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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dear Bitch,
I'm a divorced woman, 42, and I have a friend who I think might be interested in being more than friends. The problem is, I don't know for sure and I'm afraid if I say something and he isn't interested, it'll be weird and there goes the friendship! I really like him as a person and it seems to me we have mutual respect.

Is there any way of knowing for sure that he's interested without asking? I really don't know what to do. Would you say something and take the chance? Or should I assume that if he's really interested, he'd make a move?

Sincerely,
Friend Without Benefits

Dear FWB,
This is one of those tough ones. I've faced this very situation - more than once, and from both sides (initiator and initiatee). One of those friends, I married (and eventually divorced). One turned me down and we're still good friends. Another one turned into a torrid affair, an emotional train wreck that lasted for years and left deep scars. So there you go.

How can you tell when a guy is interested? I gave up a while ago. I just can't tell. No, let me amend that: I can tell when they're interested, but I'll be goddamned if I can predict whether they'll actually do anything about it. Personally, I have my own rejection issues, and I don't want to make the first move. So where does that leave things?

It depends on what you need. More often than not, I need someone to be interested enough to make that first move. However, my male friends tell me how paralyzed they get at the thought that a woman might reject them and if there's a ghost of a chance she'll say no, they won't even try. Some fine mess, huh?

I've read those books like "The Rules" and "He's Just Not That Into You." To an extent, I think they're true. But not all people are alike. Some men are painfully shy, some have no social skills and some really, truly don't want to risk losing your friendship. (Sucks, I know.) Some are just too afraid of being rejected to pick up on what seem to you the incredibly obvious clues you're strewing in his path.

Let me list some standard clues. Maybe you could show them to him and get his reaction.

First of all, when a woman talks to you about sex, it means on some level, she thinks you're doable. (Or gay.) Doable is halfway there. Women won't even mention sex to men they wouldn't do, because they don't want to give them ideas.

If a woman finds you physically repulsive, she won't touch you if she can avoid it. (Or she thinks you're gay. Don't worry, it's usually pretty easy to figure out if a woman thinks you're gay.) If she doesn't find you physically repulsive, odds are she could be attracted to you under the right circumstances.

You know, I can't think of anything else because I just realized something: Women don't want the clues to be too obvious, because they don't want to feel all pathetic and shit if the guy isn't interested.

Christ, it's a wonder men and women ever get together. I give up.

Sincerely,

The Bitch


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Dear Bitch,
I'm sure my daughter is bi-polar. She had a very troubled adolescence, seemed to calm down when she got married but got worse again after she had a baby - my grandson, who I adore. She flies into sudden rages all the time and while I don't believe she'd hurt the baby physically, it can't be good for him to grow up around that.

She and her husband are in counseling, but she refuses to bring up the possibility with the therapist. Would I be out of line telling her myself?

Signed,
Worried Mom


Dear WoMo,
Forget that, you can't call her shrink. She has to maintain some trust with the person she's seeing.

You don't have a lot of options here and I feel for you. If you're really worried about the kid, you need to take the offensive. Hit her right in the maternal guilt and tell her she needs to get this checked out. Yes, she may scream at you - but better you than the kid.

There isn't anything much harder to deal with than a family member with mental illness, because so much of it appears to be personality and it's almost impossible to tell the difference. If I were you, I'd check out your local chapter of AMI.

Good luck,
The Bitch

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dear Bitch,
I was involved with this married guy for three years until I finally "got" what a lying creep he is, and that any future with him would only end up with me being the next one cheated on. I recently found out from a friend that right after I dumped him, he finally moved out, got divorced and remarried a much younger woman six months later.

My friend says the new Mrs. believes that his ex-wife is a rotten bitch for no good reason. (She has a good reason. She found out that even though he'd promised her it was over after he got caught, he'd never stopped seeing me.)

This offends my sense of karmic justice, and I'm tempted to contact the new wife and tell her what really happened. I know it would only hurt her and she wouldn't believe me - at least, not at first. I even know what he'd tell her because it's what happened when his ex-wife first found out about me - I was "some nut who kept throwing herself" at him and "nothing happened." She was smart enough to know he was lying.

I'm also now stricken with remorse at how indifferent I was to the feelings of his ex. She's remarried now, too, and I hope she's happy. Would it be inappropriate of me to apologize at this late date?

When my friend told me he was married, I didn't sleep that night. I was shocked to realize I was still so angry at him.

What do I do now?

Signed,
The Invisible One


Dear TIO,
This is the first letter I've gotten in a long time. I didn't know anyone still read this!

I feel bad for you because boy, does this bring back some painful memories. (Let's just say been there, done that, got the T-shirt. He even used the same "crazy" line.) There's a damned good reason for all those cliches about married men - they're usually true. There might be some guys in this situation who are okay, but for purposes of female mental health, they're statistically insignificant. Just assume the worst and odds are, you'll be right.

Mine was even worse than your run-of-the-mill serial cheater, if you can believe it. So yeah, I know a little something about the emotional aftermath of a train wreck. It ain't pretty - and it sure as hell ain't easy.

First of all, don't do anything. The longer you don't do anything, the better you'll feel. Don't Google him, don't pump your friend for information. (In fact, tell your friend you don't want to hear about him again.) Don't feed the demon dog of obsession.

And that means you don't apologize to his ex-wife. Odds are, she doesn't want to hear it, and you probably don't want to do this for her - it's really just a sneaky way of sticking a knife in your ex. Maybe you don't see that right now, but trust me on this.

What you're struggling with right now is the need to regain a sense of control. You have some awful feelings because this man you loved (and believed loved you back) has done something that indicates you didn't even make a dent in his heart or soul. And you know what? You'll never know if you did. That sucks, but there it is.

You probably told yourself he was incapable of making a commitment, and yet here he is, married again.

What's that old saying? "Women mourn, men replace." Don't torture yourself by assuming the facade of his life is somehow suddenly more meaningful this time, and that you weren't worthy enough to be a contender. Odds are, he will act exactly the same with his new wife as he did with his old one. (As one of my male friends says, "When was the last time you saw a leopard with squares instead of spots?")

And when you're dealing with cheaters, you have to consider that her main attraction might simply be that she seems young and gullible enough to believe his stories. (You know, the way you used to be.)

I read recently that the biggest tool for spiritual growth is the ability to accept paradox. So how can we possibly accept the idea that someone might have really loved us, yet acted in the most craven, unloving way possible?

The answer is, we have to. Otherwise, you've agreed to be hobbled by your own past. Please accept that on some level, you did matter to this man. It's not your fault that he's so flawed. Some damaged men feel like the only way anyone will love them is if they manage to hide their true selves. So they compulsively seek periodic fresh starts, denying the reality of their own emotionally chaotic past.

You feel rejected. That nagging self-doubt that let you fall into this mess in the first place tells you there was a contest, that she (the new wife) won and you lost. But knowing what you know now about this man, is that really true? Seems to me you're the real winner here.

I occasionally hear about my ex, and almost always, it's fine. Once in a great while, it's not, and I can't believe how quickly I spiral down. The paradox I have trouble balancing? The undisputed fact that he's such a deeply disturbed man against the depressing admission that I still have residual emotions for someone so crazy. It makes me feel ashamed, somehow. Like a chump.

It's probably not much more complicated than this. When you're a normal, caring human being, you just get into the habit of loving someone and it's difficult to make it stop on command. (My ex-husband and I still called each other "honey" for a long time after the divorce.)

Although I never smoked, my mother did. Even though she loved smoking, she knew it was bad for her and she stopped when her sister had a stroke. And now, several decades later, she says she still really, really misses it. Not enough to start again, not enough to harm herself like that - but some mornings, she's struck by a powerful wave of longing for a cigarette.

I think it's like that. Sometimes I just remember the sensation, the sheer pleasure of loving him - without ever, ever wanting to go back. Without ever forgetting how very, very bad he was for me.

Once you accept that paradox, you'll feel better, I think.

The Bitch

Thursday, January 29, 2004

KOYAANISQATSI

Dear Bitch,
I am the sister in the "Sad for Sis" letter. I think you missed the most important sentence written in her letter to you.

When she said my friend had told me in so many words that she was "not interested in doing anything that does not involve her children," she was not paraphrasing my comments. Nor was I paraphrasing my friend when I said this.

This Saturday night we (my friend, her two sisters, her sister-in-law and I - most of my inner circle) are going to have a "girls night out." This is the first time in eight years that my friend has been willing to spend an evening without her daughters, and it was like pulling teeth for her sister-in-law to get her to stay committed to an evening without the girls. We had to change our plans several times to ensure that we could have a "grown-up" evening. She even tried to get us to have dinner and then go back to her house where we would have our girls night and her daughter would just stay in her room.

Now I know your first reaction is to say, "Oh, she doesn't have kids, so she just wants her friend to dump the kids and go gadding about." I'm not asking her to go solo every time we get together. I would love to have one or two times a year when we can hang out and revisit our lost youth.

All of my friends have kids and I love to visit with them. My problem is not the children, my problem is that my friend made a decision that she would not participate in any social functions that excluded her children. ANY.

I spend plenty of time on the telephone with her and my other friends so that we can chat when they have a moment. I visit them on weekend afternoons and evenings and make a number of concessions to fit our time around their kids. They do the same for me, when I have tight deadlines, they generally understand that I can't spend 20+ minutes on the phone at work to chat and we catch up on the weekend. I understand their need to bond and nurture their children, and these kids are my nieces and nephews.

I couldn't love them more if we shared genetic material, but just as I wanted to spend sister time with my sis when her kids were small, I want to spend some sister time with this friend, like I do with my other mommy friends.

There are lots of selfish reasons why I occasionally want to spend adult time with this friend, but there are also unselfish reasons. You named a few of them, kids grow up and it takes them 20 years to appreciate what their parents gladly gave up, the pressures of a society that seems designed to guarantee that all women feel they are failing in some area, etc, etc, etc.

I want her to have an occasional outlet to just be herself - not wife, not mom, just her. I have pressures from family, work, friends, volunteering etc. that all try to force me to be someone else's ideal. I believe it is required and not optional to remember who we are on at least a semi-annual basis. To touch that person inside who could laugh until it hurt, spin in circles until you were so dizzy you fell, sing at the top of your lungs (regardless of your ability) and who KNEW that the world had been waiting for you to grow up and invent, discover and experience EVERYTHING.

Signed,
Supporter of the Inner Mom


Dear SIM,
Thanks for the additional details. And no, I wasn't really making assumptions about you - only asking.

One of the advantages of being a middle-aged broad is (yes, there are some, despite that chin-whisker thing), you have a much better sense of what's worth your limited time and energy. Keep this in mind as you read.

Your friend, for whatever compulsive and subconscious reason, has decided to aspire to the title of Supermom. She might just as easily have decided to marry someone who beats her, have an affair with the mailman, or hit the crack pipe as soon as the kids leave for school. But no, the Supermom thing is her drug of choice.

I don't use the term lightly. To far too many people these days, parenthood is a drug. Something you use to escape something else.

In your friend's case, the term "sublimation" comes to mind. She's taking an awful lot of her inner self and channeling it into one direction. And what is she avoiding? Sexual energy, probably. Lots and lots of crappy marriages are held together by parents focusing solely on the kids instead of each other. If you don't want to have sex with your mate, you can always run yourself and the kids ragged instead.

In my experience, the best marriages and happiest families are the ones in which the parents communicate this message to the kids: "You know, we love you and you're so important. But you're not the only thing that's important, and we need time for each other, too."

(Another possibility that occurs to me is, she might be one of these people who thinks they've made a bargain with God, and she made a solemn vow to devote herself solely to her children "if only" something else didn't happen. For instance, I knew a woman who believed God gave her child a serious illness to punish her for having an affair. As if! It's always about sex, isn't it? What else do people go to such lengths to hide - or hide from?)

You may be shocked to hear that, as extreme as your friend seems to you, I've seen worse. How about this one? Someone still nursing her six-year-old son, who sleeps in the bed with him every night - and got a job teaching her son's class so she wouldn't have to be separated from him. (Would it surprise you if I told you the father is rather obviously seeking an affair? Dear God, not with a ten-foot pole. Eek.)

I had a close friend who home-schooled. Not all that unusual, and even laudable in many cases. But, as I told her, "I don't think you do it for your kids. I think you do it for you. I think you don't want to have to figure out what you want to do when you grow up."

I remember seeing a story in the local paper about a support group for "empty-nest" parents. (I had a bit of trouble relating to the idea.) Turns out my ex-husband knew the founder. "Well, I'd file that under the category of 'Needs a life,' " I snickered.

"They're just people whose kids are everything to them," he said. "They're not so bad."

"Yeah? Let's ask the kids when they're 40," I suggested. But hey, enough with the snide cracks. Your friend has a very real problem; her life is way out of balance. And there's not a damned thing you can do about it.

You can tell her the way you feel; you probably already have. Keep telling her in that "I-message" way: "Gee, it really makes me sad that we have no time alone together. I really need to stay connected to you, and it's hard when I can't. I miss you." You know the sort of thing. Try to avoid the "you" messages, as in, "What are you, a fucking nut? Jesus Christ, even Mary and Joseph took a break from the kid once in a while."

You don't really have many options, SIM. What I was trying to say in my last answer is that, ultimately, people simply have to go through whatever seemingly crazy phase they're going through. You can't rush it, talk them around it, cajole, threaten or manipulate. You can only take the opportunity to wait for your friend to deal with whatever it is she's trying so hard to avoid.

Trust me. One day, whatever it is will spring off the leash and all hell will break loose. Until then, well, at least you got her to go away for the weekend. Here's hoping she doesn't crap out at the last minute. Let me know how it goes.

Sincerely,
THE BITCH



Thursday, January 22, 2004

HEY KIDS, LET'S PUT ON A SHOW!
Dear Bitch,
Not that I want to be in competition with you, but how did you start your blog? I want to start a blog. Where does one blog? Does blogging cost much?

I want to force my opinions- er, share my views with unknown others. Do the stars bode well for this adventure? Do you think anyone other than my sister will read it? I have opinions galore and I make my sister listen to them. She needs a break.

Signed,
ITCHING TO BLOG


Dear Itch,
Gentle reader, I chuckle at the thought. As if anyone could compete with The Bitch.

Blogging is an avocation. It destroys your life, it eats up time and it renders you a mute, quivering mass who begins to dream in HTML.

Other than that, though, it's a lot of fun.

Blogging itself is pretty simple - and free. Go to Blogger.com or Livejournal.com and sign up - they'll walk you through it. All you need to know are a few HTML tags for things like bold, italics and quotations, and how to insert a hyperlink for a reference story. (Suggestion: Pick a name that starts with a letter that's early in the alphabet - if other bloggers link to you, it moves you higher in the list.)

I picked up a lot of this stuff through the kindness of other bloggers. The rest, you learn by doing - and Googling. If you want actual readers, be patient; it takes a while. Please don't send any of those pathetic "Will you PLEASE link to me?" letters. And don't be a link whore, who links to everyone else so they'll link to you. Be selective. (When you want to add your own links, go to Blogrolling.com.)

One last word of advice: If you have a job where your opinions may get you fired, don't blog under your real name.

Just promise me this isn't a blog where you pretend to be your cat. Because I hate those.

Sincerely,
THE BITCH

Friday, January 09, 2004

MOTHERHOOD VS. ADULTHOOD
Dear Bitch,
My favorite sister (I've got three) has this horrible problem. Her oldest friend (they’re both over 35 and friends since early grade school) is now married, with two children, and a stay-at-home Mom. My sister is a lifelong single, no ankle-biters, and has a high-stress job as a project manager at the corporate office of a national entertainment chain. The friend has told my sister, in so many words, "I'm not interested in doing anything that does not involve my children."

My sister is terribly torn over this issue. She wants so desperately to connect with her friend, and have some 'adults only' time with her.

I've suggested a number of avenues that she could pursue to encourage the friend to spend some 'alone time' with her. My sister is adamant that it is not possible, that the friend will write her off if she persists in approaching her with ideas on how to have some fun without the kiddies. (Birth data included.)

Any ideas?

Signed,
Sad for Sis

Dear Sad,

Well, yeah, I have a few thoughts. And the first one is, is your sister bad-vibing her friend? I had children when my friends didn't, and as a result, I was ignored, lectured to, or pitied. (From what you know of The Bitch, you can imagine how well that went over.)

Sis is a Libra, and we can be pretty thoughtless because we’re so ultra-logical (the only sign of the zodiac represented by a machine). Plus, she’s got her moon in Sag, which makes her prone to blurting out feelings better left unsaid.

If your sister wants to strengthen the bond with her friend, she needs to accept the limitations that go with the reality of her friend's life - much like having an affair with a married man. Stolen moments, as it were, heavy on phone contact and quiet yearning for what could have been. Either accept it for what it is, or move on. (But that's another letter.)

The phone is a lifeline for moms. I can’t imagine she doesn’t want to talk to your sister – unless Sis makes subtle digs at her for not being efficient enough to make time to see her without the kids. Who needs that aggravation?

As to her friend: I believe, with all my heart, that we pay entirely too much attention to children. That is to say, too much of the wrong kind of attention and not enough of the right kind.

There are so many insidious pressures on parents: Academic, psychological, social. Look at the commercials! If you care about your children, you’re supposed to buy the safest car, take them to Disney World, soccer, martial arts, ballet and pottery class. You have to make them take their Ritalin or they won’t get into the top schools, they won’t get good jobs and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT.

Parents of the world, understand this: It will all be your fault, anyway.

Mothers are especially prone to the pressure; women try harder to fit in, to please. Of course, The Bitch is not one of those women.

I remember a Cub Scout meeting where I was given an assignment: Show up for the next meeting at 5:30 with five dozen cupcakes. I raised my hand and asked, "Why can't we ask the fathers to take care of this?" A shocked silence, then: "Because they work."

"Well, I work, too," I said. "And I don't get home until 5:30. Neither does my husband. I can't do this."

You would have thought I threw a grenade into the room. Because after all, women are supposed to do what they're asked. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've always had an extremely high resistance to this sort of thing. (Pluto in the 10th house. Apparently I was a man in my last life.)

So your sister's friend is probably dealing with all that, too - on top of the simmering disapproval of her oldest friend.

In light of the national divorce rate, parents are simply insane not to nourish their friendships. (While the spouses may come and go, a friend is forever.) And your grown kids will not be grateful for a life of your abject servitude. They will find the weight of it too heavy for them to carry; they will most certainly resent you for it.

If there were one thing I could say to parents (as someone who raised two, mostly by myself), it would be this: Lighten the fuck up. Take some time for yourself, and if you’re married, for your marriage. Because no matter what you do or don’t do, your kids will still blame you. (Trust me on this. I tell mine, “Well honey, you just take that up with the therapist you can hopefully afford by your thirties.”)

Parents have taken the same dysfunctional focus and perfectionist expectations they used to put into their jobs and aimed it at their poor defenseless kids. Parenting has become just another high-pressure, high-status career track.

As an aside, just let me get this off my chest. I believe one of the worst things you can do to children is get them more familiar with the word “yes” than the word “no.”

“No” is a perfectly respectable parenting tool, to be used liberally. “No, mommy’s on the phone right now. Don’t interrupt.” “No, you may not play another video game until after you finish your homework.” "No, I won't buy that for you." "No, it's bedtime." "No, you can't sign up for any more activities."

And most important of all: “No, we do NOT interrupt Mommy while she’s in the bathroom. Not unless someone is bleeding a whole lot.” I can't believe all these grown women who tell me they can't go to the bathroom by themselves. And bedtime - I had a neighbor who used to say, "You're so lucky! How do you get yours to go to bed?"

"I put them in bed, we read a story, we say prayers and I turn out the lights. It's not as if they have a choice," I told her. "After all, I'm bigger than them."

The thing those “yes” parents can’t admit is, they’re lazy. (I'm lazy, too - that's why I said no. Because I figured it was a lot easier to say it to a two-year-old than a teenager.) It’s a lot easier to say yes and it makes you a hero – for now. But just wait until they finally get that therapist! When you love someone, you set limits. It goes with the turf, and all the Suzuki violin lessons in the world won’t change it.

I feel bad for those parents, but much worse for their kids, because they’re living in a fantasyland that makes them ill suited for polite society. (Or restaurants.) Your parents are supposed to teach you discipline – which is not, as many people think, the ability to follow someone else’s rules. It’s the ability to instill rules in yourself.

Where was I? Oh yes, your sister's friend. Reality, and the acceptance thereof.

It's kind of like this. If your sister's friend was in a car accident, and was confined to a wheelchair as a result, would your sister resent her for not being able to go out clubbing? Probably not. Well, motherhood is kind of like being in a wheelchair. At the very least, you're hobbled for a while.

And good friends understand that. This is an important transition in a friendship, and you don't desert your friend because she can't dance now. She will, eventually - but not now.

Odds are 50/50 that one day, your sister will be the one in the Mommy wheelchair. And then she'll have the benefit of a good friend who understands exactly what it's like.

Sincerely,
BITCH

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Dear Bitch,
The drug companies claim they are just looking out for people’s health by trying to keep unsafe medicines from being brought into this country from other countries.

The big question for the drug companies is: Why is a drug, sold in Canada and costing less, somehow dangerous but the same drug made by the same company and bought in the US is OK? Are they trying to tell us that Pfizer’s Expensomax medicine sold in Canada is hazardous but has better quality control if bought in the US? If I lived in Canada, I’d sure as heck want an explanation.

Signed,
Cynical Consumer


Dear Consumer,
I asked an honest-to-good industry expert - who wants to remain in the industry, so this is off-the-record. Here's his reply:
There's quality control that over the drug as it's being made (how it's formulated, quality of raw materials, accuracy of the manufacturing process - that's where validation comes into play), then there's quality control over the drug after it's been made (how is it stored and shipped). Where you buy it has no bearing on the former - but could on the latter.

The argument that your poster makes could be supported in theory along the lines that "if this drug is being warehoused in some non-temperature-controlled igloo in Canada, there's a better chance that the drug could lose its efficacy that there would be if it was stored in a 24/7/365 climate-controlled warehouse here in 'merka."

Whether that's true in practice, I dunno. You could draw an analogy to the bad scallions/hepatitis outbreak at Chili's (or ChiChis, forget which) not too long ago. A scallion is a scallion is a scallion, but if the Mexican migrant worker didn't wash his hands after wiping his ass then handled the scallions, I'm more likely to get hepatitis or e. coli than I would be if a so-called "good 'merkun with good 'merkun standards of hygiene" harvested those scallions.

The poster is right, though. The US pharma position tries to posit that any drugs not purchased within the borders of the US are somehow not fit for consumption by good 'merkuns. It insults Canadians as well as everyone else in the world - even where it's justified.

None of it justifies the unfair burden of bearing the costs of pharma R&D, manufacturing and marketing placed on the US consumer.

My opinion: eliminate direct-to-patient marketing completely; that should allow prices to come back down a tad. At least it's a start.
Here's my own two cents, Cynical: If the quality of handling for Canadian drugs is so iffy, how come we're not hearing anything about it from the Canadians?

Sincerely,
Bitch

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