DEAR AMY: I have a strange problem with a friend who just purchased a car. This friend is fairly new to my life. She is the closest friend I currently have in a new city where my family just purchased a home. I like this woman very much and don't want to offend her -- however I just learned that the car she purchased is the exact make, model and color that is owned by someone with whom I have a very painful past, related to the death of my infant son. I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (which I have had all my life) and PTSD related to the traumatic death of my son, and this car is a very real trigger for me for some extremely painful memories -- memories, in fact, that were part of the reason why we moved to this new city. I want to be excited for my friend, because she is ecstatic about her car, but I'm afraid that I won't be able to ride in it, or park near her at school pickup, or do any of the things I used to do with her. I don't want to tell her and make this new exciting purchase depressing for her (or all about me), but I can't imagine that my aversion won't become obvious. I've worked hard for years to get over the emotional triggers involved in my son's death, but some days I'm just faking it till I make it, and I don't want to get back to another dark place where things start falling apart for me emotionally. Should I tell her, or should I keep quiet and pretend to be excited for her and her new big purchase?
DEAR STRUGGLING: Keeping quiet and pretending this problem doesn't exist won't work, because internalizing your reaction won't help you to work through it. I assume your goal is to decrease your stress reaction over time, and the way to do this is to be honest with your new friend about this very unfortunate coincidence, while not blaming her for any of her choices.
Continue to avoid this visual trigger, but be open to the idea that your goal would be to adjust to it over time. Identify this challenge as an opportunity to tap into some of your inner strength. Ideally your friend's possession of this vehicle might help you replace the terrible and traumatic association with a more benign one.
Definitely talk this through with a therapist in your new city who has experience treating PTSD.
DEAR AMY: I recently heard through the grapevine that a neighbor feels I am "standoffish." This, despite us having had this neighbor over for numerous dinner parties and celebrations at our house for the first seven of the 20 years we've lived here. Not once during this time have we seen the inside of this neighbor's home or been invited over, even for a potluck. I stopped inviting this neighbor, who I felt wasn't interested in cultivating a friendship. I am not sure how to respond to this person, whom I see at neighborhood events. Do you have ideas?
Takes Two to Tango
DEAR TAKES TWO: By your own description of how this relationship has devolved, it seems (to me, at least) that you ARE standoffish toward this neighbor. And now I am wondering why you care? When thrown together with this neighbor, you should behave in a way that is "neighborly." That means inquiring about the family, pets or garden. This does not mean you must attempt again to loop this person into your friendship circle. And if behaving like a cordial neighbor means you are standoffish (according to that person's definition), then so be it.
DEAR AMY: I'm responding to the question from "Confused in Colorado," who refused to be around her guy's ex-wife at family events. She sounds like a self-centered, spoiled brat. There are things one does for the people one loves -- which sometimes one doesn't "feel" like doing. Your advice was right on -- nod hello, smile and engage with others.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Thank you. I hope she's paying attention.