My dad is really sexist, but I don’t know how to say anything without ruining our relationship. My mom does all the housework and cooking. She also has a part-time job, wakes up at 5:30 every morning, and is on her feet all day. My dad usually works only five hours per day, and if he’s not working, he’s watching sports or reading the paper. And other than cutting the grass, he never helps around the house. He talks to my mom like she’s a child. I’ve tried talking to my mom about it, but she always brushes it off. I can’t stand being around my dad. I can’t stand seeing my mom so tired and defeated all the time. But I don’t know if I’m in any position to say anything. —Anonymous

You are in a position to say something, and it is your place to do so, because you are a member of your family and you count as much as anyone else. Even though this is your parents’ marriage, it obviously upsets you, and it’s making you lose respect for your dad and maybe also your mom. Talking to your mom and/or dad about what bothers you may not change anything, but your feelings need to be addressed.

Let’s assume that, best-case scenario, your dad has little to no understanding of how his behavior is affecting your mom or you. In American culture, and many others, a lot of men are raised to believe that how they think and what they do is fundamentally right, that they know best, and that other people—especially women—are here to accommodate their whims and desires. This is just how they come to believe the world is organized. That attitude is subsequently responsible for a lot of the sexism, misogyny, and harassment that women and children and even other men encounter, and some fathers/brothers/uncles don’t even realize how pervasive or wrongheaded it is. (Worst-case scenario: He knows he’s taking advantage of your mom and doesn’t give a shit.)

Your dad’s sense of privilege may be informing his idea of what marriage means. He may be re-enacting the roles he grew up with. A few generations ago, it was more common for women to bear the brunt of domestic chores, while men were the breadwinners. Your mom may have grown up in a similar household. She’s probably aware of the imbalance in their relationship when it comes to responsibilities, but she may think that’s just how it is and there is no changing it. Maybe she’s already tried, or maybe this is just how they agreed to do things. It’s hard to know without having a real conversation with her, but if your parents have been together for a while, your mom has likely come to accept and/or ignore certain problems, and that could be why she brushed you off.

But the other issue here is that the way your dad treating your mom reflects on you, too, as another woman in the house (you didn’t specify your gender, so I am making an assumption here). I can imagine that part of the pain of this situation is wondering what this means in terms of how your dad thinks of you. If he is someone you have conversations with, consider sitting down with him and talking to him kindly but honestly about how it makes you feel about yourself to see how he treats your mom. Parents are sometimes blind to how things affect their kids and, speaking as a parent (YES THERE IS A MOM UP IN HERE), all you want is for your kid to be happy, joyous, and free in this life, so if something is making them unhappy, you want to address it. But if you’re afraid that your dad might react badly—if he has a nasty temper, or is emotionally or otherwise abusive/neglectful—this is not something you need to discuss with him.

When I was younger, I assumed people got married and stayed married simply because they were in love. But people get married and stay married for many reasons, and those reasons can be practical and have nothing to do with love. Those reasons can change in good and bad ways over time. There may be factors in your parents’ union that are too complicated to understand, or that maybe your mom doesn’t feel are appropriate to share with you. Nevertheless, I think if you approach her with the deep love you obviously have for her, it will lead to a good discussion, and at the very least, you’ll show her how much you care.

And even if nothing changes, know this: You will not live under their roof forever, and you can go out into the world and choose to live differently, and find a kind, loving partner that treats you as an equal. It sounds like you are already pretty wise to that. Good luck. —Jessica

Lately I’ve been worried that I’m spending too much on the internet, and not enough time doing other stuff like being crafty, writing stories, and reading books, all of which I love. I get home from school, do my homework, eat dinner, and then spend the rest of the evening on my iPad and smartphone. I really want to spend more time with my friends, but it doesn’t happen often. I think to myself, “I’ll just watch one more video, or I’ll just check my feed one more time,” and that turns into several videos, until it’s 11 PM and I feel dead. I have no life outside of school, and I think I might be becoming addicted to screens. Please help! —Sian, Australia

You’re not alone. Most of us worry about how much time we’re spending on the internet, because most of us probably do spend too much time on the internet. There’s just so much to click—I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at Suri’s Burn Book and Parachutes From Haymitch and Oh No They Didn’t. And it’s easier sometimes to sit and click than it is to face the world, interact with other humans, create art, work, whatever. Life is hard. Sometimes I think the internet is the world’s cheapest, most addictive drug.

You say you really want to spend more time with your friends, but it doesn’t happen often. What keeps you from seeing your friends? What is it you’re getting from “one more video” that you’re not getting from flesh-and-blood interactions with the people in your life? I would start there. When I’m spending too much time on the internet, I’m avoiding something, or I’m feeling bad about myself, so it’s easier to immerse myself in the distractions and stimulation of online interactions than it is to face myself or my real life. Are you avoiding something? If you are, can you talk to someone about it? Can you reach out? I’m prone to depression, so when I find that I’m spending more time online than is reasonable, I try to force myself to touch base with one of my closest friends and go to a movie, or play a game of Scrabble, or just hear a friendly voice. After I do this, I’m always surprised by how damn good it feels to be part of the world. I don’t know why I forget.

Maybe you need to come up with some rules to limit the time you spend online. Some suggestions: Don’t check your email until you’ve read a chapter in your book or started a craft project that you’ve been wanting to try. Only allow yourself to go online for an hour at a time, or wait to do so until after a certain time of day. Make firm plans with your friends that you can’t back out of. The rules you set should be realistic, but you need to stick to them. They’ll give you some structure, they might help you figure out what you’ve been avoiding, and, if nothing else, they’ll make it so going online is more of a pleasure than a habit.

Most important, you’ll feel like you’re getting something done. The thing about the internet and all the clicking we do is that more often than not it’s a massive time-suck. We can spend hours online and have nothing to show for it but a browser history. When you step away to work or write or read or hang out with family and friends, you’re going to remember how good it feels to be out in the world and accomplish something. After a while, you probably won’t even need rules, because you’ll want to maintain a better balance between online and offline experiences. Surfing the internet is a legitimate way to spend some time, but there is also the physical world—the sun and moon, chatty conversations with friends, a relaxing run after a long day—and you’re living a better life when you can enjoy the best of both of these worlds. —Roxane

I have a really quick and simple question re: friends with benefits. Does it EVER work? Or is it doomed from the start? —Sonia

The quick and simple answer is yes and yes. It can work, but it’s usually doomed from the start.

It can work because it is totally possible to have a sexual relationship with someone you aren’t in love with. Technically, this is what “casual dating” is. The thing about doing this with friends is that in order for it to work, nobody can have ulterior motives, because the moment that idea creeps into your brain, POOF! It’s over and hearts will get broken. And since a lot of people eventually decide to date someone whom they also consider a friend, the idea is bound to creep into one of your brains. (Sure, it’s possible the idea will occur to both of you simultaneously and equally and you’ll get married and lived happily ever after, but I’m trying to keep it real here, not talking about the plot of a romantic comedy.)

I was in one of these relationships once, and it was great. It happened sort of organically: We had been friends for a couple of years, but we weren’t like BEST friends that knew everything about each other. We were flirty but nothing crazy, and then one night we got drunk and it was makeout city. This continued for a couple months, and then we each moved away and it ended. We’re still friends, and sometimes we joke about the good ol’ days. I think the reason this worked was because we knew each other well enough to know we couldn’t actually date, so that pressure was never there. Taking our friendship to the next level came from a purely lustful place, and I guess with such primal urges, there was really nothing else to worry about. We never had to talk about it or establish rules, because we both knew what we wanted, and we wanted the same thing.

But of course, as with all human interactions, there are no formulas that work for everybody, which is why I said that it’s most likely doomed from the beginning. Ask yourself why this relationship interests you. Imagine the other person hooking up with someone else. What’s your reaction? If for even a second you feel a twinge of jealousy, then forget it, because it’s gonna be bad-news bears. If you’re OK with it, then make sure the other person is not secretly in love with you. Maybe you’re like “But if they’re ‘secretly’ in love with me, how could I tell?” but no one’s that good an actor, you know? You can even ask another friend who has seen you interact with each other—sometimes other people can pick up on things that you might not want to see or admit to yourself. All of these rules and steps just to get some? Bonkers.

That said, I trust that you can follow your intuition to figure out whether it’s a good or bad idea in your specific situation, because let’s face it, if you really wanna smash your faces together, it’s gonna happen no matter what I say. —Laia

Back in January I met this boy who, like me, is very interested in Star Wars. Unfortunately, that was the only thing we had in common, so our relationship was quite short and did not end well. Now whenever I think about Star Wars, I think about him, and it’s very hard for me to enjoy it anymore. How can I regain my interest in Star Wars and forget about him? –Naomi

I’m sorry your relationship didn’t end well! Breakups can be tough, and the pain is extended and compounded when the stuff we shared as a couple takes on new meaning for us. I used to go to a local restaurant every week with someone I was dating. I loved the place so much I had a big birthday feast there every year, but when we broke up the memories were too much for me to deal with, and I stopped going. Eventually, though, I missed the food too much. I booked a table with some friends, and just prepared to face the potential sads. And you know what? I had so much fun with my friends, I didn’t even give a second thought to the ex.

Star Wars is your food! You miss it. Why? Was it the story? The characters? The underlying philosophies? The special effects? (As if you could pick just one thing! Star Wars is awesome.) You can still enjoy these things regardless of its association with him—it’s one of YOUR interests, after all. It’s important not to let anyone deter you, or have influence over the things that you appreciate. First of all: Don’t be afraid to watch it and feel all the emotions relating to your breakup—crying can do wonders for getting things out of your system, and like Yoda says, fear is the path to the dark side.

The good news is that there are a whole lot of other people on the planet who are not your ex and share your interest, too. Why not check out a Star Wars event or add your voice to the Jedi Council Forums and meet new people you can geek out with? Maybe you could invite all your girlfriends over to have a Star Wars-themed party, make Star Wars cookies, and have a viewing marathon. This way you can face the Star Wars sads together, and in doing so create new memories not to replace, but to lessen the primacy of, the old ones. The fact that you wrote us about your troubles shows how much you care about Star Wars, so it’s time to reclaim it. The Force is strong with you. —Bianca

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year now, but the end of senior year is approaching, and after graduation I won’t see him for an entire year (he will be in another country). He’s my best friend, but life and time are forcing us apart. How do you end a relationship that you are still happy with, with someone you still love? —E.

Here’s a thought: Would you both be willing to test the strength of your relationship and keep it long distance? As Pixie wrote here, it’s definitely not impossible, but it will require a lot of work on both ends. If this sounds too daunting and you want to put your relationship to rest, it may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. But for both your sakes, try to make it short and sweet.

I broke up with my high school sweetheart before leaving for college in a big city, far, far away. We both thought I’d have a better experience if I was single. But the process was slow and grueling: We made each other torturous mixtapes to cry over instead of making new friends. We continued to call each other, even while we were out with other people, who were inevitably hurt or annoyed by this. We got resentful of each other for seeing other people. When visiting home, we’d spend entire days alone together and sob when we parted ways. We haunted each other with cryptic Facebook statuses and lyrics from emo songs that said the things we were too scared to say in our own words. My friends were tired of listening to me talk about it, and some even ditched me. The drama continued for almost TWO YEARS, because we never set the necessary boundaries. Eventually we threw up our hands and decided it’d be best to only contact each other with occasional letters and postcards. And while we’re still friends, what I’m trying to say is: This is not the kind of breakup you want.

So what do you do? Draw a line in the sand. First you have to figure out what that line is. While it sounds harsh, I’d suggest cutting off all contact for a while. Talk to him about it, negotiate the time frame. Do you think a year is too long to go without hearing from him at all? Then maybe try limiting your contact to one phone call a month, or every few months, and little to zero emails. Seriously, I think you need as much distance as possible in the beginning so that you’re each free to explore your own life without being consumed by the other person’s. (Sometimes people can dominate more of our time in absence than they would if they were with us.)

And if, after a year apart, you still want to be together? Great! You both will grow A LOT this year. Think about where you were before you dated. A year from now, you may have developed new interests and had experiences you never dreamed you’d have. But you may find that you won’t be able to relate to each other in the same way anymore, and that’s OK too.

If you decide to stay together, sign up for a Skype account and get ready to send lots of postcards and photos and love songs. Otherwise, make the most of the present. Savor each other’s company. Resolve the loose ends and nagging questions about your relationship so you don’t lose sleep over them later. Write him a heartfelt goodbye letter. And then go forth, and make the most of your future. (And if you need a good cry, listen to American Football.) —Suzy X. ♦

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