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Q: I’ve been casually dating a great guy for six months, we’re both career-driven, in our late-30s. Six weeks ago he discovered that his younger sister has terminal cancer and, sadly, she’s going downhill quickly. He’s incredibly introverted and is understandably sinking into depression.
He’s also taken on the roll of caregiver in their family, taking a leave of absence from work. He’ll tell me a bit about what’s happening but can’t discuss his own feelings other than saying it’s hard to see her this way.
I’ve found the only thing that he’s willing to discuss with me is baseball, so we watch it at my home over dinner and I’ve taken him to every home Friday-night game. I want to be more of a support but am not sure how when he’s unable to open up.
A: Baseball’s a metaphor — it’s the only thing that can distract him from the pain of his sister’s condition and its effects on his family without feeling guilty or helpless. By contrast, the game and its mind-consuming statistics, played on the long days and nights of summer, are comforting and familiar to him.
So stop expecting and wanting more from him, and from yourself. Casual dating, when two people are spending a lot of time on careers, would normally take longer than six months to develop the level of emotional openness and corresponding support that you’re seeking.
He’s dealing with a family-wide tragedy, with worse to come when his sister passes. He’s lucky to have your caring and concern. But do not press him for confessionals. This isn’t about how well you’re helping him, or about the quality of your relationship.
For now, he’s just letting you be on his team, when he can. Accept that it’s a signal of great trust and respect.
Q: I’ve lived a troubling life with drugs, alcohol and abuse in my family. I wanted to ensure I got out of that life, so I got an education and graduated from university with honours. I’m now a teacher overseas and loving it!
I came home to visit and my family keeps trying to drag me into the life I want to forget. Instead of a relaxing vacation, I’m stressed to the max and feel my old depressive self haunting me. I can´t go to my family’s house without having to prepare myself for the frustration.
A: You can’t help them if you don’t keep helping yourself, even on vacation and especially when you’re with your family. Visit only when you feel strong, and leave with a credible excuse when you get uncomfortable (without blaming anyone).
To help them, focus on the younger relatives and be a role model. Share some of your stories, talk about the confidence that your education has given you and try to boost their self-images with encouragement.
The older generation who helped create the negative feelings likely won’t change, at least not just through you wanting it. But in time, they may ease up on their old ways, when they see you either avoid or ignore them.
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