Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just a Latte

Dear Jane: Here's the problem. I was recently invited to dinner by an ex-boyfriend whom I haven't seen in 10 years, except once, about a year ago. This relationship ended very, very badly, but within the year a truce was called and some semblance of friendship patched together. Contact was infrequent, but always congenial - interactions predicated on friendliness. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of emotional baggage attached to the past, which I have struggled to come to terms with (what went wrong? Self-recriminations abound).

However, right now, I am very happily married (and TTC). My husband was not included in the invitation, although to be sure he is out of town frequently. He, for his part, will not tell me what to do, although he has--through jokes and indirect comments--made clear that he doesn't like the idea. What should I do? At this point, I am considering downgrading the dinner invitation to just coffee. I don't want to do anything that could hurt my marriage, but I also doesn't want to be rude. Conundrum.


Dear Perplexed:

Jane would sum up this entire situation with a single word drenched in 18th century morality--impropriety.

Thankfully, we don't live in a world where married women are discouraged to socialize with former lovers.

That's what Jane would do (while throwing her hand over her mouth in astonishment).

But what should you do?

There are two types of exes. The ones who have truly crossed over into friends and the ones who are hanging around for other reasons. These reasons range from "I'm still in love with you" to "I just don't want anyone else to fully have you." Either way, the ones in the first category are always safe for a coffee date or dinner. Most of the time, your spouse or partner becomes friends with this person too and after a while, someone asks how you know each other and you have to think about it for a minute.

But your ex sounds like he belongs in the second category of exes. He comes with baggage and brings out certain emotions. He doesn't want to see the real, full Perplexed--the one who is with her spouse and trying to have a child. He wants to see the Perplexed that he knew long ago--the one who didn't have a husband or mothering ambitions. In other words, if the husband comes along, your ex doesn't see the Perplexed that exists in his head. The husband shatters the fantasy.

And even if he is amenable to your husband coming along, what is the purpose of the introduction? How does this ex fit into your life? Exes are attractive in the sense that--like all people--they hold a piece of your life. Once upon a time, this man meant a lot to you and you two share many memories that are only meaningful to you two. You can retell stories from that relationship to other people, but they'll never be able to remember being in the moment like your ex can. Therefore, even the shittiest ex can become somewhat attractive when you're feeling nostalgic and want to take a walk down memory lane.

By asking how your ex fits into your life, I'm really asking what you get out of the relationship. And is it worth disrupting home life in order to have that thing? You mention that your husband has expressed discomfort with this relationship. Is it because dinner with an ex is something that can send even the most confident husband into a sinking feeling of doubt? Or does your husband pick up on something in the invitation that you haven't noticed?

If you're not getting anything out of this relationship, I'd beg off with busyness and talk about rescheduling in the future. Which gives you more time to think. Sort of like packing away old clothes rather than donating them outright. Yes, they sit in your basement for a bit, but it gives you time to decide whether you really need them anymore or if they can be sent to a better home.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Perplexed's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Perplexed elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Giving Blogger

Dear Jane:

After this last failed cycle, we are taking a break for a year. If I'm completely honest this break is just an avoidance to saying we are done. I'm more than 90% confident that is where we will be in a year and this saddens me to no end. But we've really come to the end of treatments. I think I need to let go of a board that I've posted on for over a 1 1/2 years as well as reading many blogs.

I feel so guilty for saying it, but it hurts to see so many positives. It hurts to see people come to terms with their bodies because their bodies are redeeming themselves. When mine has only failed me. It simply hurts.

These are the same people who have given me more support than I can say which I always will appreciate. It leaves me guilty in feeling this way. But, I know it is time for me to walk away. These are people who deserve much more than my slinking away into the night never to hear from me again. I wonder if you have any advice on what to do.

Or if you think these feelings are something that I need to get over? Just deal with? Part of me seriously thinks it is self preservation. But guilt is racking my brain. And I am second-guessing everything.

Looking for guidance.

Uncomfortably Reading

Dear Reading:

In Northanger Abbey, Austen writes her famous quote: "Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love" and what is a greater disappointed love than the love you've been carrying for your future children which has yet to come to fruition? Boys may come and go, but our children hold our heart forever--even the children whom we never meet though we work so hard to bring them into this world.

Jane definitely believed in self-preservation and I think she would accept your desire to bow away quietly from friends, even while imploring you to reconsider what you are leaving behind. Good friends and good support are hard to find.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

You know the story of the Giving Tree. At first, they have a mutual love affair--the boy and the tree and they need each other equally. And then the boy leaves after taking all he can from the tree. And the tree is happy...but not really. A good friend or a good community is going to be like the Giving Tree, happily giving support even when none is taken in return because a community (1) has support coming already from multiple directions so a lag in one direction is not quite so noticeable and (2) it is in the nature of blogging to continue to read and comment even when you are not receiving readers and comments (at least for a short time period). And also, the blogging community, like the tree, realizes that individual readers and writers owe the greater whole nothing. Your blog is your own--you are free to write it, delete it, or do with it as you see fit.

There are those that I know will disagree and say that a blog becomes collective property because it is essentially a group art project, with the comments taking on a similar weight to the actual post. I am not of this belief. If I ever stopped writing, I would probably leave my blog up regardless if I thought someone would be helped by my thoughts. But you own your blog just as I own my blog and we are both free to write, read other blogs, comment, or walk away.

But just because we are free to do so doesn't mean we necessarily should do so. If you are walking away from your blog, reading other blogs, or commenting on bulletin boards because it is hurting you emotionally to do so, then in the name of self-preservation, you should assuage yourself of this emotional pain by walking away. Leave an apologetic message on your blog explaining its end, leave an email address in case people want to check in on you in the future, and taper off reading and commenting on other blogs.

But here's a scenario to kick around in your head. What if you miraculously (run with it now, I said miraculously) became pregnant naturally while on your break. Would your instinct be to blog about it and gain support from the community again? Would you find yourself back on the boards or back on blogs, discussing your pregnancy out of both celebration and anxiety?

If you answer no, the statement is obvious--blogging and bulletin boards are truly a painful reminder and walking away from them is like throwing out the OPKs and Follistim pens. The goodbye is truly shutting a chapter on your life and if you were to find yourself in a new place, you'd probably find a new method for support. Perhaps you'd join an expectant mother's club in your area--something that is the complete opposite to the online support that simply reminds you of infertility.

But if you answered yes, it becomes like the boy in the Giving Tree, coming back whenever he needs something, but not sticking around to support the tree. Part of being in a community is being in that community and giving support as well as taking it. It does not need to be support given at its loudest volume, but it does need to be a quiet whisper here and there to let people know that you're still around. You're still part of the community and you'll hold their hand when they're crying. On a strong day when you're feeling up to it, you'll even celebrate with them too. Post every few weeks or whenever the mood strikes. Comment every once in a while. Read a lot on days when you're feeling up to it and walk away from the computer on days when it's too difficult to see another person's belly shot. It's a middle ground that allows you to remain in the community while taking a rest.

The IF/pg loss community is a pretty flexible, understanding community because we all get it. We all nod our head in agreement when someone mentions in a small voice how the happiness and success of others is like a dagger through the hearts of those still in the trenches. It's the age-old conundrum that defines infertility--I'm happy for you while being sad for me. No one would think less of you if you threw your hands in the air and said, "I really can't do this anymore." Sometimes people come back too, but you never know what kind of reception you'll get from those who remained in the community.

This situation is similar to the ongoing struggle most of us have with attending baby-centered events. And I think the answer is similar. You don't need to attend these events at your usual 100% of effort. You can bow out of the ones that aren't celebrating close friends or family. You can attend and leave early. You can attend and spend the majority of the time in the bathroom. But if you want people to support you in the future--whatever form that support may take from attending your baby shower or celebrating a different accomplishment--you do need to be there for them even when it hurts to be there for them. Which is to say that you have an obligation to yourself to not make more hurt for your heart. But you also have an obligation to yourself to work through some of your own emotions in order to not leave all communities behind.

Which is a long way of saying that you should do what you need to do, but before you take a step in any direction, consider your needs in the future and don't burn bridges (or even dust away paths) if you're going to need to return.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Reading's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Reading elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.