Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I’ve stepped away from my column for a week while I put the finishing touches on my new book, which will be published in the fall. Please enjoy these “Best Of” columns in my absence. I’ll be back with your fresh questions and answers next week.

DEAR AMY: I am the nanny of two 10-year-old girls this summer, and I am concerned with comments they have made about their looks. Both are normal-size, healthy girls with regular bodies, but I have heard them say how fat they think they are at least five or six times. One time one girl complained about her “big belly,” and the other said, “I need to work out soooo bad; I’m so fat.” Amy, these girls are 10! I always tell them that they are beautiful girls and are a healthy size. I am wondering if this is the proper way to handle this kind of talk, or what I could possibly do to make these girls believe that they are not fat. I do not want them to suffer the same self-esteem issues so many women (including myself) face.

Wondering in Illinois

DEAR WONDERING: You are right to be concerned about this, and you are responding to these girls just as you should. You can help further by exposing them to positive girl role models, rather than the stick-insect pop tarts and cultural “icons” currently in vogue.

If your summer charges haven’t yet started the “Harry Potter” books, now would be a good time to read J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (1998, Scholastic) with them. The Hermione character is one that any 10-year-old girl should emulate.

Adolescent girls should be encouraged to be smart and creative problem-solvers, not miniature workout queens.

Obviously, let a parent know what you’re observing. Unfortunately, the girls might be re-creating talk that they hear at home. Emphasize that the content of their character is always going to be the most important thing to you. They’re watching and learning from you all the time they’re with you. (July 2007)

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DEAR AMY: I am dating a medical student who has very little free time. I have done whatever possible to make this difficult time easier for him — doing his laundry, cleaning his apartment and bringing him dinners. He is very good to me, and I always enjoy seeing him. However, no matter what I do or what the situation, I take a back seat to his friends. I am either ignored or treated as “one of the guys” when they’re around. Though he often mentions marriage, I doubt that his friends even know that we’re serious. I know that he has to make the most of his spare time, but the only time reserved for me is when he’s too tired to do much else beyond lie on his couch. Sex has become very rare and dull. Though his excuse is often that he doesn’t have time to think about sex, he does have time in his study breaks to look at porn on the Internet. Am I wasting my time? Am I asking too much? Is it worth continuing to date someone on the promise that things will improve in a few years? I, too, will be in medical school soon. I worry that once my availability decreases we will become what we’re already close to being: long-distance friends.

Kelli

DEAR KELLI: Do you think you’ll be able to count on your boyfriend to cook and clean for you once you’ve started medical school?

Yeah — I didn’t think so.

Between his exhausting schedule of school, friends and porn, he does seem to find the time to dangle marriage in front of you now and then. Stop listening to what he says, and start paying close attention to what he does. Notice that what he does is all about him.

People in committed relationships find ways to value and treasure their partners, even when they’re exhausted. They find ways to be intimate, even when they’re going through a dull patch.

It’s fairly obvious that life for medical students isn’t exactly like “Grey’s Anatomy,” but couldn’t it be even the slightest bit like the popular television show, in which the busy physicians actually manage to have relationships?

Relationships seldom improve in a few years, the way you are hoping yours will — especially when only one party is committed to making an effort.

Is that what you want?

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Yeah — I didn’t think so. (October 2007)