Dear Carolyn: My family has a tricky wicket. A year ago September my brother, at 22, received a yearlong work visa for Australia. While my parents weren't thrilled he'd be away (we're a close family), they are relatively supportive of our choices and try to not be obstructive.
A year later, my brother had to return to the States, but not before falling in love with a local. None of us likes her. Now he's totally smitten and plans to leave immediately to spend another six months with her in Australia.
I think the part that really upsets my parents is that he's literally thousands of miles away, and has shown ZERO interest in getting a job or taking some semblance of adult responsibility. My brother is a smart, talented college graduate but can't see the forest for the trees with this Aussie serving as a shiny distraction. Mom is crushed, Dad is nonresponsive and neither my sister nor I can talk sense into him. This is tearing our family apart, and I can only begin to imagine the WWIII that will erupt when the grandparents lay into him.
A. Has anyone made a connection between the family's deep investment in his life choices and his sluggish start on adulthood?
The best remedy for a 23-year-old with an unappealing girlfriend is to support his right to choose while you hope the thing runs its course.
And the best remedy for a 23-year-old who is slow to assume responsibility is to remove the financial crutch.
Pulling out all the emotional whips and chains -- where the "crushed" and "nonresponsive" hand-wringers "talk sense into" and "lay into" someone? That tears families apart. Actually, that's often what makes distractions so shiny. Mates who are a direct challenge (geographically, emotionally, culturally . . .) to family absolutes can seem like oxygen to someone smothered by those absolutes.
Not everyone who moves a half-planet away or mates badly is making a statement, of course. But for someone making a statement, Australia and a sketchy girlfriend make it in 80-point type.
Please just love your brother and back off. Break with family culture, and urge your family to do the same. If you want him home, make home a safe (read: non-invasive) place to be.
A bad relationship
Dear Carolyn: I'm having difficulty accepting a good friend's affair with a married man. I have a strong bias against affairs since there is never a good outcome; I have never dated a married man even when presented with the possibility. I'm not sure how to approach my friend, who is over the moon about this guy who has made it clear he is staying with the wife "because he loves her." And, of course, loves my friend, too.
A. "You do realize you're exactly like every 'other woman,' right?"
It's important for her to know you won't abet her delusions. Framing it as a "duh" question positions you at eye level, not on a high horse. So does saying it once and butting out. Judging triggers defensiveness, which triggers rationalizations, and you don't want her thinking up new justifications. As long as she has a conscience, your staying close to her will help her distance herself from him.