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Hang Up

By Mink Stole | Posted 9/12/2001

What do you think about long-distance romances? I started dating my boyfriend last year, when we were both seniors in high school, but now he's left for college a thousand miles away. My college is near home, so we can't see each other very much. We decided not to break up at the beginning of the term, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, I like him a lot, and I haven't met anyone else I want to date yet, but I don't want to live like a nun just because he's so far away. And he's going to be meeting lots of other girls, so he shouldn't have to feel guilty if he goes out with someone. Don't you think it would be best if we broke up?

Confused Coed

Dear Coed:
Love at a distance is tough, even for people who really want to stay together; and without that determination, it's pretty close to impossible. But, come on now, sweetie pie, you're not writing me because you want to know what I think. You've already made up your mind; you're just looking for me to agree with you. Which I do--absolutely. You're way too young to close the door on experiences you haven't even imagined yet. An open mind and a free heart (and a closet full of the latest fall fashions) are the most important things to pack for your new dorm room. You need to cut loose that anchor of a boyfriend and sail, baby, sail into the unknown seas of your fab new college life.

When you write or call your boyfriend to tell him, however, don't try to snow him with any of this noble "I'm doing this for you" crap. If he's smart enough to go to college, he's not going to buy it any more than I do, and it will just sound pompous and patronizing. It's as bad as the old "it's not you--it's me" breakup line. He's young and healthy and can survive the truth. He was probably only suffering a mild case of the leaving-home jitters anyway, and he might already have his eye on two or three new girls and could be questioning his commitment to you.

And now for Auntie Mink's obligatory words of caution: College is for working hard, playing hard, and getting completely carried away with whatever impossible or impractical ideas grab you, but don't be stupid. Choose your indiscretions wisely, be careful with drugs and liquor, and always practice safe sex. After all, you do want to stay alive long enough to mortify the next generation with only slightly exaggerated tales of your mad, impetuous youth.

My husband suffers from anxiety to the point of ulcers, and I would do anything to protect him from bad news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that we've gotten way over our heads in debt and I've been tap dancing around our creditors, borrowing on cards to pay bills, other cards, etc. Now we're maxed out on everything, and the phone won't stop ringing with companies demanding payment. My husband works hard, and it's been a point of pride with him that he can support me and our two kids. He's always been ashamed of his dad for going bankrupt when he was a kid, and I'm terrified that when he learns the truth he'll leave us.

Over My Head

Dear Over:
You have to tell him. If you're worried about how he'll deal with it in private, just imagine how much worse it would be for him to come home one day to find you and the kids watching television on the sidewalk because there's an eviction notice nailed to your front door. You can't protect him indefinitely, so you might as well get whatever points you can for honesty and for trying to prevent a public humiliation. And if your marriage is worth spit, the two of you need to work together to fix this.

Without having told me how the money is being spent, you seem awfully eager to take responsibility for this situation. If you have gambling or compulsive spending problems, now is the best time to own up to them and get help. Debtors Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous have branches all over the country, and I know people who have been able to turn their lives around with these groups. If, on the other hand, the money your husband makes just isn't enough to live on, he needs to know that. I'm as big a fan of major denial as the next gal, but, ultimately, treating his pride with tender loving care won't feed your kids or buy them shoes.

Take your credit-card problems to one of the nonprofit consumer-debt counseling services. They're all over, and they can help you by contacting your creditors and arranging lower payments. Sometimes they can even get the interest you pay reduced or waived. And you know you're not the only ones, right? These services wouldn't exist if there weren't zillions of people who need them. Life is expensive, kids are expensive, and God knows we're pushed full time by advertising and the plastic companies and our own government to believe that buying now on the expectation of a big enough tax rebate to pay later is the great American ideal.

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Pick and Choose (4/12/2006)
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