Baggage Check Mental Health Advice: How much is too much for your adult daughter to call you?

Dec 10, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your questions about relationships, family, mental health, motivation, work-life balance, well-being, and more. Read past Baggage Check columns here.

Get mental health tips and an early glimpse at Dr. Andrea's next book "Detox Your Thoughts" by following Dr. Andrea on Facebook or Instagram.

Important disclaimer: this chat should not be considered a substitute for one-on-one psychotherapy, and is for general informational purposes only. (Dr. Andrea's advice on 80s song lyrics and snacking, however, is completely official.)

Hi, all!

How are you today?

I see a lot of you in the queue already-- welcome! What is on your mind this week?

(As a reminder, next week will be our last chat of 2019 before breaking for the holidays. This seems quite strange! But get your questions in now, or hold your peace.... not forever, let's hope, but until 2020.)

Hi...I am 60. I have had three serious relationships with women in my life. The first, a 20-year marriage ended in divorce and left me estranged from my children. My ex-wife was verbally and ultimately physically abusive. Four years after the divorce, I met another woman who I fell in love with and became engaged to. She ended up cheating on me during our engagement and we broke up. It took me ten years to get over her. Recently, I re-connected with a girl I knew in high school. After some weeks of text messages, phone calls and video chat, we decided to meet in person. It was amazing and wonderful and I thought I had found my true love. After spending four days together, she confessed she had a boyfriend and decided to stay with him. I, apparently, was just a fling. I am considering, at this stage in my life, it is better to just go it alone. I do not trust women...and more importantly, do not trust myself.

I am sorry. You've been hurt and burned and betrayed-- and also downright abused-- in a ways that no one should ever have to go through.

But let's start with your last sentence.

It is totally understandable that you don't trust women. But that is a skewed lens-- a lens that comes from decades of pain. And a lens that, if we're being honest, was probably predated by a lens that was TOO trusting. Not that any of what happened to you is your fault AT ALL. But, for instance, with this latest case-- your heart wanted to jump in and find its holy grail. You craved it oh so much, and so your hopes went sky high. You placed all your dreams of redemption and yes, your trust, in someone who was not only unworthy of it, but also whom you didn't really have enough data on to justify putting all your hopes in.

And now, you want to give these women extra power, by letting them turn you off to women altogether and deny you the possible chance for love in the future. Letting them be a referendum on what half the population really is like.

But just as they weren't worthy of your trust, they are also not worthy of denying you happiness in the future.

You deserve better. And they don't deserve to cause you that further pain.

So, here's where I would begin. Face things with open eyes. Yes, you don't trust women, and that is a natural overcorrection for the fact that you have given your trust to people who have smashed it into smithereens. But there is a sweet spot to be had here-- neither declaring someone your true love after a couple of weeks of video chat, nor turning yourself off to women altogether.

There is caution, and slowness, and patience. But still being willing to try.

If you want to go it alone, go it alone. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But don't go it alone because you think that three particularly subpar women represent all that is out there.

Please keep us posted.

My husband lost his job almost four years ago, and he is still struggling to get it together. He works from home, and our house has been turned into a paper-filled home office - he spreads out all over the house and then freaks out when I try to get him to move his stuff or move it myself. I will literally nag for months to get him to clear off the dining room table ... and then will clear it myself in five minutes. He promises to do things (e.g., clean up for his mother's visit at Thanksgiving), but then just doesn't do it. When I talk to him about potentially going to work for someone else and moving his office elsewhere, he says "I'll never work for anyone else again." He literally throws tantrums at me, expressing his frustration with life. I am literally at the point of not being able to deal with his tantrums (think: baby) and anger and lack of contribution to the household. Aside from suggesting that he talk to someone else (he is), is there anything I can do to improve the peace in our household or get him motivated to do something?

Well, I'm glad he's talking to someone. Because we can make this about papers and dining room tables and cleaning up, but there is deeper stuff going on here, and it's good that he's addressing it.

That said, the papers/dining room table/cleaning up thing very much affects your day-to-day life and is a tangible contributor to your stress, and it also erodes your relationship. So, you need some specifics that you can both work out that he can stick to, so that you can remain sane.

First, let me clear up: "he lost his job" but also "works from home." I'm going to assume that he works for himself and is actually bringing in income on a contractor/freelance/gig basis, and that the papers are part of that (and not part of some dysfunctional job search that's going nowhere.)

Presumably, when he worked in someone else's office, he did not spread his papers across the entire office. So, he needs to have boundaries in his own home as well. Papers need to be in X place and X place only. If papers are in Y place, then then they need to be removed by Z time. He "freaks out" now about being forced to clean up, but he needs some structure and boundaries in the first place to prevent it from happening. A file system. A bin. A shelf. We don't need to go Marie Kondo here, but he needs to understand that his actions are affecting you. And ideally, he works in therapy to increase his overall motivation and find out in what ways he is in a rut.

Hopefully, the baby steps of keeping his home office contained can help motivate him to address some of the larger issues. (It wouldn't be out of line for me to suggest couples counseling if these changes don't seem to be happening on their own.)

So about 15 years ago one of my dear friends found photos of her husband with another woman when she went to a pen out of his briefcase. It was horrendous with the worst part being that she lost faith in her ability to choose. To be honest, she didn't choose great men - but then most were just ... meh, although the one who made artisanal chocolates had his advantages. But I digress. I didn't want to lay into her when she was down. But I think she did use that time to look into what attracted her to people, to look at patterns etc. She is now married to a super smashing bloke and I couldn't be happier for both of them. This is also something I did - I had a whirlwind romance, got engaged in a second. Fast forward half a year and it didn't work out. It led me to do The Work and pick apart what was going on - and you know, I wouldn't be in the great marriage I'm in today without that experience. I'm not saying you're to blame, but you have that feeling you don't trust yourself - investigate it as only good can come of that.

Yes! Thank you.

Insight can be gleaned from virtually any situation where we regret our choices. And with insight can come strength-- and more clarified opportunities for happiness.

So glad to hear how things turned out for you and your friend both!

I’m in a fairly active group chat with some friends from college that I’m now fairly far from. One of them is recently post-divorce, which has left her (as it often does) in a pretty tough spot. I can definitely feel for her on those grounds. However, she’s gone full in on diagnosing her ex as a narcissist, citing perfectly normal things as evidence that he’s bad for the kids, and trying to name things as abuse that sure don’t sound like it to me. I’d probably be more inclined to believe her account but she’s got a blind spot the size of Alaska when it comes to what part she may have played in the breakdown of the relationship (like really wanting him to change his beliefs, and a few “I just expected him to go along withs”). Which, fine, I’m not her therapist (and she fired the therapist that didn’t follow her desire to diagnose her ex). But I feel like I’m always playing the bad guy in the chat. “No, it’s not abuse to not change the lighting for them” (he’s got them less than 24 hrs every two weeks!) “of course the kids are a little discombobulated, they’re out of their normal routine”. So I guess the question is how do I get back to just “yes this is tough” because it is, without wanting to bang my head against the wall because the facts in evidence that she provides to us to not paint the monster she wants us to acknowledge. (I do realize that I’m very obviously not party to all the inside workings of the marriage, but the conversations and the anecdotes she shares don’t show me the picture she’s describing)

Do you really want to get back to that, though?

It seems like you assume that getting to a place where you're just saying "Yes, this is tough" will automatically mean that you aren't irked, that you don't want to bang your head against the wall.

Whereas in reality, I feel like by making yourself say something that you don't really buy into as the whole story, you are only going to be more irked.

Because, if I am reading correctly between the lines here, you don't necessarily believe that she is doing herself or her healing or her growth any favors by not addressing her blind spots.

Maybe the way to find the sweet spot between being the "bad guy" and the "Yes, poor you, I only have empathy for you and don't see any other viewpoints" is to have a deeper conversation with her about whether she needs more help and support. Something along the lines of "I know how tough this is for you, and it seems like some of what you've been through is intense enough that it affects how you see things in the present. I worry about the fact that you don't have support anymore after you stopped therapy. Have you thought about trying again?"

I'm another who struggles with boundaries, particularly with my daughter and with my students. I've been working with my therapist to establish areas I carve out for myself (like not responding to students' e-mails after 6pm or on weekends) and I stick up post-its on my bathroom mirror to remind me. My daughter is a little harder. She moved far from home a couple of years ago and we talk a couple of times a day, which is nice, but seems like a lot for a young adult (she has friends and talks to them as well). I don't really want to limit the time and I do miss her and my grand dog (she is 23, btw), but I wonder if it's the best thing for her development as an adult? I sometimes worry (and have articulated this to her) that she worries about me too much and I worry about HER too much :D. Should we start easing off to weekly calls or something? I know I only called my parents on Sunday afternoons, but that was also in the days of expensive long-distance, when Sundays were the "cheap calling days."

I think there are different questions underlying this issue.

Is it automatically dysfunctional to talk twice a day to your 23 year-old daughter?

No.

But can it be a problem if you are both worrying about each other too much?

Absolutely.

So, I am curious about the connecting of the dots. It's not the frequency that is the problem (let's be honest-- I sometimes call Dear Hubs at work just to ask how to turn the TV on, or to tell him that after all these years I finally realized that "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" is not about prostitution but about a hit man, and it blew my mind.... Hmm, now that I think about it, it is a wonder that he still picks up!) but rather it is about the content.

In your mind, does she rely on you too much to make decisions? Seek your approval for too many things? Take your opinion as her own? Feel timid to find her own voice? Need your comfort for things she should be able to soothe herself about? Rely on you for companionship in a way that keeps her from going deeper with her friendships or exploring the dating scene?

And then the whole "worry" thing-- what makes you say that? That seems key.

I don't think you automatically have to ease up on the calls, and in fact lots of young adults share that level of contact with their parents (it's different from past generations, that's for sure.) But if it truly feels more of a hindrance, that's when it becomes a problem.

Hello!! I want to ask something bout your last e-mail: Trap #1: You believe that every thought deserves power where is border from manipulating these thoughts? I mean if it is a thought that shouldn't be erased like that... I mean I can use that technique with anything sometimes a nagging thought that makes me feel bad could actually be my concious telling me to do the right thing... It would be a mistake to let it go...

So this refers to the Detox Your Thoughts email challenge I did for Buzzfeed.

The idea is for you to remain autonomous in deciding which thoughts to engage with, versus which to let pass. And you're right, there are thoughts we shouldn't let go of, because they are here to tell something important (even something like: "I need to use up that chicken before it goes bad.") But that goes in line with the whole goal: become a more curious and mindful observer of your thoughts. Don't automatically act on them; don't automatically fight them; don't automatically embrace them and keep them. Observe them. Acknowledge them. Figure out what you can do with them and whether they are accurate and helpful and can give you insight, strength, or a plan of action.... versus if they are arbitary or distorted or just causing you pain without any additional growth.

I mean, sometimes two different thoughts about the very same thing can be very different in whether they should be listened to. "I may have this disease" is anxiety-provoking, but in some cases may need to be listened to a bit to do some preliminary research and find out what you're up against. Whereas "I may have this disease so my life is ruined" is a thought that doesn't add any insight or strength and actually increases your helplessness. It actually prevents you from doing something that will make you better prepared.

So, with any given thought, you don't seek to "erase." You seek to acknowledge it and see if it has something useful for you. If not, you practice the techniques to let it go.

Does that make sense?

Can you recommend any books on healing your inner child? Thanks!

I'm going to throw this out to the chatters-- because someone like me hears "healing your inner child" and thinks it could go in a million directions (abuse, neglect, betrayal, lack of attachment with parents, dysfunctional household, etc) and wouldn't know where to begin with it as a concept.

So, if you want to elaborate, I am all ears. But in the meantime, chatters, anyone feel like they have a book rec for this person?

(Or the one before? Sorry, just catching up on missed chats.) I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago. A good friend who had previously told me they really valued my friendship suddenly ended it saying they felt uncomfortable about my motivations. Like in the previous poster's situation my (now ex-) friend gave me some examples of "concerning" things: one case was a misinterpretation that could've been sorted out if brought up sooner; the other cases were objectively false, they'd completely misremembered key facts in a way that fit their new narrative and ignored contradictory facts. So how did I move on? Giving it time was the main thing. I was very upset at first. I didn't want to stay friends after being rejected for things that never happened, but I missed the friendship. Continuing a hobby I had done with that friend was upsetting at first because it reminded me of them and thinking of them hurt, but that faded and now I actually can appreciate memories of fun we used to have together. I just try not to think of the bad ending, but even that doesn't feel anywhere near as upsetting as it used to.

Thanks for this vote of confidence for the past OP. I am so glad that in time, you have been able to move forward and have things get a little easier. I think your last line is key-- the thoughts about the bad ending don't upset you nearly as much as they did when they came up before. So it's not just a matter of avoiding the thoughts. But of letting yourself face some of them and get to the point where you can let them pass without as much struggle.

Hi Dr. B, The other day, scrolling through social media, an acquaintance of mine had posted several lovely affirmations, and she invited others to post thiers as well. It hit me then- I have none. I cannot think of a single affirmation about myself (not how I serve others ...like "loving mother" or "good teacher"), but about *me*...much less anything I would ever feel comfortable putting in writing or putting on social media. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Do you or any of your chatters have any ideas about how to boost my self esteem or get more comfortable with the idea of saying positive things about myself? Thank you!

Well, to be clear, posting things on social media is different than feeling them and believing them-- one does not automatically lead to the other. So, let's focus on the latter-- the feeling them.

And as a second caveat, I don't want to totally discount affirmations that involve how you serve others. I see the point you are getting at, and of course it's true that you can't only live for other people and define yourself by that, but there is still much meaning and self-worth to be gained from what you bring to the world, not just how awesome you are.

Okay, now that I got those out of the way.

It does get easier with practice. Some people find that even just saying the things out loud, to themselves, helps them start to feel more natural, and you don't find believing them as much.

You could also try viewing yourself like an observer would. What would your friends and loved ones say about what strengths you have, or what makes you special? What would you say to yourself if you weren't yourself, in other words?

You also may have some luck starting with Loving Kindness Meditations that are geared not just toward others, but toward self-compassion. Interestingly enough, there's some data that loving kindness meditations actually affect cellular activity and slow the aging process. Wild!

Hi Dr. Bonior, Just an odd thing I noticed this week: your posts seem to be coming in chunks rather than one at a time. I know you don't have a producer any longer, just figured you might want to know

Thanks. Are other people seeing this? I'm definitely posting one at a time, as usual.

Oy!

The LW says he had three serious relationships but is apparently including the four day chat fling as the third. That's not a serious relationship. It was a few days of dating. That's how dating works, you get to know each other and decide if you want to keep seeing each other. She did not, and that's okay. She didn't wrong you, she was honest about her decision to remain with her boyfriend. Yes just got your hopes up too high and too fast.

Well, I imagine we could get into the weeds with what that one woman did or did not disclose in terms of an already existent boyfriend at the outset and whether that was right-- but your point is well-taken. OP could probably use some help in understanding that the dating process is a process in and of itself, that it doesn't automatically have to lead to something, and in fact shouldn't automatically lead to something. Thanks.

Oh The Places You'll Go - Dr. Seuss (seriously)

Thanks!

The cover alone is pretty uplifting.

I think it's also helpful to see if your thought has a voice you can identify. This is especially true of those voices that we heard when we are young that are harmful - such as 'I am not enough' 'I am too sensitive'. The voice can help you understand where it came from.

Yes!

In the book form of Detox there will be all kinds of techniques for making your inner thoughts more tangible and concrete-- thereby allowing yourself to separate from them more easily. It really does work.

Thanks!

My 59-year-old husband of 36 years died six weeks ago following a seven-month battle with cancer. He was an amazing and beautiful person and those of us left behind are crushed. I know that feeling really gutted here is normal, that feeling every day is drab and depressing part of the deal. And I get that the joy that had been part of our lives together may be a long time in returning. But I guess my default position is that I will one day feel real joy again. The other day a student of my husband's wrote and said that given the strength of my relationship with my husband I may never be as happy again in the future as I was with him. Though this certainly might be true, I'm having such a hard time with that sentiment. (And for the record, I'm not upset with the student at all; he was responding to a comment of mine in an earlier email about being so happy with my husband and how lucky I felt I'd been.) I know no one has a crystal ball and no one can tell me I'll be happy again going forward. I do know I'll be happier than I am now (not hard to get above this horrible, grief-stricken place), but will I feel real joy again? Will I be able to engage in the things my husband and I loved with real love and happiness? I feel like I've been robbed (of him, horrible and cruel) and of the potential for a future I'd always thought I'd have. It's one thing to feel so awful right now and another to think I'll feel anything close to this for years and years.

I am so, so sorry for your loss, as cliched as those words may sound.

And I am glad you don't have negativity toward your husband's student-- though it would be understandable to be frustrated-- because you see the overall point that he was trying to make, and that it came from a place of respect and awe of the marriage that you and your husband shared.

There will be joy again.

Oh, how I wish Nora McInerny were here-- she was on the chat earlier this year (should be easily googlable; sorry I don't have time to link.) But she in particular has done some beautiful work in this area, with her writings and her "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" podcast. Definitely check it out.

You have been robbed. Of many things-- that much is totally true. And I hate that you have to go through this. The darkness is real.

But in time, from working with many, many people who have braved this darkness, it will no longer envelop you. You will not "get over it" but you will learn to make it part of you. To grow bigger around it. To remember your husband-- in the words of another grief expert, David Kessler-- with more love than pain.

And within that, there will be moments of joy-- from small moments to tremendously big ones.

By understanding that the darkness is part of the process for now, but that it will take a different form in the future, you are better able to brave the waves. In the meantime, please do keep connections with others strong. Not necessarily just those who are trying to say the right thing and sometimes going a bit wrong, but those who have also been there. I push grief groups a lot because I think it is one of the types of group therapy that offers the biggest bang for your buck in terms of the value of speaking with others who truly, absolutely get it. And being able to drop the facade of everyday normalcy when you walk in the room.

There will be sunshine ahead, and you will feel it in a deeper way that is tinged with something complicated that understands that there are also clouds-- but it will still be joy in its own right.

Please keep us posted.

just my 2 cents, I'm in my late 20's and *still* text my mother multiple times almost every day. We started the habit when I was in college, and it hasn't really changed. I guess you could make jokes about the fact that we talk that much and I just bought a house less than 2mi from my folks, but if it isn't an issue, it isn't an issue. Every relationship is different, and that's OK so long as it works for you

Exactly.

For some people, having their parents be their best friends is a beautiful thing and adds so much depth to their lives.

For other people, it represents limitations and self-sabotage and missed opportunities for growth.

Glad it works for you!

Turn the negative about yourself into a positive - 'I am too much' becomes 'I am a loving and warm and exuberant person'.

I like it!

Cognitive restructuring at its best.

This is a bit off-the-wall but the book that popped into my mind is "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. It is a little hard to explain but it lays out a structured plan to tap into your creativity. (You don't have to consider yourself creative nor an artist to make use of it.) There are exercises that help you reconnect with your inner child, lost dreams and past hobbies or areas of interest. This post explains more about connecting with your "inner child" for play and self-nurturing: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/everyday-creativity/2015/05/this-weekend-nurture-your-inner-artist/

I don't know this work directly, but am so glad for the suggestion and I bet OP will be too. Thank you!

I just read the WaPo article by Monica Hesse about 'walking like a man' on the sidewalk and not getting out of people's way. She observed women scooted over and men didn't. I'm under 5' and tend to find that it's not so much men as 'force majerue'. It just doesn't occur to taller people to get out of the way - and also, I literally think they don't see me sometimes. As a New Yorker, I often weave my way though crowds. But when people are say blocking an entrance I say - and keep saying 'excuse me, coming through' in my best Lady Bracknell. When a gaggle is blocking the whole sidewalk, I look them in the eye and say in a ringing but hopefully good tone 'excuse me'. What I liked about the article was talking about being aware of what's going on around us and showing kindness.

I have been meaning to read this!

Yeah, the height piece is definitely a confound, but I have no doubt the gender thing is real. Being aware of what's going on around you-- and showing kindness-- they have such miraculously positive effects, don't they? It is unfortunate that they can be very hard at times for folks.

In a relationship, where's the line between understanding that no relationship or person is perfect and that every long-term commitment requires putting up with some things you don't like about a person, versus maybe this just isn't the person or relationship for you? How do you know which side your situation falls on?

There's no magic formula.

But at some point, it really does come down to whether you feel like you want to be with the person overall. Whether the love feels encompassing and sustaining and deep-- the dirty socks on the floor are just part of the package that you nonetheless adore anyway-- or whether the dirty socks on the floor feel like the main gist of the package, with just a smattering of love thrown in.

Of course, I bring up dirty socks because it is the classic, universally cited thing in a marriage that grates.... but it's a good example because it can go either direction. The dirty socks can just be a trivial thing that mean virtually nothing other than a split-second sigh every few days. Or the dirty socks could represent carelessness or laziness or not valuing someone's desire to keep a clean house or the fact that the partner never listens or is a totally disorganized slob, etc.

There are no things that are automatically small... it matters what they represent about the person and how they affect how you see them... and how they love them.

Care to tell us the specifics? Are we talking dirty socks, or are we talking....a different set of values or goals or perspectives altogether?

"Healing the Shame that Binds You."

Thank you!

Mynever married BIL died last week of the same sort of cancer that took my husband 11 years ago this month. It's such a shock--both went suddenly, and my BIL told no one in the family that he was this ill. I'm reeling. It's so awful and the reminders are everywhere. I know to be kind to myself. I am helping as much as I can from so far away. The trip is not possible. We are angry with him for not telling us and sad for him because he died alone.

Oh, how truly, truly awful.

I am just so sorry.

And given the loss of your husband 11 years ago, this hits in a particularly cruel way.

Please, as you are helping them, help yourself too. Reach out to people in your own inner circle. Let yourself have space from things that feel too painful. Get fresh air and sleep and nature and things that feel nourishing. Give yourself permission to opt out of whatever you need to.

Anger and sadness feel so powerful at times... but as you unfortunately must know all too well, these feelings come in waves that can pass and let up.

Please do keep us posted again. You are not alone in your grief this season... and we are here.

I note that a previous poster used "talk" and "text" interchangeably. But they're not. For one thing, you can choose whether and when to respond to a text and how briefly. Talking requires both parties to stop what they are doing simultaneously to give each other their full attention. Texting somebody to say "leaving now, see you in 20" is not the same as calling for the same purpose. So are these 20-somethings CALLING their moms several times a day, or just checking in by text?

It's a good point!

Do you ever appear at local public events, lectures, readings, etc.? Do you plan to do so in connection with your new book?

There will absolutely be some local shindigs for the new book! We have a pub date of May 5th. I'm excited.

And there might be a couple of local open-to-the-public things before that (I do speaking engagements a lot, but they are usually for individual organizations/conferences). I will definitely keep you all posted.

I hope you all will come out and see me in person...with my typing fingers silenced!

It's my ritual during my commute home... I don't feel like I'm dependent on it, but I think we both really enjoy the talks.

That sounds lovely!

Yeah, I know a lot of people who have a "check in on the way to work" or a "check in on the way home from work" (or both) ritual with someone. It can be a sweet routine.

My 19 yo son returned from college because of overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks. He sees a therapist weekly & is medicated but cannot stay home alone or drive alone without experiencing full blown panic attacks. My schedule is now ruled by his. Is there a day program that will help him overcome the anxiety? I need some alone time!

I'm sorry that I can't offer specifics, but his therapist definitely needs to be collaborated with on this. If he is making progress in the right direction, then this could be temporary-- but if he is stalled (or potentially even getting worse), then he may need a more intensive options.

Is he receiving specific behavioral interventions (systematic desensitization, exposure therapy, etc.) to get him closer to some of these milestones?

based on my experience as a short woman married to a tall man and I have lots of tall friends, male and female. Maybe some tall people act this way, but IME most tall people are acutely aware, having been told about it since childhood, that they take up more space than not-tall people, and they are less, not more, prone to walking over people. Monica specifically pointed out one man who swerved into HER path and then scolded her for "not looking where she was going." If that isn't male privilege I don't know what is.

Ouch. Yeah, that's ugly.

And I agree-- as a fellow short woman married to a tall man-- that tall people can't be stereotyped to be bulldozers.

Definitely going to read Monica's piece soon after this chat!

I hope you show up at Politics and Prose. They have a great series of almost daily events.

Yes! Love that place! We will likely be making that happen.

I'm 41 now, but almost as long as I've had a cell phone (I guess about 15 years?), I've talked to my mom almost every day, sometimes while meandering around Wal-mart or Target, now that I live in New York we usually chat while I'm walking to the next express stop to get some exercise. It IS lovely!

Yes!

It doesn't have to be synonymous with dysfunction. Thanks.

I think two other things 1. that you really have to start from a place that this person might well not change and are the 'quirks' things you can live with for the rest of your life. When you're in luurrve it can skew things and lead to some magical thinking 2. can you be you, warts and all and how does the other person respond to that? Can they take it in their stride. I come from a let it all hang out background and my first serious boyfriend found that ... um ... rather alarming. My husband doesn't seem fazed at all.

Excellent points.

Yes, big things or small things-- you have to be able to love the person WITH those things, not with the asterisk that "I'll be able to get rid of those things someday." And you have to be able to be loved even with your own things too.

My husband has become friends with someone where we work, who is also our neighbor. I reached out separately to get to know the spouse, in the hopes that we could be couples-friends. I asked spouse out for coffee, out for dinner. No interest. Which is fine. We have to email sometimes over community things, and she doesn't always answer me in a timely manner or at all. Which is irritating, but not enough to really get really irritated over. What is not fine is that every time I see her she brings up the fact that my invitation is still unanswered or an email reply is outstanding. ("Oh, we'll get out to dinner sometime soon!" "Oh, I never answered you about X. I'll do it as soon as I get home!" But she doesn't.) She doesn't like me - I get it - whatever. Is she rubbing this in my face? What is going on? It is irking me more and more.

I doubt she doesn't like you (and even if she didn't, you seem more than willing to accept that-- which is good), but it's the classic thing that happens in this day and age. Someone doesn't have the time or incentive to prioritize growing an acquaintanceship into a friendship. And yet they feel like they should do this, so they feel guilty about it.  And the guilt makes them feel awkward and weird, so they have to address it-- and yet, in addressing it, they make things even more awkward and weird because the cycle keeps continuing.

(I see this as the distant cousin to the people who keep texting that they are sorry that they are late and they are only 5 minutes away.... when in reality they are a half hour late and every subsequent "5 minutes" fib just makes the situation that much worse.)

And with the email, the cycle is similar.... she does need to get back to you (does she ever? Is it worth considering just never emailing her at all?) because it's a community issue. But she's an avoidant procrastinator who-- for her own reasons-- would rather put the guilt front and center and flagellate herself over the task instead of actually choosing to do things differently the next time.

I am more than used to working with these individuals-- so it's sort of different to talk to someone on the other side of it.

I would recommend, if it still irks you even after you do your best to realize that this is about her own dysfunction and not about you, to look her in the eye when this happens, and say in a pointed but kind way, "Beth-- it's okay. We can let it go." She will probably be startled by this, and sure it may create a whole new layer of the guilt/flagellation cycle, but at least it draws something of a conversational line in the sand to explain that no, I don't want to hear this anymore.

I talk to my mom every few weeks, sometimes months go by. And I'm an only child. It is what it is, the phone works both ways, too. And she doesn't text and barely emails.

Yeah, that's definitely the other end of the spectrum, and it's not uncommon.

There are some people who are just not reacher-outers. Sometimes there are deeper reasons why, sometimes maybe not. In an ideal world, a balance is found that feels good to both people.

Time is up for us, sadly.

I'll see you next week for our final chat of 2019. In the meantime, we can stay connected through the comments and through Instagram and Facebook. Here's to (in the nicely summarized words of one of our posters today) kindness and awareness!

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 two books in addition to the upcoming "Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover The Life You've Always Wanted."
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