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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: May 22, 2003

Submitted by on May 22, 2003 – 10:08 AM25 Comments



Dear Sars,

I have a problem. I am almost 16 years old, and my mom is way beyond driving me nuts. You see, my mom obsesses on things. She usually obsesses on small things — like, she'll want to find the perfect centerpiece for a dinner party that she's hosting. Mom will spend weeks in advance looking in catering books, flower books, et cetera. When it comes to academics, I don't excel the way she plans. I am in private school and my lowest grade right now is a C, but I do have a few A's.

My work needs improving, and I am getting help where it's needed. However it feels like she only sees the bad in me, or compares me to my older sister. My older sister, "Alyson," did very well in academics. She was in AP and honors classes, she aced out of English and did very well on her SATs. When applying to colleges, Aly got into her first choice, a very good school. Again, I repeat I'm not a very strong student; in spite of this I want to get into a good college. My mother has the same goal, but her expectations are killing me.

Now, this week I received my PSAT scores. I am in the tenth grade, so they do not matter until next year. This did not deter my mother. All summer long, my mother obsessed on the test, and everyday she wanted to test me on vocabulary, have me read mundane books, and have her test me. It got to the point when my sister told me, "If you do well on your PSATs, she'll stop bugging you." So I agreed to work with her. Mom tested me on car rides, and whenever we were cooking. When Mom tested me, I missed only a few. I found the words very easy because I used to read a lot.

However, my score on the PSATs was equal to an 850. According to my father, that would barely get me into community college. Then Mom starts yelling at me that I'm lazy, and I never try hard enough. I know that she's disappointed, but she's not making me feel any better.

She assumes that I never work, but she seems to see me only when I'm not working, or chooses not to see me when I am. I have gotten to the point where I never tell her anything at all about school because I know she will freak out. She gets mad that I never tell her anything, and has started obsessing on other things like my clothes or my weight.

I love my mom, I really do. She is a good person as well as a good friend. I understand that a friendship with your mother doesn't happen very often for many young people. But this is just so frustrating; I was forced to confide in one of her good old friends who was staying at our house for a weekend. Her friend told her that "you need to back off." Did Mom listen? She felt horrible and said she's trying, but as soon as her friend left, Mom seemed to forget her promises and was on my case even more. I have gotten to the point where I don't know what to do anymore. Drive me in the right direction, please. I don't want another WWIII with my mother.

Nuts in Virginia

Dear Almond No Joy,

Tell your mom exactly what you just told me.Tell her you'd like to talk to her about something, ask her not to interrupt until you've finished, and say everything you've said in this letter.Try to phrase it in a non-confrontational way so that your mom doesn't feel attacked; use statements like "when you do X, I feel like Y."Make it clear that you know her behavior is well-intentioned, but it mostly winds up making you feel like a disappointment, and you'd like to find a way to stop clashing over everything because the whole thing just makes you tired and sad.

Now, it might work and it might not, so here's the part of my advice I want you to really hear, to wit: Pick your battles with her.Your mother is a controlling person, and as long as you live under her roof, you can't do much about that, except decide what's important enough to fight her on and what isn't — and a lot of it just isn't, so let it go.It's not just about your grades, for her; it's about you growing up and living your own life, and she's not dealing well with that prospect, but that only becomes your problem if you take it on, really, so, don't. Give in where you can, for the sake of the peace, and try not to let it bother you.Sometimes, this is just how it goes with mothers and daughters.The trick is to keep reminding yourself that it's really not about you or anything in your essential nature; it's about your mother and her way of dealing with stuff.

So, try talking to her — and try enlisting your sister to intercede on your behalf, if you think that strategy would work.But try the hardest just to let it roll off your back.The PSATs seriously do not mean squat in the grand scheme of things, and you will wind up somewhere that suits you, so focus on the future as you see it and don't let your mother dictate what you see there.


One of my good friends just returned from an extended stay in Europe, and she just told me she got pregnant and had an abortion there. I'm not really sure what to say, because I want to be supportive, but I don't want to pry. I want to say, "I'm sorry," because it seems like a hard decision to make, especially in a foreign land, but I'm concerned that will come across as disapproval, which wouldn't be accurate at all. I'd like to talk about it. The hard facts are there, because she was living in a very poor country with scary medical services and the guy turned out to be a pathological liar, but I'd like to talk about her feelings regarding the decision, and how she's feeling emotionally and physically afterwards.

Should I say anything about it, or let her bring it up again? Can I ask her questions without being nosy, or should I just say that if she wants to talk about it, I'm there, but I won't push it?

Thanks for listening, Sars. I don't want to talk about this with my husband or my family because I want to protect her privacy, but I need someone to bounce this off of.

Not Sure What To Say

Dear Not Sure,

Express concern, not curiosity. Let her know that, if she's upset about what happened or just wants to talk about it, she can — but she doesn't have to if she'd rather not. Either way, you support her. Then leave it alone. "Her feelings regarding the decision" aren't really for you to bring up.

Hey Sars,

The situation I'll describe fortunately passed without me needing to deal with it, but I'm still wondering what I would've or should've done had I been forced to face it.

I had a relationship with R for a few years. First we were friends, then boyfriends, then cooled-off boyfriends, and finally he said he wanted to be "just friends." I was crazy about him and still am, knowing he's the kind of guy I always wanted to be with for the long term. After the breakup I still did dinners and movies with him, hoping for some reconciliation. It was hard, but I couldn't give up.

Then he started seeing B, which naturally dashed my hopes, despite the fact that I still love R and probably always will. I avoid R now and have stopped trying to maintain any connection, but I still run into him occasionally and my heart just breaks every time. The same happens whenever I see or am reminded of the new boyfriend B. Unfortunately, B works in development at the same company I do, so our paths occasionally cross, and it still hurts every single time I'm reminded of what's lost.

Recently, during a series of layoffs, my manager told me our department was safe, and we were even going to be able to snag a few talented development people for my team who would otherwise be losing their jobs. As the team lead, I had a lot of say as to whether I wanted these people under me or not. At first I was glad we'd be getting some great people, but then it hit me…what if B is one of the people the boss is trying to get?!

What was I to do if B had indeed been one of the people the boss wanted in my department? If I were to veto B's transfer, I'd need some valid reason. Although I'm not exactly closeted at work, I'm sure most people have no clue. I don't feel the need to explain to my very-religious-yet-seemingly-progressive boss that I don't want to work side-by-side with the guy who's now the boyfriend of my ex that I'm still in love with. And even without the gay aspect, making a workplace decision based on personal relationship issues just seems wrong. But on the flip side, I love my job right now, I'm good at it, it pays well, and I look forward to coming to work every day. I wouldn't want to come to work and have to face B every single day. It's bad enough that I run into him in meetings and see his name on emails occasionally and go into a deep blue funk. I'd like to think I could just take the high road, swallow my pride, and deal with it, but it's been a year since the breakup and it's still an open wound that I'd rather not have salt rubbed into daily.

And then there's also this ultra-bitchy aspect of my relationship personality that would've loved the power to let B lose his job, but I try not to dwell on that dark side too much.

It seems like the "legal," "proper," "right" thing to do would be to treat him like anyone else, let him in the department, and then suffer through or quit if I can't deal. I just hate to think the universe is that cruel.

Sign me…Scorned and Confused

Dear Scorned,

Yes, I'd agree with that. As you said yourself, "Making a workplace decision based on personal relationship issues just seems wrong," especially when said issues begin and end with you.

But B is the least of your problems. Seeing his name on an email sends you into a "deep blue funk"? The breakup is still an "open wound," after a year? For whatever reason, you have not properly let go of R; you still haven't given up, still haven't let your hopes be dashed. It always stings when an ex moves on, whether you still have feelings for him or not, but this is more than that. You're clinging to R, or more precisely to your grief over losing R, for some reason, and if it's affecting you and your career to this extent, you need to take a hard look at that.

Dear Sars,

I have a tiny problem. I have been dating my boyfriend for
almost five months. I am going to visit him in a couple of months, and we are
seriously discussing getting married then. I know the obvious
question would be, why the rush, but it just seems right. Plus, there
are insurance and tuition benefits for grad school. The
problem? I don't want to tell anyone that we are getting married.

My mom has already said that she will never forgive me if I move out
of state (to be with him), and my friends said they would never
forgive me if they couldn't see me get married. I don't want to hurt
my friends and family by eloping, but it is what I want to do. We
are planning to "re-marry" in a year and a half and let
everyone "believe" that it is our real wedding. Do you think this is
possible or even acceptable? I value your opinion. Thank you.

Secret Bride

Dear Secret,

My first thought is that, if you can't deal with the reactions of others to your marriage, to the extent that you'd hide it, then you probably can't deal with marriage, period. My second thought is that either everyone you know is over-the-top melodramatic with the "never forgive you" business, or everyone you know might think that eloping isn't a good idea, and you might want to think that over.

If you want to marry your boyfriend, and you feel secure in feeling that it's the right decision, you should do it and let the chips fall where they may. The fact that you consider the whole clandestine-nuptials thing a proper solution suggests to me that you don't feel secure about it — at least, not secure enough to wait and see where things go, or to admit to marrying him whether "everyone" likes it or not. And don't kid yourself — "everyone" will find out that you tried to snow them with the "remarriage," so if this is about conflict avoidance, rethink the plan.

Rethink the plan anyway. Something's off here.


I have been dealing with a juvenile soap opera, straight out of a tenth grade classroom, for a very long time, and would like to get your take on the situation. The main cast of characters are my friend Mary, her boyfriend Robert, and his friend Roberta. Mary and Robert have been involved in a relationship for almost two years. However, they have only communicated online. They have never spoken on the phone (Robert says he has a phobia about talking on the phone) and they have never met in person. They have made arrangements to meet, but both times Robert has either disappeared or cancelled days before Mary was supposed to fly out to see him.

Now, during the course of their relationship, Mary and Robert have exchanged expensive gifts, had the online sex, spent hours and hours pouring their souls out to each other. Mary has also been very open with the webcam access, doing various strip-teases for Robert's benefit, and has sent him countless pictures of herself. Robert, on the other hand, has never allowed Mary to see him "live," and he has only sent her three pictures, all of which are either so far away or such bad quality that you couldn't pick him out of a police lineup. I am the only person who knows that Robert isn't a "real life" boyfriend. Mary has lied to everyone else, including her best friend and her family. They all believe that he is someone she met at a club one night, and that he lives near her but attends a school in Michigan. I have never said anything to her when Robert pulls his disappearing acts, breaks up with her, and just generally treats her like shit (which he does at least weekly).

Now, to bring Roberta into the equation. Roberta is a girl that lives very near Robert and supposedly attended high school with him, who became friendly with Mary shortly after she and Robert started "dating." Roberta and Mary have spent hours talking on the phone, exchanged dozens of pictures, made plans to spend time together, et cetera. A few things that I should mention at this point:

Robert and Roberta's first names vary by only one letter
Robert and Roberta both bowled on their high school bowling team (although their school website only has her listed; he is nowhere to be found)
Robert and Roberta both have the exact same birth date
Robert and Roberta both have one younger brother, one older sister, and hate their alcoholic fathers
They both love the same sports teams
They both drive the same model truck
They both attend the same university, and are going for the same major
When one person signs on to their AIM screen name, the other almost always follows within seconds.When one person goes "idle," the other name does as well, and always for the same amount of time.
Robert has always refused to give Mary his phone number or address, using the excuse that his roommates would flip out. Instead, he has her send packages to Roberta's house.
If you do a simple Google search for Roberta, you get around a dozen results. You cannot locate a single thing on Robert.

Now, I'm not exactly a Mensa member, but it seems to me that there is something fishy going on. But who knows, maybe I just watched too many episodes of The Lone Gunmen.

The main point of this: Recently Robert posted on a public message board that both Mary and I frequent, whining about how he's fucked up his relationship with her, and how he doesn't know what to do, he's scared of being hurt…yadda yadda whatever. I replied, basically telling him that he either needed to get his shit in order and be a real mate to her, or he needed to let her go so she could move on with her life. Even Mary mentioned to me how nice my response was. Well, Robert then sent Mary an email telling her that after reading my reply, he realized that he needed to get out of her life, he wasn't going to bother her ever again, blah blah bastard-cakes. Mary forwarded me his email, but didn't say anything herself, and hasn't answered my emails or IMs since then.

So, first of all, I'm pretty pissed that he is trying to place the blame on ME. Second, I'm pretty pissed at her for pulling this shit, when I've put up with this farce of a relationship for this long without saying a fucking word to her.

I haven't contacted her again, and quite frankly I'm not planning to any time soon. I've discussed the situation with a mutual friend, and he feels that I'm being hasty, and that after Mary has time to "heal," she will realize how foolish she has been and come back to our friendship. I honestly don't care whether she does, but his words made me feel guilty about being a bad friend. Oh, and just so you'll know, all parties involved are in our twenties — me and Mary being in the "later" part of that age group.

So I guess what I'm wanting to know from you: Do you think I am right to be suspicious about Robert and Roberta being the same person, and do you think I should bide my time until Mary decides she wants to be friends with me again?

I hope this makes sense.

Thank you!

Tired of dealing with the drama

Dear Tired,

Strictly from a petty, gossipy standpoint…best Vine letter ever. Seriously. Not to downplay your annoyance with the situation, obviously, but damn. Just when you think you've seen everything in this job…Roberta. Excellent.

Okay, sorry. First question first — yes. Do I think it's possible Robert and Roberta aren't the same person? Sure. On the other hand, Occam's Razor. The whole situation as you've described it is super-shady.

As far as Mary herself goes, I think you can decide for yourself what to do if and when she gets back in contact with you. I imagine that she's just titanically embarrassed about the whole thing, but on the other hand, it doesn't sound like she's even put the Robert/a thing together yet, so…I don't know. Do you want to invest any more time in a woman who is 1) more naive than an Amish newborn and 2) willing to let you take the fall here? It's up to you.

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  • Reyn says:

    Aww, it's one of the first catfishing stories ever on the internet! Robert/a: the hipster of catfishing.

    Also, I love this phrase: "had the online sex"

  • Jenn says:

    I so hope Tired still reads the Vine and comes by to give an update. If not, can we send Nev (sorry: Neeeeeeev) over to sort everything out?

  • dwtintx says:

    One of the classics. Ranks up there with the chain mail dude, which I still occasionally read when I need a good laugh. Your answer on that one, Sars, makes me laugh in that way where the giggles just kind of erupt uncontrollably for awhile. Ah, good times.

  • Kay says:

    "More naive than an Amish newborn" is possibly the best sentence I've read this month.

  • ferretrick says:

    What's sad is-in 2003 I thought Robert/Roberta HAD to be a fake letter, entertaining though it was. Surely nobody could be that naive.

    In 2013, when catfishing is an actual word, I have no trouble believeing it.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Up there with Jack and his Tomatoes of Justice. Never change, Vine, never change.

  • kategm says:

    Ah, Robert/a. The very epitome of WTF.

  • attica says:

    Are we even sure 'Mary' isn't really 'Manti'?

    So, so awesome. Thanks for the memories.

  • IsisUptown says:

    After Ray Manzarek died, I was searching the archives for "Shut Up, Jim Morrison," and while I was here, I searched for "Robert/a". Good times!

  • Sandman says:

    I can't help wondering how Almond No Joy is doing, ten years on.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Am I the only who immediately search for the Chain Mail dude letter? I can't believe I missed that one!

  • Bryan says:

    A blah-blah-something-cakes sighting. Ten years ago. I feel ancient.

  • kategm says:

    @Sandman, I also wondered about Almond No Joy. She'd be in her late 20s now, right? Did she ever get away from her crazy mother?
    And word to everyone about wanting to dig up Chain Mail letter again. Was there ever an update on that one? I hope that girl found a happy ending after all.

  • ferretrick says:

    Chain mail guy (aka Ren-Faire Douchebag), for those who were looking. Since I might or might not, possibly, be able to recite this one from memory, it's never hard to find…

  • Cora says:

    To find Chain Mail Dude, go to the search function on this page and type in "ren faire douche". I'm not kidding. It pops right up.

  • Jo says:

    I really hope the first letter writer sees this and sends an update. I'm very curious.

    Oh, the catfishing letter. I think I remember reading that back in 2003 and even then, thought, "Uhm. Is everybody in this story but the letter writer a complete idiot? Robert/a can't even bother to give the fictional boyfriend a different name?" I caught on pretty easily because I was catfished a few years before that letter, but knew it was fake (I wish I'd kept better track of that situation, because now it's hilarious. The "guy" I chatted with at various points claimed to be in the hospital recovering from being gored by a bull, and that he was an orphan whose parents had been killed while doing some kind of foreign service work (not military). Then he allegedly wound up working for the same agency and one of our "mutual friends" told me he'd been killed in Africa while on "assignment." I'm still not sure if anyone involved was dumb enough to think I believed them).

  • Rachel says:

    Ren-Faire Douchebag is one of my favorite Vine letters, ever. I love it when Sars gets all CAPS-LOCKY because you know that she is juuuuust about to tear her hair right out.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Apparently I'm having an extra-stupid day but I don't see a search function anywhere. I found Chain Mail dude by Googling chain mail dude.

    Am I looking too hard?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    The search function is at the top of the page, on the right, just under the banner.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    @Rachel, I totally agree. The CAPS-LOCKY nature of the Jack-the-Tomato-Thief Vine is equally hilarious:

  • kategm says:

    And then there's the update letter (of sorts) from Jack's roommate:

    I hope the letter writer found a great apartment!

  • Jo says:

    After reading the comments here, I had to go find the chain mail letter …

    Holy crap on a cracker. I can't even figure out how to deal with that. There's another writer I'd kill to get an update from.

  • Roberta says:

    The title of this post just about scared me to death! Did I write a Vine letter in 2003? Was it somehow memorable enough to merit republishing ten years later? Good God, what was it about and how stupid was I at the time? I'm so relieved that it's a different Roberta, but now I'm questioning whether I really exist or not. :)

  • Jo says:

    I'm pretty sure you exist. It appears to be Robert who does not. :)

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