I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife’s personality has changed. Not dramatically, but enough so that she has become a glass-half-full, constantly cheerful type of person. I have no idea if this is common or perhaps if she was always depressed and her dark humor existed for her to deal with it. I’m glad she’s happy now but I thought we were happy before and frankly, I miss my old wife! The new rainbows-and-sunshine person I’m living with gives me a headache and I find myself less attracted to her. I feel like a jerk and don’t know what to do. Help!
— Dark Side
I’ll get back to you with an answer in a few weeks, because now that my husband has seen your question I assume he’ll start slipping Paxil into my half-empty coffee cup hoping for a similar change in my disposition. I have had many letters from people desperate to get their annoying loved ones on some kind of medication to take the edge off of jagged personalities. But I’ve never received such a cri de coeur from someone who wants the old sarcastic, unmedicated person back. But as an old, sarcastic, unmedicated person myself I appreciate hearing that not everyone wants a partner who has the buoyant outlook of SpongeBob SquarePants. You’re right, however, that telling your spouse her new cheerfulness has you wanting to get into bed, alone, and pull the covers over your head, is going to be a difficult, even baffling conversation. It’s best if you first broach this in the context of just checking in with her about the grief that propelled her to the therapist’s office. If she’s feeling more acceptance about her mother’s death, you can ask if the therapy has moved on from that to deal with other aspects of her life. This will give you the opportunity to talk about whether she feels the medication is still necessary and why. Depending on how that goes, you can say that you miss the sarcastic take she had on life. Tell her you don’t want to interfere with the treatment plan she has arrived at with her therapist, but as far as you’re concerned, her personality never needed any tweaking.
My husband and I are both politically liberal, support public radio, donate to the ACLU, and both have gay and lesbian friends. He thinks it’s funny, however, to adopt a stereotypical gay lisp from time to time when telling a story or a joke. I hate it and have told him so every time he does it. I tell him that it sounds bigoted and I don’t want our kids to grow up thinking that making fun of gay people is OK. He says that it’s done in good fun, and the fact that he has gay friends proves he is not prejudiced. Is there any way I can get him to stop, or do I just have to put up with it and try to counteract its effect on my kids with some well-timed lessons on respecting others?
— Looking for Insight
Unless your husband is Sacha Baron Cohen, he has to drop this act. From the sound of it, being flamboyantly gay is not even germane to the story he’s telling, which makes his adopting this persona all the more uncomfortable for people listening. It used to be that imitating racial or ethnic dialects of a group you didn’t belong to was the height of humor. But the days of Amos ’n’ Andy are over, and comedian Bill Dana himself killed off his Jose Jimenez character. Given your NPR proclivities, I’m sure your husband has heard that there’s a revolution afoot in the perception of gay and lesbian people. It doesn’t matter how many nonstraight friends your husband has, his humor is going to leave everyone cringing and wondering what subliminal message is he trying to deliver. You obviously can’t stop your husband, but you can tell him you’re not going to be able to rescue him socially when he does it, and that you hope the awkward silence gives him the feedback he needs. As for the kids, if he starts lisping in front of them, you can just shake your head and say, “This is something Dad does that should not be imitated.”
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