Baggage Check Live: Willpower does jack&*%$

Jul 30, 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.

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Welcome, all! How are you doing this week?

In today's Baggage, we've got a person who wants to end a friendship where the conversation is always exhaustingly one-sided. And in L2, we've got a couple where the best-friend designation seems to be one-sided, too.

What have you got for me this week? Let's get started!

The writer describes her friend as kind, but then says the friend doesn't seem interested in what the LW has to say, if she even lets the LW get a word in. This does not sound "kind" to me.

Yes. That seemed like a big smokin' contradiction to me as well, along with LW's phrasing that they "liked her very much." Are you out there, LW?

“Would rather spend time with them” “Prioritizes their needs over mine” That doesn’t sound like how I want to be treated by a significant other. If it’s not how you want to be treated, find someone who will treat you as no less than a friend, at the least.

Thanks. Can't argue with this!

Your constant wrong use of pronouns (e. g., "they" for "he" or "she") is distracting and intolerable for those of us who strive to observe proper usage. Why on earth do you insist on doing that?

I am generally a rather improper person, you'll find. That's probably the main reason.

But aside from that, "they" is changing. It's no longer as incorrect as you’d like to declare it, and some individuals prefer it as their own singular pronoun. And although I still consider myself an anal grammarian at heart (if you'll actually let me into your club — though it doesn't sound like it!) and I also bemoan "wrong" things becoming "right" over time (I still lose sleep over "imply" versus "infer," for instance), language is, nonetheless, constantly evolving.

What I’d hope could also evolve is your empathy for people who have long since been marginalized by strictly dichotomous he/she usage. My using more inclusive language is one tiny way of making the bias and stigma against them a little less prevalent. I’d like to think that tiny things like that add up to create a more compassionate world— pretty good stuff, no?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you know of no such non-binary folks and were simply coming at this out of ignorance, rather than just trolling me because you want to hurt those people further for whatever reason. (Because THAT would be intolerable and improper, no matter your grammar.)

[In response to last week's chat] I had to put my dog to sleep a few years ago. To make a long, horrifying story short, he let me know when it was time to go. It didn't make it any easier. To help grieve, I got a nice shadowbox frame and put his favorite toy, his therapy dog license, his pawprint, and his collar. It was still about a year before I could let go of the bad experience of losing him, while holding onto the good memories. But the ritual helped, and it was nice to have a monument, even a small one, to someone so important in my life.

I am really sorry for what you've gone through!

But the ritual can be so key — so true. Lovely. Thanks for writing in.

Long story short, my MIL has a long track record of alienating friends and relatives to the point that she has few outside interactions (she focuses hard, gets mad about a perceived slight, refuses to speak to them, then declares them dead to her b/c they stop calling/visiting). She has been hyper obsessed with my almost 8 yo son, her only grandchild, but is increasingly upset that he has interests outside of her that are starting to reduce the amount of time he is free to see her on weekends. Currently, she is incredibly upset that he is going to visit my parents for a week — my parents live 4 hours away so he rarely sees them, whereas he sees my MIL at least once a month, frequently more often. My question: Do we talk to my son about not mentioning certain things to her (like an annual visit to his other grandparents), or stay out of it? I obviously want him to learn how to be sensitive of others' hurts, but I also don't want him thinking he has to dance around a long-track record of bad behavior/enable irrational reactions, especially when he's this young and just wants to talk to his grandma about things that make him happy (spending time at baseball, seeing other relatives that he loves, etc).

You know, I have to scratch this itch — just this week I wrote something about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and I couldn't help but think about it when you described that cycle that your MIL goes through.

But no matter what is causing her behavior, I think we need to keep in mind that your son is only 7 years-old, and there are only so many interpersonal-emotional jigs that we want to force him to dance, as you suggest. It is simply not fair for her to take out her hurt on him, and for you to have to make certain topics totally verboten — happy, loving topics, not money or politics or bathroom habits — seems like wrapping yourselves up in a pretzel and sending him some pretty confusing messages. It runs the risk of making him feel unjustifiably ashamed and guilty and overly responsible for the unpredictable ups and downs of someone else's moods.

That said, there IS a good opportunity here to teach him that different people have different quirks and challenges. So I would treat this whole thing as a chance to teach him how to love and accept his grandmother even when she gets weird — in other words, what to expect and how to not take it personally — rather than how he is supposed to defuse the bombs himself. So, prep him for some of her moods, make yourself a sounding board, teach him about your own values of healthy ways to manage difficult feelings and communicate about them — but don't make him feel like it is up to him to constantly steer clear of landmines that shouldn't be landmines in the first place.

How have others dealt with this?

I've been under extreme work stress for about nine months. Lots of changes in the company I've been with for nearly 15 years. This happens. The market ebbs and flows and new leadership comes in with new ideas, never with enough time to look at the big picture before implementing radical changes. This time, though, I'm struggling with anxiety around the chaos. I went to the doctor yesterday, and met with their in-house counsellor. I felt like he wasn't listening. I went in for help managing my emotions and stress through this transition, but he was focused on convincing me to just quit (not something I'm willing to consider at this point), with a suggested ban on all social media, even though I said that's what keeps me connected to my friends and my art. I'm going back for a follow up in a month and will see what he says then, but I'm wondering if it's too soon to know that he might not be the right counsellor for me? It's an integrated practice, so I'm also a little worried about finding a different counsellor while maintaining my relationship with the doctor, since they've also started me on medication and I know I need time to adjust and see how that's working for me.

Yeah, I hate to say it, and I don't want to speak out of turn because I wasn't actually there, but this doesn't really sound like "counseling." So this person gave you advice that wasn't necessarily even a good fit, and now won't even see you for a month? Yeah, that's not really any type of therapy.

The medication may end up being helpful, but if you want therapy, you should get therapy. Actual cognitive tools to use in the moment when you feel overwhelmed, different behavioral and physical methods of reducing central nervous system arousal/anxiety in the moment, mindfulness techniques to be better in touch with your dysfunctional thoughts and learn how to breathe through them and let them pass ... if they don't offer that at this practice, feel free to go elsewhere. I am sure you wouldn't be the first!

Hi, I was wondering if you have any advice for me. I often feel like I'm overwhelmed when having to concentrate on more than one sense at a time, to the extent that I get really anxious and panicky. E.g. I'm watching a film or a show with a friend, they're talking to me too, maybe we're also eating at the same time, I'm trying to concentrate on the show/food/talking, get stressed that I can't, and either turn the media off to concentrate on the conversation, or say something like "please stop," both of which seem to upset or confuse my companion. It seems rude but I don't say/do anything until I'm feeling fully overwhelmed as I don't know how else to react. Another example would be that my boyfriend likes to cuddle in bed in the morning, I'm always really warm in the night and when I wake up so I'm uncomfortable because of feeling hot and trapped under the duvet, plus the physical contact, and the radio is usually on really loudly so my ears are being assaulted. I start to feel claustrophobic and panicky so I push him away and get up, which seems to upset him. Another example is when I'm driving and concentrating on seeing and processing the traffic, road, directions, holding the steering wheel and everything else involved with driving, and there's someone in the passenger seat who either puts music on or tries to talk to me or both and I need to concentrate on driving, so I turn off the music/ignore the talking, which seems rude. I always seem to be offending people but I don't know what else to do! Is sensory overload a real thing or am I just weird? Is there any way I can head off these situations earlier, so I don't end up responding in a OTT manner (because it gets to a point I literally cannot cope any longer) or being rude?

Sensory overload is certainly a real thing, and some people are more prone to it than others. There are various disorders that make people more susceptible to it, and Sensory Processing Disorder is a disorder in and of itself. Have you always felt this way? If it's relatively recent, it could have to do with increased anxiety, poor sleep, or even something physiological (vitamin/nutrient deficiency? Blood sugar issue? Thyroid imbalance?) But if you've always been like this, it's probably fairly baked in to how you process your environment.

My first instinct is for you to up your communication with your partner, to try to establish increased understanding so that he won't take it so personally and can also be mindful of not inadvertently stepping into a situation where he is irritating you. And for you to watch your own triggers — increase the self-care in terms of sleep, explore coping mechanisms like noise-cancelling headphones when they are appropriate, soothing scents, breathing techniques, visualizations, etc.

But if you can, you might get a work-up with a neuropsychologist. They could more specifically quantify what's going on, and may be able to offer some potential treatments (full disclosure this area isn't my specialty, but I know there is some help out there.)

[In response to last week's chat] I would suggest anxious tween’s mom check with the physician. Some gaba-sparing meds can inhibit memory/learning which may not be the best choice in the developing brain *if it is not providing symptom relief* Regardless if the meds aren’t doing enough it may be worth addressing.

Yes. The more communication with the providers about exactly what changes they are and aren't seeing, the better. Thanks.

[In response to last week] Don't add to the pressure the tween (probably) already feels to "get better" ASAP. When I was at a very anxious low point (panic attacks daily), all I wanted was the people I love to tell me "It's okay to be a flippin' mess right now. it's okay to have a gosh darn breakdown if you need to. I was here before and I will be here after and I will keep you safe." OP sounds like a parent with awesome intentions so try giving your tween a safe space to just not be "OK" right now.

Oh, how I love this. So true — sometimes the pressure to get "better" just makes things worse. Unconditional and patient love is one of the best gifts a parent can give in this situation.

Thanks so much.

A few months ago, I wrote in to the chat about my difficulty in processing and handling my wife's requests that I consider turning our relationship into an open marriage. We have not gone to counseling (schedules, etc), but we have done a lot of reading and research individually and together and have had a lot of discussions and we now have a much clearer understanding of what the core issues are, which should help us if/when we do get to a counselor (btw - thank you very much for the referral you gave me offline). The big "aha" moment came when we realized that we should be framing this as a question of polyamory, not sex or fidelity or something like that. We then began to find a number of resources that helped my wife to understand herself as a polyamorous person, which in turn helped to open up our discussions because she no longer felt like a weird freak and was able to be more honest with me and with herself. This also led us to guidance on ways for couples to understand each other and to work on solutions where one is wired monogamous and one is wired polyamorous. No, we haven't found our solution yet — and who knows if we ever will find one that works well enough — but at least we feel like we know what we are dealing with, and we are both in a much better place because of that. Now, having said all that, I would love to hear any thoughts or advice you or the chatters might have.

I'm so glad that you wrote back in.

Even though you don't feel like you have the "solution" yet, it does seem you are on the path toward it. You are both willing to understand and respect each other in a way that is admirable. That's the best foundation for any answers that you end up coming up with.

Though of course, those answers may not be simple. If you both are indeed wired very differently, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that one of you will end up unsatisfied (or resentful) with solutions that involve compromise. I can't promise that this path will lead to a 50 year marriage. But then again, it probably has a better chance of leading to you both being true to yourselves.


Thanks for taking my question. I'm dating a woman who was sexually abused as a child. I've never encountered this before and I'm not sure how to be supportive and kind. I don't want to hurt her without realizing it. She has been in therapy so it's really more of a question of my lack of knowledge.

Honestly, I consider you a gem just by the fact that you are thinking about this and asking about this and wanting to do what you can to be empathetic and supportive.

So you are already halfway there.

No two survivors of sexual abuse are alike, of course. So there aren't many generalities between letting HER have her say, listening to her, going at her own pace, and checking in about her feelings. Obviously, issues around sex may come up-- so it's most important that you take boundaries seriously, ask about them, respect them, and try to be mindful of her own comfort level and pace.

But I really do think in these situations, there is no magic thing to say or do. It is just opening yourself up to listening to her. And expressing your support, even admitting that you don't feel like you have the answers. "This is new to me, and I want to learn how to be as supportive as possible. I hope you feel like you can talk to me about how to make that happen. I'm always willing to listen."

It's great that she's in treatment, too. Please keep us posted.

Hoping I'm not too late to the party [From the July 16 chat] ... I've told my children and my family that I don't care what happens after I'm gone — I want THEM to do what they need to do. My sister, OTOH, has planned out her entire service down to the readings and the songs and the order of the service. So, hey, we'll do that. When we lost my father my mother was at a loss - he never said anything about a funeral or service. We talked about it and mother decided that it would be more painful than helpful TO HER to have to be in the center of a group of people all saying "Sorry for your loss." She ended up having just family at a small service before his interment at Arlington National Cemetery. As far as I know, dad hasn't gotten back to us whether he was pleased or not.

Okay, your last line was classic!

I am glad your Mom was able to do what worked for her and protect her emotional health in the process. Perhaps it ended up being a gift to her that your Dad didn't spell anything out — though as you mention, in the very beginning it may be a little more overwhelming to not know what the person wanted.

Hi Dr. Andrea, I have a close friend I've known for 10+ years. He got married last year to a lovely lady and they're clearly well suited, which makes me very happy. My gripe is that he and I (or he, my husband, she and I) will be talking about Topic A, and literally in the middle of the discussion, as soon as someone finishes a thought or poses a question, she'll say something completely unrelated (Topic B) and force the conversation in that direction. She does this A LOT. Friend definitely notices (I can tell by his facial expressions) but he usually indulges her and shifts topics. After a year of this, I've determined that it's almost always when Topic A is something that she's not actively involved in (e.g., politics, my extended family (whom friend has met) or our Fed jobs). Is this just her way of awkwardly pivoting the discussion to something she can participate in, or do you think there's something else going on? I tried talking about Topic B for a minute and then shifted back to Topic A (as I'd posed a question to friend) and within 30 seconds, she did it again, interrupting with Topic C. To me, it's rude, but I'm not sure if it's worth doing or saying anything about it. What say you?

It's definitely a conversational crime, and I could imagine it getting old.

People do this for all kinds of reasons — problems paying attention, feeling insecure with topics they don't know anything about, wanting the focus to be on them ... you can continue to do your little mini-interventions with the topic alphabet soup, but I find these traits to be pretty intractable. So basically, you get the fun of deciding whether or not it should keep you from getting into these conversations with her in the first place.

I am child free by choice and I have had many friendships change after my friends had kids. But if someone is a close friend, it's not enough to say "I'm not interested in kids, give me a call when they go to college." The child is now the most important thing in your friend's life. If you show little or no interest in the most important thing in your friend's life, what kind of friend are you? When my closest friend had a baby, I decided to love the child as a part of loving my friend. I went out of my way to cultivate an "auntie" relationship, even though it wasn't really something that came naturally to me. As a result, I believe my relationship with my friend has only grown stronger, but also I love being an aunt! In general I'm still not crazy about (other) kids, but I love spending time with my niece and find her charming. That's not to say there would have been anything wrong if I had let this friendship slip away after my niece was born. But this is so much more fun and fulfilling.

I know this refers to a conversation that is a couple of weeks old by now, but it was such a lovely sentiment I still wanted to share it. Not that everyone has the desire or the ability to be an auntie, but I love the way you made it work, and the way it then worked for you in turn.

I really think the beauty of these chats is not only the advice, but the varying perspectives you get writing in from other chatters. Some of it was hard to hear. I really took it all, I appreciate you answering my question, and the chatters comments. A few points I wanted to clarify. Yes, we both work full time. However, my husband wants ME and the baby to stay home. He does not want alone time with the baby (not that he can't or won't take it, but on the weekends, that is not what he is looking for). Yes, I could leave the baby with him, and they would both be fine, but I can almost guarantee that if I offered to leave the baby while I went out for an hour, he would encourage me to take him. But I will institute a monthly calendar review to work out the schedule and make sure my husband gets the time with the baby that he wants and that I don't use my "veto" card. Also, just a side note. Yes, I pump. A lot. It's hard, and isolating, and as my baby gets older and my supply diminishes it gets harder and harder. Giving the baby a bottle on the weekends is certainly an option, but its also really hard when I could just nurse him and save that bottle for daycare. I totally understand where these comments were coming from and its a choice that I make to nurse/pump, but also please don't assume that pumping is easy. Not everyone has an extra freezer in the basement full of milk, some of are pumping bottle to bottle. Thanks for taking my question.

I'm so glad you wrote in.

Wow, this is different than what I had imagined. I had gotten the vibe that husband really did prefer you leaving the baby with him as a totally fine option. Perhaps I read too quickly? But yeah, if you are just a more social person in general, he really needs to find a way to help you go and get your needs met on that score. I do think that planning things in advance will help. An hour over the course of the weekend should not to be too much to ask.

And I am sorry if the pumping part was taken too lightly — I do know it's neither simple nor easy!

"You" used to be the plural form of the second person pronoun; thee, thou, and thy (or thine) were the early Modern English second person singular pronouns. This changed over time. Now "you" (for the subjective and objective, and "your," for the possessive) is perfectly proper for the singular as well as plural pronoun. I don't see why the same thing couldn't happen with "they."

Thank you! (Or ya'all! Or youse!)

Unless you use thee/thou you accept the singular you. Singular they is no different. We can all agree irregardless is wrong, though!

haha! Thank you!

I have died on the "irregardless" hill many, many times. I insist that it is actively wrong — evolving language or not — since the "i" prefix and the "less" suffix both have specific, still-existent meanings that NEGATE EACH OTHER when used together.

(Now don't even get me started on "could care less.")

I have some behaviors I want to change and am finding it is much harder to make the necessary changes than I had anticipated. I know I want to, and every morning I get up with that particular goal in mind, I follow through all day until I get home from work. And then, like clockwork, the wheels fall off and I go back to the behavior I’m seeking to change. (Apologies for mixed metaphors there.) How do I fix this? Are there any useful strategies I could implement? Willing it to be so hasn’t yet worked, and, if past behavior is a guide, isn’t going to work.

Ah, the "willing." I know it seems like it should work, but willpower does jack&*%$ when it comes to behavior change (though it does sell a lot of books.)

I would love to hear a little more about this behavior, if you are out there. I understand that you want to be as anonymous as possible, and I can respect that, but it would help me better conceptualize a plan for you. But the best thing is to really explore the triggers that are happening at home, at night, to have conditioned you into this response. They could be visual cues. Those could be hunger or thirst or boredom or exhaustion. They could be smells or sounds. Then you've basically got to change your environment to make a new connection — making the habit harder to engage in, and an alternative behavior (which you'll have to brainstorm as well — ideally something that meets the need you are trying to fill, like playing with a koosh ball instead of chewing your nails, for instance) easier to engage in. Then reward yourself along the way.

Today I got a call from my doctor that a routine screening test showed some "abnormalities." Between her schedule and mine, I cannot go back for follow up testing for a month. What techniques can I use during this time when I feel like the fear of what may happen becomes overwhelming and distracting?

First, I am sorry you're going through this, and I'd lobby to be seen sooner. Not because I am saying there is something to be alarmed over, but rather the opposite — why subject yourself to extended worry and get denied the opportunity to have peace of mind sooner?

So, not sure how much of a rabble-rouser you are willing to be, but that is my first piece of advice — to politely but assertively see if there is any chance to be fit in sooner. (I realize your own schedule has its limits too.)

Then, you're going to want to go heavy into some mindfulness tools. Your basic goal should be to label your anxious health-related thoughts as unhelpful (at least past a certain basic point of boosting your ability to be prepared) and start to see them as separate from yourself and from truth. It's the difference between "I bet there's something wrong! I bet I have XYZ disease!" and "I'm having the thought that I have XYZ disease. Hi, Anxious Thought. I see you there. But you are a heckler right now, because we have no evidence for that. I am on the path to finding out answers, and I will be prepared for whatever comes. But for now, I am going to see you as the dark cloud that you are, breathe more deeply to help you leave my chest, and watch you dissipate in my mind."

Obviously these techniques are best worked on in person, but for a basic primer, you can sign up for the Detox Your Thoughts newsletter thing I did for Buzzfeed (here's hoping by the time the book version comes out, this will all just be a faint memory for you!)

Thank you. I really felt like he wasn't hearing me. I have been trying to focus on my breathing and remind myself that my emotions are outsized and the things I'm facing are out of my control. I know that I'll be okay no matter what happens, but the logic just isn't overriding the anxiety and intrusive thoughts — so being told to try mindfulness and meditation and yoga, to eat well and stay hydrated and sleep, all of which (excepting yoga) I already said I'd been doing, while giving up the few things I do enjoy and can do in 5-minute increments and on breaks at work just doesn't sit right. Thank you for the validation.

You are welcome.

I really don't like to criticize other mental health treatment situations when I wasn't there, but it definitely didn't seem to be meeting your needs. I am sorry ... but hopeful that you can find something much better.

Thank you for using "they." — A middle-aged cisgender identify-as-straight male.

I appreciate this! Thank you!

I just want to say thank you for taking my question and your thoughtful/considerate response. I’m trying to do my best by everyone involved, and am so grateful for your help

You are very welcome. It was so clear that you yourself are being quite thoughtful and considerate about all of this — and I think that will help a lot. 

Oof I read today’s letter and felt badly because I know I interrupt. It’s something I try to change but I could use some tips on how to stop. I’m honestly not trying to be rude; usually what happens is the conversation is moving along at a brisk pace and I get excited about saying something. I hope none of my friends drop me without giving me a chance to do better first!

Awareness plus motivation to change are golden here! The annoying interrupters are the ones who realize it but don't care.

Have you thought about levelling with your closest friends and having them be your allies in this? "Hey, I've been discovering that I interrupt a lot, and I want to be better about recognizing it in the moment. I am going to try to slow down and take a beat before I do this, but would you be willing to have a little code or signal to help me be more aware in the moment?" I could see something helpful and kind, like a playful raised eyebrow with a hand signal or something — no, not THAT kind of hand signal — that lovingly alerts you to it and starts conditioning you against it.

I'm assuming she hasn't been left out of the conversation staring into the middle distance for ages? I do think that people shouldn't be left out for too long. Perhaps you can get together separately for politics, etc. It's one thing to indulge for ten minutes — but I would say not much more when others are not interested or cannot be involved in the discussion.

This is a really good point. Thanks.

In defense of the Wife, I think what the LW, her friend (and her husband, I think) are doing is more rude. Talking shop when non-shop people are present or about people not known to everyone is boring as all get out and completely rude. Conversational topics should generally include something everyone is interested in.

This is definitely another perspective — seen in the prior comment as well — that should be taken into account. It's true that there's some balance there. I don't think that talking shop should be totally verboten, but there's a sweet spot that may make LW's wife feel less excluded.

I don't really have too many memories of childhood or prepubescence, and am increasingly concerned by this. I have some memories, but more like photographs or anecdotes; no linear narratives, and no real sense of time (i.e., "in the fifth grade..."). I have always been a very anxious person, which I understand affects formation of memories. And I was a heavy drinker in my 20s and 30s, so wondered if I simply damaged my brain; but after a year and a half of sobriety, no progress on the memory front. I worry a lot about sexual or other trauma being repressed, but — like I said, I can't remember anything! Should this be explored further and if so, with what type of professional?

Well, we know you're maybe 40 or older ... but there's a big difference here between 41 and 101.

So I'm not sure what kind of baseline to tell you here. I also wonder what kind of baseline you are comparing yourself to. Might you have friends or partners or coworkers who have super-high amounts of memories?

Without more context, I am not necessarily alarmed, but the bottom line is to what extent it seems to be getting in your way. And — in terms of forming new memories and having adequate short-term memories — how are you on those fronts? If that is all fine, I want to make sure we're not creating a problem where there is none.

I have gay friends and am totally supportive. And an acquaintance has a trans daughter — same thing. What baffles me is this new(?) gender-neutral idea. Andrea, I just don't get it. Are there really a lot of people who don't think they're either gender? What does this mean? And why?

I think there are so many different aspects of gender identity, and it could fill a book in its own right. And people who do not fully identify as male or female have been around since the beginning of time, across various cultures. It's really not new, though maybe in American culture to actually consider treating them like human beings is new, sadly.

Ironically, I have concerns that occasionally in our society, an increased understanding of transgender youth (which is wonderful, let me be clear) has led to a DECREASED understanding of those who check neither box.

But the short answer is yes, absolutely, there are folks who are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and there have always been. And it probably represents a whole confluence of physiological and emotional and psychological traits and characteristics — just like anything else that makes us us. And I certainly have known my share of these folks, personally and through my work.

I have noticed with Baggage Check as well as with other advice columns on line that people writing in often choose to use the pronouns "they/them/their" to identify a child, a relative, a friend, the other party in a romantic relationship, or even a spouse because in the situation being described, the gender of this individual is not really a factor that matters. I think this is a good thing.

Yes. I think for some people it heightens the anonymity and makes them feel safer. And let's face it — even if the aforementioned issue wasn't in play, it is so much quicker to write "they" than "he or she" every single time, which is a LOT when you're talking about an anonymous person!

When I was quitting drinking, sometimes telling myself "One day at a time" was too impossible a standard. So I'd move to "One hour at a time," and in the direst situations, even "One MINUTE at a time." Been sober for decades.

Kudos to you on your sobriety.

So, so true. I have worked with clients with various target behaviors where the whole day is a scary, blank, intimidating canvas. The minute at hand is a crucial building block for the next minute, and the one after that. Thanks.

Thank you so much for your response! I signed up for the Detox Your thoughts newsletter and have copied & pasted your mindfulness script into an email to myself, so that I can refer to it whenever I feel intrusive thoughts. (In fairness to the doctor, there wasn't much scheduling wiggle room between her calling me at noon today and me flying to Europe at 7 p.m. tomorrow for the next three weeks.)

Well that was quick! Love it!

Ah ... got it about the three weeks. Yeah, hopefully you will be eating too much strudel (tapas? gnocchi? fish and chips?) to be bothered by those thoughts as much as you fear you will, and the time will fly fast.

From the OED: The Oxford English Dictionary traces singular they back to 1375, where it appears in the medieval romance William and the Werewolf. Except for the old-style language of that poem, its use of singular they to refer to an unnamed person seems very modern.

You had me at "William and the Werewolf."

Thanks. No time to vet, but I'll trust the Times!

Dear Dr. Andrea I am gainfully employed, in my mid 40s, divorced and relatively decent person. However, I am finding it difficult to meet a right mate. I have been on the main dating sites and yet no success at the moment. tried meeting new folks in places like bars but since I don't drink, its often hard to connect with others. I attend church often and have not had success there too. Is there something I am not doing or that I am doing wrong? Thanks

Honestly, there seem to be so many good people out there who are struggling with this same thing that I feel like we should have a mixer!

In all seriousness, it means that it's not likely that you are doing something wrong (though do be fair, I can't rule it out. You don't take the entire bowl of mints when leaving a restaurant, do you?)

I would try to focus more on doing activities that make you happy, and even taking up some new hobbies/taking some new classes/doing some new volunteer work if that appeals to you. You will have the best chance of connecting with like-minded people that way. But it really is a numbers game at some point. The more time and effort you invest, the more chance you have of striking gold.

Hi Andrea, I've seen plenty of people talk about how hurtful it is when a friend suddenly disappears from your life without explanation (and have been on the receiving end myself). I'm finding myself doing that to a friend and I can tell she wants to know why. The problem is, if I tell her, I think it will make her feel worse, rather than better. Many of our group of friends have either paired off or moved away and I find that I'm being put into the position of de-facto significant other. A role I don't want. Also, this friend has never feigned interest in anything going on in my life (even when I've heavily hinted and outright asked to be asked every now and then). I try not to get resentful as I tell myself this may just be her communication style. But it is hard for that not to feel isolating. Honestly, I'd rather spend my time pursuing things in life that excite me and people who want to share them. How do I tell a friend "I think we need to see other people"? When really I mean "I want to spend time with other people because you just don't do it for me"

The way I see it, she's got something that is probably hurting her in potential relationships with others. She has never expressed interest in your life!! Even when you've asked her to! If that's not a justifiable reason to take a step back, then what is?

I guess my thing is, yes, it may make her feel worse to hear it, but it may help her in the long run. And she's clearly not comfortable with the vagueness. It can be a gift to be more honest with her, in a sensitive, compassionate way, of course. Otherwise she's left even more confused, and without any helpful feedback to use to get better.

I don't have a problem with "them" as a singular pronoun, if that's what's appropriate because the person identifies as non-binary, etc. Using "they" or "them" is therefore informative about the person involved. In the same manner, using "she"or "him" allows the reader to have a better understanding of the person involved. Our gender feeds into a lot of the issues this chat and your column addresses, and using plural pronouns for everything looks like hiding relevant information.

But that's the whole point — we don't HAVE the information, so how could we be hiding it? If someone is identified as male, I would say "he." If someone is identified as female, I would say "she."

The OP had a problem with me using "they" instead of "he or she." Which, again, would assume that everyone is he or she, and therein lies the problem.

Why not substitute "it" for non-gendered singular references — a usage that has long been applied to comments about infants ("The baby sucked its thumb ... cried for its mother.")

It is funny how we are willing to call a baby "it," isn't it? I think it would sound jarring and awful when applied toward an adult, though your point is well-taken that language can be so strange!

I cannot remember almost anything, and what is there, is extremely foggy and might be from what other people told me or from looking at pictures. I actually have that issue up through just a few years ago. Things just don't seem to stick well. I do have a few here and there that are more vivid, but those tend to be from emotional moments (saying goodbye to first boyfriend, etc)

I think this is more common than people realize! And I think level of detail in past memories is one of those things that is so hard to compare against others' in order to know what is "normal." Thanks.

So much respect for someone who can absorb tough comments and come back with such a good attitude. A lot of OPs get defensive when they're criticized.

Yes! I really admired that as well.

And honestly, some of the tough comments now it seems were misplaced — I think none of us realized that Hubby wanted HER home all weekend and objected to her going out without the baby.

My grandmother was not a nice person. She loved to wind people up, set them against each other and then she'd bring popcorn. My grandfather was kind and easygoing. Mum and I stayed with them often. Mum is shrewd and guided me to ignore bitchy things my grandmother would say - about my grandfather and others. At first it was hard — I was only 5 or so — and it did wind me up but then, with mum's help, I became wiser and ignored it. You will be pivotal here — I actually don't recommend solo visits for a bit so you you can run interference if necessary and your son can chew things over if he feels confused. Although no-one actively wants a "quirky," grandmother with mum's good guidance I learnt a lot that has held me in good stead.

I am so glad it worked out so well. Sounds like your Mom (Mum!) did a fabulous job of seeing to that ... and I have no doubt that OP can do the job well, too.


To the OP: Hope you have a great time!

Yes! And OP, please do update us upon your return....

Hey, it's "yinz" (a corruption of "you'uns") here in Pittsburgh!

That's right!

Ah, you crazy Pittsburgh-ians.....Pittsburghers?

Just tell your friends. “I can’t drive and talk or listen to music at the same time, sorry.” “I can’t chat and watch TV at the same time. I’m glad to pause the show and chat, though.” What’s rude here is not telling people what works for you, then letting your anxiety make you come across as annoyed when they do something normal (like talk to you). Let them know what you need!

Yup, preparation and communication are important here. Thanks!

Seriously, how many people actually use the proper "she or he" when writing or speaking about a single person of unknown gender? I've literally seen people go from ranting about how hard/improper it is to use someone's preferred pronouns, then use the singular "they" for a single person of unknown gender in the next sentence! FYI, the Oxford dictionary has traced the singular use of "they" back to the 14th century, so it's not some new-fangled millennial/Gen-Z idea ;)

Thanks. I am learning more here about Olde English than I have since that ill-fated "Major English Poets" seminar that would spend an entire hour on one line of The Canterbury Tales!

(True story: my very first-ever college assignment was to memorize and recite the prologue.)

Always good to remind yourself that routine screening tests are designed to have high sensitivity but not necessarily high specificity — i.e., they are designed to identify any abnormalities for further testing. If there was something glaring, you would not be on that flight to Europe. Signed an epidemiologist who had a month-long wait for enhanced mammogram for breast abnormalities

Yes, great point.

I am sorry for your wait as well!

If we're going to talk about using words/phrases correctly: "Might you have friends or partners or coworkers who have super-high amounts of memories?" "Memory" is a count noun (it has a plural form — "memories" — which is what you used). "Amount" is used with mass nouns, "number" with count nouns!

True! I was criminal in that sentence. I will plead the "typing so fast that it is actually disturbing others in the room" defense.

That said — even though it doesn't negate your argument — "memory" is not always a count noun, because another usage for it is not about a singular memory but about the overall psychological construct of memory, which cannot be made plural.

Okay, now we've made everyone else need a nap.

Mine are vivid. And sad. Growing up as an only child wasn't easy. Nor was it easy with a narcissist mother.

I am sorry. I hope you are getting some support.

Thank for taking my question! I'm in my mid-forties now. Currently, I'm not particularly forgetful about future appointments, what I had for breakfast, etc... but come to think of it I couldn't tell you much about, for example, last Christmas other than where I spent it. Or what specific month we went to that concert I enjoyed. I don't worry so much about the present inability to track time, because I have a very tedious solo life with few 'milemarkers,' so it makes sense to me that my life feels like groundhog day/month/year. It's the lack of past memories that panics me. I get concerned because my siblings share childhood stories I simply don't remember. And I have trouble with intimacy. Maybe it is anxiety interfering with the "tape recorder" and I'm just fixated on finding excuses for being weird now?

It could very well be anxiety interfering with it. Or your siblings just having amazing recollections that make you feel needlessly inferior.

Sleep could be an issue as well. Any chance there?



I have no doubt they appear as menu items, somewhere.

Love this!

Yeah, it's a great description. Clearly we don't love the behavior!

Could it be that the wife is doing this because she's tired of those topics that the person mentioned? Are those topics ones that the person brings up often? You mention politics, which is a hot button topic of its own. Maybe she's not as uninformed as you mention and just doesn't want to talk about it. I am VERY well informed about politics but if you ask anyone outside of my job they'd probably say I was not informed because I try to change the topic when it comes up. You also mention your jobs, which could be interesting to some extent, but if you're droning on and on about your work, that could get very boring. I'm not trying to pin the blame on the person who wrote in, but there are at least 3 sides to every story.

Yup, another iteration here of a point I should have brought up myself. Thanks!

The person who wrote in to chastise you about using "they" reminds me of Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He who won't allow a fellow lawmaker, Jimmy Anderson, to call in for votes and meetings, despite being in a wheelchair. Anderson was left paralyzed after a drunk driver slammed into his car in 2010, killing his brother and parents. Vos (and his supporters) say that calling in would be disrespectful to those who who were able to be physically present during the meetings. I heard the same tone in Pronouns letter, by use of the words "distracting" and "intolerable."

Thanks. Yeah, OP could have phrased it more kindly and might have saved THEMSELVES (see what I did there?) from my going all schoolmarm. But when those grammarian hackles are raised ...

Man, Vos sounds like a peach. Blurgh.

"It" has been used for a long time as disparaging, insulting way to refer to people who fall outside or between traditional, binary genders or to transgender people, just FYI.

Oh, absolutely. And I shouldn't have glossed over that. Thanks.

It's interesting how we still use it for babies, though.

Had to memorize and recite the prologue in 12th grade English class. I can still do it, too.

A fellow sufferer!!

Yes, it's amazing that it's still in my own brain as well, too. Probably stored next to some Rick Astley lyrics.

Honestly, just go to everything, or at least as much as you can. I didn't do well on dating apps because I wasn't able to give guys an answer to "what are you looking for" that satisfied them — I still don't understand how you can look for a husband; I just wanted to meet people, and figured if we liked each other, we'd see each other again. I met the guy I'm dating at a mutual friend's daughter's birthday party. He had a girlfriend at the first birthday party, and the big talk before he arrived the second year was that he was single now. I'd met the mutual friend at a football game watch, he'd been her and her husband's realtor.

Yes! You can't predict these things. But the more you get out there, the better. Thanks.

I don’t remember any of that stuff either. I’m 41. I’ve always been this way, and I’m a successful medical practitioner. I can remember lyrics to songs I hate, but not our address when I was 4.

Yes! Another helpful data point.

"Whan that aprille with his shoures soote. . . "

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote!

(It's like the least hip round of call-and-response EVER.)

My understanding of the science is that what works is 1. Remove temptation (eg if you are going low carb, clear the house of carbs) and 2. Frame it as a moral choice (when possible) It’s much easier not to do something we find immoral or out of character.

Well... I honestly am not so sure of that last part, because then the issue of lowering thresholds comes in. Once you've done it once, you already feel so "bad" that it's easier to cross the line.

Have we not seen Breaking Bad?

Aaaaand thanks to you I now have "Never Gonna Give You Up" stuck in my head. There goes the rest of my Tueday.

I aim to please!

Yeah, but he only had one hit song, didn't he?? :)

Nope, there is a whole treasure trove in there!

So many responses today! Thank you so much. (And for those of you who chimed in with extremely charming support about the language issue — I really appreciate it. But I figured if I posted too many, I would have a backlash on my hands on the level of Q-tipgate.)

I hope July wraps up beautifully for you, and I look forward to seeing you next week, or in the comments or on social media in the meantime. Be well, and take good care!

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.”
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