In Which We Consummate True Love On The Moon

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 have been in a long term relationship with my partner, Basil, for over eighteen months. Basil comes from a very tough upbringing and also he is not an American. He explained early on in the relationship that he often feels like he has trouble expressing himself, and he is usually able to better articulate his emotions through his music. He has done a great job stretching the boundaries of what makes him comfortable in a relationship, and I’m very grateful for his efforts.

As a part of his trauma or independent of it, he struggles to give others praise. (It is not just me who has noticed this.) I am very complimentary of him, but trying to exchange the merest positive words seems a struggle. At the same time, it is obviously genuine when I receive praise from Basil. I am a person who thrives on positive encouragement, which I have articulated to Basil, but he responds that it’s just not who he is and that I should feel more confident in his love. Is there any way to improve this aspect of our relationship?

Elaine C.


Dear Elaine,

A great human being once said, and I later repeated in this advice column, that the problem with flattery is that it comes with an unspoken request to be returned in kind. As you alluded to, it is very difficult to trust people who are so free with their praise. Sure, we like to hear great things about ourselves, and on some level the source does not really concern us.

This is the type of praise to which you have probably become addicted. It is a reassurance that has very little to do with what is actually being said or related. It is more just an aspect of love for you. If you can find other ways that Basil shows you how much he cares about you and the life you share, these mere bon mots will stop being so crucial to your understanding of yourself.


Is it stupid to get involved with someone who has a substance abuse problem?

Dan G.


Dear Dan,

Generally we only answer questions that are about the one aspect of a relationship that requires a band-aid so that the LW can be happy for the rest of his or her life, but I guess in some sense this could be that type of question.

There is always some red flag you will encounter upon getting to know someone new. For example, someone I was seeing once saw me eat an entire bagel that I barely chewed. Jesus was that hard to explain.

Some people never go back to alcohol or drugs, although the problems that led them to these solutions in the first place may still persist. Are you the type of person who enjoys taking care of others? You had probably better be, so if this kind of lifestyle is not in your wheelhouse, then I would not begin such a relationship, no.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


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