Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.
Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and “unusual” social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.
I am a girl, 18 living at home and attending college. My family belongs to a popular church that is known for being very strict about lifestyles. My sister, 23, goes to college in a huge city 400 miles away. She brought her new boyfriend home for Christmas to meet everyone. He is into painting and photography, and nice looking but covered in tattoos, completely covering one arm and has his tongue and lip pierced. We usually call people who cover themselves in tattoos “inky-stinkies,” and we don't make fun of them but certainly would never date one! After all, they obviously don't respect themselves if they can’t even respect their skin. My father had a serious talk with my sister; they argued and haven’t spoken since. I don't know how to feel. He seems nice with a good job, polite and only mildly weird but all the tattoos just make him look like a maniac. Are we being too hard on him, and was my father out of line? I'm struggling with how tattoos have anything to do with morals. — Ink Stinks
Hi Ink Stinks,
Thanks for introducing me to “inky-stinky,” reminding me once again that no group can escape being stereotyped and slapped with a custom, artfully-crafted slur. Body modification has nothing to do with morals. I do not care for tattoos or piercings myself; the human body is more interesting to me au naturel, but they also do not bother me at all, and they are not a reliable indicator of character. This may be why they are more acceptable than ever in public places outside military, blue collar and artistic communities: corporate, finance, education, and even government are gradually ignoring body art, which I barely notice anymore. People own their respective bodies, and should be able to embellish their mortal coils with whatever they please. Ignore the ink and get to know the person your sister has chosen.
There is generally no objection when humans decorate themselves with other unnatural adornments like makeup and jewelry. Unless perhaps, the institution representing your family’s particular faith forbids any and every harmless thing that its members may indulge in to express or even just amuse themselves. That is a level of control over your life that you may be considering as excessive and inappropriate. If you are, I think you are on to something.
I'm a 21 year-old, gay man recently kicked out of my home by my parents, because I came out to them. My straight but accepting brother who’s three years older took me in; we’ve always gotten along well and have a really pleasant roommate arrangement now. We want to continue to live together, but I have one serious problem. I’m in love with him. I should explain; we were all adopted by our parents from foster homes but our adoptive parents are very cold, unemotional people. They were verbally and emotionally abusive and never showed affection or gave praise. The only attention we got was punishment when we did something wrong. I think it’s because we were so starved for affection that he and I had a mutually consenting sexual relationship in our teens. Our parents don’t know about it, nor anyone else but after my brother left home at 20 it’s like it never happened. We’ve never mentioned it since, even while living together. I’m having more and more trouble ignoring him since we’re alone in the apartment, sitting on the couch together or seeing each other partially clothed, etc. It especially hurts when he goes on dates with women. Tim, we’re not biologically related. Should I “come out” to him and tell him that I want nothing more than to pick up where we left off and try being a real, loving couple? — Bromance
I think the nickname you chose has been applied too literally. Bromance, by its definition, is a close relationship between two straight men. Only one member of the couple you are romanticizing about appears to be heterosexual. Your brother dates women, and does not bring up your past encounters. He seems comfortable with his own sexual identity. I know it felt like mutual consent for you, but the math tells me that legally, at least part of the time he was an adult while you were still a minor. For both of you it may have been experimentation with sexuality, and also for both of you it may have been solace for two young men desperate for affection and human contact, of which they had been deprived by abusive and neglectful parents. You both managed to survive the trauma together. But your warm, comfortable memories of adolescence may be clouding your judgment. Aside from the implications of incest, shame or reclaiming your first love, this guy is probably straight. That is enough reason for a romantic relationship to not work out.
I suggest that you try counseling in order to help you process and reconcile your old and new feelings, so you can maintain this positive familial relationship. “Coming out” to your brother about being in love with him sounds overwhelming, but he may appreciate hearing you acknowledge how hard the two of you had it growing up and how much his love helped you, then and now. It may even give him the opportunity to talk about his own feelings. You already have a loving and supportive sibling, do not forget that.
I’m male, 30 and an EMT. Last week, I helped work on and save an elderly gentleman in his home, including CPR. That’s the most important thing. This was my first lifesaver so I’ve really been contemplating mortality and life in general. I’ve also been contemplating his granddaughter who was in the home and called for emergency services. She’s beautiful and I kept talking to her to keep her calm but I can't help thinking there was some chemistry between us. She even hugged me when we left and looked at me so intensely; it was like attraction rather than emotion. I’ve wanted to try to reach out to her, if nothing else to let her know that I look in on her grandfather in the ICU. I have not been able to catch her there. I know it would be inappropriate to look up her number, but should I satisfy my curiosity once and for all and leave a note for her, or ask her grandfather about her? — Attracted Angel
I am glad you mentioned the whole business about you questioning mortality and life, etc. or I would have been tempted to change your nickname to “Stalker.” You and your muse met under the most intense conditions, and neither of you can be expected to smoothly line up a first date while her grandfather is between you on a gurney, holding an oxygen mask to his face. She can find you if she desires to do so. I am going to assume you are sincere about checking in on her grandfather. It may not be illegal or even unethical to pursue a romance with patients’ relatives; it simply indicates poor judgment and insensitivity. I recommend letting nature take its course. If you two were meant to find each other it will happen under different circumstances, such as a chance reunion at a cafe or even at the hospital; not a message relayed by her grandfather while he is fighting for his life in the ICU.
Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author’s alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.
Photo by Fotolia/BlueSkyImages