Dear Sydney, my friend is having an affair with some girl she met when recently out of town. She has been struggling and unhappy in her relationship for some time. Now, along comes someone new who looks alluring to her. My friend and I have been talking, and I have told her what I think--that this new thing is a distraction from the real problems of her current relationship and that she should be careful. She seems dead set on forging ahead and starting something with this new person. My problem is that I'm very good friends with her whole family, including her girlfriend, who is a decent gal and who appears to be genuinely trying to fix things in the relationship. What do I do now? Every time that I see her, I feel awful and like I'm in on the conspiracy. Do I tell my friend not to tell me anything so that I am not a co-conspirator in this disaster? Do I blow the whistle now? Do I tie her to the table and take her phone away? She is really acting out!--Freaked Out
Dear Freakin': I keep getting different versions of this question. Is anyone not having an affair? Has the monogamous relationship become, in the 21st century, like believing in the Tooth Fairy, something dear and precious, but totally unrealistic? You could take the safest route and just stay out of it. It's really none of your business. When it comes to sexual relationships, unless you're having a threesome, it's between the two of them, and it's not for you to judge or participate. However, I would want to know if I was being cheated on, and if my friends knew and didn't tell me, I would feel seriously let down. How do you feel about it? How would you want to be treated in a similar situation?
While you mull this over, tell your friend that you don't want to hear about any more of her adventures. Let her know that being put in this situation makes you feel very uncomfortable and that you don't appreciate having to be a conspirator. In any situation dealing with a secret, most of us choose to stay true to the friend we feel closest to, and as unpleasant as this is, we are often forced to pick sides due to our deepest allegiances. By refusing to engage in the conversation, you are setting clear boundaries, and this gives you more room to remain neutral. With this in mind, the less you know the better.
Dear Sydney, what do you think is the best philosophy to take when it comes to small-town life? There are so many challenges, like keeping your opinions to yourself, not taking sides in people's personal conflicts with others, etc. I try to be involved in my community while not becoming too attached to the problems therein, but I find myself frustrated with my options. Please help with any suggestions you might have to offer.--Desperate to Move
Dear Outta Here: Ah, small-town life--when you've already seen everything in the local video store, everyone knows everyone, and getting involved with other people's problems is the most entertaining way to pass the time. It's possible to be supportive, both as a listener and a provider for friends, without picking a side or passing bold verbal judgments on those involved in conflicts. You can think it, just don't say it. Also, things in life are often inappropriately sensationalized. It's a survival mechanism to minimize the things we truly fear and replace them with more trivial worries: Joe and Suzy are breaking up; Doug is suing Troy; Betsy and Shirley had an argument out front of the local coffee shop and it's your fault because you told Betsy that Shirley told you she had a crush on Billy who everyone knows leaves his kids alone at night while he's at the bar.
All of these can be wonderful distractions from your worries of impending poverty, the possibility that your relationship is in a shambles, fear of unnamable medical conditions and the fact that your youngest is smoking reefer after school. Better to trip out about Betsy and Shirley than to feel freaked out and fatalistic all of the time! Just try to make a conscious effort to find distractions in the more pleasant aspects of small-town life. Plan weekly potlucks for the summer, with an open invitation to your neighbors. Make it a point to rediscover the hidden treasures of your town: go to the creek, take a hike with friends, have lunch at your favorite place. The distractions your town has to offer you are valuable. Just be careful which ones you choose to engage in.
Dear Sydney, my husband and I are into buying and restoring vintage bicycles. Locating parts often requires us to use eBay as a source. Lately, I have had several encounters with "difficult" sellers. It appears that the computer has allowed people to say and do things they normally would not, because it allows them not to have any emotional attachment to their actions. With more and more Internet use, how do we keep ourselves (and others) aware of the "human" element?--Offended
Dear Offended: Anyone who engages in an active Internet life knows the pitfalls and potential for miscommunication that lie within the web's mystical boundaries. In order to counterattack the problem, a series of symbols called emoticons have been commonly adopted. They can be inserted into the text of an e-mail and represent different emotions: sad, happy, confused, etc. These faces are important, because we now use the computer as a replacement for genuine conversation, and we often blast out e-mails without taking the time to consider the clarity of our tone and intention.
Try to grow a special Internet skin, sort of like an invisible pelt, to protect yourself from other people's rudeness and your own mistakes. We have to forgive others their online attitude, and hope that they will grant us the same level of forgiveness. Until someone comes up with an emotional representation that doesn't evoke Hello Kitty, we'll just have to keep on being rude to each other, often without even realizing it, and accept the fact that while e-mail is great for getting things done, it isn't necessarily the best way to get to know someone.
'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at www.asksydney.com or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.