DEAR AMY: I have been married for 20 years (no kids). It has been a good marriage and we've worked at it. Now I am befuddled. Ever since the pandemic hit, my wife has stopped wearing makeup or dressing up. Intimacy has stopped. Hugging and kissing has to be initiated by me. Even showers are optional, sometimes. My wife has an extensive collection of clothes and shoes that she loved wearing on weekends. Well, Amy, ALL OF THAT HAS STOPPED. I feel like she is a shell of what she used to be. I am not sure what to do. Now she will wear the same jeans for three days in a row. She provides vague excuses and reasons that don't make sense to me. She is now obsessed with her job. She works from home and that seems to be the only thing that gets any emotion from her. I get the feeling that she doesn't even recognize that she is doing any of this. Is this a warning sign of something? Any advice?
DEAR PANDEMONIUM: First, a confession: Yesterday I attended the first (outdoor) family gathering in four months. In the course of trying to get (appropriately) dressed, I realized that I had almost forgotten how.
My point is that when the weekdays blend into the weekends, there seems to be little reason to change out of those three-day jeans. It has also been a weird time when we women watch our gray roots grow out, go without getting our teeth cleaned, don't wear makeup or lipstick (what's the point, behind a mask?) and don't have the experience of primping for an important board meeting, or night out.
Also, being socially isolated is extremely hard on many people — in ways they may not be able to recognize or express. Your wife may be distracted, anxious, and depressed — as many people are right now. (Her change in hygiene is one sign.) Urge her to check in with her doctor to be screened for depression.
You might be able to coax her toward you by initiating an outing. Pack a picnic. Go to a nice outdoor spot where you two can sit together, take in some new scenery (including each other), and reconnect. Celebrate your private blessings. Start to make plans, pointed toward that time when the world will be fully open.
DEAR AMY: I think I'm too considerate and helpful. I often go out of my way to help my friends. I always answer their messages right away. I'm always available when they ask. I guess I do this because it makes me feel important and loved. When my friends are selfish, I get quietly resentful instead of brushing it off or calling them out. My friends who have stronger personalities can "get away" with being rude or selfish. But whenever I do something selfish or rude, no one hesitates to let me know. My mom used to say about me with a laugh: "'Clara' is so nice, but everyone's always mad at her." I care so much about being perceived as nice and fair, that I am unfair to myself. I have this irrational fear of anyone ever getting angry with me. Do you have tips for emotional strength, and learning to be less considerate?
DEAR TOO NICE: In human relationships, being less available often makes people respect you more. It's counterintuitive, but it's true.
I think you overextend yourself for others because you are worried that if you don't, you might disappear. And that if you disappeared, you might not be missed. This insecurity makes you a target for more aggressive people.
Being kind and loving starts with how you treat yourself. You don't have to go around confronting people (that's not your style), but you do need to set limits, retreat if you don't like the way you are being treated, and if someone is a jerk — reconsider whether it is worth being friends with them at all.
You should choose to be around people who value your kindness and generosity, and respect you as an individual.
DEAR AMY: "Blessed Dad" had a helpful and courteous cousin living with his household during the pandemic, but he wondered if she should pray aloud with the family at mealtime. If only one person in that particular household could appreciate the many forms an answer to a prayer can look like, perhaps he wouldn't feel that employing structural reinforcements to his own personal faith were necessary.
DEAR DAVIS: Amen!