Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

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Glad to Be Back

Dear friends and loveadvice.com visitors,

Thanks to all of you who have written words of encouragement and sent your prayers to me and my husband Marshall.

The past year has been a long struggle fighting Marshall's cancer. He was diagnosed with metastasized carcinoid cancer a year ago, and had surgery in Hawaii with a very poor prognosis. Since then we have had an odyssey that took us from our home in Hawaii to Manhattan where we lived for two months while he had a second surgery with a better outcome.

Now we are back in Hawaii, Marshall is currently undergoing chemotherapy to shrink his remaining tumors, and we're seeing encouraging signs of progress. His weight is up and he is able to enjoy life, exercise and eat all he wants. (Yes, I'm a little envious of his éclairs.) We have a new three-month-old Doberman puppy, and she brings a lot of joy to our lives.

Nobody knows what the future will bring, so for now, we're living and loving each day to the fullest.

It's good to be back on line. I've missed you all.

Dr. Tracy

Boyfriend's Baggage
When All the Men are Jerks
Who's in Charge?

Boyfriend's Baggage

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for a year and a half.

He 26 years old and I am 21. He finished his masters degree last year and I am currently finishing my B.A. and we met at our university. We have a very solid relationship and approach the problems that arise between us in what we'd hope would be a healthy fashion, however, my problems with him do not arise from our relationship, but instead, the relationship I have with his familial environment. When I finish school we are planning to get married and pursue our careers together, but have not been formally engaged. We live together and in the same city as his parents.

Here's the twist: When my boyfriend was 17 he had a child with his girlfriend who was only 16 at the time. They were never married, never lived together, and broke up over 5 years ago when their daugher was just a toddler. They have remained in close contact due to their shared parental responsibilities, however when we started dating, his daughter's mother became horribly jealous and manipulative.

Although this was expected and we've tried to maintain our distance from her, his parents continue to visit her (she is now 25) several times a week. I understand that they would like to support her and see their granddaughter more often, but I feel like it is hindering my ability to get to know his family better. (Although I can imagine that it would be difficult to be a single parent and she needs all the support she can get, she still lives with her mother and they have a full-time nanny who cares for her daughter and does all the housework.)

Whenever we spend time with his family, they are either talking about his daughter's mother or she is calling them on the phone asking them for something, whether it be clothing, babysitting or personal support. When I began to date my boyfriend she also did this to him, but it has since stopped after they stopped speaking for three months. The thing that sort of confuses me is that they are always saying that she's lazy, not a good mother, and irresponsible. My boyfriend claims that they spend so much time with her to keep tabs on her parenting, however I see it as letting her take advantage of their kindness.

His parents simply want the best for his daughter, but I feel that his ex-girlfriend's dependency on his family is inappropriate. Because of her jealousy and other diagnosed mental-health problems, his parents are very careful to not mention my presence to her, and expect my boyfriend and I to make sacrifices, but I feel that they are completely oblivious to how I might feel about certain topics or situations. Keep in mind I've never even met his ex-girlfriend although I have a close relationship with his daughter. Although we've offered so that she could know the person who is now spending time with her daughter, she has always refused and said she is not ready.

My boyfriend's parents claim that they support their son's decision not to stay with his daughter's mother, however I feel that it has been really hard "to enter" this familial environment. I often have felt that I won't be "accepted" into their family into I have my own children, however since both my boyfriend and I want to continue to more advanced degrees, I don't see this as a possibility anytime soon. They are aware of our plans for marriage in the future, and support us, however, I feel that their actions are not consistent with their words.

Part of me realizes that a lot of this situation is due to habits that his family has formed over time, which are sometimes hard to break. It's a terribly sensitive situation, and I'm not really sure what I have the right to bring up to them, and what I should keep my mouth shut about. I would like to explain to them how the current environment makes me uncomfortable, but don't want to make it sound like I'm trying to erase his ex-girlfriend's presence in their lives. Obviously, as the mother of his wonderful little daughter she is an important person, but I feel that this "close relationship" is not only inhibiting her ability to move-on from their relationship, but also making it hard for me to find a "fit" in their family. Most importantly, I feel that the status quo as it is now is not acceptable for me in the future. I simply refuse to live my life always centered around my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.

The truth is that in my relationships my boyfriends' families have always adored me, so it's been difficult to feel like they hardly even notice me, at all.

Thanks for you time, and help, and I wish your husband strength in this time.

Dear Confused,

Unfortunately, no matter how much your boyfriend's ex bothers you, and no matter how much his parents say she's a bad mother, your situation is probably not going to improve unless you handle it with diplomacy, not hurt feelings.

You're involved in a relationship with a man who comes with a nine-year-old daughter and an ex-girlfriend who has had many years to entangle herself in his family. Compared to the time you and your boyfriend have been together, she has seniority, and she's not going to give it up.

You really can't expect the situation to change a lot, because this child will be in your life for many, many years to come - maybe for the rest of your life. And so will her mother. Your boyfriend will continue to have a relationship with his daughter and so will his parents, and the mother comes with.

If this were just an ex-girlfriend or even an ex-wife, you might be able to cut her out of your life, but in this situation, you have no real way to infiltrate into his family the way she has until you have children of your own, but even then, the ex-girlfriend will still be there.

You certainly have no right to tell his parents not to see the ex-girlfriend or how they should feel about her or deal with her. You talk as if your future marriage to this man is a foregone conclusion, but remember, in his parents' eyes, you're just a current girlfriend and may be gone in a year, while the other woman is the mother of their grandchild.

So what can you do?

You say the current situation is not acceptable for you in the future. Only you can change it and there's only one solution. You'll have to embrace the ex, take her into your life, and try to be friends. Even if you don't want to, it's the only solution. It will make you seem a bigger and more compassionate person. You could even ask his parents for help in befriending her, which will help you avoid looking jealous or negative to them.

Since you're not going to get rid of her, you might as well accept the situation and make the best of it.

You're first in the eyes of your man, and while you should try to make friends with his parents too, you don't have to be first with them. Keep in mind that many women survive with in-laws who are less than crazy about them.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

When All the Men are Jerks

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I wonder if you could advise about the repeated pattern below:

I am 50 [but guys say I look 40] no kids, divorced since 1981, never remarried, but have had one 7 year and one 5 year relationship. I'm a very independent professional of Mediterranean background. Thus I have a combination of modern [hippie era] and traditional values [Latino-Catholic].

But I seem to have the same pattern for all relationships: They court me, attract my interest, then after I am "won over" they forget about me and I'm 'stuck' emotionally until I withdraw or move on to lick my wounds. Then I start alll over again.

I have worked very hard on self-esteem and personal growth. But, still no improvement in guys that I'm attracting.

What gives?

How can I change things? ...it's all like a re-occurring nightmare! I'd love to have a man CARE for me in the way that I need to be cared for.

Hope to hear from you soon...

Dear Stuck,

For a "very independent" woman, you haven't been independent enough when it comes to giving your heart away. You say you are attracting the wrong guys, but I don't think that's the problem. I suspect that you do the same thing over and over again, and you'd do that no matter what guy you attract.

Even the nicest guys can be turned into indifferent ones that leave you stuck and heartbroken. The trick is to stop doing what you're doing. That means not being "won over" so easily. Don't think for a minute that I'm telling you not to have sex or whatever physical intimacy you want, just don't give your total being along with the sex.

Men like a challenge and so you have to continually present yourself as one. It's so tempting when a man is courting you to let him be successful and win you over. But the problem is that once you do that, he has no incentive to keep trying.

One trick is to date more than one man, maybe even several. Don't stop dating other men until you have a real commitment from the man you want. Just having others in your picture will make you act differently, not so totally in love. It will also keep your man from forgetting about you because even when you're not with him, he'll be wondering who you're with and what you're doing.

This is not a matter of self-esteem and personal growth. It's a matter of self-control and the ability to gauge a relationship's temperature. When he's burning up, you can be a little cooler. And if he cools, don't go hot in response, go even cooler.

If a man has all of you he wants, then he loses interest. Instead of giving 100% of your self to a man, give him 50% and save the rest to dole out a little at a time. Always save 10% for yourself. If you don't give your heart and soul on a platter, you won't be so stuck emotionally if it doesn't work out.

Losing at love over and over again usually isn't a matter of all the men being jerks. The common denominator here is you. If you want the outcome to change, change your behavior. Protect yourself by having too much self-esteem to allow yourself to be hurt. Care for yourself and you will have a man who cares for you the way you need to be cared for.

Remember, what you have to offer is too valuable to give it away lightly. If a man has to work really hard to get you, he'll value you more. Set a time period - say six months - before you give your heart. You'll be surprised at how much better your relationships will be.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Who's in Charge?

Dear Dr. Tracy,

Dear Doctor - My wife and I have been married for over thrity years now, and for much of that time she has been critising the way I dress.You see,I wear suspenders almost everyday which she says is old fashioned and I should be wearing a belt like all of the other men.Lately she has become very critical and does not leave alone about them.I can't see what all the fuss is about because I like wearing suspenders because they are more comfortable and I can't see myself wearing a belt which I have always found to be too tight.She says when others see me in suspenders,her female friends,that she is very embarrased when the other women comment on my them.

Am I wrong in wearing suspenders or is she right and I should stop wearing them?

Dear Suspender-Wearing Hubby,

Okay, you should be able to wear what you want, as long as it doesn't become a big issue in your marriage. You and your wife have been fussing about your suspender style for almost thirty years.

Perhaps the suspenders are a substitute for something else that's wrong in your marriage that neither you nor your wife wants to deal with. But if they're the only thing you have to fight over, give up the suspenders. Really, if it will make your wife of thirty years happy, it's a small sacrifice.

Have you ever heard of elastic? You don't have to wear a belt if it bothers you. Buy slacks with a little stretchy part in the back or sides and your pants will stay up without being too tight.

Look around. How many men are wearing suspenders? Make your wife happy. It's no big deal.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Submitting a Question to this column

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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