Q: I’m 25 and just finished a three-year graduate program. Early on I met this guy, G., who pursued me multiple times but I always rejected him.
I entered graduate school as a very sheltered, innocent girl. I think that was what attracted G. I then befriended a couple of girls who influenced me to become this wild party girl. I also got a huge tattoo on my thigh behind my parents’ back.
I’ve been living in regret since then. The tattoo is very uncharacteristic of me. The party life was a phase I enjoyed mostly because of the company and the new experiences. Prior to graduate school I was very shy and quiet.
That phase is now done. I don’t care for clubbing or drinking. I’m easing back into my old life and it feels great.
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I’ve also been thinking of settling down and G. came to my mind. I know he’s a good guy. At the same time, I’m so embarrassed about my past and my tattoo. I know he likes nice, serious girls. I consider myself nice and mature. But I can’t change what happened in the past three years. I can’t even bring myself to imagine his reaction when I tell him about the tattoo.
I don’t know what to do. I want to ask him out because I can imagine settling down with him, but I keep talking myself out of it because I’m so self-conscious of my past. I’m scared to have to face his judgment.
Do you think I should try with him at all? Or should I just look for someone else?
A: A sudden jolt from sheltered innocence is a fairly common path to a thigh tattoo, so I hope you don’t waste too much time feeling unique, much less shamed or fallen.
You saw a new side of the world, jumped in, stayed a while, and decided it wasn’t for you. OK then. Apparently it was a phase you needed, and it gave you information you needed, to recognize that a quiet life suits you best.
That too is common. Your “old life” was the one dictated by your upbringing; today, even if it’s essentially the same as the old one, your new life is fully your own. What you once did by default you’re now doing by informed choice.
Instead of fretting about what’s behind you, I suggest being more concerned about – or at least just mindful of – what could be ahead of you.
While it’s useful to be informed by regret, it’s important not to be owned by it. Shame can make even worse decisions than naivete does. Its effect is akin to fear: It sends you in retreat from problematic decisions, versus toward good ones. Which feels better, going for a run or saying no to a piece of cake? We tend to feel better, more empowered, more optimistic, with positive steps and worse with avoidant ones.
So: Are you eyeing G. because you genuinely like him? Or do you see him, consciously or sub-, as a way to say no to cake -- to prove to yourself you’re a “nice, serious girl”?
Even the loveliest of dates makes a poor remedy for self-doubt. That grants others waaaaaay too much power over us, for one.
If you really do just like G., then, yes, ask him out – when you can do so without fear of judgment. His or anyone else’s. None of us stands alone as a finished product. We are who we are, and who we used to be, and even who we want to become. We are all the good and bad things that shape us.
If you embrace your growing-up process as part of you, then others will. And if G. doesn’t – especially given that it’s what awoke you to him – then he’s not the guy for you. Intimacy is acceptance. Don’t stick around for less.
Q: We have a long-term problem of my mother-in-law, “Milly,” excluding my husband and me from family occasions. We are missing birthdays of littles and landmarks because the host asks Milly to pass along the invite, and she manages to invite the little brother – the golden child – but not my husband and me. I have asked the in-laws to please invite us directly so we can be there as nieces and nephews grow up. But so far, the invites are still passing through that gatekeeper Milly. Please help.
A: You asked them to communicate with you directly, but they haven’t – so you need to communicate with them.
And since you can’t exactly call around inviting yourselves to things, you either have to invite these in-laws to gatherings of your own, or communicate with them just for the sake of it.
Preferably both: Call to say hi. Call to talk to the littles. Call to learn what they care about, then care about it yourselves. We tend to include people more who are already halfway there.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com