Advice: The Message is Clear, He is Stalking You

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a little over a year now. I’m crazy about him, but sometimes I don’t think he feels the same way about me, that he’s sending out mixed signals.

He’s always asking me about my friends, especially if they’re guys. Like, I have to account everything I do to him. He’ll drive past my house or come to the front door unannounced; sometimes, I feel like he’s trying to catch me with someone else.

The last time he cruised my door he saw me still in my car. It was midnight and I had come home late from the gym. I was sitting in my car listening to music and surfing the internet. He stopped his car in front of mine and demanded to see what was in my gym bag; he thought I was on my way out to see someone else. The only way I could get him to ease up was by opening my bag and showing him my sweaty gym clothes.

My boyfriend has a rocky track record with relationships, and he said he was hurt badly when both of his marriages ended in divorce. So he won’t come out and say I’m his girlfriend, because of the way his other relationships ended. I don’t know what to do. I love him so much, but a part of me thinks I should end things. I don’t know how to read him. Can you offer any advice?

–Confused in Connecticut

Dear Confused,

US: Whoa.

We don’t think we’ve ever done a question with a theme song before. But let us just say it’s not “Slow down, you move too fast now.”

Nope, it’s more a screaming version of “You gotta get out of this place.” Now. Stat! You are in danger.

P: There are no mixed signals here, although you seem to be under some confusion about what constitutes good boundaries in relationships. You say, you don’t even know if you’re in relationship, and he’s stalking you (did you hear that, he’s stalking you, driving by your apartment more than once an evening) and demanding you show him your gym bag? No one has the right to look in your bags. Does it seem thrilling that he’s possessive? It shouldn’t. It’s a sickness on his part. Your property is your property. His wanting to see it is his wanting to control you. You are a woman, all that language about belonging to one another is seductive and wrong-headed. You belong to yourself.

B: If you find his possessiveness thrilling, or even acceptable, then it’s a sickness on your part, too. You ought not to be subject to his demands, and allowing him to show up (my guess is, when he’s at your door unannounced, you always let him in), tell you what to do (re: gym bag), and harangue you until you comply tells me your own identity is compromised. So many of us spend so much of our time expecting someone else to make them “complete” (whatever that means), and there’s all these pauncy stories and songs and rom-com movies about finding That Certain Someone who is the other half that creates one glorious whole. I kinda blame Plato for that nonsense (and, indirectly, for those rom-coms), but here’s the thing. What it ultimately does is allow a person to relinquish ownership of his or her own life, thinking he or she can’t fully self-actualize until that other person comes along. Which is completely misguided logic, if you spend a minute thinking about it. And which leaves you open to someone else stepping in and trying to take ownership of your life, by checking up on you at all hours and demanding you present the contents of your gym bag.

P: This is already an abusive relationship. I’m not going to focus on him, because he is not looking for help. He’s already had two “failed relationships,” poor thing… I’m sure he thinks neither of those failures were his fault. I hope your writing to the Bartender and the Priestess means that you are looking for help and a way out. Because the abuse will only be repeated and it will only escalate. You are in danger. Please.

B: Seriously. If you’re writing to us trying to figure out how to save this, I’m happy to say you won’t find that  here. You mentioned his two failed marriages; has he laid on you the trip that “he doesn’t know how he can trust again, those two other women really hurt him”? Because if he did then let me help you refine your response (and start teaching you boundary definition in the process). Your response should have been, “Well, you seem like a really nice guy but you really need to get over that sort of internal anguish. I hope you get the help you need; call me when you’re more healthy.” Your response should NOT have been, “Let me prove to you that not all women are bad!” My guess is, you chose response #2, thereby taking on the burden of his past injuries and making them a factor in your role as his girlfriend, instead of pointing him toward something healthier.

P: Right now, you’re collaborating with him. If you know he drives by, why are you sitting outside? Sadly, in today’s world, it’s dangerous enough to be a woman alone at night in most cities that you don’t want to do it. But with this particular man, you’re courting trouble. Why? What do you want? You don’t need him to prove he loves you, you need to learn to love yourself.

B: He’s not mixing his messages. He’s pretty declarative, in fact. He’s saying, over and over, that you belong to him, even without giving you the official title. He’s saying that what’s yours–including you–is his. In two years, or five years, or six months or three weeks from now, when you’re sick of his BS and you refuse to open your gym bag because you just don’t feel like it, and he hits you in response, will you say that you never saw this coming? Because it’s written all over every aspect of his behavior toward you. A mixed message is, “He says he really likes chicken but he rolls his eyes whenever I make it.” It’s not, “He’s demanding to see inside my gym bag and will fly off the handle if I don’t give it to him.” That’s, actually, pretty obvious. And the lack of title is another tactic often used by abusers; they keep you needy and attached by keeping you off-balance. Again, obvious. And you need to back away. You say you’re crazy about him, but don’t give one single example of why. You only talk about his erratic behavior. Your gut knows what you should do, even if your head doesn’t want to come to terms with it.

P: Should you abandon ship? If there’s a ship at all, it’s a prison ship in dangerous waters. Please get out. You can learn about good boundaries some other time. First ensure your safety. You are worth so much more than this man. I promise you. If you need help leaving, or even considering how to leave, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 or go on line to Call them now. Save yourself. You’re the only one who can.

No joke. Get out. NOW.

No joke. Get out. NOW.

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Advice: Husband? Or Landlord with Benefits?

Dear Bartender and Priestess: For the last ten years I have been married to “Shaun”. We’ve both been married once before. Shaun and I get along well and like many of the same things, so courting seemed easy. It wasn’t long after we were married, though, that he informed me we were going to split every expense exactly down the middle. Everything, 50-50. He makes significantly more money than me, and I don’t begrudge him that, but he doesn’t even adjust what I should pay to account for our disparity in income. I moved into his house, which is in his name, and he won’t make me a co-owner on the deed because I can’t meet the equity he’s got. Instead, I pay him rent every month.

I am expected to pay my half on everything. He recently took his teenage son on a two-week vacation, and I couldn’t go because I couldn’t finance my end. When we go to dinner it’s Dutch. He sets spending limits on gifts and, if a gift I give him is of lesser value than one he’s gotten for me, he will return what he got me and get something at a lower price. He’s generous with his son and with organizations he cares about, but he clamps down with me. Of course, we hold no joint bank accounts or credit cards. That’s out of the question.

I’m paying off a large loan, but that’s projected to be completely paid off in two years, so at least that will loosen up my income a little. But he makes me feel like I’m less of a person, a second-class citizen or something. I know Shaun loves me, but he always puts everything else first–his son, his career, his tech gear, his public persona as a charitable giver. I’m practically living hand-to-mouth in his beautifully appointed home, generating cash for him to spend. Am I wrong to think that as far as he’s concerned, I am more of a servant and less of a wife?

— Indentured Servant

Dear Sweet Servant.

P: I’ve read this and read this and read this, looking for comfort to give you. I can’t find it. You have a relationship, legally, it’s a marriage, but it seems far more a financial relationship than one of mutuality and tender regard.

B: You know, I think I need to have a bit of a lie down after reading this letter. There’s a throb, directly over my left eye, that isn’t going away. I am with Ann. I can’t find the comfort. I can’t find the other side of the story. This just seems…depressing. And an unreasonable way to want your wife to live.

P: You don’t say, and I don’t understand: What are you getting out of this? He’s getting rent and a half share on the expenses. Even the language; why isn’t your input part of the cost of living together? I’ve known people who split expenses, but done that based on how much each person was making… and still… are you married or are you roommates?

You say he loves you? How do you know that? And more to the point, do you love him? Why? And what does “I love you” mean for either of you?

B: Exactly. I’m not seeing a whole lot of loving interest in this part of the story. It’s hard to hear someone say, “I know he loves me, even though I am the last of his priorities.” You might want to examine that. While the son will probably always take some kind of priority over you (and rightly so), at some point the career, or the tech gear, has to get bumped back to give you space to thrive. Because you’re not thriving, you’re barely surviving. God help you if he ever gets a dog.

Moreover, you make a point of saying that “it wasn’t long after [you] were married” that he instituted his 50/50 plan. Which tells me his pre-nuptial behavior was different. Perhaps there was some courting. Some spending. Some dinners or trips. Or, at the very least, no discussion of whether or not you were going to live in his house and have to pay him rent.

Rent. RENT?????  Look, if you’re going to pay rent somewhere, at least let it be in a place in which you have some power. Like, in your own apartment. I can almost get around the idea that you’re not on the deed; it might not necessarily be a simple matter of adding a name to a sheet of paper, depending on the lending bank’s policies, and if you outlive him you’ll get the house anyway. I have to ask: What if you refused to pay him? Would he kick you out? Is that how you envisioned your marriage?

P: I think you need to figure out less where is he in the relationship, and more where you are. Why are you in this relationship? So far, I’m not understanding.

I don’t know how you think through these things, although I can say your last method wasn’t great, because it led you here to ten years with a balance sheet.

B: I would say she shouldn’t even worry about where he is in the relationship. In his mind, he may be the most relationship-positive monkey in the tree. For the moment (and only for the moment, as this is dreadfully uncharacteristic of me) I will assume that he’s not doing this because he’s on some weird power trip and that this is legitimately as good as he gets. He may think he’s the king of boot-straps and tough love, and his bean-counting is helping to build your character because after all…he worked for every penny he ever earned, so by gum… This may be his (deluded) logic. What you say at the heart of your letter is, his logic is bonkers. And, his best is nowhere near good enough in terms of making you feel loved, or valued, or that you’re worth anything more to him than as a roomie with benefits. Is that what you want to be?

Now that I’ve given one benefit of one doubt, let me return to my usual cynical self. I feel like he’s totally manipulative, and part of the reason he wanted you to be his wife is because he could wield financial control over you. Like he’s thinking, if you can hold your own, great, but if not…where the hell else are you going to go? It’s not like you’ve got the money to leave. Right? Does that ring true even a little? Then strategize an exit plan and work toward making it happen, because nothing will get better from that.

P: I think you know the answer to your first question. The real question is what do you want? Is this really a relationship you want to be in? Why? What are you getting out of it? (Go ahead, fill up your own balance sheet with pros and cons.) You may be willing to stay in this relationship for real reasons, but I’m not hearing them here. But go or stay you need to get all those things addressed.

People who see things in black and white, or in his case black and red, are not always easily engaged in conversations about change.

But you can’t ask him to change until you know for sure you want to be there, and what you’re going to do when he says he likes life as it is. And why shouldn’t he? So far, yepper, you sound like you’re a roommate with bennies. What bennies are you getting?

B: I like the idea of filling out a balance sheet of pros and cons; it might be the only thing that makes sense to a person who’s caught up in bean-counting. The super-hostile part of me wants you to present him with a bill for any and all work done around the house. Do you cook? Do laundry? Vacuum? Mow the lawn? Spend your time grocery shopping? If he’s going to charge you to live there then part of me thinks you should charge him for services rendered. And then I’m exhausted by my own spite because seriously, sister. That is no way to live.

P: You do just sorta toss that “I have a large debt” thing in. Are the arrangements you’ve made based on your money handling in the past? Were these agreements you entered into knowing this? Which does change the question a bit. In that case, get out of debt and get some financial counseling. Actually, get some financial counseling and get out of debt. Sometimes they can help us think things through differently than we do, they know the options. Financial counselors are our friends, just like therapists are. At some point you may be able to involve your husband in this, if that makes sense, but not before you figure out how to move from your indebtedness.

B: To be fair, Ann, she also says she’s paying down the debt and projecting it will be paid off in two years’ time. It’s not as though she’s disregarding the debt or floundering through it in an “I can barely pay the interest” sort of way. Though it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway to meet with a financial counselor, particularly if leaving is an option the letter writer is leaving on the table.

P: That said, the house thing really bothers me. At what point do you live there? Is the house paid off? Are you paying him rent on a house he owns? That would be icky. If he dies before you, do you have to move? This is messy stuff. But it’s stuff you need answers to.

B: I may have come off as a little flip before regarding your rights to ownership if he dies before you do. You may want to look at his will and find out if he’s specified to whom his property will go.

P: So many of the questions the Bartender and I answer come down to the same advice. You have to figure out what you want and how you’re going to get it — and failing that, how you’re going to cope if you can’t have it.

Because too few of us learn these skills these days, either at home or at school, therapists are our best friends. They not only teach us to identify and ask the right questions, they help us figure out what to do with the answers, even when they’re uncomfortable.

I’m afraid you have some uncomfortable answers ahead of you. You at least have some uncomfortable moments, if you decide that staying is what you want to do. You’ll have to deal with feeling less than a partner. If you ask for what you want and don’t get it, you’ll be faced with all sorts of ugly realities.

B: For what it’s worth, if you do decide to leave it should be a relatively easy financial split, since you don’t have to worry about dividing out any accounts. Should you decide to stay, please bear in mind that you’re going to continue to fall to the back of his priority list, so you’ll need to be at peace with that or it will continue to tear you down and perpetuate your already-established feelings of second-class citizenry. Subsequently, figure out ways to make yourself, your own priority. Maybe you can’t afford a two-week vacation (right now); can you do a spa day? Or have a girls’ night? Can you take a class you’ve always been interested in? Or start working on The Great American Novel?

You can do all that with a loving and supportive partner, too. But making yourself a priority while you’re with Shaun might help you find direction and self-worth.

P: Really, please find someone who can support you in asking yourself the good questions. If he ever agrees to couple’s counseling, make sure he pays his half. [mic drop]

No but really. What DO you want?

No but really. What DO you want?

A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea

1.5 oz Rhum J.M Agricole Blanc
.5 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
.5 oz Old Port Deluxe Matured Rum
1 oz Pineapple juice
.75 oz Lime juice
.75 oz Demerara syrup (1 part demerara sugar, 1 part water)
.25 oz La Colombe Pure Black Cold Press Coffee
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.
Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a tiki mug filled with crushed ice.
Garnish with pineapple leaves and coffee beans.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

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

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

Please help me try and talk some sense into my son. He is 30 and recently got engaged to a wonderful young woman, who is 31. I want to make it clear that we are thrilled that she’s going to be a member of our family and welcome her with open arms. She’s a young professional, works as a buyer for a retail company, and has a good head on her shoulders. My son launched a landscaping business a few years ago and he works hard, so he’s had success building his business. Of course, they’re busy planning their wedding, spending their free time looking at catering halls and event menus. I keep trying to tell them they don’t need to do anything big. Honestly, I think they should just elope.

Her side of the family doesn’t have a lot of money, so expecting her parents to pay for some elaborate affair is unreasonable. My husband and I are willing to contribute some money toward their wedding but we certainly can’t foot the entire bill, either, so the kids would be paying for it primarily by themselves. It just seems like so much money to spend on one day. Who needs a big hall and matching napkins? When I got married, I had a traditional wedding and I couldn’t believe how much money it ended up costing my father. My son and his future wife already have a house and all the expenses of their lives that they have to account for. They’ve been living together for the past five years, too. Because they already live together, I don’t feel like they need some fussy transition to bring them to “the first day of the rest of their lives”, or something like that. They’ve already transitioned, she is already there.

How can I make them see reason? 


Worried Mother

Dear Mom,

B&P:  We can’t say we think it’s your kids who need to see reason. This is their wedding. Your letter makes us uneasy on a couple levels. We hope that you’re sharing your misgivings with the Bartender and the Priestess before sharing them with the couple. Because we think you have some work to do. This is such a common problem. Weddings are supposed to be joyous but instead, often bring out odd family dynamics. Ones that need to be dealt with so that when it comes to the Big Day, it’s all about the couple getting married. While we understand that you have hopes and dreams for your child, you have to understand that he’s the person who’s now making those hopes and dreams come true.

B:  Since Ann is, among her many talents, a wedding priestess, I’m going to let her take the point on this one. Go to it, Annie!

P:  First off, it’s their wedding. You have the right to decide whether you will give them money or not. You have the right to say if you’re going to give them money that they will use for their wedding or for their house.

It is not your decision whether or not they have a wedding. Presumably, you were around when your parents, not just your dad (unless your parents were divorced) were spending that money on your wedding. You could have called a halt to the spending at any time.

You have options for your generosity, but no options, really, to create financial leverage.

B: My question here is: how would you have felt, when you were planning your traditional wedding, if someone told you that for X reason (you’d already had sex with him so you can cut the white wedding act, or you were already a little *too* old to be the princess, or whatever) you probably ought not to have the wedding you wanted? Would you have thought that person had a point? Or would you have thought that he or she should butt out?

P: Secondly, it’s their money. You’ll give them a set amount (if you so decide) and then it’s up to them to figure out how to finance the rest of the event. You say they have a house and life, and you say they have the jobs that support that. No bank gave them money for a house if they didn’t have their finances in order. Hopefully you did a good job raising your son and he has solid financial values and isn’t going to endanger his future.

If they make some mistakes, hey, that’s part of their adulthood. All of us who have reached this stage have made some seriously bad investments in our time. And yet, here we are.

But he’s now out on his own; making his own decisions with his new family. She’s his primary family now. Your family and her family are the clan around the couple. You’re in a supporting rather than an organizing role. And by that I mean, it’s his checkbook not yours. If they want to get married, your gift or lack thereof will not be what determines their actions.

B: And not only is it your son and daughter-in-law’s money that you’re trying to manage, even though you make no mention of their actually asking you for any financial assistance. You’re also trying to dictate what’s to be done with her parents’ money too. I am often suspicious when someone employs a persuasive argument cloaked in, “It’s not just me. I’m also trying to be thoughtful of these other people who haven’t asked for my help in this.” Unless her parents called you up and personally asked you to mediate wedding plans on their behalf, then it feels like you’re trying to abdicate your responsibility for your feelings. For whatever reason, you don’t want to own up to why you want your son and daughter-in-law to keep their wedding small, so you’re putting the blame on her family. That’s dirty pool.

P: Thirdly, let the Priestess (aka the Wedding Priestess) assure you, people get married at all points in their relationship. Times have changed. You may or may not like that. But, you can’t as the song says, hold back time. Again, you can choose not to participate, but that won’t do much for your relationship with your son, your daughter-in-law or your some day grandchildren.

B: I am not “aka the Wedding Bartender”, but I’m no stranger to the industry, and I’ve even officiated a few myself. And what I’ve seen, over and over again, is that weddings aren’t necessarily about sending a blushing couple off into a new life together, no matter how much Jane Austen one watches. Instead, they are about two people choosing each other, and declaring in the way they deem most fitting for them, that they love one another more than anyone else. Do I think weddings are expensive? Yes. Do I think they’re often frivolous and overdone? Yes. Do I think that it is the decision of the bride and groom–and them alone–to determine what is the best way for them to celebrate and mark their feelings for their life partner? Yes. And there’s no right time, no external time frame, that decides what merits what level of ceremony. Some first-time young-marrieds want a simple legal ceremony performed by a JP, some fifth weddings want the whole shebang. And no one else has any say in the matter

P: And fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, what I hear in your statements is that you have no respect for your daughter-in-law. I’ll call her that rather than soon to be daughter-in-law, because as you say she’s already there. That’s a dangerous walk if you want a relationship with your son. He loves her. He has made his decisions. You need to find a way to love her too, because he loves her and he has made his decisions. I’m wishing them happiness. In the sad event that this relationship ever comes apart, remember you never get to say what it seems your truth is, if you never liked her anyway. He’s her choice, you’d better make ones that will get you what you want, which is ideally a great relationship with your son. So, again, my suggestion would be: find a way to love her.

B: There’s a symbolic line that gets crossed when two people marry, and that line involves the recognition that one’s children aren’t children any longer. They’re on their own, out in the world, ready to work and do chores and have babies of their own and enjoy all the ups and downs of a self-determined life. Traditionally, in the fables and the social rituals we base many of our marital practices on, this thinking dominates. It takes center stage even if it doesn’t resemble how the bride-and-groom-to-be actually live. You need to let them be the adults they are. Though they may have been on their own for years, you still call them “the kids”, and you’re still trying to maintain some kind of control over your son. And you need to trust that they’ll make decisions about their intended ceremony based on their needs, desires, and budget. Your son and daughter-in-law are not kids, and they’ve already established their own domain. He’s got his own household to manage, he is no longer a dependent of yours.

P: I’m sorry; this isn’t what you wanted to hear. The hardest part of raising children is keeping those hands open to let them go. Still, it’s probably the most important part. You and your husband, if he’s part of this decision, need to decide whether you’re going to give them money. You need to decide if you’ll participate in the preparations. But whether they have a wedding is–oh, I’ve avoided this, but here it is–none of your business.

You need to do what you need to do to deal with this. Therapy, conversations with your husband, conversations with your friend, just plain ol’ soul searching.

I can say that I believe that choosing generosity is always our best investment in the future. There’s an old adage that says the groom’s mother should wear beige and be quiet. I don’t believe that. I would say: Wear something wildly flattering and be the warm, loving, encouraging mother-in-law that your new daughter is going to want to come home to with her husband.

B: And look at the son and daughter-in-law you have before you. You raised a boy who became a man who started a successful business before he was 30. This man was thoughtful in his choice of life partner, and chose a woman who is smart and capable and building her own career, successfully. Let their actions be your guide. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know what’s best for them; your role as mother-oracle is over now. Instead, love them as the adults they are, and believe they’re able to decide what’s best for themselves.

Let go and enjoy a loving, expanding family.

Let go and enjoy a loving, expanding family.

Drink: The Mother-In-Law

  • 2-1/2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon Cointreau
  • 1 teaspoon Maraschino
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Amer Picon
  • Stemless cherry to garnish


  1. Place all of the ingredients, except for the garnish, into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with cracked ice and then stir the mixture for 40 seconds to chill.
  3. Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass, garnish with the cherry, and then serve immediately.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

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

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: To Enroll, Or Not To Enroll

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

When I first graduated high school, I spent a little over a year in college and then–can you guess?–I met a boy, fell in love, dropped out of college, got married, and started having babies. I always sort of imagined going back to school, but I put it pretty firmly on the back burner and never really pursued it when I was younger.

Now, I am 54. The babies are grown and living their own lives, and the thoughts of school are tugging at me more and more. It would be a bit of a tight struggle financially since we don’t really have any savings, and my husband is recovering from quadruple-bypass surgery so I have other serious demands that I can’t neglect. Should I put the pipe dream of getting a college degree to bed? Or is there hope for me that I can get there some day?


Not a Co-Ed

Dear Co-Ed

P: I think it’s time, since you’ve gotten your babies raised and your life organized to stop defining yourself by what you’re not. I would argue that it’s time for everyone to stop defining by what they’re not, but we’re talking to you.

I’m sorry your husband has had quadruple bypass surgery. That’s serious. But you heal from it. Pretty soon, he’s going to have a full time job on his hands getting himself back in shape. And that job, with a lot of loving encouragement, is his job. Because if he doesn’t embrace it, he’s not going to thrive.

And Terri and I are encouragers, but we’re not a Magic 8-Ball. You tell me. Do you want to get this done? If so, there’s hope. If not, there’s probably not a lot.

B: Ahhh, the dilemma of the non-traditionally-aged student.

One of the many allures of college is that it is always there. It is always a possibility. Schools don’t go away, they don’t discriminate according to age. All you need to do is get in, right?

Provided your life evens out, the doors on your time are thrown wide open, and it’s easily affordable, right? Because that’s how it is with every major life event, especially things like home ownership, or babies. You can only embark on these new adventures when everything is perfect, and easy, and not messy. Right?

P: You’ve done what women do. You’ve put your family at the center of your life. My guess is you don’t really resent that; there’s nothing you say that sounds that way.

But you are aware that you’ve deferred your dream.  You’re only 54. You’ve got time to get your degree and do something you’ve always wanted to do. Something else you’ve always wanted to do, because I get it, you wanted your family.

B: The thing is, there’s never going to be one perfect time to hie yourself back to college and hit the books. You saw that; even when it was theoretically the “perfect” time for you to be in college (right after high school), it wasn’t the perfect time for you, as your personal priorities at the time ended up falling elsewhere. And that’s OK. For my own reasons, I didn’t set foot inside a college classroom until I was 26, so right after high school wasn’t right for me, either. It is what it is.

P: School is an investment, both in your future employment and in your self esteem. Both of those are worth a lot. And it is not a great thing to defer your dreams forever. You don’t want to resent these people you love, to whom you have given important time in your life, because “they’re” holding you back. So far, I don’t know that they are. But your children aren’t any more important that you are. They don’t need a college degree at your expense. And you’ve raised children, so you don’t need to sit home and wait for more to raise.

 And then there’s a final sobering truth. Your husband had serious heart surgery. Hopefully he’ll step up to the responsibility of caring for himself and live a lot more years.

You’re 54. What if something happens to him today? What are you prepared to do. Isn’t it better if you have that degree in hand and get some work experience under your belt for all involved?

Hopefully, you’ll work because you like your field. But if you have to work, whether for finances or for sanity, you’re going to be a lot happier to have a job you worked for and an education you’re proud of.

I’ve got to hope that a man you’ve loved enough to defer your dreams loves you enough to now make them happen…

So you tell us. Are you a co-ed, or not? I confess, I hope you are. Terri?

B: Ann has covered the feel-good end, so I am going to talk about practical concerns here.

Ann is right; we are encouragers. Should you go back to school? Thirty-plus years is a long time to harbor a wish. It’s never left you. You should, absolutely, go. Ann has covered all the (excellent) reasons you should go, including the positive effect it will have on your self-esteem and that it can help you safeguard your future, particularly if your husband doesn’t have an easy recovery from his surgery. But I will offer up a few caveats.

Start slow. Can you take a class or two, part time? That way you can ease into the budgeting of your time, and get used to having to make time to study, or read, or write, instead of having a full class load and a household to manage. Why make yourself drown if you’ve got a part-time lifeline?

Look into financial assistance. You’ll surely be able to get federal loans. Look into scholarship eligibility. There’s a lot of college assistance money floating around out there that goes unclaimed. You can start by looking at the Federal Student Loan website, which also has a page about scholarship searches. Go here for that information. State universities are generally less expensive for their in-state residents, so look into your state system. And, some schools do offer need-blind admission, so if you can get in and can’t afford it, the school will pick up some, perhaps even all, of the bill, depending on the policy in place at the individual college. Those schools tend to be highly competitive (think Stanford/Wellesley/Princeton), so you’d better be ready to run hard if you go that route.

And for heaven’s sake, buy used textbooks whenever possible. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars if you don’t think you need to be the first to crack the binding.

Particularly when you’re in your first few classes, expect everything to take longer than you think it will. You may be perfectly smart and capable to handle the class work, but you need to re-learn how to study. How to take relevant notes. Your learning style may have shifted, too. I used to be a much more visual learner; if you told me something, it often went in one ear and out the other but if I read it, it stuck. Now, I am much more adept at auditory learning. Things may have shifted for you. Be open to that.

And I bet it’s been decades since you’ve had to write a persuasive paper, complete with documentation. Give yourself the room to have to re-learn how to write. Every college has a writing center/tutoring system of some sort. Take advantage of it.

Non-traditional learners are an increasing presence on campuses across the country, and many schools have put support programs in place for older students, like yourself. These are students who have outside demands and external responsibilities…like a husband who’s recovering from bypass surgery. Older students, quite simply, have different needs. You may want to look at schools that embrace their non-traditionals. Not that going to a party school wouldn’t be a hoot, but you may find that you’d fare better in a place with more age-consistent peers.

Dive in deep into the classes you don’t love. You’re not a math person? That’s fine, as long as you take down your walls before you enter the class. You may take lessons away from those classes that you could never have anticipated (I’ll tell you about my astronomy class, one day). And if you’re going to go to college and get a degree, you’ll have to take classes you won’t love. So choose to get the most out of them that you can. You’re paying for it, so why not?

Study what you love. You’ve waited more than thirty years for this. Don’t stifle your interests now. Be the co-ed you’ve always wanted to be.

Happy studying!

Happy studying!

The Graduate

½ ounce Amaretto di Saronno
1.5 ounces Southern Comfort Bourbon
1.5 ounces pineapple juice

Combine the ingredients with ice and mix well. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or cherry.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

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

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: Fraught Family Visits

Dear Bartender and Priestess:

My husband’s sister and brother-in-law stay at our house occasionally for overnights, in order to visit my mother-in-law. How can I best put this? They are annoying house guests.

I’ve never seen them lift a finger to make dinner or help with the clean up afterwards. My brother-in-law, “Bob”, drinks a ton of coffee but has never made himself a pot. He speaks loudly, and mostly about himself. My sister-in-law, “Betty”, is sweet but talks incessantly, so much so that she’ll even distract herself from what little help she offers me at cleanup. They’ve never offered to take us out to dinner, or order us some Chinese, or (Heaven forbid!) cook us something.

Usually they visit at our house, but we also have a vacation cabin. When my family visits the cabin it’s for two nights each summer, and we’re never expected to host them over the holidays, because we select a hotel that’s convenient for all of us. Bob and Betty often come for a few nights at Christmas. This year, my husband has invited them to come for two weeks. Two weeks! And he did this without consulting me first. When I asked him why he would invite them for an extended stay without talking to me he said it’s because I would never agree to host his sister. I want to show respect to my in-laws and make my husband happy, but hosting them is so difficult. I literally cannot handle them in my home for two weeks.  What can I do?

—Just Can’t Do This

Dear Can’t,

B&P: Oh, so many things, so many things. The first thing we want to do is ask you: what are your choices? Because you’re either going to have to find a way to handle your in-laws being at your house for two weeks, or…what? You can leave your husband, I suppose. Or you can check into a spa and take a solo vacation during their visit, thereby nakedly displaying to your in-laws just how much you don’t like them and, by default, how little respect you have for your husband and your chosen family.

That’s not an option? OK, then you have to deal. Our take on this is not as seamless as it often is, and we’re reminded we’re not one brain but two — often contrary ones…

B: Often, a letter writer will state the real issue that’s the root of their problem, but cloak it in distracting-but-not-overly-relevant details. Your in-laws, especially the chatty sis, are annoying, I get it. Jeff never makes a pot of coffee, the brute. And two weeks is a mighty long time to host guests, even ones that you like. But then you say this: [My husband’s] retort is that I would never agree to host his sister.

Let me repeat that: I would never agree to host his sister.

Your husband felt that the only way he could have his family in for an extended visit was to go behind your back and make plans without you, because you would never.

Hey, so…how’s your marriage? Because it seems like you have limited tolerance for the family you married into, which will, with time, have its effect on your husband and your relationship. It already has, since he’s acting out in such a way as to exclude you from input.

P: So Terri and I listened to your silence and came to some slightly different conclusions (which is the problem with silence), although this first one we shared: Sounds like there’s a whole lot of history of people’s not talking to one another. Sadly, it sounds like it starts with you and your husband. You’ve not really discussed who stays and how long, what the house rules are and if they’re different for people who stay two days and people who stay a week, who handles what chores.

And I’m not sure how his retort silenced you. According to what you said, your siblings’s stays are brief and infrequent, and his family stops in during the year, comes for several days during Christmas and is now coming for two weeks. So, “you’d never agree to host them,” is untrue and unfair. And that’s dirty pool. Unless of course, Terri’s on the money here, and you begrudge what’s happening. 

B: My guess is, you’re seeing Bob and Betty exactly as they are at home. He probably never makes a pot of coffee in his own kitchen, either, and I’d bet she never stops talking, but for them it’s how it’s done, and they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. My (further) guess is, and neither does your husband, really, though he may nod his head in mute agreement whenever you voice your displeasure with your family by marriage. It’s who they are. And the thing is, if you take the examples you gave us, yourself, then they seem…ok, annoying, but they’re not committing crimes. You don’t say that Bob gets falling-down drunk and hits on you, you don’t say that you’ve caught Betty kicking your dog. Instead, you say he drinks a lot of coffee and talks about himself, and she carries on. Nobody’s picking fights or creating backstabby, noxious family relations. Except you. After they leave. With your husband.

You say you’d like to show respect to your in-laws. I’d like to see you start, too.

P: You haven’t mentioned it, so we don’t have any real information about how your husband participates in your visits. Although, since we know what’s wrong with your in-laws, you probably wouldn’t be too shy about telling us what the hubster’s up to.

I must say, however, that whether or not they’re perfect guests, that’s a lot of time to have people in your house. Are you retired and able to spend the whole summer there or is this your entire vacation?

How much time do you normally spend hosting? And does that interrupt your lazing around doing whatever you normally do while vacating?

B: You mention your own family’s visits, which last for two days and are over. How do you manage to regulate their visits? Are they just better behaved? Or have you taken the time to instill some boundaries with them? Maybe now that you’re going to have them for two weeks (because oh yes, sister, they’re coming), you can start to change some of the rules of their visits to make their behavior less irritating. Overnights, or a few nights in a row are one thing. Two weeks’ worth of visiting, though, that’s living together, and living together requires boundaries.

P: Independent of them, I would certainly be talking about rules for long-term house-guests. But if people are coming for two weeks, will you set up a schedule and make up a list of stuff and ask them to bring that? You haven’t said they’re poor. And even if people have fewer resources, presumably they have some. They can always bring the potatoes, whole and chips. Most people are happy to participate if they know what the expectations are. It might take a while and plenty of snack items to get them trained, but it helps to be direct with people.

You don’t say, but what is your husband’s idea of hosting? What are his jobs for their stay? I can’t believe it, I almost found myself writing, what does he do to help… but in fact, they’re your shared guests, maybe even his guests… His guests require his doing his part and your doing yours… because in a marriage, you get to have a guest in your own house!

B: You want to be gracious, be gracious, and remember, the only behavior you ultimately have control over is your own. Have you ever thought about making Bob’s coffee drinking a bit of a joke? Buy him his own mug and set up a station for him. When he comes in, present it with a flourish. Say, “Bob, you’re here for two weeks, and I know how much you like coffee. Here is your own mug, and here are the filters, the spoons, the sugar, the coffee.” Offer to show him how to work your coffee maker. And then go about your day without worrying over his coffee habit. Clear out a space for them in your fridge and tell them they’re welcome to stock up on groceries. Let them know (ahead of time) that you never cook on Wednesdays so everyone is on their own that night. I’m afraid you won’t be able to put Betty on mute, so maybe you can find some interests you share. See if she wants day passes to your local gym, or take her to something you would like to do, too. A talk at a library, a sewing bee, something. If she’s going to talk, then perhaps you can turn her chatter into something you want to hear. Also, give them a key to the cabin to use while they’re there, and let them know they’re more than welcome to come and go as they please. They might not want to be around you 24/7 for two weeks, too, particularly as you tend to sit in judgment of them.

P: Because you’ll have to answer this, how long are you willing to have Betty and Bob at your house? Terri points out your in-laws are coffee guzzlers (good save, Terri, I was for more passive aggressively removing coffee from the house. But she’s right, get him his own miniature coffee maker with a gold basket that he can refill. Save the landfill, save your sanity.)  and loud (well Terri and I have a certain fondness for loud-mouthed women) Neither of these are egregious faults.

And when I hear the words vacation cabin, I think vacation. For me, that would be feet up on the screened in porch reading, floating in the lake/pool/body of water maybe reading. Oh, and napping. Rummaging in the fridge. Maybe burgers on the grill. Terri’s idea might include fewer burgers and more cooking… but what do you want for this time? Simply not having these guests is not an option.

Before you deal with the in-laws, I think you and your hubster might want to talk about one another’s goals for the vacation. (PS, yours count as much as his.)

Once you have a list of how you want to spend your time, you can talk about how it fits to have guests and what you’re willing to do to entertain people. And if he’s not willing to take up a lot of the slack, because you both know how they are, ask him how he thinks the two of you should solve this problem. Because it’s not your problem or even, really, simply his. They are his family. As Terri points out, you married him. And he comes equipped with family. And he loves them. And that means he knows how to love people. That’s something you want in a partner!

B: And now, more than ever, at last, finally! It’s time to talk to your husband. Not at him, to him. You can start by acknowledging you’ve put your husband in the middle between yourself and his sister and brother-in-law, and that’s not fair of you. Two weeks with them, without his discussing it with you beforehand…yes, he was terribly unfair and dropped a bit of a bomb shell on you, but it’s also a wake-up call that perhaps your own behavior hasn’t invited his conversation in the first place.

You’ve let them come and stay with you in order to see Mom, but has it always been through gritted teeth? Your own family seems less mashed up with each other than your husband’s family; they stay in a hotel over the holidays, they are in for two days and done at your cabin. This may be how you want families to act, but it’s not the family you married into. Ask your husband whether or not he finds his sis & BIL’s behavior difficult to manage, too, or if you’ve just made him feel bad about having a sibling. Ask how you can work together as a unit to not have this sort of difficult rift in the future. Be quiet, and let him answer you. Active listening can be extraordinarily difficult; what I am going to ask of you is that you don’t answer until he is done speaking. Don’t talk over him, don’t start formulating a response. Just let your husband speak about this situation with his sister. He ought to do the same with you and I’m going to ask you again: when it’s your turn to speak, talk to the things that really upset you in this. It’s not Bob’s coffee habit or Betty’s chatter, it’s that your husband made these extended plans without consulting you. The solid frame of a really large wall is going up between the two of you. Work to dismantle it before you’re divided for a lifetime.

P: And what’s your goal? Their personalities are not going to change, she’ll always talk too loudly and he’ll drink too much coffee, but you can take your book and go sit on the porch.

And, worth your while, you need to think a little about how they’ll respond — because even if they are selfish, you don’t ever want them to seize on this as an opportunity to stop seeing Mom. And that’s a real consideration for as long as Mom’s alive. That’s another gift you get from your loving husband, another Mom.

I don’t know that I was quite as worried as Terri that this was a game changer for you, but I do know it seems like an awfully big hill to put up in your own back yard. You have a husband with a family. And presumably a lovely cabin. Enjoy that!

Let me repeat: Be kind.

Let me repeat: Be kind.

Two Sisters Toddy

  • ½ oz strawberry liqueur
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz bourbon
  • crushed ice
  • lemon twist garnish

Blend all ingredients (except lemon) in a blender until smooth. Serve in a champagne glass with lemon twist.

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

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

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}


Advice: Tiny Home, Big Problem

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I think I am in over my head and I am not sure what to do.  I have been married for 8 years and have two children, ages 6 and 2.  My husband and I have always been environmentally and socially conscious, and recently decided to try “simple living”.  Against the cautions of some of our family members, we decided to downsize from a 2500 sq ft suburban home to a 650 sq ft “tiny house” that we had custom built for our family.   It is super cute and we were pretty mindful in our planning, carefully considering what we thought we could live with. But now that we have been living in it for a month, I hate it!  There is no room to do anything!  I feel like I am constantly tripping over stuff, there is NO privacy, and I feel terribly confined.  I am often grumpy and find myself snapping at my husband and kids over the smallest things.  I feel this way now, in the summer, when we have been able to spend lots of time outside…how am I ever going to get through a winter like this?    I had NO idea that I would find this so difficult.  While I am struggling with our new home, my husband seems to think it’s all great.  He is constantly sharing the “joys of simple living” with everyone we meet.  We have invested a lot of time and money in this “new way of life”, and I feel like a schmuck for wanting to bail on it so soon.  I don’t want to let my husband down, nor do I really want to hear “I told you so’s” from our families.   But really….I feel like I am going to go insane if we don’t do something different soon. I don’t know what to do.

-Missing My Space

Dear Missing Your Space,

P: Ah, my dear, I’m sure you thought the honeymoon would last a little longer… This is/was a huge undertaking, and however carefully you plan about the space, I’m not sure there’s any way you can plan about the realities of so much less space. This is something you need to learn to live with, something that will take discipline to make work for you.

I suspect that anyone can learn to thrive in a smaller space although not everyone will choose to. But it’s only in the last couple generations that most people had large spaces to live in. We’ve developed notions of privacy and privilege that go along with that space.

B: Americans like space. We’ve been culturally ingrained with romantic ideals of wide open spaces and big skies. Large cars. Ample personal space. Certainly, most of us don’t even consider what it would be like to live in the stackable apartments they have in Japan. I have a friend who is planning a move into a tiny house with her husband, this very spring. She said, “Space is difficult. I think it is both the most overrated and underrated commodity we have.”

I get that you’re environmentally conscious and want to reduce your carbon footprint. And I’m glad that you care enough about the state of our planet to want to pass that caring on to your children. But you  made a tremendous leap into a new extreme, and now, it seems like you’ve found yourself stuck. We presume you can’t move back to your old home, or that moving at all isn’t really an option you’ll willingly entertain. Now what?

P: The tiny house movement is new, so I looked around the interwebs for discussion boards concerning the transition to a small home, and couldn’t really find anything. As I looked I realized, oh, right, people live in apartments with their families that are this small and manage not to ruin their lives or their children. I suspect you need to change the rules — and it make take some time to figure out what the new normal for simple living is. It may take some iterations before you finally settle on what works for everyone. Because of course it doesn’t work if everyone else is happy and you aren’t.

B: My initial instinct is to remind you to take a breath, take a walk outside for five minutes–alone, of course!–and calm down. You’ve only been in that house for a month, and you may be going through growing…shrinking?…pangs. You’ve lost roughly 75% of your former living space, so you need to allow for an adjustment period. It’s a different way to live. Energy gathers in a home differently in a space that small, especially when there are four people contributing to it. One toy left in the middle of the living room floor creates a sense of clutter, one heap of socks looks like a mountain of laundry. It’s entirely possible that once you adapt–once your vision adjusts to your new surroundings, once you learn how to manage your family’s presences, once you create house rules that reflect where you live now–you’ll breathe a little easier.

But the important thing to remember in all this is that you aren’t managing that household alone. You have a husband with you, a life partner, who should ostensibly help you with how your home flows. He may be telling everyone how much he loves tiny-house living. Have you ever told him how YOU feel?

P: Your discomfort is the whole family’s problem. And they need to recognize that. ‘Cause as the T-shirt says, “If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

How do you blend privacy, play, work, studies and remember, romance!

B: It’s all well and good that your husband is busily extolling the virtues of tiny living, and I understand that his apparent enthusiasm would dampen your desire to tell him how unhappy you are in your new home. How can you tell him you’re unhappy with something in which he’s clearly delighted? What you need to bear in mind is, this is your life. This isn’t some temporary inconvenience, like getting a new roof put on or having every window in the house replaced. Tiny house living may have been an idealized projection of your vis a vis green-living, Little House on the Prairie-esque romantic notion, but the functional part of you that dislikes your living situation is your real self. It’s uncomfortable to realize your ideal and your real selves are in conflict, but you need to honor who you are and what you want. It’s time for you to take what you have and make the best of it.

P: Idealism is amazing. But reality takes getting used to. You are not practiced at this. Some of the family living skills you had from living in your house that was 4x your beautiful, new, little one will not transfer to living in a much smaller space.

So do some good research and then some thinking. Plan as carefully for your day-to-day family life as you did for space. Could you have done this before? Sure! Did you? No. So what? Now’s the time to look at things. Talk about it. Start a blog about it. 

B: Talk to your husband about how you feel, and tell him you want to institute some changes as to  how you all operate in your new space. You may want to institute new clutter rules, which could make a difference as to how you perceive the open space you have. You may want to try and institute a quiet time, to mellow out the collective energy in your smaller space.

P: In small space you have to work as a unit. Individualism takes a back seat to the family, although everyone needs to be acknowledged. The balance of privilege and family priorities needs to be built to fit the home you have. Teach your kids to be productive members of the family. Make them responsible for chores and living skills. They’ll still be kids, but we need to learn to be aware of others; it’s not inborn.

I remember that growing up, we all used to sit in the living room and read quietly. TV was a communal activity. Pretty much everyone watched. If we didn’t have TV we wanted to see, we played games. We had a big house, but we did things together in the evenings. And we learned to like quiet activities. Turn off the noise; if there’s music on, consider sitting and listening to it. Or make it a treat that gets turned up to dance music when there are chores to be done.

Remember, you are creative, you figured out what to do with stuff, now you have to build a family that fits in your little home.

We forget that we can go out in the winter as well. It’s not as easy if we’re in the country as it might be in the city, but kids used to spend hours playing outside in all kinds of weather. Time outside in fresh air makes you lots less rammy. Build a play house, hang a swing. Learn to snow shoe or ice skate or cross country ski. Do it with the kids. You’ll feel better too.

B: I’d advise that you and your husband set a deadline for you to see how you feel after new house rules and activities and spatial negotiations are implemented. If, at the end of it, you still think you need more space, then give yourself the respect you deserve and act on that. Build on an extension to the house. Or put up a she-shed. If you end up expanding your living space yet again, remember, there are ways to be environmentally mindful without confining your living space to 650 square feet. Create a personal food garden. Keep bees. Create a protected wildlife space on your property; there are ways to do that even if you live in town. Look into solar paneling and ease your burden on the national power grid. You don’t have to upheave your life–again–in order to change it. You just need to be respectful and honest toward everything you already have.

P: You’ve got this. You just need to reconsider what works. And if in a couple years, yep, keep trying, it doesn’t work, then find something that’ll make mama happy. But no sense leaving before you’ve really done your homework.

Et voila!

Et voila!

The “Home Sweet Home”:

  • 60 ml vodka
  • 140 ml lemonade
  • spearmint sprig
  • dash of orange bitters
  • lemon peel

Put sprig in glass. Fill with ice, top with vodka and lemonade. Stir. Top with bitters, garnish with lemon peel. Kick back and relax!

Got a problem? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert proper punctuation. All questions will remain confidential. 

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

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Advice: When Divorcing Parents Stop Parenting

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I don’t know if you answer questions from teenagers, but I hope you do. Here’s my problem: My parents are in the middle of getting a divorce. I don’t think they have been happy for a while (my dad has slept on the couch a lot and my mom is always “working late”, yeahhhh, I bet), but it wasn’t until this summer that they decided to split up.  I don’t really mind that they are splitting up since we haven’t done “family things” much since I was little. What does bug me is that they are always trying to put me in the middle by wanting me to choose sides. My dad tells me bad things about my mom, my mom tells me bad things about my dad, and they both want me to choose them. To be honest, I couldn’t pick a side even if I wanted to – I think they are both acting stupid!  I mean I want them to be happy and all, and I love them both, but this is their problem and I just don’t want to have to deal with it all. Sometimes the pressure from it all is just too much.  When I get really overwhelmed, I sometimes cut myself to take some of the pressure off.  My parents don’t know that I’m a cutter (and I am scared to tell them), but sometimes I just don’t know what else to do. I am not, you know, suicidal or anything, and I don’t cut very deep. I just want my parents to chill out and stop asking me to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. I want to go to college some day, so I just want to worry about things like my grades, or things the other kids in my class are worrying about, like who to ask to Homecoming. Is that too much to ask?

– Stuck in the Middle

Dear Stuck:

B & P: Oh, our dear, No. It is not too much to ask. Let’s see if we can’t help you get out of the middle. Because you do NOT deserve to be there. And as you’re noticing, it’s a destructive place to be.

P: I’m sorry your parents are being so incredibly selfish. I’m sorry they’ve overlooked the fact that you’re their kid not a pawn in this game of one-upsmanship.

Because you still are a kid, I want to help you find some support. You should not be in this alone. You sound really capable. But you need to be a capable kid, not a capable adult for your parents.

Do your grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, minister, coach — someone/anyone know what’s happening to you? Is there someone in your life who’s willing to be an adult?

I’m going to stay on this who’s your adult, Terri’s going to talk about keeping you healthy, but let me tell you, we’re on your side. We’re adults and we want to help you stay concentrated on the things that are appropriate for you to be concentrated on. We want to help you stay safe.

B: Thanks to my own ride on my own emotional roller coaster, I have a deep and abiding compassion for self-destructive behavior. There’s something going on in your world that makes you want to escape, makes you want to throw your attention somewhere else. Some people drink. Some people develop eating disorders. And some people cut themselves.

None of these responses are acceptable in the face of life’s stresses, though they are understandable. You want some kind of release. Cutting gives you some kind of control over the crazy-making degree of bad you’re feeling (because at least you have something to feel bad about, amirite?). Because in a lot of ways, making yourself feel actual physical pain is a lot easier than facing the spiritual pain that arises from the fact that the people in your life who are supposed to protect you are, instead, tearing you apart.

You’re talking about grades and Homecoming, so you’re still very young. But you’re also developing a growing awareness of the world around you, and are recognizing inappropriate behavior, particularly on the behalf of your parents. You’re right; they are acting stupid. Please don’t compound their negative behavior by engaging in your own.

P: Through this debacle, your job is to be the kid: to think about your grades and your dates and the things going on in your life. It is also your job to be sad about the break up in your family — because let’s face it, it’s always easier if our parents love each other.

So, how do you go about being a kid when the world around you is falling apart?

I’ll keep saying, you have to find some adults. It’s lousy that you’re the one that has to find the adults, but clearly your parents aren’t going to either be them or find them for you.

I’m really glad you told us about your cutting because, however controlled you are, this is a dangerous precedent. This says you need and want help. Cutting holes in your skin doesn’t mend the holes in your heart even if it feels as if it provides vent holes from time to time.

If your grandparents aren’t available or capable of stepping up, then stop and think about who in your life could be your advocate. Who will help you get the support you need?

I’d like you to have a counselor. You really deserve help. There’s an old myth about doing this stuff alone, but some stuff you shouldn’t have to do alone. Even if you can, it’s easier if you have support. Therapists are trained to help you think through things. This is the first time this has happened to you, but sadly, it has happened to lots of other people. Your therapist can offer you wisdom, support and suggestions. If you think your parents can’t afford it, your guidance counselor at school can help you get to the school therapist. If your parents can afford to send you to counseling, your guidance counselor will have references for you. Because sadly, you’re not the only kid in your school with problematic parents.

B: I need to echo Ann here. Please, please, please: STOP. Stop hurting yourself, stop clouding your thoughts with physical pain, stop amplifying the bad juju, stop doing something that is potentially addictive and unquestionably damaging. I get that asking someone who’s engaging in self-destructive behavior often falls on deaf ears (if only I had listened when that first person told me to stop smoking!). I get that you’re not suicidal, and this is an expression of your severe emotional distress. You’re also cutting yourself and more than that, you’re weakening yourself, making this spiral of emotional turmoil a thing from which it is progressively more difficult to free yourself.

You’re hacking away at your getaway car and not doing anything about the robbery.

Because let me make this clear: your parents are robbing from you. They’re stealing your sense of security. They’re taking your safe home away from you. They’ve plundered your adolescence. And what’s worse is they’re asking you to be complicit as they take these things away. They’re asking you to be an accomplice in their emotional assaults on one another. It might not be technically criminal, but it should be. Abandonment. Jerkitude. Your parents are so caught up in their spite games that they’ve abdicated their roles as parents and are leaving their child-rearing duties up to you. Welcome to early adulthood, and I’m sorry. You’ve got to be the person to find your own way out of this. For that, you need strength, not self-induced bloodletting.

Please start to look for help. You’re self-aware enough to know that all of these behaviors swirling around in your life are not OK; you know your parents aren’t OK, you know cutting isn’t OK. You wrote this letter, so you’ve got the fortitude to look for exits, and have already made the first step toward reaching out. Take Ann’s advice and go to a trusted adult. A professional at school, a savvy aunt/uncle/grandparent that you can trust, someone who you know has your best interests at heart and will stand beside you as you make your parents aware of how you’ve reacted to their petty self-interest.

Let’s face it. Your parents should take some ownership of those cuts.

P: You might want to do this next within the context of your therapy, or with your best friend’s parents, but consider writing a letter to your parents. I’d want you to have your advocate stand with you as you write this. I’d suggest ccing the judge if there is one and your parents’ lawyers. Sadly, I’m sure you know who they are.

Dear Mom and Dad, your asking me to choose sides leaves me angry and scared. I need someone to think about me, because I’m still a kid. I’ve got to get good grades and graduate and get into a good school so that I can be an effective, happy grown up. I know you love me. I’m sad you love fighting more. I’m sad you don’t realize I need parents.

You’re both asking me to love only you and forget that your former partner is my other parent. It makes me crazy… like literally crazy. So crazy that I’ve started cutting myself. And you don’t even notice.

If you won’t give up give up the horrible fighting, and resolve your differences like grown ups as you divorce, would you at least help me find somewhere to live where I wouldn’t be in the midst of a war zone. I want to finish high school here and think about what’s ahead for me. I don’t want to flunk out because you’re not caring about me.

I can’t be your marital/divorce counselor. And you won’t get one. What am I supposed to do? It’s not my business what’s wrong with your relationship. I’m your kid. I’m your business. Will you at least get me a counselor so I have some support as I go through this?

You say you love me. Please help.

Refusing to play the game, love, your son.

Good luck in your attempt to be a teen again.

Good luck in your attempt to be a teen again.

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