Frank’s sons are 26 and 22 years of age. He says that they are supportive of his relationship with me but that trying to get everyone together to meet is difficult because we all work. According to my boyfriend, his oldest takes his laundry to his maternal grandmother’s house, and he had an opportunity to be an apprentice to a plumber but turned it down. His oldest has also been using his dad’s truck for almost a year now as he hasn’t gotten his own vehicle repaired. He does, however, have a job as a stock clerk at a local grocery store.
His second son has a job in a fast food restaurant. I’ve been told that the plan is for him to attend college. I also know that this son has had mental illness issues and is actively smoking marijuana. I have told Frank that I don’t feel the drug of choice for his depression is marijuana and that he should be in therapy and see a doctor. Frank disagrees with me as his son has been in therapy before and no therapist has ever given him any coping strategies. He also does not want him on medication. He does agree that he should stop smoking pot but doesn’t put an end to it.
I am writing to you because I’m confused with the situation and need advice. Frank is a very intelligent, loving man, but I think his sons might be taking advantage of him as he doesn’t set any rules and is enabling bad behavior. He does not make them pay rent and the second son usually has his friends at the house quite often. Frank’s plan is to buy a retirement home for us after his daughter is off to college. He is currently on a Disney trip with all three of his children at the moment (their 14th time to this place) and I’m spending this time re-thinking the relationship. I have made it known that I don’t agree with taking these expensive vacations when his house needs so much work, but he justifies it by saying that he makes a lot of money and does it for his kids. I do understand that he makes much more than I do, but I still don’t agree with it.
Thank you so much for any advice. — Re-Thinking This Relationship
It seems obvious to me that the reason Frank hasn’t introduced you to his sons and hasn’t integrated you into his life more is because he feels so much judgment already from you and doesn’t want to subject his family to that. His daughter was just 14 when she lost her mother, his sons only 20 and 24 — all such formative (and transformative) ages. Imagine shouldering such loss and grief at those ages — ages when society expects you to be moving forward at a rapid pace, figuring out what you want to do with your life and what steps you need to take to get there, all when the anchor that held you harbored and safe is suddenly yanked away. Throw mental illness struggles and hormonal shifts into the mix, and I can’t imagine the enormous reserve it’s taken for Frank to support his children and provide a loving safety net for them while managing his own grief. And here you are harping about how many times he’s taken his family to Disneyland?!
You literally have no say in how Frank spends his money or his time. You aren’t married to him; you haven’t even been invited to stay at his house!! And so what if his home “needs work”? Maybe for his family, creating memories on a fun vacation to a place that is familiar and probably reminds them of their mother is a higher priority right now than buying new kitchen cabinets or whatever. And who cares if his son does his laundry at his grandmother’s home? How wonderful that she lives so close to provide extra support and care. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child like she did, but I bet having her grandchildren come to her home on a regular basis eases some of the grief. Maybe the laundry — what you likely see as something a 26-year-old should be doing somewhere besides his grandmother’s home — is an opportunity to connect with each other, to touch base, to express care.
So Frank’s younger son struggles with mental illness and has found something that seemingly helps manage symptoms, and you think it’s the “wrong drug of choice”? What gives you the expertise to make that presumption? You’ve never met the son. Have you even had any conversations with Frank about his son’s symptoms and the coping effect the marijuana has on him? Or do you just hear “marijuana” and immediately think it’s wrong? I happen to think it’s a fucking travesty that something that provides relief for millions of people who struggle with a host of issues continues to be stigmatized and lack universal legal protection despite having significantly fewer negative side effects than more typically-prescribed drugs (drugs that you would, no doubt, consider a “better choice” for this person you’ve never met before and whose symptoms you’ve never witnessed). I’ve seen marijuana work wonders for people who tried so many other coping strategies for their illnesses, and, even so, I would never decide it was the best choice for someone I didn’t know, whose experience I didn’t fully understand, and whose journey into managing their symptoms I wasn’t privy to. Where do you get off making these kinds of calls? The judgment — the moral superiority you’re showing — towards the way a family you don’t even know manages their grief, their illness, their transitions into new stages of life is somewhat stunning.
Yes, I think it’s right for you to be re-thinking your relationship with Frank — not because he isn’t perfect or because he spends his money on Disney trips instead of new windows and lets his son drive his truck and hasn’t kicked his children out of the house yet or made them get “real” jobs or give up coping strategies that you don’t approve of; you should re-think the relationship because it doesn’t sound like there’s a space in your heart for the life he lives, nor interest in making space. You want him to fit neatly into a life you imagine together rather than working with each other to flex and stretch into a real life.
Look, there’s mess in real life — old windows that need to be replaced and dead spouses to mourn and kids who don’t totally have their proverbial shit together. And there’s beauty and joy in that mess, too. And when you need a break from the mess, it’s nice to be able to escape for a bit to somewhere like “the most magical place on earth” (if that’s your jam)…and not be judged so harshly for it.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.