Advice: My Father Won’t Attend My Wedding

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I am a successful, generally happy gay man. In a matter of a few weeks, I am going to marry the man of my dreams. My boyfriend and I have been together, lived together, for 10 years. Eventually we’re going to throw a huge party for all our friends and extended families, but we decided we want to keep our wedding day small. Immediate families, extremely close friends.

Unfortunately, my father has declared that he’s not coming to my wedding. He hasn’t given me a good reason as to why. He was initially…not thrilled…with my announcement when I came out, but I thought he had grown to accept me and my (now) fiancé. He didn’t seem all that bothered by our relationship when we were just living together but now, stubborn man that he is, he has made his decision, dug his heels in and isn’t budging. He won’t come to my wedding. That’s that.

Of course it bothers me, even if I tell people that it doesn’t. It’s difficult not to compare this to my brother’s (straight) wedding, at which my father was happily in attendance. How can I convince him to come? And if I can’t, how can I make peace with his behavior?

–Disappointed Future Groom

Dear Future Groom (we are leaving out the “disappointed” part!),

First, let us say, congratulations! We are thrilled that you and your beloved are getting married. May you build a grand and glorious life together!

Now. Your father.

P: I’m so sorry your dad is being … so many possibilities here and who knows what he’s being. And we can’t figure that out. Hopefully we can help you come to terms with what you want without the gloss on it. You don’t need to protect him by “being cool.”

I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve run into this. It’s way too common. And the fact that other people are becoming more accepting doesn’t mean that you hurt any less — in fact it may make it worse.

B: Weddings ought to be a time for joy, but like any life-changing event, they can rustle up a whole host of baggage. Much of said baggage ultimately has nothing to do with the principal actors (in this case, you and your fiancé) and everything to do with the third party throwing their baggage into the mix.

That being said, it sure feels like it’s personal. And, as a side note: PLEASE don’t carry any sort of resentment toward your brother for how your father responded to his straight nuptials. Your brother loves who he loves, too. It’s just that for a man, loving a woman doesn’t break new ground.

For parents, a wedding brings a finality to their role in your life. You are so not the kid at Little League any more, or the boy who used to read on the front porch swing, or the gangly kid who’s all arms and legs, with that unruly cowlick. With a marriage you are, undeniably, an adult, making your own way and choosing your own life, and parents’ roles, while still important, inevitably go on the decline. You say that your father has come to accept your life with your partner, but was that when his social status was still just sort of…a partner? He may have thought that one day you’d switch back to women, or he may have preferred not thinking about it at all. Shifting your relationship and your fiancé’s status from “partner” to “husband” is a brave new world for the old guard. You’re getting married and A) declaring your love for this person while B) asserting your right to be recognized as an adult, and your father may not be ready to take this step. To fully accept who you are. To acknowledge he has no control over you any longer.

P: So let’s think about this. Can you say first to yourself, exactly what you want from your dad? Because unless you’re clear with yourself, you lower your odds of getting what you want! What you’ve said is that you want him to be there because he was for your brother. With one family we set it up so she could take a series of steps that helped her clarify what she wanted. 

  1. She had to admit to herself that she wanted to be able to talk about her wedding.
  2. They didn’t need to come, but she needed to let them know that it really hurt that they weren’t coming.
  3. In the end, she was able to tell them, that they needed to get over whatever it was and that they needed to show up, that she deserved that.

The wonderful thing was they listened and were able later to tell me how glad they were they showed up.

But what really mattered was her taking the slow steps through her own pain about what was going on to get clear what she wanted. Your dad may say no. But you will have said what was important and asked for what you want. So what do you want? Get clear. Write it down.

B: Having your father by your side on your wedding day would be nice. It would be wonderful, even. We grow up wanting our parents’ approval and I don’t know if that ever really changes. Theoretically, your father should want what’s best for you, and as an adult you’ve decided that what’s best for you is embodied in the man you’ve shared your life with for a decade. Theoretically, since you are now an adult and a peer, and someone he loves, your father should want your approval too.

P: If your dad isn’t someone who you can talk to about this, or if you can’t talk about this without his being defensive or your being too vulnerable, consider a letter. You don’t want to accuse, you just want to say what you want. “You’re my dad, this is what I want from you.” You might also want to say, “This is my wedding, and it really hurts that you don’t care enough about me, my partner and our happiness to show up.” Be direct. Don’t leave a lot of room for waffling or attacks. Don’t be accusatory. Say what is true.

B: But bear in mind, there’s only so much you can do with a stubborn old man who’s set in his ways, and—here’s the hard lesson—you can’t change him. I’ve said this before, but the only behavior you are capable of controlling is your own. So let me ask you—what do you want to do? How do you want to feel? It’s your wedding day! Do you want to feel happy? Or do you want to feel resentful? Will your father’s decision to not show up affect whether or not you and your fiancé will marry? Of course not! So take the time to rejoice in your love for each other.

As for the sting I know you feel, the disappointment, the rejection…be bigger than it. I know, it’s easier said than done, but I think the healthiest way to move past that sort of pain is to turn it around. Anger won’t help. Sadness won’t help. Both of those reactions allow your bad feelings to remain internal. Those feeling emanate from the question, what’s wrong with me that he did X? You’re still granting your father some right to dictate how you feel. And there’s nothing wrong with you; you’re simply marrying the man that you love.

Again, I KNOW THIS IS DIFFICULT, but your position of strength in all this is compassion for his passive-aggressive behavior, and forgiveness. Forgiveness takes your negative emotions and makes them external, and so much easier to let go. Have compassion for his inability to move forward with the times. Have compassion for whatever negative emotions he might be feeling. Have compassion for whatever planted those seeds in his soul that brought him to this. Forgive him for causing you pain. Forgive him for not being open to your happiness. Forgive him for shuttering himself into his world, at the expense of the people around him. Your happiness with your future husband is not dependent on your father, so forgive your father for his empty, passive-aggressive petulance. Forgive him for not being the parent you want.

P: And then decide what you want to say to people. If you’ve got a lot of feelings, you’re better finding a friend to process this with or a therapist. You don’t need to tell anyone whether or not your dad is coming. You don’t need to tell them how you feel about it, unless they’re beloved friends. Tell your friends about how excited you are about the wedding, marrying your partner. Tell them what a great cake you’re having. Tell them how fabulous your Priestess is and that your Bartender is hi-larious and oh, so skilled. (Oh, right, we’re not doing your wedding. Sorry.)

Because now that it’s just a handful of weeks away, you want to get clear of this and focus on your wedding. Don’t give your dad your wedding day. Because you’re marrying your beloved of ten years! He deserves your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about you and him.

B: The fact is, we don’t have the families that we want. We have the families that we have, and our recognition of what constitutes a familial landscape is changing. Norman Rockwell is going to have to modernize his Thanksgiving Day family painting. Families are different now, which is neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just different. But for a lot of people, change is difficult and unwelcome. Don’t let the rut-dwellers impact your happiness. Now, get out there and marry that guy! And take our best wishes for a wonderful, long, strong, healthy, love-filled life.

The path to l'amour is never easy, dearest.

The path to l’amour is never easy, dearest.

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

If you have a question, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and add appropriate punctuation. All questions will remain confidential.

Thank you for reading! Now go tell all your friends.

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Advice: He Yells, I Cry

Dear Bartender and Priestess: I married a man who was raised completely differently than I was. I grew up in a very quiet home. His was loud. We never raised our voices to one another. When my husband gets worked up about something—it can be anything he feels emotionally engaged in—he uses a very strong voice. My emotions are close to the surface, so if we argue and he starts to get loud, I retreat, which usually results in me crying.

We didn’t have a lot of arguments while we were newlyweds, but in the last couple of years they’ve been on the increase. I’m hopeful that this means he’s more willing to tell me about things that make him unhappy, but then my emotional reactions kick in and I start to cry, which makes him feel like the bad guy. And it’s just how I am, that’s what I would do if anyone spoke strongly to me.

I’m prone to creating distance, so I will leave the room when he starts getting loud and try and re-engage him later, but he says this makes him bottle up his feelings. And he never tries to do anything about the way he speaks to me. I know we have wildly different ways of communicating and we need to get better at it. Am I too sensitive? Is that the main thing I should work on?

–Tired of Crying

B: I’m so torn about this. Part of me thinks, abso-fricking-lutely, you need to grow a thicker skin, if you ever want to be a functional member of the world around you. And part of me says no, you don’t need to work on being less sensitive. I don’t know if I would ever advise anyone that it would be better to numb themselves down. Where these parts of me merge is in the belief that you need to work on being more of an adult, and less manipulative about how you manage an argument.

Because make no mistake about it, crying in response to a raised voice is both immature and manipulative. You want the noise to end. You lack the skills to say how it should end, so you pull a reactionary sucker-punch which you hope will shut your husband up. And if that doesn’t work, you walk away.

P: I’ve been on all sides of this argument, even sometimes, I hope, the rational, reasoning one we all want to head toward.

I also grew up in a household that was very quiet and rarely confrontational. Lovely quiet, seemingly calm status quo. We avoided dealing with our own problems AND we never learned to deal with anyone who does it differently.

I have an awful memory from my first job. A VP was telling me about something someone said I was doing (which I wasn’t!). I started to cry. The VP was about to push me out the door until I stopped him with, “Dammit, I have something to say. You’ll have to wait until I’m done crying.”

So I sat and snuffled and then rebutted. Right after that I found a shrink to work with. OK, maybe not right after. But PRETTY SOON, after only a couple more humiliating crying experiences, I found a shrink — because if my response to a surprising situation in the office is to burst into tears, I’m not going to be very effective. Plus, humiliating, and not very grown up. I had to work on my own tendency to leak… which is a not always effective tool in the workplace. Or anywhere.

B: I grew up in a loud household. We were always shouting over one another, and I have carried that trait forward. If I get passionate about something—anything, a sports score, a run in my stocking, a poorly-written news article—I tend to get loud. George has asked me why I’m yelling at him about things he had no control over. I have actually said, “I’m not yelling AT you. I’m yelling NEAR you.”

The thing is, though, he’s still subject to the force of my emotional tirade, even if it’s not specifically directed at him. It makes him feel bad, and I have to take that into account, because my relationship with George is not all about me. We have figured out how to start addressing it, though it took us a while. He tells me, “You’re yelling,” and I try to dial it back. I tell him, “You’re internalizing,” and he works to let his bad feelings go. We’re not perfect at it yet—not by any means!—but we work towards a mutual understanding of how we express ourselves and the effects we have on each other. I think that’s the thing both you and your husband have to learn. You have so many feels you can’t handle passion. He has a streak of bombast that he won’t temper lest he “bottle it up”. And what you’re both doing is creating impenetrable borders between yourselves and the space where you can let your relationship happen.

P: Why are your feelings hurt every time your partner is outraged by what’s going on? His outburst at a baseball score has nothing to do with you.You can handle this — and not just for the marriage. You can manage this because you want to be as effective as you can. A good shrink or an assertiveness training workshop can help. Walking away is only ONE coping mechanism.

B: Yes, it’s a coping mechanism. But who wants to simply cope? What you should aim for is a management strategy. I would love you to try and open up space between you and your husband, mid-yell, and say, “Bill, you’re yelling. You know I don’t like it. Can you please say what you need to say, right now, in a more moderate tone of voice?” It gives him the opportunity to speak his mind without being able to accuse anyone of asking him to bottle things up, and it gives you the opportunity to see that all passionate voice-raising doesn’t have to end in tears.

If neither of you are willing to put the borders of your own selves aside, then I’m concerned for the fate of your marriage. “This is how I am, la la la, too bad, you have to deal with me” is no way to nurture a healthy lifelong partnership. And ultimately, your goal should be that you’re healthy and stable. You can’t be stable if you’re constantly on eggshells, wondering when the next outburst is going to send you into a tizzy.

You're making me tizzy, my head is spinning.

You’re making me tizzy, my head is spinning.

P: BTW, you won’t get it right immediately. And you won’t always have it in you to stand up for yourself. It’s all part of the learning curve.

B: You know, I used to cry, when I would have arguments with my ex. (Yes, really.) I just wanted the noise to stop. We never got anywhere in resolving our differences, because he would feel bad (or frustrated) for making me cry and I was too scared to confront anything. And our relationship became really unhealthy. By the time I grew up enough to start trying to talk to him our perceptions of each other were so damaged we didn’t have common ground. Or the willingness to be vulnerable. We’d built up these tremendous walls. I honestly believe we would have divorced earlier and moved on with our lives with much less damage, if we’d just figured out how to talk to one another.

P: If your partner is a loud guy… his vocal spew isn’t about you. He’s just loud. And a loud conversation or an argument can be, simply, loud. But he’s probably always been that way. So why did you marry a loud guy? And this is a serious question. Think back. Why did you marry this guy despite and because of his decibel issues?

If you married a loud guy thinking you were going to change him, you devalue an aspect of him. He’s a loud guy. He’s probably always going to have the loud opinion and the over-the top reaction. He could probably use a little lesson in cultural sensitivity. Does he do eyerolling, too? Side note: Why is there not an eye-rolling icon? Silicon Valley, get on this. Priestess needs an eyerolling icon, more than she needs many things.

B: Silicon Valley…she’s right, she does. But I digress.

P: But the important point is, darling, you’re not going to change him, because he’s a loud guy. Now, as for your increased fighting. I’m a lot better about this in the abstract than in reality. My husband and I are not talented at fighting. And let’s be clear. Not everything’s a discussion to be worked out. Some of it’s just fighting.

I yell, wanting to be heard. He yells too. And he’s also particularly sensitive.

Luckily we’re completely committed. But we both say stuuuuuuuuupid things. And we both need to learn to shut up and listen. We both need to walk away. And we, both of us alphas, need to learn that there are some things we just don’t care about. And we’re working on those things.

How are you working on it? Looking for someone to take sides doesn’t help. Ganging up on a loved one does NOT lead you forward in relationship.

B: Fighting ought to have an objective. Theoretically, you’re having an argument because there is dissonance in your relationship and you would like peace. I feel like I say this a lot, but you need to make space for the relationship to happen, and that means you need the space for an argument, too. It has to be about a specific thing outside your own selves (“We need to keep an eye on our finances so please make sure all ATM withdrawals are logged in the check register”), rather than an attack (“Why don’t you ever log your stupid ATM withdrawals? How irresponsible are you?”). A good argument should have mutual resolution in mind, not one-sided victory. It should never devolve into anything other than the original topic of discord (“And another thing: six months ago you said you would…!”). And it should, at the end of it all, give you both a better understand of who each other is and where you stand in regards to one another.

You can’t get there if he’s yelling and you’re crying. Or if he’s yelling and you’re walking away. All you’re doing is blocking each other out, putting up walls. No one ever looked at their partner’s walls and said, ooh, nice walls! I gotta get me some of those! And going back later to talk usually doesn’t work, because you’ve already hurt each other by not being there at a crisis point.

P: Put yourself and your well-being first, because you don’t want to be at the mercy of your sensitive feelings every time a disagreement erupts. At home, in friendships, and at the office, you lose the opportunity to provide your own input. You avoid setting things right. And you stop growth because everyone stops to take care of you. You are so much more powerful than that but it’s time to use your powers for the good. It’s time to start figuring out what you want from this relationship. His broad enthusiasm, and your emotional sensitivity, can be wonderful if you can make it work.

And then, when you have your goals settled a bit, find a workshop (there are a billion out there) that helps you work on communication with each other.

Workshops work because there’s often a blend of doing your own personal work that reminds you both how much you love each other (which leads to fun when you get home or even better in your hotel room in the middle of the workshop), helps you build skills, and reminds you that there are lots of people who are not innately skilled at talking things through.

B: My Priestess is right! You have to put your well-being first. You can’t be in a healthy relationship if you’re not healthy, yourself. Or, at the very least, working towards it. Love and attraction are great to have in any relationship, but the day-to-day mechanics of living together…talking to each other…respecting each other…honoring and tending to your partner’s vulnerabilities…managing all that requires compassionate effort, and can be so difficult when feelings and egos get in the way.

P: My dear, you are not the only couple with communications differences and problems. But you could be one of the couples that makes it work in your favor!

Relationships. Finding their own balance is key.

Relationships. Finding their own balance is key.

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

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for their generous use of location!

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to models George and Marjorie for playing along!

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

Thanks for reading! Now go tell all your friends.

 

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.

For more information about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

Thank you for reading! Now go tell all your friends about us. 

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. 

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!

Advice: Threesome: One Too Many?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My boyfriend, “Bob”, and I, are in a committed relationship. We’ve been together for the past nine months, living together for six. Yes, we moved fast. For the most part we are super-compatible. We’re good at dividing household chores and bills, we are supportive of one another, and our sex life is great. I can picture us spending the rest of our lives together.

However. Bob has a sexual bucket list, and at the top of that list is having a threesome. He almost nags me about it, because it mentions having a threesome every week, more than once a week. He’ll even make a point of showing me which of my friends and co-workers he’d like to invite in as the third person at the party. Bob says he can only picture having a threesome before we get married, because having one after we’re legal would be “weird”. Before we get married, after we get married, the fact is I’m not really comfortable with having a threesome, and I don’t expect that to change. What do I do? Should I give in and have one with him, because it seems like it’s so important? Do I let him find two other girls to have one with, even though I know I won’t be OK with it?

–Just Me In The Bed

~~~~The Bartender and The Priestess Respond~~~~

P: Here Terri, hold my shawl and my drink, will you? Because I’m going to need both my hands to pull my hair out, k?

I barely know where to start on this all kinds of bad…

See the thing about coupleness, as I see it, is that sexual bucket lists become a couple’s sexual bucket list. And a bucket list is sorta wow, that might have been really interesting to do, but damn, life interfered.

Presumably no one in Mr. Threesome’s life has ever thought it was their job to satisfy this fantasy… which is to say, so far he’s failed, but he thought maybe you could pimp his dream for him? Nice guy.

B: I want to echo Ann and emphasize that as far as couples go, a “sexual bucket list” is one that should be mutually shared by the couple. It’s not that all sexual exploration has to stop once you commit to another person. It’s that the exploration should meet both partners needs OR, at the very least, doesn’t jangle one partner’s “Ick” reflex. When that happens, the other partner needs to be willing to let that “Ick” thing fall off the table. So if you were interested in having a threesome, by all means, you should, as a couple, go for it. But you’re not.

Because the thing about sex, despite the idea that clothes can be thrown off with reckless abandon and it’s just skin, is that you are, at that time, vulnerable. You are, literally, naked. You are—especially as a woman—literally opening yourself up to someone else. You are as physically close as two people can be. If you’re not going into the bedroom joyfully (or at the very least, with open-hearted acceptance), then you shouldn’t go.

P: And actually, this is really the first thing, which makes all the other discussions sort of moot? You’re not interested. No means no. Anything else is coercion. Coercion/Persuasion to do something you don’t want to do doesn’t really fall in the partnership model, it falls in the sexual assault or maybe just harassment model.

B: Yeah, Ann, I agree. I’m more than a little alarmed by Bob’s war of attrition. Mentioning his desire to have a threesome, repeatedly, and pointing out desired partners…do you find the ground getting a little uneven beneath your feet? Does it knock you off balance a little? It should, because trying to wear you down that way is manipulative and unsettling. He’s hoping you’ll finally snap; All right! Enough already! Let’s go bang Susie from accounting!

P: For real? WORK??? He’d like you to waltz into your work place, where presumably you have a career that’s important to you, and not to him, btw or he wouldn’t be asking you to screw it up, and solicit someone for sex? Someone, who would then have all sorts of private information to hold over you. This looks like a great idea if you’re working on a program how to derail your career in a couple easy steps. There are reasons we don’t have sex at work. Almost all of them are valid.

The cards say: don't bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

The cards say: don’t bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

B: Absolutely. Repeat after me, dearest: BOUNDARIES, please! I’m concerned about Bob’s willingness to point out his desired partners from your pool of friends and co-workers. Work is not the place to look for kink playmates. That’s what Craig’s List is for. Are you supposed to view everyone in your life as a possible sex partner? Or more than that, as a sexual threat? Are you supposed to feel jealous or possessive or “maybe this is the one?” every time you’re around another attractive woman? That doesn’t lead to sexual autonomy or healthy decision-making. That’s a constant stressor, and will find its way out in overreactions, or a poor work environment. Stress will out. If you did agree to a threesome, insist that he stop pointing out which members of your social circle he’d like to sleep with and engage in finding third partner as a couple, and insist that it’s someone who’s independent from the rest of your lives.

P: Yes, it was early to move in, and that’s a problem because you need to know someone a while to know whether or not he’s going to start lobbying for you to do something you really don’t want to do “for him.” Because what’s going to happen when you say no, I’m not interested?

What will happen when you say, no, in fact, I’m not interested in a man who puts his fantasy above his real relationship?

B: I’m not sure if you’re actually engaged, or if you’re projecting into your future engagement. Regardless, you speak as though you’re looking at a lifetime together. Here’s the thing: if you’re going to function within the parameters of a committed relationship, then you need to behave as though you’re in a committed relationship. That means respectfully attending to your partner’s feelings, and reaching a mutual consensus. That does not mean filling your own desires by the grinding emotional erosion of attrition. Bob says a post-marriage threesome would be “weird”. But you’re committed to one another right now, right? This is supposed to be the testing ground before marriage. This isn’t supposed to be, “You are my one and only, baby and I know a threesome isn’t your thing, but…what about her?” Question that “but”. What if “but” never happens? Will there be resentment? Will there be cheating? Will there be more coercion, even if it’s “weird”? You need to find out just how important this is to Bob. Or, on the flip side, if you do agree to a threesome, you need to ask yourself if you’ll feel OK, or resentful, or betrayed. Depending on your perspective, a threesome can be an opportunity for you both to explore a sexual avenue, safely, together. Or, you can feel like you agreed to let your boyfriend sleep with someone else while you had to watch. (Would he be OK with if your threesome was with another man?) Or, since you already said you don’t think you would feel OK if he went forward with a threesome without you, you can feel like you undermined your own set of principles by letting him do what he wanted.

P: Oh, and this… those people who are really anxious to be part of a threesome, it does double their sexcapades and partners. I’d be wanting some good info on a person I was going to do a bunch a things to that I didn’t want to do… cause probably boyfriend wants to watch… because there’s nothing hotter than two chicks who so aren’t into each other pretending to get off for a guy…

What if he likes it and wants to do it again? Do you say no then? ‘cause now you’ve done something you had no interest in doing with someone you work with who now knows everything about you and you have to leave your apartment AND your job.

B: You know, I see people all the time, at the bar, drowning out the aftermath of bad decision-making. Ask yourself how your relationship with Bob is, overall. Yes, you said you’re both good with chores and responsibilities and have a good sex life, and those are all important, but does he make you feel respected? Cherished? Secure? Free to be who you are? And the same goes for him. Perhaps he’s just a different person with a different set of values. The question is whether or not you can make your values mesh. If the answer to that is no, I’d recommend taking some time to strongly consider whether or not he’s the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It can be hard to extract yourself from a relationship, and we often put up with more than we want because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And it’s hard to accept that you can love someone but not be able to make things “work”. Adding one more person into your bed won’t ease this sort of contemplation.

P: Feeling beleaguered or harried or resentful or compromised or unfulfilled is no way to start a life together. This question bothers you enough to write in about it. Is this, potentially, a deal-breaker? If it is, then let it be your dealbreaker, and make peace with it. It’s your body, and it should be your decision how to use it.

B: If you feel that engaging in your boyfriend’s bucket list threesome would empower you in some way, then go for it. But if you feel like this would be damaging or compromising, then stand behind your beliefs. If he can’t accept your sexual boundaries as part of the marriage package, then maybe it’s time to take a different path.

Sex Rx?

Sex Rx?

Thanks to Deb Slade for Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to Dale and the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for the swanky location!

For more information about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here.

If you have a question for us, please email us at bartender priestess @ gmail. com; human non-Spambots, please remove the spaces.

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