by Amy Alkon
Q: My boyfriend has a crazy ex-wife who can’t let go. She is the meanest, most vengeful and manipulative person, initially convincing the 15-year-old son she has with my boyfriend that I’m the reason “Dad won’t come back.” (He actually divorced her after she, in a fit of rage, made a false police report about him.) She also slashed my tires and spread a rumor that my boyfriend is a child molester. I love him dearly, and we feel we’re soul mates, but his ex-wife is making it so hard to be happy. What can I do?—Besieged
A: Where is the very small, highly targeted zombie apocalypse when you need it? Don’t take this woman’s behavior personally. And yes, I’m serious. Assuming what you say about her is true, she seems to be one of those born bar brawlers, ever on the lookout for a reason to break a bottle over someone’s head and start the second Hundred Years’ War. If she could, she’d not only slash your tires but take a sponge bath in the Fountain of Youth so she could live long enough to slash your great-great-grandchildren’s, too.
The problem is, because she isn’t acting from anything resembling reason, there’s no reasoning with her. As personal security expert Gavin de Becker says about the irrationally persistent in his terrific book The Gift of Fear, “There is no straight talk for crooked people.” So, practically speaking, short of finding a home security company that sends out zombie squads by radio call, all that you, personally, can do is decide whether you find love and soulmatery worth the trade-offs in terror and tire costs. As for what your boyfriend can do, the answer, unfortunately, is “not much more”: Install video surveillance; document everything she does and use the legal system to the extent he can (and the extent that seems prudent).
The following advice—to use gratitude as a buffer against ugliness—might sound like it’s from the Little Miss Sunshine Solutions Department, but there’s actually solid science behind it. Research by social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues finds that people are meaningfully happier when they take regular stock of the things they have to be grateful for. (A caveat: This happiness-increasing effect was found only for people who did this blessings-counting once a week, maybe, the researchers surmise, because doing it more often felt like a chore.)
So consider getting gratitudinal once a week, maybe on Sunday night. You could even write five things down on slips of paper and put them in a “Gratitude Jar” so you have a visual reminder of how good you actually have it when things go bad. This may also help you avoid getting snippy with the irritatingly well-meaning who chirp, “What goes around comes around!” Right. If there is such a thing as karma, it seems to go after the truly heinous offenders first, like all the people who ever dropped a straw wrapper or let out a puff of tail wind in the elevator.
Q: I’m a butch lesbian with a crush on a (supposedly) straight married lady who’s very tomboyish. She has a number of lesbian friends, and I suspect her husband is in the closet. I keep telling her she’s “culturally gay” (because she dresses “soft butch”—combat boots, cords, etc.—and because of some of her attitudes), but I actually think there’s more to it than that. She insists she’s straight but seems weirdly upset by my comments.—Be Who You Are
A: Why not just say it right out: “There’s the closet. Could you please sit in there for a half-hour and come out ready to leave your husband?” I personally find it tragic when gay people feel they have to “ungay” themselves by living straight, but respecting another person’s privacy means accepting that they get to choose which parts of their life they’ll be taking commentary on. In other words, by picketing a baker who won’t make a cake for a gay wedding, you’re exercising your free speech rights, but it’s way out of line for you to effectively picket somebody’s relationship: “We’re here! We’re queer! And guess what: So are the two of you!” And no, this isn’t justified by your creation of an updated Kinsey scale—one that measures female homosexual desire based on a woman’s choice of footwear and whether she accessorizes with a welding mask.
So, instead of trying to drag this woman (by her wallet chain) out of her marriage, turn your attention to a woman who’s single and out. Respect that for your friend, Prince Charming may very well be that dude from the Disney movies, determined as you are to recast him as a soldier of fortune crossed with a lady gym teacher.