If You Can’t Stand the Heat; and An Ill-Timed Assault on the Senses
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My boyfriend recently got a job as a line cook at a busy restaurant. He is excited about the job, and hopes to get some experience and then go to culinary school. I am happy for him, except that he is consumed by this job. He goes in to help on his day off; he goes in early and stays late. Everybody loves him there and I can see great potential. The downside? I’m home alone all of the time. When he is home, he’s on the phone about the job, or working in the kitchen coming up with recipes or something.
We’ve been together three years, and since he got that job I feel like a “restaurant widow.” Am I wasting my time staying with him? I want him to succeed, but I need to have a partnered life.
Dr. Hurd replies,
The facts are simple and inescapable: You’re entitled to want what you want, and he’s entitled to the same. Period.
If he gave up his dreams and ambitions, he would not be the person you love now. He’d be someone different, someone you might—or might not—still love. My first suggestion is to work on accepting this fact so you can look at the situation differently. Part of that exercise might be for you to find new activities, goals, or ambitions of your own. Of course, none of these will replace what you want with your boyfriend, but at least they’ll add value to your life.
There’s really no alternative. If you and your boyfriend broke up over this, you’d have to find new things to do anyway. So why not get working on that now, and perhaps even save your relationship in the process?
The number one cause of most human problems is wanting contradictory things. You said it yourself: “I want him to succeed, but I need to have a partnered life.” But a partnered life, as you envision it, does not logically square with his desire to pursue an ambitious and time-consuming career. That’s a contradiction, and it’s not healthy.
Either you change what you expect from him, or ask him to give up his career. You cannot have both, and either way your life will change. It’s up to you whether or not it will change for the better.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I know you will never print this, but I’m going to ask you anyway. I work in a very small office suite with six other people. We are all in close quarters, and there aren’t many secrets. One of our officemates insists on using the bathroom in the mid-morning. Please understand what I mean by “using” the bathroom: The whole shebang, including the breathtaking (literally) odors that accost our noses and the zoo-like sounds that insult our ears.
These are things that we simply do not need to witness. Why can’t he take care of these necessities at home in the morning like normal people? I am writing to you because the rest of the office is now talking about it and wondering how we can best be spared this awkward glimpse into this guy’s bodily functions.
Dr. Hurd replies,
In the era of Facebook and Twitter, virtually everything is fair game for discussion. I’ve responded to things a lot more “sensitive” than this.
I understand that it probably helped you to vent your concerns to me. But I think you know that neither you nor I can do anything to change this situation. Your coworker’s personal choices and bathroom habits are his to make, unless or until someone stops him. Unless you are his boss, or own the business or the building, you cannot alter or influence his behaviors.
If you really want to change his mind, then you can say something to him directly. Weigh the pros and cons before you do so. What is the likelihood of successful persuasion? And is it worth the risk of a negative or hostile reaction? You might also ask his immediate supervisor or the business owner if he or she is willing to ask him to change his habits. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle; but do weigh the pros and cons.
Beyond that, remember that you chose to work in a cramped setting with other people. These things go with the territory. More and more people consider self-employment, and working via computer from home when that’s feasible. Rethink your career and job options. Try to see the bigger picture, and not just what’s happening in the bathroom.
Here’s a shot in the dark: Maybe something else is bothering you here. Maybe you want more control over your workplace. When we’re fundamentally dissatisfied with the way life is going, we tend to fixate on things we’d otherwise ignore, or we magnify minor issues into significant problems or catastrophes. Take this as a possible cue from your subconscious to look for something bigger. Use the process of elimination to figure out what could be blowing these office misadventures out of proportion.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.