I have a relative, who is two years older than I am, with whom I used to be very close (as children and into early adulthood). But I feel that she has always been competitive with me, and I don’t know why. I have never felt competitive with her – when we were young I thought she could do no wrong. Fast forward to our late twenties when we were both single: One day I called her and said, “I have big news!” and she said,”If you’re calling to tell me you’re getting married, I’m gonna kill you.” I was actually calling to tell her about getting a great job and was completely taken aback by her knee-jerk response.
Sometimes I think her mouth moves before her brain can rein it in. At any rate, these barbs have come my way – she also directs them at other people – and I’m just plain worn out, which makes me defensive when we speak.
I feel like we don’t have a real sharing relationship. What can I do?
Grown up and outgrown
Dear Grown up,
There comes a time in many relationships when you have to do a little internal assessment. What am I getting out of it? Is it more stressful than helpful? Do I feel better or worse about myself when I am with this person? Or my favorite, if I share something with this person, will they use it as ammunition against me at a later date?
I think most of us have a spidey sense about when relationships tip the balance between good and bad; however, sometimes we ignore it. It is particularly difficult when you may be related to these people and don’t really have a choice but to keep the peace. This is the time when you have to say to yourself, “That’s Gertie! She can’t help herself. Why would I possibly expect anything different? Who’s the idiot here?”
When you’re stuck in this sich, I recommend keeping a journal of all the absurd, offensive, awful things these people have said to you. Then you can write wonderful short stories about them under a pen name. Or, you can actually make a bet with your (brother, sister, spouse, parent) and predict what the offensive relative will say, and every time you’re right … drink! (Or in my case … chocolate bar!) The key is to let it go, move on and invest in relationships that lift you up. Life is too flipping short.
How old do you have to be before you “arrive”? And by arrive, I mean have the things you want (job, relationship, whatever floats your boat) lined up so that you can take a breather from all the anxiety and worry of trying to attain those things?
Tired of worrying
You may not like what I have to say, but I say it with confidence and with the most warm-hearted spirit. There is no there there.
Life is messy – no matter how you slice it, no matter who you are, no matter what you achieve, what you look like or what you think you want. Which means that you never get to a spot where you can sit back and say, “I have arrived! No more worrying for me!” That just doesn’t happen.
Let’s say you are dying to be coupled up with someone. Then you meet a person and couple up. Great! And then you realize that this person leaves used Kleenex around, is in terrible debt or secretly votes Republican. Turns out, navigating a real relationship is a lot more challenging than the idea of being in one. The same goes for finishing school or having kids or getting married or getting a new job. The sooner you realize that mess is part of everyday life, the less messy it will be, if that makes any sense. It’s all in how you think about it, not whether you get the things you think you want (although a lottery win might be nice!).
I live in a duplex and I have wood stacked on my front porch, which you cannot see from the street because of some hedges. My neighbor in the other half of the house called to tell me she thought that it didn’t look very nice (despite the fact that they never even use the front entrance).
I moved the wood to keep the peace. Normally, we get along fine with these people. My spouse thought that it was ridiculous to move the wood and that I was way too accommodating. Who is right in your opinion?
Hot under the collar
Well, I have to agree with your spouse, even though I would be tempted to do the same thing you did! It’s your house and your neighbor should not dictate what you do with it. Possibly one of the reasons you have gotten along so well is that you are willing to accommodate so easily? Your neighbor sounds like they are very used to getting their own way. Saying no is not the worst thing in the world. Some people will respect you more for it. And even if they don’t, you will!
Dear Gabby appears in the RoundTable every Monday. Yes, Gabby is an advice columnist – but not just any advice columnist. Because that would be boring! Gabby combines wisdom with wit. And a pinch of snark. She is not a trained therapist by any means, but has seen and loved many in her day. Her aim is to make you think while she makes you laugh. Gabby welcomes all questions and queries and is only too happy to hear your opinion, no matter how much it may diverge from hers. Write to Gabby at firstname.lastname@example.org.