Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advice to Friend Results in Her Wedding

I saw an article at CNN a few minutes ago called "Four horrible ways to get him to pop the question" and read it not because I have a man to whom I'd like to be married but because I wanted to see if the advice I gave to a friend that resulted in her getting married was listed as a horrible method. First, the advice I gave my friend was not a "method" but real advice from a friend who was tired of hearing her friend go through yo-yo emotions in her relationship.

Every other week this friend, who is about eight years younger than I and whom I'll call Sheila in this story, seemed to call me either ranting and raving that she was through with John (also a fake name) or crying that she was hurt and "through" with John.

Let me tell you a bit about their history. Sheila and I used to work at a government facility. I sort of mentored her when she came on board. She's a friendly but also feisty woman who I once had to physically stop from storming off to give the boss a piece of her mind. She's also slender and attractive, the color of milk chocolate and at the time wore long braids. A social animal, she quickly became popular with our colleagues, mostly male engineers.

One day we were in a facility cafeteria, and Sheila was seated at a table, talking the infamous mile a minute to people seated with her. I was standing, I think, trying to decide if I was going to stay and eat. I heard a few feet behind a pair of co-workers whispering. The man, John, one of the engineers, was talking to Tina, the office flirt, and badgering her, "Who is that? Who is that?"

"That's Sheila," said Tina.

"Introduce me," he said.

Tina ignored him and he immediately began to bug her, "Are you goin to introduce me? Introduce me. Are you going to introduce me?"

She told him to wait, and a minute or so later came directly to the table, injected herself into the conversation, and then said, "And oh, John, this is one of our new PR people, Sheila."

John, a husky white guy with thick silvery hair who I figured to be two years older than I, smiled the sheepish smile of a high school boy, and waved at her. Next I heard Sheila was invited to a party given by John's close friends, they chatted in the hot tub and became completely smitten with each other.

Sheila told me the details on the phone and made this statement, "Girl, I can't resist this man. It's like he's got a spell on me or something. But, I'm going to give this one year and if his ass ain't serious, then I'm kicking it to the curb."

As they dated, the plot thickened. Both were divorced and not very trusting. Sheila was determined to not let a man run her and John was determined to not let a woman get over on him ever again. I observed this relationship and knew it was probably long term when a few weeks after they began dating Sheila's hot water heater or some other big ticket necessity (memory's fuzzy here) failed at her house. John went to Wal-mart, without asking too many questions, bought a replacement and installed it. Yes, engineers can be handy.

He was cooking dinner at his house or he was at her house with her and her preteen sons and they were cooking together. After a while they were camping together, and the boys seemed to like him okay. Yet, somewhere along their journey, a break-up/make-up pattern began.

The two broke up and made up so often that my conversations with Sheila often went like this:
"I mean it. I will never speak to him again. It's over!" she would say.

"Uh-huh," I'd answer.

"No. I mean it. He's wasting my time and playing with me, and I'm tired of it. He's so stubborn."

"Puhlease. You are so whipped by this man, Sheila. Call me in two days when you make up, O.K.?"
And there was other drama. John had a young daughter who lived with her mother and was in daycare. On his weekend to keep the child, Sheila would sometimes be the one to pick her up. To make it more romance novelesque, the child's mother, who'd rejected John prior to his attachment to Sheila, liked to play games and try to get him back. He never went, but the incidents wore on Sheila's nerves.

By this time, my family had moved to New Jersey and Sheila was no longer at the government facility where we met but worked instead at a local communications company. She was great a her job and in demand, but sometimes she would bemoan that after nearly four years of dating, John seemed disinclined to move beyond an exclusive but unhitched relationship and with her boys, she didn't want to play house and have him move into her place or vice versa.

Then one day, I was minding my own business at home in New Jersey when I got a call from Sheila. She was not just a little weepy or fuming, she was bawling her eyes in a way that I'd never heard before. Sheila had become one of my best friends and I knew the difference between drama queen tearfulness and the genuine sobs of a broken soul.

She said that John had lit into her because she'd forgotten to pick up Sue, his daughter, from daycare. And he said somethings that mad her feel irresponsible. She was sort of angry but I also detected in her comments that she felt awful about it. Something happened at work and she really did forget Sue. She sounded guilty, and that's when I flipped to anger and told her how I felt.

"O.K., Shelia. I'm going to tell you something. And you might get mad with me, but I'm your friend. How dare he make you feel that guilty about not picking up Sue! That's his child not yours," I said. "And how did picking up Sue become one of your duties. Let me remind you of what you told me when you first started dating John. You said you'd give it one year and if he didn't commit to you with marriage, you'd be done.

"What's it been now? Almost four years. Every other week you call up crying break up to me. I let that go, even tease you about it. But this is different. What I'm hearing is a man who really has no commitment to a woman at all other than sleeping with her and going on trips is making that woman feel guilty for not picking up his daughter from daycare. I know you love Sue and he knows it too. But when you start doing chores like picking up children and taking flack for messing up, then it's clear he's taking you for granted.

"Have you forgotten who you are? You don't have to take this from him. I know and he knows it too that if you dropped him today, tomorrow you'd have three guys trying to claim you for life. Keep this up with John and you'll be one of those women we hear about sometimes. Engaged for eight years. When do they realize he never intends to marry her? And you're not even engaged.

"John's getting a great boost to his ego having you on his arm and as the years go by, he has to put less effort in to keep you there."

I said this because it was true. Sheila was a man magnet. But she is also the kind of woman who enjoys marriage. Despite her divorce and previous bad marriage, she wanted to tie the knot again. Given that, if John didn't want to get married, she was wasting her time with him. I, however, am not the marrying kind and while I gave her that advice, was wondering why the hell was I in a 20-plus marriage and unhappy.

"So," I said to Sheila, "here's what you're going to do."

I don't know where the advice came from and what made me say it, but I did.

"You are going to call John. Tell him that it's over. Tell him that you will not be taken for granted. And you're going to tell him that you don't want to hear from him again unless he's decided he wants to be married and is ready to shop for a ring because he's wasting your time."

I also told her to stick to it and not even answer the phone if he called.

Normally, I would not have said anything like that because ultimatums are usually not a good idea. You should never issue one unless you mean business and are willing to live with the consequences no matter what.

I also told her that if she didn't do that, then I might stop speaking to her because she was starting to show all the signs of a woman trapped in low self-esteem and that's not the woman I met four years ago.

Furthermore, I thought she needed to put John in check because theirs was not a typical relationship. They were an African-American and Caucasian couple. We'd all grown up in the south with stories of white men keeping black women on the side, in love with them but lacking the guts to marry them. So, other issues needed to be considered if it appeared John was only stringing her along and lodging complaints about her failure to fulfill a request.

After I stated my advice, a calm came over Sheila, and she said okay. She called John and told him it was over and if he didn't want to be married, then get lost. She called me back and said that he didn't say much. He was eerily quiet. I told her don't worry about it. Move on.

About three days later I got a call. Sheila was screaming in my ear that John had shown up and said something like he couldn't live without her her and they were going out to look for a ring. He said he was fuming when got off the phone with her and he called his best friend, one of the people who hosted the party where the two of them hooked up in the hot tub, and his friend told him, "Sheila is right. You do take her for granted. If you're not going to marry her, then why do you keep her around so long."

She selected a stunning, tasteful ring, and the two were married at a classy beach ceremony the following summer. At the wedding, I met Sheila's grandmother, who said to me, "Oh so you're the one. I thank you for giving my granddaughter very good advice."

Sheila and John have been married now for more than five years now. It's a beautiful thing, a hand-in-glove functioning. He's a great husband, and they have a good life together, both in love and finance.

This is a true story and not advice for how to get a guy to ask you to marry him. Sheila and John's situation was unique and so is not a formula for getting hitched. While a slew of emotions roiled throughout it, my advice was logical and made sense to a woman who wanted to be married and had already broken the rule she made for herself, that she wouldn't let her boyfriend string her along for more than a year. So, by sticking with him and following the break-up-make-up pattern for nearly four years, she was betraying her own sense of self-respect, not good for a healthy and happy life.

No man is worth your losing your dignity. If you're happy in a relationship without marriage, then go for it. Marriage is not the natural state for many of us. However, if you want to be married, don't let a man waste your time. A time-waster is only giving you a false sense of security and keeping you from someone else who will be good to you for life. I don't think what I've said is odd. I believe men who've been honest will tell you that they know in a few months, sometimes sooner, if they want to marry their girlfriends.

If you want to read advice from a relationship "expert," then try CNN's Four horrible ways. I'm not expert. Just a friend. But I will say that if you've got to play games to get him to the altar, then you should re-evaluate whether he's the one for you.

That is not a picture of my friend up to. The photo comes from

NaBloPloMo Day 11.

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