Viv Groskop

WAVING, NOT DROWNING

Dear Viv: My son's addicted to being online

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses a needy neighbour, a boyfriend who won't do chores, a screen-addict son, and how to stop fear from taking control

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv, 

I moved into a new flat about three months ago and have recently become friendly with my neighbour (she'd just got a kitten, so I offered to cat-sit - of course!). At first she seemed like the kind of person who really had her life together, but as I get to know her I'm getting more and more worried about her mental health. She doesn't seem to have many friends (as far as I can gather, this is partly the result of a very complicated break up a year or so ago) and mostly works from home, on her own. She seems lonely, and desperate for company. She texts me several times a day, ostensibly about the kitten, but always leads it on to an invite to come over and have some wine, or watch a film. It seems very intense and to be honest, more than I can deal with right now. I want to suggest that she gets therapy, as I think she needs it, but I simply don't know her well enough - and I'm not sure it's my responsibility as her neighbour, who barely knows her. What can I do?

Oh no, Catsitter-turned-Unpaid-Therapist, what are you going to do indeed? I don’t know who to feel more sorry for -- your neighbour who is clearly lonely and possibly a bit depressed (I speak as someone who also works from home and doesn’t even have a kitten to keep her company – let me just get out the world’s tiniest violin) – or should I feel more sorry for you, getting yourself all anxious and tied up in knots about someone you hardly know.

Your concern is touching and I can see that you’re genuinely worried about your neighbour. But don’t let this turn into a dramarama -- you have only known this woman for three months, you don’t really know very much about her life at all. You’ve gathered a certain amount of information and are letting your imagination do all the rest of the work. Calm down. I think you’re right to think it would be out of turn to suggest therapy. It’s hard even to say that to a very close friend and can feel like a very intrusive suggestion. (And, no, I’m not being hypocritical by saying this even though I suggest on Dear Viv all the time that people get therapy -- but the difference is, they have specifically come to me for advice and I don’t maintain a relationship with them afterwards.) I think the only problem here is one with boundaries. This woman is testing your boundaries. Do you want to be a really close friend and a confidant for her? Are you the dream catsitting therapist friend she has been waiting for? If you’re not then you need to back off and show her where the boundaries are in this relationship. Tell her you’re working on a stressful project and won’t be able to be in touch for a few days or few weeks so she mustn’t be offended if you don’t reply to her texts. Or just practise ignoring her for a bit. It’s not your responsibility to be her best friend -- unless you’ve given every indication that you really want to be friends and then suddenly let her down. I think you’re worried that that’s where it’s heading and that’s why it’s time to nip this in the bud. Alternatively, perhaps you do want to risk this friendship and help her. She wants someone who will listen and be there for her. Possibly also she wants free cat-sitting. You can be a friend to this woman -- or you can just be a friendly neighbour. You need to make that choice clear to her by your actions -- but first I think you need to make it clear to yourself. Before you start ignoring her, please send cat pictures.

Dear Viv, 

I've lived with my boyfriend for about five months now and while it's been great to spend more time together, I'm finding myself doing the majority of the cooking and cleaning. I made it clear before we moved in that I expected chores to be shared 50/50, so this has been really disappointing, to be honest. His argument is that because he has a long commute (1 hour each way) and I work so nearby (a 10 minute walk) and go past a supermarket on the way back, it makes sense for me to do the supermarket shops. We both agree that I'm better than him at cooking, but I would argue that's because he doesn't put effort in, or ever open a cookbook. And as for cleaning, he uses that classic excuse that he doesn't see dirt in the same way that I do. How can that be true? He won't do anything without me prompting him, but that makes me feel like a nag, so I avoid mentioning it and end up doing it all myself.

Basically, this has been simmering for a while. And then last month, my boyfriend's boss told him that because the company is expanding but staying in the same office, from now on he's now required to work from home twice a week. I, perhaps naively, assumed this would mean he'd have time to buy and start dinner before I get back, perhaps put some laundry on during his lunch break, stick some bleach in the loo, etc. But of course I came home last week and he was 'tired' from staring at a screen all day, and couldn't be bothered to put some shoes on and go out. It's been the same this week.

If working from home doesn't change anything, it's clearly not a circumstantial problem - I feel like I need to nip this in the bud, and I'm not sure how. 

Thanks Viv 

Ha ha - this is my favourite excuse ever: “I just don’t see dirt in the same way that you do.” I hope my 13-year-old son does not find out about that one. Thanks so much for your question, Thankless Housekeeper and Chef.

This is such a common problem in relationships so I’m really glad you’ve voiced it. We all say in relationships that we’re going to do one thing and then when it comes down to it we do another. And one person always ends up compromising more than they intended to and this is exactly what has happened to you. It’s interesting that your boyfriend has been called on his bullshit excuses by his new work situation. It’s not that he has good reasons for not doing these things, it’s just that he doesn’t want to do them.

So, the question is, how are you going to make him without feeling like a nag? I think if I had the real, foolproof answer to this question, I would write it in a book entitled How to Have the Perfect Relationship and I would make a million pounds very easily. But meanwhile I will have a stab at the answer here for free. I think the answer depends on how much you care about this, how well you know your boyfriend and what you’re prepared to put up with. Some people would handle this situation by lowering their standards: what happens if you literally don’t do the shopping, the cooking or the cleaning? Could you experiment for two weeks and see what happens if you do nothing? The idea is that you figure out how you feel about all this and also your boyfriend gets to see how much you do to keep the house running. If there is a fundamental mismatch between the standards you expect and the mess he’s prepared to live in then you have a problem and you need to talk about this. It’s not insurmountable, this problem, but it is a tricky one. It’s very hard for a very tidy and clean person to live with a dirty and messy person. (I know this because this is the situation in my own marriage. I am the dirty and messy person. I’m trying, OK?) There are other things to think about. Does your boyfriend actually know what needs doing? A list might help him. Pointing out to him how much this means to me and how it makes you feel when these things don’t happen... That might also help. You might also benefit from having areas of the house which are his to make messy and areas which need proper cleaning.

Don’t feel defeated by this problem because you are far from alone. The difficulty is that your relationship is quite new and you’re just getting to know each other. Longer term as you suggest this could grow into a big problem: you do not want to end up being the one who does everything and just grows a massive festering ball of resentment inside her. Talk to him, make clear what you expect but also be prepared for him to have different ideas about what needs doing. Another solution? Outsource all this to a cleaner and share the cost. Actually that is the title of my book which is going to make me a million pounds. It’s divorce-proof.

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

Dear Viv, 

I've got a 13 year old child who's obsessed with being online. I can't tear him away from a screen whether it's an iPad, computer, or his phone. He needs to have his phone for school so I can't take everything away, I can't stop the WiFi and it wouldn't work anyway because he has data on his phone. He gets aggressive when I try and stop him and I'm really worried. He would literally watch youtube for a whole day if I didn't stop him. It's ruining our family time, it's ruining everything because he just wants to go upstairs. What can I do?

Dear Viv,

I have quite a quite a high-pressure job and keep myself together at work, organised, focused then evenings and weekends I regress into a teenage state - messy bedroom, drinking too much, haven't had a bank card in a year but it feels too overwhelming to overhaul my life, since I'm nowhere near where I thought I would be. Basically how do I stop fearing taking control?

These questions have been edited for length. 

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. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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