Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: A dear friend’s wife was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer. In the middle of the awful mess of it all — the surgery, chemo and all the health-related unknowns — my friend told me (and his cancer-battling wife) that he was “having feelings” for me. I felt it was incredibly selfish of him to add this to his wife’s burdens; he indicated he felt he was doing the right thing by coming clean. I am also married and have absolutely no interest in anything beyond friendship with him and am still kind of angry with him about it. I immediately asked for some distance. His wife then contacted me to ask if I have it in my heart to reconcile with him, as he is distraught about ruining the friendship. My husband is also quite understanding of my friend’s situation. Meanwhile, I feel uncomfortable about the whole thing and am having trouble figuring out where to go from here with the friend. It seems impossible to go back to the friendship we had before, which was quite special to me, and I don’t know where that leaves us. Plus, obviously and critically, the cancer! Any advice? Where to go from here?

Dismayed

DEAR DISMAYED: Three things occur to me: Your friend is distraught and panicking about his wife and has engaged in some majorly inappropriate transference by stealing the painful headlining drama and making it about him.

Or, your friend is subconsciously furious at his wife for getting sick and is punishing her.

Or your friend has been harboring these feelings for a long time, and now that his wife’s illness has reminded him of how fragile life is, his inhibitions have been stripped away.

Whatever his reason for doing this, you can assume that he is a wreck, and also that he believes his feelings are real. You can also assume that these intense feelings of his will fade.

You should forgive him and try to reconcile because his wife has asked you to. He has been honest with you, and so you should be honest with him. Tell him you will make the effort to remain friends, even though his declaration has compromised your friendship, as well as put both of your spouses in a terrible position.

Yes, your friendship may never be the same. But someone you care about has messed up. You can generously give him the opportunity to clean up the mess he has made.

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DEAR AMY: There’s a situation I have observed over quite a long time — I’m referring to the evolution of the part children play in their families. Granted, I am of retirement age and my viewpoint may well be skewed or even antique. In my youth, kids helped around the house, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, etc. These days, both parents work and they appear to do all the work at home, too. Kids of junior high and high school age seem to do nothing to help the family. What is the parental thinking here? Is this a universal trend? If you understand the dynamic, please share your analysis.

Puzzled in Hartford, Conn.

DEAR PUZZLED: I agree with you that this is a trend, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a universal one. Contemporary parents do seem especially devoted to their kids’ success, but they define success differently than in previous generations: through excelling at school, sports or interests outside the family.

One consequence of parental overcompensation is that there are older teens and college students who don’t know how to get out of bed without help, can’t find real-world solutions to commonplace problems, have few practical or household skills and can’t manage their own anxiety when faced with opportunities to take chances — and possibly fail.

Parents can avoid having a millennial child bounce back home to play video games in their basement by starting in early childhood, through giving the child a real-world stake in the family’s successful functioning. This means giving them jobs (both boring and challenging) to do, and expecting them to pitch in when asked, while still understanding that the sky won’t fall if your child doesn’t particularly “like” you today.

DEAR AMY: I want to reassure “Overwhelmed” that there is a sane alternative to the madness of Christmas. My extended family decided to no longer exchange gifts. Now, instead, we attend a play or concert at Christmastime as a group. This put the “merry” back into the holiday.

Happy

DEAR HAPPY: That’s the spirit!