Dear Carolyn: Long story short: One lovely husband and two adult kids. Both children live away from us. Over the years, we have been extremely generous, both in terms of our time and our resources.
Our problem is that they have come to expect our generosity as something they are due. I will fully admit we created these monsters, but my husband and I have had enough. We feel used and irrelevant except for what we can give them. I feel so sad having to admit this.
Our plan is to make sure they understand there will be changes soon in our household, where their father and I will be kicking into high gear and doing all the things we worked for so many years to be able to do. (We will be retiring.) The result of our “new normal” will mean the party is over, so to speak, and we will be cutting back on monetary gifts. Is there any good way to accomplish this and keep everyone happy?
– Feeling Irrelevant
A: “Keep everyone happy”? The goal that launched a thousand monsters.
If you present your “new normal” as if it’s unexploded ordnance, then you’re all but leading them to conclude it’s a terrible, terrible thing. Why not treat them as deeper than that? Present your news as part of a natural progression, and they might well receive it that way.
And my reasoning might well be corrupted by rainbows and buttercups.
Fortunately, neither of our visions need affect your approach. When you announce the coming change, keep your disappointment, disgust and “party” or “gravy train” references out of it, and use facts: “We’re retiring on (date) and will be treating ourselves some – responsibly (you do owe them that). That means we won’t be sending any more/as much money.”
Unless they’ve conquered mortality, they’ve known all along the party would eventually end. Don’t be afraid to plant a few empathy seeds – “We’ve looked forward to this for years, as I’m sure you will someday” – and to deflect any backlash with this gentle door-closer: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Time to say goodbye
Dear Carolyn: Since my ex-girlfriend broke up with me, we’ve hung out a couple of times. I figured I’d give trying to be friends (or at least not enemies) a shot. But, I can’t do it. Not only is it impossible for me to move on with my own life, but I also have some serious trust issues with her. Also, if she put forth some effort to keep in touch with me, I might think otherwise, but she doesn’t.
What’s the best way to handle ending things once and for all, once the relationship has ended? It will probably be the last time we see each other. Do I owe her an in-person meeting, or would a phone call suffice?
– Moving On for Good This Time
A: Since Exie’s not matching your effort, your “best way” is there for the taking: Stop getting in touch with her.
You apparently see this as deserving of milestone treatment – and it’s certainly fine to say goodbye with your own needs in mind. However, please do so only with full awareness that Exie might not play the role you’ve mentally scripted for her. Imagine arranging an evening of The Last Time We Ever See Each Other import, and she responds with an eye roll or a shrug. Are you ready for that?
Clearly, I’m partial to the just-let-go goodbye. If that feels too much like leaving the thread of Exie dangling, then try the milestone treatment without her: 1. Realize you’re not two friends, you’re one guy hanging on; 2. Hold your own goodbye ceremony, in which you ... hmm, box up stuff she left behind and mail it back to her, or donate some gifts she gave you to charity, etc.; 3. Take a symbolic first step in your post-Exie life. Making plans with a friend of yours she never liked can work well, but I can also argue for steps that are pro-you vs. anti-her.
It’s not quite as memorable as taking her hands in yours and wishing her a nice life. But what do you need more now – to say goodbye to her, or to break free for you?