Guest Post

  • A Friend Who Gives Too Many Gifts

    Do you have a friend who is too generous?

    In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a question about a friend who gives too many gifts as well as how to end a friendship with someone who is not taking the hint. We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Please add your two cents!

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    HerTakenoavatar

    Dear Nina,

    I would very much welcome advice on a situation that has been happening over the last year or so. I moved areas, and a woman (“Kim”) whom I had met online and talked to a bit said she lived fairly close and suggested we meet up. I thought it was nice she reached out as I was getting settled in a new place.

    That first time Kim and I met, she brought me a little present. Then when we got together again, she brought me a tote bag. Another time, I went up to her city, and while we were in a bookshop she bought me three little books. We’ve met up at least six times and on every outing she’s either brought me a gift or bought something for me while we were shopping. I’ve never bought her anything. I don’t feel guilty about this, but I do feel a bit awkward. I feel as though I’m being courted, which is a bit odd. (Just for clarity we are both straight.)

    I have at least two other friends who buy me gifts now and then and vice versa. In those friendships it seems to work out, but with Kim, I feel as though there are strings attached. She’s never said, “I buy you things so you have to be my friend,” but that’s how it feels, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

    One other issue is that I’m coming to the conclusion that Kim is a very negative person. The first time or two, I assumed she was having a particularly bad time or was tired. But in most of our time together she complains about people and situations. If someone says something or does something that could possibly cause offense, she takes the offense.

    As I hear how I sound in this note, I know that I’m not interested in continuing this friendship. The negative talk makes me dread seeing Kim and so does the gift giving. Unfortunately, I’ve already tried to pull away and she doesn’t take hints. No matter how busy I say I am, or how many meet ups I refuse, she carries on suggesting more and sending me long emails. (I am currently only replying to every other one.) I’m really not sure what to do next.

    Thanks for the help,

    Yours In Bafflement

     

    Dear Yours In Bafflement,

    Before we address ending this friendship, we need to discuss the gift giving. I admire people who get gift giving exactly right. Kim is clearly an over-giver. There’s no reason to exchange gifts with friends at every lunch, dinner, walk, and so on. On the flip side, I tend to suffer from under-giving. I might show up to a casual, last-minute birthday dinner with a card while a few of the other women found the time to procure the perfect small gift for just such a moment. I’m rarely the one to organize big group gifts for friends. It’s not that I don’t care about my friends, it’s simply one of those areas where the right thing to give and do is less obvious to me. My point is this: we all have different gift-giving styles, but somewhere between Kim’s style and mine is likely the sweet spot.

    More important than the “right” way to give gifts, however, is the issue of why you never told Kim that her method was making you uncomfortable. The fact that Kim didn’t take the hint about the gifts when you never reciprocated is unfortunate, but you need to take responsibility for not speaking up about it after the third time. First time, yes accept the gift. Second time, another gift is surprising, but not quite cause for concern. The third gift and certainly the fourth, fifth, and sixth ones were all opportunities to gently say how much you appreciate the gesture in concept, but the idea of being spoiled by a friend was feeling uncomfortable. We can’t assume that our silent messages (like never showing up with a gift for her) are being communicated to the next person. Your silence might have encouraged Kim to continue giving gifts and to seeing you as a closer friend than you are. When we give, we often feel closer to the next person. I’m guessing Kim felt closer to you with each get together.

    Likewise, Kim hasn’t picked up other hints. She hasn’t recognized you as an (understandably) unreceptive audience to her complaining and therefore has continued to complain. And she hasn’t noticed your lack of enthusiasm for making plans. Kim obviously does not pick up your hints, which means the onus is on you to communicate more clearly. I’m guessing you don’t like confrontation. (Does anyone?) Nevertheless, you owe more directness to Kim, a woman who welcomed you to town and tried to be your friend.

    For the record, I want to say that your attempts to subtly give Kim the message that you’re not terribly interested in a friendship was the right way to go at first. I do think it’s unnecessary to be direct with every person as nobody wants to be told that the next person is too busy to make time. When I say “direct,” I do not mean that you should say, “I don’t want to be friends because you complain too much and the gifts were over the top.” That type of honesty would be unkind. Kim’s style may be perfectly fine for someone else. There are plenty of people who like to engage in the drama of “being offended.” I also find it tiresome when someone manages to find a way to feel offended at every turn, but for some women, bonding over such “battle wounds” is an essential friendship ritual.

    As for exactly what to do next with this friendship, I turned to my mom to help you because she has mastered the art of balancing the subtle with the direct. I sent her your question and this is what she said:

    “Clearly Yours In Bafflement wants to end the friendship. The question is how. Perhaps she should answer every third email, then every fourth email. There is no point in having a confrontation, if she has no interest in continuing the relationship. If, on the other hand, she does not mind seeing Kim on occasion, then she has to set some ground rules. First, no more gifts. Second, if Kim persists on complaining about other people, then Bafflement might consider asking Kim if she can put herself in the other person’s shoes. Maybe she can offer a different way to look at the “offense.” That would be an interesting conversation. There is no reason for Bafflement (or anyone) to be mute and listen to the complaints without offering some feedback. If, however, all of the above seems like too much work, I would advise fading away a little bit at a time.”

    A quick note on my mom and gifts. My mom and my nieces are staying at my house this week. My mom remembered our shortage of towels from the last time she visited so what do think arrived in a big Bloomingdales box days before her trip? New towels! It was the perfect hostess gift for me because my mom knows I like useful gifts most of all.

    I hope our advice helped and that you’re able to let this friendship go in the kindest way possible.

    Good luck! Nina (and my mom, Kathy)

     

     

    You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. UPDATE (2019): Find Nina and her advice column at HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

     

  • HerStories Voices: Good Morning Chaos

    I must admit, when I first read this week’s essay, I experienced a bit of anxiety. The events of Jackie Pick’s morning routine gave my heart palpitations, and yet I was also comforted by the fact that I am not alone. I don’t know how many times I have asked myself if my children thrive on chaos. For the record, this momma does not – not that that matters to anyone in my family. I think many readers will commiserate with Jackie. – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    We have routines. Bags packed the night before. Clothes laid out. A healthy breakfast every morning. Daily chores—the same ones each day. Consistency. We’ve been getting up and getting ready for school for years, and yet I’m not sure why so many mornings feel like we’re one missing library book away from total systemic failure.

    The goal? Leave the house prepared and ready to face the day at 8:15. This gives us plenty of time to get to school by the first bell at 8:25 without them racing to their classrooms and starting the day feeling behind.

    As morning shift supervisor cum breakfast chef/hair stylist, one cup of hot coffee is all I want in the mornings. The children seem to sense the best part of my waking up and horn in on this, no matter what time of day I’m percolating.

    Will today be the day our routines work for us?

    5:45 I rise, put on a pot of coffee, and make a plan to get the house organized before the rest of the family wakes up.

    5:46 Rest of family wakes up.

    5:47 Older children ask if they can help make their breakfasts.

    5:48 We mop up eggs that were accidentally dropped on the floor. I ask the kids to let me finish breakfast prep.

    5:50 Breakfast is served.

    5:51 Breakfast is over.

    5:52 The children disappear into corners of the house unknown, their whereabouts only hinted at by the occasional shrieks, giggles, and kerfuffles. My coffee is left untouched by timely requests for assistance with toothpaste, shoes, clothing, sibling disputes, forgotten homework, last minute projects involving dried pasta, friendship issues, questions about death, and dog walking.

    7:45 AM. I start the countdown.

    “Thirty minutes! You need to be in the car in thirty minutes! Are you dressed and ready to go?”

    “Yes!” they reply. I grab my coffee cup, reheat it, and head to my bedroom to throw on some clothes. I pause at the boys’ bedroom, which looks like a FEMA training site.

    “Kids! Do your chores!”

    They don’t respond, so I seek them out. One son has taken up refuge under a blanket to read. Another is in the basement with his sister, cracking open a paint set that, I note with horror, is not water soluble.

    “Boys and girl, please do your chores. And also,” I say to the one who has Jackson Pollocked his clothing, “Please change. We leave in 28 minutes.”

    “Okay.” There is no push back, but they move in slow motion. I urge them to put some pep in their step with a motivational tool I like to call, “The Raised Eyebrow.”

    8:00. Chores are completed due in no small part to my hovering over them like a gargoyle with morning breath.

    “We are leaving in fifteen minutes! Make sure you brush your teeth!” My youngest runs up to me and asks if I will braid her hair. I gaze as my coffee longingly as I divide her soft, wild curls into three sections.

    8:07 One son decides this is the perfect time to practice piano. His desire to improve his accuracy is evidenced by his playing those wrong notes repeatedly and loudly. I praise his persistence and turn away so he can’t see my nervous twitch.

    8:09 The other son informs me he can’t find a permission slip I need to sign, his hat, his shoes, or his “good” socks. We treasure hunt. It is not exactly a mother-son bonding opportunity.

    8:14 I call the kids for a final inspection. What had been, moments before, three dressed children, are now three piles of laundry with bare feet and questionable hairstyles. Faces have regrown fragments of last night’s barbecue sauce, and teeth are decidedly Hulk-ish: green and angry.

    “What are you doing? That’s not what you were wearing before.”

    “We changed.”

    “I see that. Where are the clothes you were wearing?” I don’t know why I bother to ask, I know exactly where these perfectly clean clothes are: in a heap on the floor three inches from the laundry basket.

    “You didn’t brush your teeth,” I say.

    “We did!”

    “With toothpaste?”

    They run to the bathroom.

    8:18 The three kids run back to the front hall where I am desperately pulling a floor-length parka on over my pajamas. They all tumble together in a giant whirlwind of feet and arms. I stop and hold each one, wiping tears and kissing boo-boos. We all take a deep breath. “It’s going to be a great day!” I say more to convince myself than to convince them. They are placated with their choice of Band-Aids.

    8:20 Our shedding dog rubs up against all the children to say goodbye, taking them from “rumpled-shabby” to “fuzzy.” The kids want to change clothes again; I offer them a lint brush that I keep handy for just such emergencies. They begin trying to lint brush each other, to their great amusement.

    “You have ten seconds to get in the car, or I’m going to school without you.” I grab a floppy hat and my husband’s Ray Bans to disguise my unkempt hair and tired eyes. I wonder what to do if those ten seconds pass. Will I have to drive to school and do a weird victory lap around the parking lot?

    I rattle the coffee mug that’s been in the cup holder since yesterday. There is a solid lump of coffee ice that is too far down in the mug for me to lick.

    The front door slams again as three children run out of the house, grinning and excited and without coats. I send them back inside.

    8:21 They come out with coats on, but without backpacks. Back they go.

    8:22 The children fly into the car, tossing their backpacks in the front seat to avoid getting the snow and ice on the car floor on their bags. I squeeze my shoulders together to try to steer without hitting a sharp notebook corner. Once I put the key in the ignition, there is a wall of sound that hits me. It’s not the radio; it’s my children, talking all at once, sharing all the details about their day yesterday. Details I tried in vain to pry out of them at dinner last night, to avail. Last night, everything was “fine.” Today, there are stories, sensory details, hopes, dreams, and subplots. Three at once.

    8:24 We make it to the drop-off lane. I pull around and about ten seconds before we get to the teacher whose job it is to open the car doors and get trampled by kids who are jumping out of the car, I ask the kids to gather their bags, unbuckle, and prepare to exit the vehicle. The door is opened with a smile. “GO GO GO!” I urge. I’m half cheerleader, half pit-crew.

    While my children tumble out of the car, they say a hurried “I love you!” without turning around. I choose to believe those sentiments are for me, even if they seem lobbed at the front door of the school. I’m ready to go home to finally enjoy my coffee and decompress when there is a tap on my window.

    One of the teachers wants to talk with me about something. She smilingly motions for me to pull over and step out of the car. There’s no way for me to convincingly act like I didn’t see or hear her, nor can I hide myself in the picnic basket in the back of the car.

    I sigh, pull over, and step out. The teacher hands me the permission slip form we’d searched for this morning. She goes over the form with me, line by excruciating line, all while I’m scanning the parking lot to see who is seeing me in an outfit that makes me look like Minnie Pearl’s Arctic chauffeur. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the sunlight dancing off the zipper on one mom’s bathrobe as she drives off, avoiding eye contact. I thank the teacher and race back into my car. From behind the slightly-tinted glass I truly look around the drop-off for the first time. Parents in pajamas. Parents dressed for work. Moms in athleisure wear. One dad in what I’m pretty sure is a nacho hat. A mom in a prom dress and mukluks. Someone else in jeans rolled just the right way. The children, though, are put together. They seem groomed, fed, rested, and for the most part, excited. They are ready to learn.

    That’s the goal, after all. We’ve all achieved it, by hook, crook, or pre-dawn wake up. With assistance, without assistance, with routines or without. The kids are here at school. One mom walks by my car, her daughter’s hand in her right hand, a novelty-sized mug of coffee in her left. I salute her and go on my way.

    This is the routine. And now that we’ve waged whatever battles we may have waged (with the kids, with ourselves, with a Pop-Tart wedged in the toaster), it is time to regroup and move on to the next task of the day. I feel a sense of solidarity and self-forgiveness.

    8:35 Back home, the house is a disaster, and I’m pretty sure my dog is trying to shame me. I put the coffee cup in the microwave again. I watch the timer count down and think complete and uninterrupted thoughts for the first time this morning. Do the kids thrive on chaos, perhaps? Is that the key? Is this just…normal to them?

    The microwave chirps merrily as my coffee is heated. I take the mug and curl my hands around its warmth. Maybe with small adjustments, our mornings can be peaceful and…

    The phone rings. My kids forgot their lunches.

    I grab my floppy hat and go. Maybe I’ll get to sneak a kiss in when I hand off the lunch bags to my kids in the office.

    Not that I’ve brushed my teeth yet.

    ************************************************

     

    Jackie Pick Photo 1 (2)Jackie Pick is a former teacher and current writer in Chicago. Her work has been featured on various parenting sites including Mamalode and Scary Mommy, as well as the literary art magazine Selfish. She is a contributing writer to the HerStories Project Anthology: So Glad They Told Me (Summer, 2016) and to Multiples Illuminated (Spring, 2016). She is the co-creator and co-writer of the upcoming short film Bacon Wrapped Dates and occasionally performs sketch and musical comedy in Chicago. You can follow Jackie on twitter (@jackiepick) and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog (jackiepickauthor.com).

     

  • Am I an Acquaintance or Friend? I Can’t Figure Out If She Wants To Be Friends

    Does she want to be my acquaintance or friend? In this month’s HerTake question, Nina answers a question about how to know if someone is interested in pursuing a friendship, if someone wants to be an acquaintance or friend.

    Have you ever been confused about whether your efforts were appreciated by a potential new friend or if that person is simply trying to stay at the acquaintance level? We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Please add your two cents!

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

     

    HerTakenoavatar

    Dear Nina

    For the love of everything good and decent please help me! I’m driving myself nuts over this situation. I’m never like this with my other friends, but this one woman has my head spinning. Are we friends or not? Sometimes I can’t tell.

    Here’s the situation. I’ve struck up what I guess you could call a friendship, sort of, with a woman I’ll call Mindy. I’m so confused about what it is. I just can’t read Mindy at all. I only see her two nights a week, as she is my child’s dance instructor. We text back and forth throughout the week, mostly joking around about life. I admire her and she has told me the same. So great, mutual admiration, joking around—wonderful. However, when I see her in person, there’s virtually no acknowledgement of my existence if I don’t acknowledge her first.

    Now, to be fair, Mindy doesn’t really acknowledge any of the parents first, but being a friend, I assumed she would at least say hello. And it’s pretty much the same with the texting. She seems to enjoy talking with me when we do talk through texts. She always responds right away and keeps the conversation going. However, when I’ve asked her to hang out in person, she always has an excuse not to. She says she doesn’t go out much, but she does have a close group of friends that gets together to drink every so often.

    I wish I knew why Mindy is not open to hanging out with me. I’ve even, in a moment of weakness, asked her if I was being a pain by texting her and she said, “Absolutely not. Why would you ask me that?” I’m just not sure if I should keep pushing on with the relationship or not. It’s getting exhausting trying to figure Mindy out. And truthfully, it hurts that she’s not acknowledging me when I see her. I can’t figure out if she even wants to be friends.

    Signed,

    Can’t Figure Her Out

     

    Dear Can’t Figure Her Out,

    I don’t blame you for feeling confused about how to think of this friendship and for that I blame the texting. The friendly banter you and Mindy have established between your child’s dance lessons has blurred the line between acquaintance or friend. Despite all other evidence suggesting that you and Mindy are “friendly,” but not deeper friends, the day-to-day catching up via text has superficially elevated an otherwise casual acquaintanceship.

    Technology can help us keep in touch with our good friends, but it can also create a false foundation for a friendship. Just because it’s easy to keep in touch with texts and emails, it does not mean that a worthwhile relationship exists beyond the words on the screen. Every case is different. I have relationships with women I’ve met online who I will never meet in person, but the connection feels deep and real. How do I know? The efforts and sentiments are mutual. I think your awareness that you’re always initiating the texts is why you’re feeling uneasy about Mindy.

    Should Mindy say hello to you and other parents when you all come in for class? Probably. I’m guessing she doesn’t fuss over you specifically because she’s in a professional role where she’s focusing on the students. I wouldn’t take that too personally or read too much into her lack of effort there. The fact that she rarely initiates the texts and seems uninterested in getting together is what tells me that Mindy is not interested in being more than “friendly.”

    Please keep in mind that Mindy’s lack of interest may not be personal and that you have no idea what else is going on in Mindy’s life. Maybe one day she will initiate the conversations or she will include you with her friends. It’s impossible to predict.

    Wait It Out

    You have to decide if you’re willing to wait. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t wait around for Mindy, but it would probably help your level of frustration to consider Mindy a “fun acquaintance” for now rather than one of your better friends or even a real potential for a close friend unless she does show interest in seeing outside of the texting context. If you ever decide that you’re tired of making the first contact, you can stop trying and see what happens. If the acquaintanceship disappears, then I would encourage you to put your efforts, even these casual texting efforts, elsewhere.

    Acquaintances Are Fun Too!

    Despite everything I’ve said here, I don’t want this month’s column to devalue the role of a solid acquaintanceship because there’s much to appreciate about these types of friends. By “solid” I mean mutually satisfying and casual, which these friendships can be if we accept that not every relationship needs to reach best friend status or even good friend status.

    When I think of all the women I enjoy (truly enjoy) seeing at the gym, coming in and out of my kids’ schools, at our synagogue, or even catching up with on Facebook, I get a big smile on my face. I respect and like each one of those woman, but if I spent tons of time texting with them all and making plans to get together, I wouldn’t have time for anything else in my life. My days would be less joyful, however, without these daily run-ins with various women (and some men) I know in town. This was a slightly off-topic tangent from your question about the difference between an acquaintance and a friend except to remind you that Mindy might become someone you enjoy talking to here and there and it doesn’t have to feel personal if it’s not something more.

    I hope this helped!

    Nina

    Editor’s Note: Also, check out Nina’s post about how to turn an acquaintance into a friend.

     

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    You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

    We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

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  • HerStories Voices: What a Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

    This week’s essay, written Louise Gleeson, is about a harrowing night during which the author awaited news of her parents’ fate following a tragic accident. Over the course of many scary hours, Louise reflected on her parents’ marriage. It’s funny how our opinions on marriage change as we get older and our own relationships mature and flourish, or fall apart. Do we learn how be in a successful relationship by modeling our parents behaviors or by avoiding their mistakes? And considering the fact that each marriage is unique, does it even matter? I can’t give away the ending, but I hope you enjoy this wonderful piece of writing. – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    What a Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

    I’m a high maintenance bedfellow. A sliver of light or a creak of sound during my descent into sleep means game over for the rest of the night. And I’m not that nice about it.

    Despite my nocturnal shortcomings, my husband and I have been sharing a bed for two decades, and we’ve become skilled partners under the sheets. I am persistent in my belief we should end each day side by side, and he puts up with me.

    I hadn’t thought about it in a bigger picture way until that night. I could hear him moving overhead, dawdling and distracting himself until I came up after him. Sometimes, he gives up and goes to bed ahead of me, especially at the end of one of those days that make it hard to feel any generosity towards each other. But that night, he was waiting.

    I was scrolling through my online news feed one last time, before letting the dog out and turning lights off downstairs, when I saw a breaking news headline from The New York Times, “Cruise ship sinks in China on Yangtze River.”

    I must have called out his name sometime during the rush between my desk and laptop, with a copy of my parents’ travel itinerary trembling in my hand. I crouched on the floor, not trusting my legs, and desperately tried to clear my thoughts before the pounding sound of my pulse filled the space between my ears.

    Somehow he was down on the floor beside me while my panicked whisper filled him in: “My parents’ cruise ship is on the Yangtze River today.” I could hear myself repeating it again and again, as though to convince him to take action—because I didn’t know what to do next.

    It was of no consolation that the initial news report said the boat was carrying Chinese tourist groups. My parents never travel through Asia with North American tour groups; they prefer a more authentic experience that allows my adventurous Irish father to enjoy the traditional Asian cuisine and entertainment he has learned to embrace since falling in love with my Chinese mother. In a Skype call a few days earlier, he had boasted about being dubbed Mr. China by his fellow travellers for his ability to assimilate into the local culture.

    When my eyes traveled further down the news story to the fact all those on board were between 50 and 80 years of age, I had to flatten myself on the floor to brace against the sudden tilt of the room. The location of the sunken ship was the same sightseeing destination my parent’s cruise ship was meant to be visiting that day.

    I watched my husband quietly compare the itinerary he had taken from me to the news article on the screen, and when I saw him begin a search for a contact number on an official government website, I squeezed my eyes closed against the visual of my parents drowning.

    I let myself calculate the time difference and started to shake uncontrollably as I imagined them in the past tense. A single thought looped through my brain, like it was trying to keep pace with my persistent pulse:

    They must have been so scared for each other.

    Because I knew if they were on that sunken ship, any fear they felt for themselves would be overwhelmed by the fear they felt for the other. They met and married within six months, against the wishes of both their mothers, because they knew their marriage would leave no room for second-guessing. They raised my sister and me during a time when interracial marriages and biracial children were still something to be judged. They have always been united, because it was an essential part of their choice to be together.

    They started traveling abroad without us when I was in my senior year of high school, leaving my younger sister and their travel itinerary in my trustworthy care. It was only when we were grown, and they had both retired, that my mom started including up-to-date photocopies of their passports—in case something happened to them, she explained.

    I told her she was being morbid the first time I noticed the additional pages, and she looked at me and said, “If something happened while your father and I were on a trip together, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

    After we found the number for our government’s travel crisis helpline and gave them my parents’ passport numbers, I followed my husband upstairs not knowing what else I could do. I tried to read a book while waiting for a return call. Beside me, he eventually fell asleep and quietly started to snore. It wasn’t keeping me up this time; I had my adrenaline to do that instead.

    Sometime during my teen years, my mom began sleeping upside down in the bed to create some space between her ears and the sound of my dad’s snoring. We used to make fun of them, saying we never knew where we would find her in the bed by morning.

    When my sister finally left for university, my mom made the space between her and my dad even greater by moving into the empty room and setting up a new place to sleep. By then, I had started my own journey into romantic relationships, and instead of laughing at their sleeping arrangements, I was judgmental and indignant repeatedly telling her something like snoring would never separate me from my partner in bed.

    Maybe I thought it was a sign they had allowed staleness into their relationship, like they weren’t trying hard enough or too easily letting a distance grow between them. At the time, I was still greedy for outward gestures and declarations to reassure me of my romantic partners’ love. Losing myself to that togetherness was part of what I thought united a couple that had declared themselves in love.

    My mom would tell me, “Your dad keeps me up. And knowing he keeps me up, keeps him up.” She reassured me they didn’t need to sleep beside each other to stay in love. She was steadfast in her belief. They’ve happily maintained their sleeping arrangement ever since.

    Still, it sounded more practical than loving. And I was determined that once I found someone to share my bed with every night, I would not let any space come between us.

    I did end up meeting him, the guy who taught me that losing myself to him was not the best way to love or be loved. The reassurances of his love are there beside me each night, whether he is in the bed with me or not. Every time we brought one of our four children home, he moved out of our room for the first few months to allow me to synchronize my sleep with our newborn. He often slept on a couch or curled up in a twin bed in one of the other kids’ rooms And I knew it was a sign of growing love, not an indication that it was lacking.

    My parents knew they could be apart without losing their closeness. But when I challenged her all those years ago, my mom was too wise to give that advice away easily. She let me watch her and my dad figuring it out, so I could too. They had a ritual of kissing each other on the lips exactly three times whenever one of them left the house, and that didn’t change with the adjustment to their sleeping habits. In fact, I didn’t notice any blips in their affection for one another. Their nightly ritual of checking in with each other before turning in has been going strong ever since.

    And so, while I waited to hear if my parents were on that ship, I was stuck on that thought. If either of my parents had a chance to swim to safety, put on a life jacket, or be rescued, they would have refused unless they could stay together. Their love, even with a greater physical distance placed between them during the nighttime hours, never translated to what they feel for one another.

    Maybe, I realized as I waited for news of my parents’ fate, years of partnership turn the desperate need to press our bodies against one another into a quiet gratitude and respect for the other parts of ourselves that become connected.

    When the call finally came several hours later, and I was reassured my parents had been further along the Yangtze than the fateful cruise ship, my husband sat up in our bed and shared my relief and tears. Then, without needing a reminder, he turned on his side and settled into a position least likely to make him snore.

    And I reached for his hand under the covers and tried to fall asleep before he did.

     

    Lousie_Headshots_CLBuchanan-0108bw (2)Louise Gleeson is a journalist, blogger and mother of four. She writes about parenthood, relationships, food and her obsession with concerts. She does whatever she can to avoid acting her age and is on a mission to flog the internet with optimism and joy. Louise blogs at http://www.latenightplays.com and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @louisegleeson

     

     

     

     

    **Our theme for our May Voices column is “motherhood.” Email Allie at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com to submit, and check out our submission guidelines first. We will then take a summer hiatus from our column and will announce our fall themes and re-open submissions in August.

  • HerStories Voices: Perspectives from the Woodpile

    I love this week’s essay (featuring our April theme of “Life Lessons”) because the writer, Julianne Palumbo, beautifully describes a conundrum of parenting and I can’t stop thinking about her situation. What do we do when we want to tell our children to do something different from what’s considered the right thing to do? And who’s to say what the right thing is? She conveys the angst that we can feel when we get a teaching opportunity with our children – one that can be a huge life lesson. Oh, the pressure! Even after reading this essay multiple times, I still don’t know what I would have done in the same situation. I just hope that I would handle it with the same grace as the author did. – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    Perspectives from the Woodpile: Asking My Teen to Honor His Commitments

    I am standing on our porch in front of the exhausted woodpile. The air bites my hands and face as I scavenge through chips and bark for burnable logs that I can throw into the fire to keep it warming. Although winter passed resentfully, if I close my eyes and listen, the birds sing a different story. I absorb the “berto, berto, berto” of the cardinal and pretend that spring is springing the way spring should be.

    Open my eyes and I stare at the devastation that was our woodpile after five cords of wood warmed our house to a livable temperature. I squeeze my lids shut again. There’s a breeze that breathes both winter and spring into the air. It’s a game now, one I want spring to win.

    So, too, tugs the debate I have been having with my teenage son. It’s about commitment, and there are two sides to the story. Mostly, I sympathize with his side, while I try to hold the line on mine. As of yet, neither one of us is winning. Two perspectives, both based in the unfairness of reality.

    When my son was seven he fell in love with his sport. From that moment, it became the most important thing in his life, affecting how he spent his time, what he ate, and how much downtime he allowed himself. It was practice, practice, and more practice. My husband and I supported him, driving him over an hour to practices and traipsing around the East Coast for tournaments, because he was so dedicated and because having a goal gave him focus in everything he did.

    Over the years, he played year-round. He would go to every team practice and every game, like the postman, without regard to weather, illness, or the homework brewing in his backpack. We gave up countless family events, trips, and down time to travel to games all over the East coast and sometimes beyond. Summer, too, was filled with camps and training.

    As he got older, he failed to grow as quickly as other boys his age. He began to sit on the bench because of his small size, and players who never showed up to practice but who had greater physical strength but less skill would play over him. Still, he kept practicing.

    Once he reached the teenage years, things went downhill. It took seasons before we realized that, despite promises and reassurances that he would be given a fair chance to perform because of his skill, his coach had another agenda that didn’t include him. He became frustrated by the unfairness. Players who never came to tryouts were still put on the team. Players who missed practices played over others who went. Rules were bent and broken, and some players, like my son, were given no opportunity to prove themselves.

    After nine years dedicated to a sport that had given the actual beat to his heart, he decided to quit. The deep joy he had always felt when he touched the ball had turned to anger and frustration. He told his club coach that he did not want to play spring season. Unfortunately, my son was last in a list of boys who had expressed their desire to quit the team, and the coach needed him to stay for there to be enough players. This particular coach had been fair to him, and since he asked him respectfully to fulfill his commitment, my husband and I agreed that he should honor it. But, my son didn’t agree.

    Hence my struggle. How do I argue with a seventeen-year-old who had done it all right, who had given his heart and soul to a sport only to have it stomped on and ripped out by coaches who cared nothing for earnestness or for his commitment? His hard work hadn’t paid off. Many of the adults involved had asked for an abundance of dedication on his part but had failed in their own commitments to be fair and to coach in a way that was best for the players. Now, my son was being asked to hold up his side yet another time.

    I have never stood up so half-heartedly for something. He has never stood so strongly against something.

    If ever I was at a loss for words to support my arguments, this was it. I couldn’t argue that commitment paid off. It hadn’t. In fact, it couldn’t have paid off less. I couldn’t argue that something good would come out of it, because there was no longer anything that he wanted from this sport. He just wanted to be free of it. That was his parting wish.

    I could argue only that it was the right thing to do because a man has to live by his word. It was about the type of adult I wanted my son to grow up to be. But, as much as I believe that and have always tried to live and to teach it in all parts of life, it couldn’t have rung more hollow this time. I truly didn’t believe that he owed this sport anything. All I could think was, “commitment to what?”

    To complicate matters, he recently started playing tennis on his high school tennis team. He loves it and is showing the same drive and dedication I had seen from him for so many years. Fulfilling his commitment would affect his tennis as often games overlapped.

    After days of debate, we agreed to agree that he would fulfill his commitment to the extent he could without adversely affecting his grades and his position on the tennis team. This is where we have left it—someplace in the middle of—shouldn’t have to but will anyway.

    While I think we are holding true to a lesson here, I’m truly not certain what that lesson might be. I keep reminding him when he reminds me how much he doesn’t want to waste the time to go to games, that something good always comes of giving of yourself. Maybe he will call on this experience some day when he’s an adult and he’s faced with something he doesn’t want to do. Maybe his being there will be a positive in someone else’s life.

    But I can’t help wondering—will filling this commitment now make him more or less likely to want to fill commitments in the future? Would it even matter to his character if we let him walk away? With three almost-grown children, I feel I should know the answer to this by now.

    The cool days plod on. I bang clumps of grass from his cleats. I pick tennis balls up off the lawn. The sun peeks a little.

    Spring is winning.

     

    authorphoto1 (2)Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Coffee+Crumbs, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Manifest Station, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. Her essay will be published in the upcoming HerStories Anthology, So Glad They Told Me. She is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers. You can find her here: http://www.juliannepalumbo.com https://www.facebook.com/JuliannePalumboAuthor  https://twitter.com/JuliannePalumbo and http://www.mothersalwayswrite.com .

     

    **We are currently accepting submissions for our May Voices column: the theme is “motherhood.”

    **Our spring sale is still happening! Sign up for two of our most popular online courses— The Balanced Writer and Publish Your Personal Essay– as self-paced classes offered at big discounts! Details here. Join a fantastic group of women working through the classes as well as our Facebook community!

    ** Have you seen the cover of So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood yet? Our publication date is August 23rd! More information here.motherhood-web1

     

  • When a Group of Friends Falls Apart

    UPDATE (2019): FIND NINA AND HER COLUMN AT HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE

    In this month’s HerTake question, Nina is tackling the sticky issue of maintaining individual friendships when a group of friends falls apart. Have you been in this situation as an adult or even in younger years, perhaps? We love that our community helps each other in the comments section. Don’t be afraid to add your two cents.

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

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    Dear Nina:

    I’ve shared a close friendship with a group of women for several years. However, the dynamic of the group is evolving and the group of friends is falling apart because of external and internal reasons. I’ve maintained individual relationships with each woman; however, now I feel like I am in the middle, because although I get along with each person individually that isn’t the case across the board.

    Should I address this with the group or let it go? And if I choose to let go of the group, how do I continue to maintain individual friendships without stepping on anyone’s toes?

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Signed,

    Confused

     

    Dear Confused,

    Without knowing the details of why your group is falling apart or any of the other micro issues, I know others will relate to the problem of being connected to a group of friends that is long past its expiration date.

    Before I go on, I want to address the people reading this question (and answer) who are silently asking themselves, “Why is an adult part of a group of friends anyway?”

    Reasons Why Adults End Up in a Group of Friends

    • The group is a carryover from high school or college with some new configurations, but it started “way back when.”
    • The members of the group all met in a common setting like a class or in a work environment that no longer meets regularly so the group formed to keep the individuals together.
    • There can be a bit of mystery to how and why a group forms. Frankly, sometimes the group can feel manufactured, which is usually the first kind to fall apart.

    I’m not going to say all groups disintegrate because I couldn’t possibly know that, but every group I’ve been a part of has gone through significant permutations over time. Some of those permutations have led to an ultimate disintegration, but in each case, the new reality has been more of a relief than a problem.

    In other words, I’ve never been part of a group that was worth keeping together under all circumstances. The group’s history should never become more important that its current health. (By “health” I mean, the members of the group are kind to each other and as free from drama as possible.)

    Ultimately, the individual relationships are what matter most, especially when the group dynamics feel forced at best and unpleasant at worst. Sounds like you’re in at least one of those positions right now so let’s get practical.

    How to keep your relationships strong with the individuals you like:

    #1. Based on your question, this needs to be said: It is not your problem whether other members of the group continue to stay friends or whether they form a new group. At this point, you need to focus on who brings out the best in you and vice versa. I wouldn’t make any formal announcements about your desire to step away from the group. This will be a case of actions speaking louder than words, or you simply slipping under the radar, which is probably for the best.

    #2. Make consistent plans with the women you enjoy. Lunch, walks, coffee, tickets to a show—anything that means time spent with one other person. Personally, I find walks the best way to catch up with one friend at a time. Also, there’s a natural end time, which is a nice plus (in my opinion).

    #3. Be careful to avoid allowing the growing bonds with certain individuals to revolve around a common frustration with the former group. It’s tempting to get others to feel the way you do about the group or to commiserate with individuals who already share your aggravation, but too much of this chitchat will create a false sense of closeness. Don’t fall for it!

    By the way, these group permutations happen in families, too. Sometimes different groupings of siblings and siblings-in-law are closer and sometimes they’re in a moment (or years) of drifting apart. Same goes for cousins and other relatives. David Sedaris had a great essay recently in the New Yorker that is seemingly about shopping in Tokyo, but is really about these shifting group dynamics. Other than enjoying the standard cleverness of Sedaris, I also liked the matter-of-fact attitude in which he talks about how relationships morph again and again.

    Thanks so much for your question, Confused. I hoped at the very least I helped you see how normal the shifting dynamics are.

    Good luck!

    Nina

     

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    We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.