Dear Deborah

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author

Hooked on Rejection

Dear Deborah,

My 17-year-old son is hooked on a girl. She’s everything he sayshe wishes he could be and everything he knows we wish he couldbe. She’s sure to be valedictorian, on her way to Harvard, while heis not a great student. We were thrilled when they started dating.She’s the perfect girl, but her priorities are school and experiencesin life (i.e. dating), and she seems to have a problem stayingcommitted more than a day or two each week.

So each week, they break up, get back together, and the traumathat ensues for my son has rendered him depressed, insecure andconstantly obsessing about how he can be good enough to win her back.He dyes his hair weekly and works out constantly to impress her. Witheach “should we break up” discussion, his self-esteem crashes.

Is there anything we can do to help him break this pattern?


Dear M.B.,

Perhaps the only thing more painful than teen-age emotionalwhiplash is the parents’ helplessness as they witness theseslow-motion collisions. Unfortunately, your son is not likely tolisten to advice, to attempted shoring up of his bruised ego or tomuch else. His girlfriend’s fickleness is only another reinforcementof what he already knows to be true: that his parents wish he couldbe better, brighter and more “perfect” — like his girlfriend.

What he needs to learn is that he is loved whether or not he goesto Harvard, that straight A’s do not make a mensch, and thatperfection is an aberration which doesn’t leave much room for life’spleasures, such as love.

Until he experiences this to be true, he will continue to punishhimself for his failings. Take a hard look at your desire to haveyour son become a Harvard graduate. Is it more important than hiswell-being?

You ask how to help him break the pattern with his girlfriend? Theanswer is to break your own pattern with him.

Leaving a Lover

Dear Deborah,

I have dated a good guy, a gorgeous guy for five months. We wereboth recently divorced and have children, and we just sort of fellinto a relationship — sex on Saturday night, children activitiestogether on Sundays. Our children are close in age and have becomevery attached. At first, I thought it was the real thing; he reallyis a great lover and a fun companion. But, although I could kickmyself for it, I know he is not for me. I can’t say why I don’t lovehim for forever, but I don’t, and I dread telling him and losing thefriendship — for all of our sakes. How can I hang on to thefriendship part and end the romantic part?

Hates to Jilt

Dear HTJ,

Sometimes the real skill lies in getting out of love — not intoit. Unfortunately, however, there are no guarantees that you willhang on to the friendship. So speak the truth, but leech out anypotential toxins. Try something like: “You are a wonderful man, and Ifind you very attractive and a fine companion, but you are not forme.” Tell him how valuable the friendship is, both between the two ofyou and the children. Perhaps when the sting has faded, you will havea friend.

If not, there is a valuable lesson here for you. Leave thechildren out of your love life until you are engaged to be married.They have suffered enough losses.

Momma’s Drama

Dear Deborah,

My mother is in town again for another of her interminable visits.I notice an immediate change in myself the moment I hear she iscoming. I prepare myself for endless drama and criticism, from whyI’m not married to the decor of my apartment. She constantly comparesme to my brothers. She epitomizes the expression, “Enough about me,so what do you think about me?”

When I try to talk to her about how I feel when she criticizes me,she bursts into tears and accuses me of not loving her. Recently,when she was boasting about how well she raised us, I reminded herthat she abandoned us when we were young teens and left us with ourfather to seek higher education and a better life in Boston, and thatif we are successful, it is not because of her. I feel that I’m onlygoing to get past this when she is able to listen to me. But I amworn out from trying.

She follows me around like a dark cloud. How can I make herunderstand?

Doomed Daughter

Dear Doomed,

How can you make your mother stop being self-absorbed andcritical? How can you “make her understand”? Let me ask you aquestion: Could you make Narcissus stop gazing at his own reflection?

Answer: You cannot make anyone be or do anything.

Let’s look at your options. You could move away, change youridentity and enter a witness-protection program. But it is doubtfulthat even such extreme measures could deliver you from the “darkcloud,” because it exists on the inside.

The only person you can change here is yourself. Accept yourmother as she is — or don’t. Create the boundaries you need toprotect yourself, whether that means not allowing her to stay withyou when she is in town, only being with her around other familymembers, getting off the phone after X number of minutes — and soforth. Take her only in the doses you can without overdosing. As shenatters away, respond internally with your own truth, refusing toengage in pointless defenses and not allowing her criticism to pourthrough the sieve at the bottom of your heart.

Who knows? Perhaps if her criticism is met by only dead, emptysilence, she will eventually get a clue. If the river ceased toreflect Narcissus’ image to him, he surely would have walkedaway.

Teenagers at a dance. Photo by Edward Serotta from “Out ofthe Shadows.”
All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only inthe newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S.Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also sendE-mail:

Dear Deborah

Dear Deborah,

I’m in love with a woman who broke up with me a year ago and has moved on to a new relationship that looks serious. Two years ago, I won her back from the same man. We’ve been together on and off for three years, and when she’s not with me, she’s with him.

She said the reason she’s with him and not me is not that she loves him more or finds him more attractive. She’s with him because he’s stable, doesn’t travel as much for work as I do, is very good to her, wants marriage and children now, and is even-tempered. I admit that I am moody, but I know that I love her, and she loves me. Also, I admit that I didn’t want to get married, because I felt too young, and I did occasionally tell her that I felt trapped by the commitment. But now that I’m 30, I am almost ready for marriage. I am living in dread of the announcement of their wedding that is sure to come.

She phones me occasionally, and we get along so well. We flirt, don’t talk about anything serious, and then when we hang up, I am depressed all over again. I just feel stuck…. Everyone I date I compare to her, and, needless to say, they all look pretty bland. Should I risk humiliation and pour my heart out to her once again, or should I give it up?

Broken Heart

Dear Broken Heart,

Why would you listen to me if you never have been able to listen to your ex-girlfriend? Nonetheless, if you were to pay attention, you’d understand that the only thing you haven’t done here is make a decision.

If stability, marriage and a family are something you are absolutely ready to offer, go ahead and pitch her one last time. The only thing you have to risk is one more rejection, but, at least, you’d be forced to get on with your life, and, eventually, you’d get over it.

If, however, as you say, you are “almost ready,” why not look into the mirror, get real and call it a day on this fantasy? The great “love” you shared was not enough then, so why would it be enough now? If you proposed marriage without the real goods, in no time, she’d find you once again moody, “trapped” by the commitment and a little too “young” for her tastes.

Speak No Evil

Dear Deborah,

I made the big mistake of confiding to my good friend of 25 years that I thought her husband was never good enough for her. I cited several examples of this to support my theory. At the time, my friend took these remarks as they were meant — to empathize and commiserate with her during a period of severe marital difficulties in which they were considering a separation.

My friend and her husband got counseling and decided to try it again, but my friend has been avoiding me ever since. I am afraid that she may have told her husband all the unkind things I said about him, and I am so upset that I don’t know what to do?


Dear Stymied,

It’s hard to think straight when your foot is still stuck in your mouth, isn’t it?

You’ll just have to call or write her a letter and explain how embarrassed you are…that you were trying to be supportive but got carried away. If you think of anything nice to say about her husband that she’s likely to buy, add that. Being honest and contrite is about all you can do.

The bottom line, however, is that you botched this one big time, and all you have to rely on is your friend’s mercy.

Big lesson here, readers. It’s not a good idea to talk badly about anyone, if you can help it, but never, ever dis a friend’s spouse — past, present or future. Those words inevitably bite back.

Dignity in Death

Dear Deborah,

I am old and live alone. I am too uncomfortable to wear anything when I sleep, but when I die, I don’t want to be found nude. I’m sure that many women share this fear. Is there a solution?


Dear Grateful,

First of all, it is essential that you be as comfortable as possible while you are alive. This means that should you pass away during the night, you may be found nude; however, if you have done some planning, you will remain so only for a brief moment, and treated with the utmost dignity.

Rabbi Zalman Manela at the Chevra Kadisha, the Orthodox burial society, as well as Ms. Fran Krimston of Hillside Memorial in Los Angeles agreed that if you make advance plans with a Jewish funeral home, you will immediately be wrapped in a white shroud.

Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles addressed the issue of modesty by explaining that Tahara, the ritual washing in preparation for the burial, is performed by women for women. At the end of the ritual, the woman leading Tahara states that she has prepared the deceased according to the laws of our people, and then asks forgiveness if, in any way, the deceased has been embarrassed or offended by the process.

If, as you say, you are alone, you must also consider who will find you. It is imperative that you have a female friend, relative or landlord who checks in on you regularly, who is aware of your plans and wishes.

Finally, you might consider leaving, on your night stand or some other prominent spot, a well-marked letter that includes the phone number and address of your contact person and your specifications and plans in case someone other than your friend finds you.

Thank you for your letter. May you find comfort in the fact that you have helped to clear up the mystery for many others in your situation. *

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author.

All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address and telephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names are used in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also send E-mail: