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Ask Ellie: Importance of boundaries among lessons learned in pandemic

The pandemic’s effects on would-be daters reveals the significance of stating what you expect/need from a relationship.

“Be honest with yourself.”

“Face your own demons.”

“Stop sweeping your relationship issues under the rug.”

Dear Readers: These clear, instructive statements are the words of Dr. Sanam Hafeez, (Psy. D), a New-York based licensed clinical psychologist who’s spent much of the isolating pandemic years addressing its impact on singles, especially “millennials.”

Why did she and I focus on them in a recent interview? Because so much changed for those who’d long been so independent and free-spirited.

Known also as “Generation Y” and born between 1981 to 2000, they now range from ages 22 to 41.

In her New York-based practice, many of Dr. Hafeez’s clients in that age group had long lived alone, regularly meeting their friends and dates in bars after work. Until lockdowns/restrictions revealed that many of their “relationships” were meaningless. COVID-19 had changed the playing field.

Regular readers know that I’m very mindful that every other age cohort also struggled in many ways through the pandemic, especially seniors living alone, and tragically, those too compromised by age, illness or insufficient care, to survive.

Now, as I’ve done periodically, I sought to learn and share how experts in clinical practice, working daily with people needing mental health support for varied reasons, can improve their current relationships OR know when to move on from them.

For the age group Dr. Sanam Hafeez discussed, she stressed that, “to maintain any sense of an actual connection with someone, they had to start consciously doing the work of building a relationship.

“And recognizing how important it is to not have alcohol be part of every interaction with others.”

Here’s the new reality: “The previous expectation of having long-term relationships including raising children together, has definitely shifted. This generation of daters are spoiled for choice. They have multiple dating apps to choose from, and are frequently looking for something different.”

In fact, they get stuck in a phase of too many choices, along with too much input on social media, she says. And many are “dating” only through sending/receiving texts and email.s

The reality check: “Don’t spend all your time just talking. If someone’s not talking to you in person, they’re not meeting you. So, start defining your own rules.

“Be clear that it’s either time for a coffee meet-up, or to move on. (Not just women clients, but even guys complain about the long stall or disinterest in actually meeting in person, she’s found).

Living in her own “very happy” second marriage, she speaks from the heart as well as her experience: “You must invest in the quality of your life.”

Her personal “down-time”? No surprise, she practices what she preaches. “It consists of talking to my husband, cuddling with my child, sitting down with a book….”

We can all do better at valuing ourselves and the people with whom we have real relationships.

Dear Ellie: I’m in my 70s with three children all university graduates. The eldest has her own family including a teenager. The second one’s married and quite happy. They’re well off but have many financial responsibilities.

So, two of my children live luxuriously. The third one’s well off but frugal, not as generous, more calculating, not happy.

What can we parents do?

Concerned

Enjoy your own life together, stay connected to your children and especially to your grandchildren.

You’ve seen your children all well-educated, so congratulations. You have time to keep yourself and your spouse as healthy as possible, staying fit, eating well, walking in nature and appreciating your own life.

Dear Ellie: My older sister has always disliked sharing personal things. She’s still finicky in her 50s. No one, not even her husband, can use “her” shower/bathtub in their upstairs washroom.

For years, she’s insisted that he go down to their basement to shower or bathe, and he’s actually complied! Recently, she’s confided that he’s declared that his first-floor “office” with computer and TV, is “off limits.” She’s forbidden to even enter it! He says he’ll clean/vacuum it himself… but she says it’s a dust bowl!

What do you think is really happening between them?

Worried Sister

They’re each fighting for relationship control, with neither one budging an inch. Both “partners” need a psychological assessment of their current relationship, and a healthy plan for their future, from now. But it’s unlikely to happen. Watch this space.

Readers are invited to send their own stories of odd relationship quirks and how they affected the people involved.

Ellie’s tip of the day

The pandemic’s effects on would-be daters reveals the significance of stating what you expect/need from a relationship.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.