It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today, we hear from “Not Into Helping My Friends Shower,” the woman who was creeped out by her (male) friend in a wheelchair who would ask for help showering and going to the bathroom. Keep reading to see how she’s handled the situation.
Buddy and I tried to explain in nice, friendly, social-justicey, non-judgemental language things like having patience, compromise and respect for workers/attendants, and how typical people are socialized not only to not touch one another that intimately, but to dislike it, so it can be uncomfortable for people to be asked to help with nose-blowing and such. Then we realized there were some major issues there, as Joe explained that he gravitates toward women and asks women for help because “women are natural caretakers” and “guys ALWAYS say no and aren’t comfortable with my requests, because they don’t want to touch another guy.” We had to explain to him that, actually, women are very uncomfortable as well, but women are socialized to be nice and be helpful and so feel like saying no makes them a bitch, where men have no such worry about this sort of thing and so feel perfectly fine saying flat-out “no.”
Eventually though, the prolific whining about his situation was really bringing me down. I’m one of those people where, if a situation can’t be fixed, it’s time for an attitude change, not More Fucking Whining. And I was trying to find those super nice active listening ways to reply to him when finally I realized those words were not going to come because they just aren’t me. So I very respectfully yet bluntly told him all the “issues” that I (and other people) have had with him, like him not understanding that it’s totally normal if friends don’t come over to your house more than 1-2 times a month and it’s unreasonable to talk about how miserable your situation is for more than a few minutes each and every time you meet someone (this is what a therapist is for). And that it’s just not cool to complain that people don’t treat you like a regular person when you set yourself up to be constantly taken care of (by requesting services inappropriately).
He actually said “I know” in reply but yet still calls very frequently, moaning about his situation (to me and other women) and basically demanding we come be advocates and intervene (even though this is not our area of expertise). We’ve set him up with disability advocacy groups, but he has this thing a friend of mine, who is a disability specialist, says is common where he doesn’t want to associate with other disabled folks as he feels he has nothing in common with them besides being disabled when in actuality it’s his refusing to accept he is disabled.
Over the last month I’ve offered a lot of help with advocacy and problem solving, but his issues are honestly beyond my scope. I’ve tried to explain that he will never ever have the situation he had with his mom again (where basically, in an effort to make her son feel as not disabled as possible, all he had to do was snap his fingers and she did anything whenever he wanted, literally) and he needs to think about how to live in the mainstream world and research how other people like him work and compromise and negotiate with their attendants and caregivers. He’s been really hostile to this idea and basically thinks his mother and anyone who doesn’t do whatever he wants is “fucking lazy” and insists he does not require “that much care” and has no empathy at all for working with people’s limits and not basically being the spoiled martyr prince. I have a meeting with his mom and his social worker and him at the end of the month to help negotiate a more acceptable solution for his living situation, but I’m growing more and more fed up with his refusal to bend, compromise, and be remotely empathetic, and, if he doesn’t get it together and start acting like the “regular person” he claims he wants to be treated as rather than a martyr king with sexist creeper tendencies, I’m bowing out.
As for my autistic son, this whole situation has made me relieved that my ex-husband and I absolutely made the right choice regarding his care. My ex-husband’s sister is a similarly nasty entitled person most of the time, and we did not want our son to end up like this. This is not to paint disabled people as entitled. I am one myself, keep in mind. I am saying that parents being slaves to their disabled child is no different than being a slave to an able-bodied child, and creates a damned monster with very unreasonable expectations. Our son is in his late teens now and a decent, sweet person we all enjoy spending time with. He also knows how to work with others and was not raised in a house where everyone pitied and favored him. (I grew up with my family but my family did not pity me at all, quite the opposite actually, which wasn’t great either, but that’s neither here nor there). I am also incredibly relieved I have a good relationship with my son now, as his mother and not his nursemaid/caregiver/therapist.
Thanks for the update. I can’t help but wonder though: what’s the point in remaining friends with Joe? It doesn’t sound like you like him at all. And, in fact, YOU almost sound like the martyr you’re accusing him of being by remaining in his social circle and taking on a role, however begrudgingly, of advocate and social guide. There’s no sense in taking on this kind of responsibility for someone you don’t even like, even if you do share mutual friends and may run into each other regularly.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at email@example.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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Lindsay July 15, 2013, 1:43 pm
I’m with Wendy. Why are YOU meeting with his mother and a social worker if you’re not close friends and you don’t want to be involved in his care? If you don’t like that role, then extricate yourself. I know last time you said that you enjoyed him as a friend, but it sounds like you just kind of hate him.
Now I’m going to hide under my desk because I remember the craziness that happened after the last letter…
6napkinburger July 15, 2013, 1:52 pm
Did she tell us that she was disabled before? I totally don’t remember that…
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 1:55 pm
I don’t either.
Fabelle July 15, 2013, 2:23 pm
rachel July 15, 2013, 1:58 pm
WWS. You kept listing off ways you are fed up with him, and I was waiting for you to say “so I’ve stopped spending time with him”. I don’t get it.
theattack July 15, 2013, 2:04 pm
If you don’t want to be his advocate or caregiver then don’t do it. Just stop. You’ve told him your expectations but you’re not stopping your part in it. Don’t be surprised when he keeps doing the exact same thing.
theattack July 15, 2013, 2:05 pm
Oh, and every time you say you’re not going to put up with something yet continue to do so, you’re undermining your power to stop things in the future. You say it once and mean it once. If he can’t stop then he’s gone.
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 2:07 pm
Can we seriously just STOP with the letters that casually trash the disabled? Honestly? Between this update abd that letter a while back where some seriously thought that poor guy should change his own diaper… I find myself revolted at far too many of you… This entire letter drips of being a judgemental bitch all the while loudly proclaiming youself to be a saint. Newsflash: nobody is buying it, LW. Well… At least I’m not…
theattack July 15, 2013, 2:11 pm
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the LW not wanting to be a caretaker for her friend. That’s a really difficult role that not everyone is cut out for. There’s no shame there.
GatorGirl July 15, 2013, 2:14 pm
Wasn’t this update for the same letter as the diaper issue?
Either way, it’s not “casually trashing the disabled” to day an individual is making you uncomfortable with their requests. I do agree this lady’s tone is all off, but being uncomfortable with assisting a grown male, who is your casual friend, actually seems really rational to me. Being a caretaker is exhausting, mentally and physically, and it’s not rude to be uncomfortable with having that role.
GatorGirl July 15, 2013, 2:16 pm
– to say, not day
-but being uncomfortable with assisting a grown male, who is your casual friend, with their personal hygiene
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 2:19 pm
No, the diaper one was the lady who was stressed over taking care of her husband. But this LW was having issues being asked to take her friend to the bathroom or something.
GatorGirl July 15, 2013, 3:03 pm
Whoops! Sometimes the details melt together.
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 2:20 pm
Nope this is an update to the first of two Disabled People Suck letters in so many weeks…
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 2:21 pm
The other letter wasn’t criticizing disabled people. She was a kind wife taking care of her husband. It was the responses that were the problem.
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 2:30 pm
Right. My bad. I meant to say threads…
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 2:37 pm
My main point here is she can be uncomfortable and say no to his requests. But does she have to quite be such a bitch about it. This update is paragraph upon paragraph trashing the poor guy because he is desperate and not always chipper about his life.
Honestly? Expecting the chronically disabled to be all sunshine and roses just because it would make your life better is most narcissistic self absorbed thing I’ve ever read. Seriously. And for you, LW, to dress him down so is beyond the bounds of both common sense and tact.
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 2:43 pm
Yeah, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to just say she’s not comfortable with his requests or even distancing herself. But she repeatedly trashes him, specifically based on thoughts and feelings of his that she’s confirmed to be common reactions to a disability.
ktfran July 15, 2013, 2:49 pm
I’m kind of with you on this one. Her not wanting to take care of him is fine, IMO. But the way she describes him and the way her friends describe him make me really sad for him.
I can’t even begin to imagine being disabled. I suspect there is a lot of isolation. And if the disabled have limited interaction with the “normal” folks, how in the hell is it right of everyone to expect them to transition easily? No empathy.
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 3:09 pm
What I don’t get is that she came into the comments last time to tell us how much she likes him as a person and enjoys spending time with him as a friend, but this entire letter was out to make him sound awful. Makes her sound kind of like a bully.
ktfran July 15, 2013, 4:33 pm
KL July 16, 2013, 1:08 pm
This. I rarely agree with you, BGM, but I don’t think this guy has any obligation to be all Norman Vincent Peale 24/7.
Taylor July 15, 2013, 10:42 pm
Did the kind wife ever agree to a DW drive? I think it was no in the comments?
bethany July 15, 2013, 2:13 pm
This whole situation is so bizarre to me. The update adds to that.
Why are you spending so much time with someone who you claim isn’t a close friend? Why are you doing all those things for someone who isn’t a close friend?
I feel like you have a need to be needed and like the attention and drama that this situation is bringing about. If you don’t want to take care of someone who’s not your close friend, you don’t have to. It seems really odd to me that you’re essentially forcing yourself into a position you claim to not want to be in.
katie July 15, 2013, 2:15 pm
Northern_Coast July 15, 2013, 2:24 pm
Hey, I was a lurker up until now, I just wanted to comment on this: I can absolutely understand that you still care for this friend and try to help him, even though he kind of annoys you. And yes, while that is in part social obligation or “guilt”, I think it’s still good that you do it. It just makes the world (his world, in this case) a little nicer.
In regard to your initial problem, I can kind of relate because I have a friend who is disabled and who also sometimes doesn’t see other people’s boundarys (personal-space-wise, for instance). I know how it can be hard to decide if you’re being a jerk for saying no, or a pushover for saying yes. Well in my case, the problem kind of solved itself because my friend expanded her social circle and became more interested in other people. So now the two of us have a more relaxed relationship. I hope that since Joe has improved (or is about to improve?) his living situation, he’ll feel more confident to make new friends as well, taking some pressure off you.
Sophronisba July 15, 2013, 2:27 pm
Well, I don’t know exactly what gave you the right to give Joe a laundry list of his faults and lay it all down for him about how things are, when you don’t speak for anyone but yourself. You can talk about your feelings and what you want, but taking out all your stored up negative emotions about the whole situation on him like that was unkind. You make a huge assumption that he just needs a big attitude adjustment but how do you know what his congnitive difficulties are? I’m not saying it’s impossible for him to be spoiled, etc., but you don’t really know what he is capable of emotionally or cognitively when you demand change. Since you don’t appear to like him at all, just leave the man alone. Don’t advocate, don’t try, just back away.
Cherry July 15, 2013, 3:06 pm
I thought the LW stopped interacting with him by saying, “I’m bowing out.” Maybe people missed it?
Turtledove July 15, 2013, 3:13 pm
I am so weirded out by this. I don’t think it’s able-ist to not be friends with a disabled person you don’t like. I mean, you don’t like him. He has unfair expectations of you. He creeps you out. So you just stop being friends with him. Or you demote him into the “just when I see him at parties” category.
Your entire letter seethes with “I don’t like this person” vibes. You aren’t doing him any favors by hanging about when you don’t like him. I know you’re doing all this stuff for him so you feel like you’re doing favors, but really, if he’s got as many problems as you say, then losing friends over being inappropriate with them means that he learns more about how to have friends and levels up in that skill.
You seem to have this hang-up where you are an advocate for the disabled– which, is great, don’t get me wrong. But you’re conflating your categories. If you want to be an advocate, volunteer or get a job as an advocate and keep your categories separated into “person who needs help that I am an advocate for” and “person who is my friend who I hang out and be friends with.” Let the advocates advocate, maybe learn how to just be a friend and just be supportive of people who are having problems without jumping in to make it all better.
BecBoo84 July 15, 2013, 3:27 pm
I still think the LW has some serious built up issues regarding her son. It seems as though she’s using the fact that Joe’s mother took on the role as caretaker and he hasn’t turned out well (in her opinion) as justification that institutionalizing her son was the right choice. Something about this LW just really rubs me the wrong way.
Lindsay July 15, 2013, 3:44 pm
Yeah, the stuff about her son was a weird addition to the update. I personally don’t see how her problems with Joe’s boundaries are related to the decision her family made regarding her son.
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 3:46 pm
Seriously… It is ALL very revolting. And talk about rationalizing…
bagge72 July 15, 2013, 4:28 pm
Yeah it is pretty crazy how she labels them as “nasty entitled person”!
Bittergaymark July 15, 2013, 4:49 pm
Beyond that, actually. Just insane.
lets_be_honest July 16, 2013, 9:22 am
But, but, its ok, because she’s disabled too! And I have a black friend…ugh.
temperance July 16, 2013, 12:17 pm
My gut feeling is that she faces constant criticism for her choice to place him in a facility better equipped for his care rather than providing it herself at home and is now preemptively defensive on the subject.
People who haven’t provided care to a child with a disability can’t understand it – you’re held to a higher standard than parents of typical children, but you are also constantly told how angelic you are and how you’re so great for sacrificing yourself.
Leslie July 15, 2013, 3:50 pm
MOA. This is not a friendship and you do not need to trouble yourself with Joe if it doesn’t feel right to you.
convexed July 15, 2013, 4:18 pm
When the LW realized she was not comfortable taking a caretaker role in Joe’s life, it would have been perfectly reasonable to excuse herself politely. It’s okay not to be the right person to help out in a given situation, and it’s okay if it’s your own comfort level that dictates that. If Joe asked her how his requests/friendship style/personal mannerisms might be affecting others, she would have been okay to bring up the concerns about touch and gendered expectations for caregiving, especially as they applied to her and Joe’s relationship.
Then she could have affirmed that she still enjoys seeing him at social gatherings (if this is the truth), and ended her over-involvement in his life.
But like other commenters, I’m rubbed the wrong way by this update. LW, you’ve mentioned your limits—this is not your area of expertise, and your frustration not just with the situation but evidently with the man himself indicates you don’t have the ideal temperament to take this on—so you need to recognize your limits and STOP.
You may be right that he is in denial about his disability. You may feel that what your experienced-in-relevant-fields friends have said about Joe’s behavior is correct. You and they may be ‘right’, but it doesn’t matter! YOU do not have the background, experience, or relationship that give you any authority to intervene or try to ‘fix’ him. He is not your close friend, so you don’t have the kind of credit with him to get to say those things to him or about him! You have a son with autism, and you mention that you are also disabled. Personal experience doesn’t make you qualified to ACT in all related circumstances—sometimes it just means you have some insight and compassion that others may not have, but it looks like that is not the case with you, at least not from these letters, at least not in this relationship with Joe.
It’s great when people have the energy to get involved in the challenges of their friends’ lives. I’ve known a lot of people with a bulldozer, blunt-object problem-solver complex, a compulsion to step into someone else’s life with their own analysis and solutions. I’ve known fewer people with the sense to realize that sometimes it’s more respectful, more appropriate, and more helpful to get out of the way. Sometimes you have to think about whether intervening is more for your own benefit than someone else’s. Or whether your ‘help’ is actually likely to be effective for this person, or just hurtful and intrusive.
Joe might be a sexist entitled jerk at heart, or he may be a great guy who still has a lot to learn about mainstreaming himself after growing up relatively isolated. Maybe he’s a bit of both, but this is not your problem to solve.
You may be an overly involved angry person with a martyr complex, or you may be a generous, thoughtful, compassionate person who is just frustrated with a situation that is more challenging than you expected. Maybe you’re a bit of both, but this isn’t going well, and it’s still not your problem to solve, so you need to step out of it.
It’s up to Joe whether he takes advantage of resources available to him, how he handles his social relationships and physical needs, and his consequences to take if he alienates his friends or is a long-term difficult person. It’s not up to you to try to engineer this, because you are not trained and are not handling it in a positive way.
convexed July 15, 2013, 4:28 pm
If you can’t extricate yourself completely, LW, at least start setting some boundaries between you and Joe. When he calls to complain, after about a minute you can say, “That sounds stressful. Best of luck” and change the subject if you don’t want to hear it. You can choose to not answer the phone if you are not in the mood to listen. If he makes a request of you, learn to repeat a phrase like this, “Oh, I’m sorry, Joe, I’m not able to help you with that, you’ll have to ask someone else”. You don’t have to give reasons, you don’t have to lay out all the faults you see in him, you just repeat “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” If you are consistent in your response, he will probably stop asking. Just politely decline and then change the subject or get off the phone with an ‘I’ll see you at book club’ or whatever. You can’t control Joe’s behavior, or whether he feels entitled to ‘services’, but you can control how much attention you give it and how you respond to it, so practice polite disengagement. People can feel entitled to whatever they want, and it can be annoying, but luckily, he’s not your family member or close friend, so you don’t really have to deal with it. You are putting yourself repeatedly into a situation you don’t like. Stop doing that.
TECH July 15, 2013, 5:08 pm
Some parents act as caregivers to disabled children, and their children turn out to be wonderful human beings . . .
Talk about projecting your issues on other people. Just because you chose not to be a caregiver to your disabled son doesn’t meant that’s not a good choice for other people.
convexed July 15, 2013, 5:13 pm
Yes. This LW is too close to the issue. She seems very defensive about the choices she’s made with her son’s care, and way too personally affected by Joe’s attitudes/behaviors.
Boosker July 15, 2013, 4:24 pm
Yeah, this doesn’t seem like a friendship but a guilt trip. It just doesn’t make sense that you’re friends. Friends should have an enjoyable connection with each other. Friends are a choice. Why are you both choosing a friendship that seems to not be working for either of you.
sarolabelle July 16, 2013, 8:25 am
gee wiz, I seriously would not even be hanging out with this dude or answering his calls if I didn’t like him. How about you just lose his number?