DEAR AMY: My boyfriend of two years was raised in a doomsday cult. Yep, the real deal. It wasn’t traumatic, exactly, but he grew up believing that the end of the world is nigh and when certain “signs” are presented, he and the other church members would flee to Jerusalem to wait out the “End Times.” My boyfriend left the church several years ago. He sees this church as a fear-mongering, destructive environment. However, his parents and older brother are still a part of it. They are packed and ready to flee at any moment. My boyfriend’s father, “James,” is very paranoid. He and his wife are terrified for my boyfriend’s soul, so periodically this is what happens:
1. James starts to talk about all of these awful things: government conspiracies, the end of the world, how he heard on one of his many fear-mongering podcasts that things are being put in vaccines to control us, etc.
2. My boyfriend makes it clear to him, both verbally and by limiting their time together, that these conversations are inappropriate and he will not tolerate them.
3. James persists.
4. Finally, we cut off all contact for as long as is necessary.
5. Eventually we start to see him and his wife again. However, after a while James starts the pattern (again), and there we go again.
Amy, I love my boyfriend dearly and want to marry him, but I am worried about the stress of dealing with his family. It has distressed my boyfriend for years. James still wants to try and convert me. We are moving out of state for graduate school soon. Are we handling this well? Do we need to set better boundaries? If there is anything I can do to not be plagued by this cycle of dysfunction for the rest of my life, I will do it.
Worried soon-to-be daughter-in-law
DEAR WORRIED: You and your boyfriend seem to be doing a good job of trying to retrain his family to stop proselytizing when they are with you. Responding in a firm and consistent manner (and then keeping your distance) is exactly what you should do.
I quibble with one thing: I believe your guy did grow up in a traumatic environment. He escaped it, but the lessons taught to him as a young child would have set him up for a lifetime of deep insecurity. Fortunately, he seems to be resilient.
You two should see a counselor together, to check your feelings and reactions to this extreme situation. It is vital to be on the same page. Cutting off contact might be his ultimate response, but dealing with the guilt and grief of that loss is something he should talk through with a professional — and/or a support group.
DEAR AMY: I am part of a very large family (10 brothers and sisters). I have some nieces who very seldom show up at family celebrations, such as showers, birthday parties, etc., but when it comes to their children’s parties, they expect everyone to show up by inviting people via Facebook or through word of mouth. How can someone tell them how their absence to our parties is causing others not to show up at their parties without causing hard feelings?
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Issuing invitations on Facebook does not mean that these nieces expect everyone to show up at their kids’ parties. Facebook invitations are a handy way for people to respond quickly and for the hosts to get a head count.
These family members are attempting to be inclusive.
If your feelings are hurt by their inattention to other family celebrations and life-events (completely justified, by the way), you should honestly convey this message: “I have noticed your inattention toward other family members. It is time for you to step up and behave as a full member of this big family. We know you can’t show up for everything, but sometimes — you have to give (and celebrate) in order to get (and be celebrated).”
DEAR AMY: “Curious Guy” innocently asked why women don’t shave their forearms. You followed up by asking why men don’t shave their underarms, as women do. The reason we don’t shave is because no one taught us that this should be the norm. Thank God. I have to admit that I prefer it when women shave, but I also understand why they might not want to.
DEAR GUY: Shaving is a gender norm, and I think it is wise to question it.