Ask Jane

New Yorkers are great at giving advice. What’s the best neighborhood to live in? Everyone who’s lived here for 5 minutes has advice for you. We also enjoy advising folks on more personal matters:  if you’re an idiot, we will advise you to stop being an idiot. That, or we’ll make a kind of clicking sound with our tongue while rolling our eyes.

Here’s an example. If someone steals your iPhone X by breaking into your apartment, we’re all sympathy and good ideas. We’ll give you advice on where to move to, how to get apartment insurance, and what kind of locks to get for windows or doors, and how to set up “find my iPhone”. But if someone steals your iPhone X because you got drunk and fell asleep on the D train with your phone hanging out of your pocket, well, our advice to you is to understand that you’re an idiot. It’s not that we think stealing is good, but being an idiot is worse. That’s how you can tell you’re in New York City.

No one’s going to take his iPhone X.

Other parts of the country take a different approach.  Amy Dickenson of “Ask Amy” is America’s consiglieri, appearing in syndicated columns and online throughout the US. She’s fair, non-judgmental, and level headed.  Let’s see if you can figure out which answer is hers, and which one is mine.  Spoiler alert:  original answers are linked.

Here’s the real Amy.

Living with a Hoarder

Dear Amy:

My husband and I are in our mid-50s. We were married four years ago and moved into his parents old house. He promised me before I moved in that we would start clearing out the house and make renovations.

Last summer, neighbors filed complaints about our home with the county. We were told that our job was to get rid of the stuff! We were supposed to meet with a contractor next weekend.

Figure A: a house without a hoarder in it.

Last night he got a box and began clearing out bags of old twist ties, wine bottle corks, broken utensils, etc. I said, “Where is that going?” He said, “Into the basement; I will go through it later.”

He then said that he does not want to renovate the house, and he is not getting rid of anything. Should I figure out a way to live with this, or should I move on?

— Worried Wife

Compare this to Figure A, above.  Do you see a difference?

Dear Worried: Your husband seems to have a hoarding disorder. In my opinion, you do need to leave this household. Perhaps you can continue to love your husband from a (tidier) distance and support him in getting the help he needs. Counseling will help you through this tough transition.

Dear Worried: Are you NUTS? Did you not READ my post about what happens to hoarders? You need to get out of there, yesterday.  Then call a lawyer today. Next time you get an urge to marry, don’t sign on the line until the house looks more like a house and less like landfill BEFORE the wedding bells ring. Here are some pictures that will show you the difference.

My Son is Growing Weed

Dear Amy:

I was snooping in my son’s basement and discovered he is growing weed. Should I confront him? He could lose his job, house, reputation and shared custody of his daughter. I am a nervous wreck thinking about how to approach him.

— Sad Mom

This is what a successful weed farm looks like. Is this what you found in your son’s basement?

Dear Sad:  Here’s what you should do: Stop snooping in your son’s basement. Unless he has a sophisticated commercial marijuana ranch, you should assume this is for his own use, and leave it alone. If you absolutely cannot stand it and must confront him, you will have to tell him the truth about your own behavior. State laws regarding marijuana cultivation seem to be quite convoluted. If he doesn’t have a license to grow and is caught, the consequences could be extreme in proportion to his crime.

Dear Sad: Something’s not adding up here. Why hasn’t the super already sold it?

My Husband Is Watching Strange Videos

Dear Amy:

I was on my husband’s phone recently and saw that he had been watching videos featuring women who were doing things like folding towels, pretending to give haircuts and sometimes just whispering.  Nothing sexual, just long videos of really nothing happening.

For this you wrote to Amy?

I didn’t know what to make of it, so I asked my husband, and he told me that the videos are to trigger “ASMR,” which he described as “deep relaxation” and “tingling in the head.” He said that the soft noises and images help him go to sleep or calm down.

The whole thing feels a little bit weird. And I’m not sure if it’s healthy to become so dependent on videos made by strangers. My husband has offered to stop watching the videos if it bothers me. He’s got no other problems that I’m aware of. He is healthy and a good husband, so I don’t want to demand anything of him, but I’m a little worried about the impact these videos will have long term on him and our marriage. What do you think about this?

— Wondering Wife

Dear Wondering: ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is really just a clinical-sounding (but not “officially” clinical) term for that lovely, shivery, slightly “spine-tingling” feeling that humans sometimes get when stimulated by gentle sounds, whispers and soft repetitive movements — sort of the way you feel when a soft summer

Another soothing way to fall asleep.

breeze kicks up and washes over your skin — pleasant, tingly and soothing. You might be able to help your husband here by personally re-creating some of the triggers at home. You also might give this a try along with him, to see if you can experience this sensation, too. Otherwise, I don’t think you should worry about it.

Dear Wondering:  Woah, woah! Back up here. You have a husband who lets you snoop around his phone, and all you find is someone folding towels? And this upsets you? Call me when you have a real problem.

Cats Causing Family Tension

Dear Amy:

My sister-in-law says she is very allergic to cats. My sister and I have cats and bring them with us when we visit our mom. My sister-in-law asked us if we could put the cats behind a gate or upstairs when she and my brother visit. We believe that our cats are our family members. We refuse to put our cats away just because someone wants us to. Because of this, our sister-in-law stopped visiting.

Welcome to the cat house.

Now she has a baby and this is the first grandchild in the family. She again asked if we would put the cats away while she visits so my mom can visit with her granddaughter. Again, we have refused to do this because our cats are just as important family members as her baby.

We told her that she should drop off the baby with my mom, sister and me and that she can relax at the hotel while we visit. She has refused to do this, and now just doesn’t visit. She tells my brother to visit whenever he wants, but that she and her baby will stay home.

Yes, that IS adorable! Doesn’t make you sane, though.

My mom cannot drive to their house because it is 6 hours away, and now my mom has not seen her granddaughter at all. She is very upset. How do we fix this for our mom’s sake, without giving up our principles?

— Animal-loving Aunt

Dear Aunt: This is not a matter of “principles.” Given your collective attitude toward your sister-in-law, and your refusal to even attempt to make the house less toxic for her during a visit, she has no choice but to stay away. And no responsible mother would surrender her baby for an unsupervised visit with family members who are so obviously ill-equipped to care for a human.

Is that you Selma?

Dear Aunt:  You’re blowing smoke up my ass, right?  Wait a minute, did Izzy put you up to this?  No?  You’re serious? Oh-my-eff-ing-sweet-mother-of-santa-maria. Even if you left Mr. Kitty at home when you and Aunt Selma go visit Mom, your so-obviously-saner-than-you sister-in-law should stay well, well away. I’m guessing your brother is not as batshit crazy as you are, or that marriage would be over by now. He’s probably just lying low, and I don’t blame him. Almost everyone has one of you on the family tree. Your brother and his wife should consider moving WAY farther away than a 6 hour drive. Here’s a question to ponder: what’s wrong with your Mom? Why hasn’t she told you slowly, clearly, and using short and common words that she’d rather see a grandchild than a cat?

DNA Conundrum

Dear Amy: I have a situation related to DNA testing. I have a half-sister from an affair my father and her mother had many years ago (mid-’50s). I have known about this for several years, but I don’t think she knows about it. She was raised in a highly respected family, and

The surprise was Mom’s.

I’m fairly certain this information has been kept from her. On my DNA page on the website, she appeared in the “number one” position as a sibling to me — above first cousins, second cousins, etc. I don’t know if she has even seen this specific page or not, so I don’t know if she knows anything. What should I do?

— Debating DNA

Dear Debating: Contact your sister to say, “According to my DNA results, you and I are related. If you’ve received the same result and are interested in getting in touch, here is my contact information…” I hope this inspires you (and others) to reach out respectfully, but to also keep your relational expectations in check.

Dear Debating: Is this because you need more crazy family members in your life? Is she the same person who thinks her cat is a baby? Maybe YOU’RE the crazy one, in which case I’m sure Amy will be hearing from her.

Dating Conundrum

Dear Amy: I am a nurse. I started dating a police officer seven months ago. We like each other and are getting along. We are both working full time and going to school. He lives two

Here’s what you’re seeing…

hours away from me. While we talk on the phone daily, he only wants to see me once every six or seven weeks. I complained a few times and asked him if we could see each other more often. He suggested that I should find a new guy. I am offended. I like him so much, but I feel like he has more fun being alone rather than being with me. Does this man even want to be in a relationship?

Confused Girl

Dear Confused: Your question prompted me to do some reading on the whole nurse-police officer dating nexus, and my casual research reveals that, yes, nurses and cops can make great partners. Both professions seem to draw plucky, hard-working people who are drawn toward service, and can tolerate challenging shift work. You don’t realize it but you are lucky. Why? Because you have clarity. Your officer-friend is telling you exactly where he stands. He is saying, “This is what works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, you should find someone else.” If he was more into you, he would probably beat a path to your door, no matter the distance. But — he is not. You are saying, “But this doesn’t work for me.”

Dear Confused: What are you, an idiot? He’s married.

Here’s what he’s seeing.

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