Toxic Dating, “Abominable” Sisters, and the French Manicure

1. I moved back to my small hometown (which I hate) for a job (which I love). I don’t have any friends here, and I have had a really hard time making them. I was miserable until I reconnected with this guy I knew in high school, unfortunately, I knew him as he was my ex-boyfriend’s best friend. We started seeing each other, but we didn’t want to be seen in public so it wouldn’t get back to my ex before anything was serious. Anyway we have been seeing each other for about four months, and we spend every night together. I am so much happier, and I really love being around him, but I know he has lied to me, cheated on me, or at least tried to cheat on me. I saw in his Facebook messages (I know it’s bad, but he gave me his password) that he was taking another girl on a date and was so nervous because she was so hot. I confronted him, he cried, and said he thought it was a date, but he got there he couldn’t stop thinking about me. I found a very sexual exchange between him and another girl, and he tried to tell me it was a documentary for his class about how easy it is to hook-up on the internet. He expected me to believe that he had to type all that to film it. The last thing I found out was that he invited a girl over to his house while I was out of town. His messages joked that they were going to have sex. She came over, and he insists nothing happened. I believe that because their next messages were about why she just left and he was sorry. 

The point is I know I can’t trust this guy. I would feel so so much better if he would just admit to these things, instead of lying when I have proof. I know I shouldn’t see him, but I am super lonely otherwise. We are not in a relationship, but about 2 1/2 months ago, we decided we weren’t seeing other people. Can I keep seeing him and maintain a shred of self-respect? I’ve asked that we back off and keep seeing each other not exclusively, but then he just cries. I know what I want to do is not healthy, but how unhealthy is it?

The answer to your last question is: very unhealthy. But, as you said, you already know that. There’s a lot of questions I have about this whole situation — namely, I’m curious as to why you say you are not in a relationship, but that you’ve mutually agreed to not see other people. I don’t understand why this man insists on making really stupid, dishonest, flat out weird decisions, and then cries when you offer to allow him to see other people? I also wish I knew more about the entire friend dynamic here — does your ex still live in your hometown? Is he now aware that you and his best friend are seeing each other? Also, you said “was” — are they no longer best friends?

I don’t know if knowing the answers to those questions would help, though. I’m just trying to figure out whyyy someone would be so weird about cheating on a girl — like, a “documentary,” oh my god that is the most pretentious thing I’ve ever heard in my life — but it doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s being weird with you because he doesn’t think this counts as a “real” relationship, or maybe he has some guilt about dating his best friend’s ex and is subconsciously trying to punish both of you. I could come up with a million armchair psychologist excuses for why this man is doing what he’s doing. It doesn’t matter even a little bit. You have to ask yourself: how lonely is too lonely? To me, spending every night with someone you can’t trust sounds pretty fucking lonely, and I know I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it. To me, that seems too unhealthy. On the other hand, I can’t deny how scary it is to be alone in a town you hate. 

The first question you asked, though — that’s what I keep thinking about. Can you keep seeing him and maintain a shred of self-respect? You laid it out fairly clearly — you started dating under circumstances that are less than ideal, what with all the history, and you’re at a vulnerable place, what with the great job in the shitty location. When you say you are “so much happier” with this guy, I worry that this might be relative happiness. In comparison to all the other changes in your life that you aren’t thrilled with, then yes, this could look like an improvement, but you said it yourself. You can’t trust him, you’re concerned that the relationship is unhealthy, and you’re questioning your own self-respect. These are not good signs. In the professional “Ask A Lady” business, we call these “red flags.” It’s not about how breaking up or seeing other people feels to him. It’s a harsh thing, but if he cries, he cries. How does it feel to you? If it feels like you’d have more self-respect being alone, then his tears don’t seem like enough of an incentive to stay.

2. I’m having a quarter-to-mid-life crisis and am far too in the shit to have perspective on how ridiculous I might be right now.

I am 28 and have been married one year to a wonderful man I’ve been with for six. We were both anti-marriage but things changed, as they tend to do, and we did it for practical, insurance-based reasons. Now I’m starting to feel a little trapped. Stifled. Afraid this is as far as I’m going in life and that I made a mistake.

We’re both sorta lazy loners by nature, but while I aspire to break out of it from time to time, he’s completely content. It’s admirable in many ways but the lack of ambition worries me. Without someone to lead by example — to challenge and motivate me — I can’t resist the pull of Comfortable and Familiar and really put myself out there to take risks and grow. This coupled with that weird fear of changing to the point that your partner no longer knows or loves who you’ve become (that’s not just me, right?) makes for a whole lot of stagnancy.

We love each other terribly and are very happy and compatible in a host of other ways, but we all know that love alone doesn’t make a relationship right, and I’m afraid this might eventually break me.

It’s probably insane to blame or sacrifice the relationship for what seems to be personal problem, and the pain I’d cause is almost too much to bear. But I also think I know myself pretty well and that if I were single or had a more like-minded partner I could do this self-actualization thing, but as things are it just feels like so much dead weight.

What say you, A Lady?

Hmm!!!! Once again, this question is just begetting more questions. Lots of begetting going on here. Ok, here is my first question: do you know one hundred percent that you are alone in this feeling? Has your husband said he is completely content, or does he just seem completely content? Have you vocalized these feelings to him and then had him respond by saying he can’t identify with any of this at all? If so, then yes, that could be a problem.

But let’s leave him out of this for a second. I want to talk about what you said about not being able to change without a role model. I completely agree that you need some sort of mentor or aspirational figure to help you create real change in your life. However, I really think that any sort of important changes in your life start all on your own. You have to figure out what exactly it is you want beyond a vague idea of “more” to fill that hole that’s starting to eat away at your relationship. You could be looking for more for — literally — ever if you don’t figure out what, exactly, you want, figure out the steps to getting it, and go through all of those steps until you achieve it. And it’s just not true that you can’t do that alone, because I think doing it alone is the key to making sure you’re doing what you really want. If you rely on your husband to motivate your changes, you’ll never know if it was an organic change or if you were just tagging along for the ride. Once you’ve figured it out, then you go looking for the people who compliment your goals and motivate you to keep going, and those people don’t have to be your husband.

This might be tooooo idealistic on my part, but I do really think that if your relationship is as happy as you say it is, your relationship can sustain some sort of crazy change on your part. Like, let’s say you want to take up skydiving and your husband is like NOPE KTHXBAI. Is he still the type of guy who would stay on the ground to applaud you when you land? Or not skydiving, something smaller — so maybe your husband will not be accompanying you to the gym, but is he the kind of guy who will bring home Gatorade after your workouts? If you decide to take up a volunteering job, would he give you a ride? And if so — what more do you need? This is just my personal experience, but I can tell you, in the time that I have been with my boyfriend I have gone through two uncompleted undergrad degrees, two community college certificates, five jobs, three apartments, and four extreme hair colors. I am familiar with really scary changes. My boyfriend has followed the well-worn path of a single undergrad degree until he achieved a diploma, has worked at the same job for five years, and his hair is still a boring brown. But he is the kind of guy who will pick up a pair of latex gloves on his way home so I can Manic Panic my hair in our sink. I’ve found that that’s all you really need in a partner to motivate you: those tiny nudges and little bumps in the direction that you’ve already chosen for yourself.

Whatever you do from here on out, you’re already laying the foundation for the end of your pleasant-enough relationship. There are two ways this could play out. In the first scenario, you initiate real change on your own, without your husband’s support, and it creates a rift in a mostly happy relationship that you cannot repair. In the second scenario, you don’t change, and your resentment towards your husband for holding you back grows and grows until it creates a rift in a mostly happy relationship that you cannot repair. It’s up to you now, and in either scenario, it won’t be your husband’s fault. You have to trust that your husband wants to be with the best version of you, the you that’s self-actualized and happy and proud of yourself and your choices, and then you have to go make yourself that person on your own.

3. Hi, I was wondering what the current opinion is on French manicures. I went to get my nails done today after not having them done in a very long time, and I thought I would go with something nice and simple — ergo, a French manicure. I just found out, however, that random internet people find them old-fashion and even *gasp!* tacky. I would like another opinion on this please. I don’t want to go out into the world with silly nails, but I did pay $15 dollars for them and don’t want to redo them right now.

This question totally reminds me of a Vogue article I read a few years ago. I think it was by Plum Sykes or someone of her ilk. The whole article was about how French manicures are typically reserved for porn stars, and how the author was reclaiming them as a classy, Vogue-approved thing. So, I mean, take that information for what it’s worth. I would definitely trust Vogue over some random internet people, but they’re both institutions that deal in making people feel bad about themselves. They’re just nails! Dead shells on top of your fingertips! Gross, sorry for that mental image. So maybe some people think there’s a tacky/porn-y element to French manicures. So what! If you like them, tell the entire internet WHATEVER, YOU DO WHAT YOU WANT.

Related: right now my nails are neon pink. Last week they were alternating rose and leopard print. There is no such thing as silly nails.

4. My sister is milking money from our elderly parents. She is in her late 20s, emotionally stunted, incredibly selfish, and incapable of accepting responsibility for herself. She goes out drinking four or five nights a week and spends most of her money on shopping. She makes far more money than I do and has gone on several vacations already this year. We live in the same city, so I know her cost of living is not higher than mine. She owes everyone in the family money. I am a grad student with a part time job, and I don’t accept a dime from my parents. They are not well off and have little savings.

I recently found out my sister has been allowing my father to support her lavish lifestyle. My father told me he paid for more than $200 in overdraft fees last month alone, and that he has to help her pay her rent every month. I advised my father to cut her off, which he did. Of course my sister doesn’t want me to know that she’s been stealing money from my father, so when we spoke recently she told me our father is “angry” with her for some bullshit reason, and now she refuses to see him. He doesn’t deserve this at all.

I think the way she’s behaving is abominable, and I’m very angry with her. My approval is important to her, and she’s extremely sensitive to other peoples’ opinions of her, so I think if I told her I knew everything and how disappointed I am in her, she might actually be embarrassed/depressed enough to change. But I’m not supposed to know any of this. Should I ask my father for permission to confront my sister? I can’t look at her anymore without replacing her eyes with dollar signs.

Oof. This entire question hurts my heart. Anything to do with money and family is very, very, very, very, very hard. And very personal. These are the sorts of conversations that start as a way to clear the air and end with a lifelong silent treatment, so no matter what, I have to advise that you tread extremely carefully.

Let’s start with the most important question — does your father want to confront your sister at all? Does he feel like he can’t even look at her anymore? If so, it’s really not your place to do that on his behalf, and he’s going to have to do it himself. And if he, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to confront her, then it’s really not going to be your place to do so on his behalf.

I don’t know your family, and I don’t know what the whole dynamic is, so I’m going to have to make some assumptions here. I am assuming that your sister is fairly manipulative, and is taking advantage of your vulnerable parents. If that’s true, that is really, really appalling, and you have every right to be angry. I can completely relate to what it’s like to support yourself when the people closest to you seem to get so much extra help. It’s unbelievably frustrating.

But if your sister is as sensitive as you say she is, and if other people’s approval is as important to her as you say it is, I worry that this sort of confrontation is not the way to go. It’s been my experience that seemingly manipulative, spoiled people are solely motivated by greed. Do you know if there are underlying reasons why she spends so compulsively, at such a rate that she’s willing to risk her relationship to her father? You are going to have to start there. Don’t assume this is all about having a good pair of shoes or whatever. If she’s lying about what happens with your father, chances are she already feels pretty bad about all of this, and shaming someone into change never works. You don’t want her to be so embarrassed or depressed that she wants to change — you want her to realize her past behavior was wrong and to make a genuine heartfelt change because it’s best for her and your family.

If your father doesn’t want to confront her, and he doesn’t want you to do any confronting either, then you’re going to have to work on your anger on your own. You’re going to have to accept that your sister will do what she wants, and so will your parents, and that the only person’s behavior that you are responsible for is yours.

5. I spent two years in an awkward, terrible relationship with someone who told me what to do all the time (including what I was allowed to wear, talk about, who to hang out with, etc). I know this is terrible and it is over now! I am with a new, wonderful, sparkling, does-not-tell-me-what-to-do person! I’ve been out of that terrible Relationship A for two years, and onto great Relationship B for one year. The problem is that I still think about Relationship A, and Person A, all the time, in the forms of angry inner monologues, fantasies about car crashes, etc. I’ve been trying (for two years!) to let the matter drop, and am still upset by how much I think about it. I think it’s because I never got closure in this relationship; after putting up with two terrible, abusive years, he dumped me by cheating on me and telling me about it with a kind of “hey, I’m with her now” email. Is it wrong to want to send a letter (with no return address!) to give myself some closure, or should I just drop the idea and give myself more time?

Congratulations on happy Relationship B! Good for you, and I really mean that. You absolutely did the right thing.

But to answer your question, yes, you really should drop the letter idea and give yourself more time. I know that’s going to be really difficult. I am the kind person who has basically made a career out of angry internal monologues. I’m really, really rageful — just filled with rage all the time — and it takes me years to get over this kind of thing. I have spent hours rehearsing my rageful speeches in the mirror, imagining how amazing it would feel to finally get everything off my chest and finally move on.

There was one situation in particular that was just so weird and painful, and because of logistics I was confronted with it all the fucking time. To put it mildly, it drove me nuts. To put it accurately, I was completely obsessed with my own anger. I felt cheated out of closure, and I wanted nothing more than to scream in that person’s face every time I saw them (which had to be very often, because of the aforementioned logistics). I felt that way for about three years. Sometimes I had those moments of clarity where you realize exactly how much energy you’re wasting on sustaining all that rage, and sometimes I just wanted to let it go, but I couldn’t — I really thought I needed the screaming in order to move on.

Of course, you probably already know the end of this story, but I’ll tell you anyway: one day, I just didn’t feel like screaming anymore. I could look at that person and not be filled with rage. All of a sudden, I sort of understood them, and I recognized how that person was flawed and how those flaws had led them to hurt me, and I just didn’t feel the anger anymore. I know it’s infuriating, but it really did just happen one day.

I think, without consciously realizing it, I figured something out about closure, and brace yourself because it’s going to be something so cliched, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. Closure is not something that anyone else can give to you. You really do have to give it to yourself, and you really have to be ready for it. Trying to force someone else to give you what you need, especially when that person is a total loser jerk, never works. Try to limit those mean monologues as much as you can, but if you need them, don’t fight it. Allow yourself to be as upset as you need to be, for as long as you need to be, and just try to fill your life with as many positive thoughts and experiences and relationships as you can. The closure will follow.

Previously: Lingerers, Admirers, and Silent Girl.

A Lady is one of several rotating ladies who know everything. Do you have any questions for A Lady? (300-word max, please.)

Photo via gemphotography, via Shutterstock

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