Monday, May 31, 2010

Time to Move On?

Dear Jocelyn,
It’s been three and a half years since an icky breakup with an ex-boyfriend. At the time, he made it very clear he did not want to hear from me again, and I respected that and moved on with my life. However, I regret that I never got the chance to apologize for acting like a jerk at times and treating him so badly, and I also have a few small things that belong to him that I never was able to return. Now, I am in a happy and stable relationship with someone else, and I wonder if it might be an appropriate time to contact my old beau very briefly, simply to apologize for my behavior and ask if he wants those small things returned. My current boyfriend is okay with me contacting him, but warned me not to do it if my only motivation was to feel better about myself. It’s true I’d feel better with some sort of amicable resolution, but I really feel I owe the guy an apology. I don’t want to pursue a continued friendship with him, but I do want to clear the air. Do you think that would be acceptable or just a bad idea? Also, if I never contact him again, what am I supposed to do with his belongings? Just throw it all out?
     - Seeking reconciliation

Dear Seeking,
Your boyfriend is right that reconciliation should not be sought after simply to ease your conscience. In situations like this, it is good to ask yourself what good would come out of your contact. Your ex-boyfriend asked to be left alone, which you respected. This allowed him time to heal and move on without interference from you. At this point, it might be helpful to hear an apology from you, which may allow him to let go of any lingering bitterness he might hold.

I suggest you write a short apology in a letter and mail it, along with the belongings, to your ex. This will allow you to return his possessions and express your sorrow for your wrongdoings. It will also give him the choice to read your letter or throw it away, depending upon his desires. I would not call or attempt to see him in person, which might be an unwanted intrusion. If he does not respond after the package is sent, then do not attempt any further contact - you have done your part.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday

Dear Readers,
I have decided to implement Psychotherapy Friday as a way of sharing general tools and tips for handling life situations. Each Friday, I will cover a particular topic, such as anger management, boundaries, stress management, etc. Please write in or comment on this post if you have any topics you would like for me to cover. Enjoy!

Today’s Topic - Self-soothing
Self-soothing is a term that covers any method you have of calming yourself after a stressful or upsetting event. Think of how a mother treats a crying infant. She will pat him, walk him, and whisper loving things to him. As we grow up, we are supposed to learn ways to soothe ourselves, using what are commonly known as coping skills.

Coping skills can be either good or bad. One way people cope with sadness or stress could be taking a bubble bath; another way is to overindulge in alcohol or drugs. The trick is to choose healthy coping skills—ones that have no negative side effects.

Here are some commonly used beneficial coping skills:
-Deep breathing

Having the ability to soothe yourself in a healthy manner is extremely important for mental health. Since stress, sadness, and anger don't simply disappear, your mind will find a way to handle it, whether it is good or bad.

What are some of your favorite coping skills?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

Dear Jocelyn,

My ex-boyfriend and I broke up several months ago when we stopped ignoring the fact that we couldn't ever marry due to theological differences. Recently he (an officer in the US military) contacted me and let me know his unit's future assignment, saying before he went overseas he would give me his information. I essentially told him I still had feelings for him and wouldn't (couldn't) write him but now, 2 days before he leaves, I sort of want to email a goodbye/release saying I wish him the best, he'll do a great job, etc. Does that seem more likely to bring closure or stir up things that should be left alone?
     -Former military gf

Dear Military,
That is a tough situation.  I can understand both the desire to protect yourself and him emotionally, but also the desire to tie up any loose strings before he goes overseas.  While I generally recommend cutting off contact after a break-up, if there are bitter feelings, it is wise to make amends before he leaves so that you will not have any regrets.  

If, however, the break-up was reasonably amicable, I recommend remaining incommunicado with your former boyfriend.  You only broke up a relatively short time ago; emotions are usually still raw after that period of time.  It might be a long time before you two can be friends, if either of you even desire to be friends.  Indeed, it is perfectly acceptable - often preferable - for exes to remain estranged after parting ways.  Now is not the time to stir up old feelings.  If he has a good support group, they will provide him with all the goodwill he needs as he starts on this new assignment.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's Never Enough

Dear Jocelyn,
I’m a twenty-something that lives about 3 hours from my parents, and I go home every couple of months for a weekend or a few days—pretty frequently. My parents often get upset and guilt-trip me for wanting to spend time with my friends when I am home. I’m not trying to avoid my parents; I want to spend time with them and I tell them so: let’s pick things to do, or nights I should stay home, etc. But although it’s not always said, it’s always implied that I’m scheduling them in and they won’t see enough of me, although I feel like that’s not true. They say they are fine with me seeing my friends, but then when I leave, they start saying things like, "Well, I wish we had done this," and "Once again, this didn’t get done." What is a good way to get rid of the guilt-trips?
     ~Tired of being guilt-tripped

Dear Tired,
I wish I had a magic word you could say to stop people from laying on guilt trips, but alas, I do not; if I did, I would be a very rich woman.  There are several ways to deal with this, so I will lay them out:

I recommend you first tell them what you told me.  While it sounds like they are passive-aggressive, you should give them the benefit of the doubt and see if they will change their behavior.  You might say something like, "Mom, Dad—I love coming to visit you, but whenever I leave you say things that make me think you are upset with me for not spending more time with you.  I want to be able to spend time with my friends when I am here, and don't want to run into this conflict every time I come home."

Another option is more indirect, but still firm.  Before you arrive home, ask your parents what they would like to do with you that weekend.  Tell them when you will be busy and when you will be available.  Then, when you are leaving and they start making comments about you not being there enough, say, "I wish you had told me before I came that you wanted to do this, but you didn't.  If you tell me next time I'll be able to make time for it."

As for what to do with those feelings of guilt, that is something you will need to deal with yourself.  I recommend reading the book Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life for ways to handle situations like this.  It sounds like you are single, and unfortunately this is not something that is likely to stop once you get married or have children—in fact, it will probably become worse.  If you take charge now and set up clear emotional boundaries with your parents, it will help you immensely in the long run.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Overwhelmed By Stuff

Dear Jocelyn,
My mother lives by herself in a large house filled with stuff, a lot of which is my late father's. She knows that she needs to get rid of it, and she’s not even that attached to most of it…but she doesn't do much about it. We both think she would be better off in a smaller place without always having to worry about mountains of clutter. I am out of ideas to help. I offer to go through stuff with her, and we’ll get a few boxes done, but I live hours away and this is infrequent. Her friends offer to help and she says she’ll take them up on it when she gets her act together. I know she is overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff and I’ve even thought of calling one of those home makeover shows, but I think that would make her very upset. It’s her stuff, so she has to be the one that goes through it. Help?
     -Way Too Much Stuff

Dear Stuff,
What you're dealing with here is not simply the issue of a pack-rat who does not know how to get rid of things. Your mother is not only overwhelmed by the large amount of clearing out she needs to do, but she is possibly also dealing with grief and depression. You did not say how long ago your father died, but I assume it was in the last several years. It is very difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one, and to get rid of their items can feel like losing them all over again.

However, while this can be difficult, it is an important step. Living in a cluttered environment with old reminders is not healthy. Sit down with your mother (whether in person or over the phone) and gently tell her you are concerned. Explain to her why you think it is important to clean out these items. Offer hope that, once the house is de-cluttered, she might feel better and begin to move on. Since she is probably too overwhelmed to oversee a clean-up crew, you might arrange a time for you to visit where her friends can come over and tackle the mess. This way, you can be there if her feelings of grief become too strong and she needs to take a break. This is a time for, not “tough love,” but firm love. Help her make a definite plan and stick to it.

In addition to all of this, you should encourage her to see a therapist to deal with her possible depression. A therapist can guide her through her grief and help her develop a plan for moving on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Our Thoughts Lead Us Astray

Dear Jocelyn,
I am having trouble figuring out what keeping a chaste heart means. So, I am dating a man whom I care for very much, and to whom I am very much attracted. I've chosen to keep my virginity until marriage, which we both have earnestly agreed to honor. However, I know that in the same way God calls me to keep my heart and mind chaste...clean...modest. Well, I'm human, and it's rather impossible to keep out thoughts that are more intimate than modest. I am attracted to this man for who he is in so many ways, especially as I see Christ alive in his words and actions and choices; why do my thoughts lately seem to stray in one direction? By virtue of the fact that we are looking towards marriage but definitely not there, how in the world do I keep my interior life in line with this season of courtship, and what is appropriate right now? I would sincerely welcome any practical thoughts or suggestions.

Dear Smitten,
What an excellent question! This is an issue that almost every Christian struggles with at some point or another. You stated in your letter that you are attracted to the spiritual side of this man, and asked why it seems that your thoughts are straying to (I'm assuming) the physical aspects? My dear, because that is how God made us! I would hope that you would not be interested only in his ability to pray or study the Bible. Humans are multi-dimensional creatures—we are spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. You are drawn to him physically because God created relationships to encompass our whole beings, not just one facet.

Now that I have answered the why, let me answer the how. Like I said, it is natural that you are drawn to him physically. But as you know, these thoughts have a proper time and place, and it is not the right time or place for them yet. Thoughts oftentimes lead to actions, and since you are not married to this fine fellow, it is not time for these actions yet. One practical way you can deal with thoughts as they arrive is by redirection. When these not-so-chaste thoughts arrive, think, "Thank you God for such a wonderful man. Now, what chores need to be done around my house? How are my finances? Did I remember to feed my pet yesterday?" In other words, distract yourself with other matters.

When we struggle with things, it helps to deal with the origin of the issue. It seems as if you are becoming emotionally intimate with your beau. While this is a natural part of the road towards marriage, we must remember that intimacy in a relationship can be compared to the four legs of a table. (Thanks to the book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity for providing this example!) The four areas of intimacy (physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental) are meant to grow at the same time. As we become more intimate in one area, the other three attempt to keep up. However, before marriage, it is necessary to restrain growth in physical intimacy while pursuing the other three. (This is usually why dating—while wonderful!—is filled with tension.) It is when one area is growing too quickly that we find difficulty controlling the others. There are two ways to fix this: slow down the intimacy, or get married. Seeing as how you said you weren't ready for marriage yet, let me address ways to slow intimacy.

-Involve other couples in your dating: Find a godly marriage you admire—perhaps a couple in the church. Ask them to double date with you and your gentleman. You will be able to get to know him better while both hearing the wisdom older Christians can provide.

-Communicate in other ways: Not all communication needs to be face to face. Talk over the phone, write emails—even write letters! In this way, you can gather more information about him while reducing the growth of emotional intimacy.

-Visit in public places: You can have a great deal of privacy while being in a public place. A coffeeshop or park can provide the perfect opportunity to share your thoughts while making it impossible to become physically intimate.

A combination of these three ideas (and others) should help you slow down the relationship. Just remember—these methods are not meant to work forever. If and when you do decide to become engaged, I encourage you to not dawdle on your way to the altar. Once you are married, it will become much easier to find balance in your relationship.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ready To Give Up

Dear Jocelyn,

I will be 28 next month, and I've barely dated (I'm female). You advised one of your earlier readers to let guys do the pursuing, but that hasn't happened in 11 years. I'm not pretty, I'm introverted to the point of being socially inept, and I'm nervous because I don't know anything. I tried online dating, but I was up-front about the fact that I was Christian and waiting until marriage, and I only attracted creepy guys who took it as a challenge. I don't want to lead anyone on, but I am not even sure what I would want out of a relationship. Marriage seems daunting, and the idea of having a child scares me, but it would be nice to at least have had a boyfriend at some point before I die. Any advice, or should I just give up?

Dear Lonely,
You have my sympathies. I spent some lonely time in the dating world, and I know many other girls who have too. At a certain point, the idea of letting the men do all the work and pursuit seems hopeless, since they are not doing any asking. But let me point out two things: 1) A woman can do many things to attract a man while "waiting" for him to pursue her, and 2) a man that you have to go out and drag in is probably not the kind of man that you want.

I have difficulty evaluating the situation since I don't know you—therefore, I do not know if your assessment of your beauty is realistic or simply low self-esteem. However, I do know that women are notoriously bad judges of their own beauty. I also have seen many women whom I think of as relatively plain, who have flocks of men surrounding them because of their self-confidence and sparkling personalities. So let me share what you can do while the men around you are getting their act together.

First, find some things about your looks that you can change. Enlist some well put-together friends to help you. Get an attractive haircut, buy some new clothing, and perhaps invest in some subtle makeup. Some women think they are misrepresenting themselves by doing things differently, but I simply call it good advertising. Your outer looks often represent your inner feelings. So if you dress dowdily, hunch over, and don't fix your hair, what does that say about your inner self? Conversely, if you sit up straight and confidently, dress neatly and attractively, and spend some time on the outer appearance, it can speak volumes.

Next is to seek some professional help. Many people think therapists are only there to help with depression or anxiety; what they don't know is that therapists can help with a multitude of issues. Seek a therapist with a cognitive behavioral orientation and ask her for help with developing social skills and graces. There is a link at the right of my blog where you can find a therapist in your area. This therapist might also help you explore your self-esteem issues.

Finally, put the word out. Tell friends and coworkers you are interested in finding someone. Get out and meet people! Go out with friends, go dancing, go do interesting things. Chances are much better for you if you don't limit the men you meet to co-workers and the Domino’s deliveryman. If you try online dating, I advise using specifically Christian websites. While I think it is admirable that you are a virgin, that is perhaps more appropriate to share after several dates, rather than on your dating profile.

One last word—it is fine that marriage and children are daunting for now. You simply are not ready at this point. Focus on dating, and when you meet the right man, you will be prepared. I recommend reading the book How to Get a Date Worth Keeping for excellent advice by Henry Cloud. Please do write back in several months from now and let us know how things turned out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

No Question Today

Dear Readers,
Due to recovering from a medical procedure, there will be no "Ask Jocelyn" post today.  Please feel free to peruse my past posts and enjoy them.  "Ask Jocelyn" will resume Monday morning.  In the meantime, write in all your questions about love, relationships, work, and sticky situations.

See you Monday!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Dear Jocelyn,
Social media websites (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and others) have made it easy to reconnect with people. With great ease, many of one's old friends can reestablish contact, including those that were not always "just friends." Considering that all of one's activities and speech need to convey loyalty to one's present spouse, what guidelines would you suggest for interacting with "old flames" that now just seem rather friendly?
     -Online reunion attendee

Dear Attendee,
Indeed, social networking sites have made it possible to be "friends" with just about everyone—family members, real friends, acquaintances, someone you met on a bus once, and of course, exes.  While this strange new world seems like it requires new rules, remember that the same wisdom that guides you in "real life" also applies to online activities.  For instance, are you and your spouse friends with ex-flames?  Do you occasionally go out with them or see them?  If so, it seems perfectly appropriate to accept friendships from other ex-girlfriends or boyfriends.  However, factors such as how the relationship ended or the former level of intimacy can complicate matters.

I propose the following guidelines:
1) Share with your spouse any friendly overtures, such as friend requests or private messages, from former romantic partners.  Ask if they have any problem with you responding to them.  If they say no, simply don't respond—after all, the feelings of your spouse should be more important to you than the feelings of an old beau.
2) Keep online chats and messaging to a minimum.  Long messages back and forth for weeks or months between you and the girl you dated in college is akin to calling her up several times a week and chatting for an hour.  While a few private messages are probably not harmful, it is best to keep all communication public—by that, I mean posting on the person's wall or profile.  This way, there is no hint of secrecy or intimacy.  Whatever you post is there for the world (and your spouse) to see.
3) If the former inamorata persists in messaging you and connecting in a private manner, take advantage of the impersonality of the Internet.  Simply brush them off with short replies, or say you do not have the time to respond to lengthy messages.

The most important thing is to consider the feelings of both you and your spouse. If both of you are comfortable with what is going on and you do not sense the awakening of old attractions, then that is what matters.  But just as you ought to take precautions with opposite-sex friendships in the real world, so should you be careful when renewing friendships online.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Infant Milestones

Dear Jocelyn,
What are some important upcoming developmental milestones for my child (currently 1 year old)? At what point should he understand the concept of "no"? Are there any educational activities I can do with him to encourage his psychological development?
     -First-time Mom

Dear First,
I'm glad you asked this question - it gave me an opportunity to pull out my old developmental psychology textbooks! Here are a few sample milestones your child should reach by the first year of life:

-Your child should be able to understand the basic meaning of the word "no." He might not like it, but he should understand it.
-He should be trying to imitate sounds and attempt to speak.
-He should be using his larger muscles in play (throwing things, picking up larger objects, etc.).
-He should be able to understand basic commands and questions ("Do you want a cracker?").

As a disclaimer, I must say that children reach milestones at different times.  Even if your son is slow to walk or talk, it is not a problem.  The ages at which children can do certain abilities are averages - meaning some children are faster and some are slower.  I would only recommend seeing your pediatrician if your child does not reach any milestones appropriate for his age. 

You asked what you can do to encourage his psychological development - the best thing you can do at this point is love him. Thankfully, one-year-old babies are not easily psychologically damaged. When we do see infants showing signs of psychological damage, it is due to neglect. These babies are left for hours at a time, not changed or cared for, and not loved. These sad cases result in listless, apathetic infants. The good news is that I can tell you are a loving mother. How? You took the time to write an advice columnist about your son. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is not letting anxiety overrun you. Children can sense emotions, even the ones we think we hide. So if you want a normal and healthy child, relax and show him how much you love him. This will give him the security to explore, develop friendships, and eventually leave the nest.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Performance Reviews

Dear Jocelyn,

They are restructuring in my company this upcoming fiscal year, that starts in July. I work in a different office than my direct supervisor and have little contact with him. For this reason, I have no way of knowing how my performance is perceived. Going into a time of uncertainty in the workplace in this economy is fairly scary, so would it be appropriate to ask for a performance review or something of that nature? I've been working here for 3 years (1.5 years in the new office) and have never had a performance review or any feedback.
     - A Concerned Employee

Dear Concerned,
It is certainly appropriate to ask for a performance review, especially after 3 years at a company. Performance reviews are an excellent way to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and identify goals for your continued employment. Additionally, if your performance has been excellent and your supervisor is made aware of that fact, it might help when the layoffs occur.

The best way to do this is to contact your supervisor and simply tell him you are interested in receiving a performance review so you can learn how to improve your work. Ask if he is able to do it, and if not, who might best handle it. You might also ask coworkers who have been at the company for longer for advice on how to obtain a performance review. Once you have scheduled the meeting, research good questions to ask. You might also find it helpful to begin looking at what other jobs are available – it never hurts to be aware of the job market if there are impending layoffs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

When a Friend is Going Too Far

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a friend who identifies themselves as a Christian. In the past, we have discussed the ideas of boundaries in dating relationships and the correlation between physical and emotional involvement, an area where this person has previously struggled. More recently this person has entered a dating relationship and although she is reluctant to admit it appears to be struggling in this area. The guy she is dating has a different view on boundaries and relationships and has expressed interest in progressing the relationship physically. As this person's friend, how should I bring this up? Is it even my place to discuss this with them?
     -Trying to Help

Dear Trying,
It is admirable that you are looking out for your friend. Since she professes to be a Christian, it is perfectly fine to discuss your opinion with her. I recommend finding a time when just the two of you can talk privately, and ask her if you can offer your opinion on something. This is a way of having her invite you to talk. (Most people will say yes, but I suppose if she declines hearing it you have your answer!) I recommend not starting out with your concerns over the relationship, or physical boundaries - this can cause many people to immediately become defensive and stop listening. Instead, tell her some positive things you've seen in their relationship, and then tell her your concerns. For example,

"Sue, I love seeing you and Bob together. You two really seem to get along well. However, I've been concerned that you two are perhaps on different pages regarding physical intimacy. I really like you, and I don't want to see you do something you might regret later. Can I share some thoughts I had about this?"

This approach will work with most people, and keep them open-minded enough to actually hear what you have to say. It is important to speak up in situations where you are concerned for a friend's well-being, be it emotional, physical, or spiritual. After this conversation, you should be able to judge her response and see if this is something you can continue to discuss with her, or whether she wants you to butt out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Inconsiderate Neighbors

Dear Jocelyn,

I have neighbor issues. The people behind us routinely allow their children ranging in age from pre-school to middle school run around unsupervised starting at 8 am. Not only do these kids yell and scream, but they run through our yard, bang on our windows, and beat a wiffle ball bat against their porch. The parents also feel that 8 am on Sunday morning is the appropriate time to use loud electric hedge-trimmers to trim their hedge and perform other noise-producing outdoor tasks. Aside from getting revenge by disturbing the peace ourselves at midnight or attempting to train the children and adults by spraying them with hoses and squirt guns, how can this situation be handled?
     - A House of Sleep Deprived Graduate Students

Dear House,
Your letter illustrates the saying "Good fences make good neighbors." This seems like a very common problem between early birds and night owls. It is commonly accepted that it is impolite to call people outside the hours of 9am-9pm. It makes sense that this rule should extend to noisy children and yard work, as well. While I do not know your desired waking time, if it is past 9am you cannot expect your neighbors to tiptoe around so you can sleep late. However, 8am, while well past the time most people with children are up, is an inconsiderate time to make excessive noise.

For a first step, try visiting your neighbors with a big batch of cookies. Explain politely to them that you all think their children are lovely, but they often wake you by running through your yard, banging on your windows, etc. Ask them to please make sure their children stay off your property. If they continue to trespass after repeated warnings, call your local police (make sure it is the non-emergency number) and ask if you have any recourse for this situation. They might even be violating a local noise ordinance, although I cannot imagine 8am would be considered “night” under the law.

As for the yardwork, you may ask them politely to wait another hour until weed-wacking, but this is less likely to yield any results. Try to find a good set of earplugs and perhaps get to sleep earlier.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Co-ed Roommates?

Dear Jocelyn,
I am a female Christian and am deciding where to live next year. I have some friends, 2 guys and a girl, with a room open in their house. We'd all have separate bedrooms and I'd be sharing bathrooms with the girl. This seems perfectly fine to me, but am I missing any red flags? My mom likes my friends but is a little worried what people are going to think. I’m frustrated because it’s not like it’s an episode of “Friends” where we are all going to wind up dating and/or sleeping together; they are Christians as well. What is your opinion of a platonic co-ed living situation?

Dear Housemate,
That is an excellent question that reflects the conflict between social mores and Christian morals. I do believe that an unrelated and unmarried man and woman can live in the same home without sinning; however, I do not consider it to be wise (especially for Christians) for several reasons:

Your Christian Witness
All four of you might know that you are not sleeping together, but consider what typically runs through the mind of someone who hears of co-eds cohabitating: either there is sexual activity or immodesty of some sort. It might become harder for you to advise your other Christian or non-Christian friends to abstain from sexual immorality if they are suspect of your living situation. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says: "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." I believe in today's culture, where casual sex is the norm, that you would not be encouraging others in sexual purity by living with two men.

Your Chastity
As I said in the beginning—I fully believe it is possible for men and women to live together and not sin. However, I do also fully believe that this situation provides more temptation to sin. Living together produces emotional closeness. If you have had female roommates, you have probably found that you felt closer to them after living together. In this situation, you are going to be around two men your own age every day—while you may not be attracted to them now, it is quite possible you will eventually find yourself attracted to one of these men, in which case everything suddenly becomes very complicated.

 Your Modesty
While I'm certain you intend to remain fully clothed in all common areas, chances are that in the year or more that you will be in this living situation, you will find yourself in less-than-modest clothing around one or both of your male roommates. Nightclothes immediately come to mind—picture walking to the kitchen in the middle of the night in skimpy pajamas, thinking that no one will see you. And then picture running into one of these men in his boxers who thought the same thing. While this scenario might never occur, it is wholly possible.

Personally, when I had roommates I liked the freedom to wear and do what I wanted without concern of propriety and modesty. I am not aware of any benefits to having a male roommate, but I am aware of many downsides—mostly practical, but some moral. I advise you to find several nice Christian females and stay out of this potentially sticky situation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Throwing Rocks

Dear Jocelyn,
The apartment complex across the street constantly lets debris from their property fall onto the sidewalk. Over the months there have been limbs, rocks, garbage, sand. This time it's a 3'x3'x4" pile of golf-ball-sized stones that has been sitting there for a month, obstructing the sidewalk. I finally had time to go to their leasing office and complain about it the other day. The employee at the front desk claimed to be unaware of the rock pile (seriously) and said maintenance would take care of it. The next day I discovered the rocks were still there and I went to follow up. The employee was really rude to me and seemed gleeful to tell me that she knows the rocks are still there but maintenance won't be taking care of it. She then lied to me by saying it's the City's responsibility to take care of sidewalks. I think this is ridiculous because people can't just throw trash in the street and expect the government to clean up their mess. Anyway, I found the whole exchange infuriating. My proposed solution is to remove the rocks myself, bring them into the leasing office and dump them on the floor, and then inform the staff that they should take care of their debris problems in a more timely manner. Am I over-reacting?
- Potential Rock Thrower

Dear Rock,
Breathe in - breathe out. Breathe in - breathe out. Feel better? While this situation does seem frustrating, you are getting worked up over something that ultimately does not matter. So when you find yourself becoming enraged and gravitating towards a pile of rocks to throw, do some deep breathing and go to your happy place. That being said, there are ways to address this situation without possibly commiting a misdemeanor. Contact this employee's manager and share the exchange. This should not be done out of spite, but because a manager needs to know when an employee is treating others rudely. If, heaven forbid, she is the manager, contact the owner, or the company that owns the apartments. In other words, find her boss. Then contact the city—after all, if this apartment complex is abusing the city's funds, they should be notified so they can address the issue. It might be helpful to remember that this employee that angered you probably represents a type of people you do not like—perhaps those who are lazy, or who lie. So in a sense, you are over-reacting by focusing your anger towards that group of people onto this one example. Be satisfied in your ability to report the problem, and let the authorities take it from here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Cut Down on Constant Complaining

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a problem with my mom (I know I'm the first!). She has a tendency to be a very negative person. For example, if she is struggling with something she would rather spend time complaining or emphatically stating that she is incapable of doing it rather than trying. I try to be uplifting and encourage her to give it her best, but she seems to enjoy being down (about almost everything). I'm getting tired of listening to constant complaints! HELP!
-Losing Patience

Dear Patience,
Let me share share with you a trick I've learned—whenever an incessant complainer begins on a litany of sadness, ask, "So what are you doing about it?" Your mother, for whatever reason, struggles with negativity and probably draws comfort from other's reactions to her complaints. Alas, this comfort is not doing anything to help fix her problems. As a caring child, you have tried your best to encourage her. However, it sounds like your mother is very assertive about controlling the conversation, so it is time to take charge. Next time she complains, tell her, "I love you, but it discourages me when you complain about your problems instead of doing something to solve them. I'd rather just hear what you plan to do to fix them, or what I can do to help." In the future, when she begins to grouse about her life, say, "Well, I can't wait to hear what you do about this problem. Until then, let me tell you about what's going on in MY life..." At the very least, you will be sending the message that you do not want to hear about all the things she thinks she can't do. Hopefully, though, seeing how you take charge of your own life will help her stop focusing on her unfortunate circumstances.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spare His Feelings?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have gone on a few dates with a nice Christian man who is excited about pursuing a relationship with me, but after giving it a chance I know there's no interest on my part. Last night I dodged his attempts to make weekend plans and (truthfully) said I needed to go to bed, but then a different guy called and I readily talked with him for half an hour. How do I tell the first guy I don't want to see him anymore, since my own behavior tells me I'm not interested? Complication: I promised to attend a ticketed event with him next weekend but I’d rather not go on dates with him anymore…would it be kinder for me to offer to pay for my half and cancel or go as our last hangout?
-Not Interested

Dear Not Interested,
Now that you know how you feel about this young gentleman, you should act immediately. A common misconception people have is that the longer you date someone, the more obligation you have to continue going on dates with him. This is not true; whether you have been on 2 dates or 100 dates, you do not have an obligation to remain with him.

Call your suitor post haste and thank him for the fun times you had together, then tell him you are not interested in dating anymore. This is hard to do, but the kindest thing you can do is be clear - you do not want to fumble through a 5 minute phone conversation and leave him more con

fused than when you began. Then tell him that if he does not wish to bring another friend to the event, you are willing to pay for your ticket but will not attend.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Probable, Yo!

Dear Jocelyn,

Why do we keep getting eaten by bears when we're in a bearcave?

-Want My Leg Back

Dear Leg,
I think the answer to this question can be summarized in a single sentence: "It's because of your behavior, yo!"