Baggage Check Live: A heckler in your mental audience

Mar 12, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

Want to read more? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Good afternoon, all. How has your week been going?

In today's Baggage, we've got an explosive response to a best friend's pregnancy news. Is there hope for the friendship? (I think so, potentially, but I may be alone!) And in L2, what happens when your Pops wants you to "side" with him in his divorce from your Mom?

Anything on your mind this week? Let's get started!

My partner is a wonderful man. We've been together almost 4 years now and I can't imagine my life without him. The one issue we have is his ex-wife. She hates me. With the fire of a thousand suns. She cheated on him throughout their marriage and now that they are divorced, she's miserable and alone. She can't stand to see him happy. Plus the fact that their teenager and I get along really well. Partner is much more patient in dealing with her. I want to kick her in the shins, not only for her past sins, but the fact that she takes her miserableness out on their kid. Oddly enough, we've never met in person. Probably a good thing. She tells the kid lies about me and my partner. The kid is a teenager and going through a lot (mental health issues, college testing and application stress) and I try not to add to that. But when the ex starts making stuff up about me and the kid's dad, I find it difficult to hold my tongue. Any suggestions on how to politely correct the lies? The kid knows the ex is full of crap, but still.

"The kid knows the ex is full of crap."

That sentence says a lot.

It sounds like you have a good relationship with this teenager, and so-- if you are certain they know that the things are lies-- do you have to correct the lies?

You don't want to get into a situation where you stoop to her level. And you also want to be very careful not only that you not add to their stress, but that you continue to serve as an example of how adults behave and respond to unreasonable, unfair people and situations.

So in the big picture, I'd focus on managing your frustration for its own sake, not taking up the crusade of unncessarily correcting ex's narrative (unless it becomes concerning that maybe the kid IS believing some of the lies.)

Develop a visual of this whole jar of Ex's drama-- and practice breathing through it (add progressive muscle relaxation, or some physical stretch, or a mantra.) Picture it as a cloud that dissipates when you can let it. Because in reality, it DOES dissipate. Your partner and this kid are not buying into it. For you to hold on to (understandable as that is!) it is only hurting you. You deserve to be free of it-- and it's not your job to keep editing her jibber-jabber. 

I’m about a decade away from retirement and at a crossroads. I’m single with no children (not how I wanted to end up but there you have it). Both my parents are dead and I don’t currently have a pet. The best I can say about my life is that I don’t hate it. I feel a strong desire to sell my condo and travel, which I’ve always wanted to do, but I’m not wealthy and the money to travel would come from the equity in my house. Otherwise, I can’t go far for long. I also grew up poor, and have no illusions that life without money is romantic. I’ve seen how badly pretending money doesn’t matter can end, especially when, like me there is no fallback in the form of inheritance or even a room in your sister’s house. But I don’t know if I can slog through another decade of nothing special. I already volunteer. I lived in different states.

I am hoping we will hear from some others about this, because I want you to be able to think outside the box. More and more, it seems, people are realizing that "retirement" doesn't have to be a black and white thing where you stop earning income. Granted, some people find this out because their financial straits force them to continue making money when they didn't think that they would have to, but the point is the same-- there are opportunities for temporary jobs, jobs that allow you to live somewhere else or travel, jobs that wouldn't feel as much like work as the one you have now. A quick search lends me to "Workers on Wheels"-- folks who take seasonal jobs while traveling around in an RV-- and granted, an RV might not be your style (in which case I ask, what's not to love?) but it's just one example of a way that work/retirement/travel could perhaps be blended, and not break the bank.

So, I think you have to open yourself up to these ideas.

What brings you the most joy now? What do you like about the volunteering? What don't you? Do you have social relationships that matter to you? You say you don't have a pet "currently," but is that something that might bring you fulfillment in the longer term?

You don't have to resign yourself to the fact that this next decade is going to be "nothing special," if you can start opening yourself up to some alternative ways to do things that bring fulfillment.

I had a third interview for a job I'd love last week, and my current boss is 100% supportive and willing to be a reference. But the phone hasn't rung, and that seems like a bad sign. This is the second time I've been brought into multiple interviews and been "ghosted" afterward. I know I have to move on, and keep applying for jobs to get out of the stagnancy I'm currently mired in, but can I just put a PSA out there to those in the position to do hiring to have enough respect for your interviewees to follow up with them, even if they're not your choice? Or at least be more honest about your timeframe.


I just cannot fathom what the excuse for this ghosting in these cases might be-- especially after multiple interviews. Not respectful, and not fair.

BUT in this current case-- I still have hope for you! It is only Tuesday morning!

Thought I would give you all an update. After 4 months of wearing the shabby jacket, this March she finally bought a new shirt-jacket (same color/style as old one but younger). And then she almost gave me a heart attack by coming in to work with a second new jacket a few days later. Not sure what happened, but I am grateful.

This is a fun update; thanks for it! Hmmm... might she have gotten wind of this chat?

Near the end of last week's chat, answering a question about finding a therapist, you said: "In general, you want to see someone who not only practices the type of therapy you want but also has direct experience seeing the types of challenges and issues you are dealing with." I think you are assuming too much knowledge on the part of the average potential client. If I'm thinking "I feel awful and have for a long time" or "My marriage is a mess and my kids hate me" or "I lost my job and I might lose my house and that high bridge is looking pretty good" or "I work in an Amazon warehouse and I wanna die!," just going to a shrink is a big step in itself, and you're not well-equipped to examine credentials, compare training modalities and interview practitioners about their particular interests. Someone who is able to do those things is probably in better shape than many others, at least in the sense that he's not in crisis. How should I know what kind of therapy I need and what I should expect? Just as you might go to a dentist and say "My tooth hurts!" without knowing the differences among an endodontist, a periodontist, an orthodontist and a prosthodontist, you might go to a therapist and say "Help!" without understanding what you need or even what the problem really is. Advice?

I hear you. But I think all the potential issues you described could be helped by a wide variety of therapists doing a wide variety of therapeutic techniques. I think where the variation comes is when people need something much more specific, like "I need couples therapy with a counselor who has a certain understanding of questions about an open marriage" or "I am a sexual assault survivor who wants trauma therapy specifically to deal with that experience" or "I have a severe dog phobia and I've been told it could be helped by systematic desensitization" or "I am an immigrant from El Salvador and need someone who understands cultural transitions I am going through." And those are the exact types of things that will be listed specifically in therapist's profiles online, so all you have to do is just recognize it when you see it. Therapists tend to talk at length and in plain language in their online profiles/advertising materials about exactly who they tend to work with and specialize in-- so luckily it is worlds away from say, blindly trying to figure out if you should see a periodontist. 

So, certainly, no one need have an encyclopedic knowledge of training modalities to find a good fit. But you should be able to see yourself in what the therapist says are the clients they tend to work with.

And of course, when there are thoughts of suicide, the important thing is to get in to see someone-- and soon.

My BFF struggled with infertility, so I can relate to what is going on. Your answer was terrific, but I also would have cautioned the writer that the BFF might just ignore her for at least a year. The reason I say that is that my BFF told me, while they were trying unsuccessfully, it was so hard to see any pregnant woman or small infant. Toddler was okay - a toddler looks more like a child. It won't be personal; it's just that it's too painful. That said, with my BFF and me, because I wasn't trying to have a kid, I was a "safe" person to talk to, and I didn't have my first kid until 2 years after she adopted. So being out of sync helped. Obviously, here, the timing can't be helped, but it would helpful if the friend had confided more in her own struggles. It may not have changed the current situation much, but if I were the BFF, knowing that who I thought was my BFF held back information that *BFF* could have related to, that would have been as hurtful as the news. So my advice is for the friend to apologize for not being forthright, with the assurance they were trying to be supportive (didn't want to burden BFF with her issues), and that she is there for her whenever she is ready. And then just leave it - give BFF space.

Thanks for this! These nuances are helpful. Though I expect we will hear from a mob of folks shortly who are aghast at the idea of LW apologizing to her friend rather than the other way around. (And for what it's worth, I most definitely think the friend needs to apologize to LW.)

You bring up a very good point, though-- part of what might be behind Best Friend's reaction is that she was also hurt that LW hadn't been sharing the process with her (even though we can't blame LW for that at all-- she was trying to be sensitive. And you could argue that given how BF responded, it wasn't an argument at all for having spoken up sooner!)


This. So let the whole thing go. Everyone who encounters the ex is probably aware of the crap, too. So live well, since that's the best revenge.


Even if there are only two finalists, your chances are only 50-50. And if there are three or more, the odds are against you being the first choice. However, it's possible they're not contacting you in case you're the second choice and they're still waiting to hear from their first choice. Try to be patient (yes, easier said than done).

That reasoning could make sense. Thanks.

I do maintain that when someone has taken the time to interview, they should be given the courtesy of a "Thank you, but we went in another direction. You can stop wondering what the Hell happened now."

Hi Dr.Andrea. I have an overly flirtatous classmate who can't get the hint that I am not interested him. He is always pestering me for my number & when I decline, he claims it's because I'm teasing him. (I'm not.) I have told him numerous times before class that we are better off as friends but he refuses to see that. My next class is on 20th so what advice can you give me to lay down the law with him & resolve this in a peaceful manner? Thank you kindly.


I am having a hard time believing that ANYONE is actually "better off" by being friends with this guy.

At some point, this is harrassment, plain and simple. You've been clear. He continues. He doesn't listen. He pesters and then insists he knows better than you.

How exactly you are most comfortable dealing with this will depend on your personality, but I urge you to be as firm and as no-nonsense (and even non-friendly) as your demeanor will allow. Something like a straight-faced "It bothers me when you act like this, and I've told you that. I'm done interacting with you until you can be respectful of my feelings."


Hi Dr. Bonior, I struggle with perfectionism both at work and outside of it - at work, when I had a chance to take on more responsibility it ended up giving me crazy anxiety because I felt responsible for the whole project going smoothly (so I would wake up every morning nervous that something had gone off timeline overnight), and at home, I often feel guilty for not doing enough to remember friends' birthdays or providing training & enrichment for the dog. I definitely also put off trying to have children b/c financial and career circumstances never seemed right, but now I'm stressing out that the optimal window for fertility & parenting energy has passed. Do you have any suggestions for overcoming perfectionism both in the short-term and long-term? Thanks!

The good news is, the short-term solutions add up to the long-term, once you practice them.

To me, it's about distancing this perfectionistic voice from being seen as being truthful. You've got to work at labeling it as an unreliable narrator, a heckler in your mental audience, an itch that you can breathe through and let pass. In the case of the social/home stuff, you're feeling guilty because you're letting this Perfectionistic Voice be seen as some arbiter of truth and justice, some valid yardstick of what kind of friend you are. At work you're feeling anxious because some part of you is allowing Perfectionistic Voice to be seen as truth-- that you alone are responsible for the project going perfectly. Just like you are letting Perfectionistic Voice tell you that there is some sort of Perfect Window for having a baby and the second it has passed, all is lost.

There is a lot of nuance to these techniques that I obviously can't get into here, but I think that's the mindset to start working towards. A therapist who has training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help.

They might still be interviewing other candidates and checking referrals or HR could be bogged down. It can take a while to get all of the paperwork processed even after you've been selected especially if multiple departments are involved. After my final interview with my current employer it still took them 3-4 weeks to get the offer letter to me.

Good to know!

Wow-- 3-4 weeks. So was it radio silence during that time, or did they give you a realistic timeline as a heads-up?

This is a Michelle Obama moment - when they go low, we go high. You are in the fortunate position of knowing the kids (and no doubt others) are making up their own mind. You say your partner is more patient in dealing with her - can you reframe it as shrug 'upsetting but no-one's buying it'. or even just pity her. The inside of head must be very lonely and sad - I'm going high.

Thank you!

OMG, I love this!

Glad it resonated... it's one of my favorites as well.

(Stop feeding that dude punchlines (or drinks), and just move on with your act! It's you who gets to be on stage!)

Yeah - I don't see why you want to be friends with him! Um - no means no ... . You do need to be firm with him: 'I will never give you my number. You need to hear that and stop asking. If you can't do that I won't interact with you.' You then need to follow up and keep that boundary. I realize this could be awkward in class - but you can be cordial until he pressures you and then you can say 'we're done - gotta go' tr just 'gotta go' and literally move away from him and open a book/talk to someone else.


Someone who is trying to steamroll all over our feelings in a disrespectful way doesn't deserve us to worry about sugarcoating things for the sake of their feelings.

This may be a case of any interaction no matter how minor may give him hope he will eventually wear you down into going out with him. I had to completely ignore someone because any acknowledgement (negative or positive) gave him hope and would renew efforts to go out with me.

Ugh. Words to the wise. Thanks.

I'm planning my escape from an 18-year relationship - getting all my ducks in a row. Just need to find a place to live in new city and a new job. However, I'm very, very tired and not the least bit interested in going on job interviews and faking enthusiasm. Frankly, I would love to have a break from working for a month or two. Just to recharge and refresh my outlook on life. Then I realize I must have a job in order to find a new place to live, and I become sad and overwhelmed and feel like I shall always be stuck and never get away from here. Thoughts? Suggestions? For the record, staying in the relationship is not an option any longer. Do landlords rent to people who work for temp agencies? Or have enough cash to cover many months of rent?

I am hoping someone else can chime in about the logistics of trying to find a new place while having a temp job or cash.

Because I want to focus on this: KEEP GOING. You are taking a huge, brave step that seems entirely necessary and important. Do not let the logistical pieces paralyze you. You have started the process, getting your ducks in a row, and the momentum is on your side. One step at a time.

Would something like a long-term AirBnB be possible in the meantime while you search?

Reading Ask A Manager - there is no timeline for hearing about job. It can no time or forever. That's part of what's so difficult.

Man, how I would hate to be on the "forever" end of the spectrum!

for my current government job it took months to hear back that I was hired. Sometimes that's just how long the process is (background checks, approvals, etc. etc).

Really helpful to have these data points. Thanks.

Just an idea but I think the Peace Corps takes people of all ages. My mom was a volunteer right after college and got to travel around while she was in the country she was volunteering in and that's how she met my dad.

Ooh, food for thought!

Or, to paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, "She's just not worth it"


My father died last week after a long, self-inflicted illness. To others, he was charming. To me, he was a bully and control freak. I'm not at sad that he's dead, only that he didn't die sooner. But the extended family already wants to know how I'm coping. "Fine," doesn't seem to cut it. But I can't say I detested him and I'm glad he's dead to them. What can I say that won't leave me feeling like a hypocrite?

This is your time, and your process, and your relationship to come to terms with.

You don't have to spend mental energy calibrating your answer to make it sound correct to someone else.

Of course, if they are grieving themselves, then you want to be respectful of that. But I see nothing wrong with giving yourself permission to say, "I am doing okay. Thanks for asking. How are you doing?"

My heart goes out to you-- even if this isn't the traditional grieving process.

Um - I have a crowd of hecklers, all with different voices. Sometimes I think they want to put on a play and I'm a marionette.

Okay, this really made me laugh! But I know it is serious underneath.

And you are definitely not alone. But it can be overcome. Letting our negative thoughts have power over us (and become "sticky") is one of the most common mental traps of anxiety disorders and depression. And I am working on creating a bigger tool for people to use to get power back and cut the puppet strings-- but I'm not quite allowed to announce that yet!

How hard is it to contact a candidate and give even a loose timeline. Or even an apology that they’re going to have to get back to you at some point but not now. If you truly want the candidate, wouldn’t you want to keep them apprised. And for the gods sake, if you don’t want a candidate cut them loose and let them move to the next opportunity. There is no reason to keep someone dangling.

I couldn't agree more.

Unfortunately, I am nobody's hiring manager.

To the OP: I am in your same position. My husband's ex hates me, the kids know she hates me, and while I don't know whether the ex tells the kids lies about me, she probably tells them lies about their dad. He is way more patient than I think he should be, but he just acknowledges that she's acting based on her own skewed version of reality. The kids are teenagers; the older one has stuck by her side but the younger one knows she's full of crap. It is hard to squash those feelings of wanting to kick the ex in the shins, so I totally feel you. What helps me is thinking about how miserable she must be as a person if she feels the need to do and say these things, so her actions are all on her. And, of all the things to think about in the world, why should I give her real estate in my brain? Also, once the kids leave home, they will be away from her spell, and with that distance, they will be able to acknowledge that she's full of crap and that they no longer have to put up with it. Hang in there, OP!

I love all this-- except that you're going through it, of course.

Very helpful. Thanks.

Look him dead in the eye and say something like. "No means no. Stop treating me like you're a stalker, or I will have to start treating you like you're a stalker." If he bugs you again, stop communicating with him 100% and notify appropriate authorities (school, work, police) and log every interaction you have. That behavior is inappropriate and *might* lead to harm.

Another vote for being more direct and taking this seriously.

Hope you're out there, OP!

PLEASE don't feel like you have to be "nice" or "polite" with this guy. He is not a nice person. Many of these situations can turn very scary very quickly. I highly recommend "The Gift of Fear" to by Gavin de Becker to anyone (especially women, who seem less likely to feel comfortable with the idea that "no" is a complete sentence).


I agree that this could really escalate-- and OP owes him nothing.

'Oh you know - about what I'd expect given the circumstance, and you?' They can interpret the circumstances any way they like - you know what they are.

OOh that is good!

Me again. Thanks for the vote of confidence! Airbnb is not something that I considered, so thank you. I suppose a hotel might work, too. Was just trying to move the one time, but it might be worth it to put everything in storage and stay in a temporary home. I guess if I break it down into chunks (which is what I've been doing up to this point), then it seems more manageable.

Yes! Totally one step at a time.

Glad you are here today. Hoping we will hear from some others who have been there!

Hi Dr. Bonoir, Love these chats! My question is how to overcome my own insecurity. I've been dating an amazing guy for about 9 months now. Everything is great, he's great, makes me feel great, etc. etc. However, sometimes I find myself feeling really upset about his ex. They dated and lived together for 4 years and basically broke up because they weren't a great match. We started dating about 8 months after they broke up. He and his ex still talk from time to time, nothing substantive, usually just sending each other funny things on the internet. Basically, I still find myself feeling intimidated by their long history together. They attended all of his friends' weddings for instance and sometimes when we all hang out she comes up (not in a big way, just my bf saying something like "oh yeah i went with my ex to that"). Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by their history together and I don't know how to overcome these feelings. I would talk to him about it but its not like he can go back in time and change things, so how can I overcome my jealousy of their past together?

His path in life, including being with his ex, was what brought him to you.


His having been with his ex, eventually brought him to you.

Not only does that mean that their breakup (and incompatibility) was what created his being available in the first place (and an important reminder that they obviously were not meant to last-- they are by definition BROKEN UP)--- but I think you have to reckon with the fact that not only can you not change the past, but it's time to work on not wanting to. He is the person he is because of the experiences he had with his ex. It is not a Battle of The Girlfriends Comparison or a "Who Wore It Better?" showdown about who's the better fit with your boyfriend.

Because you are. You are the better fit. You are the one with him now.

Of course, it's human to be intimidated by that history. But every day he chooses to be with you, he chooses to be with you. If that works for him, don't second-guess it. When you find yourself getting jealous or overwhelmed by what he might have had with her in the past, reframe it. Label it as your Anxious Voice that has no bearing in reality, or even better yet-- draw a picture that represents his life, the role she has had in it, and how that does not have to take anything away from what you have with him now. Seriously. Get creative here. Venn diagram, "family" portrait-- whatever helps you reconceptualize this.

I've had this happen to me--being asked out multiple times despite firm and consistent nos. Finally, I said to him, "How can I be clearer?" He said, "You're pretty clear. I just keep hoping you'll change your mind." So frustrating! So I told him I wasn't going to change my mind--I already knew enough about him to know i didn't want to date him. He backed off, mostly. To be fair, he didn't completely end it until I forwarded one of his emails to his supervisor, asking her to please tell her employee to stop harassing me. (And then she told me I had misunderstood him.) It's a big problem in our society. Gavin deBecker addresses it in "The Gift of Fear."


And I agree-- our society has emboldened this narrative, the idea that persistence will pay off, that a woman is sometimes a prize to be won by the guy who tries the hardest.


I am sorry for what you went through.

My mother, who's been dead nearly 30 years, devoted her life to tearing me down and trying to make me feel worthless. I've largely overcome it, but once in a while still hear that little voice in my head, and need to tell it to "Shoo, scram, vamoose!"

Oh, so true. Glad you are handling it in a way that works for you.

Sometimes that heckler indeed has a very familiar voice.

I'm a 67-year old woman, married, who just retired after 40+ years as a litigator. The work , while not always a happy experience (but not optional as I was our family's breadwinner), occupied a HUGE space in my life. Its absence leaves an enormous hole that I can't fill up with taking classes, volunteering here and there, etc. Plus. We just moved to a quasi-rural area, where I can't ealk out my front door to find shops, coffee, etc. Being busy kept my depression at bay (I've been working with a good therapist for decades). Any suggestions for me? I find myself increasingly turning into a couch potato, unable to motivate myself to get out of the door.

So you "just retired" and you "just moved." I can't help but wonder if this is all still new enough that it's too early to tell what might work and what might not.

For instance, might it be premature to assume that you can't fill up that work hole with other things? What if you found the right kind of social outlets, the right kind of volunteering, the right kind of new interests? Could it be that your legal expertise could provide some volunteer opportunities that are particularly meaningful and interesting?

That said, I do think it's possible that the quasi-rural area isn't an ideal fit for you. So, I would explore with your husband the idea of what happens if it turns out not to get better-- knowing that there are other options out there (or that a move is not off the table, for instance), may help you feel less trapped and hopeless.

In the meantime, make a plan each day. Use some of those motivational tools from a recent chat. Take small steps to get yourself out and about, getting even minor things done during the day, opening yourself up in small but consistent ways. View this time as an opportunity to explore and listen to yourself about what you may need. And if you are still in therapy, make it a focus and a goal there too.

Good luck.

My only relationship was in high school and wasn’t very healthy (I’m 35). After that I needed to be single, went through some tough years (I’m a recovering alcoholic), and I got used to/good at being single. I finally started dating about a year ago using apps, and I’ve gone out with about 30 men and chatted with hundreds of others. Most only get one date, and a small handful made it to about 4 dates. When men ask what I’m looking for, I say “someone who adds to my life without being a pain in the ass.” I’m very happy with my life right now, I’m not on the hunt for a relationship (not having kids and marriage isn’t for me), but if one happens, I won’t be mad about it. But I’m starting to wonder whether my approach to dating is just me being afraid of getting close to someone and getting hurt. Am I fooling myself that I’m having fun with recreational dating and don’t care whether I end up with a relationship? And does this general approach, and how I frame it to men when they ask, cut off the possibility of stumbling upon something great in the process? And am I doing it to avoid getting it hurt? After a year of thinking I knew what I was looking for, I’ve been starting to think I’ve been lying to myself all along.

Well, it is good that you are asking these questions. But I also must admit that what I hear from women of the dating scene out there suggests that it is quite possible that you just haven't happened to meet someone good yet, that it's not any kind of bias on your part at all.

But I'd start there-- were there any guys in particular out of those 30 that you feel like maybe you should have given more of a chance? That you actively liked, but felt something getting in the way of? Could you feel yourself being unduly guarded at times? Do you feel like you gave them a fair shot?

And when you say you are very happy with your life right now-- well, is there truly a reason to doubt it? What do you mean by happy? These are the areas to explore. I think it could be possible that you are buying into the narrative that you "should" want a relationship and therefore if you are seemingly happy single, then it must mean that you are avoiding something or closing yourself off.

But of course I also think it's possible that you could indeed be keeping yourself from opening up to possibilities, because you're scared of being vulnerable.

Keep thinking, keep observing, keep experiencing. I am guessing that since you are willing to be open to the answers, they will come in time. And a therapist might help the process if you were interested in going that route.

Thanks, everyone. It's nice (I guess?) to know that other people are going through the same thing. Part of my frustration is seeing how hard she tries to make the kid and my partner as miserable as she is. I've taken the high road to this point and I will try to do so for the next two years (until the kid is 18). But the venting and knowing I'm not alone has been helpful.

Yes-- it sort of stinks that this is such a common situation, but I am glad it is helpful that you have commiserators out there. You are not alone, indeed.

And the more you can barricade yourself against her actually making you miserable, then the less chance she has of achieving her goal.

"The Graduate."

Yup, and here we are more than half a century (gasp!) later.....

(Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?)

For what it's worth, when my ex-wife and I were struggling with infertility, I found it helpful (and hopeful) to hear about others who were struggling with it as well. Maybe it was "misery loves company" or maybe seeing others overcome the issue gave me hope that we would too (we did, eventually). So LW1's instinct to withhold information, while guided by good intentions, may have been detrimental. The friend now feels that LW1 got pregnant "easily" and this sets up an "us v. them" dynamic. Had the LW shared her own struggles, the friend might have felt that they were on the same side. But hopefully it's not too late to do that. Also, infertility/assisted reproduction is still such a taboo topic (for some reason). The friend may not realize how common it is, how good our options have gotten, and that while difficult at the moment, there is hope. The LW shouldn't shy away from discussing her struggles.

Thanks for this. It is helpful to hear from someone who's been there, and I really do think that a lack of communication-- even if understandable-- could have had a hand in making it worse.

Just about every rom-com I can think of in the past 30 years has been about the guy persistently chasing the non-interested girl, and finally she realizes he is what she really wanted all along. Yes, there are people who are truly stalkers, but I believe most guys are not evil. Not saying the writer needs to put up with it, but perhaps understand what's driving him will help her find how to make it stop.

True, but it shouldn't have to be on her to develop a Decoder Ring into the dude's motivations. When she tells him to stop, he should stop. The onus shouldn't be on her to have to deal with any further complications.

Couldn't agree more about that screwed-up rom-com narrative.

OP - why did you move to a semi-rural area? Was that what you wanted? I only ask because my brother did that, move to a community that his wife had wanted to move to, and then realized it was absolutely the wrong place for him.

Good question. Thanks.

And OP, it's okay if it's not the right fit-- these things don't have to be permanent!

66 year old man. Suffered with anxiety all my life. For most of that time, it was health anxiety. Had to stay overnight in a hospital with very high fever when I was three. Was told by Mom and Dad I would be OK and then they had to leave when visiting hours were over (mid 50's), a very NOT OK thing for a 3 year old to have happen. To this day I still fear hearing "you will be ok". Eventually abused alcohol but have been in recovery for 21 years. About 15 years ago, without any bad event happening, claustrophobia got added to my anxiety list. And then about five years ago, bill paying, making sure any/all bills were paid early. Always been a good and early bill payer but it suddenly turned toward a seeming neurosis. Then two years ago my 90 year old dad passed away and all the above mentioned anxiety as gone from bad to horrid. No idea why or if there even is a connection to losing my dad. Done lots of counseling. Read every anxiety book written. Meditation, yoga. Medication (helps a little). Struggle with CBT as it seems to be just a path to "if you're afraid of getting on an elevator, just get on an elevator and ride it out". Has always seemed more like torture than therapy. Thoughts??

I am sorry for all your struggles-- you've endured quite a lot-- and yet, you also have endured quite a lot.

There is a strength there that I am not sure you are recognizing in yourself.

I do think what you describe, though, can be a weakness of traditional CBT (though the exposure concept in the form of phobias-- like the technique of systematic desensitization-- does really help a lot of people.)

But what you are struggling with is the intrusive, anxious thoughts, and at the risk of offering you just one more suggestion that might feel like overkill, have you considered trying an ACT therapist (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)? That's the type of therapy that involves relating differently to your thoughts, using some of the techniques I've brought up in here.

A good primer for it is "The Happiness Trap" (no kickback here.)

Losing a parent-- at any age-- can be destabilizing, and so it makes sense that it shook your foundation and made your anxiety worse. But I do think there is still help out there for you.

The nicest way doesn't work out with these guys. I tried it with a guy that was in my class at university and even if I gave him no hint that I was interested, just being friendly was too much. I was done being friendly once he told me he was glad the guy I was dating was hit by a car and almost died because he now had a chance to be with me. I screamed at him that he was a sociopath and he needed to stay away from me and never talked to me ever again. Funny enough, I started flirting with a really nice guy at university to keep that freak away and it worked out better than expected, I'm with M. Nice Guy for more than 10 years now!

Now there was an ending I wasn't anticipating!

I do want to believe (have to believe? If I want to sleep at night, raising three children?) that most guys will take the reasonable hint even if it's nice. But that's clearly not the case here. OP's situation involves one of these dunderheads that demands spelling it out more firmly and clearly.


My Ex and I broke up because 'the whole was not greater than the sum of the two parts'. We have both found people with whom we're a much better couple. We all get on. In fact, I'm godmother to their daughter and my husband and I have stayed with them. Now, I met my husband years after ex and I lived together. I understand that their shared history is intimidating but from my end, neither of us have at any time considered getting back together. Funnily enough, we've both married people with mental health issues and we've had whole conversations surrounding 'how to be a spouse with someone who has a mental illness'. My husband and his wife bonded over this too. It's a wild and crazy world - you never know where it's going to lead!

I really love this.

Thank you.

It's so true-- it's all about the whole, versus the individual parts.

Maybe look at why does the existence of this ex actually bother you. Obviously your partner wasn't born the day you met. Your partner has friends, co-workers, family, previous romantic interests, etc., just like you (and I and everyone else) has. Maybe look for what is actually bothering you and work on that. Is it that you feel like she has a trait about which you feel lacking ("she's a good dancer and I'm not and he loves to dance and I'm afraid he will want someone who is a dancer") or does he do something that makes you uncomfortable ("he sent her a puppy picture on valentines day in the morning and didn't send me anything until the night, I felt like he was thinking of her instead of me")? Then address that.

Helpful things to think about; thanks.

Dr. Bonior, that is not at all a long time not hearing a decision--or even an update--for a high-level position. It can take more than that just to get the finalists in for interviews because you're scheduling around more complex calendars. If the candidate met with multiple people/committees, someone has to collect and summarize feedback from them all. There are references to check, again from people likely to have their own complex calendars. For executive positions, 'months' is more likely than 'weeks' from interviews to decision and, no, there's not usually a stream of communications in between.

This is quite eye-opening for me! I appreciate it.

But the person would or would not get a heads-up on how long to expect to wait, after finishing the final interview?

That's what I'm unclear on. The heads-up (or lack thereof) seems to make all the mental difference.

Did you have any outside interests during your working life, to which you now have more time to devote? If not, what about volunteering your legal skills locally?

Food for thought.

It won't just last until the kid is 18. The kid (and the kid's mom) is forever. If the kid is 16, though, and says something about their mom saying something ridiculous, you might think of a way to say something like, "I'm so sorry she says such things to you, I wish you didn't have to endure this." or "I don't know why she is like that." Honest, no criticism of the ex-wife, and supportive of the kid. And if the kid is having mental health issues, maybe make sure the kid has therapy, and gets to sleep in as much as possible. Good luck.

Some good things to think about here!

I do think that "I don't know why she is like that" has to be delivered in a particular way in order to not sound critical. But the point is well taken.

Teenage kids tend to have a short range view of things. But if you can keep to the high road when they hit late 20ish I hope they can look back with a clear view and see the truth. The ex-wife is poisoning the well water and it will come back to bite her. It is sad she is such an unhappy person. I hope the kid(s) can develop into well adjusted happy adults.

I hope so too.

You had the third interview A WEEK AGO. I'll assume it's a job with a good amount of responsibility considering the multiple interviews with, again I assume, different people at the company. Even if you're now their first choice, it's only after they come to that decision that a lot of the time-consuming work starts--e.g., checking references, in-house meetings about what the offer should be... It's also possible that they offered the job to someone else who is now reasonably taking a little time to decide. If that person passes, you might be next up. If it goes longer than a few weeks, yes, check back in but with a polite offer to answer any additional questions or provide any additional material.

Another reality check.

We have hopes for you still getting this job, OP!

And unfortunately it's the plot of many rom coms / books - and classics / and movies . Quite a few women feel that's the need to play hard to get, just confusing the issue.

It can get pretty messy, for sure.

Something else to consider: if/when you establish your reasonable boundaries and things get "awkward," that's not you making things awkward. That's on him. In fact, he's the one making things awkward RIGHT NOW. Stop carrying that for him.

Brilliant. Thanks.

CBT can so feel like torture- I went through it. Even jokingly (partly) called my exposures "torture." Frankly, even acknowledging that helped a little. And I worked with my therapists to tone down the exposures so taht it went step by step instead of all at once (ride the elevator one floor up and down, then two, etc... instead of starting at 20). So, if that's the only therapy you can find- there are ways to make it less torture and more appealing!

Yup, systematic desensitization should be systematic-- and gradual! No re-traumatization (or "flooding" necessary!)

I am glad you got it to work for you.

But to emphasize, exposure therapy is going to be best for people who have BEHAVIORAL things they need to work on changing-- like stopping avoiding feared situations or stimuli.

Sometimes in adulthood, a kid will "divorce" a toxic parent.

Very true. I've seen it many times!

I found this article a while ago about teaching conversational English in Europe for a short stint. It sounded like a great opportunity to reset, meet people and have an adventure. Good luck!

These are the exact kind of things I was hoping to unearth. Thank you!

If you have never met in person, what's the venue through which you are hearing the ex's lies? Any way you can turn that volume down (muting her on facebook, etc)? If your husband is the main conduit of the information, consider that he might have his own reasons for keeping the two of you in conflict (it might make him feel desired, for instance). If that's the case, maybe you can ask him to talk to you less about her!

I was curious about this too.

My guess is that kid is mentioning them in passing, or husband is too- which makes your latter point a particularly interesting one. Thanks.

Also consider whether you have been clear in your message to him. It sounds like you told him "we'd be better off as friends". But you don't really want him as a friend; you want him to stop asking you for contact information.

Right. Thanks.

(I am not at all blaming the victim here, but agreeing that "friends" may be far too generous to grant him.)

It's also possible that some of the places you've interviewed with have so many candidates for each opening that they've deliberately kept a lot of them waiting in the hope that they'll have a narrower field to select from in the end. It's not nice, but it's how some places operate.



Reason 4,768 I don't work in a large office. (Not that they'd have me.)

Not so helpful right now, but in the future, when they ask if you have any questions at the end of an interview, you can always ask when they expect to make a decision, and if they ask why you can frame it as you being really interested in the position, and not wanting to rush to accept another offer if this one is a possibility.

Good point!

It's that time again.

And a special private shout-out to someone who right at this very moment is doing the very hard but very right thing-- I am so proud and in awe of you.

Thank you all so much for being here. I can't wait to see you next week, already. In the meantime, be well, find me on Facebook, and see you in the comments!

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Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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