Is Serial Dater Disrespecting Primary Girlfriend?
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girl is mad because she just learned that I date other women. Hey, I never lied about this stuff. From the start, I told her that I wasn’t interested in being in a monogamous relationship. I told her that I would be good to her, and I have been. We don’t live together, but we see each other a lot. We have been together for a little more than a year, and I have never done anything to humiliate her or anything. She says I have since I continue to see other women. I don’t buy it. The first day we sat down and talked to each other, I told her that I have never had an exclusive relationship and I didn’t intend to have one with her. She didn’t necessarily like what I said, but she didn’t walk away. Now she’s trying to get me to eat my words. I want to figure out a way to help her understand that I have been honest in this from the start. — Warren, Boston, Mass.
Dear Warren: Saying how you intend to conduct your relationship in the beginning is fine, but I wonder if you continued to state your intention to be in an open relationship as time has worn on. I wonder also what you would do if your girlfriend chose to be involved with other men while still seeing you.
As you already know, once people begin to form a bond with each other the initial rules often relax. You can’t really be surprised that your girlfriend is upset that you continue to date other women, no matter what she said to you. It’s natural for people to believe that once they fall in love the bond they share will be exclusive. Chances are the other women you are seeing wish you would be exclusive with them, too.
You have to decide what’s next in your primary relationship. If you want to continue being with this woman and you want to treat her with respect, you may need to let go of the other women. If you are absolutely unwilling to do that, the honorable action would be to say goodbye to your girlfriend out of respect for her. If you make that choice, be sure to tell her exactly why. It will be hard for her, but not as hard as feeling disrespected in her relationship with you.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
DEAR HARRIETTE: What do you think about gossip? I figure you will say you don’t like it, because you are a nice person and all. But here’s the thing. Some of the people who work with me have done some shady stuff. They really have done this stuff. And some of my co-workers have been talking about it. They talk in the elevators, and they talk about these other people, and I can’t stand it. Yes, bad things have been done, but how does it benefit anyone to keep stirring the pot? I want to choose the high road, as my grandma used to say. How do I do that when everyone around is gossiping? — Lita, Minneapolis, Minn.
Dear Lita: Gossip is like cancer. It seeps into one’s being and is almost impossible to eradicate. Gossip is usually based on some glimmer of truth, but it quickly turns ugly and grows in its enormity and extremity; it rarely resembles the truth once it has made a few rounds through people’s imaginings.
The people who have behaved badly need to be reprimanded, but not in hushed elevators or side conversations. Their supervisors are responsible for addressing these ills. If their supervisors do not know of these ills, they should be informed. You could take on that role by explaining that you are concerned that the gossip is growing out of control because certain employees’ conduct has gone unchecked. But know that you don’t have to get involved. You can focus on your work and step away from the gossip crowd. If the opportunity arises to speak up and say you don’t like the gossip, go for it.
Take the Flirtatious Customer Off the Menu
DEAR HARRIETTE: I work in a restaurant where the same people dine almost every day. A new guy started coming in for the past few weeks, and he has been flirting with me hard. He is nice enough, but I’m not interested in anything. I simply want to do a good job at work and keep my job. I’m not sure how to handle him, though. He is pretty intense. He asks me a million questions, which forces me to come back to his table. He tries to monopolize my time while I’m at work. How can I deal with him? — Renee, Detroit, Mich.
Dear Renee: In your position, you need to fine-tune the art of being charming and disarming all at once. You do need to continue to be kind to this patron, as you must with everyone, but work on drawing the line more clearly. Be attentive as you take his order, and do not engage him any further than is absolutely necessary. Speak to your supervisor about your predicament. Ask him or her to support you in managing this customer.
It’s OK for the customer to flirt to a certain extent, but now that his behavior makes you uncomfortable, you need to let him know. You can quietly tell him as much. If he doesn’t get the message, your boss will be aware and can step in to back you up.
She Can’t Stand the Slurping
DEAR HARRIETTE: Every time my husband drinks tea or coffee, he slurps. It drives me insane. I think slurping out of a cup is the height of bad manners. But whenever I say anything to him, he laughs it off. I can’t stand it. How can I get him to stop? — Gwen, Miami, Fla.
Dear Gwen: I wish I had a crystal ball so I could find the magic words to get your husband to let go of his nasty habit. I do not. However, I can suggest a fun option. If you have a video camera with good sound, tape him slurping the next time you can catch him “in the act.” Play it back so he can see and hear himself, as opposed to your nagging voice.
Demonstrate that it is easy to drink from a cup without slurping. Tell him that while it doesn’t seem to matter to him, for whatever reason, it really matters to you. Ask him to make the effort to drink more gracefully — at least in your presence.
Reunited by Fate, She Wants to Revive Romance with Ex
DEAR HARRIETTE: My high-school boyfriend is working at my new job. At first, I was pretty excited about that. I loved him in high school and have loved him, in one way or another, for all these years. We tried a few times to restart romance again, but it never worked — either he was involved with someone else or I was. So now I’m single, and he’s sort of single. He’s in the middle of a divorce. I am really interested in seeing what might happen. I’m afraid, though, to say anything. It has been a long time since we had any involvement at all. Should I just try to rekindle a friendship? Or should I go for it and try for the real thing? — Allison, Chicago, Ill.
Dear Allison: What is the real thing? Maybe you should start by defining that. There may be some merit in looking at your relationship with this man over the years. Why didn’t it work out before? Could it be that you are just meant to be friends? Years of distance with lack of true connection may mean that you two aren’t destined to be lovers. That could be fine. Don’t press to make something happen that may be long gone.
Start by focusing on your job. Be fully present in your work. And be fully present in your rekindled relationship with this man. Naturally, be kind to him, but don’t try to get more than you are being offered.
Choosing Personal Honor
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boss asked me to break company rules. He asked me to rummage through confidential files to find a document that he needs in order to prove a point in a meeting with the big bosses. I really don’t think I should do something like that. I don’t think it would be considered breaking the law, but I know the bosses would be mad as hell that we broke into their offices while they were at home sleeping. If I say no, I feel I could lose my job. I don’t know what to do. I think if I tell any of my bosses, I’m screwed. They probably will be mad and take it out on me. What in the world should I do? — Ella, Denver, Colo.
Dear Ella: All you have is your integrity. If you compromise your basic values today, what will you do tomorrow? That’s a question you must contemplate now. If your boss is willing to ask you to cheat to save him, what do you think he will ask you to do next? The possibilities are endless, and none of them bodes well for you. You are in a position now where you may have to choose your honor, even if it means putting your job at risk.
Does that sound nuts? Maybe. But think about it. Once you are willing to cheat for another, you prove to yourself and the other person that you are willing to be dishonest, that you can be “bought,” as it were, for a price — whether the price is your job or something else. Are you ready to live with that reflection of your personality?
If not, don’t do it. Tell your boss that while you are perfectly willing to do anything ethical to support your department, you are unwilling to break the rules. Tell him that you are happy to ask to make a copy of the document in question, even if that means you will have to take heat from the big bosses. Offer to be the fall guy for securing the document through “legal” means, but make it clear that you will not covertly “steal” the document.
Report your boss’ request to human resources if you are concerned about repercussions.
Addressing the Smell of Someone He Loves
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend has significant body odor. I love her and can’t think of being with anyone else. But the BO is serious. Sometimes I can’t stand it. Her work gets her sweaty, I know. She has a physical job. But when she comes to see me, I need her to take a shower or something! Is that too much to ask? If we are going to stay together, I am really going to need her to get this under control. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I know me. It won’t work. — Larry, Washington, D.C.
Dear Larry: Part of the attraction that most people have for each other includes how they smell. Scent makes a huge difference as it relates to how people engage with each other. To that end, there must have been something about the way this woman smelled that attracted you in the beginning. Can you figure out what changed? Could your girlfriend have a medical condition? That’s possible. If so, encourage her to see a doctor.
As tough as it may seem, you must address the body-odor issue with her. Be honest and direct. Tell her the smell is a turnoff, and you are concerned. Get her to talk about it, and go to the doctor to check it out.
How Do I Handle My Pot-Smoking Neighbor?
DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in an apartment building, and my next-door neighbor seemed to be a nice enough guy. But then I started noticing the smell of weed coming out of his apartment. Now I’m not a prude or anything, but he doesn’t even try to mask it.
Recently, I hosted a small party at my apartment, and to my horror, the hallway was filled with smoke when we stepped out of the elevator. I was so embarrassed. I want to say something, but I don’t know how to approach this. I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own home. — Ellen, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Dear Ellen: You have a few options. You could speak to your neighbor and express your concerns about smelling the smoke in the hallway. It probably won’t work for you to get him to stop entirely. Ask him to use fragrant candles or incense to mask the scent. If there’s a window in the hallway, ask him to open it when he plans to smoke; same goes for opening a window in his apartment. You might also tell him when you are having company and ask him to refrain from smoking.
If you have a good relationship with him, he may consider your feelings. Chances are great, however, that he will not. You can speak to the building super to ask him or her to say something to your neighbor, or you can even call the police. Involving the police could put tremendous friction on your relationship since you live so close to one another. But the threat of police intervention could get him to stop or be more discreet. Finally, you could move. Unfortunately, your next home is not guaranteed to be without a similar situation. But you could screen the building more closely to attempt to find a more comfortable fit for you.
Her Sister Has Gained Weight
DEAR HARRIETTE: I visited my sister recently, and I hadn’t seen her for about a year. I was surprised to see that she had gained a lot of weight. I mean a lot. Heck, I’ve gained weight, too, but I don’t know. I feel that if she doesn’t do something soon, she could get really sick. Our family has a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. I bet you anything she has got some of those conditions right now. She would have to. I also know how sensitive it is to talk about weight gain. She has been on the gain for years, and she would never talk about it. Now that I’ve gained weight, maybe I could bring it up about myself, too. I don’t want to do or say nothing and then see her get sick or die soon. Advice? — Annie, San Francisco, Calif. Dear Annie: You are right to be concerned and sensitive to realize how difficult it can be for people to address weight issues. Who knows if you will ever break through to your sister to get her to take action? But it’s definitely worth the effort. Why not research a weight-loss program that you can participate in together — remotely. Invite her to join you in a contest to see who can lose anything in the next month. See if you can bait her into the competition. There are many national programs that are monitored online or with telephone support. Find one and then work together on the honor system to see how you do. If your sister says no, go for it anyway and keep her in the loop. E-mail her with your progress, including the triumphs and difficulties. Be mindful not to brag. Instead, celebrate little victories and admit defeats. Continue to invite her to join you. Remind her that you love her and want both of you to be healthy.
Street Talk From Strangers Makes Her Angry
DEAR HARRIETTE: What’s the best way for a woman to respond to men who speak to them on the street in an inappropriately familiar way? I do a lot of walking alone downtown during my lunch hour, and I sometimes get comments from men who pass on the sidewalk. Remarks range from “Hi, how are you doin’?” to “You’re lookin’ hot today.” Even when the words are benign, it feels like a boundary violation when these men speak to me as if they know me. My current strategy is to ignore them, but that makes me feel powerless. Is there a better way to respond? For the record, I do not dress in a provocative way. I have received these comments in January when I’m wearing a hat, scarf and an ankle-length heavy wool coat. — Marie, St. Paul, Minn.
Marie: Relax! It used to be common practice for people to speak to each other when passing on the street. A man might tip his hat as a woman walked by. A woman would return with a nod and a smile. These days, especially in big cities, people commonly put up invisible walls and tune out others on the street.
Rather than feeling uncomfortable because men find you attractive — especially if they aren’t speaking disrespectfully — just smile and acknowledge them and keep going. Better yet, consider greeting people you encounter first so that you set the tone as you walk, thereby claiming the power. If their comments are lewd, either ignore them or glare at them momentarily and keep moving. You may also want to wear headphones, even if aren’t listening to music.