I’m a single, 45-year-old man and I’ve never been married. I’ve known my best friend since college and he’s been married for nearly 18 years. He seems to like being married but also to miss dating different women. Anytime I’m dating someone, he asks way too many personal questions. Then, if the relationship turns serious, he starts to criticize the woman so completely that I can’t get the comments out of my head. So I end up picking a fight and breaking up with her. I can’t tell any more if his comments are useful or abusive. And, strangely enough, I can’t stand his wife. She’s unattractive and they argue constantly. I have to admit that I didn’t even get that all of this was happening until the last girl I dated pointed some of it out.
Hmmm. Call and thank her for the wake-up call, if you haven’t done so already. Then, prepare yourself for a long overdue chat with yourself. What in your personal history compels you to be so easily influenced by others? What do you imagine will happen if you disagree with your best friend? It’s possible that subconsciously you fear being abandoned by a male—perhaps because you experienced this in your family life? If so, understand that this fear leads you to abandon your chance at a long-term romantic relationship. So you can either ditch the past or the present. It’s your choice.
It’s strange, isn’t it, that you bow to the opinion of a man who has chosen a wife that you dislike and with whom he argues a lot. You don’t have to like her, of course; he does. But accept that you have let others control you. This situation is an invitation to learn how to trust your own instincts, opinions and ability to choose. Start by deciding which character traits, social activities and political views you appreciate and which do not mesh with your personality and plans for the future. Then see if your best friend fits with the criteria. If you have grown out of the friendship, admit it to yourself and your BF. Then move forward.
Since you have a pattern of obsessive thinking—you’re unable to ditch your buddy’s negative comments about your girlfriends—take care not to criticize yourself or him. Yes, you surrendered your decision-making power to your buddy. And yes, he shared some harsh opinions. But ultimately, be grateful for seeing the truth about yourself. It’s great preparation for the honesty required in a committed, romantic relationship.
My daughter is starting high school this fall and I’m worried. She’s pretty fragile emotionally and doesn’t make friends easily. To make matters worse, she is attending a different high school than her two closest friends. She is an avid reader and loves your column (we read it together every Thursday and talk about it over Starbucks). Can you recommend a book that shares the philosophy of your column to help her emotionally?
I like There is Nothing Wrong With You: For Teens by Cheri Huber. A popular Zen Buddhist teacher, Huber hand-writes her books in a refreshingly direct, honest and open style. In this one for teens, she addresses the issues that teens worry about but are afraid to discuss, like the difficulty of communicating with adults. Teens point out that adults don’t listen to them, adults think lecturing is communicating and adults assume that teens understand far more than they do. Huber offers real solutions for these communication gaps, as well as for psychological problems like self-hate and peer pressure. It’s definitely worth a read.