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Meg's Blog

MORE ADVICE

OK, you asked for it. MORE, yes, MORE advice. These are just SOME of the pleas for advice we've received these past few months. More of your letters will be answered soon, never fear.

In the meantime, Dr. Michele Jaffe, Harvard PhD, sex ed counselor, and MIT charm school instructor, fearlessly tackles these difficult issues:

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Dear Meg and Michele,
I am always reading and I always have a book in my hands whether it is one of yours or another young adult book or The Lord Of The Rings. Because of this people are always telling me that I read to much (especially my friends because they don't like to read at all but my dad says this to and our house is filled with so many of his books so that doesn't make sense). What do you think? Is it possible for someone to read to much?

***

Dr Jaffe says:

I really really really want to say that it isn't possible to read to much. I really do. I think reading is great, it develops your imagination, it teaches you things, it sells books which in turn enables me buy faux fur cheetah caplets, I mean nothing, it is really a good good thing.

But sometimes, reading can be a crutch. For me, I know, when I am avoiding a problem or not wanting to do some work, I will lose myself in a book. This is okay to do every now and then, but if it becomes a habit, if reading goes from being a sanctuary to being more of an escape hatch from your life, it can be bad.

The thing about books is that they paint a picture of an ideal world. Not always a PERFECT world, where unicorns frolic and all the food is gumdrops, but a world where mundane things like grocery shopping or cleaning the bathroom never come up, because those things don't make a good story. A world where you don't have to make any choices because the writer has made them for you. That can be relaxing, but its not real living.

Ideally, you should have a balance between reading and living. If you find yourself sitting at a lunch table with friends and they are all talking and you are reading, you may be reading too much. Not only is it rude to read when you're around other people, it makes them feel bad, and they will get resentful. Its like saying “You're boring and lame and I don't care about you.” That might not be your intention, but its the message that sitting with a book in front of your face can send. Plus, you are missing out. Even if every little thing your friends say doesn't seem as cool as, for example, what Mia writes in her journals, there are good parts. They just take longer to get to in real life, and you have to stick around and be part of them to really feel them. A good book can make you laugh and cry at the moment you are reading it, but a good friend can do that all the time.

Meg says:
I like to read a lot, too, but I also know there's a time for fun (reading) and a time for work (writing), and you have to make time for both, AS WELL AS time for friends and family. Books are great, but family and friends are more important. You can't talk to a book, tell a book your problems, and have it hug you. You just can't. So find some balance between books and life, and you'll be fine.

***

Meg:
My parents are so old-fashioned. They are actually not my birth parents, but my mom's parents, but I call them mom and dad. Anyways, they don't let me watch R rated movies. I can't go to the mall or anyplace without an adult, while most of my friends are allowed to get dropped off to go shopping or whatever. They are obsessive over my homework. I'm not allowed to pirece my ears until I'm sixteen and I can't dye my hair. And my mom is picky about my clothes because I have a “bug bust” and she trys to get my into extra lagres in everything, but my extra large skirt always falls down, and it was stretchy, so i could've gotten into a medium of those! And she didn't tell me much when we had “the talk”. I went online and found out most of what I know. I wasn't allowed to watch PG-13 movies until I was actually 13! I wish I had Mia's mom! Her mom cares about her, but gives her freedom and responsibility. That's all I really want from them. And to be treated like I'm 14 and not 4. Please help.

The Baby

**

Dr. Jaffe responds:

Hey baby! It sounds like you are in a tough situation, but in one way you are really lucky: you are being raised by someone who loves you and cares about you very very much. Unfortunately, that care is taking the form of your grandparents being over protective. From the biographical sketch you've given (not included here for privacy purposes) about who is raising you vs. who gave birth to you, I am guessing that your grandmother is scared that if she lets up for even a second, you are going to fall into the trap your mom fell into. In her mind, your grandmother is helping you, forcing you to develop skills and stay in school. I think its really important you see what's motivating your grandma's overprotective actions. When she looks at you she sees a younger version of your mom, but someone she can fix, someone she can save.

Knowing that doesn't change that you feel babied, but hopefully it helps you to feel compassion for your grandmother rather than anger. She really believes she is doing the best thing for you, saving you from something. What is ironic is that by over protecting you, not letting or MAKING you take responsibility for anything–what you wear, where you go, getting your home work done–she is babying you, which is counter to what she wants. She wants you to grow up big and strong, with every opportunity available to you, but she's afraid to let you grow up at all.

There are two things you can do to help the situation. The first one is to demonstrate that you are able to take responsibility for things. You could try talking directly to your grandparents. Instead of saying “All my friends get to go to the movies and I don't! all my clothes are lame! I hate you!” consider something more like “I was thinking of getting a job after school.”

You could also discuss the issues with them directly, by saying, “I understand that you are worried if you take your eyes off me I'm going to go and get myself into trouble. But I promise I won't. I just want a little more responsibility and a little more trust. We can start off slowly, like you letting me go to the mall once a month with my friends.”

Then when that seems to be okay, maybe you could segue into smaller clothes. What is important is that you act mature in your discussion of the issues, because it will force them to see you another way.

The other thing you could do is ask if you and your grandparents could go talk to a counselor together. Sometimes a third party can help parents see things more clearly than you can yourself. You could try talking to your school counselor first, on your own, and see what that person suggests.

What you have in your favor is that you and your grandparents all genuinely want what is best for you. You are all on the same side. They are doing what they *think* is best, because they can't imagine anything else. The key is to show them that what they are doing is not actually best for you. That you are ready for more responsibility, and that giving it to you will speed you on the right road they are so anxious for you to take.

Meg says:

Yeah. What Michele said.

***

Hi Meg and Michelle –

I just started college in a place very far from home (opposite coasts). I left all my friends behind, and now that I'm here (in CA) I've noticed that like 90% of the people are from CA and brought all of their friends with them. I'm being very friendly – smiling a lot, striking up conversations in the elevator/hall
– but it seems like no one's really looking to have any new friends. What should I do? I can't go through the next 4 years without anyone!

-Lonely

***

Dr Jaffe responds:

Dear Lonely,

I so know what you are going through. I did the same cross-country-to-college move only in the opposite direction. In September, I packed up my clothes, my white fringe cowboy boots, and a canister of Paul Mitchell firm hold hairspray that could easily have been mistaken for a shoulder launched missile, and moved myself and my big hair from Los Angeles to Cambridge, MA.

On arriving in Cambridge, what did I see? A world crawling with small haired girls. Girls in polo shirts. Girls who did not say that anything was “awesome” or “gnarly” or “rad,” but rather “wicked” and “excellent.” Girls who looked at fringed cowboy boots like they were possibly–likely–alien spawns. When I got to my dorm, one of my roommates was going through the freshman face book picking out the people she'd gone to high school with. There were 30 of them! Thirty. That was half the size of my entire class from my high school! I don't even think I knew thirty people in the world. I felt sad. I called my parents and begged for them to let me transfer to a college closer to home. They laughed like I was Miss Funny from Funnyville.

For six weeks I went to classes and random clubs and the library in a haze (in retrospect, I attribute at least some of that to the hairspray). And slowly, without me realizing it, things began to change. I started to discover I was having fun. I would see people from class and we would stop and talk. Talking turned into coffee. Coffee turned into having lunch together. Lunch turned into friendship.

And I realized that even the people who had friends there from high school were insecure and scared like me. Not only is college a strange and unfamiliar experience, but for a lot of people it's the first time they've ever been on their own in their lives, and that is both thrilling and terrifying. The people who came from schools that sent a lot of kids at first grappled on to the people they knew, because that was a security blanket. But as we all got more comfortable, we didn't need those blankets and everyone opened up. I discovered that they weren't all polo-wearing-straight-bangs-having-steve-miller-band-loving-boarding school automatons. And they discovered that white fringe boots are seriously cool.

Okay, well, maybe not about the boots.

But the point is that being different was actually a bonus, because it meant that we had more to share, and learn from each other.

I had never wanted anything in the world as much as I wanted to leave college my first month and a half there. I would have sold my soul to the first zombie cult that came a-knocking for the chance to get away. But by the end of my first semester, I had decided college was “kind of rad”. By the end of the year, it was “awesome.” Now most of my closest friends in the world are the people I went to college with. The coolest thing is, we're all really different. One of my friends is a member of parliament in Turkey. Another is a war correspondent in Afghanistan. Several are lawyers, one is a real estate tycoon, one a media mogul. And at least two of them now have bigger hair than me.

So to Lonely I say, stick it out. These first weeks will be hard, but they are hard for everyone, even people who don't admit it. You are not alone. Keep smiling at people. It will get easier, and it will be worth it. (And it just keeps going. Because one day, years later, when you are at the gym you can look up at the television that is playing the news and almost fall off your stair master and start flailing your arms and yelling at anyone who will listen, “I know her! The reporter on CNN! She's my friend from college!” Which will get you a whole bunch of new friends. In the form of gym security coming to see if you have a 'problem.' Not that this has happened to me. I'm just, you know, speculating)

Note from Meg:

OH MY GOD, I DIDN'T KNOW MICHELE WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR ELLE WOODS IN LEGALLY BLONDE!!!!

***

Dear Meg and Michele,

I need some advice. There is this guy that I have totally had a crush on since I was in the sixth grade mainly cause he was so CUTE! But as Ive gotten to know him he is also really nice. But, anyway since ive known him he as always made it look like I thought I was better than him. But truth be told I never thought that. i never even bragged to him. Ive always wanted to ask what his problem was but i didnt have the heart too. But I entered my freshman year in highschool this year and he turned out to be in my band class and my biology class and for the first week he acted the same way. WEll on monday and friday of my first week i couldnt find my bus because no one told me our bus had been changed so I was crying so hard and I was so upset. So on the next monday of the 2nd week I asked him and I told him my sob story and he was totally nice about it. he showed me the bus made sure i was ok it was great. So now hes actin a whole lot nicer than before. He always came around and knocked on my door every five minutes to ask if my brother was home and he wouldnt leave till i answered the door. He came even when he knew my brother wasnt home. I mean hed come and five minutes lated he would be back and he did it for like 2 hours. He also puts his arm around me at band practice. there are so many other people he could put his arm around but he chooses me. This is so confusing. It seemed it went from he hated me to he wanted to be my best buddy. Do you think he realized it is ok to maybe show he likes me more or has he decided I have feelings too? Do you think it is because he realized Im human and I need help or is it cause he liked me for all those years and was making fun of me to hide it? HELP!!

***

From Dr. Michele Jaffe:

Yes.

Meg says:

Congratulations.

***

Dear Meg and possibly
Dr. Michele Jaffe,

I've been reading your advice blog for a while now and always thanked god that I didn't really have a big problem in my life. Hah. I guess I jinxed myself. Anyway, I have been doing home schooling for a while now and haven't had a problem with it. I still have a TON of friends and stuff from school that I hang out with, so I still see kids my age. But this year my mom recommended signing me up for a few activities, wwimming, karate, basketball ec ec. I guess I'm all for this but I seem to have a problem. Thus writing to you. I don't know what happened but all of a sudden I feel nervous to be around kids my age I don't know. Its like suddenly all my self confidence has gone too pot. I feel so stupid around kids and almost like I don't belong. I really want to start some activities but how can I get over this HUGE problem I have. Please I REALLY need your help before I drown in self pity.

***

Dr. Jaffe responds:

You are one lucky duck. It sounds like home schooling is working out great for you. What you are experiencing, Miss Home Sweet Homeschool, with your confidence flagging, is totally normal. It has to do with starting new activities with groups of people you don't know. I notice that all the activities you name are sporty things, and I believe this is part of the issue. I totally get what you are going through. See, I have this teensy little problem where I get all interested in sports that require wearing odd white outfits. This means that I have, at various times in my life, tried Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Kwon Do, aerobics, and fencing. Each time, I put on my groovy new outfit, tested out my soward, reknotted my belt, and was super excited…right up until I got to the classes.

As I drove my car into the parking lot, I would start thinking “This is stupid.
Why am I doing this. I don't want to do this. Look, doughnuts. I will just go eat doughnuts,” and wished I could just run away. Which is a normal reaction to being in a new situation, even one that you think you want to be in. I believe it is part of our hardwiring as humans, a survival instinct that alerts us to something strange or unknown in the vicinity.

The key thing is to recognize it as nothing more than that, and try new things anyway. The activities might be a challenge, but every new thing you try teaches you something (for example, Tai Kwon Do taught me that doing push ups on our knuckles really HURT). And if you concentrate on what you are doing rather than worrying about what people are thinking about your abilities, then you'll find you not only make progress, but start having fun and feeling at ease too.

Another piece of advice is to keep any weird uniforms you may have because they totally come in handy for costume parties. And Karate jackets make good beach cover ups.

Meg says:

What she said.

***

Dear Meg,
I am 15, and I've never had a boyfriend, or even been on a date. To tell the truth, I don't really want to deal with boys-high school is enough trouble as it is. But it seems that everyone my age has a boyfriend or wants to have one. Am I a socially retarded freak?

***

Dr Jaffe responds:

…or a super genius who has her priorities in check?

There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be involved in dating. I think it says more about the boys you're in school with, i.e. that none of them really capture your attention, than anything. Don't sweat it! There is plenty of time to be distracted by romance. The important thing is to do what feels right for you. The fact that your happy without needing outside adulation is a GOOD thing, I think. There is no one-size-fits-all pattern of when or how or with whom or how often people get involved in relationships. In fact, have you noticed that most one size fits all things really aren't? Like there are totally people they don't fit, and even the people they do fit, its not perfect? Tube tops, for example. A lot of tube tops are one size fits all. But if, like me, you live on planet Nearly-No-Boobs, they totally don't fit. And it is so unfair, because I like tube tops. But showing my goodies to everyone when they fall off? Not so much. Evil tube tops!

Where was I?

Oh, right.

It sounds to me like you, 15-And-Not-Interested-In-Being-Mauled-By-Boys, have nothing to worry about. The only way this could be a problem is if you are not being honest with yourself, if deciding not to want to date is a reaction to something else, like fear of getting close to people. But as long as its really how you feel, I say, go for it! Independence isn't just a town in Iowa, its a whole state of being.

[It is in Iowa right? Or is it Ohio? There's got to be a town named Independence somewhere. Right?]

Meg says:

I think it's in Texas. Seriously.

***

Help!
My mom is more conserned about my weight then I am. I'm 5'2 and 120 pounds. Perfect according to a BMI calc. But I don't know how to tell her I don't want to go on a diet with her. For one thing it's Atkins and I'm a vegitarian. If you know what kinda food people on the Atkins diet eat, this isn't good for me. What do I tell her?

***

Dr. Jaffe responds:

I want to applaud you for being one of the apparently three people in America, at least according to the news, who is happy with their bodies. I think that is great, and its sad that your mom wants to change you.

But from what you say, it sounds like your mom isn't one of those three people, that she isn't quite as comfortable with HER body as you are with yours. Her desire to go on Atkins and take you with her could either be a kind of “lets diet together because dieting alone is hard” thing, or it could be something a little more complicated–an attempt to shift her anxieties about herself onto you. The first one is understandable–it IS easier to diet with someone else.

But maybe you could offer support in other ways, like by helping her keep tabs on what she's eating and not bringing things she's not supposed to eat into the house. You could also offer to exercise with her, or to keep a log of her work outs. The other one is harder and a little more disturbing: the only thing you can do to make her stop transferring her own concerns about herself on to you, is to talk to her very gently about it.

You could say to her, “Mom, look. My weight is really healthy and I feel good about it. When you try to make me diet it makes me insecure and I know that is not what you want to do.”

Hopefully her parenting instinct will prevail and she'll see that this is true. My mother harped on the shape and size of my thighs for years, and it's made me insane about them, even now. No matter what I do, how in shape I am, I always see Fat Thigh Girl in the mirror. Tell your mom that, and tell her you know that is not what she wants to do to you.

There is one other thing that might be going on that you should think about. It could be this has nothing to do with weight at all, but with your mom's feeling like she is losing you, losing control over YOUR life, as you grow up. Sometimes when parents see the loss of their little girl, they take it out in very strange ways, and this could be one of those times. Ask yourself if something has recently changed in your relationship with your mom, and if it has, talk to her about that. Showing her that you still need her, that there's a place in your life for her, might make the rest of this go away.

Meg says:

That is all the advice we have time for today! I hope some of this advice will help you in YOUR life. In the meantime, hang in there, and I'll post again soon!

More later.

Much love,

Meg

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