I’ve had the same best friend for 12 years, ever since junior high school. We still hang out, but she has really changed. She parties a lot and hooks up with skeezy guys. That’s her business. The problem is that my parents think she is perfect. They seem embarrassed by my job at a nonprofit (which I love, by the way) and annoyed by my refusal to go to church. They talk about seeing her at church with her parents and her career success. They wish I would be more like her. I want to scream that they have no idea what she is really like. What should I do?
Ditch the double standard. You want your parents to see your friend’s imperfections, and that desire is one of your imperfections. (That’s a sentence worth rereading. No worries. I’ll wait.) Wanting to expose your friend is evidence of an ongoing covert competition. It’s evidence that, in some ways, your relationship never graduated from junior high school. Your parents unconsciously nurture this competition and your insecurity. When they compare you to your friend, it triggers the deeper reality of your emotional estrangement from them.
I do wish that your parents could appreciate you as you are, but thankfully, you are an adult and can parent yourself. Here’s proof: continuing in a career you love despite parental criticism. In the process, you are forging your identity, one that is separate from your parents. I am also grateful that your self-worth protects you from abusing your body and soul with alcohol, drugs and hookups. What concerns me is your lack of compassion for the person you call your best friend. She is spiraling into darkness while you stand idly by. Why? Well, if she falls flat on her face, you get the satisfaction of being right. And if your parents were wrong about her, they are wrong about you, too, correct? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you are now perfect. When the expectation of perfection is projected onto a person, he or she is being seen as incomplete. A whole person has failings, annoying habits and emotional challenges in addition to gifts, talents and beauty. It is damaging to insist on someone’s perfection as much as it is to insist that someone else is a monster. The human personality is usually more complicated than the good-or-evil split conveys. Growing up includes the realization and acceptance that human beings contain a mix of qualities, and we are called to guide each other to act from the best. Every religion reminds us of this responsibility. The journey to maturity also invites us not to reject religion, but to reflect on faith and make choices inspired by our spiritual development. Your parents’ behavior might be hypocritical in light of their religion, but don’t let that stop you from participating if your heart yearns to do so.
When I try to kiss my wife, she pushes me away and says I have bad breath. I can’t stand being rejected. No one else complains, so I wonder if she is just trying to avoid me.
It’s possible that your wife is the only person honest enough to confront you about your breath. One way to uncover the truth is to visit your doctor and your dentist. Chronic bad breath often points to a medical or dental issue. And remember, scent is inextricably linked to attraction. Your wife might be particularly sensitive to this reality. It’s helpful to acknowledge that she is rejecting an odor, not you. If you care for her and yourself, you will take care of the problem. No, that doesn’t mean masking the odor with mints or mouthwash. See a medical professional immediately.
“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” wrote Noël Coward. Still standing in that river in Egypt? (Yeah, denial.)