In Which There May Be Another To Call

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


I make a large effort to make various occasions pleasant for my boyfriend of three years, Elias. He once threw a birthday party for me but besides that he never really goes to too much trouble. On the other hand, if I don’t show the requisite excitement for whatever he is celebrated, he becomes sullen and morose. 

I don’t personally need to show enthusiasm over the day of my birth, but the situation seems remarkably unbalanced. When I bring up Elias’ petulant behavior, he says I’m making a bigger deal of it than it seems. Is there any way to remove myself from this vicious cycle?

Mark B.

Dear Mark,

The concept that every single relationship in the world need to be balanced is a deeply useless myth. Every relationship you will ever have in life will be unbalanced in one direction. Think of a relationship — whether it is with your dry-cleaner, your boss, your dog, your sister — one person is by far getting the better of it. When it tilts too far in one direction, the relationship usually ends.

Perhaps Elias does things for you that you are not mentioning here. Some people in this world require a certain amount of reassurance in a romantic relationship; if they do not provide it back it may mean they are selfish or ungenerous, or it may be you are there because they need to be a person who is more of a giver than a receiver, like whoever is married to Elon Musk at this time.

Being happy for someone else is a good turn, but if you resent having to behave this way, perhaps you are not really happy for Elias.


In 2014 my mom started dating a guy, Peter. About a year ago he cheated on her with another woman. She walked in on him and his girlfriend having sex in his home, and my mom dumped him afterwards. In the ensuing months, Peter began a relationship with this woman. When it didn’t work out, he told my mom he had made a huge mistake and spent the next six months convincing her to get back together with him. He was so persistent about everything, and my Mom does love Peter, so finally she gave in.

When I found out that Peter was cheating on my mom, I instantly hated him. They are a couple now, and I have told my mom that I can’t really see or interact with Peter without thinking of this awful incident. Trust is very hard to get back, and I don’t know if I could ever see Peter in the same light, even though my mom seems to be able to.

It feels like I was the one betrayed and it’s hard to see my mother with Peter again. Is there anything I can do?

Jocelyn R.

Dear Jocelyn,

At times you have to value what a person is instead of focusing on what he isn’t. Peter is not a person you can respect, trust, or value in any way at this moment. Time might change your appraisal of him; people have been known to make a mistake for reasons that seem sufficient at the time. Understanding Peter’s actions are not within your abilities at this moment, but appreciating that your mother has chosen to be with him is.

This individual must have some other redeeming quality. Maybe he spends time at a local animal shelter, or he services the women of a local shelter. You never know everything that is inside someone until you search the internet.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


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