square on the head: who was in this marriage, anyway? Was it your sister and her husband? Or was it you, your sister, your other sister, and the separated husband? How are you “knee deep” in their emotional conflict? Do you even know what a boundary is?

You say you and the sister in question have always been close; surely, you must have had some inkling that she and her husband were unhappy, before their separation. When my brother left his wife, I knew he was desperately unhappy. I didn’t know it would happen on the day it did, but when he left, it made sense. You know “close family” isn’t synonymous with “hive mind”, right? Your sister doesn’t have to behave in a way that you like, even a little, if it doesn’t suit her. She can wear short skirts and vote Democrat and change her religious affiliation and date men who aren’t her (legally separated) husband, and she doesn’t owe you an ounce of explanation, right?

P: Exactly, my sweet Purveyor of Spirits! Sisters, let’s start at the end, where you wonder how to support your sister. I have to say there is nothing, nothing I’ve heard that begins to suggest that you are looking to support your sister. I’ve heard a little bit about your supporting her children and a lot about supporting a marriage about which you have said nothing. News flash: judgment is not support, it’s judgment. So, my dear supportive sisters, do you have any idea why your sister wants a divorce? Because it was your sister who was in that marriage. If you’ve been in it, it’s been because you’re butting in. Your sister needs your support. No one ends a 13-year marriage without a lot of pain, particularly when the spouse is the person with whom you made a family. This was never an easy decision.

B: The only people she owes anything to in this time of significant emotional upheaval are her children. You say they’re reminded of their parents’ conflict by the presence of the boyfriend. I call BS. They’re reminded of their parents’ conflict by the fact that Mom and Dad live in two different places. They’re reminded of the conflict by one less body in the house at night. They’re reminded of it by the hole at the dinner table, by who’s not checking their homework, by who’s not giving them kisses goodnight, every night. To blame the children’s sense of loss and confusion on the presence of one man undermines the reality of that loss, which is with them much more than their mother’s new boyfriend. Their pain and confusion should not be greeted with, “We’re sorry this is your mother’s new normal, kids. Blame THAT guy.” Care and support? Missing in that statement. Instead, try saying, “Welcome to the day after everything changed. Let’s hold hands as we plunge together into the void.” How do you approach these hurt, confused children? Arms folded, sniffing over the tops of your glasses and “Tsk, tsk”ing at your sister as she goes on a date? Or arms open, ready to offer love to a grieving family?

Because believe me, your sister is grieving. Even if she’s the one who initiated the separation and claims relief, there’s still grief and confusion. Chances are she’s played every second of her marriage over in minute detail, asking herself any one of the million questions that accompany this seismic shift. Why didn’t this work? Why did I pick the wrong guy? Maybe I’m the wrong girl. How did I stay with this person for 13 years? Should I have left earlier? Would I have been better off if this marriage never happened? Did we ever really like each other?

And so on, and so on. Even if she is stock-sure this was the best move for her, she’s still got to climb out of an emotional bog. That is her reality.

P: If this is only about your religious beliefs about the sanctity of marriage, what, if anything do you know about whether or not the husband held the marriage as sacred. What was your sister due in her marriage? Was she getting it? Did you ever talk to her about it? Or did she, understanding what kind of response she would get from you, stifle her feelings and say nothing? I don’t even know from what you’ve said who wanted the divorce. Do you know? Or are you just clear your “little” sister is wrong.

You say the separation has been stressful on the family. My suspicions are it’s been more stressful on your sister. Who are you to be knee deep in the conflict? And while you are, what are you stirring up? It seems to me the conflict is between the ex and your sister.

And if there’s conversation about reconciliation beyond your clapping for that Tinkerbelle, I haven’t heard it. (ps, as much as I love Tink, in this place, I don’t think she’s real.)

Tink isn't coming back. In all likelihood...neither is the ex. Move along.

Tink isn’t coming back. In all likelihood…neither is the ex. Move along.

B: Here is the reality of the situation: your sister is rebounding. She is free to run around with her underpants on her head so long as she’s not self-destructive and putting herself or her children in danger. “If they reconcile”, or imagining how un-civil the divorce could be if your sister dates, are not reality. Honey, you’re projecting so hard you should get a job in a movie theater. And the reality is, also, that no matter how emotionally unprepared you are for your sister to start dating again, most divorcees do not decide to live partnerless forever. You, and the children, will have to make room for a new beau at some point. Is now too soon? Maybe. But you don’t get to decide that for your sister, any more than your sister gets to decide where you’re going to work, or how often you play the lottery as you dream about a better life in the south of France. Or whatever. You get to arrange your life as you see fit, she gets to do the same with hers. That’s how it works.

P: Is it better that people don’t dash into relationship? You betcha. Does anyone recommend that the first thing you do after getting out of a long marriage is bonk your way through life — no therapist or counselor worth his/her salt (that I’ve known) has suggested this.

But many, many people do. They’re struggling their way toward happiness. Most people find their way out of the rebound period, maybe a little wiser, a little more ready to find their happiness. And your sister deserves a chance to be happy. We’ll all hope she’ll be content with the infatuation period long enough to figure out if she really likes this guy.

Your job is not to sniff about this but to be understanding.

B: I am sure your concern for the children is well-intentioned and heartfelt, but you need to make sure they are living in reality, too. “Yes, your mother and father live apart from one another. But no matter where they call home, or who they date, or whether or not they talk to one another, they will always love you. We’ll be here to help them along the way, as well, because they’re scared and confused and have to figure out the world around them, because it’s different for them now, too. But we’ll be OK, because we’re family and we have a ton of love between us. See? Now, your worries are much less scary.”

That’s what you should say. Instead of, “Poor us, we don’t have the energy for this.” You’re punishing your sister, and using the kids as leverage, because you don’t want to adapt to the changes in her life. That’s not support. That’s control.

P: The one place I’m going to give you some props is that you’re concerned about the kids. That’s laudable. Often after a death or a divorce a parent can go a little crazy with the freedom. If you’ve been unhappy in a marriage, it’s a heady feeling to spend time with someone who thinks you’re great, especially if you think they’re great too. Infatuation is a marvelous thing. It’s dangerous, but it’s marvelous.

Terri made some great points about what to say to the kids. It’s great that you are willing to stand up for your nieces and nephews. And if you feel things are really out of whack, you might say, if you can manage to be straightforward and caring: Sweetie, I know you’re really happy, but your kids are not ready to see you as a sexual being under any circumstance and particularly not when they’re reeling from the break up. They’ve come to us and they’re confused.

Hopefully that will wake a mother’s heart.

If it doesn’t then you need to talk to the kids. (also how old are these kids? What you say changes a bit with age.) You do NOT need to be disapproving of the mom, you do need to say, “wow, you sound hurt and confused. You know your mom loves you. You know your dad loves you. You didn’t want this for the family, but unfortuntately families are based on marriages, and when they break is difficult. It’s rarely just one person’s fault or another’s. They’re sad too. And whatever happens, they love you. That’s never going to change, even if they’re both finding different ways to deal with the changes that are happening in their lives. And you know we’re right here to support you. Things will settle down a bit. Keep talking to us,” or some version of that. It’s a much better alternative than teaching them to be judgmental little so-and-sos.

B: Be gracious to the boyfriend at the party. I can’t even consider you have any other option. And knock it off with the “she’s the youngest” rank. She’s old enough to be married, have kids, and decide her life isn’t working for her. She is not a baby; she is your peer, and that sort of familial seniority-ranking should have stopped once you were all done with high school. Pointing out that she’s younger than you only puffs you up, but it has no real merit behind it.

P: If you’re not planning on leaving your husbands behind for your aunt’s celebration, why would your sister think she needed an invitation for her date? I’m not sure why you’re not ready. You’ve had four months to get used to this. And my guess is you’ve missed several years of paying attention to the demise of this marriage, completely ignoring your sister’s comfort.

You may be missing your soon to be former brother in law. That’s sad. There’s nothing that says you can’t eventually have cordial relations with him. However, that time is not now. He needs to lean on his family and friends for support. If you preference your B-I-L over your sister, you’re likely to lose the sister, especially if she has a spine. Nobody loves a sister who makes them earn a place in the family she was born into. She’s divorcing her husband, for goodness sakes; she didn’t steal the family silver.

B: Circle the wagons around your sister! She’s your sister. She’s not some oddball interloper.

P: So, in the meantime, if you can’t manage to be happy about this, wish your sister happiness and love her. That’s what close families do.

Do I need to say it again? BOUNDARIES, people!

Do I need to say it again? BOUNDARIES, people!

Many thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photography!

Many thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for its generous use of location!

If you want to learn more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Do you have a question? Email us at bartender priestess @ gmail (dot) com. If you’re a non-spambot human, remove spaces and punctuate accordingly. 

Thanks for reading!

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