Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: I'm split between divorced parents

In this week's episode, Viv discusses long-distance relationships, unhelpful housemates, buying a tablet for a 3-year-old, and divorced parents who think you don't visit enough

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv, 

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for three years. We met when I lived abroad, and I've since returned to London and he stayed in the city where we met, but thanks to the wonder of cheap flights and "working from home", we've made it work. Our relationship is wonderful and I can talk to him about anything and everything. Since I've known him, he has started and stopped numerous jobs or freelance projects, and each one has ended with him quitting. He has been unlucky and poorly treated by some people he's worked with, so I know it's not entirely his fault, but I am desperate for him to find a stable job and income, so that we can start to plan our life together. I would be willing to make sacrifices in my career and move abroad again if I knew I could rely on his income, but right now this is not a possibility. He does a job he could do anywhere in the world, but there are language barriers that make this harder for him. I feel trapped not knowing how to help him get out of this rut and make progress with his life. I want to be in this relationship, but I'm so unhappy about how stuck we are, too. Argh. Is there anything I can do to help him/us?

Ah, star-crossed long-distance lovers! I feel your pain. This is a tricky one, though. I am trying not to be reminded of myself in your letter. When I was much younger, I had a boyfriend in Russia I was madly in love with. I spent my year abroad with him and harboured fantasies of this being a long-term relationship. At one point, I even thought I would marry him. We stayed together for about 18 months after my year in Russia, but long distance just proved too difficult because it threw all our differences into sharp relief. People think that everyday life is tough on relationships – and it can be. But it’s actually so much more difficult to conduct a relationship when you’re not together most of the time – the pressure of these very intense periods when you do see each other contrasted with the long absences. All that is hard to manage and I personally couldn’t do it. I’m also glossing over the fact that this Russian boyfriend repeatedly gave me nits. But that is another story.

Turning back to you: I’m trying to read between the lines of what you’re saying, as you give a lot of information without saying the most important things. How do you actually feel about this person? Are you madly in love with him? How much would you forgive? What sort of life do you want together? Do you want children? How do you both feel about marriage? A lot of what you say is contradictory: “our relationship is wonderful” and “I feel trapped". That doesn’t make sense to me. 

There are two interpretations here: 1) The relationship has run its course, but you don’t want to admit that to yourself; or 2) the relationship still makes you happy, but you need to make some major changes and figure out whether you both have the same attitude about the future. Until you talk to your boyfriend about his views, you need to know which camp you’re in. Do you really want to be in this relationship? You must know in your heart and your gut. Listen to those, rather than listening to reason. So, even if logically you have worried about his job situation and how you will face the future together, does that bother you emotionally? Or do you love him enough to not care that much? Answer those questions first. Then you will know what you need to ask him. Good luck – but I think you have a lot of soul-searching to do for yourself to find out how you really feel before you do or say anything else.

Dear Viv,

I was dating my housemate's boyfriend's housemate for four months, starting in the summer, and he broke it off around a month ago. I didn't think he was the love of my life but, just as I was beginning to think it was something serious, he broke it off. I thought I would be fine, but my housemate is still constantly in contact with him, as her boyfriend lives with my ex. I'm finding it harder to get over him at the moment due to mentions of him in conversation, which inform me of what he's up to, and I'm aware that I'm not in the group anymore, but I feel I'm constantly around it. What can I do to help me be OK with the situation?

This is a very complicated collision of housemates. So, let me get this straight: your housemate’s boyfriend’s housemate. So, basically, you went out with a man who was living with your friend’s boyfriend. Now you have broken up, but your friend still goes round to her boyfriend’s, where she sees your ex. I get it. It’s actually not that complicated. I don’t think.

Anyway. The red herring is the end of the relationship and your feelings about your ex. I don’t think you’re really that bothered about all this. I think you are OK about the end of the relationship. What worries me is the real thing that is going on here that is not good and that is your friend – the go-between. “I'm finding it harder to get over him at the moment due to mentions of him in conversation, which inform me of what he's up to.” Hmm. Who is the person doing this informing? Your friend, right? Because she goes round to that house and sees your ex and then mentions him. Why does she do this? Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but I can’t help feeling that the problem here is not with your ex, it’s with your friend.

There are various possibilities here. Is she rubbing it in your face that she has a boyfriend and you don’t? Does she secretly harbour feelings for her boyfriend’s housemate, your ex, and so is being a bit weird? Or is she just extremely tactless and annoying? Aspects of all of these may be possible... I’m also worried about what you say about “the group". Was this a group before you went out with your ex? If it wasn’t, then you should just try to revert to how things were before. If not, that’s difficult, because you haven’t previously had a platonic relationship with this person and it’s hard to just conjure that up out of nowhere to keep a group dynamic working.

Let’s be practical, though. Here’s what I think you should do: be wary of your friend and perhaps steer clear of her for a while. Best-case scenario: she’s a bit tactless. Worst-case scenario: I’m sorry to say this, but I actually think she is being a bit of a bitch to you. If she was a good friend, she would be doing everything possible to make this easier for you and she’s doing the opposite. Also, get a new group of friends. Find a new hobby. Find something extra to do at work. Shift your focus. I’m saying this just for the sake of your sanity, because I would say that this risks turning into a toxic situation, but I think it probably already is a toxic situation. Note that I’m not asking you to move out. But I do think that should also be at the back of your mind. In short: look after number one. You don’t need these friends.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

I’m wrestling with whether to get my daughter a Kindle Fire or not. On the one hand, it seems great value: a kids' one is £79 and comes with case, a year's worth of age-specific learning apps, cartoons, books etc and has a two-year warranty. It would be educational and she’s always on the iPad or our phones anyway. BUT is there something fundamentally wrong with getting a three-year-old a tablet?

Dear Viv,

My mother complains that I don't spend enough time with her when I visit and gets jealous if I spend time with my father and his wife. How can I avoid yet another argument next time I visit? They live abroad, so I try to split my time between them both, but always end up getting into a row, with my mother in tears. My brothers don't get along with our dad and spend nearly all their time with our mum, which makes me look like a traitor – when, really, I'm just trying to do the right thing.

Any advice?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

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