Loving From a Distance

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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.

Sometimes, you have to love people from a distance and give them the space and time to get their minds right before you let them back into your life. – Robert Tew

Hi Tim,

I’m a middle-aged woman with an elderly mother and two older siblings. My brother is never around unless he needs something, and my sister lives much closer to Mom than I do. Mother’s Day is approaching and my brother will never show up or call, but I’ll be there and so will my sister, who never fails to turn every holiday into drama by berating Mom about all her past failings. Mom wasn’t perfect, but nor were we abused or neglected. Mom always cared for us and kept us safe, even when our father disappeared after I was born. Still, my sister constantly reminds her that she’s a disappointment and bad mother, sometimes directly but always passive-aggressively. When I defend my mother, my sister turns on me. I dislike my sister and I’ve come to terms with the fact that she’s just an unpleasant person I don’t want in my life. I don’t feel much differently about my brother. But I like Mom and want to make her happy; what can I do?

– Peacemaker

Hi Peacemaker,

Peacemaker may be an apt nickname but it is a thankless vocation. Some people might be so bitter and unpleasant that they are unable to get past their own feelings, and lashing out may be a lifestyle for them. They may be struggling with circumstances or an illness that affects their behavior. They may never appear to be happy and even offended by, and hell-bent on preventing anyone else’s happiness.  

Some difficult family members may seem unlovable. Anger and striking back will not bring them around. However, you can choose to love someone from a distance, so your heart does not fill with hate and become like theirs. You are proving nothing by forcing contact. Tell them you love them; encourage them to get help and back away, possibly for good. You are not obligated to spend time with any family member, and you should not if meetings are toxic, but loving them is a lot easier than hating them.

This goes for you mother as well, if she feels the same way.  You two may decide to enjoy your holidays together on alternate dates. Whether it is realistic to visit or phone or even write occasionally with a difficult relative is up to your discretion. I do hope that you all find peace.


Hi Tim,

I’m a 16 year old girl, a few months from turning 17, and I’ve had an ongoing flirtation with an English teacher in his 40s at my high school. He took an interest in my writing, compliments me all the time, spent hours with me after class developing some ideas, we went for coffee a few times after school and he’s invited me to his place so he can cook me dinner and talk about my college plans. He mentioned candles and wine, so I was pretty sure this was going to be a date. I cancelled the night before because I got nervous (I am still a virgin but he says it doesn’t matter to him), and he asked me for a rain check because he wants me to decide when the time is right. We are always careful to never tell anyone about us, so I have no friend or loved one I can confide in but I can write to you. What do you think?

– Naïve

Hi Naïve,

Whoa, Nelly! We went from creative writing tips to serving alcohol to minors to losing virginity! That is fast, even for a youngster. Correction; you are a young woman, and likely a smart one too.  I am not so sure your nickname fits at all. I believe your heart has already been prodding you about what I want to scream out into cyberspace at you. DANGER! I refer to a danger which has nothing to do with your naiveté or virginity, or the age difference, etc. For your consideration; a middle-aged man who is trusted to educate teenagers, but also shops for potential dates among the student body. He exhibits some classic grooming behaviors of a predator: excessive compliments, escalating contact, plying with substances and sexualizing conversations. If you have to keep a relationship a secret, something somewhere is wrong.

If you had told me this in person, I would have reported him. You should report him, either by officially reporting the abuse, to your school counselor or at least tell an adult you trust immediately. Yes, I am fully aware that you are on the verge of adulthood but your maturity has nothing to do with his manipulative behavior. You are probably a great writer and have a great future ahead of you, but this goon is a dead end and his character needs to be written out.


Hi Tim,

I am a mid-20s girl and sports fan dating a guy for a few weeks who is also a football freak. Long story short, big game and the ref makes a crap call, we disagree as did most of the country, but he won’t let it go and makes a lot of comments and jokes about how I was wrong. I wouldn’t have cared, but we saw a movie recently and he did the same thing; disagreed about some point, then hung on to it for weeks. When I started to really notice it, I had to admit there were other times. He’s not content with just believing he is right. He has to hear me admit I was wrong or he storms out for the night, or just drops me in front of my apartment with no goodbye, then we don’t talk for a few days and when he calls, he never acknowledges anything even happened. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or is he a giant ass?


Hi Disagreeable,

This is me telling you what you probably already know and what prompted you to write me. I am going all in with “giant ass,” and it feels like a sure thing. Adults can agree to disagree and when they cannot, it often indicates that someone is coming up short in the emotional maturity department. If you believe this dolt is even worth the trouble, try to explain it to him once and never again. “Paul, you have a habit of undermining my opinion when you set out on a crusade to prove me wrong. I really like you and I am willing to let you have your opinions, even when they differ from mine, but I prefer dating someone who does not think they know everything and tries to prove it.” Either he lets the small, petty things go or he will be the small, petty thing that is let go.

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.

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