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April 2, 2014

Help Me, Rhonda

Advice for Life's Persistent Questions

Not a Member of the Wedding

A buddy of mine is getting married this summer, and even though I'm not the best man, he asked me to plan his bachelor party. I agreed, but then I found out that he wants to have his bachelor party the weekend after my own wedding. To add insult to injury, he did not attend my bachelor party, because he had an intramural rugby game that weekend. Is it unreasonable for me to tell him he needs to change the date of his bachelor party or else I will neither be planning nor attending said party?

Bachelor Party Planner Extraordinaire

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At the risk of sounding unromantic, I’ll again mention the wedding industrial complex. This machine spends a lot of time, effort and money telling people what weddings must include: bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers, etc. To justify all the attendant hoopla, weddings themselves are framed as The Biggest Event of Anyone’s Life. This tends to skew the perspective of the people at the center of the vortex—the bride and groom.

All that to say your friend has lost sight of the fact that other people have lives and events of their own. I think he can be forgiven for this, because there are such powerful forces encouraging him to think in such a self-centered way right now, but you’re absolutely right not to get sucked into it. Tell him you can’t plan or attend a bachelor party on his intended date. If you really are willing to do the planning for a party on another date, offer some other weekends that would be good for you. Those other dates might not work for him, or you might not really be willing or able to do the planning. In that case, you can say something like, “I want you to have an awesome bachelor party and with my wedding coming up, I know I just won’t have the time to do it justice. Sorry I can’t be more involved.”


Family Ties

I do not like my sister-in-law. Apart from being a prematurely gray cat lady with an insincere and annoying laugh, I think she is a lazy, selfish gold-digger with no maternal instincts, and I worry that my brother will be the one doing everything—and I mean everything—in their relationship. But she appears to make him happy, so I have come to terms with the fact that she is here to stay. However, friends frequently ask if I like my sister-in-law, and I'm not very good at lying. I usually say something vague ("She's nice enough.”), which leads to more questions about why I don't like her, which leads to me rattling off all the things I dislike about her. Do you have any thoughts on how I should handle this question in the future to avoid bad-mouthing my sister-in-law all over town?

Catty

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Catty, your complaints about your sister-in-law are so ugly that I debated whether to run your letter. It seemed as though you might be looking for an opportunity to take a swipe at her in a public way, rather than looking for actual advice on how to keep the peace in your relationship. So, know that when you talk about her the way you did above, you come across as hateful and petty. She’s a terrible person because she has gray hair? You need to avoid talking about her in a bad way if for no reason other than to protect your own reputation.

People will continue to ask you about her, so you need to find a positive, honest reply that you can deliver convincingly. Something like, “We’re not close, but I’m very happy that my brother’s happy.” Practice saying it until you can deliver it without grimacing or otherwise implying that you actively dislike her.  

Your tone, demeanor and response to people who ask about her will either invite or discourage further questions about your feelings towards her. Until now, you’ve been inviting people to ask what you don’t like about her. Then, you’ve responded enthusiastically by “rattling off all the things” you dislike. Doing that is not an honest attempt to avoid speaking badly about her. Speaking so ill of her doesn’t release your frustration and dislike, it just fuels and perpetuates those feelings. If anyone pushes you further on what you don’t like about her, first, realize that you’ve inspired that question by somehow communicating that you don’t like her. Then, decline to discuss it further.


She Goes Out With Other Guys

I have been dating several men at the same time for the past couple of years, hoping that this will increase my chances of meeting and falling in love with "the one." I am 31, and this seems atypical for my generation. When I was in my 20s I dated one person at a time and dated one guy for five years. When that relationship did not work out, I decided to take the approach my dad took to dating before he decided to marry my mom, date multiple people so you are better able to compare and find the best. (And my mom is the best.)

After three years with little success in finding "the one," I guess I need some advice. Will this method of dating work or will men simply think I am not looking for a serious relationship? Also, when is the appropriate time to bring up the whole, "I am dating multiple men" thing? Honesty is the best policy, but I am not sure I have the timing figured out.

Dating Around

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One thing you’re doing exactly right is being deliberate and thinking strategically about your dating life. Sometimes people think that love and relationships fall outside the bounds of planning and our control. In many ways they do, but there are things you can do to put yourself in the right position to meet someone. It sounds like you’re already doing that.

I have a few words of general advice and caution. First, since you are looking for a long-term partner, not just someone to have fun with right now, it’s important to be ruthless (in your decision-making, not with the other person) about ending relationships that aren’t right. You can’t be open to the right relationship if you’re preoccupied with the wrong one. If you find yourself unhappy or generally unsatisfied with the relationship, remember that it doesn’t matter how great he is or why the relationship isn’t working, it just matters that it isn’t. Give each guy and each relationship time to develop, but end things if he’s not the right person for you. Your hope and intention is to find someone to be with long-term. 

You mention “the one” and “the best” a few times, which makes me think you’re chasing something that might not be the prize you’re expecting. I think the single most important thing for long-term happiness in a relationship is to find someone you like. You might not love this person at first. You might not feel unbelievable chemistry. But if you like spending time with this person and talking with him (about matters serious and trivial) and generally being around him, then you’ve found a good match. When I look back at my own dating life, I’m consistently surprised at what a small percentage of my previous boyfriends I actually liked. 

Lastly, the timing. Each situation will be different, and you will have to pay attention to find the right time to mention that you’re still seeing other people. I can’t imagine a situation in which you’d have to mention it on date one, unless he proposed marriage. You have to read him a little bit—is he wanting to see you often? Being in touch all the time? Those things suggest he’s expecting exclusivity. When you see those signals, it’s time for you to make it clear that you’re still seeing other people. On the other hand, if you meet someone and go out with him every other weekend, it’s pretty fair to assume he’s seeing other people in the interim. If you find yourself in the middle ground, then I think date four or five is about right to have the conversation. If you pay attention and reflect just a little—don’t agonize—on what’s happening in the relationship, it will be clear when to have that conversation.

Got a question? Email Rhonda: advice@flagpole.com

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