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Carolyn Hax: Freelancer’s friend asks for written non-appearance
Carolyn Hax: Freelancer’s friend asks for written non-appearance

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have been writing freelance articles for years, drawing mainly on my life experience. My tone is usually ironic/humorous, but with what I find to be a really poignant and insightful edge.

My boyfriend of eight months has asked me to stop writing about him. He was OK with it at first, but he’s read the few things I’ve posted since we started dating and changed his mind. I never say anything that reflects badly on him or that I think he’d find embarrassing; I’m usually more self-deprecating. Before this relationship, I was with someone else for more than five years and wrote freely about that relationship with his consent. In fact, I think part of my current boyfriend’s discomfort is that he’s implicitly comparing that relationship to this one.

My life as a writer will be a lot harder if I can’t write about life anymore. And he’s already turned down not only articles that focus on our relationship, but ones that even mention him in passing. It’s an understandable request, but I can’t help feeling that it’s controlling and sabotaging, hopefully unintentionally.

How would you go about this? I really want to keep my boyfriend, but I also don’t want to lose my creative outlet, which has been a real lifeline for me over the last few very strange years.

Freelancer: His request is justified. I don’t want anyone to write about me either. I have some friends who write their works very openly and I’m constantly thinking about their closest circles. What do you think about that?

I’m also wasting thousands of words here and saying very little about my family. You know my dogs better than my people. But you know quite a lot about me. So the line is doable.

Nevertheless, “the feeling that it is controlling and sabotaging” is so serious that it cannot simply be ignored. Not without asking yourself where it comes from.

Does your imagination run wild, as “unintentionally” suggests? Then get even more creative and write about it.

Or is there some context that supports your concerns?

If the latter is true, then trust your gut feeling.

Subject: Private Partner: Carolyn hinted at this, but I want to be more direct. Freelancer has the choice to write either about real life and the people in it, or about this friend. It’s that simple.

Some people are happy to share everything. Others value their privacy. Some, probably this friend, don’t know exactly where they are on the spectrum until they read about themselves in publicly posted material.

If you really like the guy, you can try shifting the focus of your writing. What you can’t do is demand that someone else be you.

I am sorry for the loss you will suffer.

If you are sure you cannot change your writing, then you owe your friend an honest conversation. Your friend may try, but if he is a private person at heart, there is little chance of success in the long run. Neither of you should pretend you can live in a way you cannot.

Anonymous: Right, the clearer line is well drawn, thank you. Forcing private citizens to agree to have their stories written about is not on the agenda.

And the menu is not on the menu, if there is one, any Basis for the controlling/sabotaging/averse-to-comparison hunch. If there is one thing, there is usually something else.

By Everly