Dear Georgia,

In 2009, I've really gotten close to my niece who just turned 16. She spends the night with me a lot. Saturday we went to church and out to dinner. Her meal cost more than mine and I didn't mind, she kept saying she felt bad, but I did tell her get what you wanted. I could afford it.

Later when we got home, we were watching tv and she says to me I really don't like you. I just use you.

I couldn't speak after that. She laughed and said just kidding. She even apologized. But I feel funny now. I still love her, but I'm single. I could be going out and having fun and looking for a boyfriend, instead of spending my weekends with her.

Did she mean what she said?


Dear Wondering ,

I am glad you wrote me.

First off - she was kidding. She has a sophisticated humour; and a humour typical of this generation, which uses sarcasm etc. because they have seen it and heard it in movies and on TV. I use the same kind of humour, and often want to use it even more so - but I am afraid I will shock some people so I restrain myself in my columns.

It's black humour.

Can you remember Phyllis Diller making jokes about her husband "Fang"? Humour makes fun of loved ones just for the laugh; but the person really DOES love her husband or kids or whatever. (Just like I kid about never lending your car to anyone you have given birth to... but of course, I let my kids drive my car!)

So let's first clear this up - her humour is a bit more "modern' than yours... like a person saying to a spouse "I'm only here for sex" or "I only want your money." Ironically, you can ONLY make a joke like this when it is clearly understood there is a loving bond between you. Therein lies the irony.

SO much for her joke - and it was a joke.

But I want to add another comment.

She is coming from a household that is money conscious. And it is true that kids are conditioned that they can order a burger while Dad orders the T-bone steak. This is not uncommon. I am not saying it is right- it is just how societies work all over the world.

She was obviously feeling guilty for having ordered something that cost more than what you ordered. This went beyond the familiar bounds of what she did with her family... or what she would do with "company" or someone else. If she was comfortable about it, she would not have felt the need to apologize.

But apparently, she did apologize more than once. So somehow, you did not let her feel reassured enough that it was no big deal - perhaps?

This means it WAS an issue - and that is why her joke came out. The subtext of her joke is the actually opposite. A joke like that says - I don't care what I eat or get from you - I just want to be with you.

(Black humour always spoofs the opposite. Like Woody Allen kidding about the first time he ran away from home - his parents acted fast: they rented his room out.) Do you understand what I am getting at?

So this is the first issue: there is an element of feeing unworthy with her - that it was not right to spend more of YOUR money on her than you were spending on you. She is well aware of your generosity and not taking it for granted. But do you enforce this? (Something to consider.)

(Hence her stab at black humour which you didn't get.) Now - why didn't you get her humour? You are still young...

I think it was because of your own feelings of insecurity. A person only makes a joke about - "hey I'm using you for your money" when there is an obvious loving connection. And when that is obviously untrue. If you ever ARE using a person that way - you would never joke about it - duh?

So your own insecurity about someone really loving you made you miss her joke. And secondly, you already are wondering if you are "wasting' your time on her when you could better invest it into finding a boyfriend or doing something else.

So you too - are weighing and counting - "I give you this much love - how much love are you giving me? Am I wasting my time giving you this much love? Hmmm."

Do you see what flits through your mind?

For about 10 years - my grandson - the precious gift of my life who was born right in my bed - stayed with me every Saturday night . He was my Saturday night date. We had tons of fun, and established a close and wonderful bond. Times changed; I moved to an Island. I am now in a relationship. And those Saturday nights are a thing of the past... and he is 15 years old, but we are still very close.

I will never forget those times - and I think of them often. They are more precious to me than for example going to the U2 concert a few weeks ago.

When you can spend quality time with a young person - you are getting just as much out of the relationship as they are. Maybe even more!

You have to stop thinking you are doing her a favour by taking her out on Saturday night and letting her sleep over. Your life would be considerably "less rich" (believe me!) without this young person to give you a younger perspective of things - and to enjoy good times with - and also to enjoy being her mentor.

You have a very valuable treasure in her friendship, and you don't seem to realize it.

Most important, she is a source for you to be able to learn to love someone beyond your own self.

It's so hard to know what is really worthwhile in life isn't it? I am still grappling with this on a daily basis....