Those People

Some things just **** you off.

Duncan Cross noted this on his blog, and somehow he didn’t go postal. And at first I was thinking that it couldn’t be true; somehow Duncan had misread, misinterpreted, or maybe was just having an officially certified 100% BAD DAY. So I clicked the link and checked it out for myself.

Thank goodness I don’t have any blood pressure problems.

There’s an “advice column” on, the online presence of The Boston Globe. Seems fairly harmless; I mean, how many of us glance at Dear Abby while we’re reading the paper in the morning?

But the letter in the August 5th column torked me off – and a lot of other people, I bet. Here’s how it went:

My boyfriend has always had health problems, but a little over a year ago, things really got bad. There’s no need to go into the details, but suffice it to say, it isn’t going to go away, and it has impacted every aspect of our lives. Because it is often difficult for him to move around, we started going out less and less. Our home became less social as he didn’t like having people over as much. His interests narrowed, his mood soured (he’s being treated for depression). Our sex life dried up. I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to make life better for him; I have taken on more and more responsibilities; I physically take care of him; and I have been patient, accommodating and understanding as our lives changed…

…I feel isolated, stuck, and sad, and have been fighting the urge to flee. I think he may suspect my feelings, because he is reminding me more frequently how he loves me and couldn’t go on without me. But I just don’t know. On the one hand, I have all the responsibilities of the relationship, and none of the emotional or physical joy that should come with it. I don’t think he is either willing or capable of living beyond the lifestyle we currently live. I’m 24 and I am terrified at the prospect that this is it, that this is going to be my life. On the other hand, he’s still my best friend, and I love him and deeply care for him. He’s in pain, both physically and emotionally, and he needs me. If I left, it would break his heart, and when I think about the reality of that, it absolutely shakes me.

What should I do? It’s been over a year, and I feel I have tried everything, and things are not getting any better. Am I a horrible person to be thinking about leaving him?

Quite a mess is brewing – sick boyfriend isn’t doing so well and he is withdrawing into himself. In a way it is understandable, we’re all vain to some point. If we get an illness that really decimates us, it’s natural to think “I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” and retreat into ourselves. And that applies just as much to the person who gets blindsided by a bad case of the flu as it does to someone with a Chronic Illness whose health slowly deteriorates.

But this isn’t what irritates me. Our advice columnist answers in a flippant style that completely misses the mark:

You’re allowed to leave. You’re 24. You didn’t sign up for this. I fear the longer you stay, the worse it will be when you bolt.

He’s your friend. You owe it to him to be honest. Tell him you’re not up for this. You can’t commit to this life, at least not as a romantic partner. You can explain that part of your decision is about age and place in life. I truly believe it’s not just his illness. You want to discover more of the world. You want to get to know yourself better. That’s what unmarried people do at your age. You will feel like a jerk — but being a jerk is better than being a martyr.

This “advice” really grates on my nerves – You’re 24, it’s much too early for you to show any character! If the friend wants out, say so. And then she should grab her stuff and go. It will hurt for a little while, but it will be best in the long run… because the guy will know that she’ll cut and run at the first hint of trouble. At least if you’re up front with him he’ll know who isn’t on his side.

Duncan highlights the fact that the advice columnist and the young woman both miss important points: The young man is still working – a part of the letter that I did not highlight mentions the fact that both of them work – and he’s probably hanging on to his job by his fingernails in this terrible economy. He’s working when he really should be at home taking care of himself, and it is taking a lot out of him. Also if he’s taking medication for depression, his libido has probably dried up. He’s not in the mood, he’s exhausted, and although he’s working he knows that because of the economy or his health that job could vanish. It’s little wonder that things aren’t all Champagne and Roses right now.

But the best is yet to come! Our advice maven offers this gem:

Remind him of all of the other people in his life who care for him. Tell him to seek out as much support as possible. Dealing with a chronic is miserable. He needs to learn to cope without alienating everyone he loves.

A chronic. Not a person, but a chronic. A thing. With six words, she strips millions of people of their basic humanity and throws them into a nameless, faceless group. A group that makes you miserable when you have to deal with them.

Drop the word chronic and substitute nearly any word that identifies an ethnic or a social  group, and you’ll have a fight on your hands. Try using the word Italian, Jew, Republican, Democrat, Yankee, or Redneck in that sentence and people will start screaming. If you really want people to hate your guts, throw the N word in there.

But use the sentence as it is written and there is nary a peep. Apparently it’s still OK in certain circles to discriminate against those of us who are living our lives in spite of it all.

I’m not really upset at the female for wanting out of the situation, she’s young and probably doesn’t know any better. But our advice columnist – she has no compassion, no human decency, and I doubt she understands the inner strength that we sometimes have to draw from just to keep going. And she apparently doesn’t care.

After all, those people are just chronics.


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6 Responses to “Those People”

  1. Jesse Smith Says:

    I am with you 100% on your response to the advisor’s response…However, in the spirit of optimism, maybe this is a typo and it was intended to read, “Tell him to seek out as much support as possible. Dealing with a chronic ILLNESS is miserable. …”

    Let’s hope, right?

  2. Lisa Says:

    Wow. I’m speechless.


  3. Linda D. Says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  4. Teri Says:

    I sent her an email and posted my response on my site

    As a Bostonian I felt compelled to speak up and I hope what she wrote was a mis-print but sadly I feel her response was still heartless.

  5. Aviva Says:

    Oh, that had me gritting my teeth and wanting to punch someone, too.

    (Not that I’d ever do the latter, but I sure wanted to.)

    I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t seen mention anywhere of any kind of retraction/apology from the columnist. I’d hoped it was a typo or poor editing job, and she would at least take back that horrible sentence if not acknowledge that she was on drugs or something for the entire response to the writer.


  6. Deepti Says:

    I’m 23, almost 24, and I can understand that young girl. I don’t know what I’d do if my boyfriend were perennially ill and I was made to feel trapped and helpless. So I really don’t blame her. On the other hand, I too am a “chronic”, apparently, like that young boy. I need regular care from specialists and have to be careful about a lot of things my friends take for granted, missing out on many experiences that most people my age have had by now.

    It’s this sort of insensitivity that irks me. While I don’t want to run around with a foghorn blaring, “I AM A HEART PATIENT, RECOGNISE THAT AND GIVE ME ALLOWANCES!” it’s difficult having to explain to other people why I can’t do some things. Why I get tired sooner than they do. Or why I can’t have more than the tiniest sip of alcohol because it could react with my blood thinner. Or why I never did learn how to ride a cycle. Or bit my swimming instructor unkindly at the age of 12.

    People who are born perfect acting like they’re more informed about life, and I’m just a patient with a number whose major experiences are within the confines of a hospital? Well, they’re the truly sick people, is all I can say.

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