Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fixing Dear Abby

I often read the "Dear Abby" column in the Orange County Register. Most of the time, I'm fine with her answers. But other times, I want to fire off my "expert" opinion. :) I've tried a couple of times, but my emails to her always bounce back.

So, today, I thought I'd write a "Dear Dr. Debra" answer to Dear Abby's question.

The question:

For Valentine's Day, I bought a dozen red roses and had them delivered to my girlfriend's workplace. On her way home that evening, she made a stop at the grocery store and encountered a distraught young man near tears because he couldn't afford to buy flowers for his girlfriend. She offered him money, but he refused, so she gave him the roses I bought for her. (Abby, they had cost me more than $82!)

The whole episode still has me upset. I know the roses were a gift and she had every right to do with them as she wished. But I think what she did was thoughtless and insensitive because I don't see it from her perspective. What do you think?

Grinched in Iowa

Abby's answer:
I can see how, having spent as much as you did for the roses, you could be upset. I can also see how your kindhearted girlfriend might have had pity on the guy and acted on impulse. While the roses were hers, she could have accomplished the same thing by giving him one or two of the roses to give to his girlfriend. However, if you care about this relationship, you'll stop brooding and drop the matter.

First, I'll comment on the answer, then write my own:

Telling someone to stop brooding and drop the matter rarely works. All it does is make the person feel ashamed for continuing to brood. And this guy will. He needs to work through the issue, both within himself, and with his girlfriend before he'll be able to move on.

Dr. Debra's answer:

Dear Grinched.

I'm sure when you bought the roses for your girlfriend, you winced at the price. But your thought of her pleasure powered you through that normal reluctance to spend $82 on flowers that will die in a week.

What you probably didn't think about was what YOU would receive from this gift. Without knowing about it, you might have had expectations about what those flowers would make her think about you, make others think about you, and what she would then do because of her positive thoughts about you. If you can be honest about your expectations, it will help you move through your hurt.

Valentine's flowers delivered to work makes a very strong statement of specialness. Your girlfriend was able to enjoy the surprise, plus bask in the positive (although maybe envious) comments from her co-workers. ("You're so lucky. My husband doesn't do anything for Valentine's Day.") I'm sure she called you, expressing her excitement. (If she didn't, that's the start of your real problem with her.)

You probably were looking forward to her coming home--maybe imagined her throwing herself into your arms for a big hug and kiss (after she set down the vase, of course.) Your fantasy might have continued for what the rest of the evening would be like. And that vase of beautiful roses would be there for all of it.

When she arrived home without the flowers, your expectations were shattered. Maybe on her drive home, she had time to think about your reaction to her giving her flowers away. Maybe knowing your "grinch" ways, she realized she might be in trouble. Thus she didn't come into the house and throw herself into your arms, squealing how wonderful you are. Instead, she came in defensively. The discussion probably started off on the wrong foot.

What she should have explained was how much the flowers meant to her. That she had a chance to enjoy them all day. She should have told you what her colleagues said about them. She should have said that she will carry the memory of those flowers in her heart. And whenever she thinks of them, she will smile and feel love for you. She should have thanked you all over again--from her heart.

See, Grinch, that's what flowers are to women--a memory. The reality of them is beautiful, special, and fleeting. The memory is always there. (Not that she doesn't want more memories.)

So your girlfriend didn't give away the meaning of the flowers. You did that. Because of your reaction, the flowers became a bone of contention instead of the happy memory they were meant to be. You ruined her happy memory. She ruined your feeling of generosity about your gift. You probably won't give her flowers again. Or if you do, you'll either warn her, or be tempted to warn her, not to give them away.

She passed on the possibility of a special memory to another couple, perhaps one who needed it more. Maybe for that young man, your girlfriend's generous impulse will be a pivotal moment in his life or his relationship. Your $82 gift may have had greater meaning than you know.

You're blessed to have a generous, kind-hearted girlfriend. Most men (who aren't so lucky) would envy you that. I'm sure this quality of hers is what attracted you to her originally.

Work on forgiving and understanding. Focus on the blessings in your relationship with her. And never stop giving her flowers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Puzzles and Boundaries

My boyfriend, Don, gave me a puzzle for Christmas. It's a folk art rendition of San Francisco, a city that holds special memories for us. Yesterday, he suggested we break it out and work on it.
I took a break from writing and thought I'd play with the puzzle for an hour. I'd forgotten how addicting a puzzle can be and ended up sticking with it far longer.
In my family, puzzles are something we work on at our cabin in Big Bear Lake. So I'm used to working on a puzzle with one or more people. Don's only done puzzles by himself. This was our first attempt as a couple.
Last night all was fine. We finished the outline, which took quite a lot of time. This puzzle has a very complicated picture, and looking at all the pieces of buildings is overwhelming. I added a few pieces to the outline. I worked mainly on the sky and one large building. Don played with a different area. Around 10, I went to bed. But Don stayed up.
This morning when I got up, I looked at the puzzle and saw MY sky and MY building all put together. The other parts of the puzzle hadn't really been worked on. Not a big deal, but still annoying.
Later when we started working on the puzzle, I mentioned it. Don (of course) became defensive, saying this was something we were working on together, and I hadn't told him not to work on that area. He did mention that I'm supposed to be the boundary expert.
I retorted, that I didn't think I had to mention it. It never occurred to me that he'd poach on MY territory. Somewhere along the line, I used the word "rude." Now, we were really bantering, not arguing, but I did have to playfully slap his hand when he tried to take over the spot I was working on. "I'm just trying to help," he said.
Now, I don't mind him giving me a piece he found that fits my area. Or even inserting it. I do mind when I've tried a piece in a certain place, it didn't fit. Then, right away, he picks it up and tries THE SAME PLACE. (He probably won't make that mistake again. :)
He's been joking about what the puzzle says about our relationship. I jokingly agree. He likes to take over. Not a surprise. We both tease that his motto is "I did it my way."
Also in a relationship sense, how we play with the puzzle shows how we bring our previous experience, often from our family of origin, into our relationship. In my family, you play (puzzles) nicely with others. Meaning, each person focuses on their own spot, but may help each other out with theirs. Because Don has no experience in doing puzzles with others, he has a free for all attitude. I believe there are puzzle "rules." He doesn't.
For us, this is more amusing than anything. Humor, definitely, plays a big part in our relationship. However, I could see how some couples might end up fighting over the puzzle board, trying to prove who's "right." (Believe me, I've seen couples have massive arguments over far sillier things.)
I choose to look at it as fun entertainment and a way to get to know my partner better. But from now on, I'm going to remind him not to work on my "area" when I'm not there.
What about you? Do relationship issues emerge when you work on puzzles or play other games?