December 19, 2006
Dear Ms. Understanding,
I’m 34 years old and 2006 was an incredibly tough year. My mother died, my boyfriend and I broke up, and I moved to a strange town for a bad job. I’ve finally saved up enough money to quit my job and move back to New York but I’m gripped by the fear that I don’t really know how to be happy there anymore. Half of my old friends still live like they’re in their early 20’s, and though I used to be quite the party girl—I’m well beyond that now. All the others are married with kids, and want to talk about things like fixing the roof. I’m worried that I won’t be able to relate to anyone and worse, I seem to have lost my old lust for life. How do I get it back? Signed, Too Subdued
Dear Too Subdued,
Congratulations for taking the initiative to leave the strange town and bad job. Since you’re not feeling a deep connection to anyone in New York right now, treat those relationships as the light, casual friendships they are and don’t let them dictate your new schedule in any way. Skip Little Suzie’s first birthday party in Park Slope and go to that sculpting class with the smokingly hot instructor instead. Pass on the warehouse rave in Red Hook in favor of meeting up with your new language exchange partner, then start planning an overseas trip to test your linguistic prowess.
Avoid television, extended Interwebs surfing, and all other passive/solitary activities like the plague. Do things you’ve never tried before—things you’ve been putting off for years, and before you know it, you’ll not only have created an entirely new chapter in your life—you will have kindled new lust for it too. It’ll be a subtler, more nuanced lust than you felt as a younger person, but it will also be richer and more subject to your own volition. You have had a tough year, so you need to be kind to yourself—as kind as possible—and in Ms. Understanding’s book, that means doing only that which excites, fascinates, and replenishes you.
December 17, 2006
Dear Ms. Understanding,
I’m a 42-year-old man who has been divorced for about 5 years. I’m really enjoying the whole dating thing, but I’m not sure how to cut things off when I realize I’m not interested in someone longterm. I hate the thought of hurting anyone’s feelings, so I just sorta go along with things and try to have a good time, but I’m usually wishing I was somewhere else. I’m normally a straight shooter, so how do I do I taper things off without being a complete jerk? Signed, Feeling Dishonest
Dear Feeling Dishonest,
“Tapering things off” doesn’t really work in this case; the success of such a thing depends on your ability to be fairly neat and tidy about it. Make it a relatively short conversation…something along the lines of how unbelievably fantastic the other person is, but that it’s just not working out for you. That’s really all the explanation required. Getting drawn into a long conversation is almost always a mistake in this situation; you’re not doing anyone any favors by pretending there’s room for negotiation when there isn’t. Be kind, but be clear. Indecision in these matters can be far more cruel than a clean, simple break.
December 15, 2006
Dear Ms. Understanding,
My wife and I have only been married for a couple of years, and lately it seems she is well on her way to becoming a practicing Buddhist. She gets very animated when she talks about this, and at the very least it seems like something she wants to explore deeply. I’m trying to be supportive, but the truth is, it freaks me out. I’m not a religious person at all—I simply do not identify with the need to have religion in one’s life. When we met, that’s how she seemed to feel too, so I feel somewhat disoriented in the relationship now. I’m afraid that we’re growing apart before we get a chance to be truly intimate. What should I do? Signed, Lifelong Agnostic
Are you certain your wife’s newfound spirituality is a liability in the relationship? It sounds to me like she’s in a good place—alive with joy and curiosity at what she has discovered—and as long as she isn’t expecting you to put on any saffron robes, you should try to keep an open mind. The two of you don’t need to have identical intellectual architecture in order to be happy; it’s possible to have different needs and pursuits without growing apart. Ms. Understanding tends to tune out completely, for instance, when Mr. Understanding rambles on about snowboarding, but hoo boy does she ever like what it does to his calves. Allow for the possibility that Buddhism, while it doesn’t interest you personally, could add facets to her personality that you’ll enjoy. Bear in mind too that whatever chord this relatively philosophical religion is striking within her was present when you met her and fell in love. Seek to understand that and you may just learn something about yourself.