Fancy Meeting You Here!
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m 21 and live in western Delaware. I sometimes come to Rehoboth to socialize at the bars, since it’s a little difficult “being myself” in my small farming community. Anyway, a few months ago my friends and I were at Cloud 9 and I ran right into one of my high-school teachers! I’m still active at my old school and now I feel uncomfortable when I see him, as he is not openly gay. In fact, he’s married. We’ve never been anything more than student and teacher, but now he makes a point of avoiding me. How can I make us both more “at ease” with this?
Dr. Hurd replies,
Wow! What a lot of responsibility you take on for yourself! The fact is that your former teacher has chosen to live a lie. I’m not judging him without knowing all the particulars, but living a lie is a stressful and difficult thing to do. You cannot fix this for him. If he’s not at ease, it’s either his own fault or, at best, not something you can resolve.
Some people are good at compartmentalizing and denial. It’s certainly not healthy or ideal, but it can at least lower anxiety for a time. You’re the one who said you’re not at ease, so the real question is how you can feel more comfortable with this. I don’t know how active you are in your former school, or if you’re in any situations where you’re forced to lie on his behalf, but if he presents himself as one way at school and as another in Rehoboth, then he’s taking his own risks. You’re not responsible for his eventually being exposed, even if you unintentionally “outed” him. Just treat him the way he wants to be treated. Don’t get involved in his personal life or personal conflicts. They’re his, not yours. When you see him at school, treat him the same way you would if you didn’t know his story. When you see him at the bar, smile and say hello, but don’t go out of your way to be friendly, either. What more can you ask of yourself?
I only know you through this letter, but it seems to me that you might have a tendency to feel anxiety over things you can’t control, and for which you can’t (and shouldn’t) take responsibility. Your teacher has made his choices—hard ones, I’m sure—and any resulting discomfort is his, not yours. Be nice to him, and be easier on yourself.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have been together for a long time and we get along great. However, over the last year or so she has become overly concerned about money. We both work and make about the same, we have a decent savings and a nice house that’s paid for, but she only wants to do the cheapest things. She complains when friends invite us out to eat or if I want to have guests for dinner. The only thing that’s changed recently is that she has started watching TV news all the time, and obsesses over any and all “reports” about the “economy.” Both of our jobs are secure, and I just don’t think the latest television “poll” should affect where we go to eat on a Friday night. I work hard for my money and I want to enjoy it—with her.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Your partner is probably worried about running out of money. News stories often focus on people who have run out of money, because that makes for interesting television. But you have to answer a question for yourself: “Am I prepared to go out and do fun things without her?” It’s OK to answer yes—but can you bring yourself to do it? Because if you can’t, then you’re making yourself a hostage to her money issues.
Bottom line, it’s not really about money. It’s about having control over your life. Imagine if you weren’t in a relationship. Would you stay home and never spend a penny? Of course not. You’d go out and do things. If that’s important to you as a single person, then it’s just as important to you as a partner in a relationship. I’m not trying to drive a wedge between you two; I’m not even suggesting you actually do social things without her. But you need to be prepared to do so. For example, “Susan and Chris want to go out to dinner and I think it would be fun. Would you like to join us?” Leave it up to her. When she sees that you’re going to go anyway, it’s possible she’ll decide she doesn’t want to be left out.
Some people might call this “manipulative,” but I call it “holding her responsible for her actions.” Your partner made a unilateral decision. She didn’t come to you and suggest, “Hey, are you willing to take a look at our monthly expenditures and see if we need to cut back? She’s the one who chose to be “passive-aggressive,” meaning that she changed her behaviors with no announcement or explanation—and then expected you to do the same. Not fair!
Everyone should occasionally reevaluate their spending, but that process has to include discussion and compromise with those directly affected.
Dr. Michael J. Hurd is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.