Friday, April 30, 2010

Liars Need Love Too

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a family member I love and care about who keeps lying to me. She's not my enemy, she's not persecuting me, she just lies and manipulates trying to get me to do what she wants me to do. The family member is going through a hard time, and as a Christian I want to help, but I just can't trust her. As a Christian, am I still called to help her? I care about her so much, but she drives me nuts.
-Tired of Being Lied To

Dear Tired,
As a Christian, you are indeed called to help her. However, help does not mean letting her do whatever she wants. The best help for someone like this does not come from allowing oneself to be manipulated and lied to. Think of it this way - if she were stealing from you, would you allow her into your home while you were out? Sit down with her and tell her what you are telling me - that you love her and want to help her, but you know she has lied to you (have several examples ready) and you will not stand for it. Tell her that you can't help her until she is honest with you. If she denies everything, then tell her to contact you when she is ready to be honest, and walk away. If she admits that she has a problem, then discuss boundaries you can put in place to prevent manipulations. Without further details, I cannot advise you of what those boundaries should be; consider seeking a therapist or pastor to help you figure them out. Remember that while Christians are to forgive always
(Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-22; Ephesians 4:32), we are not called to help another person sin against us.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

We Need Less Sharing

Dear Jocelyn,
I seem to have the rare gift/curse where perfect strangers feel comfortable telling me their life story. While sometimes this trait can be advantageous, other times it is just awkward. Over the years, I have heard some very interesting and strange stories, as well as some stories where people desperately need some help. Not being a counselor and having no background in such a field, how should I handle these types of situations in the case of perfect strangers I will never see again and those acquaintances I occasionally run into again?
-A Worn Out Ear

Dear Worn Out,
Ah yes, I have run into that situation before also - although now I can send them a bill after our conversation. One thing you did not say is whether you mind hearing these stories. If you do not want to be a dumping ground for people's problems, then perhaps learn to look busy all the time. When someone approaches you and you sense they are going to open up, cut them off with a polite "I'm so sorry, but I need to finish this report/paper/crossword puzzle." Then return to what you were doing and do not feel guilted into listening. Remember, you are not obligated to listen while a perfect stranger spills his guts.

However, if you do not mind hearing some strange tales occasionally, here is my advice. Realize that people sharing their life story rarely expect a stranger to have all the answers - so do not feel pressured to fix their life after a conversation on the bus. Usually people are looking for sympathy, and simply listening and nodding is enough. For those who need more than a sympathetic ear, tell them, "I am so sorry for what you are going through. I think a pastor or counselor would really be able to help you with this problem. I will pray for you." This is all you can do. Since you are not a trained professional, feeling obligated to help them is like feeling obligated to remove someone's inflamed appendix: it is not your responsibility. For those acquaintances you encounter in the future, offer them a warm smile and do not ask them about their situation unless they bring it up.

Another tip: since you seem to have a face people can trust, perhaps be prepared and carry around a stack of a therapist's business cards. This will be an easy way to refer them to someone whose job it is to help.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Woman's Prerogative

Dear Jocelyn,
I have recently developed a crush on a guy in my circle of friends. The feelings could be mutual (judging by his actions - like singling me out for one-one conversations while in group settings, lingering around after others leave, etc). However, we have a complicated history - before we really knew each other we went on a blind date, which ended fairly awkwardly. Essentially, I rejected him by avoiding his calls.

I enjoy being friends with the guy and do not want to hurt the potential friendship by making things awkward once again. How do you go about pursuing a guy you previously rejected?
- Relationship Challenged

Dear Challenged,
I think you might have illustrated why the phrase "Never burn bridges" is around. Judging from the fact that you two are still friends, though, you may have only singed the bridge instead of burning it. Normally, I do not recommend that women chase after men, ask them out on dates, etc. This is because I hold the old-fashioned belief that if a man wants to date a woman, he will go after her. However, this situation is complicated since he did pursue you and was rejected. Depending on how well he detects subtlety, you should try to communicate your interest in him with your actions and words. Should you need some advice regarding the fine art of flirting, find a friend who can give you lessons. If your feminine wiles do not prompt him to ask you out again, tell him you made a mistake by not giving him a chance when you first dated and ask if he would be willing to try again. This places the ball squarely back in his court - if he says no or does not begin
to take the initiative, then move on. However, if he seems excited at the prospect of a second chance, then sit back and enjoy letting him pursue you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Full Plate

Dear Jocelyn,
I recently accepted a leadership position in my church. Prior to accepting the position, I asked several specific questions about what the time committment and responsibilities would be. I expected the actual responsibilities and time commitment would be slightly different than those expressed, however it seems like new things keep getting added to my plate. How can I go about addressing this situation? I don't mind helping out and being involved in my church, but I also don't have an unlimited supply of time and can't simply add things to my already packed schedule.

Dear Overloaded,
It is time for you to regress to your toddler years, and learn to enjoy saying "No!" again. Before the situation gets out of control, meet with whoever is above you (an elder or pastor) and tell him you love helping out, but you either need more volunteers or you will simply have to say no to some of the responsibilities. Next, find some helpers and delegate, delegate, delegate! Put someone in charge of the event they asked you to organize, or find someone to oversee some of the tasks your church assigned you. If you find this is simply impossible to do, then make a list of the most important things you do. Figure out how many you have time for, and then draw a line underneath the last one. Anything above the line goes into your schedule, and anything below the line gets cut. Far too many church workers become burned out and overused, and stop helping altogether. Before this happens, learn to limit the demands placed upon you by the church, and you will find that you are able to stay involved (at some level) for years to come.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Whose Turn To Do The Dishes?

Dear Jocelyn,
I live with three other girls, we’re all in college (two of us in grad school), and we usually get along well. The kitchen is consistently dirtier than I prefer, but it’s only occasionally awful. I try to let them clean up after themselves so they don’t rely on me, but once it got out of control, and I spent 3+ hours cleaning. One girl was home and didn’t say anything, but she told another girl, who thanked me and said she would have helped.

To keep them informed, I sent out an email (we’re never home at the same time) listing the dirtiest things and how to clean them; I don’t expect them to know automatically. I explained why we should clean each item, like leaving food in the stove could start a fire. I made the email funny, I used “we” instead of “you,” and my point was everyone doing her part means no extra work. But nobody acknowledged it.

Then this past weekend, I went out of town and came back to a repeat of the earlier situation, but I feel like I can’t send out another email. My roommates hate confrontation, and we’re going to live together next year, too. What can I do without being a nagging mom?
-Doesn’t Want Bugs

Dear Bugs,
As many people know, living with roommates can be a very difficult or a very rewarding experience...and sometimes both! One of the hardest parts is that each person has their own threshold for dirtiness - some people might cringe at a single dish left in the sink, while others might not ever notice if the kitchen developed its own ecosystem.

I assume that your statement about never being home at the same time is hyperbole, and that there is at least 1/2 hour during the week that your paths cross. If so, a good first step is to send another email to your roommates, asking for a meeting to discuss something you ought to have settled the first week of living together - house rules. These include various chores, when one's own dishes must be cleaned, having friends over, no-noise times, etc. Be sure to listen to others' suggestions before offering your own in order to keep your roommates from becoming defensive.

I realize that some people will simply not listen to reason, and will continue to leave their mess for others to clean up. This is one of the downsides to having roommates - you must figure out whether you're willing to ignore their shortcomings, or cover their share of household duties. If your roommates continue to neglect their housework and you find that you cannot live with a messy kitchen, then you must either do the work yourself, or find an escape route. You said that you plan to live together next year; if you find that after the roommate meeting (and several helpful hints) these roommates do not shape up, try to find a replacement roommate for next year. You are under no obligation to be a live-in maid if you can (legally) find a way out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

When Grandpa Spams You

Dear Jocelyn,
My grandfather likes emailing forwards: many are harmless (though still annoying because they're forwards), but some are blatant attempts to provoke fear and reinforce racial stereotypes with false information. Today I sent a "Reply All" to a false email for the 3rd time. I realize this game will get old, but it irks me to say nothing when he forwards trash to 20+ people. After the first, several relatives congratulated me, saying they've tried for years to teach my grandfather about the value of Snopes (a website that explains whether popular email forwards are true or false), and that it is now my generation's turn. I plan to continue to cry foul, since he will eventually either 1) check Snopes before forwarding, 2) get annoyed and exclude me from future forwards, or 3) continue. Options 1 or 2 would be a win for me, and I don't mind continuing to hit "Reply All" to reveal BS. What are some other ways I could handle this?
-Too Forward?

Dear Too Forward,
While I commend you for attempting to correct false stories spread through email, I agree with you that it will get old after a while. And let me ask you something - you said that your family has tried to tell him this before, and this is the 3rd email you have sent. I think at this point you are beating a dead horse, and you can consider him unteachable in this area. I think the most effective thing to do at this point is to send a polite reply (just to him!) and say something to the effect of:

"Grandpa, I don't like being sent emails that put down other races or religions. Please stop sending me any forwards."

And then if he continues, hit the delete button. You mentioned that it bothers you that he is forwarding these emails to 20+ people. Please realize these people have control over their own inbox. There are three likely scenarios: 1) They realize the emails are false and don't believe them, 2) They are inclined towards racism/fear-mongering, and will agree with the emails, or 3) They are naive and will believe anything that lands in their inbox. For that third type, you unfortunately can't protect them from every false piece of information that comes their way. Unless you want to go live with them and keep them from being conned into that piece of swampland in Florida they're being sold, I'd say leave it alone.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Can't I Just Have Fun?

Dear Jocelyn,
I had a marvelous time on a recent first date, though I already know there's no longterm relationship potential since he is not a Christian (and I am). The church generally says Christians shouldn’t date non-Christians – the potential for needless heartache, etc – but since I am not currently looking for anything serious, hanging out with him seems ideal. Plus he’s fun and makes me laugh. Am I foolish for thinking I can casually date a non-Christian for a season, or should I quit overthinking and let myself have some fun?
-Not Serious

Dear Not Serious,
This is a tricky question, mostly because it depends on your definition of "date." The purpose behind the church's guideline to not date non-Christians is that it is unwise for a Christian to marry someone who isn't. Considering that one of the most argued about subjects in marriage is religion, I would say this should be everyone's guideline. Since when you date somebody, you are not always in control of your heart, it is a good idea to avoid being in a situation where you might fall in love with a person you cannot marry. However, hanging out and spending time with non-Christians is perfectly fine. Since I don't know the state of your heart, let me ask you a question: Does the thought of cutting of communication with this fellow hurt? Does it make you sad? If it does, how will feel after becoming even more romantically involved?

I recommend Henry Cloud's book "How To Find A Date Worth Keeping" for further reading. He discusses the purpose of dating, and how a Christian can date casually. You can use this experience as a way to get to know him, find out things you do and don't want in a relationship, etc. But since, as you said, this is not going to go anywhere, you should keep this from becoming a relationship, and just enjoy seeing him on a casual basis.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What To Do About a Co-Worker's Gossip

Dear Jocelyn,
I recently found out that a co-worker has been gossiping about me to our subordinates. None of it is true, and while I've cleared things up with everyone I know of who is involved, I'm nervous that the gossip may have already spread farther to people I don't know as well. When confronted, the co-worker was totally remorseless and hostile toward me.My two questions are 1) Why would someone do this to me? It seems so bizarre to falsely accuse someone behind their back. 2) How do I continue to work with this person? I'm paranoid now that this will happen again.
-Angry at Work

Dear Angry,
It's difficult to contain gossip - unfortunately, you might never know who else has heard this false information about you. Fortunately, I saw a few things in your letter that indicate a positive outcome. First, these rumors were spread to your subordinates. While no one wants bad things said about them, it's better that it was said to them, and not your boss (i.e. the person who decides your raises...). Two, you were able to clear things up with those involved. That means that the people you work with obviously are more inclined to believe what you say, than what he says. Now, to answer your questions:1) To know why someone would do this to you requires being inside of that person's mind. Since I do not know this person, I cannot answer that. However, you might be able to get some clues from the gossip. Was it about your personal life? About your work? He might be vying for a promotion or raise, and trying to lessen your chances of getting it (although why he wouldn't spread the rumors to your boss, I don't know...). He might just be a mean person. You said that when you confronted him, he was remorseless. He obviously won't tell you the reason, so just chalk this up to the fact that some people are mean.2) Work with this person in a way that confirms to everybody that you are the better person. Smile when you pass him, be polite, and if someone comes to you with mis-information that your co-worker has spread, simply set them straight and say something like, "So-and-so must have been mistaken when he said this." If it hasn't already become obvious, it soon will be clear that HE is the one with the problem, not you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boundaries...With Cats

Dear Jocelyn,
I live in a house with 3 roommates, one of which owns the house. One of the other roommates decided to catch the 10 feral cats in the neighborhood to get them fixed. We were all for this... 5 weeks ago. The roommate has not actively done anything to get the cats fixed, although he says he will. My other 2 roommates have taken 2 to the vet themselves and then released them. Our basement smells so bad you can't open the door without getting knocked out, because this roommate hardly ever changes the litter box. When asked, he'll tell you his plans, but always gives excuses. The roommate landlord says he'll talk to his about it and does, but nothing ever happens. Now I found out that one of the feral cats escaped into out storage section of the basement and has lived there for 2 weeks, peeing on everything. Landlord and cat roommate don't seem to think this is a huge deal, and landlord won't confront him on it. What do I do besides call animal control? These people are my friends, but this is ridiculous. I’m sure I have a lot of ruined stuff in the basement.
-Too many cats

Dear Too Many Cats,
You and your roommates must love cats to agree to housing TEN of them, even temporarily! While I commend your roommate's desire to "fix" the problem of feral cats, it is obvious he does not have the follow-through necessary for this task. At this point, his idealism has resulted in a smelly basement and destroyed possessions. Since the landlord is not willing to confront the issue, tell the roommate who brought the cats in that if the cats are not fixed and released before the end of the week, you will release them yourself back into the wild. The "project" has caused unwelcome odors, the potential for disease, ruined items, and all-around unsanitary conditions, which you have a right to oppose. Then follow through - they lived on their own once, they can do it again. As for your belongings, go through your basement and see if anything is actually ruined. If you think it is worth it, you can show your roommate the damaged items and ask him to reimburse you a specific monetary amount for them. Otherwise, chalk it up to a life lesson - NEVER agree to house feral cats! As for your friends/roommates - when your lease is up, I recommend finding a new place to stay. The roommate who started this is showing a lack of respect for others' property, and the landlord doesn't sound like he can handle confrontation. It might be better for the friendship if you didn't live with them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

When To Share Your Opinion

Dear Jocelyn,
My sister is planning a career move that I feel is a very bad idea for many reasons. I'm concerned this will negatively affect her finances, marriage, and safety (it requires her to be in a dangerous part of town late at night). Should I say something? This seems to be just another bad decision in a long line of bad decisions we have warned her about. What is the best way to tell her this is a bad idea?
-Tired of being worried

Dear Tired,
While I can understand your concern, you should think about what good (or bad) can come of telling her what you think. If she has listened to you before, I recommend telling her in a tactful way that this seems dangerous. However, you say that this is another bad decision in a long line of decisions you have warned her about. I suspect that she hasn't listened to you about those decisions, otherwise you wouldn't be writing to me. If that is true, then this is a decision you must let her make. She is a married adult, and this is something that she and her husband must decide. This is hard to do, but you are not in a position to tell her what to do in her career. Since you're concerned about her safety, perhaps you can give her a can of mace as a congratulations on her career move.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sample Letter

For those interested in what kind of advice I give, here is a sample. This was a letter that was sent to another advice columnist that I took the opportunity to answer.

"My son's biological father ended our relationship when I asked him to pull his financial weight with our son. This man played Daddy for two years and then left the state, saying he had a trip out of town. Actually, he moved out of the state. He ended up with another woman in a state that is close to where we are, yet he never bothered coming back to say good-bye to us. I found out from a mutual friend that he then got a job overseas, so I sent him an e-mail message letting him know that I'd found him. I have no doubt he was hiding out to avoid having to pay child support, although the Child Support Services Division took care of that for me, fortunately. He again cut off contact for another five months because he was angry about the amount of child support the state calculated. This man has no legal rights (visitation or custody) although, by law, he is required to pay child support. I consider him a pathological liar, a spineless coward, and a horrible role model. My son has forgotten who he is, and I consider my child better off without him. My problem is that this sperm donor now claims he wants to be a part of my son's life. Given all that he's put us through, I believe he has no right to be, especially considering he has not changed at all. He still lies to me and treats me with a great amount of disrespect, yelling at me on the phone, hanging up, etc. What do you think?"
—No More Chances

Dear No More Chances,
When considering your question, it is important to keep in mind what will help your child grow into a happy, healthy adult. The father of your child sounds immature and irresponsible. But is he such a bad father that your son would be better off not knowing him at all? I believe that if this man is dangerous and might cause harm to your son, then it is your responsibility to keep him away from your family. But if the problem is that he drives YOU nuts, then you might consider allowing your son to see his father for brief, SUPERVISED visits. You say that your son has forgotten who he is, but I highly doubt your son has forgotten that he has a father - and this will become an issue in his future. If you believe it is safe, then see how they both respond to these brief visits, and take it from there. In the meantime, it is a good idea to find a male role model for your son that is not a liar, a coward, and all of these other things his father is. Consider enlisting the help of a trusted man you know to teach your son all the things his real father should be teaching him - how to throw a ball, talk to girls, etc. Best of luck to you and your son.