Q: For decades my mother has basically ignored me and my children, or treated us unfairly in comparison to my siblings. Years of therapy have helped me understand that this is not because I am a horrid person, and I work hard to be extremely kind and loving to my own family.
The problem is my mother constantly brags, to anyone who will listen, about how much she has done for us and how she has helped us out in times of need, when this is far from accurate. For example, after a recent major surgery she visited for about 10 minutes, heated up a can of soup for me and left. Her story, however, has her staying for days slaving over my every need.
She has given my siblings tens of thousands of dollars, but a one-time loan to me years ago, paid back with mandatory interest, is now claimed in her revisionist history to anyone in earshot, as a generous gift.
The list of these incidents is endless, and I feel compelled to correct her inaccuracies and set the record straight; my children and friends tell me I should not let these lies continue, especially as I resent them. Do I have the right to set the record straight?
A: The "right to," yes, of course; that's indisputable. What concerns me is whether there would be any point to it.
What you describe is someone either blind to who she really is, highly invested in being the hero in her every narrative — or, so poisonously, both. Notifying such people of their failings tends only to renew their motivation to tout their own heroics — and, of course, your wretchedness by comparison.
If that doesn't sound like a rockin' good time, or if you don't think the catharsis or self-affirmation of speaking your truth will be worth it, then skip the record-straightening.
There's a more productive alternative available to you, anyway.
It's right there in your letter, between the lines, when you say your mom "brags" to "anyone who will listen," or tells "her story," or "claim(s) ... to anyone in earshot," and your supply of such anecdotes "is endless." Do you see it? The common denominator?
You're there to hear all these things.
And while it often doesn't feel this way when it comes to family, being around your mother is a choice, and therefore it's something you can also choose not to do. Had enough with your mom's self-aggrandizing lies at your expense? Then stop being around to hear or hear about them. Magic.
Don't expect immature college boyfriend to completely change
Q: I'm a junior in college, and have a boyfriend whom I like spending time with very much, but can't see things working out with him in the long run. Since I know this now, is it the responsible thing to do to break things off with him now, or is it better to see where things go and re-evaluate after graduation?
Carolyn: Why the grim prognosis? Thanks.
J. Again: He's in the habit of taking out frustrations on other people, by picking fights and seething at the world when something doesn't go his way (e.g., when he doesn't get a job he wanted on campus). He also procrastinates on tasks to the point where he asks me to remind/nag him about things.
Carolyn: Given how quickly these behaviors can wipe the "enjoy" out of spending time with someone, this question might answer itself before this column sees daylight.
In fact, the next question you need to ask yourself: Why is this about breaking up in 2014, and not, say, tonight? You've identified significant things you don't like about your boyfriend. That's not only the most common outcome from dating, but also the general precursor to most "This isn't working out ... " conversations.
Meanwhile, carrying this relationship to graduation with the full expectation of breaking up with him afterward reduces him to, essentially, your collegiate convenience. Surely you respect him, or just humans in general, more than that?
For what it's worth, what you cite as his problems are really his problem, singular: He's immature. Way.
So that means, yes, it's possible he will grow up, and ripen into someone who recognizes that his problems aren't everyone else's. But it's also possible he'll double down on his sense of entitlement, and escalate his "fights" and "seething" into the realm of emotional, verbal, even physical abuse.
I mention this to caution you against the "see where things go" approach to any serious reservations you have about a person's character or behavior. People are who they are — not who you hope they will become. Choose your exposure to them accordingly.