Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Had to put your beloved dog down and boyfriend could care less?

DEAR NATALIE: We recently had to put my dog down. It was incredibly sad. I had my dog, Sadie, for almost 12 years and she was a huge part of my life. My whole family was incredibly supportive of me except my boyfriend. We’ve been together for three years and he knew how much she meant to me. He just told me to “calm down and get another dog” if that’s what I needed to do. I told him that eventually I will rescue another dog but I am in no place emotionally to do that right now. He doesn’t seem to understand how important she was to me or how much I went through over the past decade with her. He just shrugged his shoulders at me. He’s not a dog-lover, but my mom thinks that his insensitivity is a red flag. She told me I shouldn’t have a family with someone who can’t even understand the value of a pet. I don’t know what to feel. I’m hurt by him, but I understand that it wasn’t his dog, either. I just wish he had been more comforting. Sadie would comfort anyone who needed some love. I’ll miss that most of all. --SAYING GOODBYE

DEAR SAYING GOODBYE: I am very sorry to hear about Sadie’s passing. Pets are family and you said it best -- a comfort to the lives that they touch. As far as your boyfriend is concerned, I noted two things: 1. He isn’t comfortable with death or dying and doesn’t know what to say. So, he said something flippant that upset you. 2. Telling you to “calm down and get another dog” isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s insensitive and rude. It downplays your feelings and disrespects where you are in this moment. I understand your mom’s concern. If you are going to be serious with someone, shouldn’t it be someone who can comfort you in your grief? It’s easy to be in love or to love someone when times are good. But when times are tough, what does the relationship look like? This is a sneak peek. Now, should you throw away the relationship? Perhaps not yet. Instead, I would talk to him about how his comment made you feel and what you need from him moving forward in these types of situations. Ask him how he feels about death. He may not have had to confront that issue in his life. He may not understand his own feelings about it. It may be a conversation to have so that you can both grow together.  If he is unwilling or unable, then you have to decide whether or not you want to continue to move towards building a family with someone who can’t even let you grieve a dog you loved. 

DEAR NATALIE: I’m going out to Los Angeles next month to visit my daughter who is in design school. We haven’t been able to see her through the entire pandemic, but now that I’m vaccinated -- and she will be by next week -- we are looking forward to reuniting. It is also my birthday when I go to visit, so we wanted to plan something special to do. However, she is dating this new woman and wants me to meet her. I bristled at the fact because I haven’t seen her in so long and do not want to share my time with her while I’m there. I’m only going for five days and want to make the most of it. She became upset and acted like I don’t want to meet her new partner -- and then made some comment that it is because she is a woman. I am in no way homophobic and was really hurt that she insinuated that. We had an argument and haven’t spoken in three days -- which is a long time for us to go without talking. I am annoyed with this whole situation and just want to move beyond it. I don’t want to meet her new girlfriend because of the timing, not because I don’t agree with her lifestyle choices. How do I get this visit back on track so that we can have a fun time together? I just miss my little girl.

—A MOTHER’S FRUSTRATION

DEAR A MOTHER’S FRUSTRATION: Before we go any further, I want to clarify that your daughter’s “lifestyle choices” may be the reason she is feeling defensive. When you used that phrase, I began to wonder whether you really accept her sexuality or you are still grappling with it. I urge you to let go of any preconceived ideas that your daughter is “choosing” to be with a woman and embrace that your daughter is with a woman. Moving on from that, I understand that you want to spend uninterrupted time together because you’ve been denied that during the pandemic. But, your unwillingness to meet her new partner may be making your daughter feel unaccepted and unloved. Call her to clear the air. Start by apologizing. Let her know that you respect her and love her wholly. Just as she is. Then, explain that you just wanted to see her and not share space or time with anyone else. However, you’ve had a little time to reflect and realize that if it is important to her that you meet her new partner, then it’s important to you. Offer to go for lunch or grab a cocktail to meet her. That way, you are only committing an hour or two of the trip to her partner, and your daughter may see this as you making a real effort. Set the boundaries before you visit about what you both will be doing with your time, and make it very clear that you want one-on-one time together. But, also make room for her to share her life with you because she doesn't get to see you often. You may be surprised at how that can deepen your bond. 

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