As an advice columnist, I’m often asked: “Do you ever follow up on the advice you give people?”
Until this month, I’d only done it twice. Once re: a guy going through a nasty divorce , whose wife was having such boisterous sex in the house with her new boyfriend that it was making their young daughter cry. I told him not to leave, or mix it up with the boyfriend in any way: Both would hurt his chances in a custody battle. Basically, suck it up, soldier, and stay put.
The other had to do with a housekeeper who found an incriminating thong in her client’s bedroom. Should someone tell the wife? I said no, the panties would surface in the laundry and tell their own story.
I wanted to know how it worked out. In each case, basically, the good ended happily, the bad unhappily. (The “soldier,” after some bumpy months, wound up with custody of his daughter; the thong-wronged wife handed her philandering husband his bachelor papers.) That’s the way it tends to go, IMHO: karma, kids.
Mostly, I just put my advice out there, hope for the best, and move on.
But this year, in the spirit of year-end reflection, I contacted the readers behind some of my favourite questions of 2011, to see what happened next. Here’s what you told me.
A Smelly Situation
The damage: My boyfriend lets ‘em rip in company. His “silent but deadlies” are fooling no one, and now people have begun commenting on it to me.
My advice: After a bit of speculation on whether he might have Fartingtons (a genetic disorder, passed down from father to son, that affects 97 per cent of men), I said she should absolutely uncork her feelings on the matter and let rip some home truths on her boyfriend.
So what happened? This I wasn’t expecting: She tells me, “It seems that my boyfriend’s stinky situation has abated of its own volition. I think he may have been suffering from my mom’s fibre-heavy cooking. Now we’re in Australia (his home turf), and he’s comfortably tucking into lots of white bread and pasta. No gas to speak of! Well, from him – I’m now the bearer of bad stench.”
Verdict: Sounds like the problem was not so much solved as the gas-passing buck was passed, but hey: As long as they’re happy (and this cheese-cutting couple remains safely ensconced on the other side of the planet), I’m happy.
My Moochy Neighbours
The damage: Our neighbours are mooching us to death! They use us for (assumed) free childcare. They planted a tree in our backyard without our permission. They even “borrow”our groceries for their dinner. What do we do?
My advice: After wondering aloud how on earth it’s possible to plant a tree in someone’s yard without their permission, I said they have to stick up for themselves before this family starts leaving their house with tennis racquets and their DVD player under their arms.
So what happened? She clarified, first of all, that the neighbours were able to plant an unsolicited tree in their backyard by inviting them to a birthday party, then slipping over their fence while they were out. Ninjalicious! But she’s started standing her ground, refusing favour-requests vis-à-vis free childcare and other things. She even “accidentally bumped” the trees in her backyard in retaliation. On the other hand, she says, “I do walk their kids the 2.5 kilometres to school every day while their mom provides a series of flimsy excuses why she can’t walk with us, which also involves their children pounding on our front door for 15 minutes every morning while I’m trying to hustle my own kids out the door.” All in all, though, she feels less “door-matty.”
Verdict: Hmmm … some progress made here – but still a ways to go. Remember: “Good fences make good neighbours,” especially when your neighbours are such good climbers.
The damage: I am always insulting my co-workers, but I swear they deserve it. I told my last boss someone he hired was a dummy, and humiliated a partner in front of everyone. One boss who fired me said I was very competent, but I guess without social skills it’s not enough.
My advice: Talk about hubris turning you into an Icarus. I like to keep Damage Control a judgment-free zone, but a little “tough love” was clearly called for here: I told her she needed to get some humility, prontissimo.
So what happened? She did! “You basically humbled me (publicly, if anonymously) into becoming a better person!” claims the reader (who signed her original e-mail, “the involuntary bitch”). “I have been able to accomplish so much more just by calming down and actively listening to others. Both my career and personal life are going more smoothly and productively.”
Verdict: It’s a Festivus miracle! Her touching and heartfelt response (so heartfelt that I thought it was sarcastic until I followed up with her) no less than convinced me of the perfectibility of human nature, no matter how entrenched it might seem, and the possibility that you can actually persuade a tiger to change its stripes.
Mr. White Socks
The damage: A co-worker of mine does a good job – but his white socks are driving me crazy! A couple of women in the office have noticed, but we’re not sure if it’s appropriate for us to comment.
My advice: She should try suggesting to him that he’d be more dashing and Cary Grant-ish if he wore non-tube socks. Then she and her co-workers should focus on getting their jobs done.
So what happened? She decided to focus on work but she ignored my advice (hey, it’s a free country) to bring it up with him. Still, her colleague’s choice of ankle-garb continues to prey on her mind: “Mr. White Socks remains oblivious… For my sanity, I wish he would get some clue soon.” She says, “I sympathize with the fact that white cotton socks are often cheaper at Wal-Mart. I probably wouldn’t have bought the more expensive trousers socks for myself if I wasn’t told that cotton socks are not appropriate.”
Verdict: I hope Mr. White Socks gets a clue soon, too! Canada’s mental-health system is already burdened enough! Clearly these hypnotic tube-socks are leaving a swath of destruction wherever they go!
So there you have it, folks: Some successes, some works in progress. Just the tip of the iceberg from what has been an extremely entertaining and educational year (for me, at least) of weighing in on other people’s problems: friends who are catastrophic cooks, neighbours who shower naked in plain view, mothers fobbing off their uncontrollable brats – the whole crazy kaleidoscope.
And I love it all. I believe in the truth of the Zen saying, “Without problems, our lives would have no purpose, no texture, no meaning.”
Look at it this way: You go on vacation, everything’s fine, you get a nice tan – at dinner parties, you got nothing, bupkes. But if your plane’s engine bursts into flames and it lands in the ocean; a naked couple in a bubble bath falls through the ceiling of your hotel room; you get robbed on the beach and have to beg the consulate for money just to get home – then you’ve got a story! On that you can dine out for weeks! Suddenly you’re the life of the party!
So, learn to love your problems. I certainly do. Keep them coming!
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