In Which We Give and Receive At Different Times

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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 justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hey,

My friend Sally often asks me for advice. We discuss the issues in her life at extreme length, as she does not operate on anything like a “gut level.” Frequently, and especially with relationships, she has gone against not only what I recommended, but also what she herself agreed was best. I can accept that people I care about will sometimes be hurt of their own doing, but she seems to step willfully into situations that are obviously flawed in their premise.

It’s gotten to the point where I am not sure what to say to her about such things. Maybe if she experienced deep horror firsthand, it would change her decision-making process? Do you think people do learn from their mistakes?

Also, how do I tell her I can’t be this kind of sounding board because of how painful it has become for me

Dana S.

Dear Dana,

It is natural for some of us to become emotionally involved in the problems of others, especially of friends and family we know and care about. Sally has developed the same respect for you and your thoughts that anyone does for a tiny, impotent angel who sits on their shoulder. In other words, she strongly believes that you are no longer the least bit real.

It is at this point you should decide how much you really care abour Sally. If you are pretty distant from her troubles, I think receding into the fabric of heaven is more than your right. But if you really care for and want her to avoid doing something she’ll regret, take it the whole way and really impose yourself on the situation. If she ends up resenting you, who cares? It’s not like she is your wife.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Hi,

Through an online dating website I recently met a woman, Ellen, who has just gotten out of her marriage of two years several months ago. At first I was hesitant to pursue things with Ellen thinking it would get complicated. We have a great connection, but it is not easy to handle the presence of someone else in her life with whom she has a long, shared history. Further complicating the situation is the fact that he actively tries to get her back. More recently, she spent an entire night sobbing when he sent her a long letter.

Honestly, I’m tempted to tell her to contact me once these issues sort themselves out. On the other hand, I do feel something with her I haven’t with other women so sticking it out does have its appeal. What should I do?

Michael S.

Michael,

Participants in the degrading, sexist institution we call marriage have every incentive to stay in their committed, legal union. The tax breaks are just insane, and the thrill of unprotected sex pretty much never goes away. I am sort of joking, but sort of not.

When a woman leaves her marriage, it means that she is really not having it. There is one key exception to this situation — when her husband cheats. Then things are kind of up in the air because forgiving him is very possible and you could end up on the outside of this situation rather quickly.

Assuming that is not the cause of the divorce, you’re probably in a far more stable situation than you imagined. Most women aren’t going to jump into another relationship after something this serious goes haywire, so if she is sticking around, she isn’t just experimenting and probably has actual feelings for you. If you are there for her during this difficult time — and not just as a pillow — she will remember that kindness.

On the other hand, if she starts having all night talks with her ex, you are free to express your disapproval and disassociate until she does.

Hi,

I recently met a guy, Aiden, through some mutual friends who is attractive, confident and fun to be around. The only concern I have is that he insists on meeting up at concerts that are frequently loud. He usually drinks to excess, and while he is great fun under these circumstances, the entire night is rather exhausting for a weekday. 

Maybe this kind of thing would have appealed to me when I was in my early twenties, but we’re both in our early thirties and the idea of being a sweaty mess every time I see Aiden is a disturbing project. On occasion we will do other things, but it seems this is his idea of fun and he goes to two or three shows a week.

Marjorie W.

Dear Marjorie,

Compatibility means that you enjoy doing the same things at the same times, like going to shul on the high holidays, or interchanging each other’s limbs so you can feed each other bagels chock full of gluten. Couples require these shared activities, or else they will begin to resent one another. The fact that you are already resenting Aiden’s choice of fun this early on in the relationship is maybe not the best sign.

You will then wonder, will he grow out of what he enjoys? It’s not impossible to do so, but since music is a wonderful expression of the soul, it would be hard to imagine he will suddenly enjoy listening to it performed. Maybe if you got him a really great stereo.

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