MORE ADVICE

November 26th, 2004

One more thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving holiday: Another advice column!

Yes! You sent in your requests for advice, and Dr. Jaffe, Harvard PhD, former sex ed counselor, and charm school instructor for MIT, delivers (with commentary by me, Meg).

Let's get to it:

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Dear Meg and Michele,
Everything seems to be falling apart in my life. My mom is hardly ever here, anymore. My dad died last year. Im an only child, som I'm home more than 4 hrs. each night. I feel sad or angry all the time . I'm doing really well in school, but there's this one girl who won't stop picking on me! I'm kind of like the Jenny of our scholl, and I've never done anything to provoke her.Although I'm always sad, I'm still polite and kind to her. However, she has found it her duty to put me down, swear at me, and her life seems to be spent trying to pick a fight with me. She makes up lies about me. She has decided my back pack is evil, and won't quit yelling at me about how my back pack is annoying. We share a locker with two others besides her and myself. Neither of the other 2 think it is a problem but her. She gets furuios with me and has decided to get her mom involved and the priciple. I know when I returnto school on mpnday, things are going to get worse. Do you have any suggestuions for me? I'm so worried. Thankyou.

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Dr. Jaffe says:

This sounds like a very strange situation, and it seems like this other person—let's call her Meanie–is storing up a lot of anger that she's taking out on you for some reason. Given that you were going to the principal, this could all be resolved by now, but if it's not, I think that getting some adults involved is a good idea. Meanie has some ISSUES and only confrontation with some big cheese type people are going to get those to open up.

My advice to you is to stand up for yourself. That means, if she accuses you of something you didn't do, you don't yell at her and call her a liar; you say calmly that you didn't do it, she must be mistaken. Through your reactions you can show everyone, including the principal, that you are responsible and mature and the one to be trusted while Meanie is off the deep end. Which is sad for her. But not your problem.

Meg says:

I agree with Michele's advice. And this is going to sound weird, but sometimes when someone pays this much attention to you in a negative way, it could mean that they are jealous of you (you may not think you have anything going for you that this girl could be jealous of, but I bet you do). Meanie will NEVER admit that this is the case, but I will bet you a full set of autographed Princess Diaries that this is her problem. You have something she wants (friends? Pretty hair? A totally rad backpack? A mom who actually loves you?) and so she is putting you down to make herself feel better.

I'd pity her inwardly, and just ignore her outwardly.

And from Michele AND me (we both lost parents at a fairly young age): Hang in there. Things WILL get better!

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Dear Meg and Michele:

I own four pairs of jeans that I bought at “Jean Machine” which I adore and I look good in them. They are the only 'bottoms' that I wear to school, since all my shirts look great with each of the jeans. The only problem is that sometimes if I wear my light blue jeans on one day, the next day I want to wear a shirt that looks really good with them. But I kind of have this “rule” that I can't wear the same jeans 2 days in a row because I'm afraid that people will think I'm weird. I'm not popular, so it's not like I can get away with doing this. Did you have any problems like this in school? Do you have any ideas on what to do about this? Do you think I should keep following my “rule” or should I wear the same jeans 2 days in a row, not caring about what people say?

Thanks

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Dr. Jaffe responds:

Firstly, I have to say, if you have four pairs of jeans that look rad on you, you are a very lucky lady, and I am tres jealous. I tried on 16 pairs of jeans the other day and NONE of them rad-ified my look or my back end. I ended up buying a hat instead. It is quite cute, a hot pink fedora, and I put a crystal rainbow brooch on the….

Er, wait, what was I saying? Oh, right, YOUR problem. Ok: while I admire the discipline implied in your rule, I personally don't think you have to worry about it. Unless your jeans are immensely distinctive, I'm thinking its whatever you are wearing on top that is going to grab people's attention. Also, the truth is, most people are too busy thinking about what THEY are wearing to notice if you're wearing one small part of your outfit twice. So I say go crazy!

Also, I don't know what Jean Machine is, but I wish there was one where I live. It sounds like heaven.

Meg says:

Once I refused to wear jeans to school for a year because people were so snotty about whether or not your jeans were “designer”. I wouldn't play their game, so I just wore skirts.

But nobody realized I was doing it as a protest. Everyone just thought I wasn't allowed to wear pants because I was a fundamentalist Christian (I'm not).

True (but sad) story. Just thought I'd share.

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dear meg/michele,
sometimes all my friends ditch me. i hate it when they do. like alot of times they go swimming and to Subway without me. i get really depressed. and i am sorta chubby so none of the guys at school like me. they flirt with all my friends but not me and i m pretty sure its because im fat. what do i do?
depressed in the midwest

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Dr Jaffe says:

Okay, first of all, these people you refer to as friends? No. They are not friends. Friends do not ditch Friends. Period. You need to shed these losers and find yourself a crew that is worth your time and respects you AS YOU ARE. And that you have fun with. I know that sounds really hard, but I am here to make it easy for you with one simple truth you can have engraved on a wall plaque or mug at no extra charge: You will find these people when you start liking yourself. You need to be your own friend first.

Now it may be that building your self esteem involves not just shedding the loser crew but also shedding a few pounds. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case: you can be beautiful at any size! Beauty starts on the inside, with how you carry yourself, how you smile. It can extend to good grooming, pretty hair, and clean clothes.

But really, confidence and a smile are the building blocks.

If that is not enough, if you are unhappy with the shape of your body, then there are two easy things you can do: exercise and watch what you eat. Seriously, jogging or even walking for just an extra half hour a day will make a difference. And eating oatmeal or raisin bran instead of a doughnut for breakfast (don't even TELL me you don't eat breakfast), having soup and a salad instead of pizza for lunch, tiny little things, will make a big difference, if that is your concern.

The key thing, in everything you do, is to feel better on the inside, to feel good about yourself.

Meg says:

Yeah, you need to join a club or something, and make some new friends. 'Cause the ones you got pretty much suck. How about joining a karate class at the Y, or the chorus of your school's Spring musical? Then you'll meet new, cooler friends, AND get some exercise. It's a win/win sitch!

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Dear Meg and Dr.Jaffe,
help me please..
….I'm a huge freak…..I don't have any real friends at all…boys don't like me…actually I'm not like that at home at all! Whenever I go o
ut I suddenly feel shy and I can't talk….
I know you are reeaally busy but plleeeaasse answer this for me.

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Dr. Jaffe says:

I sooooooooooo understand this. I am a total introvert. Probably right now Meg is laughing so hard she is spitting, because people who know me do not believe in my true introverted soul due to my never shutting up, but deep down inside I am a delicate and shy person [shut UP, Meg] and I feel your pain. Also, I know the cure. It is a two part process:

Step 1: Ask yourself what you are so scared of.

Almost always, the thing that is stopping you from being your true self outside is a kind of defense mechanism, something your mind puts in place to keep you from getting hurt. That develops out of fear of something. For example, for me part of my extreme outdoor shyness comes from a fear of being embarrassed.

But what I have learned as I have become older and wiser is even if I am the most embarrassed I have EVER been in my life–like if I throw my arms up in the air while dancing and reveal that while I remembered to wear my cool purple wig I forgot to put on underwear (not that this has EVER happened)–I am the only person who remembers it for more than three seconds. Oh sure, a few kind friends will call to cackle at you, but really, other than that, its gone from everyone's mind.

That means that the only person who can make me feel embarrassment is me, and I have the power to tell myself to cut it out.

Now maybe your fear isn't of being embarrassed. Maybe you're afraid of…what?

That's the point: ask yourself why you don't think you can BE yourself out of doors. And really examine it. Because unless the reason is that you have a life threatening allergy to laughing and smiling and having fun, it is something that you can face and get past.

And also realize that everyone is afraid of a handful of the same things, and the only difference is how they react to it. Do they let themselves be held hostage by their fear? Or do they walk on by it?

Once you have looked around to see what you are afraid of, then you are ready for…

Step 2: Force yourself to talk to people despite your fear.

Hmm, not much of a cure you say? Sort of LAME ADVICE? Maybe, but its really true. You have got to just let it go. This means making yourself talk to that cute guy you like, or even that less cute guy you aren't sure of, for practice. Making yourself say “Hi, how are you?” Just simple things. To start with. [ I will also divulge to you one of my key conversational secrets: open with a compliment. In line for the bathroom, for example, say to the girl in front of you, “I really love your nail art/shirt/backpack/shoelaces”. People always react well to compliments.]

It can also be helpful to have a project or a cause that you can kind of hide behind to get this started. For example, if you are in a club, are they having an activity like a bake sale? This is a perfect excuse for you to go around and talk to people, urging them to come to the bake sale, or tantalizing them with your tasty treats. “World's best rice Krispy bars! You will cry salty tears if you don't try them! Guaranteed to make you more popular! Ends war and clears up acne!” Say anything, just say stuff so that you initiate contact with other people. Because then you will see its not scary.

(By the way, if you are not a member of a club, become one. Now. Right now. What are you doing still reading this?)

Being outgoing or at least not shy is something you'll need to practice, though. I do this at parties. I tell myself “Okay, in the next 15 minutes you're going to talk to three people you don't know.” And I do it. [The compliment strategy is a good opener here too. Less good: spilling your cherry seven up on them.].

Once you show people you are available to be talked to, talk they will. Because everyone is afraid of being rejected, so they are more likely to come hang with someone who seems friendly and outgoing than someone who is hard to get access to.

Sometimes making friends means reaching out. But you'll be amazed at how effective it is. And also how it will make you feel good. Especially when you can get one friend to steal the camera of the other friend where those pictures of that little dance fiasco are being stored.

Meg says:

Nothing, because Michele already said it all (PS I'm not the one with the photos).

***

Hi Meg,
Ok, this I have a major problem here. I am 12 years old (almost 13) and I'm approx. 5 feet 7 inches and going, which is quite tall for my age. Most guys I know are atleast a feet (yes, I'm not kidding) shorter than me. So here's my prob: I absolutely and completely refuse to go out with such short guys (not that anyone has asked my out yet)! Does this prob have any solution to it? Please help!
Thanks,

***

Dr. Jaffe says:

This is such an awesome problem because it has such a good solution: Wait one year. I know, one year, tick tock, but really, you're not missing anything dating 13 year old guys, and by the time you hit 14, the guys will be catching up with you in terms of growth, and they will also be much MUCH cuter, and their voices will be more alluring.

So for now, just concentrate on school and having fun and making friends with as many of those short guys as possible while the stakes are low and dating is out, because one day you are going to come back from summer vacation and several of them will have gone from duckling to swan over those three months, and you'll be sitting pretty.

Meg says:

I was the same height when I was your age so I know what you're talking about. But guess what? Between 7th and 8th grades, guys grow. It's amazing. When you get back to school for 8th grade, most, if not all, the guys will be taller than you are. And when you hit 9th, there will be even more guys who are taller than you are. So don't worry about it, stand up straight, wear heels, and be proud.

PS I have dated guys who are shorter than I am. Give them a chance. They are people too.

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Hi. I'm 15, and I am a firm believer in equal rights for men and women. I also think that women should be independent and assertive. However, this has gotten me into a bit of trouble. Living in an all-girl environment (girl family/girl school), I used to be really shy around guys–so much so that I have never gone on a date, which I don't consider to be a bad thing. When I became aware of sexism, I finally learned assertiveness, and now I am afraid that I tend to be very outspoken about what women have to deal with, meaning that I sometimes have a tendency to jump all over some guys. Example: my good friend is in love (meaning she is totally blind to the fact that he is really mean) with this guy, who basically claimed that women were just sort of whiny sometimes and that having a uterus was no big deal–that women are in no way equal to men, even though they actually have a higher threshold for pain and girls as young as 10 (!) have to deal with periods. GAH! I could not stop myself and ended up telling him that he was an evil sexist. Now, my friend is mad at me for being really mean to her “lover”, and though I know I was mean, I think he is evil. What should I do–appologize, even if I don't mean it?

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Dr. Jaffe says:

Oh Mini-Gloria Steinem, my fine feminist friend, I applaud your politics and feel for your frustration. I have so been there, its like we're walking in the same shoes. I hope yours are cute.

And I am going to hope you can learn from my mistakes as I am trying to learn from them. What I have learned through years and years of a) making these arguments and b) watching my friends date loser dorks, is that you have to talk t
o people where they are, reach them on their plane and bring them to you, rather than expecting them to just get it. Having passion for a cause is great and invigorating, but trying to share it with other people can make them feel uncomfortable and defensive if you don't do it right, which leads to a break down in communication, frustration, and sometimes even anger.

In the case you've described above, I think an apology would be good, but NOT one you don't mean. That is, I don't think you should ever apologize for your convictions. But you can recognize that while you have no respect for your friend's boyfriend's arguments (rightfully. um, did I just say that? never mind. staying neutral), you have put her in an uncomfortable position, and you can apologize for that. See? That way she gets an apology, and you get to keep your belief system.

This also means the friendship will still be in tact when she breaks up with the loser and needs your support.

If I were you, I would spend time now finding ways to talk about these issues that can make even your opponents listen to you. Because the best thing about having strong beliefs and a cause is using them to change people's minds. But this can only happen if you are gentle and clever. The full frontal femme assault never works; believe me, I have tried it oh so many times. It's got to be a more subtle argument. Once you learn that, once you learn how to take your potent beliefs and turn them into persuasive talking points, you'll find yourself in a really strong position against all comers–and you'll also be helping to spread the ideas you care so much about. Keep the passion, but learn to tailor the fight to the opponent.

And once you master that, can you teach me? Because I still sort of suck at it.

Meg says:

That is all the advice we have time for at the moment, but there will be much, much more. Next blog: Crush School Is In Session!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned….

More later.

Much love,

Meg