Ask Helen

Dear Helen,

I am 54 and recently reconnected with my first true love on Facebook. We were a couple in high school and would probably have gotten married except for my mother’s interference. Insert vivid fights with her, and bad relationships for me, until I finally met my husband, who reminded me of my first love. We had 15 good years until he got cancer. I am widowed; I started dating, meeting no one satisfactory. Then I re-met and am now in love again with my numero uno. We’ve met, embraced and affirmed the connection, but haven’t figured out what happens next. Unbelievably, my mother is still being a B-word about him. Is this karma? How can I handle her?
– Can’t Believe My Luck

Dear Can’t Believe,
Some things never change, including parents’ beliefs that they know what’s best for their kids. But at 54 you’ve long since earned the right to decide with whom you are in love. And after bad decades and cancer you deserve good ones. Re-introduce him to your family. But before the meeting have a firm sit-down with your mother. Make it plain that you’ve had a complicated romantic life at least in part because of her interference. Tell her in no uncertain terms, “This is the guy with whom I am going try and make a relationship. It may end up in marriage or in flames, but that’s my problem and right to figure out, not yours.” If she is smart, she will keep her mouth shut and watch from the sidelines. If he is smart, he will greet her with a big hug and try to disarm her with charm.

Dear Helen,

For a very long time I was the exec to my department head. In that role I learned a lot about various co-workers and had to listen to my boss dissect their flaws, often in the least flattering and least compassionate ways. Now my job has changed. I am working with many of these same people as peers, as people I now supervise, and in one case, as my new boss. The old boss still tries to corner me in his office with his snarky and meanspirited comments. It’s like he needs an audience to validate his unkindness. In addition to being mean, he’s long-winded and I don’t want my new boss to think I’m ratting him out to the old one. I really like the new guy, in part because he doesn’t talk meanly about folks. How can I unplug from the old boss?
– Wanna Hear No Evil

Dear Hear No Evil,
When roles change in organizations there is always some recalibration required. Mature adults handle this kind of process better than people with a middle-school need to be unkind to others. You have the unenviable job of educating your old boss. Fortunately you have a new boss as an umbrella, should you need one. Next time Old Boss tries to corner you, stay in a public place for the discussion. When he starts on one of his diatribes, say very simply, “My job and my role here have changed. I no longer want to hear you talk about people. I’ll talk to them directly to hear what’s going on. Please don’t ask me to listen again.” Then go to New Boss and, without revealing what might have been said in the past (especially about him), explain Old Boss’s behavioral patterns. Tell him you’re hoping he’ll stop now. But if not, you may ask him to intervene because you so very much value working for him that you don’t want to give any impression that you are not a good team player. It may come out syrupy, but if you are doing a good job and don’t linger too long at the proverbial water cooler with others, New Boss will be able to see you for who you are, not as Old Boss treated you.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and check out the blog at

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