Don’t gaslight me, bro

Fair warning to all my douchebags, liars, assholes, sociopaths, and generally manipulative jerks out there: you’re not going to like this.

(Well, to be perfectly honest, it probably won’t faze you much, because what I’m about to say isn’t news to you. It’s your modus operandi. But it may infuriate you to be called out on it, natch, ’cause I’ve figured you out, bro. And I’m not the only one.)

Today, boys and girls, I’d like to talk to you about gaslighting.

If this fancy word sounds unfamiliar to you, never fear. I’ll explain, you’ll understand, and you might even find yourself nodding your head as a past (or present) recipient of it.

Gaslighting, in essence, is when one person makes you feel like a crazy person. The craziest person. When someone is gaslighting you, it’s as if you’re being told what you believe, feel, or know is flat-out wrong.

And what’s more, the tables are then turned on you. You’re the bad guy, you’re the bully, you’re the one making things up. Remarkably, despite what you presumed was unwavering confidence in your own position, you start to wonder, “Hey, maybe it was me.”

Forget what your gut tells you. Forget what facts say. Not only aren’t you right, but the blame has somehow been shifted — to you.

It’s mental abuse, in essence. So hey, from here on out, let’s just call the perpetrator by his or her deserved name: the abuser.

The abuser may attempt to convince you that nothing happened. The abuser may lead you to believe that your very sound, very solid judgments are patently false. The abuser may deny any wrongdoing, and make you feel like what you said or did — which was perfectly rational and warranted, by anyone else’s standards — was the crime in question. And you, the victim, will actually wonder if it was your fault.

“You’re too sensitive.” “You’re overreacting.” “You’re being defensive.” Well, dude, you’re gaslighting.

Now does this sound a little closer to home? I thought it might.

But when you break it down, that’s not the way a person shows he cares about another person. A surprise jockeying of position between two people — where the defender becomes the defensible — doesn’t allay unfounded fears. Gaslighting is solely a way to make the abuser feel better, because you know what? Your gut is probably right on, and the abuser knows it — and you’re making him uncomfortable. It’s slimy tactic for the person in the wrong to regain control of the situation — by making you go completely insane questioning yourself. A self you know well enough to trust when things aren’t quite right.

And yet, it’s so common that there’s a word for it (derived from a 1940s movie of the same name), which should be enough to chap your hide. It’s a prevalent theme in Zero Dark Thirty. It’s a trendy, timely, well-documented cultural phenomenon (sadly). Hell, I’m pretty sure that’s what Katy Perry’s wailing about when she declares she’s wide awake.

You’ll find this sort of strong-armed cowardice present in many types of relationships, for sure, especially when the balance of power is significantly skewed. But it’s probably no more frequent than in romantic ones. Which makes it all the more disgusting. Because when are you more vulnerable or more impressionable than in the heady throes of amorousness?

It happens to men, it happens to women. It doesn’t discriminate based on what you’ve got between your legs. But you hear about it a hell of a lot more when the abuser is a man.

Why is that the case? Ugh. I don’t know. And I also don’t know that I care to speculate that much on the reasons why. Do they really matter? I mean, we can use traditional stereotypes, if it’s easier. Women are more feeling, more intuitive, more trusting, more marginalized. Men are more domineering, more direct, more unforgiving, more insecure. We’ve been dealing with these sorts of issues since time immemorial, and really, stereotypes don’t really serve us at all in making sense of a gross phenomenon. It happens. It happens a lot. That’s good enough.

The fact that doesn’t depend on stereotypes is that when something’s wrong, we women feel it. It’s deep, deep in our bones, straight down to the marrow. It’s a gnawing that won’t let us sleep, eat, or think straight. It’s a panic that keeps rising, no matter what we do to quell it. It’s a burning thought that we can’t shake. It’s intangible, but it’s so real, you can taste it. It’s there. It’s legit. And it ain’t going anywhere until it’s addressed and handled. You see, they don’t call it “a woman’s intuition” because shit’s a fabrication of our imaginations (which would, ahem, be gaslighting).

So now let me speak directly to you, dearest Gaslighters of the World. I know examples paint a clearer picture, and if that’s the case, let me be your artist-in-residence.

When you label a woman’s reaction as “freaking out over nothing” that’s very obviously something to her? Yup, dude, you’re gaslighting. If a girl you’re dating asks why you suddenly stopped contacting her, and you accuse her of pressuring and bullying you? Gaslighting, round two. And when that girl happens to discover that, in the midst of your unscheduled silence, you magically acquired a girlfriend? That’s called, um, she was right.

Are we clear?

You see, gaslighting isn’t cool or kosher or even mildly acceptable at all. Because it doesn’t change the facts: you probably fucked up, and you probably got caught. (Your bad, bro.) Short of fucking up in the first place, maybe you ought to step back, act like a human being (and not an aggressive pack animal), and put yourself in your gaslightee’s shoes for a minute. Exhibit a little respect; common courtesy won’t strip you of your coveted and hard-earned playboy title, I promise. At any rate, your next (inevitable) victim would appreciate the compassion. And neither of you — and especially your victim — will be any worse for wear.

But maybe that makes too much logical sense for you.

 

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Let’s try this again, pa rum pum pum pum

holiday-engagement-pew-pewAs you do for the holidays, you go home. With your tail between your legs, your heart in your hands, or your ego on blast, you and your Oxford commas go home. And, in the spirit of the season, this prodigal blogging daughter is coming home … to her blog.

O, come let us adore her.

Not that you’ve been gnawing your nails in anticipation of this moment, mind you. I’m not arrogant enough to assume that. (Well, yes, yes, I am, but only a little.) But just like my actual hometown, I’ve turned my nose up at this blog for no good reason, and I know my day of reckoning is nigh.

Maybe you remember a time when I used to call myself “a writer” — I vaguely do. But I wouldn’t adorn myself with such a lofty label anymore. Sure, I journal (with pen and paper, thank you very much), but that’s not creation; it’s confusion. I tweet with the fury of a thousand scorned whores and fool myself into believing that that’s a pithy substitute for authorship. But the 1,001 of us have something in common: in the wake of primal failures, we’ve found something better to do that demands less effort and more immediate satiation.

(I hope that analogy made any sense at all. ‘Cause I’m not actually comparing myself to whores, per se, like, not in the sense of sexual promiscuity, but like, how I used to be a blogger and now I just tweet a lot and I … you know, forget it. Use your imagination.)

And really, how many times have I come here making excuses for my lack of writing, anyway? God, who wants to read that? But I do that. Every so often, I have this inexplicable compulsion to justify my blogging dearth to some invisible panel that cares why another girl with another blog isn’t writing. I don’t always act on it, but it’s like a faint hiss in my ear: “Wriiiiiiite in your bloooooog.” (It sounds like Voldemort.)

And my Internet-inflated ego (duh, I so have one of those, duh twice) tells me that someone — anyone (maybe the good people learning English in Peru?) — wants to read my drivel. To relate to that. To sympathize with that. To use that as a preeminent educational resource. To judge that. To roll their eyes at that.

Oh c’mon, I do it, too, so don’t skewer me for reading your mind. I hate some of your blogs and so it’s definitely possible that some of you hate mine. Unlikely, but possible.

Any attempt at an explanation is going to seem self-important (which it is) and trite (which it also is). But you know, God, I’ll skip that so I can be real with you for a hot minute: the look-at-me age is grating. Not to get all hipster on you, but I’ve been blogging since 1999 (LiveJournal, what what), and informally experimenting with social media (as opposed to formally experimenting, which is what I do now) since at least 2003 … and aren’t you tired of looking at me? Of looking at everyone else? I know I am. (Change your avatar.)

But also ugh. This is not a manifesto. I’m simply trying to coherently string words together that exceed 140 characters at a clip.

(Refreshing, right? I’ll continue.)

I’m not bashing social media on the whole. Really. I mean, I am bashing Facebook, because man, I’m always bashing Facebook, and I’m really looking forward to the social network that’ll replace it. If you’ve spent any time around me in the past year, you’re probably annoyed with my anti-Facebook rhetoric already. I would say I’m sorry, but, like, I’m not. But I’m sure I will make you sorry that you ever got me on the subject of Facebook, so let’s just not.

But it’s not social media itself that’s the problem, though. Not exactly. It’s how we’ve bastardized it and made it more loathsome than its proponents probably ever intended. It’s the behavior and expectations that accompany it. Like, maybe I’m over making you look at me all the time. Maybe I’m over looking at you all the time. Maybe I’m over living under the critical gaze of technology. Selfies steal my soul, yo. (Also, don’t get me started on selfies.)

But am I really “over it”? I want you to read what I write, don’t I? I want you to read this post or I would just write it in my stupid journal (it’s pretty) with my stupid Sharpie pens (they’re perfect) for my stupid cat (he’s actually just an asshole) to read while I’m work, right? I want you to believe that what I have to say is important … or I wouldn’t put it out there. Right? I mean, right?

So, what is it then? Look away, click elsewhere — or subscribe, follow, like, retweet, share?

You don’t have to answer that. Well, I mean, you could, but I don’t know that we’re going to reach a definitive conclusion here. So, don’t worry, no pressure.

(Seriously, could this post sound any more like the last post I wrote a year and a half ago?)

(Also, what’s with me and parentheses? This is new. Punctuation of choice? De-emphasis in 2014? Anyway. Let’s focus.)

So yeah. I wrote a post. And if there’s a next time, I’ll come more prepared and more coherent. Swear it, I will. And hopefully it won’t have anything to do with my own existential crisis about the insignificance of Internet significance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some comment spam to eradicate. To the choppa!

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I’m doing it for the thrill.

Beneath a Midwestern sky.

Okay, so.

You know that thing that happens when you’re, like, an aspiring-columnist-slash-accidental-reporter-turned-reluctant-marketer one day, and the next day, you’re swimming in the blissfully calm waters of dinosaurs and science and geekery galore?

Yeah, well, you don’t have to answer that question. You don’t even have to know what that means. Because I know exactly what happens. The answer: You stop writing.

I don’t write much at all these days. I mean to, I realize I’m still able, but I just don’t. My motivation to write feels purposeless and shallow. Like I simply want to put a few paragraphs on the screen for the sake of seeing my words on the screen.

Hell, we can all do that. Not that we all should. I’d like to strip blogging rights from half of America (and that’s thinking with my compassionate heart), truth be told.

But no words feel like my words these days. I created and conjured the disjointed thoughts behind them, but somehow, something is preventing me from actually taking ownership of those words.

Maybe it’s because I spent most of the blogging heyday talking about myself, and now that I don’t have anything of substance to write about, I’m really sick of talking about myself. In fact, I’d much rather talk about you and your problems than anything me-related. Of course, everything I write eventually circles back to being me-related, but experience truly is the best fodder.

I used to write an advice column. I particularly enjoyed that role. Me, cluck-clucking you, judging you ever so slightly (c’mon, you deserved it a little), smacking you around (with a padded bat, okay?), and then sending you off to fend for yourself in your merry life by patching you up with my seasoned knowledge. That was pleasant. But I don’t do that much anymore. And by “much” I mean “at all.”

So what now? What do I say? What do I write about if there’s nothing to write about?

I can’t fight this feeling of inspirational mediocrity anymore. Fix it.

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Dear Fayza: Should I have children with the HIV-positive man of my dreams?

(Column originally published here.)

He's HIV positive. Now what?Why, hello there. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? I could blame it on you, but let’s be frank with each other — mama’s got a brand new bag. No, I’m no longer a full-time CultureMapper, in case you actually have a life outside Twitter and Facebook and hadn’t heard the dish.

But pick that chin up off the floor! I may have relocated my physical prowess down the street to the best museum on the planet (I’m not biased, I swear), but my virtual treasure trove of advice is right where you left that bookmark.

Turn that frown upside down, folks. Dear Fayza is here to stay.

And what better to re-ignite our bimonthly ritual than a very serious, very personal matter: Life after a life-threatening diagnosis?

Now that’s what they call “hitting the ground running.”

 

Dear Fayza,

My boyfriend and I were starting to talk about marriage. We went for an HIV test, and he came out positive — and I came out negative.

I love my boyfriend very much and I believe we are soulmatesI don’t think I can stand the idea of him being with someone else, so I have decided to stick with him. 

However, my friends are totally against it. They have laid out the pros and cons for me that have now made me confused and afraid. I truly love my boyfriend and he also feels the same way. I want his babies. 

If I go on with this, will our sex life be exciting? Will we be able to have children together?

- Discordant Diagnosis

 

Dear Discordant,

First of all, congratulations are in order to you for finding someone you love that feels mutually and wants to make that pie-in-the-sky commitment to you. Despite what the most bitter, disdainful hearts have to say about it, the emotion of true love kinda sorta really does make the world go ’round.

But a diagnosis like this can leave you wondering just how long that “lifelong” undertaking may actually be.

I’ve answered a question similar to yours before, but the relationship was merely budding and blooming. I’m assuming, if you’re discussing marriage, you’ve been together for far longer than a few hot dates. In fact, your heart is not only dangling from your sleeve, but it’s more ripe for the picking than a field of freesia in the summertime.

What’s OK for you may not be OK for your friends. And guess what? That’s still perfectly OK.

At this point, you’re in, and you’re in deep (no, uh, pun intended). Abstaining from sex simply isn’t an option, unless you foresee a future for the two of you in neighboring houses of piety, hoping a divine act will deem you the second coming of the Virgin Mary. Stamping out your sex life and putting plans for progeny on hold simply won’t happen.

Like they always say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? I happen to think so.

I should explain that I’m no doctor, so I can’t sway your hand in good faith. But you don’t need a doctor to straighten your thoughts. Focusing on the facts — not the fears — is the most important step you can take to determining what sort of future you have as a wife to this man and the mother of his children.

So do your research. Find out what strain of the virus he carries. Find out when and in what situations he’s most likely to transfer the virus to you — and when he isn’t. What if bearing his children isn’t an option? Is he worth a lifetime of careful, orchestrated sex? Are you willing to die for this man — literally? Education is your primary salvation in being true to with yourself, your health, and your expectations.

Your friends are not in this relationship — you are. Dismiss them. I’m sure their concerns are valid to some degree. But I’ve also got faith that you’re also a grown woman with the wherewithal to make your own decisions. You determine the extent of what you can handle with his illness. You define what risks you’re willing to take in the name of love.

What’s OK for you may not be OK for your friends. And guess what? That’s still perfectly OK.

But I will tell you one thing definitively: If you’re staying with him because you can’t stand the idea of someone else calling him her main squeeze, you might want to push pause on your sugar plum visions. Loving a man with a terminal prognosis is no light-hearted, will-our-sex-life-suck matter.

Other than making sure you fully understand what you’re getting yourself into, make sure you understand the depth of your love for this person. There may be no turning back once you enter into his danger zone, and if you’re not honest with yourself now about the way you feel about him, you may be carelessly jeopardizing your own existence and gravely regretting a hasty decision in the future.

No one person in this world is perfect. We’re human. We all have our flaws, our skeletons, our baggage. When we intertwine our lives with a love interest, we involuntarily shoulder those human qualities as burdens and responsibilities of our own.

Sometimes, they’re more than we can fathom, and they’re more than we bargained for. But no one else can decide what’s best for you or me — except you and me.

Cheers,
Fayza

I always wear my heart on my sleeve for my readers. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a question in the comments below. I’m completely honest about my love for you. I’ll never deny you the truth.

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Dear Fayza: Will I be a single lady for the rest of my life because I intimidate insecure men?

(Column originally published here.)

You're the furthest thing from a wallflower. So why do you feel like you'll always be sitting out the dating game?Being single is awesome. But that’s mostly because modern dating is draconian.

Confession: I just hate hate hate dating. It’s the worst game of Keep Away ever invented, except with less cardio. I’d rather be single than play any of the reindeer games it takes to score a dude these days.

But what if you actually want to say sayonara to our singlehood, and you’re having trouble waving goodbye?

You’re friendly and fabulous. You’re successful and self-assured. So what if your well overfloweth with awesome, but no one’s drinking from the fountain?

That’s what this week’s letter writer wants to know.

Dear Fayza,

I have a dating dilemma. Actually, it would be a dilemma if I wereactually dating. That’s the problem.

I am very social. I make friends easily and create great bonds. My job is quite social. I meet new people on a weekly basis. On top of that, I am usually out three or four nights a week taking in my great city and all that it has to offer (not just the bar scene). I am good at striking up great conversations, talking and laughing for hours.

And that’s where it ends.

I have been told a couple of things:

  1. Guys are intimidated by me. I have a great career, own a house, I don’t NEED them. (I feel this is generic, I get where it’s coming from, but if I’ve never met them, they don’t know anything about me.)
  2. I have been told that I discourage guys from approaching me because I am so social and I talk to a lot of people. They can’t tell if I am talking to them because I am nice and don’t want to hurt their feelings — or  because I am actually interested in them.

I’m not saying that I need a man to make me happy. I have a great life. It would just be great to meet someone and enhance the fabulous life I already have.

- Kinda Sick of Single

Dear Kinda Sick,

Phew. Thank goodness you told me that your existence doesn’t necessitate a man. Because, you know, I probably would’ve made that assumption about you. I mean, most confident, single females leading happy, fulfilled lives are only elaborately disguising the fact that a husband is all they really want in life, right?

Here’s a spoon. You’ll need it to slurp the sarcasm dripping from that last sentence.

I once knew a girl in your situation. Let’s call her Fayza. She’d resigned herself to the fact that not only would she never meet anyone to date, but she was largely unmarriageable on the whole. Too independent, too outspoken, too interesting, too friendly — you know, entirely despicable.

But that was two-ish years ago.

Now that I’m perplexingly boyfriended, however, I’m not smugly looking down from my high horse in coupledom and telling you there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting a dateable human being. Because that’s stupid. And patently false.

But my prolonged Smiling Suzy Singleton status taught me a thing or two — or 12.

From those halcyon years as a lone (but not lonely) operating unit, there was also an imperceptible matter I failed to grasp — I was too comfortable.

There’s nothing wrong with the attributes you mentioned that separate you from the plain Mrs. Janes. Just because men need to feel needed — they are the scientifically weaker sex, after all — doesn’t mean you have to change who you are so they won’t feel intimidated.

But your heels are planted squarely in your comfort zone. You’re doing the things that buoy the self-assured woman that you are — doing things you know you like, meeting people in situations where you control the outcomes, experiencing a social life that plays up your confidences.

Simply put, you’re not vulnerable, girl. And that makes you puzzling and daunting and complex — and single.

You need to peel away those familiarities. Get outside the situations you know and the people you love. Put yourself somewhere or in something where you’re challenged and laid bare and wide open — where you’ll be a bit more humanized than you might appear in your element.

Now don’t go jumping off a bridge or anything. I didn’t tell you to do that (no, I did not!), and I’ll fight indemnification for your medical bills.

You know what I’m telling you to do. I want you to be uncomfortable.

Sure, I could completely punt and tell you to try online dating or get your friends to set you up, but that’s not why you put your heart out there and wrote to me.

Guess what? Writing to me was a gutsy, bold, and vulnerable move.

Yes, vulnerable. Now keep going, mama.

Cheers,
Fayza
You might be single, but you’re not alone — you’ve always got me. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook orTwitter, or boldly leave a question in the comments below. I’ll make you feel better than any chick flick marathon ever could.

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Dear Fayza: Can I make a relationship work if he’s an utter fool about money?

(Column originally posted here.)

When his financial habits don't add up, does that necessarily equal a relationship's demise?‘Tis the season of your wallet’s folly!

I know there’s nothing like some juicy holiday cheer to completely drain the dinero to the very bottom of your bank account. You’ll think about it in January, right? But for now, PRESENTS!

Fickle finances, however, aren’t season specific. Spastic spending that spans the entire year is often worse — and further reaching — than binge buying in November and December.

But what happens when you mix a budding romance with bad bookkeeping? That’s what this week’s letter writer wants to know.

Dear Fayza,

I recently met this really amazing guy. He’s fun, funny, and we have a lot of similar interests. So far, we’re having the best time together.

There’s only one thing that isn’t cool with me. He owes a lot of money because of some bad investments he made, he doesn’t save any money at all, and he has nothing saved for retirement.

I, on the other hand, am very good with money. I save, I pinch, and I invest. The fact that someone could be so financially irresponsible at our age freaks me out.

It actually really bothers me. Should I consider this a dealbreaker?

- Fiscally Responsible
Dear Fiscally,

My, my — you really are responsible, aren’t you? The first few weeks of an amorous relationship should be carefree! Blissful! Filled with cloudy judgment and an overabundance of irritating exclamation points! But, tsk tsk, you had to go and mix reality into the heady cocktail.

Good for you.

We’re not kids anymore. (Well, I’m assuming you’re not — what kids think about finances past what’ll get them wasted at the bar?) We don’t leap with abandon like we used to — and frankly, we really shouldn’t. We don’t have time to waste screwing around — especially time which we spend in passionate partnerships.

I can’t blame you for looking ahead, and evaluating whether or not these are characteristics that you want in a boyfriend moving forward.

But slow your roll for just a second. It’s a little too soon for this to be an outright dealbreaker already.

Relationships — and the people in them — aren’t static. We change. Often, our greatest personal growth comes from what we learn from another human being that we truly care about, respect and love. It’s the reason I’ve learned how to make an omelette, clean and lube a bike chain and answer the question, “What’s wrong?” with a response other than, “Nothing . . .”

I tell you, mutual admiration will make you do the craziest things — even learn how to man up on your monetary obligations. It’s pretty Pollyanna positive of me, but I speak from personal experience.

However. (Yes, however.) I can’t guarantee it.

The willingness to learn must independently exist within him — because you’re certainly not changing this man if he’s not interested in making the change himself.

You’ll figure that out — with time. I’m not saying this is something you should’ve already gleaned from your fledgling relationship. That’s why I can’t tell you that this is a dealbreaker — yet.

You have to give yourself a chance to get to know him, assess his character, and figure out whether or not he simply doesn’t know how to rectify the errors of his ways — or if he’s truly juvenile when faced with his very adult responsibilities.

If he’s too financially flippant for it to compute with you, you’re savvy enough to know that his habits will have a profound impact on you, should your separate colonies merge to form a more perfect union.

Money is the No. 1 thing couples fight about according to every glossy rag at every checkout counter in every grocery store in every corner of America. Having compatible financial philosophies is one major, majorcomponent in turning mere affinities into lifelong allegiances.

For now? It’s really too soon to write him off just yet. But be patient, be cognizant, and ultimately, be honest with yourself based on what you can or can’t handle moving forward. Do your due diligence, and trust your gut to make the judgment call for you.

We’re too old to be doing anything impulsively — including not giving a decent guy a shot at your heart. But we’re also too old to be dicking around once we’ve tempered our own fantasies with undeniable realities, too.

 

Asking for advice from me is the best financial investment you’ll ever make. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a question in the comments below. It’s the most positive ROI you can get.

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Dear Fayza: How do I deal with a co-worker bully without killing her?

(Column originally published here.)

Your coworkers are not your friends. But they aren't your enemies, either.Americans work, and we work hard (well, if you equate hours worked to effort levels, that is). It’s pretty startling to think that we spend more time with our coworkers than our loved ones.

But at 40 hours per week — or more —they’re often more “family” than the ones with whom we share blood.

And just like family, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your coworkers. You do have to peacefully coexist with them, though.

But what if you try, try, and don’t succeed? What if a coworker has it out for you? That’s what our letter writer this week wants to know.

 

Dear Fayza,

I have been at my job for six and a half years, and I finally became an assistant manager.

Now one of the other assistant managers is out to make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing. Every mistake she makes, she somehow blames me. When you try to talk to her about anything, she bullies you and intimidates you.

How should I handle her without having to tattle to our boss all the time?

- Sick of Being a Scapegoat

 

Dear Scapegoat,

Congratulations on your promotion. You’ve been recognized and honored for your diligence, dedication and competence in your profession. It sounds like it was a long time coming. Good for you.

Except, of course, that now the Wicked Witch of the Workplace is trying to undermine all of your excellent achievements.

Let her huff and puff. But I’m not going to let her blow your straw house down.

It’s clear your new counterpart feels threatened by your recent ladder climb. By bullying and intimidating you, she’s asking for conflict, perhaps hoping you’ll shoot yourself in your own foot in your new position.

You’ve heard the expression, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” Well, in that vein, I want you to tranquilize her with teamwork.

You cannot afford to stoop to that level — there’s too much riding on it for you. So don’t you dare give her what she wants — no matter what amount of restraint it requires.

Disclaimer: I’m certainly not discouraging you from standing up for yourself. Hell, I’d never do a thing like that. You should never take the blame for mistakes you didn’t make. That tarnishes your reputation, and I would never advise keeping mum just to keep the peace.

Barring that, instead of passively putting up with what she’s aggressively dishing, you’re going to have to confront the beast head on. It might be painful, but being direct is the only way you’re going to slay the dragon.

The next time she unleashes her witchy wrath upon you — as she inevitably will — turn the tables. Say things like, “How can we make this better?” and “What do you think the best solution would be?”

I know you’ve heard the expression, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” Well, in that vein, I want you to tranquilize her with teamwork.

Letting her know that you’re interested in resolving the conflict instead of perpetuating it will bring her guard down. It’s not you against her, and youknow that. Now you have to show her. The way you repackage her cowardly manipulation tactics will speak volumes in proving that to her.

And you’d be amazed at what will happen once you get her to view you as an ally instead of a threat.

If that strategy doesn’t humanize her, don’t be afraid of the big bad management. It’s not “tattling” if you’ve exhausted the possibilities of being civil and willing to compromise — just be sure that you have.

If you’ve made a good faith effort to remedy the situation between you two and you’re still butting heads, turning to management should be the next natural step. With whom management sides and how it deals with the situation will give you an inside look at the integrity of your superiors and the value it places on its staff — all while giving you a good idea of your own longevity with the company as well.

You don’t have to like everyone you work with, but you do have to get along with them. Diplomacy is the fine art of dealing with people in a a sensitive and effective way — and I know you’re more than capable of doing that.

Cheers,
Fayza

 

You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose and you can also pick your advice columnist. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a question in the comments below, and you won’t be sorry you picked me.

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Dear Fayza: Should I break up with my HIV-positive boyfriend before it’s too late?

(Column originally published here.)

You’ve probably heard it more times than you care to admit: Relationships aren’t easy. Between compromise and growing together and making both yourself and each other happy, relationships can be quite painful indeed.

We’re often ready for the emotional sacrifice it takes to make a relationship work. But what if there’s physical pain involved?

What if the relationship you enter into could threaten your life? Is the possibility of bodily harm worth the risk of that relationship?

Well, that’s what this week’s letter writer is asking himself.

 

Dear Fayza,

I’m a gay man, and the guy I’m seeing told me last night he’s HIV-positive. I was tested, and will be tested again in three months. So far, I’m negative.

We’ve been safe, so I’m not worried about that. But it was hard to be told after a few weeks of hanging out, “I am poz.”

We don’t know where we’re going, so this is quite a speed bump. Do I continue on in this relationship, or do I end things before I get in too deep?

- I’m Negative, He’s Not

 

Dear Negative,

Kudos to you for handling such a serious situation like the adult you are. Instead of running away in blind fear and ignorance, you’ve stopped to take a moment to reclaim the knee-jerk, assess the facts, reflect and thenreact.

You’re a bigger person than most for getting this far. But that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stick it out just because your head is still attached to your shoulders. You’re not a bad person if you decide that these circumstances really aren’t for you.

But since it seems you have yet to choose a path to conquer your emotional crossroads, I can help you weigh your options.

I’m glad you’ve already figured out that you can be sexually involved with this mister without compromising your immune system. While that’s all well and good, have you ever considered abstaining altogether — at least for a little while? You’ve only been dating for a few weeks. Wouldn’t holding off hurt less, at this point, than pressing on?

Look, you don’t have to tell me that sex is one of the finer things in life. But until you get to know each other better — namely, until you’ve decided whether this man is worth the possible risk of contracting HIV — maybe you ought to put the love making on hold indefinitely.

OK, OK, who am I fooling? I’m no George W. Bush, and you’re no purity ring bearer. I had to throw the sexless thing out there, but I didn’t really think you were going to go for it.

Since celibacy’s seemingly off the table, let’s talk about what you can and should do — your research. This is sex ed like your junior high health teacher couldn’t handle. In what activities can you engage with him and still be deemed in the clear? What strain of the virus does he have? What life expectancy is associated with it? What treatments will he have to undergo? What will be the side effects? What are the financial costs associated with living with HIV?

Read, read, and read some more. And after you have all the hard facts, don’t dismiss the gray areas in your gray matter. Your emotions count for something here, too.

Relationships are always an investment — whether short-term or long-term — on which we’ll never see a return, if and when they don’t work out. HIV or not, you’ll never know the outcome of any relationship from the outset. You just put all your eggs in that basket, and hope for the best.

Can you handle the reality that your partner carries a virus that will (eventually) end his life? Can you be emotionally strong when treatment or this disease make him physically weak? What happens if you contract it? Is it acceptable that sex will never, ever be completely spontaneous? Are you ready to cushion the burden of the inevitable (and unfair) societal stigma on HIV-positive men?

If I had the answers, I’d give them to you. But I’m no doctor, I’m no clairvoyant, and I’m no fool — and I can’t make such significant judgment calls for you.

So I’ll say this: Relationships are always an investment — whether short-term or long-term — on which we’ll never see a return, if and when they don’t work out. HIV or not, you’ll never know the outcome of any relationship from the outset. You just put all your eggs in that basket, and hope for the best.

Things could end in two days, two months, two years, or two decades (a la Magic Johnson) — relationships don’t come prepackaged with expiration dates or commitment agreements. Sometimes it simply doesn’t work out, but sometimes the causes are beyond our control. Car accidents happen. Cancer happens. Suicide happens. War happens. We don’t have a crystal ball to know what the future holds. All we can do is move forward with what we do know.

Is it better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? Only you can honestly answer that question for yourself. But if we lived each day in fear of what would happen the next, we wouldn’t really do much living at all, would we?

Cheers,
Fayza

Whether it threatens your real life, your social life, or anything in between, I can handle it — I’m multifaceted. Send an e-mail toadvice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a question in the comments below. Life is short. Consult with me first.

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Dear Fayza: How do I tell my ex’s latest girlfriend to butt out of our business?

(Column originally published here.)

As the weather (finally!) begins to chill and the holidays draw nearer, we start to focus inward a bit more — on the hearth and the home. And when outsiders mess with our domestic structure — as nontraditional as it may be — we don’t take kindly to the kibitzing.

In this modern world, the idea of the familial unit is ever evolving. But what happens when some relationships simply cannot co-exist?

Let’s check in with this week’s letter writer to find out.

Dear Fayza,

I have been divorced for two years, and separated for three.

My ex-husband has had nine girlfriends in those three years. The latest one is the first one that gets into the middle of our arguments.

I have told her nicely that it is none of her business. Now she still gets in the middle and talks bad about me in front of my son.

What should I do?

- So Stressed Out

Dear So Stressed,

Pardon my inability to focus on the issue at hand for a moment, but ninegirlfriends in three years? Um, that’s a new girlfriend every 122 days. What, does he fall in love with every female cashier, gas station attendant, and waitress he meets? Guess no one could call him conservative with the use of that “girlfriend” moniker, eh?

While I’m impressed with his track record — whereby “impressed” means “skeeved,” by the way — meddlesome Girlfriend No. 9 isn’t at the crux of your woes.

Your ex is.

You may be divorced, but you’re still on the same team — Team Our Son. You can’t regulate how your ex lives his life, but you’re parenting this little boy together — and you have just as much say as your ex does when it comes to what’s best for the boy.

Your former husband, not his bossy broad (who will, rest assured, be history in about four months anyway), is the one to blame here.

The only thing you and his seasonal ale have in common is him. He, as the middleman, dictates the direction of the relationship between the old and new squeeze.

And he’s doing a piss-poor job in his role.

As both his ex-wife and the mother of his child, he should afford you a certain degree of respect. Even if things ended badly, the existence of your son ensures that you’ll be connected for the rest of your lives. He owes it to you to help make that ongoing relationship bearable, at best.

But with a revolving door of women in his — and, by association, your son’s — life, and letting No. 9 talk to and about you as if you’re no better than the other eight she preceded, I’m beginning to question a lot more than his choice of bed buddies.

I’ve got to ask the elephant-in-the-room question here. Is your ex really fit for co-rearing your son?

The attorney in me thinks it might be worth it to revisit his visitation rights and custodial privileges. No, I’m certainly not recommending you threaten to strip him from seeing his son. That would be manipulative of you, and I forbid you from using your child as leverage. You’re above cowardly tactics like that.

But all things considered, would a court of law consider your ex a good father? Would the environment to which he subjects your son be considered a healthy one?

I can’t make those determinations. Neither can you. My dusty JD wants to use the law as a crutch when in doubt.

But even I can admit that crying courtroom shouldn’t be your first resort.

Before you go that far, speak with your ex — candidly, rationally, logically. You may be divorced, but you’re still on the same team — Team Our Son. You can’t regulate how your ex lives his life, but you’re parenting this little boy together — and you have just as much say as your ex does when it comes to what’s best for the boy.

It doesn’t matter who your ex shacks up with. But it does matter what he’s exposing your child to. A litany of temporary stepmothers and unnecessary mommybashing? What kind of behavior is his father’s example going to incite in your son in the future?

Your ex’s actions will have repercussions — ones you’ll both be dealing with. But you can and should handle these issues to arrive at a mutually agreeable decision — for the well-being of your son.

But until you and your ex have come to an understanding, I think it’s best that there’s no more direct dealing between you and No. 9. Ask your ex to leave her at home (or wherever she dwells) when he picks up or drops off your son. Don’t leave messages with her when she answers his cell phone. Don’t discuss her in anything but a positive light with your son.

Minimize your interactions with her as much as you can. Be polite but distant when No. 9 is unavoidable. For now, you deal with him, and him only … and wait a few more weeks until she’s replaced by a perhaps more congenial No. 10.

I’m crossing my fingers for February.

 

Your business is all of my business. But I won’t talk badly about you in front of anyone. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a question in the comments below. Your revolving door of bad advice ends with me.

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Dear Fayza: Now that Halloween is Whore-O-Ween, do I have to be a slut to celebrate?

(Column originally published here.)

October in Houston certainly is lovely, isn’t it?

The persistent heat finally gives way to pleasant, breezy days. The crowded, air-conditioned dining rooms give way to open, sprawling patios.

And the clothing gives way to a whole lot of voluptuous vistas.

 

Dear Fayza,

I’m invited to a bunch of costume parties this Halloween, and I’ve never been to one before. Nor do I have a costume. I’d love to make my own, but I don’t have one creative bone in my body.

It’s getting closer and closer to Halloween, and I’m still trying to figure out this whole thing out —  who I want to be and all.

The thing is, I can’t find a thing out there. Everything is slutty.

Do all costumes for women have to be slutty? Do I have to be slutty in order to go to Halloween parties?

- The Lady Is Not a Tramp

 

Dear Lady,

Ah yes, ’tis the season for Whore-O-Ween. Where “liberated ladies” “express themselves” by hiking hemlines and swapping swathe for skin.

It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year. Unless you’re a woman, that is.

In this scenic season, it’s particularly difficult for a woman to keep a finger on the pulse of her dignity while navigating the waters of short, shorter, and would-make-a-napkin-jealous costuming. If at least one significant part of your fleshy regions isn’t dangerously exposed, then apparently, costume shops don’t want you partaking in the holiday. After all, it’s only Halloween attire if it’s preceded by the word “sexy.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled advice columnist — smacking sense into women since the late 1970s.

For some, this evolved norm actually begs the question as to whether these women are dressing up at all. But for you, it sounds as if you simply want to show up to the festivities without being the lone lame-o in the room that couldn’t be bothered to grab a shovel and call herself a gold digger.

But where do you start? Start with what you’ve already got. Remember when you were a slopes-slicin’ snow bunny? Dust off that ski jacket and goggles; you’re goin’ trick-or-treating. Is your toolbox exploding with Mr. Fix-It know-how? Grab your tool belt or a lone screwdriver — Bob (err, Bonnie) the Builder or Screwdriver Sally, here you come.

Those former hobbies that were cluttering up your garage? They just became your solution to a lack of creativity. Hellooo, Halloween!

But don’t stop there. Get even more resourceful. Everyone’s got an old costume collecting dust in a box somewhere. Ask friends — ones that value the bodily real estate that clothing covers, that is — what you can borrow. Chances are, they’re not as green as you in the costume party department.

Thrift stores are also a veritable gold mine for ideas and inspiration. Where else will a hideous matching vest and bandana prompt a Punky Brewster revival?

I could go on all day, but my editor needs my article before I can start my weekend. But I hope you get my point that the sky’s — and not your thighs — the limit when it comes to your alternate persona, come Oct. 31.

No matter what you decide to don, you have options — candy buckets full of them. Fortunately, baring your boobies doesn’t have to be one of them.

 

Trick or treat, smell my feet, ask me for advice, and I’ll be discrete. Send an e-mail to advice@culturemap.com, message me on Facebook orTwitter, or leave a question in the comments below. My advice might scare you, but I’m actually quite harmless.

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