Dear Harlan: I recently moved back to my home state to help a relative in dire straits. I gave up a comfortable rental condo, job and social life to help him out. I enjoy evening cocktails and often play music. However, this relative seems to have issues with this, and it always creates an argument. I’m not some heavy-metal headbanger who has rowdy friends over. I listen to soft classical, and the spirits are in my room. I’m paying the bulk of our living expenses and resent the juvenile attitude my relative has about this. He claims “his house, his rules.” What’s your take on the situation?
Dear Hardly Fair: Someone who’s in dire straits isn’t thinking very clearly. He might want his space. He might not want anyone around. There’s no reason to resent him. You willingly entered this situation. Even though you’re paying for living expenses, it’s his house. While you have every right to relax and have friends over for wine-and-cheese classical music parties, it might be too much for this relative. If you’re going to be there short-term, go to other people’s homes and wear headphones. If this is a long-term situation, approach this from a place of understanding and compassion. It’s his house and his rules. See if the rules can change to accommodate you having friends over occasionally. If the rules are inflexible, consider moving out. Don’t threaten him. Explain that you need rules that will allow you to be comfortable, too. This is not ideal for everyone. The simple gesture of giving him control when he seems to lack it might tilt the rules on your favor.
Dear Harlan: I’m 19 and got engaged to my boyfriend of two years. We are waiting until we graduate from college to get married. We started talking about Thanksgiving, and my parents want me to come visit, but his parents want him to spend it with them. We feel we should spend it together. They seem to think that until we’re married, we should split up and spend it apart. We don’t agree. We discussed taking turns, but my family wants the first turn. He wants his family to have the first turn. I’m thinking about skipping it altogether. Any suggestions?
Dear Engaged: I smell turkey, stuffing and a lot of trouble. You still have Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and religious rites of passages waiting for you to manage. If you can’t pass the first Thanksgiving hurdle, this engagement isn’t going to make it to your wedding date. Question: Do you think they don’t want you to get married? Families who want couples to stay together don’t put a wedge in the relationship. Ask them how they feel about the marriage. Be prepared for the truth. Make sure there isn’t something else complicating the situation. Listen to what they’re feeling. Given that you’re this young and getting married so far into the future, they might not be ready to accept you as a couple. Once you can gauge their support, you can put together a strategy that will create the least amount of hurt and stress. You can switch holidays, divide and conquer during some holidays, and stay together for other ones. If they are supportive and encouraging, then you can figure out a way to make this work. Once you can listen to their feelings, it will be easier to figure out where to go and how to manage bigger family issues in the future.
Dear Harlan: My girlfriend of six months thinks I’m cheating. I’m not. It’s always been that way from day one. She’s never trusted me. Whenever I try to surprise her, she is questioning me. I can’t show her how I feel because she never gives me enough room to surprise her. She goes through my cellphone whenever we are together. She trolls my Facebook and Snapchat. She constantly asks my friends if there is something going on. Her questioning is beginning to make me question our relationship. She was hurt in the past and has a fear of it happening again. I reassure her, but it’s never good enough. What else can I do to make her feel secure? I’m out of answers.
Dear Reassuring: You can wear a GoPro on your forehead so she could see where and what you are doing. However, she’ll also see that there are other women in your field of vision, and that will send her into a jealous tirade. Trust is simple. Either she has it or she doesn’t. You never had it. She can’t trust men, and you’re a man. She might not want to trust men. That’s where you might be able to gain her trust. Make it clear that you appreciate how much she’s been hurt. Give her permission to never fully trust a man. Explain that you’re a loving man who has a history of trust and communication (assuming this is true). Ask her if she wants to trust you. She has to want to trust you. Ask her one thing you can specifically do to make it easier for her to trust you. Put together a plan. If she can’t trust you, suggest she get help to work on her trust issues. If it’s too much for you, then move on. The trauma of her past is haunting her future. You aren’t responsible for fixing her past, but you can help her identify it and decide if she wants to change the future. If she can’t learn to trust you, you can’t date her.
Dear Harlan: What are the best tips you have for not getting jealous when your boyfriend or girlfriend attends another college?
Making It Work
Dear Making It Work: Be incredibly happy apart and even happier when together. The biggest mistake long-distance partners make is being miserable while apart. It just makes you miserable. Limit your texting, calling and live streaming. If you’re always online, you’ll never be on campus. Then you’ll never create a life that makes you happy apart. Do things you love to do. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself forgetting to be sad. Encourage your partner to do things, too. Happiness isn’t a threat. It brings you closer. Don’t visit each other more than once or twice a semester. If you’re not on campus, you’re not creating a life on campus. Read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. This book will help you know how to love and be loved, especially if you have a partner who is jealous or needs more time with you. Know that no matter what happens next, you and your partner will be OK. If you stay together, you’ll be OK. If you grow apart, you will be OK. If you know you will always be OK, you can express yourself, be a better listener and create a life that fills you up. Ultimately, this will be what keeps you together for a very long time.
Harlan is author of Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober) (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at harlan(at)helpmeharlan.com or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 3501 N. Southport Ave., Suite 226, Chicago, IL 60657.