Email out of the blue from an al­co­holic ex

The Buffalo News - - LIFE & ARTS - – Clue­less in Chicago – Baf­fled

Dear Carolyn: My first love emailed me out of the blue, af­ter 10 years, to make amends as part of his AA pro­gram. He was an in­cred­i­ble per­son, but af­ter many years and many chances, the al­co­holism won.

While it was a trau­matic break – we lived to­gether and talked mar­riage – I soon met a won­der­ful man who is now my hus­band.

The lengthy email de­tailed my ex’s love for me, re­grets, and urged me to con­sider a phone call or FaceTime to help free him of pain. Mem­o­ries both good and bad came flood­ing back, along with some anger that he im­posed on me this way. It seems nar­cis­sis­tic, es­pe­cially not know­ing what I may be go­ing through in my life.

I’m grap­pling with how to think and feel about this grand ges­ture. How do you sug­gest I re­spond?

Carolyn Hax

If he’s look­ing to you to free him of his pain, then he’s not pay­ing close enough at­ten­tion in AA. Ask­ing you to help him – via phone, FaceTime or in­ter­pre­tive dance – isn’t mak­ing amends. It’s an at­tempt to out­source his emo­tional work to you.

It’s im­por­tant for the health of both of you to de­cline that as­sign­ment. Be kind, of course, but don’t be avail­able to him in this way.

So re­spond as if he were ac­tu­ally mak­ing amends: Say, by re­ply email, that you ac­cept his apol­ogy, for­give him, and wish him the best in his re­cov­ery. Gen­tle, brief, good­bye.

Hi, Carolyn: I’m the mother of two very young chil­dren. The el­der child looks just like me, with dark hair and eyes and olive skin, and the other is the polar op­po­site – blond hair and blue eyes. Peo­ple will ap­proach me in the street to com­ment on how dif­fer­ent they look, and ask where my younger child’s col­or­ing came from. I start go­ing into chap­ter and verse about my mother’s blue eyes and my hus­band be­ing blond as a child, and that an­swer never seems to sat­isfy them.

This baf­fles me, but even more baf­fling is why I feel the need to ex­plain my fam­ily’s ge­net­ics to per­fect strangers.

I don’t want my chil­dren to think that this is a big or im­por­tant is­sue. Could you sug­gest a po­lite but un­re­spon­sive re­sponse to this ques­tion?

You can make this ques­tion go away in no words (death stare); one word (“Re­ally?”); two words (“Ge­netic quirks”); or the smart-alecky retort of your choice. I’m not baf­fled by re­flex­ive over­ex­plain­ing. It’s tough to dis­en­tan­gle overt ques­tions about a child’s col­or­ing from covert ques­tions on a child’s parent­age, and it’s pretty much im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the dated and in­ap­pro­pri­ate but per­sis­tent tinge of scorn that comes with parent­age ques­tions.

While I hear reg­u­larly from peo­ple who don’t en­dorse (with apolo­gies to Mad mag­a­zine) the snap­pyan­swers-to-stupid-ques­tions ap­proach to dis­miss­ing busy­bod­ies, I’m all for it. It’s your life, your busi­ness, and oth­ers’ bound­ary blind­ness – so you have ev­ery right to stream­line this nui­sance away. In snarky words, few words, or none.


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