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Just Ask Me: Uh-oh. Her love is probably headed for law school 3000 miles away

Originally posted in THE DAILY MUSE

Dear Fran,

I’m 23 and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years. We went to college together and, right afterwards, both got jobs in LA. We have an amazing relationship, I’m so happy, and I’m pretty sure that this is the guy I want to marry.

The problem: He just got accepted to law school—in New York. He applied to mainly California schools, but he decided to apply to Columbia and NYU on a whim, and he got in to both. It would be huge for him to go to a top 10 law school, but I can’t help but wish that he would stay here. I don’t want to hold him back from this amazing opportunity, but I can’t imagine life without him! 

Me moving there with him isn’t really an option either—I just started a Master’s program here. But the truth is, even when I finish it, I don’t want to move to New York! I love it in LA, all my family and friends are here, and I really see a future staying at my job.

What do we do? If he stays, I feel like he will resent me for missing out on a great opportunity. And if he goes, I’ll resent him for putting us in a long-distance relationship (not to mention, we’ll both be pretty miserable apart). How do we make the right decision for our relationship and for our careers?

In Love in California

Dear In Love in California,

Let’s get the only easy solution out of the way first. Did he also apply to a top school close by? Is going there an option?

If not, I’m afraid there is no “right” decision, partly because every option you have risks something. Assuming you want to remain a couple, all you can do is weigh the choices and try to take the least threatening alternative.

One possibility is to let him decide based on what’s best for him, vow to try not to punish him emotionally, deal with his choice (perhaps with emotional support from family, friends, even a therapist), and hope for the best. Or he could do the same for you.

But here’s my real answer. Long-term, mature, healthy relationships require at the very least the three “C’s”: communication, compromise, and compatible goals.

Your current goals may not be completely compatible, but keep in mind that couples do sustain long distance relationships all the time. You’ll communicate regularly through the magic of video technology, you’ll split the plane rides, and you’ll reunite in a few years.

Or you’ll compromise, which means one of you might have to take both an emotional and a career risk. Remember, it’s possible his career will be great no matter where he goes. And you could end up loving New York and having an even better career there. Unfortunately, this isn’t a science experiment with a control group that tells you what would have happened if you’d made the other choice. Which of course is why it’s a risk. And why it’s life.

This issue appears, however, to have uncovered communication problems between you. It strikes me that he applied “on a whim” to not one, but two practically must-attend schools 3,000 miles away. That’s some whim. Did he keep it a secret, or fail to mention it until he got in? Is that his M.O.? Or did he say, “I won’t get in, so don’t worry?” (And did you really believe this, given that he’s obviously smart enough to get into both?) Did he say, “I’m applying on a whim, but if I get in, I’m going?” Did either of you say, “but what about us?”

Analyze whatever happened for clues of his character, nature, maturity level, values, and commitment to your relationship. What does it say about him if he kept it a secret? About you if you’ve been afraid to express your concerns?

It’s possible your boyfriend loves you with all his heart, wants to marry you, and did this innocently. (I know he didn’t do it because he’s not very smart.) Perhaps he even believes that 3,000 miles won’t put a serious strain on your relationship.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that he seems to have set you both up for this, which may mean your commitment levels are unequal or he has underlying doubts, even if he can’t or won’t admit it, or doesn’t realize it.

The two of you must talk, talk, talk. Hash this out together, openly, honestly. Think about things you may not have previously considered. How will you feel if you invest years in this relationship, and he decides he wants to stay there, or he finds someone else there (a possibility that may increase when there’s such a distance)? It’s relatively easy to make promises, but is it realistic to think that a long distance relationship will satisfy your needs? Is losing him because of that a risk you’re willing to take? Does it outweigh your other concerns, such as your love of California and your job?

Also, law school is hard, especially the first year. Maybe you not being there will be a good thing and will help him concentrate. Maybe him being in law school in California would put a strain on your relationship, too.

And you say that you’re unwilling to move. But it’s possible that a separation may change your mind, and I’d encourage you to be open to that idea. In the film Going the Distance, Justin Long’s character eventually quits his job in New York to move to California to be with the lovely Drew Barrymore. There, true love wins out. But real life isn’t a movie. And I’ve found that women often feel they have do most of the compromising. (Readers, feel free to disagree.)

You two have a lot to discuss. If you do so honestly, eventually the path will become clear. Whatever happens, I do hope you’ve learned that in healthy relationships, communication and compromise are key, and that neither person ever makes unilateral decisions that are going to affect both.

I wish you (both) luck in your relationship and careers,

Fran

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Just Ask Me Advice: Help! I Can’t Stand my Family at the Holidays

Reposted by  — from The Daily Muse, November 23, 2011 — 1 Comment
Help! I Can't Stand my Family at the Holidays

Dear Fran,

As Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself once again stressed and sick at the thought of traveling home. I’m kind of the black sheep of my family, and don’t feel like I fit in anymore, if I ever did. The biggest issue is my brother, who’s ten years older than I, and his wife, who hs a knee jerk opinion about everything, from politics to how children should be raised.  Plus, their 13-year-old daughter is a total brat.

Truthfully, my brother is a brat too, but in my father’s eyes he can do no wrong.  Both of them played college football, and we have always had a kind of male-oriented household.  While my younger brother is thinking about going to law school after college, my older brother has joined my father’s business, and the two of them live in their own world in which only their opinions and needs count.  Even though I went to a good college and now have a great husband and career, they all act like that was just expected and truly don’t seem to care.

With barely a break for dinner, they will spend Thanksgiving ay immersed in whtever football game is on, drinking beer and hollering at the TV.  Last year my neice sat in a corner, texting on her phone, ignoring the constant nagging of her mother.

Worst of all, my father and older brother kind of pick on my husband because he’s not a sports guy.  My husband tries to fit in, and always feels oblgated to join the rest of them in the football thing.  Inevitably, my mother and I end up alone in the kitchen doing the dishes, and my mother quietly complains about how unhappy she is with my father.

As I grow older, I find it harder to find common ground and even have a decent conversation, let alone avoid any judgment or squabbling because of the crude way they talk, sometimes even calling people racist or sexist names.  I envy my friends and even the holiday movies full of families gathered around dinner tables happily feasting, and enjoying being together after moths apart, when all I feel is embarrassed, disgusted, and stressed.

Alone

****************************************

Dear Alone,

Let me begin by saying that I sympathize. I too grew up in a family in which my father favored my older brother, and I felt dead last in a field of two. It took a very long time to understand how this has impacted my life, my choices, and my emotional stability. In the long term, I suggest you go to therapy or undertake an honest self-analysis to try to understand how this has potentially impacted you.

But here’s my advice for the short term: First of all, stop being embarrassed and envious of all those “happy” families. Truth is, every family out there has its own unique imperfections. Things can look pretty good from the outside, but the ideal family dynamic is not something I have seen in reality very often. And I’d say that most families have at least one member who isn’t all that happy to be home, or thinks she doesn’t fit in, or feels like some kind of black sheep.

I also want to dissuade you of the notion that there is anything wrong with being the proverbial black sheep; it sounds to me as if you’re lucky you got out of there! Now I admit I’m not a football fan, but given the evidence showing as much as a 22% rise in domestic violence calls to the police on Thanksgiving Day, I can’t help mentioning here the disgust I have with the whole “drunk and hollering” milieu.

Try this: Meditate to calm down. Look at Thanksgiving as a kind of yearly sociological experiment. Talk to your husband about your feelings and frustrations, listen as he explains his, and support him in doing what makes him feel comfortable. During the weekend, observe carefully, learn from everyone’s behavior (including your own), and become stronger in your convictions.

Be grateful for all the wonderful things in your life, and maybe even suggest that everyone in the family take a turn before the meal saying what they’re grateful for. Also try to focus on the family members with whom you do, or could, have positive relationships. Continue to be there for your mother, and be kind to her—it sounds to me as if she has a lot of regrets. Foster your relationship with your younger brother, who sounds thoughtful and approachable, and reach out to your niece, who, despite her aloofness, may be a struggling young girl who could benefit from your influence in her life. Perhaps bring her a little gift, maybe a puzzle or a game you could play together. Plus, your husband might be grateful for the escape from the rest of the family and join in.

While keeping in mind that you aren’t going to change anyone, steer clear of any political debates. I would, however, draw the line at sexist and racist name-calling. Say you don’t appreciate that kind of negativity and ask them to stop.

And finally, if being with your family at the holidays really pains you, it might be time to consider avoiding it altogether. Consider spending next Thanksgiving with your husband’s family or on a vacation with just the two of you. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose how you react to them—and how much time you spend with them.

Best of luck,

Fran

Have a question for Fran? Email advice@thedailymuse.com

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wesolowski.

“Just Ask Me” Advice #4: How to Help a Friend with cancer

Help! How Do I Help a Friend with Cancer?

Help! How Do I Help a Friend With Cancer?

Dear Fran,

A close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago. She’s had surgery and will be undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. The doctors say her prognosis looks good, but she has had to drop out of her grad school program for the semester.

We were all absolutely devastated when we heard the news, and it’s been the most difficult thing I could imagine for her and her family. She has been inconsolably depressed, crying all the time, and so angry that her life as she knows it is over. It is so not fair that this happened to such a wonderful person—and all I want to do is make her feel even a tiny bit better.

Our friends have tried everything we can think of—spending days at the hospital, crying with her, talking, bringing games, watching movies, and more. But nothing has helped—even the good news from the doctors that we got last week. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain she’s going through, so I am at a loss as to what else I could say or do that might help even a tiny bit.

How can I help her?

A Friend

Dear Friend:

I am moved by your question. It sounds as if you are a caring, concerned friend who’s doing everything possible to alleviate your friend’s suffering.

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can say or do to magically make things better or to wish her disease away. Your friend is mourning a very grave loss. Calling cancer a loss may surprise you, but a young woman being treated for breast cancer, even breast cancer she’s probably going to survive, is dealing with significant life losses, including loss of health, loss of innocence, loss of safety, (perceived) loss of sexuality, and (at least temporarily) loss of cherished dreams and ambitions.

Your friend is on a journey and needs time to process this profound life experience. All you can offer is your companionship and deepest compassion. The Buddhist definition of compassion is the nearest I’ve come to truly understanding how to handle situations like yours:

“Compassion is willingness to be close to suffering.”

Being close to her suffering means being patient with her feelings, not trying to change them. Continue to visit and when you do, encourage her to express her emotions, and always validate their legitimacy, even if they’re scary or make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Don’t pretend to understand her pain; it is hers and hers alone. And when she’s opening up to you, don’t try to distract her unless she’s begging for news from the outside world or a change in topic.

Also refrain from optimistic assurances—they may come across as empty or invalidating and may further anger or depress her. Don’t, for example, try to reassure her that she can go back to school next year, or even that all will eventually go back to “normal.” Her process might take her somewhere else entirely, and her “normal” may be altered permanently, too.

All that being said, there are some ways you can help her move forward:

  1. Bring her a beautiful journal in which to record her experiences and feelings. She can keep this private, of course, but the writing process itself is wonderfully beneficial. Or direct her to a website like www.caringbridge.org, where cancer patients can write an ongoing journal, share their experiences with a community of concerned friends, and receive support.
  2. Encourage her to participate in a support group with other young women facing breast cancer or other health crises. Individual therapy with a social worker or psychologist might also help. Check out the resources in her area or community, or ask her hospital for helpful and therapeutic resources.
  3. Put together a care package of meditation tapes, green or white teas, a heating pad, aromatherapy candles, books (the young and amazing Kris Carr has a few), tissues, stationery—anything that may be comforting and relaxing to her.
  4. Bring her a book about the breast cancer experience, either a memoir or an instructional book on how to get through it. Hearing from someone else who has been through what she’s dealing with might be incredibly comforting, and help her feel that she’s not so alone.

Finally, keep doing what you’re doing. Be present and humble. Observe and reflect. Allow silence, and don’t judge. No matter how she’s dealing with this, accept her, listen to her, and love her.

Let me end with a life survival tip, which I offer in the most sincere and open way. After I lost my son, I spent years raging at the whole universe, to no avail—except to learn that the universe is 100% indifferent to what seems fair. Knowing this tidbit helped me later, when I received my own breast cancer diagnosis.

I offer this tip to help you prepare yourself for the vicissitudes of life, and to encourage you to be grateful for each moment and every day. To help you help your friend as she begins this journey. And to state a bottom-line truth that is nonnegotiable and endlessly unforgiving:

Survival Tip #1: Life is not fair.

Your friend is learning this truth, and I encourage you to learn it, too. And I wish you both good luck and good health.

Fran

Have a question for Fran? Email advice@thedailymuse.com