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Ask Augusten Burroughs: What If Your Husband's Always Late and Your Best Friend Dumps You?

Augusten-Head-LargeToday on Omnivoracious, we're delighted to launch a month-long weekly advice column by Augusten Burroughs, who makes his move from memoirist to self-help strategist with This Is How (available May 8). He starts by answering a frustrated plea from a mom whose husband's foot-dragging makes the whole family cranky. Then he digs into the deeper reasons a "well known, happy, funny, kind, 25 year old" may have been dumped by their best friend. 

My husband, the father of our two teenaged sons, works from home as a project manager for a large international corporation. During any given day, our lives will require that someone make a foray out of the house for band practice, food, lessons, doctors appointments, etc. Most of our outings are appointments where we are paying someone money for an actual unit of their time to be dispensed at an agreed up time.

Augusten-coverThis is the problem. My husband many, maybe even most times, in full knowledge of the rapidly looming time commitment, fires up a phone call, starts an email, sits down for a long personal moment in the bathroom. The rest of us are left seething until he presents himself ready to go. We now leave at the last possible minute, all cranky and out of sorts. If cars and traffic and every other variable aren't perfect, my husband's choices have left us NO wiggle room.

 It's simply awful. I have tried to talk to him about it just because it angers me, but also because I don't think it sets the greatest example for our teens. Just the miasma of furor and unsaid words is poor parenting, I think.

What do we do? He has to be involved—so we need a way to get through to him. It's enough to drive me back to drink, which is a country I'm not welcome in any longer. Help. -- Cate

Dear Cate,

I wish I knew even more. Does your husband’s differing degree of respect for punctuality result in real-world problems? Do you end up being late frequently and missing scheduled appointments you’ve already paid for? Or do you pretty much always make it, but it was just so close you aged like a month from the stress of it? 

 If the answer is the former, I have more questions. Is your relationship healthy and strong and good in other areas? If you’re talking to him about this, that at least tells me the two of you do communicate to some degree, right? Because if you and your husband are a good pair and the family is working, this might be like when you buy something you truly, deeply love at the store and when you get home, you realize there are extra hidden costs: it doesn’t come with batteries, you need a subscription, you can’t wear it until you have electrolysis, whatever. And as annoying as this can be, if you’re otherwise happy, sometimes you just have to fork over the extra. 

 It could also be that you and your husband are equally matched and diametrically opposed with respect to this issue. He may view appointment times more like serving suggestions. His mind might automatically add an “-ish” after every “3:45” appointment he’s told about. 

And you may be undesirably neurotic about appointments; a person who arrives early and secretly feels a small superiority for this.  If your own punctuality is a source of pride for you, it’s possible that you’re going to need to rewire your brain with respect to punctuality, for the sake of peace keeping and your own sanity.

I am somebody who arrives early. If I have a flight that leaves at seven a.m., I will wake up no later than four. I’ll be ready to leave by 4:45. And then more often than not, I end up with a fat chunk of time once I’ve cleared security to sit around and wish I’d slept a little later. I’ve been this way my whole life. I was the kid who had to know what he was going to wear to school the night before. 

My boyfriend is more like how you describe your husband. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve ended up running across busy Manhattan intersections to make it somewhere just in the nick of time.
I have to say, I like my boyfriend’s method better. It makes my life more interesting. I could say, “more stressful” because we often end up rushing, but it’s not stressful. I won’t allow it to be. The fact that he does something so unlike the way I do it throws a massive helping of randomness into my life. 

And this is a very good thing. If your husband were to follow your clock to the last tick, the two of you would never veer from the path you had chosen. But because of him, there’s all this last-minute chaos.

And chaos, my friend, is where everything new is born. --Augusten

What if you're a well-known, happy, funny, kind, 25-year-old and your best friend of 10 years ignores all your plans to hang out then replies one day with "I have no desire to hang out with you anymore"? --Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

The statement “I have no desire to hang out with you anymore” is many things, but vague is not of one them. If someone in your life has spurned your repeated attempts to get together and then delivered this clinical-strength rejection, I think you’re looking at a very unsatisfying, puzzling and possibly forever-unresolved end of a ten-year-long friendship.

I’ve had relationships that have ended amidst loose ends, unanswered questions and misunderstandings. It’s incredibly frustrating because when somebody says to you, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore,” it’s only human to crave the answer to “Why?” But after your attempts to get together were rejected—possibly in the passive-aggressive spirit of hoping you’d “take the hint”—your friend was as clear and explicit as anyone could be, leaving zero room for discussion. You have to take their statement at full face-value and make no contact. I know you must want closure—which almost nobody gets, ever, for anything—and the chance to ask questions and express an alternate point of view. Your project now is realizing and then accepting as fact that you aren’t going to have resolution or answers or your friend anymore.

It’s frustrating and it’s not fair because almost nothing is organically fair in life, but when one party wants out of a friendship, the friendship ends for both.

I want to add one thing, though. In your description of what’s going on, you said this: “What if you're a well known, happy, funny, kind, 25 year old.” It didn’t escape my notice that each of these adjectives could be seen by many as a “selling point.” Who wouldn’t want a famous, funny, kind young friend?
But I want you to take out your white jacket, your magnifying glass and your stainless steel lab tray and pin those words down so you can examine them.

Why did you phrase your question that way? Why didn’t you simply state, “My friend of ten years has repeatedly rejected my invitations to get together and recently told me they no longer want to hang out and be friends”?

You added an extra layer of information to your question, a very interesting layer. A couple of different things might be possible. What relevancy does the fact that you are well-known have on this situation? Why did you mention that, specifically? And why did you place that first?

Were you trying to influence me, with respect to my reply? Because when you stack up all of those positive features of your personality, yes, that friend does seem crazy for not wanting anything to do with you. And if you’re doing that with me, are you doing it with other people in your life? I’m asking whether it’s possible you are using your celebrity, youth, kindness, and good humor as a form of currency, as payment for the services of being your friend?

I’m also well-known, and I can tell you that I would rather date somebody who had never heard of me than somebody who had all of my books on their shelf. Better to have somebody like you for you and not for what you do. --Augusten

Get more brutally honest, compassionate advice from Augusten in This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. It's one of our Amazon Editors' top 10 picks for the Best Books of May.


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Very thought provoking! I love the brutal honesty. It ends up being the most kind.

Great advice! I'm already looking forward to future columns.

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