Dear Wilhemina

June 21, 2010
My mother doesn’t want me to get marriedDear Wilhemina I have been an attentive and loyal son to a mother who has (for the past 32 years) spared me not a single one of her ill-formed and ill-informed thoughts or desires, not to mention her disappointment with my father. But I may have finally reached breaking point. When I told her that I was getting married (to a lovely English woman who I met while living in the US) and of whom I thought she might have approved, her response was “Well, in my misfortune, at least she’s English.” This sent both my sisters into peals of laughter—and me into a rage. I can’t believe this is the most I can expect from her. Should I shut up or blow up? DDDear DD I’m somewhat with your sisters on this one: the mix of self-pity, melodrama, selfishness and pettiness in her reaction is hilarious. But, yes, it’s less funny for you as you’re on the receiving end. What irks you the most? That you thought you had chosen well but still didn’t receive her approval? That she categorised your marriage as her misfortune? Or that she is a xenophobic git? If it’s the last thing, then by all means tell her off. But if it’s either or both of the other two, you may be in for a longer ride. There are so many classic Oedipal issues in the situation you describe. The role you seem to have been assigned (and have perhaps taken on in return for a degree of intimacy and privilege with your mother) is that of surrogate partner and confidant. So she is bound to see your choosing to be with another woman as a betrayal, as the end of her happiness. You need to take a step back from this intimacy—especially as you are taking on this role with someone else. Either change your relationship with your mother, or be prepared to leave your future wife’s expectations unfulfilled, and to feel terribly torn. Thirty-two-year-old habits are hard to break. But this is urgent—you may otherwise start to wonder what, or who, led you to your choice of partner. WilheminaI blew my thirtiesDear Wilhemina I’m a woman in my early forties. Recently, as I was talking to friends, I realised that I had blown my thirties. Everyone was sharing experiences of that fabulous decade, which I spent working like a fiend, trapped in a miserable marriage and then fighting a miserable divorce. How do I get beyond these feelings of wasted potential and of having missed out? RoseDear Rose Simple. Make the most of your forties and stop wallowing in the miserable decade gone. Two things will make you feel better. First, without being too cynical, think of it as a head start on middle age (what you’ve gone through already, some still have to look forward to). Second, the golden thirties narrative is more of a myth than you realise. It is fabricated—partly to extinguish the nagging sensation of not having made the most of our twenties (when we seemed to be having a lot less sex and a lot more stress than was expected of us), and partly to dull the pain of approaching middle age by swimming in fictional thirties bliss. For many women, their forties are a time of enhanced confidence, freedom and an altogether more relaxed take on life. This is all good stuff to have when divorce (if you haven’t got that under your belt already) and menopause hit you. Flippancy aside, I would suggest taking up something you have always wanted to do, but put off in your miserable thirties. This isn’t the old “get a hobby” cliché, but about investing in something that might transform your view of who you are. An instrument perhaps, a sport, a type of activity that needs investment (singing?). You may hate those ideas but it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it allows you to lose yourself in the moment. You think you’ve missed out on fun—so go have some. WilheminaDo I out him as a literary cheat?Dear Wilhemina I’m a writer in a collective. We publish a magazine, the small profits of which we reinvest in ourselves and the publication. Recently, I discovered one of our members wasn’t writing his own material. Instead, he pays other people for their work and puts his own name to it. I find this unacceptable, but am afraid of bringing the whole collective into disrepute if I blow the whistle. Do I turn a blind eye, or do the right thing? Marc SDear Marc S You’re right, it is unacceptable (and I keep wondering how you found out). But there are more than two ways to skin a writer. Why not opt for a middle path and just approach him with the truth—and the threat of revelation? Making it public will come across as self-righteous, smack of professional jealousy and, as you say, bring a measure of ridicule, if not opprobrium to your enterprise. Taking it up with him privately gives you the chance to right things without the hoopla. There is also the matter of the people whose work he “borrowed” to consider. They deserve to be published under their own names—and you can make sure he helps them. Give your fellow collective member a way out, and you’ll do the right thing by everyone Wilhemina Send your problems—in confidence—to