October 16, 1997
Hooked on Rejection
My 17-year-old son is hooked on a girl. She's everything he sayshe wishes he could be and everything he knows we wish he couldbe. She's sure to be valedictorian, on her way to Harvard, while heis not a great student. We were thrilled when they started dating.She's the perfect girl, but her priorities are school and experiencesin life (i.e. dating), and she seems to have a problem stayingcommitted more than a day or two each week.
So each week, they break up, get back together, and the traumathat ensues for my son has rendered him depressed, insecure andconstantly obsessing about how he can be good enough to win her back.He dyes his hair weekly and works out constantly to impress her. Witheach "should we break up" discussion, his self-esteem crashes.
Is there anything we can do to help him break this pattern?
Perhaps the only thing more painful than teen-age emotionalwhiplash is the parents' helplessness as they witness theseslow-motion collisions. Unfortunately, your son is not likely tolisten to advice, to attempted shoring up of his bruised ego or tomuch else. His girlfriend's fickleness is only another reinforcementof what he already knows to be true: that his parents wish he couldbe better, brighter and more "perfect" -- like his girlfriend.
What he needs to learn is that he is loved whether or not he goesto Harvard, that straight A's do not make a mensch, and thatperfection is an aberration which doesn't leave much room for life'spleasures, such as love.
Until he experiences this to be true, he will continue to punishhimself for his failings. Take a hard look at your desire to haveyour son become a Harvard graduate. Is it more important than hiswell-being?
You ask how to help him break the pattern with his girlfriend? Theanswer is to break your own pattern with him.
Leaving a Lover
I have dated a good guy, a gorgeous guy for five months. We wereboth recently divorced and have children, and we just sort of fellinto a relationship -- sex on Saturday night, children activitiestogether on Sundays. Our children are close in age and have becomevery attached. At first, I thought it was the real thing; he reallyis a great lover and a fun companion. But, although I could kickmyself for it, I know he is not for me. I can't say why I don't lovehim for forever, but I don't, and I dread telling him and losing thefriendship -- for all of our sakes. How can I hang on to thefriendship part and end the romantic part?
Hates to Jilt
Sometimes the real skill lies in getting out of love -- not intoit. Unfortunately, however, there are no guarantees that you willhang on to the friendship. So speak the truth, but leech out anypotential toxins. Try something like: "You are a wonderful man, and Ifind you very attractive and a fine companion, but you are not forme." Tell him how valuable the friendship is, both between the two ofyou and the children. Perhaps when the sting has faded, you will havea friend.
If not, there is a valuable lesson here for you. Leave thechildren out of your love life until you are engaged to be married.They have suffered enough losses.
My mother is in town again for another of her interminable visits.I notice an immediate change in myself the moment I hear she iscoming. I prepare myself for endless drama and criticism, from whyI'm not married to the decor of my apartment. She constantly comparesme to my brothers. She epitomizes the expression, "Enough about me,so what do you think about me?"
When I try to talk to her about how I feel when she criticizes me,she bursts into tears and accuses me of not loving her. Recently,when she was boasting about how well she raised us, I reminded herthat she abandoned us when we were young teens and left us with ourfather to seek higher education and a better life in Boston, and thatif we are successful, it is not because of her. I feel that I'm onlygoing to get past this when she is able to listen to me. But I amworn out from trying.
She follows me around like a dark cloud. How can I make herunderstand?
How can you make your mother stop being self-absorbed andcritical? How can you "make her understand"? Let me ask you aquestion: Could you make Narcissus stop gazing at his own reflection?
Answer: You cannot make anyone be or do anything.
Let's look at your options. You could move away, change youridentity and enter a witness-protection program. But it is doubtfulthat even such extreme measures could deliver you from the "darkcloud," because it exists on the inside.
The only person you can change here is yourself. Accept yourmother as she is -- or don't. Create the boundaries you need toprotect yourself, whether that means not allowing her to stay withyou when she is in town, only being with her around other familymembers, getting off the phone after X number of minutes -- and soforth. Take her only in the doses you can without overdosing. As shenatters away, respond internally with your own truth, refusing toengage in pointless defenses and not allowing her criticism to pourthrough the sieve at the bottom of your heart.
Who knows? Perhaps if her criticism is met by only dead, emptysilence, she will eventually get a clue. If the river ceased toreflect Narcissus' image to him, he surely would have walkedaway.
Teenagers at a dance. Photo by Edward Serotta from "Out ofthe Shadows."
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