Sexy Nina and adolescent problems

Readers respond to David Thomson's column on "24" and Cary Tennis' advice in "Since You Asked" to a woman whose boyfriend's kids don't like her.

By Salon Staff

Published March 14, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Read "Wondering About Nina."

I just wanted to tell Dave Thomson that he's not the ONLY person watching "24." It's become an addiction for me -- one of only two shows I can't stand to miss. (The other is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which may in itself say something about the sheer onscreen presence of Nina as played by Sarah Clarke.) I don't know WHY this is great television, but I know it IS. And Nina is a big part of its charm, along with the wife and daughter, taking "24" and its women way beyond mere fem-jep clichés. Plus Kiefer Sutherland is ALMOST as cute as his father.

But I do keep wondering when they're all going to get to sleep. There should be an episode where everybody naps. I'm so hooked I'd watch it.

-- Lauren Walker

David Thomson got three very important points wrong:

First he claimed that the show was bumped and bounced around. This is untrue. The show has ALWAYS been on Tuesday at 9 since its start. Of course it used to have an encore showing on Fridays, but that stopped about a month ago. There also have been encore showings on the F/X network on Sunday and Monday nights.

Second, the author stated that Nina has been wearing the same dark outfit. Not true again. For the first seven episodes she wore a dark blue blouse, which was actually her own shirt since there wasn't enough time for wardrobe as she started shooting right after she got cast. In, like, episode 7 or 8 we got to see her change out of the shirt into a new shirt, a wonderful scene as we got to see her just in a bra. If the author is such a fan of this sexy beauty, you would think he'd remember this scene.

Third, he is not the only one watching the show. There are many, many people on the "24" forum communicating and speculating about the show, myself included. (The forum is actually where I was referred to this article.) OK, so there. I said my 2 cents and I hope the author will realize the errors in his article.

-- Scott M. Tracy

Read "Since You Asked"

I am writing in response to some advice Cary Tennis gave to On the Outside, who did not get along with her boyfriend's children, in particular the part where you suggested that it was part and parcel of dating a recently divorced father and that she needed to be prepared for the daughters to be her boyfriend's primary responsibility. I disagree, not as a divorced parent, not as someone who has dated divorced parents, but as the child whose divorced parents dated and eventually married.

My parents took very different approaches to exposing my brother and me to their dating lives. My mother only introduced us to men with whom she was "getting serious." My father introduced us to every woman he took out to dinner. My mother was afraid that if we witnessed the more casual side of dating in her life, it would be upsetting or destabilizing. My father felt that it was a part of life that children needed to see and to grow to understand and accept. Both strategies worked. Was there turbulence? Yes. Was there conflict? Yes. But it worked not because my parents decided to place my brother and me, our moods and whims and fantasies, above their relationships (they didn't), but because of their ability to listen, empathize, and stand up for their needs as adults.

When I could not get along with the man my mother would later marry (and to whom she is still married), she listened, offered suggestions, then made sure I understood how much she loved me and how his leaving the scene was not an option. I had to grow up. Equally important was the attitude my parents had toward each other's dating life.

Behind the extreme attitudes in the 12- and 16-year-old girls, there is probably a bitter, jealous or critical ex-wife. I have taken a very long time to get to a very simple point. If her boyfriend succumbs to the 16-year-old's childish and selfish ultimatums, she should leave him, because he is weak and undeserving (not because she is done with "selfless service to the young"). In doing so, he would be harming someone who loves him very much and also his daughters, by not requiring them to mature, to work at relationships, to face life's unpleasant events, and to acknowledge that they are not the only people in the world who have needs. Of course, if he is willing to do that, she should be ready with patience, understanding, resilience and love -- for everyone involved, whatever their behavior.

-- Been there, Done That, and I'm Fine

Cary Tennis' advice to the mid-40s woman regarding her boyfriend's teen daughters was dead on. I have worked for family law attorneys and nothing is deadlier to a long-term relationship (let alone marriage) than a 16-year-old girl who decides she doesn't like the new wife. This woman needs to either accept that she will be a pariah until those girls are out of his house or find another guy without teenagers at home.

-- Joanna

Your advice to On the Outside was way off-base. I don't know why I'm telling you this, only because I can't stop thinking about it for some reason. The problem is, you focused on the woman rather than the dad, who, although he sounds good-hearted, needs to stand up and be a man. If the woman leaves, what then for him?

These two little spoiled brats need either a good slap or a stern talking to. They should just dictate their father's life? After all, they are not 5 years old. They are 12 and 16. They ostensibly have their own lives too: friends, cheerleading, school, parties, whatever. They are going to be away from their father more and more as the next few years go on, as they develop their own lives. What's Dad supposed to do on Friday night when one daughter is at the rollerskating rink and the other is making out with some boy with 10 piercings in some basement somewhere -- sit around with his thumb up his butt? What should he do when the girls are with their mother? Be completely alone?

I think these girls need to be made aware of one very important point: Just as they need friends (and boyfriends) so does their dad. Appealing to their dad's sense of loneliness may help these girls develop some sense of empathy, which they seem to need.

I understand your point about the divorce being hard for them; I was a young teen when my parents divorced, too. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest!

-- Michele

I take issue with your response to the hapless "On the Outside", who wrote to you for your opinion on her relationship with her boyfriend and his angry teenage daughters. Your inexperience with this complex kind of relationship is clear. As the committed, well-appreciated girlfriend of a man with two grade-school-age daughters, I believe I can educate you on a few points.

/If I were one of those girls, I wouldn't like you, /

Okay: why? Do you know this woman? Is there something in her writing style that tells you that she's not the kind of person a middle-schooler or high-school junior would like? Or are you rejecting her likability on general principle, perhaps after having seen "Stepmom" a few too many times?

I can assume that you've never been an adolescent girl, or a divorced woman searching for respect from the man she loves. If you're an expert on neither of these perspectives, I doubt you have the right to make the assumption above -- which was, incidentally, the first line of your response to this poor woman.

/If I were in the relationship that you describe ... and if I truly loved him and trusted him, I would accept the limitations on our time together for the next six years or so./

SIX YEARS? This woman is in her forties. These girls are in the formative years of their relationship with their father. Six years are significant, to everybody involved here. If "Outside" were to sacrifice six years of her life for this reason, it could send any or all of the following messages, to everyone involved:

1) This woman does not deserve a full, committed relationship with the man she loves. 2) This man has the right - perhaps the obligation -to honor his daughters' wishes and whims over his own happiness, and that of the woman he loves. 3) All adult relationships are subject to the ultimate approval of any and all children of those adults.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be responsible for even having suggested that any of the above is true.

/if the opportunity to serve these girls in ways they will never acknowledge or repay intrigues you, if you could be there for their dad and, by not being there, be there for them, perhaps it is something you should undertake, just because you can do something good for the world. /

"By not being there, be there for them." ... Right. I think I follow. The only way this woman can contribute anything to the lives of these angry children is by staying the hell away from them. In doing so, she'd be little more than a ghost, an afterthought. You don't suspect that her absence itself would be a presence? You don't understand that the girls would know this woman was still in their father's life, and continue to resent her, despite her invisibility? You don't see that they would never get to see their father as a whole, real person, because of his lover's absence? You don't see the distance this would create between father and daughters? You don't, apparently. How sad.

/you'll probably be happier, and less trouble to the world, if you find a guy who's not raising children./

Of all of the plum lines in your response, this one's my favorite. Not only must this woman expect to be disliked; not only is she restricted to no more than 26 weeks a year with her lover; not only is she supposed to endure six years of what sounds very much like parole; she is currently causing "trouble to the world." You know, if I were this poor woman, I'd read your response, log off, pick a nice high bridge, and jump. Really, if you're that much "trouble to the world", what's left for you?

I'd like you to know something. Those of us who care for -- and even come to love -- the children of our partners, are due some credit. We do things for which we are never thanked. We create safe places in the lives of children whose faith in adults has been broken. We make new relationships possible for these children and their parents, many of whom have lost each other in the bitterness of divorce. And we wait. We wait to be recognized, to be treated both as equals and as adults with authoritative rights in our own homes. We wait out the children's silences, their parents' stupid battles and punitive delays. We wait, and we endure the culture's stereotypes of wicked stepmothers and manipulative trophy spouses. No one waits better than we do. Saddest of all, the simple gratitude for which many of us wait never really comes.

I'm the exception to this rule; my boyfriend honored his relationship with me from my first meetings with his daughters. Incredibly, they welcomed me into their lives right away, and they continue to seek out my company and advice. My guy and his children are unusually generous and fair-minded. Most people in my position have to work tirelessly -- and yes, invisibly -- for years, before their partnership with the parent is honored, before they are accepted by the children. I'm writing to you because it's attitudes like yours that keep these people cowed, apologetic, self-defeating and sad.

Your message to "Outside" implies that she is someone who is best hidden away, a person who could be doing more for the world than she is doing now. I contend that, to the contrary, she is doing plenty of good in the world. She is fighting for the right to do the one thing that most people don't want to do: the day-to-day work of creating a blended family.

"Outside" deserves a brighter view than the one you've offered her, Cary. Shame on you.

-- Anne, San Francisco

I was the 12-year-old girl who did not want her daddy to remarry. He and I lived together alone, and he doted on me. Not only did she take his time away from me, but her stay-at-home presence in the house dug deeply into my alone time. I was pretty much told that he wanted this to be happy and it in no way affected his love for me -- that's that.

I did all the usual things: resentment, sass, refusal to observe her authority and the general shooting of eye daggers. To her credit, she laid low and started her life and family with my dad and let him and my mom hash out the details of my life. Today? She is in most ways a better role model to me than my own mom (sorry, mom), and my beloved half-sisters are my best friends. Yeah, it took a while, but if my dad had held off on his future for six years to coddle me, I would have lost some valuable relationships and lessons about life, and I imagine I would've turned out way more spoiled than I already am!

-- J.

Cary Tennis chimes in: The strangest thing happened on the way to writing this bit. My original response was remarkably similar to that of some of today's letter writers. Here it is, from my notes: "This is war. Of course they'll grow out of it, in the sense that even if they still don't like you, they'll learn to be polite. I wouldn't give up on the relationship just because of the kids. Just tell them that you don't care whether they like you or not, and leave it at that. See if they don't maybe come around when they see they can't scare you, that you don't care what they think."

Can you believe that? How did I get from that tough-minded stance to the "kids come first" response that was published? Since I rarely go with my first response, I continued to think about it and revise, and the more I did, the more the high-minded principle sounded better than my gut reaction.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I do not know, but I believe it is very much a writerly thing. The beautiful exerts a greater attraction to the mind than the mundane. High principles are so appealing. And they have their place. If I could do it over again I'd say what is needed here is a blend of the high-minded and the practical. So: I agree with everybody.

Salon Staff

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