DEAR CAROLYN: My sister who lives overseas (for her husband’s job) just emailed our younger sister and me: Her 20-something daughter is distraught after being dumped four weeks ago by her first serious boyfriend. My niece, who’s lived for a year now in a major city a six-hour drive from each of us, works the job of her dreams and has a strong network of friends.
Overseas Sister wants U.S. Sister and me to go to niece and comfort her. I'll check in with niece tonight, and, if she’s honestly as bad off as my sister said, I'll go visit her this weekend – I have the time and the money to make the drive.
But if niece protests that she’s fine … how hard do I push to “come to her aid”? I have a feeling Overseas Sister, who tends to have a much more direct, forceful reaction to other people’s problems than I do, won’t be satisfied if I email back and say, “Talked to niecie-poo. She said she’s sad but will be OK and doesn’t require any auntly ministrations.”
I trust my niece’s assessment of her own mental state better than her mom’s … but I also want to do right by everyone involved. Thoughts?
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DEAR B.: For the love of premium ice cream in handy single-serving pints, it’s a breakup, not a terminal diagnosis.
To do right by “everyone involved,” please recognize the aforementioned, and also that your niece is the only one involved. Her relationship, her breakup, her distress, her decisions.
“Involved” beyond that is available by your niece’s invitation only.
“Over-involved” is anything undertaken on your niece’s behalf to satisfy the control or guilt-relief needs of anyone besides your niece.
Can a faraway mom ask nearer-by proxies to call her daughter, and can said proxies place the call, without crossing into over-involvement? Sure, if all would-be helpers assume the daughter is a competent enough adult to handle this, unless and until she reveals to them otherwise. “Hey, need a shoulder? I’m free this weekend.”
That doesn’t promote you to involved; that merely announces you as available to be involved, appropriate aid for a heartsick adult. Oh, and no detailed reports to Overseas Sister, just, “We’re in touch, thanks.” If (just kidding: when) she corners you, flatter your way out. “She’s handling it – you raised her well.”
DEAR CAROLYN: My son and his girlfriend have broken up several times over their eight years together, but always end up getting back together. He tells me other women think he’s wonderful, but all she does is criticize him for everything.
They have an opportunity to purchase a really great home. My son and I have the down payment, but can’t qualify for the loan. His girlfriend can qualify, so we agreed we would give her a five percent interest in the house (she won’t make payments). At first she was OK with that, but now she wants more. In light of their rocky past, he’s getting cold feet – but he loves the house and doesn’t want to lose her. What’s your opinion?
DEAR S.: Would you load cash onto a leaking ship? Please say no. To the hypothetical and the house. This home purchase sounds like a good investment only for the attorneys you retain to undo it.