When people seek out advice, there is sometimes a big difference between what they want and what they need. What most people want when asking for advice is sympathy, affirmation of their feelings, and sometimes confirmation that the action they wish to take is okay.
In contrast, what people often need is a little dose of reality. Half the time when people are seeking advice, the problem lies as much in their own issues as it does in the external factors that are affecting them. In that case, what they really need is to face the facts about themselves that they’d probably rather not face.
It is very difficult for the advice-giver to do this because it can involve being pretty harsh. But sometimes tough love is what people need. Take, for example, this young man who recently wrote in to Dear Abby (Full column available here):
“DEAR ABBY: For Valentine’s Day I bought a dozen red roses and had them delivered to my girlfriend’s workplace. On her way home that evening, she made a stop at the grocery store and encountered a distraught young man near tears because he couldn’t afford to buy flowers for his girlfriend. She offered him money but he refused, so she gave him the roses I bought for her. (Abby, they had cost me more than $82!)
The whole episode still has me upset. I know the roses were a gift and she had every right to do with them as she wished. But I think what she did was thoughtless and insensitive and didn’t take my feelings into consideration. She says I am narrow-minded because I don’t see it from her perspective. What do you think? — GRINCHED IN IOWA”
Abby’s advice is in the end, correct as far as it goes, but wishy-washy. Even worse, it validates this young man’s self-centered affront at his girlfriend’s kind actions. Abby replies:
“DEAR GRINCHED: I can see how, having spent as much as you did for the roses, you could be upset. I can also see how your kindhearted girlfriend might have had pity on the guy and acted on impulse. While the roses were hers, she could have accomplished the same thing by giving him one or two of the roses to give to his girlfriend. However, if you care about this relationship, you’ll stop brooding and drop the matter.”
That last sentence is exactly what he needs to do, but I do not like the way this answer allows him to feel validated about his unreasonable anger at his girlfriend. If he does drop it, Abby’s letter will make him feel like he is being kind and forgiving for the sake of the relationship when what he really is, is a giant baby. Therefore, I have my own advice for all parties involved:
To the Girlfriend: You did nothing wrong. You are in fact, a very kind and generous person who helps those around you that you see in need. You also seem to have your priorities straight. I’m not exactly sure what you are doing dating this dude, as he seems unaware of what a catch he’s made, but don’t ever let him make you feel bad for being generous. Carry on, but if you find that he is constantly making you feel guilty every time you don’t put his needs ahead of everyone else’s (including your own), then get out.
To Grinched: Are you serious? Your girlfriend generously gave away her roses to help out a young man who was in TEARS and you are honestly calling her “thoughtless and insensitive?” REALLY? Read your letter again and pretend like someone else wrote it and really try to see what you wrote from that perspective, because it is ridiculous. You have a girlfriend who is kind and generous and helps out people around her that she sees suffering. Here’s a tip—because you are her boyfriend, when it really matters, that kindness will extend to you most of all, and that is a lovely thing to have in your life.
You, on the other had, are a self-centered twat who is whining about Valentine’s roses, of all things. How much effort did you really put into that gift? Let’s see … it was either a 5-minute call to the local flower shop, or perhaps you ordered them over the Internet. Also … it’s roses … on Valentine’s Day. I’m guessing it didn’t take you hours to come up with that original and creative gift idea. Get over yourself. You got your girlfriend a cliché and overpriced gift for Valentine’s Day, probably because you felt like you were supposed to, and now you’re throwing a fit because she didn’t treat your expensive gift like it was special. Guess what—it wasn’t all that special.
It was a nice thing to do, yes, and if you have little money yourself then the $82 was a sacrifice. But if you have little money, then it was a stupid sacrifice. You could have spent that money on plenty of things that would not have been given away, because either they involve time spent together, or thoughtful, personalized, and permanent items. You are the one who decided to spend that money on something that by definition was only temporary.
This sounds rather harsh, so let me soften up for a minute. I think you just have to look at it differently, because you are not understanding the value in your gift. The gesture you made of remembering your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day was the gift and was worth more than the roses themselves. The real value in your gift was the happiness and surprise when she saw them and getting to show them off on her desk all day. Women want flowers so that other people can see that someone likes us, not because we’re just so crazy about flowers. All that you missed out on were the extra few days they would sit around your apartment—it’s not really a big deal.
To the crying guy: This whole mess could have been avoided if you had some sense in the first place. Let me give you a lesson in romance: what is romantic about a gift is not how much it cost or how “everyone else” gets that thing on that day. What is romantic about a gift is the way it shows that you care. A gift that cost no money but shows a lot of effort and attention to the recipient is a more romantic gift than the largest diamond. If you can’t afford roses, buy a card and then sit down and really take some time to write a love letter to your girlfriend. A real one—one that takes time and thought to create and that tells her how you feel about her and why she is special. I guarantee she will still have the card after years’ worth of bouquets come and go. You did not need to have flowers for your girlfriend. What you needed was to think of something that was within your means that would show her that you love her and that you pay attention to her—that you hear the things she says, notice the things she does, and celebrate the person that she is.