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May 9-15, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I have back problems. To help, I go to the gym and stretch out. They have great mats, balls, etc. A number of times, while I've been stretching, I've had people shout at me, "Shouldn't you be working out!" It's happened on several occasions, and just the other day, while I was stretching, this man shouted at me from across the room, "Do you need a blanket?"--as if I was getting ready to take a nap. I don't understand it. It seems offensive to me that anyone would talk to me at all while I'm trying to do my workout, but maybe I'm reading people wrong? Is it good gym etiquette to shout at people across the gym and make comments about their stretching practices? And am I obligated to respond?--Pissed-Off Stretcher

Dear Stretcher: Working out in a gym is like walking around outside in your underwear. Some seem to have no problem with it, and flex and sweat so freely it appears they have no idea how ridiculous they look. Others feel on the spot, overexposed, as if they feel they look really bad in spandex. For these people, no talking and no eye contact is the standard. It sounds to me like you are of the later sort; someone who goes to the gym not to socialize, and certainly not to be judged, but to stretch, so that your back doesn't hurt. It's strange that people would feel moved to comment on your stretching, and definitely inappropriate.

If it's possible, consider switching gyms. Many gyms have rooms available with mats and balls, where you can stretch without being ogled by someone working on the treadmill. Perhaps you belong to a gym where members feel comfortable making meaningless conversation with people they don't know, while they're doing the splits. Pay attention to those around you and see if this sort of commentary is commonplace, or if it seems pointedly geared toward you. My guess is, unless your stretching methods and apparel are truly, deeply unorthodox, you just happen to belong to a chatty gym. Ignore the chatter, no response is necessary, and don't take it so personally. Who cares what some workout maniacs think, anyway? The gym is there for you and you alone. Buy a Walkman or MP3 player, block all of them out, and do your thing.

Dear Sydney, as a single mom with no career or child support, I find it almost impossible to make ends meet. To add to my troubles, my daughter is now 15, and my son approaching his teen years, and it seems like with every new day they need more and more money. Where do I draw the line? Of course I want to be able to help them go to concerts and the movies and get the clothes and shoes they need, but it's getting out of control. Just to make it through the week, my 15-year-old needs the majority of my grocery money. She's also furious at me that we're poor. Their dad gives them no spending money at all, so it's always on my shoulders if they can't go out and have fun. Do I show them exactly how much I make, and then teach them how to budget? Or is that too much information, which will only stress them out? I guess I just can't figure out how to get them to value money, and we always end up fighting.--Broke Mom

Dear Mom: How can you help feeling bad when the other people's kids seem to all be getting iPods, laptops, nice cars, ski vacations, cell phones, designer clothes and every kind of lesson invented by man or beast, no matter what the hourly rate? It's enough to make any impoverished parent want to crawl under her sagging jalopy and not emerge until the kids move out. But it sounds like you are doing the best you can, and if your daughter feels angry about how things are, well, hopefully she will grow up and make choices that ensure she will not end up in a similar situation.

Your kids already know you don't make enough money. They don't need pay stubs and a weekly break down of utilities and gasoline costs to understand. Instead, figure out your own budget, and decide exactly how much you can afford to allot them for spending money. Tell them this is what they have to work with each week, period. This should eliminate some of the overspending, as well as give them some practice budgeting their own money. It also might give that teenager of yours impetus to go out and get a part-time job.

Is this fair, when her friends can just dig through their parent's wallets anytime, and fish out a 20? No, it's not, but neither is life, and neither is being a single mom, and neither is being poor. It's just the breaks. And if you can stomach it, have a talk with Dead Beat Dad. Maybe he would agree to, at the very least, match you with spending money for the kids. It's worth a try.

Dear Sydney, how do you know when to call it quits in a relationship? Supposedly, we're supposed to be dedicated through thick and thin, good and bad, fights and nonfights, but I just find the grind of my relationship so exhausting. Sometimes I just want to be alone. But then I'm afraid that all relationships are probably full of strife, and do I really want to be alone for the rest of my life? So maybe I'm just being unrealistic and love is about work, and I just need to accept that. I guess I'm just wondering how to figure out when enough is enough.--Tired Out

Dear Tired: Wouldn't it be nice if every relationship came with a stopwatch? Then you could just glance at it anytime, and it would report exactly what your chances of relationship survival are in any given moment and, when all hope is gone, it would just stop, and you would know it was time to move out. It's part of the human condition to long for what we don't have. So, naturally, being in a relationship makes you yearn for solitude. But try not to allow either your fear of being alone, or your desire to be alone, define the success rate of your relationship or be your stopwatch. Some relationships are not worth the work, and others, despite the ups, downs and struggles, give enough back in return to make them sustainable. Instead of focusing on that elusive sense of certainty that usually doesn't follow anyone--not to the alter and not to the divorce lawyer--concentrate on what your relationship does or does not offer you right now. Then sit with it for awhile. Without the details, it's impossible for me to assess the situation, but I will tell you, relationships are exhausting. Life is exhausting. That's why there's coffee.

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.