Advice from an "Expert in Failed Relationships"

Note from editors: Every since our editor-in-chief’s book, Harlots Sauce, was published, she has been receiving dozens of emails and Facebook messages each week from people seeking her advice on their life and love problems. About this she has said, “People seem to feel comfortable asking my opinion, even if they haven’t met me. Maybe it’s because after reading my book, they learn that I’m someone who, in my past, has failed miserably at every possible relationship – that of being daughter, wife, mother… even friend. You go to an expert when you have a question, don’t you? Well, I’m an expert at failure.”

We recently came up with the idea of having Patricia answer some of these letters in an advice column, and we very much enjoyed coming up with its title.

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Man Plagued by the Fifth Commandment

Dear EFR: I’m 45-years-old, and haven’t spoken to my eighty-year-old father in at least five years. Even though I feel much happier since I made this decision, it was an extremely difficult one to make, because I was raised to believe we must, “honor thy mother and father”. Yet, my father was often cruel to me in many ways, and through soul searching and therapy, I came to see that it would be best if I cut him out of my life for good, as I’d given him chance after chance to change, and he never did. I am much more at peace now that I don’t have to deal with his hurtful ways, nor with the judgmental family members who supported his behavior. But my question is ─ how do I respond to well-meaning people who say I will someday regret this decision to end this failed relationship? And, do you think they are right? ─ Son Who Suffered Greatly from the Sins of his Father

Dear SWSGFTSOHF: Your signature as well as the fact that you state that you are now “more at peace” and “happier” tell me that you made the right decision in ending contact with your abusive father and relatives. Relationships, especially family ones, can have their problems and dysfunctions and may need to be worked on, but when they get to the point where they are causing us nothing but heartache and continued mental anguish, it’s time to disentangle ourselves from them. Yet it’s not considered ‘socially correct’ to disown one’s family, or even if we do, to own up to it. But if you’re looking for me to agree with that, or with those who tell you that you’ll regret your decision, you’ve come to the wrong advice columnist.

Who we end up with as ’family’ is as random as what color eyes we get, what sex we are, and whether or not we can kick a football with any grace and coordination. I understand your concern about disobeying one of your Creator’s commandments. But like any other law, there is room for interpretation in that one. From what I remember of my Bible lessons, Jesus also loved all the little children and treated then with benevolence and kindness. What would He say then, about a father who raised his son to “honor” him, only so that he could maltreat that son with impunity? Something to ponder, isn’t it? As for those people who say you will have regrets over your decision to live happily – are you sure they are as “well-meaning” as you assume, or do they have their own agenda?

Sometimes when we are afraid of doing something ourselves, we have to find fault with the one who accomplishes what we’re afraid to accomplish. I’ve known lots of people who would stop seeing their sadistic parents if they only had the guts. But because they are afraid of the consequences of that decision, and worry about how they will be perceived by others, they “put up and shut up”. Observing that you were brave enough not to make that pitiful choice, makes them feel envious and uncomfortable. So they need to, as your ‘friends’ warn you of the consequences of your choice.

Yes, when you hear of your father’s eventual death, you will feel some sadness and regret – but I have a feeling it will mostly be for the relationship you wish you had had with a loving father, rather than because you put an end to an unhappy relationship you didn’t choose to have with the (sadly) unloving father you randomly ended up with. But by age 45, you’ve surely learned that that life isn’t perfect. Those who are genuinely well-meaning will support you, not only in this difficult and brave decision, but when your father does pass away, and that inevitable sadness hits you as you say to goodbye forever to what you had once wished so very much for. Your true friends will be there for when that time comes, and they will never say “I told you so.”

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Woman Disturbed by Pal’s Main Squeeze

Dear EFR: A very close friend of mine is ‘engaged’ to a man she met online who is dismissive, mean, and cold to her. On top of that he’s cheap. Everyone except for her sees how he mistreats her emotionally, and takes advantage of her financially, using the excuse that since they are going to be married they should ‘share’ all. Hah! ─ all her money that is. She’s spent a great deal of her savings on him, which can’t be replenished because she is not working at all, and spends her day catering to his needs. I can only compare her living situation with him to voluntary slavery. He has all the advantages and she all the responsibilities. And I told her that II don’t see him in any hurry to get that ring on her finger, either. Sometimes she’ll complain about how he treats her, but if I suggest that she leave, she will then defend him. In the meantime, I have had to help her out financially more than once, because she never has enough money of her own. Just when it looks like she sees the light, she’ll then find a reason to stay with him. I have to admit, as much as I care about her, I’m feeling a bit used and disgusted that she doesn’t see this relationship as one big, fat, failure. Any suggestions? ─ A Friend of a Friend in Needy

Dear FOAFIN: Frankly, it sounds to me that your friend enjoys playing the victim and you enjoy rescuing her. So my suggestion is that if you really want to help your friend, you will stop ‘helping’ her. Once she realizes she has no one to rub liniment into her bruises after her pretend fiancé stomps all over her, she will either search for another enabler friend, or get up off the floor by herself. Which do you think would be healthier for her? (And for you, too, by the way?) If you truly want to be a good friend, you will quit the badmouthing of her ‘batty boy toy’, encourage her to get a job she is good at, so she can feel proud of her skills, and thus eventually become more comfortable with being on her own and independent. You can also treat her as an equal, even asking her advice once in a while, so that she begins to recognize her self-worth. Then, if she wants to get mentally healthy and be in a better relationship, she will. But she might never do so if her ‘closest friend’ and her ‘fiancé’ both feel scorn and disgust for her, though each for a different reason.

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“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.”
C.S. Lewis

Do you have a question for me about failed (or failing) relationships? I’m happy to read your questions and answer them in this column. Keep in mind that I’m a writer and licensed teacher, but not a therapist or a lawyer. However, I do consult these experts to answer my letters when necessary. Leave your questions in the comment box below, or e-mail editors@harlotssauce.com and put “advice column” in subject line. For more information about me, visit www.patriciaVdavis.com

Please note: Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

Patricia V. Davis is the author of Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece.

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Last 5 posts by Patricia V. Davis - an Expert in Failed Relationships

Last 5 posts by Patricia V. Davis - an Expert in Failed Relationships