Dear Carolyn: I recently broke up with my girlfriend, who had been saying repeatedly of our relationship, “This isn’t working.” She was referring to things like, we don’t live close enough to each other to make getting together quick and easy, and that our financial and career situations are in very different places right now. When I broke up with her I thought she would basically agree it was the right thing to do, given her repeated complaints.
Instead, she cried, screamed and then told me that “this isn’t working” was supposed to mean “just dating isn’t working so you should propose.”
I’m kind of flabbergasted. Does the fact that I didn’t pick up on what she was saying mean I have problems with reading people? Or does it mean she has problems with communicating, which is all the more reason I was right to break up?
— This Isn’t Working
This Isn’t Working: It means you both have problems with communicating.
She didn’t say what she actually meant, and you didn’t ask her to explain what she meant, or ask what solutions she had in mind for the “isn’t working” stuff like commutes and finances. And/or you didn’t say, “I’m confused, I think it’s working great — I really love being with you.”
Now, you might be thinking, you asked and she answered and so you did your part. But if all this time she was really trying to hint-nudge you toward a proposal, then presumably the emotional/physical connection was at least somewhat good, yes? And so there was some kind of a gap between that emotional/physical connection and the verbal message of “This isn’t working.” Good communication on both sides is what turns a confusing message into a coherent one.
Not for nothing, but I don’t get any sense from your letter that you actually love[d] her. If you’re looking for “all the more reason I was right to break up with her,” then here’s one: If you don’t feel like a piece of you has been removed with this breakup, then she’s not the one you want to marry.
Revisit as appropriate if both of you learn how to talk.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter’s friend, who grew up in foster care, likes to call me Mom. I don’t want to sound like a Meany McMeany, but I only want my daughter to call me Mom. I cringe every time her friend says the M-word, but I never correct her. I have been super- kind to her by buying her things, making sure she has food at home and giving her rides from work. Should I just suck it up?
— Not Your Mom
Not Your Mom: I actually sucked in my breath reading this.
It is great that you have given material support to your daughter’s friend. But this person, who has no family of her own, is giving you the gift of love. If you can look at that gift in your hands and seriously feel annoyed that you can’t exchange it for a different size or color, and if you think you can aw-shucks this annoyance using cutesy-poo McLanguage, then I don’t know what I can possibly say to you to change your mind.
Heart, I should say. To change your heart.