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.
Trouble Moving Forward
DEAR HARRIETTE: Your honesty has inspired me to be honest about my experience with a terminated pregnancy. Somehow, the word “abortion” is too difficult to say even now, six years after my husband and I ended our only pregnancy due to the child’s birth defects. My husband was born with a major birth defect and even though we used donor sperm, tests showed our child also had a major birth defect. Our son’s defect involved severe brain damage among other abnormalities. We agonizingly decided to end our pregnancy by giving birth early, within the hospital with the doctor’s help, and cried our souls out as we lovingly held our boy as he passed quietly to a place where there is no pain.
That was in June 1998. While we believe we did the right thing, it haunts us to this day. Yet my husband’s personal experience of having had a major birth defect was key in making that decision. He said he couldn’t bring a child into this world knowing the pain it would experience without understanding why. I hope others who desperately want a child and yet have to make this decision know they, too, are not alone. — Brenda, Atlanta, Ga.
Brenda: Thank you for sharing your story. There are so many reasons why people make tough decisions in their lives. This is why it’s essential to listen to others and have compassion for their personal journeys as we also navigate our own paths.
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.
Make Room For Your Stepson
DEAR HARRIETTE: I’ve have been married for 10 years. When my husband and I were dating, he cheated with his ex-girlfriend, which resulted in a baby. His son, my stepson, is 12 years old now and has been living with my mother-in-law for a year. My husband still pays child support. My stepson’s mother does very little for her child. My husband spends a lot of time at my mother-in-law’s helping my stepson with schoolwork and other things.
I feel that our two children and I are not a priority, so it’s causing problems in our relationship. If we tried to get custody, my stepson’s mother would suddenly want to be a part of her son’s life. My mother-in-law is raising my stepson to be selfish and lazy.
I refuse to ask my husband to choose between our children and me and his son and mother. Would it be selfish of me to separate from him, because I just can’t handle this? — Bernadette, Detroit
Bernadette: I can imagine how difficult it must have been for you from the beginning, knowing that your husband produced a child with another woman while you were dating. Yet you married him knowing this. Whether you like it or not, your stepson is a part of your life. The sooner you welcome him and your mother-in-law into your life fully, the sooner you will experience some relief in your marriage.
Your husband is doing the right thing — paying child support and paying attention to his son. That’s the responsibility of a father. Because he divides his time between two residences, everybody is suffering. Rather than requesting custody — at least immediately — talk to your husband about having your stepson spend some time at your home. Create a space just for him, at least a bed. Welcome him into your family and encourage your children to treat him well. Stop beating up on your husband. He is doing his best in a prickly situation, albeit one that he created. Don’t give up.
Coping With Betrayal
DEAR HARRIETTE: My best friend betrayed me by revealing a secret I shared with her to another friend. I’m embarrassed and angry, because I thought I could trust her. Should I write her off or say something? — Samantha, Seattle
Samantha: Before washing your hands of your friend, talk to her. Tell her how her betrayal made you feel. Ask her why she broke your confidence. Listen to her response to decide if you want to forgive her and continue your friendship. Chances are you, too, have broken a confidence in the past. It’s common, even for the most well-meaning people. Redefine what you would like the boundaries to be in your relationship. Think twice next time about sharing information that you want to remain private. That which is left unsaid cannot be repeated.
Absence Won’t Make Friends Grow Fonder
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just read with interest the letter from Judy in New York. When she told her “close friends” that she was engaged, she didn’t get the response she was looking for. If she was so close to these friends, why didn’t they know she was dating seriously? When girls fall in love, there’s a tendency to stick their friends on the backburner in favor of the guy, and the friends can become resentful. My best friend got married, and I haven’t seen her in person for almost a year. Every time I call her and she’s not busy with work obligations (she works nearly 50 hours a week), she’s going to a movie or dinner with her husband, whom she gets to see every day.
Tell Judy to put herself in her friend’s place and see if maybe there’s a deeper reason behind why they may not be so quick to congratulate her. — Mary, Iowa
Mary: You are right to point out that many women — and men — fall away from their friends when they first “fall in love.” Their lives intertwine with their new love, frequently leaving no time for others. Usually, this whirlwind slows down over time, and the patient friend regains his or her old buddy.
Sometimes there never seems to be enough time for the two friends to get back together. The reasons people grow apart aren’t always obvious. In some instances, the newly married person is blindsided by romance and neglectful of the others who have figured into her life prominently. Sometimes she must re-evaluate how to allocate time and redefine which people will continue on in her new life. In that case, it’s up to the wife to say something, so as not to leave the others hanging. Finally, people naturally grow into different dynamics in their relationships. Friendships can be intense for a long time and more relaxed later. When you truly love your friends, even as time passes, when the two of you reconnect, your love for one another can remain just as strong and genuine. Rather than harboring hurt feelings, live your life. Fill your time with other activities and relationships, and welcome her back when you and she are ready.
He Wants to Get Away
DEAR HARRIETTE: I want to schedule my vacation for the summer now, but things at my office are in a state of flux. With the economy so uncertain, I wonder if I should dare to ask for time off, even though I’ve earned it. How can I handle this? — Max, Detroit
Max: It’s important to take the temperature at your job. Pay attention to what’s going on and especially how your job performance is considered. Do you do your best at work? Are you a valuable contributor there? These questions are vital at all times, and even more when times are tight.
That doesn’t mean you should forego your vacation. Request a private meeting with your supervisor. Ask for permission for the vacation time you would like. During the conversation express your allegiance to the company and your intention to support your job as everyone works through this tough period. Observe your supervisor’s reaction. You may find that the dates you’ve requested work fine or another period is preferable. Be clear with your supervisor that you would greatly appreciate your time off.
Her Vacation Home Needs a Trip to the Cleaner’s
DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my very best friends has a summer home that I visited twice last year, but I can’t bear to ever go back because it’s such a filthy place. There are cobwebs and bugs all over. The floors are so dirty I had to throw out my socks upon leaving. I don’t sleep well when I’m there as the lack of cleanliness makes me very uneasy. I have made up many excuses as to why I couldn’t come again, but I can’t keep that up forever. How am I supposed to handle this? I don’t have the heart to tell her the truth. — Sara, Paramus, N.J.
Sara: If she is indeed one of your very best friends, perhaps out of your love for her it is your duty to be honest. Yes, it may embarrass her or make her feel uncomfortable. She may even become angry.
Yet the way you present how you feel may help ease the blow. Tell her how much you care about her and enjoy spending time with her. Admit that you were very uncomfortable in her home last summer because it wasn’t clean. Acknowledge that city living and country living are different. The dust and cobwebs come fast when you’re in the country! So, if your friend does not have a housekeeper and is not constantly cleaning, the dirt can pile up quicker than anyone may imagine. Offer to help her clean up. She may be appreciative, especially if you offer it in a non-judgmental way. Plus, if that’s the only reason you don’t want to visit her summerhouse, your assistance will wipe that barrier away.