Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Do You Say?

(This post is completely off the topics of infertility and parenting.)

I am hoping that some of my readers can give me some advice.

I pride myself on being a good friend.  For many years, I have been the "go to" person for advice for many of my friends.  (I often think I chose poorly in both my careers and should have become a psychologist/counselor instead.)  I like listening to friends' problems and giving an objective, logical view of a situation.

Of course, I am careful to only give advice to friends who ask for it--if you just want to vent, I'm willing to listen, too, and won't advise unless asked--and I am well aware that oftentimes when I give friends advice, they don't take it.  I am fine with that, as I learned long ago that the only way to remain objective was to have no investment in the outcome, except to the extent that the friend feels heard and empowered to solve his/her (more typically her) problems.

I never say "I told you so" later if my friends acts contrary to my advice and doesn't get the outcome she'd hoped for (though I will admit, it's been hard to hold my tongue in some situations), and I don't generally judge my friends' choices.  (As one example, I've given advice to friend dating a married man, even though I did not think her doing so was "right.")

I have been in a situation for several months in which I'm not quite sure how to be most helpful to a friend.  "C" is one of my oldest friends; she is the only friend from high school with whom I have remained friends continuously since that time in my life.  Our lives have taken quite different paths: C met a (separated-but-still-married-with-children) man when she was 19 (and I was 17), and she married him when she was 21 (after his divorce was final).

He was in the military, so they lived overseas for a few years and then lived in the L.A. area for several years.  During those years, I was finishing college, starting my first job, moving around a lot, and we saw one another only sporadically, though we always kept in touch by phone and by cards/letters.  She and I only saw one another a few times, apart from a three-month period when I was living and working within driving distance of her.

As far as I knew during those years, C was happily married.  I saw her and her husband almost weekly during the three months I lived nearby, and I sensed no problems.

He retired from the military after 20 years of service, and they relocated back to his hometown, where C's mother also lived (and where C spent a portion of her childhood).  At least, I thought she was happy until she called me in 2006 to say that her husband was cheating on her and that they were divorcing.  Their divorce was final in April 2007, and he married his mistress not long after that.

C gave up a lot in marrying her ex-husband.  She had always wanted to work in film, either in front of or behind the camera, and, for various reasons, she had give that up during the time that she was living abroad.  And by the time she returned to the states, many of her possible connections to that industry had dissolved. . . and in any event, she was too busy working to make ends meet to have time to devote to pursuing her career dreams.

Additionally, her ex-husband had fathered three children during his first marriage, and after the third (unplanned) child, he had a vasectomy.  Yes, C was aware of this when she married him, but at 21, it wasn't something she dwelt on.  At that tender age, she wasn't even sure whether she would eventually want children, and she naively thought that if she did, her ex-husband could have his vasectomy reversed.  Perhaps he could've done so, but he didn't want to: he didn't want more children, and they were both heavily burdened financially by his child support payments to his first wife and by attorneys' fees related to that.  (Long story short, his ex-wife took him back to court on numerous occasions, trying to get more money; there is even a published court of appeals decision in California about their dispute.)

So C spent a lot of the money she earned at her various jobs paying to support the children from her ex-husband's first marriage--children they rarely saw because their mother had poisoned them against him--and paying legal fees.  Which was hard on her and delayed her completing her education.

And she never had children of her own.  When she raised the subject of a vasectomy reversal with her ex-husband not long after she turned 30, he told her he didn't want more children and that they couldn't afford them.  He refused to consider adoption, or even fostering, as options.

C turned 37 not long before her divorce was final, and the divorce wreaked financial havoc for her.  Her ex-husband just simply did not pay the debts assigned to him in their divorce, including tax payments.  Many of his creditors hounded C because the debts were originally joint debts, and the taxing authority in the state where they'd lived took money from her bank accounts to settle those obligations (over $3,000).  He allowed the house he was awarded in the decree to go into foreclosure, and because her name was still on the mortgage, the bank pursued her to pay that debt as well.

All of this resulted in her having to first take a number of temporary jobs out of state to attempt to earn more money to pay these debts and eventually, after that failed, having to file for bankruptcy protection.  All while trying to get her life as a newly-single-after-seventeen-years-of-marriage woman together, venturing back out onto the dating scene after nearly twenty years, and dealing with various drama in her extended family (too long to go into here).

Oh, and then two-and-a-half-years ago, her dad's cancer that had been in remission for twenty years returned.  And she moved to the state where he lived in the hope of renewing a relationship with him while he was still alive.  (They had grown distant over the years for reasons too long to go into here.) He died about a month ago.  And although he was in hospice just minutes from her, C wasn't able to be with him at the end because her stepmother called her too late.

All this background to say this: I get that C's life has not gone the way she'd hoped.  I know that she did not see herself alone and childless at 43, and she has had a lot of stressful things to deal with over the past few years.

By way of additional background, I should also add that while I am primarily a logic-driven person, C is primarily an emotion-driven person.  I make decisions by writing out lists of pros and cons; she "goes with her gut."  I make even most of the emotional decisions in my life logically (ex: marrying MM), while she makes most of her decisions emotionally (ex: buying a car more expensive than she can really afford because "I love it and have always dreamed of having one")

Finally, to my dilemma: what do you say to a friend in these circumstances who says things like "I have the worst luck" or "I'm cursed" or "If something bad can happen, it will happen to me"?  Some of the bad/stressful things in C's life have been things over which she had no control, like the return of her father's cancer.  But some of the other bad/stressful things have contained at least an element of choice, at least way, way back.

I don't think anyone can be an instrument of positive change in her own life unless she realizes that her choices shape her life, for good or bad, and takes responsibility for the consequences of her choices.  While bad things do happen to good people, and sometimes for reasons that are unclear or for no reason at all, accepting the role of victim for yourself is unlikely to lead to happiness and fulfillment in your life.

Also, I somewhat think that I am not the best person to offer C advice.  To her, my life is everything hers is not: I am happily married, I work in a relatively well-paying job, and I have two children.

Of course, never mind the fact that I was single until I was 37, and worked for several years in jobs I didn't enjoy and that did not pay well, and that it took me over three years and $30K in fertility treatments to become a mother.  I've had my own struggles, but I've never viewed them as "bad luck" or a "curse."  (I've filed my own struggles under the headings of "That's Life" and "Shit Happens" and "It Could Always Be Worse.")  Obviously C just sees my life as it is now and doesn't focus on what led me to this point.

So, oh wise women of internet. . . .how should I respond the next time C asks me for advice and says she is cursed/unlucky/bad things always happen to her?

4 comments:

  1. When someone phrases it that way, I think they're looking for sympathy rather than advice.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree, but I am still not sure how to respond. I don't want to contradict her, but I don't agree that she is cursed or has bad luck either.

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  2. We all make our own destinies. All I can say is that maybe she needs to learn to live for the future, plan for it and make it happen. Don't dwell on the past because the past can't be fixed.

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  3. I would probably say something like " It must feel that way" or "I am sure it feels that way" or just uh huh.

    agreeing with her or seeming to agree with her are really the only viable options. Otherwise she could take offense and you could lose her as a friend.

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