All posts by Cora The Elephant

About Cora The Elephant

Cora the Elephant grew up in the grasslands of India, a great land enriched by sage wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. As she got older, Cora heard more and more that her keen observation skills and endeavor to always be honest made her a great elephant to ask for advice. It's a role she takes very seriously. Send your troubles, predicaments, and heartbreaks to editor [at] intent [dot] com, who will forward them to Cora for a weekly advice column specially tailored for our Intent audience. Further guidelines for submissions can be found at: http://intentblog.com/new-advice-colum-draft/ Go ahead and do it instead of letting your worries take up all the space in your life - Cora wants to be the only elephant in the room.

Elephant in the Room: I Can Only Be With My Boyfriend If He Proposes

Gay-MarriageDear Cora,

I have been with my boyfriend for nearly 5 years.  I am 23 and he’s is 30. I am from a religious family so my mum and dad won’t allow me to live with him without being married. He lives quite a few miles away from me and works a lot so I only see him once a week and being away from him is breaking my heart. After  five years I want him with me every day and not just to see him 1 day a week for a few hours. I feel as though all I have done for 5 years is miss him. Do you think he will ever propose? He has been married before and maybe that is putting him off.  I don’t know where I stand, please help. 

Sincerely, 

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Oh, babe. We have a lot going on here and I think we need to break it down step by step to see what we can come up with.

The first thing that pops out at me is that you’re 23, stop talking about marriageYou especially shouldn’t be talking about it when you approach it as a method to see your boyfriend more often. That’s not what it’s about. Marriage is a serious commitment – it is promising to spend the rest of your life with someone. That means when things aren’t fun, when they aren’t paying attention to you, for better and for worse. Real marriage is about accepting that making a life together is hard work, and that you’re willing to commit to sticking it out together. It’s not a quick fix for missing someone. It’s a life-long, very serious, situation. If your boyfriend has already been married and it ended then he probably knows this better than anyone and his hesitation may be because he knows you two aren’t ready for that level of commitment.

Speaking of your boyfriend, let’s talk about him for a moment. Actually, no. Let’s talk about you, and your feelings for him. I agree that a few hours a week isn’t enough to maintain a serious relationship – especially after five years. How well do you two really know each other? How do you build something solid and lasting on mere glimpses of time? That is a conversation you need to have with him instead of asking when is he going to propose or if he wants to get married. You need to ask what do we need to do to make this really work? Your words and emotions are serious but the level of the relationship seems casual and I think it would behoove you to make sure that you are both on the same page before you continue on writing the rest of the novel.

Now here’s the tough part, but I think if you are able to take advantage of this last piece of advice you’ll find that the rest of it gets easier. It seems the deepest root of your troubles comes from the rules of your parents. While I think you may be too young to be thinking about marriage (at least in your current situation) you are old enough to be making your own decisions. I have no doubts that your parents want the best for you as only they know how – however, they can’t live your life for you. You are old enough to be making your own decisions about how you want to live your life. The hard part of that is finding a way to make your parents accept that, or having the strength to move on by yourself even if they don’t. What I think you need Anonymous is to start thinking about moving out on your own instead of with your boyfriend. You need to learn to stand on your own two feet – that’s what your 20s are for! To figure out who you really are as a person by making your own decisions and your own mistakes. With your own place you not only get the chance to figure out for yourself what you believe but it should allow you more time to see your boyfriend. You two can get to know each other on a serious level, figure out how you work as a couple that has to function with the rest of the world and whether it really does work.

Don’t sell yourself short of this opportunity to grow into your own skin by moving from your parents to your boyfriend. You need time to grow, lovely. Unburden yourself from those shackles. It’s a tough world out there and you have to dig deep to find the strength to choose and hold on to your own happiness. I’m afraid if you keep sitting around waiting for your parents or your boyfriend to hand it to you that you’re going to miss out on the wonderful things you deserve.

Best wishes,

Cora

Elephant in the Room: Will He Ever Marry Me?

shutterstock_79607809Dear Cora,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for over five and a half years and I love him so much. We’ve been through a lot together, including a clingy ex and a pregnancy scare. We live together now and we are on the same page about wanting to stay together long term – but I want to get married and he doesn’t seem as anxious about it as I am. There’s always a reason to put it off – we need a new car, or a new place, or he wants to go back to school. These are all legitimate reasons not to talk about a wedding, but if we know we want to spend the rest of our lives together I don’t understand what we’re waiting for. I’m starting to wonder if he’ll ever propose, and what do I do if he never wants to marry me?

Sincerely,

Ringless Finger

Dear Ringless,

Sometimes the best thing to do when you get wrapped up in a singular issue is to take a step back and look at the big picture. Five and a half years of commitment with one person is no easy feat – and it sounds like the two of you have gotten over your fair share of hurdles together which I commend you for. It shows you two know how to handle undesirable situations that come up with any long-term relationship and see it through to the other side. That gives me hope you’ll make it through this as well.

The great wedding debate. That’s what you’re in the middle of my dear and many of us, especially those who used to pretend to walk down the aisle with pillowcase veils over our heads when we were five, have also been there. I’m not saying there aren’t men out there who also look forward to getting married, but women tend to take it to a whole other level. Both my brother and my uncle are serial monogamists. They are at their most comfortable in long-term relationships, but say the word marriage and they go white in the face. We’ve had many debates about it because it doesn’t seem to make sense that if they are willing to make the commitment, why not have the party to celebrate? For some people, both men and women, the idea of making it legally binding scares them to the core. That piece of paper adds a level of responsibility they can’t wrap their minds around.

It’s possible your beau falls into that camp. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you or that he isn’t in this for the long haul, but he has a mind block around marriage.

It is also possible that it’s the financial burden of the situation that is causing the “delay.” Weddings are expensive, no matter how intimate they are. You’ve had some legitimate expenses come up in your time together and maybe he’s right – there hasn’t been a right time to spend that kind of cash on a ceremony.

Or there could be something you’ve been overlooking. The key to finding out is laying all the cards out on the table. I know that sounds “so not romantic.” It isn’t, but it’s how adults in committed relationships deal with problems. The two of you need to sit down, face to face, and have a long conversation. This is not a chance for you to beg or coerce him into proposing, but an opportunity for both of you to tell each other what you want, what you’re afraid of and look at the obstacles together. It’s also a chance for you to ask why do you want to get married? Is it just because it’s something you think you’re supposed to do or because you want to legally commit yourself to this person forever? Being open and honest without pressure will allow him to open up to you as well and share his reservations.

Don’t fret, Ringless. This isn’t a sign of the end but merely a chance to grow closer. You and your love just need to get on the same page. I wish you the best of luck!

Best wishes,

Cora

PS. I’d love to hear from you all on this one, especially those that have been in long term relationships. What’s your take? Tell us in the comments below! And remember if you need any advice or want to share a trouble you’re having email your letters to editor@intent.com!

Elephant in the Room: Inspiring You to Seize the Day

7f62488974a669b22b50c25272727cccDear Lovelies,

We don’t have a letter this week and I thought I’d try something a little different. Something sort of extraordinary has happened that has inspired me and I’d like to share it with all of you.

I’ve been a writer all my life. Not always professionally, but a good pen (preferably blue) with college ruled notebook paper has been where I’ve felt home since I was a child. I’ve gone through several evolutions with how writing would fit into my life – taking turns as a journalist, wannabe novelist, “hobby”-est – you name it and I tried it/thought about it/didn’t make it through. It was in a dark movie theater in Queens that it all sort of clicked into place – screenwriting. After all that time it was strange how easy it was to see that’s what I needed, that’s where home truly was. It just made sense.

So I packed up my bags and I moved west. It took a year to get my feet on the ground and off of generous family members and friends’ couches, but I finally found a job that would allow me to have my own place, afford to live and give me time to keep chasing the dream. I started taking classes and soon the dream started evolving. I developed a new-found confidence on stage and performing started edging its way in to my frequent success fantasies. I found the story I wanted to write, knew the part I wanted to play, all I had to do was get out my pen, put it to paper and write my way to where I truly felt I belonged.

Of course, especially in this town, self-doubt creeped in with the new desires. Do you know how many aspiring screenwriters there are in Los Angeles? More than you can count, and those are just the ones that managed to make it into city limits. And acting? I had no experience outside of high school drama. I sure as hell didn’t look like someone meant to be in front of a camera. The doubt made me bitter and negative. Even though I had a great job that afforded me so much I felt miserable because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I hated myself for being so ungrateful, for not being more motivated, for not working harder. Maybe I didn’t want it as badly as I thought, and just that idea made me sick to my stomach.

I began bargaining with the ordering forces of the universe, begging for a sign that I was doing the right thing. I wanted it so badly but the obstacles seemed insurmountable. I just needed some help. I was already on the trail, I just needed a magic dose of courage to put on my shoes and really chase what I wanted.

Then I heard from a friend that she was leaving her steady job to pursue her passion project full-time (you’ll actually be hearing about it quite soon!). I was in awe of her courage – the journey she is about to embark on will be challenging and daunting and beautiful and will save lives. She said she knew it was what she wanted for a while but it took a few other things to push her into taking the plunge, and now that it was here she was terrified but invigorated. She hadn’t worked so hard on anything in a long time. The passion was evident – it radiated off of her. And while being so happy for her, I found myself feeling jealous. I wanted to feel that passion again, as I had when I was sitting in that movie theater, when I first moved to Los Angeles, so sure and so excited.

That’s when I remembered a scene from the Steve Carrell movie, “Evan Almighty.” It is mostly a physical comedy about a man who is tasked with building an ark by God himself. In the midst of the madness, Evan’s wife, played by Lauren Graham, gets some unsolicited advice from a kind stranger that has always stuck with me.

We are not just handed the answers, but given the opportunity to find them for ourselves. My friend was creating her own opportunity, and my envious feelings stemmed purely from me waiting around for someone to hand me my dreams with a bow wrapped around them. She stopped floundering or wondering and decided to just do it.

So this week I say let’s all take a page from her book. Let’s stop waiting for answers in signs or feeling sorry for ourselves when our lives don’t take the immediate direction we want them to. See each turn as an opportunity and take it. Find your passion and follow it.

Tell me how it goes lovelies. I’ll see you again in two weeks, but as for now I have to head out to get a box of red hair dye, a gym membership and new box of blue pens.

Best wishes,
Cora

Elephant in the Room: I’m Allergic to Being in a Realtionship

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 1.17.10 PMDear Cora,

I have been dating for a while but have never managed to commit to a serious relationship. I have friends who have found long time partners and it is something I really want. There have been several guys who I have really liked and put a lot of energy into pursuing something with them, but as soon as it starts to get off the ground I am suddenly turned off. It’s as if I’m allergic to getting what I want and run away. How am I supposed to get serious with anyone if I bail every time it looks like it’s about to happen?

Sincerely,

The Runner

~

Dear The Runner,

You have a fear of the thing you want most? Welcome to adulthood! Someone gave us the idea that this would be easy, but I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that you only become more and more aware of what’s out there of which to be afraid. Don’t worry though, I’ve also found that the fear leads to the things that are most worth it in life. The trick is to not let it control you, which as you know, is easier said than done.

I used to be in love with my best friend (we’ll call him Olly). In fact, we only became friends because I tried to go after him before finding out he had a girlfriend. He liked me though and we somehow managed to create one of the closest bonds I’ve ever had with a member of the opposite sex. We talked every day, about everything. He was a writer too, and we used to compete between ourselves to find out who was better. We pushed each other to be better, built a safe-haven together. I never made an open move when he was with his girlfriend, but I guiltily couldn’t stop myself from imagining what it’d be like if we could be together romantically. Okay, I straight-up pined for him for over a year.

By the time he and his girlfriend broke up I was talking to another guy. He was nice enough, but if I’m being honest I knew even then that dating this guy was really a distraction from being head over heels for my best friend. So I was not prepared when Olly showed up on my doorstep saying he was finally ready to give us a shot. Here it was, over a year of desperately wanting and fantasizing and building up this bigger-than-everything-epic-romance, and he was just offering it to me. Someone call Hollywood because my life was officially the most cliché romantic comedy yet to be written.

But I turned him down. At the time I told him it was too soon after his break-up and I wasn’t in the mood to be his rebound. Not to mention I was seeing someone, a really nice guy who didn’t need a year to figure out I was worth it! Maybe we were better off as just friends – it seemed to be working just fine. I had all the excuses, but I never told him the truth, that I was terrified. What if we tried and failed causing us to lose everything? What if we got involved and it was nothing like I imagined? What if he hurt me? Would I be able to survive us not working? I didn’t think so.

We stopped talking shortly after that because it was too hard. I had to hear from mutual friends that he got back together with his ex some weeks later. To top it off, it never went anywhere with Nice Guy because my heart was obviously elsewhere. I thought I was protecting myself from my fears and inevitably caused them all to come true anyway. I am an avid fan of the mantra “everything happens for a reason,” but to this day I still wonder how things would be different if I had just given Olly the chance. I wonder what would happen if I had given myself a chance to have what I really wanted.

From my experience I can tell you Runner that the regret is far worse than the fear. I don’t want to see you have to carry that around. There is no way to make the fear go away, but you can train yourself to breathe instead of running. The key is not to rush, take it one step at a time until you can get comfortable and the desire to bolt lessens. The main thing I want you to take from my story though is be honest. If it is a person that you’re meant to be with in the long term, tell them you’re scared. Most likely, they’ll reveal the same feelings and it’s a lot less scary when you have someone to be afraid with.

There will be bumps and bruises, my dear. I can’t promise you that you won’t get your heart broken – no one can. The thing is that the best things in life come with their fair share of risk and you have to put yourself out there to reach them. Don’t feel ashamed that you have fear, that only means you understand how important something is. Don’t let the fear make your decisions though, because you are worth the risk, what you want is worth taking the chance. Give yourself the chance to run in the right direction.

Best wishes,

Cora

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coraelephantSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

Elephant in the Room: I Hate My Brother’s Girlfriend – Help!

«That's for you!!!»Dear Cora,

My family has always been a bit dysfunctional, but we’re still really close. While we didn’t get along when we were younger, as an adult I’ve developed a really strong relationship with my brother in particular. He is five years older than me but we both make sure to look out for each other and I often feel very protective of him. He had a rough time in his 20s figuring out what he wanted to do with his life but now he has a degree, is starting a great career and has found a sense of confidence in himself that makes all of us really proud of him.

 As excited as I am for this new chapter of his life, I am also worried because he has been dating a woman for a while that no one in my family can deal with. It’s not just a personality clash, but we feel she is devious and takes advantage of my brother. There have been a few situations where it’s evident she can be a destructive force in his life but whenever we try to talk to him about it he shuts us down. None of us want to put him in a situation where he has to choose between his girlfriend and his family but it is increasingly difficult to be around them without letting her drama affect our lives as well. How does the rest of my family and I continue to have a relationship with my brother while keeping peace with his girlfriend?

 Sincerely,

The Sister

~

Dear Sister,

Oh, siblings. They are some of the most complicated relationships within the family unit because half the time you can’t decide if you want to strangle or hug them. I’m glad to hear that you and your brother have managed to create a strong bond, because despite all the headaches, a good sibling relationship is one that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Whenever people ask me about problems that involve a relationship triangle (even if it’s not romantic) my first piece of advice is try to look at the situation through the eyes of the person in the middle. They are the person in the most difficult position and the only way to come up with an amiable solution is to find the one that best fits their needs. They’re in the middle because there are two opposing sides that care deeply for them, so the most logical thing to conclude is that both sides would want – or at least be more willing to consider – the solution that best benefits the person you care about.

In your case that’s your brother. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, it sounds as if his girlfriend had something to do with this change he’s made in his life. Ultimately, he was the one who figured things out and got his life on track but she was there for the journey (or at least part of it depending on how long they’ve been dating). That shouldn’t go without credit. If your brother feels that she encourages him to be a better version of himself then it could explain why he wants to stay with her despite the negative things your family has noticed.

I’m glad I don’t have to explain that trying to make him choose between his girlfriend and your family is a bad idea. When you push someone to choose, even when you’re convinced it’s the right thing for them, all they do is end up resenting you for forcing the choice and most likely pick the opposite side. He does not want to choose as much as you don’t want to make him, remember that as you try to navigate the situation.

My first suggestion is to try and have an honest, all-out discussion with your family, your brother and his girlfriend to see if there is a way to find some middle ground. Sometimes things you have conceived as devious or malicious can be a misunderstanding and having an open conversation can help clear up those feelings. If that is not an option though, move on to stage two.

The best strategy when trying to handle family disputes is to establish boundaries. While you can’t alienate his girlfriend from your life completely without risking the relationship you have with your brother, you can create safe spaces. If being around her causes you to lose your temper or get aggravated then I suggest start with your home. That is your space and you are allowed to block out any influences you don’t want there. Note: if you make it a rule that his girlfriend is physically not allowed in your house that means mentally she isn’t allowed over either. So if your brother comes to visit without her that is not a time for you to try and bad-mouth her and convince him to leave her. If he has to keep her out of the house, so do you.

You are going to have to share space with her at some points though. There will be commonplace celebrations, birthdays, holidays etc. where you cannot exclude her. For these, practice being civil. Get yourself a peace mantra (my favorite is Gabrielle Bernstein’s “Peace begins with you”) that you can mutter under your breath to help stay calm if you feel your temper rising or when you feel the urge to say something antagonistic. You mentioned “a few situations” in your letter – make a rule that at these all-together gatherings that those situations are not to be discussed. If she’s spending time with your family, who she knows don’t have positive feelings about her, it’ll be easy for her to feel attacked and lash out so it’s your job to avoid topics that create extra friction between your two sides.

These are essentially coping methods for a situation that doesn’t have a pleasant answer. The only way to truly heal is to have that honest conversation, and for both sides to agree to do the work they need to do for the benefit of the person in the middle. I hope you all manage to get there.

Best wishes,

Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

Elephant in the Room: Personal Safety and Your Right to Say No

This is not a brothel...Dear Cora,

Last year I ended my last long term relationship. For a long while I was happy being single but lately I’ve been tempted to “get back on the field.” Recently, a man approached me while I was taking my dog for a walk. He was very complimentary, forward even and asked for my number. I’ve never been socially outgoing and get uncomfortable with that sort of unabashed attention, but I thought that maybe I need to be more flexible so I gave him my number. It also seemed easier to give it to him than to risk confrontation by saying no. Now he’s texting me about going out and I’m not sure about what to do. Is it just me being awkward that is causing my hesitance? Is it okay not to want to go out with him? How do I turn him down if that’s the case?

 

Signed,
On the Edge

Dear On The Edge,

Today we are going to talk about two very important subjects – safety and consent. Your letter reminded me immediately of the Margaret Atwood story where she asked a male friend why men felt threatened of women he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they felt threatened by men, they answered, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world where women have to confront that fear on a regular basis. It feels to me that you giving this man your number had almost nothing to do with wanting to hear from him again but mostly what you felt would be the safest path to exit the situation. You’re right, you avoid confrontation in the moment, but what you’ve done is invite this person further into your life. Statistically, he was probably just a man on a walk who decided to hit on a woman he thought was pretty and means no harm. However, are we supposed to just live with the risk that maybe he does have menacing motives? No, we aren’t. If you are uncomfortable in the situation you have every right to deny him your number. You can just say no, or even “Sorry, I have a rule that I don’t hand out my number to strangers.” If he persists then you find any excuse to walk away.

If you take one thing away from this article please let it be this: No woman is obligated to give a man her number, no matter how complimentary they are to her. That’s your information, your space and your privacy. You only give it to people you feel comfortable with.

I read an article just yesterday about the phenomenon of “pick-up culture.” It circles around the controversy over a Reddit author trying to get his book – that blatantly encourages sexual assault – published through a Kickstarter campaign. The author’s blatant misogyny aside, it is disgusting when men think that the right combination of compliments or “lines” will lead to sex. It is horrifying when women also buy into it. It has nothing to do with social awkwardness or level of outgoing attitude – if you are uncomfortable with a man’s advances then they are inappropriate, end of story. If you feel safe enough to do so please tell him that he is being too forward or that you are uncomfortable. We can only expect to reverse the current mentality if we start to stand up and correct it ourselves. If you don’t feel safe walk away, keep your keys gripped in your hand just in case. I wouldn’t call you paranoid for having a small bottle of pepper spray on your key chain either.

It saddens me to have to respond to this in such a defensive manner. Not every man that approaches a woman or hits on her is a potential rapist or intending to do any harm. However, as women we have limited options in figuring out a suitor’s true intentions upfront. Your gut instinct is one of those few options. If your intuition is telling you that something doesn’t feel right, go with it. It’s better to be safe.

Don’t believe that because someone compliments you or hits on you that you owe them something. You aren’t going to find a worthy partner out of obligation or the idea that you’re supposed to like that kind of attention. It seems obvious to me that you don’t find that level of advancement to be flattering or charming. That doesn’t mean you’re awkward, sweetheart, it is a personal level of comfort that every person is entitled to.

That being said you have a couple of options to end the situation (because I gather that’s what you actually want.) You can simply not respond to the texts – though I fear that might bring unwanted conversations should you run into this man again. So I suggest texting a simple reply, “It was nice to meet you, but I’m not interested in something romantic right now,” and let that be it. You don’t have to explain yourself more than that.

And this might be my over-protective father upbringing speaking, but look into that key chain pepper spray.

Best wishes,
Cora

photo by: Tom Coates

Elephant in the Room: How Do I Find the Right Man to Marry

Beneath the veil lies my darknessDear Cora,

I just celebrated my 27th birthday in April. I’m finally at a point in my life where I have a great job and can help support my mom and our family. (We’re Guyanese and staying close to family is very important). I’m really happy except for one thing – I want to get married. I want to start raising a family of my own, but I have the worst luck with men. My last serious relationship was years ago when I was still in college. I’ve dated a few guys since then but nothing has panned out. I’ve even had my mother try to arrange a marriage for me, but there was no spark and I couldn’t do it. When I do find a man I’m interested in long-term he doesn’t seem serious about dating. Sometimes I worry that I am too picky so I’ll give guys a shot who I don’t think I have chemistry with, but it’ll turn out my gut instinct is right and they aren’t the guy for me. I’m worried that if I don’t find a good guy to settle down with soon that I am never going to have the chance to start the family I want. What’s your advice?

Thanks,
Single gal

~

Dear Single Gal,

Oh, honey. The first thing we need to address is that 27 is way too young to start practicing your spinster routine! In my eyes you are a baby adult, only just beginning to get serious about long-term plans and taking complete responsibility for yourself. It sounds to me you are quite the capable young woman (key word: YOUNG) with a kind and compassionate heart. Guyanese or not – supporting your mother and family is a noble task and I tip my trunk to you, lady.

As for the husband, I think your trouble finding one comes from the fact you’re looking for one in the first place. We often feel compelled to find a life partner by a certain time in our lives so when women hit 25 and are still single they go into rabid husband-hunting mode. The problem with that is when you are only looking for a husband you stop being present. You look at every man that comes into your life through a lens of “Can I marry this person? Would he be a good dad? Would he remember to take out the trash? How serious is he about settling down?” and you forget to look at them as a whole person. If they don’t fit the mold you have prematurely set for the rest of your life then you move on without really taking stock of who you’re dealing with as a person and you don’t ask the much more important questions – Is he kind? Does he respect me? Does he make me laugh? Is this someone I can be best friends with and love for the rest of my days?

You won’t find that person with a checklist of “husband” attributes. You find that person by paying attention, being present, and allowing yourself the chance to get to know someone without the pressure of your entire future bearing down on the situation. Even if you don’t say it on a first date, most people can feel the wedding hungry vibes radiating off of you and it’s a clear signal to them to run. It’s the same thing with “the spark” you’re looking for. Is that a real thing? While the movie “He’s Just Not Into You” is pretty problematic with its message to women – one of my favorite parts is when Alex (Justin Long) explains to Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) that “the spark” is made up.

(Warning: Some language, NSFW)

I don’t really think it’s a man-made conspiracy as an excuse not to call a girl, but it speaks to our obsession with fairy tale scenarios. If you’re expecting the perfect guy to walk in and say the perfect things then whisk you away to your dream life – you’re going to be waiting for a really long time. Life isn’t that clean and simple, relationships definitely aren’t. They are complicated and messy and never perfect, which is what makes them enriching and powerful.

So my advice, Single Gal, is to stop looking. Relieve the pressure. Open your eyes and be present. I have a feeling when you let up on yourself – and the guys you meet – it’ll be much easier to see the guy who probably isn’t perfect, but who is perfect for you.

Best wishes,
Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

photo by: AMELIA SPEED

Elephant in the Room: How to Get More Respect from Family

22/365 - Doing the DishesDear Cora,

I am from India and am wondering what shall I do when my family people keep on nagging me to do something? For example, if I am cooking, my mother may ask me to go to a relative’s house. If I explain that they are not close to me or I will go at some other time she will never stop and keeps on insisting. Most of the times I try to avoid the conversation and focus on my work, but she will follow me wherever I go and she won’t stop until I obey her. I face this kind of behavior from most of my family people. I don’t know how to handle them and keep my life cordial and happy. Please help.

Thanks,
Family Girl

~

Dear Family Girl,

Thank you so much for your question. Family troubles are trickier than most because there is no escape option – you have to deal with it head on and you have to face the consequences that are sometimes long and arduous. However, that also works in your favor because for the most part it means your family is still going to be there no matter what you do.

I grew up with a very strict former-military father. My older brother and I were the only children in the house, and because I was the girl I got the most strenuous attention. He used to watch me cross the street until I was 15 to make sure I got to the other side all right. I got my driver’s license three years after the rest of my friends because his rules about when I could drive, how I could drive and who I could drive with were so ridiculous it just wasn’t worth it. “It’s just because he loves you so much,” my mother would say to try and comfort me, but it didn’t feel like love – it felt like strangulation.

It continued into college. For my 21st birthday I wanted to go out with my friends at midnight to have my first legal drink at a bar. He invited himself to go along and said I could hang out with them by myself the next day. This was the final straw in a very large pile of straws. As intimidating as my father was/is I sat him down and told him plainly that the “midnight drink” was a rite of passage – one that parents are not included to partake in and he needed to let me do it by myself. You would have thought I had run over his childhood puppy, and I felt horrible, but it needed to be done. I went out with my friends and had a good time, he joined us the next day and it was great.

From what I’ve learned about Indian culture, family is often very important, and part of honoring that means respecting your elders. However, I think that your family pesters you to do all of these things because they know they can get you to do them. That’s not to say it’s your fault, but it is only you who can make them stop. And the answer is simple – you literally tell them to stop.

There is a respectful way to do it. You don’t have to raise your voice or get angry, but you have every right to use the word “No.” Don’t give them an excuse or promise to do it later, tell them no and stick to it. It will be shocking at first, and you may have to have the conversation several times (just last month I had to remind my father that as a fully-grown adult I can travel to visit whomever I want without him flying out to inspect my car before I did it). This is an exercise in empowering yourself. Be prepared for hurt feelings and for them to say things that will make you feel guilty – don’t cave. This is also an exercise for them in learning to respect you and your personal time more and you are going to lead by example.

No matter how uncomfortable it is at first, if you stick to your guns the end result will be your own peace of mind and a family that knows they can’t take advantage of your kind nature and willingness to be helpful. They’ll have to get used to it and in the long run I think you’ll feel much better.

Best wishes,
Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

Elephant in the Room: How to Love Yourself & Make Friends

Free Mall Girls Riding on The Escalator Creative CommonsDear Cora,

It’s always been hard for me to make friends. It’s difficult for me to jump into conversations with groups of people and my fear of saying something awkward or embarrassing myself prevents me from really connecting.

Recently I’ve found myself involved with a social group I really like hanging out with though. However, my usual fears of not fitting in completely still linger. I always assume that if they ever hang out without me that it means that they actually don’t like me and only invite me to things out of a sense of obligation. I keep going out of my way to try and prove that I’m a worthy part of their group but every time I do it feels awkward and forced.

I’m worried that eventually they will just ditch me entirely. What should I do?

Sincerely,
The Awkward Friend

~

Dear The Awkward Friend,

When I was little my mother’s favorite saying used to be, “You are the only unique you.” She even had painting of it done and hung it in the hallway outside of my bedroom. At the time I would walk by it on a daily basis and roll my eyes – it’s such a mom saying, you know? Anyone who has attended public school has first hand knowledge that being unique actually isn’t that great, it’s an excuse to get picked on. “You are the only unique you” goes right up there with “you are so special” and “they are just jealous” on the list of ridiculous things mothers say to try and make us feel better and we ignore them because clearly they just don’t know what’s going on.

Another annoying “mom” saying is “You’ll understand when you’re older.” And awkward, just like the sayings in the first paragraph, it is just as true. We grow up so badly wanting to be popular, to fit in with a group instead of just being ourselves. Being yourself is really, really hard. It means being vulnerable and honest and open to the world – whereas fitting in means comfort and companionship. It means never having to be alone. It’s only when you get older that you realize fitting in with a fake version of yourself is a much lonelier fate than you think it is. What you need is a group of friends that accept you for you.

It’s possible that you already have that, darling. The fear of losing it is natural because finding people you really click with is difficult (you have to sort through the other fakers!), but I think your head is getting the best of you. Have you ever expressed interest in the things they do without you? Sometimes we think other people are mind-readers when actually most people aren’t psychic. If they knew you were interested, they probably would have asked you to go.

You can also be proactive. I know it’s scary putting yourself out there, but do you invite them to things you like to do? Treat them as you wish to be treated! I feel that your fear of doing something awkward may make you seem closed off, where if you invited them to an event or to do something that you enjoy maybe you’ll feel more comfortable, and they’ll probably like it too! It’s one more thing to bond over. And don’t feel defeated if they aren’t as into it as you are, sometimes friends have differences and that’s totally okay. I promise it doesn’t mean they hate you.

What you need Awkward Friend is to drop the pretense and have a little faith. You are the only unique you and that is a worthy, awesome thing to be. Let them love you for that and then you don’t have to worry about trying so hard.

Best wishes,
Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

Elephant in the Room: Fighting Depression for My Daughter’s Sake

Distant (#63457)Dear Cora

Most of my life I’ve suffered from a form of depression stemming from a profound existential disappointment with life, the world, and especially with humanity which makes it nearly impossible to participate in the every day world of work that most people take for granted without getting even more down and depressed. With a daughter who I want to be able to support and do fun things with (ex. Disney World), I really need to get over this problem so I can handle working full-time – even if at a job I don’t like so I can have money for every day needs and save money for the fun stuff. I wish I could get real help with this but have little hope that any other person can really help. I’ve been disappointed too many times, every time I’ve given myself a chance to hope. But I still do foolishly feel hope that I’ll find something that will get me past this depression. I just don’t know what will work. The more I learn and study, the more doubtful I become that anything will. Have any ideas for me?

-G

~

Dear G,

I’ve started and deleted a response to your letter about three times because I want to make sure I get the words right, to not push or pull you in any certain direction – especially a wrong one – but to say that I understand. I think that’s what you need most.

A few years ago I felt like I was drowning. My family was falling apart, long time friends had suddenly excommunicated me from their circle due to a misunderstanding, and up until this point had hinged my identity on my ability to perform academically but found myself in a place where my intelligence seemed menial at best. I felt stupid, lost, and alone and though I scrounged for lifelines, I couldn’t find anything to pull me out of the dark hole in which I was trapped.

I don’t like to say that I was suicidal because there have been many people more desperate than I was, who have come a lot closer to taking their own life, and I don’t want to lighten the severity of their struggles. However, I spent a lot of time contemplating what it would be like if I didn’t exist anymore. Would it hurt less? Would anyone even notice? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone? Those thoughts circled my mind until one night I found myself standing in the dark by my bathroom sink pressing a razor blade to my right wrist, not breaking the skin but just enough to remind me the metal was there – that I could do it if I really wanted. Every so often I switched the orientation of the blade from vertical to horizontal and back again, remembering a phrase I heard an older neighborhood boy say when I was younger “You cross the bridge for attention. You go down the river for a funeral.” The fact that I could tell the difference between being depressed enough to take my own life and making a sick cry for attention told me that I had the wherewithal not to do either. So I put the blade back down, washed my face, and went back to bed.

I’ve never told anyone that story, and I rarely think of that night, but as I read your letter I could almost feel the cool metal of that razor pressed to my wrist again, switching directions from vertical to horizontal and back again. I feel the same darkness in you that I felt then, but even more than that I feel the hope. You see the light behind your dark cloud, and you’re reaching for it even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever get there. You will. What you don’t realize is that even by trying you’re much closer to feeling that warmth than you think.

What do you mean you don’t think you can get real help? I’m not in the business of giving medical advice, but I think a counselor or a support group could work wonders for you. It would give you someone dependable to help you sort through the darkest days and find the good things, or give you people in your life who understand what you’re going through without judgment. They can support and encourage you when you lack the strength to pull yourself up. Try your local community center or sometimes churches will have secular meetings for people dealing with a variety of issues.

Those are long term solutions that often take a while to see the effects. In the right now I want you to keep thinking of your daughter, her smile, and your favorite things about her. Create a list of all of your favorite things – books, foods, activities, quotes, etc – things that make you feel safe and light and keep it in your purse or your phone, anything you keep with you on a regular basis. Pull the list out whenever you need help thinking of something positive, even if it’s just for a few moments. When we generate positive energy we tend to attract positive energy.

Set short-term goals. Disney World is wonderful, but may be a bit grand to start off with. Maybe a day at Chuck E. Cheese with your daughter or a mani/pedi for yourself. Setting shorter goals that you can reach more quickly works as re-enforcement to push yourself forward. There is no magic wand to wave and make all of the depression go away at once. It was a slow, tedious process for me to make new friends who believed in me for me, to realize there was more to life than being the smartest person in the room, to understand that while I love my family dearly I can’t take all of their problems for myself. It’s a step by step, day by day battle and every bit of light is fought for, but I believe you have it in you. I can see the hope.

I hope you keep seeing it too. Keep reaching for it. It’s yours, lovely.

Best wishes,
Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

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