Dear Nicole: Can “brotherly” love be forced?

Dear Nicole:

My son’s father is in a relationship with a woman who also has a child. They have been putting pressure on my son to call her son his “brother.” How can I help them understand that this isn’t OK to do that to him and he should be able to label relationships how he sees fit, not how they see fit?

— Brother Not From Another Mother


Man, I love these parenting questions. As someone who isn’t a parent and doesn’t plan to become one, I await the wrath of “but you don’t even have a kid” to come down on me someday!

I will say right off, I don’t know how old this kid is. Let’s assume he’s of an age where he can have conversations, however basic.

From either side, I am not hearing a preference from this kid. I am hearing your preference and his father’s preference, but not his. Is he uncomfortable calling this boy his “brother”? Does he not care? As much as we want to put our opinions on kids, they actually do have some of their own sometimes.

You can have an age-appropriate conversation with him, something to the effect of “I know Rachel has mentioned you can call Tommy your brother. I want you to know you can call him that if you want, but you don’t have to.” Say it completely impartially. If he says something about being uncomfortable, talk to your son’s father about it. You and your ex can agree to disagree, but one thing you can both agree on is you want your son to feel comfortable, at your house or his father’s. If he mentions he likes having a brother, let it be. Then you’ll know this label is bothering you more than it’s bothering him.


Dear Nicole:

What are your thoughts about shooting to date someone who’s out of your league? I’m just a regular guy, my pickup truck is only two-wheel drive, and I don’t have enough disposable income to vacation anywhere fancy (or anywhere for that matter.) There’s this summer girl over in Northeast Harbor who is gorgeous. I met her working the Tennis Club last summer. We chat from time to time on Facebook. I want to ask her out, but I don’t have a Ferrari parked in my carriage house, if you catch my drift.

— Not Cliff, Biff or Tavis in Seal Harbor


You know what, Seal Harbor Working Man? Your love interest has seen your truck (and snooped you on Facebook not vacationing in Miami or waving yourself with hundred dollar bills), so she probably has a good idea of your situation. If she wanted Biff, she’d be chatting with him.

That said, offer a low-key first date with her. (Don’t “set the tone” by taking her out for a $200 meal on a first date.) Suggest something you like doing anyway, maybe ice fishing or grabbing pizza. If she suggests caviar while lying on a bear skin rug instead, you’ll know she is not down. If she happily eats pizza and beats you at pool after, you’ll be glad you didn’t let what you think she wants get in the way of what she actually does. Ask her because guess what? The worse she can do is not go out with you, which she’s already not doing now.


Dear Nicole:

I allocate about one-third of my social life to the gym. I work out three times a week with a couple of gym-rat buddies. We encourage each other, help load and unload barbells for each other, talk about our wives and jobs and generally socialize and enrich our souls while pumping iron. I do not have any contact with these guys except at the gym and in almost all ways the experience is very positive.

My problem is the way one of the guys sneezes. I know that sounds stupid, but trust me: it’s unbelievable. At least once per workout he’ll let go with a deafening sneeze, which would be OK except that he’s turned it into a ritual. First he goes “ahhh …. ahhh …. ahhh…” then a short, glass-shattering squeal as if someone is coming at him with a butcher knife followed immediately by a volcanic explosion (the sneeze) then a couple of sobbing moans, “ohh … ohhh.” I end up losing my concentration or dropping my lift, but he just does another set on bench presses as if nothing had happened.

He is otherwise a fine and supportive gym bud. But these abrupt, noisy seizures are driving me insane. If I’m going to talk to him about this, it’ll have to be in the gym or locker room. And I don’t know how to address the subject without doing in the relationship.


— Feeling Like a Dumbbell in Dedham


I once dated a guy who hated the way I danced and decided to tell me. All it did was sideline me the entire time we dated. (P.S., I need to say no one I’ve dated since or my husband thinks I am a bad dancer. I am not saying I’m great, just not terrible like this guy made me feel.) In short: this made me self-conscious about something that was very much my ex’s problem.

While I could have taken dance lessons, your guy can’t relearn to sneeze. Why not express concern for your friend? “Hey Charlie, you seem to sneeze a bit when you’re at the gym with us, you feeling OK?” You may find out Charlie has some health issues he’s never discussed.

If he shrugs off your concern, Charlie could be allergic to something at the gym that may be setting him off. One day in the next couple weeks, suggest working out somewhere else (maybe another gym, outside, or in the pool or something). Then you can find out if his sneezing is location-related.

If it isn’t, grin and bear it. The best poor Charlie can do is give you a warning that it’s coming and you can ask him to do that. But having him change the way his body functions for you is asking quite a lot, so don’t. Fifteen years later, I’m still mad at all the time my ex made me waste not dancing. Don’t sideline your good buddy Charlie.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]

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