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Advice

Did previous column go too easy on freeloading boyfriend?

People generally like blaming someone else for their woes

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abusive relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

It can be painful to watch people we love screw up their lives in all sorts of ways, be it underemployment, substance use or bad relationship choices.

Michael,
 
You went way too easy on Jimmy, the unemployed guy whose boyfriend wrote you wondering how to get him off the couch. OMG, Jimmy is mopping up the floor with his sugar daddy. In a case like this, I think it’s time for some tough love.
 
Using your rationale that only an individual can decide he or she wants to change, nobody would ever stage an intervention or take any drastic step in an abusive relationship. And let’s be real — that’s what the letter writer is in!
 
I’m so weary of people spending their energy figuring out how much they can get away with. It’s glorified toddler behavior and it isn’t healthy.
 
If I were in the letter writer’s shoes, I would give Jimmy a three-month deadline. Jimmy needs a fire lit under his ass: “Unless you’re gainfully employed by that date, you’re out.”
 
That would be doing Jimmy a favor in the long run, because if he continues this way and never offers anything productive to society, he’ll hate himself years later when he realizes he’s wasted his life.
 
It wouldn’t have to be a job in his field — just something to get him out of the house and feeling productive, even part-time.

Michael replies:

I get where you’re coming from. Yes, it’s infuriating when we get taken advantage of, especially by someone who purports to love us.

And it can be painful to watch people we love screw up their lives in all sorts of ways, be it underemployment, substance use or bad relationship choices.

Nevertheless, when we try to get the other person to change his behavior, our efforts are likely to backfire.

Why?  Because most of us don’t like someone else telling us what to do and often get resentful when we’re dictated to. And we don’t like being told that the way we’re running our life is wrong, at least in the other person’s opinion.

So if Jimmy’s boyfriend tells him that he has to get a job, Jimmy is likely to focus on how awful and unjust the boyfriend is, rather than focusing on his own responsibility for the state of his affairs.  Alas, people generally like blaming someone else for their woes, rather than looking in the mirror.

An intervention works best when you tell the other person how his behavior affects you and you’re clear how much more you’re willing to tolerate. Aim not to guilt-trip him or force him to change, but simply to state your bottom line and encourage him to confront himself about how he wants to live, going forward.

Making threats to get your way can bring about change, but has the unfortunate side effect of bringing an ugly dynamic into your relationship. If you use threats today, down the road your partner is likely to do the same thing to you. That’s just the way relationships work.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t try to influence their partners. You certainly should ask for what you’d like when it’s important to you, just as you should be open to your partner’s requests. Just keep in mind that you may not always get what you ask for and that your influence may be limited.

And keep in mind that when you “need” the other person to behave in certain ways for you to be content, you don’t have much power over your life, because you can’t make your partner do your bidding. The only person any of us can always depend on to create the life we want is ourselves. This includes deciding whether or not we want to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t treat us as we’d like to be treated.

So while Jimmy is mopping up the floor with his boyfriend, the guy is not stuck in an abusive relationship. If Jimmy refuses to change, the boyfriend is welcome to leave.

As for Jimmy: It’s true, as you note, that if Jimmy doesn’t get his act together, one day he may regret it. But that’s not his boyfriend’s responsibility. Just as is true for the boyfriend, Jimmy is the only person who can decide how he wants to live his life.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

Gay son resentful after caring for ill parent

Busy straight brother not pitching in to help

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Dear Michael,

My dad died a few years back and lately my mom, who lives alone, is in frail shape. She lives about two hours away and I’m doing the bulk of the caretaking. This includes visiting her weekly, grocery shopping, managing her medical appointments, and arranging/monitoring her home health aides. I love my mother but I am getting overloaded with the responsibilities.  

I have a brother, Jeff, who actually lives a lot closer to mom than I do. He’s straight, married, and has three young-ish children. And he’s not doing a lot to help.

My mom doesn’t ask Jeff for much because she “doesn’t want to bother” him. He doesn’t volunteer to do almost anything, and I’m reluctant to push him because I know he works insane hours (typical lawyer) and has lots of family responsibilities.

I’m not straight, I’m not partnered, I have no kids, and I didn’t choose a demanding career. But does this mean I have to do the lion’s share?

It seems like my family thinks my life isn’t as important as Jeff’s.

I have great friends whom I love to spend time and travel with. I’ve had a lot less time to do that for the past 18 months. Also, I’ve been single for a long time. I want a relationship, but I don’t have time to be looking when I’m spending most weekends out of town taking care of mom.  

I keep putting my needs aside, because if I don’t, my mom’s going to suffer. But I’m getting increasingly resentful.  I don’t see a great way out of this situation. Do you have any suggestions?

Michael replies:

Yes, I have some suggestions to help you stop feeling so helpless and resentful.

First: Maybe your family thinks your life isn’t as important as Jeff’s, and maybe they don’t. But you definitely treat your life as less important, by not setting any kind of boundary. 

Waiting for your mom and Jeff to honor a boundary that you aren’t setting is not a great idea. You can’t expect other people to do more for you than you are willing to do for yourself.

I get that you don’t want to upset or guilt your mom, or put too much pressure on Jeff when he has lots of family and job responsibilities. But sometimes you’ve got to choose between possibly upsetting others, or feeling resentful and not having time to live your own life. Not an easy choice, and not an avoidable dilemma.

If you do ask your mom and Jeff for what you’d like from them, keep in mind that your power to influence other people is limited. In other words, while you can definitely ask them for what you want, you can’t ensure they will do what you ask.  

If your mom and Jeff don’t change their behavior, you’re not out of luck, not a bit. Because there is one person whom you can greatly influence to improve the situation. 

Of course, I’m talking about you. This is your life to live, and you get to set a boundary around what you are willing to do for others.

Just for example: Maybe you don’t want to visit mom every weekend, so that you have some time for yourself. Maybe you want to leave some things undone some of the time, such as a grocery run. Would mom survive if you missed a weekend visit here and there? Would Jeff (or one of your mother’s aides) step up if you weren’t available to buy the groceries occasionally?

If I were working with you in therapy, I have a sense that at this point, you would argue with me that it isn’t possible for you to stop doing any of the things you’re doing. 

If I’m right about this, you’ve likely got some things to figure out before you can tolerate making changes. This brings us back to the interesting question of why you might believe that your life isn’t all that important.  

A few questions for your consideration: 

  • What might be difficult or scary about setting a boundary?
  • What would you think about yourself if you did put yourself first? 
  • Do you think that only you can/will make sure everything gets done right?
  • Is putting aside your own needs a familiar behavior?
  • What might be appealing about doing so?
  • Why might you believe you are “less than”?

One more point: Don’t stop doing things for your mother just because you’re angry or resentful. You don’t want to act merely out of strong emotion, because then you’re not really in charge. It’s always a good idea to thoughtfully choose how you want to behave. 

So, one more big question to ask yourself, here and always: What are your own standards for yourself, and how do you adhere to them so that you live your life in a way that you respect? 

(Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].)

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Advice

Am I the only gay man who doesn’t sleep around?

Seeking friend group less interested in drugs, partying

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Feeling isolated because your friends don’t share your values? Time for new friends.

Dear Michael,

I am a 22-year-old man and I am starting to hate being gay.

It’s not that I feel bad about being attracted to men. I would love to date a guy, get married, and spend my life with him. My problem is that the values of the gay men I am meeting have nothing to do with what I want in life.

I’ve been living in D.C. for almost a year now and pretty much all I come across are guys who want to have sex with as many hot men as possible.  

Relationships, commitment, and honesty don’t seem to mean anything, as far as I can tell. I’ve had guys in long-term relationships hit on me or propose threesomes with their partners.  My ex-boyfriend was hooking up on Grindr multiple times per week after we had agreed to be exclusive. When I found out, he told me that it’s impossible for a gay guy not to sleep around.

What is it with gay men? Everyone seems to predominantly focus on sex. Whenever I go out to brunch with my gay friends, people are showing pictures and sometimes even X-rated videos of their latest hookups. Sex isn’t something special, just a recreational activity/competition.  
None of my straight friends act anything remotely like this.

Also, pretty much every gay man I spend time with seems to love getting trashed. I’m not anti-alcohol but I don’t see the fun in getting completely drunk regularly. I’m wary of recreational drugs but guys around me use them nonchalantly all the time. What kind of connection can you have with people around you when all of you are drunk or high on something?

I’ve tried to talk with my gay friends about how I feel but they respond like I’m from another planet, as if I’m questioning why they want to breathe oxygen.

I just think there’s a lot more to life than hooking up, that people should treat each other as more than just potential sex partners, and that sleeping around when I’m in a relationship doesn’t make for a great relationship. But I seem to be the only gay man I know who feels this way.

I don’t want to live the kind of life I see all around me. But I worry that unless I give up my values, I’m going to be lonely.  

Michael replies:

What kind of life will you have if you give up your values? Could you respect yourself or create a life that is meaningful and that you would enjoy?

We all face pressure to conform to those around us so that we will fit in. Doing so is understandable. As you describe, it can be lonely to be on the outside. But betraying who you actually are is a high price to pay for acceptance.  

This is why people come out. And this is why, despite the peer pressure, you are the only person who should decide the kind of life you want to lead as a gay man.

There is little point in discussing the many possible reasons why many gay men dedicate so much time and energy to sex. Everyone is free to choose how they want to live and what they want to focus on. And this includes you.

You can’t change other people or a community. But I’m hopeful you can find a community of friends with whom you are a better fit. I know you are far from alone in feeling as you do, because I regularly hear stories similar to yours in my practice. So rather than settling, keep looking, and look beyond the ways in which you’ve made your social life so far. The friend group you develop may not be as large as your current circle of acquaintances. (Or it may be larger!) In any case, you’d likely find it far more nurturing, and a lot more fun, to spend time with others who are more like-minded.  

It is not easy to feel like the odd man out. And when you want a different life from what most of your peers are seeking, it’s easy to doubt that you are OK. I’m sure you already know this from having grown up gay.  

When we come out, we have the hope that we will finally have a real peer group and won’t feel so different anymore. But that’s not always the case. Gay men are not one homogenous group and many of us have to do some searching to find some people with whom we really connect.  
You are doing important work in thinking about who you are and how you want to live. I hope you will make the choice to honor your time on earth by living it authentically.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality.

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Advice

Working from home is taking over our lives

We need to create boundaries and return to offices

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working from home, gay news, Washington Blade

Back in the late 1980s when I was a young financial analyst at a New York bank, I’d leave the office at five and go home to my little Upper West Side studio. With no cable, internet, or cellphone, a landline was my only connection to the outside word till I went back to work the next day.

What was it like? Tranquility is the word. Surrounded by Manhattan, I was as isolated as a monk in a cell, with uninterrupted hours to read a book, cook, or listen to an album. And of course I could go out on the town without a work crisis reaching out to ruin my plans.

I’ve been thinking back to those days a lot, lately. Working as a psychologist, I’m hearing more and more clients complain lately about how much time they’re putting into their jobs. Folks have been working from home for a year now, and as the months have gone by, many of us are spending more and more hours on the job.

What’s going on? I hear a few justifications.

First, many people tell me that they don’t feel they have an excuse not to reply when they get a text or email from a boss or colleague after normal work hours. After all, what else would they be doing? This is especially true of my single clients who don’t have children. Even dinnertime isn’t off limits.

Second, as the pandemic drags on and most of us have so few sources of fun and stimulation, people are turning more and more to their jobs for something — anything — to keep them occupied.

And, of course, there’s the reality that we’re working from our homes. There’s no physical boundary keeping work at work.

So while it’s great not to have to commute or wear pants, working from home is making it even easier for our jobs to take over our lives than they already were. Put bluntly, this sucks.

We all need a break from work. Every day. Your job likely isn’t paying you for 16-hour days. Even if it is, you need to have some fun, rest, and recharge your brain.

Of course we can’t shut ourselves off from the world as completely as I did in those pre-internet/cellphone days. But we need to draw a boundary, even if it means disappointing our employers and colleagues by doing so. I’m not talking about not doing your job. I’m just talking about setting a limit on how much of your life you are willing to give to your work.

Standing up for your own well-being can be scary. There may be real risks in terms of job security and compensation. Only you can decide for yourself when it is vital to say “no.” But advocating for yourself is necessary at times. To quote Hillel, an ancient Jewish sage: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”

Taking action on your own behalf is also a skill you want to develop, because it will help you in all areas of your life. If you can’t say “no” in order to eat dinner uninterrupted, watch a movie you’d like to see, spend time with someone you love or get a good night’s sleep, you’re going to get chewed up and spit out by others, quite a lot.

Recently, I’ve been reading that D.C.’s downtown is in danger of financial ruin. As many people may not be be returning to the office after the pandemic, some believe that the whole web of service businesses may collapse.

I’m hoping that the doomsdayers floating this theory are wrong, and that as the pandemic ends many of us will head back to the office, at least much of the time. We need to get back to setting a stronger boundary between work and the rest of our lives.

Yes, we’ll be helping our city rebound. And we’ll also be making a big step toward taking care of ourselves, by re-constructing a life that’s about way more than work.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com.

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