Baggage Check Live with Lori Gottlieb

Jun 11, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be 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.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

For this chat, Dr. Andrea is joined by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, the New York Times bestselling author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” which is being adapted as a television series with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic‘s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column.

Waiting for the chat to go live? Read Baggage Check columns.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Welcome, all!

I am so happy to see you here today. It's quite the special chat — at 1:30 we will welcome Lori Gottlieb, therapist and author of "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone," which is tearing up the best-seller charts the way Buster tears up a tennis ball. (I finished the book the other day, and the attention is quite well-deserved!) Lori is also a therapist and advice columnist, so in addition to talking to her about her marvelous book, you can pose your questions to her as well — it's like a 2-for-1 today.

I know that today also marks the beginning of the Post's infernal registration wall (their timing was impeccable, no?) so I'm prepared for some reactions about that. But it makes us even more grateful that you are here.

Speaking of which, the warmest "Welcome Back" to Rachel! Briana did a fabulous job of filling in last week, but I know we all missed Rachel as she was — I believe I am allowed to say this — ringing in married life!

So — today's Baggage. I see some comments on it already. We've got a dude who is all about looks when it comes to dating — and he is disgruntled, but perhaps not as much as his friend who has to hear him complain. And in L2, we've got a daughter home from college who has changed. Is it normal, is it concerning — or something in between? And what's a Mom to do?

Let's go!

Thank you Andrea for the warm welcome back. I'm very excited to be back for our chat with Lori today. I also read her book and I highly recommend it! 

Mom needs to ask herself if she is expecting her daughter to be the same girl or if she's given her room to grow and change and accept that different person. The May-Aug between my freshman and sophomore years of college were miserable, and in the 20+ years since then I've never been under my parents' roof for more than 4 days at a time due to their expectation that things revert to their "normal." For example, bed time, set meal times, constant questions about where I was going, what I was doing, who I was seeing, why was I doing X and not Y. There was zero acknowledgement that I was a responsible adult who had managed to get up, eat when hungry, go to class, go to work study, go to activities, do homework, do laundry, shop for necessities, etc. and get a 4.0 all without one bit of parental nagging.

It's really helpful to have this perspective, and I think it's an excellent point for the parents to think about. We hear so much about helicopter parenting these days in general, but less about making the adjustment to your "child" becoming a grown, independent adult — sometimes over what seems like a few short months-- and how that affects their physical presence. I think even in the best-case scenario it takes a little adjustment.

I'm an unattractive woman in the online dating world, and I don't want to date him either. I'm sure that even if LW1 started messaging less beautiful women, they would also reject him for either his misogyny or his shallowness. BTW, try to keep your LW away from high schools, colleges, and yoga studios. He sounds like an incel in training.

I hear you! And ugh, the incel-in-training part. Let's seriously hope not. But that connection isn't out of nowhere — this idea of being entitled to one's pick of women that must meet perfect, idealized, superficial standards. I see where you're coming from, even as I hope you're wrong!

I think your answer may have missed the first point. Not that telling him that shallow is unattractive is wrong, but the call out to narcissism may be a reach. She said "I feel like he will get defensive and say something hurtful" but did not say he had done that before. That may just be her insecurity talking, so is there a reasonably kind way to tell him that he is not as hot as all that?

It could be — but my comment about his potential narcissism had more to do with the fact that he is already criticizing people for their looks over and over again — the women he sees on the site. And he gets angry that he is not 'entitled' to a more attractive date. So I don't think it's that much of a reach to say that he is someone who is condescending to others, shallow, and with an inflated ego!

I couldn't quite tell what result this week's first letter writer wanted. Does she think everybody should be limited to dating only people with a similar level of physical attractiveness? Would she be OK with her friend only wanting to date beautiful women if he would actually acknowledge that he doesn't meet that same physical criteria himself? Or is it more about his constant, explicit criticism of the women he rejects, which in my opinion is inexcusable regardless of whom he's talking about or to? Does the man described in the letter think he's in one of those sitcoms in which a man with few redeeming features (physical or otherwise) is inexplicably married to a stunningly beautiful *and* smart woman?

Yeah, it would be great to have more details (OP, are you out there?) But I also think there's something pretty basic here —her friend is complaining about his lack of success in the dating department, and there's a very clear reason why he's having a lack of success, and yet it would be tricky to bring up. I think that's a fundamentally frustrating situation to be in as a friend, no matter what she thinks about whether 9s should be dating 4s in general. And then there's the inexcusable part, as you said — it can't be easy to have to listen to such a constant barrage of critical and judgmental shallowness. You are dead-on about the sitcoms! 

I'm completely fine with the Post requiring registration in a general sense — I understand that a newspaper is a business, not obligated to provide unrestricted free access to its products. But are exemptions to the general rule possible? This specific chat is inherently much more personal than most of the others, so I think participants would be much more comfortable if they weren't forced to sign in. I guess people will still be fine discussing the latest letters or problems *other* people send to the chat, but will be more reluctant to post their own problems.

I definitely understand this, and of course would dance a jig if an exception were made for this chat and we didn't have to worry about any of this gobbledygook. But I do want to take the Post at their word that the "submit" button for the chat function remains completely independent and untracked from any registration data, so nothing should change (again, lots of people have already been logged in when they submit to the chat all along. I've never seen anything at all identifying of them, just their question and whatever label they gave it.)


I'd just like to second Andrea and give any reassurance I can that the chat submission is totally separate and remains private. The responses we see coming in from the chat don't have any names or anything like that attached to them. 

I have been in a relationship for 5 years with a man who in my opinion over-drinks once he starts. When he starts drinking, he wants to go out with his friends and hang out. This means that he drinks and drives. Last month, he got into an accident on the highway and scraped his side of the car because he fell asleep behind the wheel. He's had one DUI and arrest. And I have been supportive for him to change. Recently we bought a house together and after one month of him drinking every weekend, he choked me and slammed me to the floor. All because I wouldn't let him leave the house. He doesn't remember anything that happened, and apologizes. I left the house and moved back into my parents house which is already crowded enough. I am lost for words and I don't know how I got here and if I should even consider waiting for him to heal and go to rehab or just stay away. When he is sober he is amazing, but drunk him is SCARY.

But Drunk Him IS him, at least right now. And it is a large part of him.

And it is a potentially life-threatening part of him. Please take this danger seriously.

First, the choking behavior. I am really, really concerned to hear this. The data is stark — an incident of choking is a very, very common precursor to escalating domestic and relationship violence, including murder. It is such a significant warning sign that some state legislatures have adjusted their laws to take it much more seriously, because it can be such a predictor of future harm.

It goes without saying that he is also endangering himself and anyone else who is on the road with him.

Your parent's house may be crowded, but it is the safest place for you right now, by far. Look — alcoholism may be the cause of some of his abusiveness, but that doesn't change the fact that he is abusive.

I beg you to stay away. Seriously. I sincerely hope that he gets treatment and gets better, but right now that road is too long — and the stakes far too high — for you to be alongside him during it.

Please continue to keep us posted.

Hi, Dr. Bonior! I’m the cousin of the bride whose question you answered last week. I have an update! My cousin must read your chat because that night she texted me and said “Hey, I got married!” I texted back and said I’d seen her Facebook post, congratulations and I was definitely excited for her to tell me all about it and show me some pictures! And then ... nothing. It’s been radio silence since then. So, *shrug emoji*. But I really appreciated you and the commenters taking the time to give me some advice — I’m especially trying to not take it personally and just realizing she probably has a lot going on right now. But I did want to clarify that I was definitely NOT going to bring this up with her or anybody else in the family — We have another family member who is the queen of the martyrs and is constantly imagining that people are snubbing/slighting her and causing drama, so I was really just looking for ways to help me get over my disappointment on my own. Thank you again! I do feel better.

I am glad you feel better! And I really appreciate this update. Yeah, I'm guessing it's hard to tell right now... maybe she is just swamped, maybe she has drifted away too far to come back, or — I dunno — maybe it's a bad wifi signal or a virulent norovirus! Either way, it sounds like right now, she's not capable of much more, so you get to decide how much to continue putting in (or not.) Thanks again for writing!

So this is the week registration is required. I note that user names are not appearing with posts. Can you see or your producers see them?

Nope. And this is my solemn promise — everything looks exactly the same to us as before. There is no username or anything like that connected to what you write in. It is only lableled by the title that you chose.

Remember, subscribers have always been logged in as they write in to here. And we've never seen their stuff either.

In response to Letter Writer 1, my instinctive response as someone with my own assortment of Inconvenient Needs was wondering, "is this person's wife a bit more on the disabled end of the spectrum?" Maybe not, some people just really want a life full of gym time & massages. But ... maybe she really DOES have a bunch of needs society (and this spouse) find less convenient to work around, that "normal" people don't have. If that's true it's even MORE imperative you two discuss it! Needs like that don't just go away when you're busy and stressed and have less time for them so: How does she envision things? (Worst case scenario, you think her ideas are totally unrealistic ... in which case you gain the unwanted but valuable information that having kids together might not be a great idea.) Q2: Please look into "rejection sensitive dysphoria!" I always wondered why the tiniest comment or misstep could leave me breathless with agony, even if rationally I knew it was no big deal. Turns out it's a brain thing! Even better, there are specific drugs and treatments to help! It's been quietly life-changing to acknowledge that it's a real issue, not some character flaw, and take steps to work with the reality instead of beating myself up for the Nth time that I didn't react "right" ie. less emotionally.

Thank you for both of these. I agree, communication is so key for the couple in L1, especially if there are some needs there that are more significant than average.

And thanks for the suggestion about rejection-sensitive dysphoria! We are learning more and more every day about neurobiology's effects on our interpretation of the world. I've typically heard that brought up in the connection of ADHD, but there is always more to learn! I'm so glad that you've found some help with it.

Hi! I'm a lesbian, and when I read that letter I immediately felt like it was two women, just like so many people assumed it was a man writing. We bring our own experiences to everything we read. So ... I wanted to say that I am married to someone who also needs a lot of "me time," and who is also a lot more sensitive and easily overwhelmed and exhausted than I am. Since having children, this HAS resulted in a lot of things falling to me that we'd originally expected would fall to her. So I've ended up working more hours to pay for the extra expenses, AND I've done at least my share of parenting. It's been worth it because I love her, and love being a mom. But the LW might have a real concern here, and might not have anything to do with wanting their wife to do more than half of the child care, or stop taking good care of herself in order to dedicate herself totally to being a mom. I didn't pick any of that up in the letter, and saw my own dynamic as the half of a couple that often picks up the slack when my wife gets overwhelmed (which is a lot).

Thanks for this perspective. Yeah, I had the vibe of it being two women as well, even as I'm someone married to a man! Sometimes there are subtle differences in wording that make me automatically gender the person in my head-- and I am sure I am wrong plenty of times.

But you raise such an important point-- there is a whole spectrum of sacrifice for a partner, done out of love, and the question of "how much?" is one that every couple has to find the answer to for themselves. And the more it can be talked about, and entered into with open eyes rather than it just being something that people are dragged into by slippery slopes and inertia-- the more chance the relationship has of remaining strong.

Are you sure this is a bad thing? Might be good to challenge your assumptions about what you are looking for in a partner. Especially in D.C., we tend to think people have to be a certain way, but it can be really positive to be with someone who doesn't reinforce that.

Yes, perhaps it could be a breath of fresh air! Thanks.

My husband is a lot less aware of daily happenings and national movements and events than I am. He's more narrowly focused on what he considers essential to know. I actually had to explain #MeToo to him. But he's a well-read and interesting person so I don't consider it a fault.

There is hope! Glad that it works for you.

I'm a minister and just spit out my (late) lunch drink over this one! I don't believe how much I encounter that attitude and now I have a technical term for it. I also think it should be the Chat title for this week.

Ha! Thanks. Didn't end up as the chat title last week, but I am glad you appreciated that chatter's comment nonetheless!

I get all kinds of new vocabulary from you guys.

Please can I thank you for the very useful and appropriate phrase “jump on [someone’s] anxiety train” from a recent chat? Spouse suffers from anxiety and spirals into extended “what if” catastrophising. I realize that I’ve been jumping onto their anxiety train by reassuring them and providing solutions for hypothetical, improbable future situations (my input never helps). So I’m going to stay off that train from now on!

I am so glad this resonated with you. Thanks for writing in.

Yeah, in typical situations, spousal reassurance is gravy — it's a wonderful thing that keeps two people connected. But when a significant anxiety disorder or OCD is in play, the constant need for reassurance is part of the problem — and so the spouse can easily become part of a dysfunctional cycle that can even be made worse by the reassurance dynamic over time. Here's hoping your spouse's train can slow down and get on a new path.

Doug Ross was George Clooney's character in "ER."

From last week — yes! Thanks. I was a little slow on the uptake.

Perhaps he should be made to watch the movie Shallow Hal.

Wonder if he has the potential to realize (or care about) his shallowness. Some are probably proud of it!

Hi Dr Bonior! My boyfriend and I are in our late thirties, have been together over a year, and just moved in together (renting.) He is a kind, gentle person  — loving, funny, sensitive, and amazing with kids and the students with special needs that he teaches. I love his caring nature, but the other side of the coin seems to be his heightened sensitivity (panic?) when he thinks he's upset me or we're having a disagreement. He *immediately* says sorry, even before I have communicated what I'm upset about, and he wants to fix it *immediately* instead of taking a beat or letting me process, and will crowd me physically (hugs, sitting close on the couch) to try to *fix* it. I know part of this may just be our different communication styles (I need a minute to process, he reacts), and I have asked him if I make him feel insecure or do something to make him feel like he needs to walk on eggshells and he says I don't. He had a broken engagement about 4 years ago and it doesn't sound like it was the healthiest relationship, and it seems like his baggage from that is showing up in our relationship. Short of him going to therapy (of which I am a supporter and regular therapy-goer myself), is there any way to reduce his panic in response to the usual ups and downs in a stable relationship?

I think part of what will reduce his panic over time is him getting used to doing things differently. In other words, when you can get him to change his approach (more on that in a moment!) and actually take a beat, and he sees that your relationship doesn't implode, and that your connection and respect for each other's needs actually improves, then he gets desensitized to that fear that makes him jump in right away. Because he's seen a more functional path — one that actually respects your needs more.

First step, though — communicate those needs more. It sounds like you took the tack of being very sensitive to what HE is going through (and asking him if you're making him feel a certain way), but now it's time for you to communicate what YOU are going through when he does that. How you feel crowded and pressured. How you need a beat. How his jumping in to "fix" it doesn't fix it at all. You've helped him brainstorm the potential reasons for his actions (and you have a very reasonable hypothesis about that yourself), but what you really need him to understand is the effects of his actions. Your needs matter just as much as his, you know.

So, the next time this happens, still show your empathy, but explain to him "In these situations, I do better when I have a little space to process. I think it will help us both communicate better." And then, of course, positively reward the fact that he gives you space — by having the healthy conversation/resolution afterward, and hearing what he has to say.

In time, this will carve out a new path for him that will actually feel good — so his panic should fade. If it doesn't, there's definitely an argument for him to gain a little more insight into why it's so hard for him.

I note again that registering a Post account requires no personally identifying information, just a user name and an email address, which itself can be created anonymously. I have no doubt that if you confessed to a monstrous federal crime, the NSA and FBI could track you down. But for most purposes ("My boyfriend won't buy me flowers!") we're safe.

Thank you!!!

(Someone should most definitely buy you flowers for that!)

My husband has a 21-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He and her mother have been separated for almost as long as she's been alive. When daughter is not away at college, she lives with her mother, who has a long and ugly history of interfering with husband's relationship with daughter. One of her tactics is to constantly text daughter when she is with my husband with attempts to stir discord. For example, on Thanksgiving, she texted daughter "I hope they aren't making you wash dishes". This resulted in daughter having a full-on tantrum when we requested her help drying dishes (the only thing that we had asked for her help with all day), followed by a tearful report of our "wrong-doing" to mom. Daughter and mom are very close and daughter has never articulated objections to her mom's behavior, but it clearly leads to distress, for both daughter and my husband. As an upcoming week-long vacation with daughter approaches, I would really like my husband to take a more pro-active approach to staving off the conflict that invariably arises when the torrent of texts arrives. Of course we can't prevent her from communicating with her mother, but we would like to encourage her to try to bring up issues with us directly, rather than tattling to mom, and we'd also like to set reasonable expectations around the extent to which she is expected to occasionally help with basic chores. However, we're unsure how to best approach that conversation without referencing the root cause of the issue. We recognize that being the kid of divorced parents is really hard, and the last thing we want to do is unfairly make her feel like she caught in the middle of her parents' disagreements or that we're badmouthing her mom. However, since these conflicts are always a result of her mother's interference via text, it's hard to try to mitigate their impacts without mentioning them as a contributing factor. Ideally we'd like to encourage her to set better boundaries around texts from mom in general but that may be out of the question at this stage. Any advice on how to sensitively broach these topics?

Oh, my goodness. This sounds intolerable.

Let's do a reality check here — this daughter is 21, not 12. You and your husband have every right to expect certain standards of behavior from her as a grown-up in your home, whether she is tethered to her mother by some Text Relationship From Hell or not.


So much of the wording here seems spot-on for what you can use to talk to her, because remember — she is an adult. She is responsible for her behavior. So I am surprised that you are wringing your hands, because you already have the answers for conversation starters here.  "We would like to encourage you to bring up issues directly with us." "We would like to set reasonable expectations about the extent to which you are expected to help with basic chores."

Neither of those should be high-drama in a functional relationship. If she makes it so, that is on her, not you. At some point, her mother doesn't even have to be referenced. I think you're going so far out of the way to have empathy about this situation that you're forgetting that you have the right to establish basic standards for a 21 year-old in your home! No matter what nonsense is coming through to her via text.

Let's call it what it is: attempted murder. As terrible as it is, if somebody is punching you or kicking you, you can fight back or cover up or run away. If somebody is choking you, you are completely helpless, and will pass out in seconds. She needs to call the cops.

Yes. I am hoping that she can be ready to put some sort of legal action in place soon... but for now I really hope that she will solidify this first step, of truly separating herself from him and continuing to stay at her parents'.

"There's a very clear reason why he's having a lack of success." True, but that reason isn't his looks. Its because he's clearly a raging misogynist. He could be a straight Matt Bomer and he'd still have bad luck with his attitude towards women.

I bet you are right!

Hi, everyone! I'm Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and author of the new book MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE. I also write the "Dear Therapist" column for The Atlantic. I'm so excited to help answer your questions today!

A little too excited, maybe. But me and a couple of my coworkers who always read Baggage Check with me are now reading Lori's book together and so they are excited for this chat too. We just wanted to say to you both that you are doing so much to erase the stigma of therapy and mental health struggles, and best of all, you are smart, compassionate, and inspiring women. Join forces more often!

Thank you — so nice to hear. #StopStigma

Big fan of both of you! One quality that I think sets you both apart in your columns is that you have compassion for the struggles that people are going through. I find many advice columns run by non-therapists miss that element. You often look below the surface question to address the struggles that people may be dealing with that go beyond what they are actually asking. I read Lori's most recent book and found it completely engrossing, especially as someone who has spent years on the client side of the therapy couch. I have read criticism of the book about how she merged people and otherwise took steps to guard her patients' privacy. Some of the characters, like John, seem so full-fledged that it's hard for me to believe they are not...themselves. Lori, how do you explain your process for showcasing your patients?

Thanks so much--I'm glad you liked the book! All of the patients are real people but yes, I had to disguised details that might identify them. I think part of the reason that the book has been so well-received is that we want to read about real people and real struggles, because their experiences normalizes ours and make us feel less isolated.

Amber from The Fix chat addressed the identity issue this morning when asked about taking questions from a variety of people.
 A: Amber Phillips Good question! I, too, try to answer questions from as many different people as I can. But I have no idea WHO you are. How to square that? We can see unique IDs for each person submitting a question so we know the difference between question asker A versus B but we don't know who you are.

Yes, that is it exactly! Thanks.

I am happy to have either of you to take my question, it's not every day you get 2 therapists/advice columnists in one, is it? So I am ashamed to say this but I am jealous of the relationship my husband has with his (female) therapist. She has done a lot for him and his depression and anxiety over the years (he also grew up in an abusive home) and I am grateful for that. Very grateful. But he respects her so much, and the emotional connection is strong. He talks about her a lot. Her voice is inside his head a lot, and I know that's a good thing (Lori I am reading your book now and loving it, but honestly it makes me even more jealous of their relationship to know what value it has) but what about the spouse? Is there a point where the spouse gets pushed away emotionally because the therapist is so primary in the patient's life? I feel less-than. I can't help it. Thanks.

Hi! I can understand why you might feel that way, but hopefully part of what he's doing in therapy is learning how to strengthen the way he relates to both himself and others. His strong relationship with his therapist is helping him to be more open and vulnerable and present with you. Have you noticed the ways that he's maybe taken more risks with you or become more open with you or less reactive since starting his therapy? Also, you can talk to him about this — not by sending the message that you don't like him going to therapy (because it's probably very helpful for both of you that he's going!) but instead by saying, "I know this is kind of funny, but sometimes I get jealous of the close relationship you two have and at times I wish we had more of that."

For Lori — I am dating someone who claims they like children but I am terrified of what happened to you — I always have been, as a single mom of two boys. DO you think there are signs that you would see now that you know?

The reason things went down the way they did in my relationship was that we never talked about how we both really felt about parenting. You have a great opportunity right now to talk openly about how important it is for you to be with a partner who wants to be with not just you, but also your boys. Tell him what your fears are, and that if he has concerns, you'd like him to share those with you rather than not tell you for fear of how you might feel about them.


I agree with what you said about giving this young woman her space to decompress and be allowed to grow up. The part that caught my attention was the mother's mention of energy. That was right about the age that my thyroid stopped working properly and fatigue was one of my symptoms. If the daughter continues to have low energy for multiple weeks, mom may want to suggest a visit with the daughter's physician.

Something to consider if the lethargy continues! I do think a certain amount of changed energy is normal when someone first comes home from college, though. The hours that I hear these students keeping definitely need some recuperation.

I had a friend whose parents had set meal times and constant questions, but only to her, the youngest (of four) and the only girl, while the boys were encouraged to be as independent as possible. What she took from this was that she "was just the dumb girl" in a family of smart independent brothers, and the inferiority complex that it set up is still a problem in all her relationships.

How awful.

So true that parents can have all kinds of ways of systematically treating their kids differently, and either not realizing it or even justifying it. Not just gender but personality traits, physical appearance, talents.....and then it all becomes a vicious cycle as that affects the child's behavior toward the parent as well.

I hope your friend can find some clarity in moving forward.

Regarding LW2's mother and expectations about her daughter, I recall coming home from college in my freshman year ('76-'77), and I was pretty much changed: I used to have only few close friends, and now I had many, especially ones from classes preceding mine because I had been elected to Student Government as one of 6 reps, and I also became a member of the Inter-Dorm Council, representing my dorm to the council — all within that year! That's good on the social area, but on the academics, I was dealing w/possible failure in English Comp 102. That was remedied by attending a writing workshop that summer, and then re-taking the 102 class in the fall. Advice to the Mom (or Dad): don't expect too much from your college student; after all she's just experienced one of life's changing situation by being attending college. Let her be for a few days, and then ask if you can talk about what happened at college and what to do during summer.

So interesting how vivid these formative things can be, years later! Thanks for this.

I started thinking about this more and realized it started way back when we were emailing, before we even met. I've had to explain things to him every single time. I hadn't said anything, hadn't even gotten irritated, but I finally decided it would eventually make me irritated and resentful. Meanwhile, maybe he noticed the same possibility — or something. Anyway, he ghosted me. No more problem, I guess.

Oh, no! I'm sorry to hear that. Because even if you were not meant to be together, ghosting is just gross. But it clearly showed you his "potential," so there's that. Hang in there!

LOVED your book Lori! I was just curious — now that the book is out there, do a lot of your patients just want to talk about the book all the time? Do they try to bring YOUR personal life into the room? How do you set limits on that?

It's interesting... when I got back in the office after book tour, some patients sat down on the couch and immediately said, "I read your book." Others haven't said a word. For those who've read it, they're much more interested in talking about how it affected them, or made them view our relationship in an even deeper way, or helped them to see something about themselves as reflected in the patients I wrote about.

I heard your visit, Lori, with this podcast. Thank you for telling "Julie's" story. I was riveted. My own children are probably about the age that Julie was when she died, and no one should have to go through this, but by sharing her story, she (paradoxically) gave hope.

Thank you — yes, Julie was such a beautiful person. I write the full story of our relationship in my new book, if you're curious to read more about her.

Your book had the biggest effect on me. I can't even begin. I want to thank you so much for writing it. I also had a question I'm really curious about and I hope it's not too intrusive. So I know you went to great lengths to change the identifying details of the patients. Of course John is not an actual TV producer of a certain show, I'm assuming, etc. But how far do you go to fill in the dots of the made-up persona? For instance, the scene of you watching John's show with your friend, and the NYTimes review of the change in the main character of his show.... if "John" was never a TV producer, is that all just fiction? How does it relate to what really happened with the real John? I hope you don't take this as criticism — your book truly was beautiful to me. I just am really wondering about this.

Hi, that's a great question. I did have to change many identifying details. The rule I set for myself was that the spirit of the story and the events had to be absolutely true, but the details that could make someone identifiable had to be changed. But they weren't changed so much that, say, John wasn't essentially the person you get to know in the book.

Often until I was 25 and occasionally until I was 30, I would be attracted to women because they were pretty and then wonder why we didn't connect. (This was pre-Internet.) At some point I figured out that there are some very nice women who aren't extremely beautiful.

Here's hoping that OP's friend can follow your path as well! Thanks.

I was hung up on looks, because I was hung up on my own looks (thanks Mom and Dad!) I had friends who would just say "Why are looks so important to you?" It doesn't have to be about how he looks, or how the person asking the question looks. It's about why looks themselves matter so much. Thank goodness my friends said what they did, because I met someone amazing whom I now find handsome as the day is long, even though I didn't feel that way about him at first.

Great point. And yup, physical attraction often grows immensely once people connect on an interpersonal level.

"We would like to encourage her to try to bring up issues with us directly, rather than tattling to mom, and we'd also like to set reasonable expectations " 'We" should not be discussing this with the stepdaughter, her dad should be. Anything coming from the chatter is going to be very poorly received. However right the OP may be, she is seen as an unwelcome interloper who hates the stepdaughter's mom. OP could consider taking a big step back and letting her husband deal entirely with the 21-year-old.

Good point. It's an important thing to figure out — there are pros and cons to how much of a united front to present here as a team. Methinks, though, that daughter's Mom is enough of a formidable enemy that it's not necessarily even a situation of "Mom versus Stepmom," but rather "Mom versus Humanity."

I'm the OP on that one (Pharmacological Calvinists), and I adopted the term with delight about fifteen years or so ago when I encountered it in a New York Times article. It's so perfectly descriptive.

And now you have given it new life!

My SO is happy to let me do all the restaurant choosing, activities, and things to see on trips, and while some people would like that, it drives me crazy. It makes me feel like they are just following me around instead of actively participating. I think they feel like this is being "laid-back" or maybe truly just doesn't care what we're having for dinner or what we're doing tomorrow on vacation. They always say "but I'm happy to do whatever you want to do!" but I feel like that's a cop-out. And I'm having trouble articulating why this is SO ANNOYING.

So my first question is, CAN you articulate why this so annoying? Because if you can't articulate it to me (right now, here), and you can't articulate it to yourself, then it's going to be hard for your SO to understand something you can't communicate to them. From your SO's perspective, they might think they're being flexible and easy to get along with. But for you, it's maddening. Can you explain WHY to your SO? Your SO doesn't have to agree that it's annoying — they just have to understand why YOU feel it's annoying and then make a choice to accommodate you by sometimes taking more ownership of these kinds of decisions. But remember, it's not that you're right and they're wrong. You're just different people. So you'll also have to accommodate your SO sometimes by making these decisions  yourself. From your SO's perspective, they may see you as controlling or uptight (which, again, you don't have to agree with — but you have to remember that your SO sees the world from they're own perspective). The point is to understand each other and try to accommodate, but also accept that you do have different personalities that may or may not be compatible.

I've had two relationships in the past 15 years — one was my husband who decided he didn't want to be married anymore and the other is an ill-advised relationship with a man who won't commit. My divorce really sent me into a tailspin because I thought we were happy. We laughed a lot and spent time together and had enough money, time, shared interests (we struggled to have kids) and even know I can't give a good answer to what went wrong other than "he decided he didn't want to be married to me anymore." The relationship after that one has been me wanting more from someone who just can't or won't give it, and while I will blame my falling into that relationship on feeling very unloveable and ugly and stupid after my divorce, I have been in therapy for a while now and feel better and stronger. The problem is, I don't trust my judgment anymore when it comes to choosing a partner. With the two men above I felt a spark when we met, but the relationships ended and I was hurt badly. I don't feel anything with the few people I've been out with and initially I was just moving on but now I am thinking about how I felt that spark with the other guys and maybe I should stop looking for that and learn how to be interested in men who seem interested in me? I don't know, dating mystifies me.

And you are most definitely not alone in that!

I think over time-- and with more insight —  you may start to realize exactly what that "spark" means to you, and what it represents. Sometimes, people look for a specific type of "spark" that actually may mask warning signs about a person — the attraction/infatuation can be something to their detriment. Other times, the "spark"  itself is actually an attraction to the very qualities that make someone a bad match from the get-go. And still other definitions of "spark" might be something totally reasonable to want in a relationship — a pull toward that person, an admiration, etc.

An additional part of the question, though, is how long to wait to see if a spark will develop. It's unclear to me if maybe you dismissed the others too quickly?

Perhaps you can start focusing more on qualities that you want to see in a person, rather than just the feelings that they evoke in you-- and in time when you have a growing appreciation for how special those qualities are, it may serve to create more of a spark when you find them.

But the bottom line is — keep thinking, and keep exploring.

But as a subscriber, I am forced to sign up using my account which does identify me (as it's linked to a real email and a form of payment in my real name). Therefore, I'll never again submit a personal question to you, even though I think your advice is terrific. I suppose I could create a new, free account under a new, fake (?) email address, but —  no, just no. —From a fan both of WP and this column.

I appreciate your words, and I do understand your perspective. But lots of subscribers have long been sending me personal questions (at least I'd presume, since I can't actually see who they are!) without issue. So that particular part hasn't changed!

Do you have any advice to offer on mental health struggles with loved ones who also have mental health issues? I have a close friend who is diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and we discuss her struggles pretty openly in our day-to-day conversations. I am not diagnosed with any mental health issues, but sometimes I have blue periods and would like to talk about it (not to work through anything but to just commiserate in the blah feelings). My fear, though, is that is sharing these feelings with my anxious friend would make her, well, more anxious out of concern because she's such a good friend, and I don't want to add to her plate! It also feels a little silly to talk to someone with serious mental health issues about your blue weekend, which now that I type it out sounds ridiculous, because it's not like we're competing in the misery olympics, but ... thoughts?

Let that be your guidepost — that indeed, you are not actually competing in the Misery Olympics (though, man, are those uniforms something!)

You sound like a pretty empathetic person already, so I would be shocked if your sharing your own feelings ended up being taken as an invalidating bulldozer by your friend. Instead, you can use your feelings as a way of connecting and empathizing. ("This makes me really feel for you and what you're going through — I had a bit of a down weekend and it threw me, and yet I wouldn't even consider myself depressed. So I can only imagine what you go through.") Open that door a bit, and see if she is willing to connect. As for your fear of this making her more anxious, you can cross that bridge when you come to it, but I wouldn't automatically assume that would be the case. I bet the connection will go the other way — and make her feel more soothed that you have each other.

Chatter, get to a lawyer ASAP. You need to protect your rights since you bought a house with this man!

An important consideration. Thank you.

To the OP, this is my story. My ex was an alcoholic who kept drinking and started abusing me while drunk. Then it started while sober. Now I am in a protracted divorce and a custody battle where the court system seems to be on the side of a child having both parents regardless of whether or not one parent is very dangerous and mentally unstable. Please do not go back, and seek out support services for domestic violence. I also highly suggest trauma therapy and or regular therapy. They have saved my life and helped me see the truth of the situation I endured for 11 years. Even if you think you might go back, go to therapy and a support group 1st before making that decision

Beautiful support here. Thank you. It is music to my ears that you were able to get out of that situation and heal from it over time.

OP, are you out there?

Hi, I have a first appointment scheduled in a couple of weeks with a psychodynamic psychologist. I've tried short-term counseling for specific issues in the past with varying results, but I think I'm ready to do the hard work of looking at underlying patterns affecting my choices. I don't expect it to be pleasant, but I do want it to be productive. With such open-ended therapy, how can I set goals? The worst therapist I had long ago after my divorce said literally nothing beyond "So, how are you today?" When I'd ask questions he'd just kick it back to me or refuse to answer. It was like talking to a wall and not helpful. I'm analytical and problem solving, so I need to feel like there's some progress being made (even if it's 2 steps forward, 1 step back). Any tips for making this useful? Thanks.

Therapy may look like a series of conversations, but it's very much in the service of specific goals. Those goals might be: I want to feel less stuck, I want to have better relationships, I want to feel less depressed, I want to stop fighting with my mom/partner/sibling/child, I want to make better life choices. In a first session, you'll talk about why you're there and why NOW? Why did you make this call this month instead of say, last year. What do you want to change, and what made you ready to do this now? Together you and your therapist will talk about what you want out of the therapy — those are the goals. And those goals will be regularly re-evaluated. It's a very collaborative process, but also, you may not be aware of what's happening, of what the therapist is doing to help you move forward. (You can see how therapy works and why therapists do what they do in my new book.)

Man, the reaction to the signup seems pretty overwrought.

I am relieved that there is at least one person it hasn't been an issue for!

Yeah, that's very clever. But if drugs are being used to correct a chronic chemical imbalance, that's not the same as taking pills to feel better instead of making substantive changes in your crappy life. There is no shortage of psychiatrists, pharmacists and other experts who contend that psychiatric medications are overused as a quick fix.

I think either extreme runs the risk of being out of touch with reality — either the belief that human behavior is only about neurophysiology and therapy can't be an important part of treatment, or the belief that people should abstain from medication on principle even if it would be helpful.

My 20.5-year-old daughter has a lifelong history of some developmental delays, physical and emotional issues (ADHD, for one), and immaturity that we've never been able to connect to any one issue, although I've asked many doctors if there could be an underlying cause. We're doing some genetic testing soon and possibly an autism evaluation. She graduated from high school on time, but school was always hard for her. She's relatively intelligent, but possesses little motivation other than for a few things. She's been in community college while living at home and that is not going well. She saw a developmental pediatrician in high school and was prescribed stimulants that had too many side effects, including near-mania and tactile hallucinations. She stopped taking them after five months. Last October I took her to an ADHD specialist and she ended up on a cocktail of meds that literally made her crazy. She is off all meds with the exception of a rather benign mood stabilizer (lamictal). The problem is that my formerly overly affectionate kid has become verbally and physically abusive. (She does have a wonderful psychotherapist who allows me to send updates about our home life.) I can accept that my daughter may have an emerging mental illness, but her intense hatred of me began roughly when this one medication was started. Is it even remotely possible that this medication could be increasing her agitation/irritability. I am sad, of course, that my child suddenly despises me, and it takes a daily toll. We're working with a psychiatrist, but she's not making much progress, and the psychiatrist does not think the issues are medication related. But the issues were worsened when medication started and this is NOT my kid. I guess my question is: Have you ever seen a patient have a really bad reaction to lamictal?

My heart goes out to you, truly. This sounds like a terrible blend of scary, sad, and frustrating, to watch your child have this reaction.

Since I am a psychologist and not a psychiatrist, I can't speak to any medications particularly, and I wouldn't want to speculate about your daughter's exact medication reaction even if I were a Lamictal expert.

But I think you need to get your psychiatrist to take these changes more seriously. Not just in the sense that they could be potentially related to the Lamictal (which again, I won't pretend to be the authority on) but because the situation itself is taking such a toll. "Intense hatred" and agitation are not good states for her to be in, whether they are caused by the medication or not. So they need to be targeted to work on. If that work is not working, so to speak, then I wouldn't hesitate to seek out the opinion of another psychiatrist. And keep her therapist in the loop about all of it.

I'm single, childfree, and live 500 miles from my mother and younger sister. Sister is married & has 3 kids. I spend hundreds of $ (plus some of my vacation days!) every year flying to visit regularly — between 2 and 4 times a year. I don't work in a lucrative career, so these visits are not an insignificant expense. During my last visit, sis and I spent hours at a kids' play place with 2 of the kids; she paid the entree fee (ten bucks) for me. Before leaving the place we got ice cream, and she commented, "Oh, and I have to pay for your ice cream too?" The ice cream was three bucks. She not infrequently makes comments that make me feel my visits and time spent there are not appreciated. She and her husband are not in any way in a tight place financially. And of course the cost of the 5 of THEM to fly/travel to visit me is many times greater, so they never come my way. I am always caught off-guard when she makes these comments, so I never have a good comeback. Suggestions?

You don't need a comeback — you need a conversation. Often with siblings old patterns, feelings, resentments, and perceived inequities get carried over into adult relationships if they aren't talked about. I have a feeling there's some historic emotional dynamic behind the way money is treated on these visits. You can say to your sister, "I really love you and enjoy coming to visit your family, but sometimes it feels like we have these tense moments around who's paying for what. I don't know if you realize that it's somewhat financially stressful for me to come here — but it's totally worth it — but I also wonder if I'm missing something about your situation when you seem upset that I'm  not paying for things when I'm here. Can we talk about this?"

I am starting to accept myself and be open to being a lesbian. How do I talk to my family about it? I am surrounded by friends and coworkers who like to make stupid comments about it and am afraid to be truly myself and so have been hiding who I am. It feels like a weight has been lifted when I finally acknowledge it myself and I finally feel like me. It feels great. I am not sure how to go about it with my friends. Do I tell them or do I keep doing what I have been doing? How do I tell them? Why are people so unaccepting?

There's nothing more painful than going through life and hiding the truth of who we are. Since it sounds like the people around you might have various reactions, you may want to talk to a therapist who can help you find a way to be honest about your sexual orientation, get more comfortable with it yourself, and support you in talking to others about it when you're ready, no matter how they might react.

Thank you all for the excellent questions — I wish we had more time! Thanks especially to Dr. Bonior — I'm such a fan and was honored to have the opportunity to join the conversation today.

With respect, what's changed is that before, we chatters were anonymous. (I wasn't signed in to read or participate.) Now, we're not anonymous to the Post — even if we're anonymous to you, Dr. Bonior. It's a big difference to me.

I do understand that. Trust me, I really wish this wasn't happening.

But I think there are ways to still be completely anonymous to the Post, or at least very, very close to it, as has been alluded here before... if you are willing.


Hi Andrea (and Lori)! No question... Just want to say that I LOVE your chats, and test what happens when I, an online Post subscriber, submit a question. I'll let you know!

So, did the investigative authorities show up at your door?

Thanks for the kind words!

Nothing different happened! Went right through. No additional work, in case anyone was wondering.

What about the singing telegram? I was told there would now be singing telegrams!

I think the key question is not whether YOU can see who's posting, but can ANYONE? If someone posts with his own subscriber account, can ANYONE link them? The Post, like most websites, uses all kinds of trackers. Do any of them link the Post account to posts and comments?

I think that's the question on a lot of people's minds. And I really think the answer is no. But of course I can't be 100 percent certain — so I do want to emphasize (perhaps for the final time, let me promise now) that people don't have to give the Post their PREFERRED email address, or a social media or Amazon account, etc.

Can we please stop talking about it this chat?! If you don't like it, don't use the WaPo. Simple.

I fear that by posting this, I am continuing to talk about it! Hmm.

But point well taken!

It is that time again, unfortunately. Turns out that things go just as fast even with a fantastic guest!

Thanks again for being here, and for bearing with the new system. I can't emphasize enough that Rachel and I will continue to fight to have as few barriers to this chat as possible, and to ensure the highest comfort level that we can.

And a particularly humongous thank-you to Lori! Things move so fast here that I haven't even gotten a chance to read all of her answers. But it was our pleasure and honor to have you here today, Lori, and we so much appreciate your time.

For those of you who haven't checked out her book, I highly recommend it.

I look forward to seeing all of you chatters back here next week, and in the comments and on my burgeoning and perhaps embarrassing Instagram feed before then.

Until then, be well.

In This Chat
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.”
Lori Gottlieb
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” which is being adapted as a television series with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic‘s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column.
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