Kid Fatigue: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, September 13)

Sep 13, 2013

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, September 6, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's forum, home of the Hax-Philes and Hax fans. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Hi Carolyn - I wrote in last week about having feelings for my roommate and thank you for answering! It somehow takes a lot of pressure off knowing there's no right or perfect way to bring it up. Someone followed up asking about jumping from one man to another, but it's been years since my divorce, and up until three months ago my roommate lived in another country while I spent time on my own learning who I am as an independent person. I have a great circle of friends and don't feel lonely or unhappy being single, I just get nervous and excited and happy thinking about something romantic happening with the roommate. I know from reading your advice that you'd say I'll know I'm ready to date when I find someone I want to date - but am curious if there are exceptions, and there is merit to casually dating as opposed to jumping into a potentially serious romance with someone that I live with?

Maybe there's merit to that, but I have to think it's mostly hypothetical merit. Casually dating on purpose while living with the person you really want to be with just sounds weird.

You will write in after you've talk to your roommate, right? We're invested now. Royal "we."

Thank you for taking my question last week. I was surprised when you included the domestic violence link because he had never been violent. He still hasn't been, but that weekend he yelled at me pretty bad, and systematically insulted my entire character. When we talked normally he said he was purposely trying to hurt my feelings. He admitted that he should have communicated better, but never apologized for yelling, though I apologized for 'setting him off' multiple times. I broke up with him.

Every person who becomes violent was, preceding that point, not violent.

Plus, domestic violence education and preventive action are also applicable to in situations of verbal/emotional abuse, because they're just different points on the same continuum. When someone thinks it's okay to cause you deliberate harm in one way, how much of a leap do you think it is from that to another kind of deliberate harm?

As for why I threw that in there when you hadn't even mentioned yelling, it was this: "He feels that if we go somewhere together we SHOULD spend every second together." That's classic control, which is a predictor of relationship violence. You might have seen it in the warning-signs section of the pamphlet I linked to.

Even though you broke up (phew), I think you still would benefit from reading more on the topic. "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker is the standard-bearer, and it's also a quick and absorbing read. Take care.



I'm expecting a baby. When people find out - they see my belly and ask or I tell them - some ask whether the baby was planned or a surprise. (Do they realize they're indirectly asking about my sex life?) I think it's a rude question no matter what a woman's situation, but I am married and in my 30's ... yes it was planned, and if you don't know that already, it's not your business. Any ideas on a response? I'd like to shut down the topic, not give people an answer, and still remain friendly and polite to co-workers and clients.

Yes, good one for the Universal List, thanks.

How about: "I'm going to pretend you didn't just ask me that" in more casual circumstances, and, "Ah, that's an awfully personal question," in more formal ones. I'd offer the Miss Manners rhetorical, "Why do you ask?"--which is a good solution--but I'm hearing more and more that people often don't recognize it as a rhetorical or as a way of telling someone to stuff it, so users have to be prepared to ignore the follow up question with an indulgent smile and no actual answer.

Taking other suggestions, too ...

Congrats, btw!

You know, sometimes just having to type my question coherently in this little box leads me to my answer. You probably don't get enough thanks for that service.

Nor should I, because my only part in that is to keep breathing. But I appreciate the thought.

Our 22-year-old daughter lives with her boyfriend, whom we don't really like, but are cordial when we get together. A friend of our daughter's recently contacted me that she had received a "very frightening" note from our "very depressed" daughter, then this friend later backtracked and said there was nothing to worry about and our daughter would probably reach out to us when the time was right to talk. Piecing together some other facts, I am fairly certain our daughter had an abortion last month. I suspect the friend reached out because she felt it was "above her pay grade" to help our daughter deal with her depression. Our daughter has said nothing, but I worry about her emotional state. She has been out of touch for three weeks, which is uncharacteristic, texting us only that she's been really busy. I'm not sure if I should call and ask if something's up, or wait for her to bring it up, if she decides to talk about it. She has every right to her privacy, but I am concerned that this depression could spiral downward. What would you do?

I would wait till she was ready to tell me, but I in the meantime I'd call "just to say hi," and also put myself in her path, ever so gently, to make it easy for her to lean on me. For example, I might trump up something to drop off at her apartment. Normally I wouldn't insinuate myself into an adult's life like that, but depression is an exceptional case. Someone needs to be willing to override the normal loyalty and respect limits to get a good look.

Over the course of several years, I, a younger cousin, and my brother were all molested by an older cousin at family gatherings. We all participated under her direction and coercion and eventually grew out of it. I loved her fiercely and was devastated when she died of cancer about 15 years ago. The three of us who remain never speak of what happened, but I know it had a lasting impact on my own life and can't imagine the others remained unscarred. I'm also certain my cousin was herself molested and acting out her own victimization. My question is this: is there any point in telling people -- my parents, my siblings, her parents or siblings? I feel like I "should," to help all of us thoroughly heal, but don't know if there would be a point. We're all adults now, with families and children of our own. If it matters, the incidents stopped more than 25 years ago.

Silence is what allowed this cousin's abuse to morph into your abuse, and what might be allowing your brother or younger cousin's abuse to morph into the abuse of their children.

That doesn't mean the right thing to do is charge in and start telling. Please do your homework and find a reputable therapist who specializes in treating the victims of childhood sexual abuse, then deploy this professional's expertise on the delicate issue of these other families. I realize therapists are expensive and in some areas scarce, but this is not the time to write it off as too difficult. Please find a way to talk to someone--RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE--is a good place to start.

After multiple relationships not working out because both parties were dishonest in one way or another, I decided to take my most recent fresh start as a single woman and use a new approach to my current relationship, just to see how it worked out. I am 23, met my current boyfriend (also 23) online, and decided to be COMPLETELY HONEST. This was meant to mostly cover my feelings, as I tended to hold things in unhealthily, but I let it fold over in to all aspects, including the disclosure of my sexual history. I have now learned this was a mistake. This man is all I've ever wanted in a partner, we live together, we've talked about getting engaged, and I've never had a better friend in the world. But he can't get past what I've told him; he loves to throw things in my face, such as how I won't try something with him in the bedroom that he knows I did with someone else. I already know it's too late to take it back, so how can I help him get past it? Expressing the frustration it causes me has had no effect on the way he acts or speaks about it.

I'm sorry, I don't see any other answer than to break up. He's the one who has to get past it, and it doesn't sound as if he's trying. I can't speak for you, but "all I've ever wanted in a partner" is someone who accepts me as-is. You don't have that--you have someone who is punishing you for who you are. Are, were, same diff, by the way. And when I read "he loves to throw things in my face" exactly one sentence after, "I've never had a better friend in the world," I just want to cry. 

Please take better care of yourself than that. Until you meet someone you feel lucky to know and who feels lucky to know you, you're not there yet.

For next time: The radical honesty might be too much (you can't prevent someone from having mental images of you with someone else, but you can certainly prevent them from being accurate), but being truthful about who you are is actually a good and important idea--because it'll scare some people off, not in spite of that. The right person for you will be someone who isn't put off by your having had "multiple relationships," and who instead is grateful you're not afraid to own who you were then, are now, and how you got from Point A to Point B. 

If it helps, age might be a factor. For every decade of life, people either become more comfortable with the idea of life mileage, or suffer the consequences of sitting in judgment of it. The top three consequences: being alone; being in relationships with people who don't have the strength to stand up to partners who judge them; being with people too young to have experienced much yet.

I also think people as they age get more comfortable with not spelling out every gory detail--not (just) because it's too freighted, but because it's hard to imagine wanting to hear anyone's every gory detail, much less having to tell.

Call. Please call. You don't need to pry into her life or difficulties, but depression can make reaching out to people so impossibly hard. Just let her know that there is a human being in this world who loves her and wants to talk to her. When you're depressed, one person's "didn't want to pry" can feel very much like "doesn't even care."

Thanks for this, and also for the nudge to answer more fully:

Anyone in this parent's position who doesn't know about depression would do well to get informed. Depression makes getting out of bed, making a phone call, going out for a run, etc., feel like an insurmountable obstacle.

Depression also lies. Depression will say, "No one will care if I stop calling," or, "I'm just bothering people when I call," when in fact people will care a lot if you disappear on them. Knowing about depression will help the non-depressed person not take personally the resistance s/he gets from the depressed person. It's important to know when it's the illness talking.

It is a nasty and debilitating condition. (link) is one place to go for info, as is NIMH (link). 


"I beg your pardon?" or "I'm sorry?" in a gently surprised tone (or a sharper tone, depending on the severity of the infraction). Miss Manners' rhetorical "Why do you ask?" is taken literally, CH is right, but it's pretty hard to misinterpret a question forcing the questioner to reiterate their question. If they press, it's okay to tell people it's personal.

Good stuff, thanks.

Hi Carolyn! My grandmother will be 90 in December. Her husband died of a heart attack when she was just 40 and she has lived the rest of her life on her own, until recently when my mother moved in with her to make sure she doesn't fall and break a hip. Our family frequently goes to visit her and tries to include her in holidays/events, but she is a homebody and doesn't want to bother. Recently, though, she has flat-out told my mother that she is just waiting to die and she doesn't understand why she's still alive. She is in fairly good health with only a thyroid issue for which she (used to) take medication to keep in check. She has refused to refill her prescription or go see her doctor because "he's just trying to keep me alive longer" (those darned doctors). She's turning away sewing customers and hardly leaves the house even to get the mail. A couple of weeks ago she handed my mother her eulogy. Her health is not so bad that she is on her deathbed so this could go on for some time. What can we do as family to address this? She has every right to isolate herself and, after 90 years on this earth, the right to feel it's time to go, but I can't stand the thought of her feeling so miserable if she is still to be around for several more years. Our family is at a loss at what to do. Any advice?

Respect her, please--start with that.

I'm not saying you haven't been respectful, it's just that it is SO SO common for people who are near the end to have their truths about death waved off as if they're mosquitos at a picnic, when really people just want to be heard and understood. 

Start with the doctors, for example. You make a clever aside with the "(those darned doctors)," but extension of life without regard to quality of life is a serious problem afflicting the medical profession. And doctors are usually the first to say that; they're under intense pressure to use all available means to extend life--often not by elderly or gravely ill patients themselves, but by family members who are unwilling to face death.

Another example, why shouldn't she stop sewing if she's sick of it, and why don't we thank our loved ones when they hand us their eulogy--since that allows us to see right there, black-and-white, what they want from us?

Your question gets to the heart of a lot of this stuff, since you're concerned about her "feeling so miserable" until her day comes. Yes, that is what this is about--and you can go a long way toward releasing her from misery just by letting her talk about the end without batting the mosquito away. "You know what, Gram? I agree with you on the doctors. I want you around forever, but you shouldn't feel you have to take anything you don't want to take.  If you can't decide that when you're 90, when can you?" 

Even tell her plainly that you want her last days to be good ones, and is there anything she'd like to do? If she has photo albums and the energy to talk you through them, sit with her and learn who the people are and what their stories were. 

I could go on, but you get the idea, right? Validate her instead of wringing your hands over her.

There is one official thing you do need to do, though: Do talk to a geriatric social worker. There is a high likelihood of depression here, and while that doesn't change the fact that she needs listeners who won't correct her, it does mean you should have a professional involved if only to advise your family along the way.

My husband and I are at an impasse in our relationship. We cannot see each other's points of view and are just existing in a miserable state. I've begged for marriage counseling for a year, which just yesterday he reluctantly agreed to. However, he has basically stated that marriage counseling fails, that when (not if) it doesn't work that I give up. We have kids and we love each other, we just can't seem to live together right now. Am I wasting my time saving a relationship that he sees as doomed?

He agreed to the marriage counseling, so go--don't worry about the possibility that it wastes your time. Even if it fails, it won't have been a waste because it was and  is a basic thing you can try before giving up altogether. That may seem silly, but it can be important to be able to tell yourself you"tried everything."

And, if you choose someone good, you will have that person to help you through whatever the next step happens to be.

One suggestion before you start: Go into it looking for new ways to understand what's happening, new ways to frame your marriage, new ways to speak to your husband, vs. a new way to save the marriage or get your husband to see your side. Set only the goals that are within your control.

Just another thought, you mention your grandmother is in good health aside from a thyroid condition which she is no longer treating. It is possible that the condition is contributing to her mood, lack of activity, depression, etc. As Carolyn said, all of the behavior you describe is perfectly normal for someone of advanced age, but thyroid issues could be exacerbating those feelings. It might be an idea, if you haven't done so already, to contact her doctor and just ask if her condition and/or lack of treatment could be a factor. If it is, you obviously can't force her to go back to the doctor and be treated, but the information might be helpful.

Thyroid is sneaky, you're right--implicated in mood and other functions. Thanks.

I used You first!" once. That was all it took.


You (re)answered the how-to-find-a-therapist question a couple of weeks ago, with lots of great resources. But what about the next step? I am not even sure what kinds of things I need to know to be sure a therapist is the right one--is it just a matter of gut instinct and "clicking?" Or are there particular questions to help figure it out?

"Clicking" is a lot of it, but just as important is to share a vision of a successful outcome. What are you trying to achieve, and what role to you envision the therapist playing in that? Tailor your questions toward those kinds of answers.

Can I raise a pet peeve? I hate that term. I read the other day about someone's marriage failing after 35 years and three kids. Um, no. It ended. Lots of good came out of it, and then things changed, and it ended. The same thing can be said for most "failed" marriages. It makes it sound as if the fact of being married is the accomplishment. It is also terribly judgmental. I would like a ban on that word in that context. OK, said my piece.

Quite well, I might add. Thanks.

I am a true extrovert - when I get around people I get pepped up, talkative, excited. Chipper. You get the drift. My husband is struggling with health issues right now and I spend a lot of time alone while he deals with it. We have a small child. During the stretches alone, I feel depressed, wrung out and generally down and blue. however, whenever I see friends and family, I'm buoyed up by their presence, and when they ask me how I am, I am generally "great" or "fine" in the moment. It's only when I am alone that I am down. Obviously a great solution would be to go out more and meet up, but having a small child on a weeknight just doesn't allow for that. How do I explain to people that I do have rough moments and get help when I feel like the general consensus will be "well she seemed fine when I saw her"?

Seems to me you can just say to people, when they ask you how you are, that you're great when you're around people--like this [gestures to roomful of family]--but when it's just you and Child for long stretches, you're really feeling down, stressed, and you're struggling.

Obviously you're not going to say that to an acquaintance who's just being polite after crossing paths with you at the grocery store, but you can say it to the people who are genuinely seeking information on your well-being, right? 

Also, specifying what kind of help you would like from people is also important. 

Also, please get screened for clinical depression.

Friday the 13th Blues.


I have a nephew who is gay. He is in a relationship with another young man and they plan on moving to the East coast of Florida. My sister-in-law plans on having a going away party for family and friends of my nephew. I am not sure if I will go because my nephew has a way of flaunting his "gayness". What I mean is there are times when they do passionate kisses in front of those who happen to be straight. How can I ask my sister-in-law to ask my nephew to tone it down on his passionate ways when we are around. To me and others, it is very offensive to see two males basically making-out. Thanks Concerned Uncle by marriage

Do you find this offensive?:

(link to image)

If no, then realize they probably did this right in front of people who happened to be gay. 


Carolyn Over 7 years ago I had a terrible failing out with my best friend of 20 years and a mutual friend. It ended with me screaming at the top of my lungs and saying things I can never take back. At the time, I felt that I had no voice, and that decisions were presented to me ( i.e., we talked and we decided X) rather asking what I thought about X. I went along for many years, but after a particularly stressful period in my life, I blew up. I've learned from this experience, got help for depression, learned not to hold things in, and speak up when I don't want to do things rather than just go along. The friendship is dead however. Multiple attempts to reach out to my friend were rebuffed. At the extremely rare times we are both at the same function, she is distant and cold. I have accepted this and worked hard to move on. The same can't be said of our mutual friends. They still hope for a reconciliation. At first I thought that they were asking this based on some knowledge of my former friend's wishes. That's not the case. They want to feel free to invite both of us without it being weird. I have had this group of friends to my home because I want to maintain ties with them, but the discussion invariably turns to my former friend and a rehash of questions about what happened and why we cannot fix it. Truth is, my former friend doesn't want to talk about it. The end of that friendship was hard on me, and I wish that I could have handled things differently. How do I maintain my other friendships, which go back 30 years without having to relive this painful part of my past?

Chances are you will have to relive it for as long as it takes for your mutual friends to get used to the new normal. You can help by assuring them that you don't want your meltdown to inconvenience them any more than it already has, and that you'll do everything you can not to make things "weird" when both of you are invited someplace. Then take your first non-obvious oportunity to change the subject. Rinse and repeat.

Friend has a crush on me. I like Friend, but I'm happy with my boyfriend and don't want to leave. I want to do right by Friend, so what are my obligations here? Break things off with Friend until the crush wears off? Keep seeing Friend, but in ways that keep things from getting deeper and more personal? Just make sure that I'm not inadvertently leading him on?

These two: Keep seeing Friend, but in ways that keep things from getting deeper and more personal? Just make sure that I'm not inadvertently leading him on?

Also be a good sport about it if he needs to stop being around you for a while, and then later if he comes back with the intent of making a go of being just friends. A lot of friends do get through this awkward stage, as long as they're both intent on that, sans ulterior motives.

My wife and I have a two-year-old, and another on the way in a month or so. So we're talking about a very uncomfortable and tired mother/mother-to-be. When trying to organize plans for dinner or anything really, some of our extended family don't want to compromise or acommodate for our restrictions (like being home for bedtime routine, not being able to do anything physically strenuous). They don't have kids. Are they just ignorant? Do they have compromise fatigue? Or are they just being jerks (I wanted to use a more colorful word here)?

Whatever it is, they have their stuff and you have yours, and you're all better off if you resist the temptation to take their stuff personally. If they won't accommodate? "Oh, so sad, we can't go/will have to leave midway through--but we'll catch you next time!" Blah blah blah. Stay the course you need to be on not to lose your minds, and let them deal with that, and let any pressure to do otherwise just bounce off you.

There's a good reason, by the way, not to get into the business of deciding why some extended-family members won't play along. Sure, maybe they don't have kids and that's why ... but maybe eventually they will have kids, and those kids will be much more easygoing about a schedule change and so they'll never understand why you can't just stay an extra hour. Or, maybe they don't have kids but want them badly and the mere idea that they "don't get it" is a punch to the gut. Or, maybe they're older and have raised their kids and think "parents these days" fuss too much, and boy do you want to leave that worm-can sealed. Or, maybe maybe maybe. Doesn't matter. You do what you need and you make sure your fallout umbrella is in good repair.

And, hey, good stuff, having your wife's back on this. So much more important than the other noise.

Hi Carolyn, My live-in boyfriend was recently offered a job opportunity that would move him to a different city for half a year. We just moved in together under the auspices of starting a joint life and making a deeper commitment to one another. He wants to take this job as he sees it as a career changer. I'm supportive as I know it means the world to him, but I'm also deeply (and not so secretly) hurt that he would consider leaving, especially on the heels of our just moving-in--a decision I did not take lightly and for which I made an irrevocable real estate choice. I'm having a hard time understanding how he could leave for a job when I deeply value our daily routine and could not imagine sacrificing it for a career move...even for six months. He says he feels so confident in our relationship and his commitment that this should not be a big issue and that I should take the long view. He has also made clear that if he pursues this, in the future, his career might call for additional intermittent travel. I would love a partner that is there for me day in and day out in the flesh, but otherwise, this is my dream guy. Still, the idea of distance between us is giving me significant anxiety. I'm wondering if this signifies an insurmountable difference in our values.

Well, I can't help you with that--that's something only you can answer.

I can say that 6 months sounds to me like a relatively small investment in long-term career success.

If it helps, there are two ways of seeing such a move at such a time: 1 is your way--you've just made a big commitment to each other and how can he leave at a time like this? 2 is that this commitment is the rock that allows him to take risks in other areas of his life. (2a: This commitment could also be the reason he wants to stretch professionally, since he's entering a phase of life with responsibility for more than just himself. 2b, not so sunny, is that he puts his heart into his work and takes home for granted.)

Please talk about this, if nothing else, with your mind open to the idea that there are other ways than your own to view this whole situation. Even if you and he align philosophically on 99 percent of life's issues, it's the 1 percent that'll get you if you don't come to some sustainable way of getting both of your needs acknowledged and met.

He is still paying his share of this "irrevocable real estate choice," yes?

So it's about the gay thing then. Because I can't stand it when couples (regardless of sexual preference) are one step away from dry humping in public. I agree with you that it's gross but not because of the parties involved. So you might want to re-evaluate what this is really about.


Most therapists, if they are good at their job(s), will welcome a phone call so you can ask questions like, "how do you work? what's your process/approach" etc. and will allow questions like, "I'm grappling with issues around X, how do you approach this? Is this an area of expertise?" I've seen many therapists, but one of the best was one I was allowed to talk to - like an interview(ish)- first to see if she would *really* help w/ the issues I had. She did.

So very useful, thanks.

I could have been that daughter. I kept it from my parents because I thought they would judge me for it and I was terrified of telling them and tainting their image of me. Though I'm 90% positive that if they had reached out to me and told me specifically that they would love me no matter what was going on (and they new SOMETHING was going on) they would love me, I would have opened up much sooner than I did and started healing sooner.

Another on-target contribution, thanks. It's also good to think this way, and speak up accordingly, when things are chugging along as usual. That gives you the vocabulary when you do sense it's time to step in. 

" can be important to be able to tell yourself you"tried everything." Your letter resonates with me, and I couldn't agree with Carolyn's sentence more. I went through a miserable divorce after an unhappy, static marriage, and even though it's still difficult (2 years post-separation), I do take comfort in knowing I truly did EVERYTHING I could to make it work. My ex-husband can't say the same. I'd encourage you to be sure you're taking good care of yourself during this time- exercise, eating well, being with friends who restore you. No matter what happens, you'll be better prepared if you're mentally and physically healthy. Sending you a virtual hug and the best of luck.

Underscoring "taking good care," thanks.

Hi Carolyn - Is it weird that I'm not dying to be in a relationship? I'm 40 and have had numerous relationships since I was 20. I've had good and bad, but not great. I've never been married and have no children. When I was in my 30's, I worried a lot more about it and made much larger efforts to date. Now, I just don't care as much. I love my job, my friends, my apartment and my family. I travel and eat out as well as sit on the couch with ice cream. Life is pretty good. At times, I'd love to have a companion for a new restaurant or flowers for a special occasion, but otherwise, I'm okay. I do miss sex and intimacy, but everything else is pretty good that I really can't complain. So - is there something wrong with me?

Besides perfect emotional health? Nothing I can see.

Truly, people who struggle with their lack of romantic companionship are trying to get to your state of equanimity about it. 

It is funny, though, and not altogether uncommon, that part of contentment is wondering whether there's something wrong with that, since it can feel almost naughty, like being lazy. Pft.

What if you are the daughter? I'm struggling with depression right now- took a little while to really acknowledge it. I've started therapy and talked to my doctor about possibly starting some medication. I have been honest with a few close friends about how much I'm hurting right now, but is it ok to just drop off the face of the earth for a while and hope that people will understand later? I want to concentrate on me, my health, and pulling myself back to together, and while I know people care, those who have never struggled often say the worse things about just "getting over it." I'm trying every day to do so, but it may take some time and few bad days here and there.

It's okay to withdraw from friends who tire you or just don't help, but make sure you do keep in regular contact with a few people who are aware of your health problem. Make sure you either initiate or accept regular check-ins. Unfortunately, you aren't automatically the best judge of what you need, not while depressed, so part of the process of getting out of the hole is putting your pride aside and letting people look after you. You've already done the steepest climb by getting professional help, yay, so think of this as a nuisance little hill. 


As a person without kids, but who has a lot of friends with them or expecting them very soon, it can be very annoying to have to be the one to accommodate kiddos every time. I love love love the friends who are parents who will go out of their way to get a babysitter and come visit us once in a while. It's never 50/50 because it is easier for us to go to them, but when they make the effort to come out, it's fantastic. The friends who expect us to come to them all the time because they just can't leave the little one with anybody else, well, we don't see them as often. So I guess the main thing to parents is that you can't complain if you want everything your way all the time and other people don't want to give in. They have lives to and their lives don't revolve around your children.

True, and I completely agree on the people who "just can't leave the little one with anybody else."

However, it's also wonderful to recognize that reciprocation is over the long haul, not day to day, week to week or even month to month. The original post, for example, was about a kid at arguably the hardest age and a mom wiped out with pregnancy fatigue. That is not the time for them to get a sitter and rally just to make a point. In a matter of months, both situations will have changed--for better, for worse, who knows--and so the rally-ability will change. So, it's okay to see these friends as being in no position to do much, giving them some time, no hard feelings. The reciprocation there is that they harbor no hard feelings toward you for disappearing for a while.

This can even be a multi-year proposition: Baby people do their thing during the hardest years, and you go out of your way to see them when you feel like it, and when you don't you don't, and when they're on the other side you resume the more active friendship on terms more appealing to you. 

I'm 34 and haven't been in a relationship for 5 years. I've found that I have learned more about myself in this time than I probably could have had I had an SO. I found out that I really like myself and I'm not willing to be with anyone who doesn't like me as much as I like myself (as narcissitic as that sounds, it's really not). I've also started going back to school for a 2nd career and have started running. I've had people tell me I've never looked happier or healthier in my life. I think we should all embrace loving ourselves every once in awhile! and god bless the non-judgemental nights on the couch with ice cream!

No, not narcissistic! That's the baseline I keep talking about--you find out who you are in your natural state, no bending to anyone's preferences, as an adult. Then you'll really be able to judge how well someone fits in with that.

Hi Carolyn. Thanks for such a fantastic column. :-) I'm a PhD student in a "nationally prominent" department in my field (that's how it self-describes). I've been awarded two fellowships--one prestigious, competitive and external (from the National Science Foundation), and one targeted at minorities/socioeconomically unprivileged people from the graduate school. I'm a member of a dramatically underrepresented minority, and also a woman. My problem is that I usually feel as though I'm unable to keep up with the pace of academia. I feel not smart enough, not confident enough, and as though at any moment people will discover that about me. I'm aware that this is classic impostor syndrome, but knowing it doesn't help. What also doesn't help is support from people who say "Oh, you got fellowship X, don't worry" or "Oh, but you're really smart/good at Y, so don't worry". Knowing that it's supposed to be so obvious that I can't fail only increases the anxiety. Additionally, I'm plagued by the idea that I only received these things (admission, fellowships, etc) because I'm both a woman and a minority (it doesn't help that some of my friends joke about this--and don't worry, they are honestly joking. None actually means to denigrate me or affirmative action--they're trying to make fun of the people who would). Any tips on how to get my internal critic to just *hush* for a while?

As you've probably already discovered (or will the moment you stop and look around at others), it's not smarts and confidence that get this stuff done in the end. It's hard work. All excellence is a combination of X factors -and- hard work. The X factors sometimes will be in your control, sometimes not, but hard work is always up to you. It's also neither subjective nor divisible from you--you always have it.

It's also necessary to fail, sometimes; that's how everything new comes to light.

As for the fellowships and the support, those are just different versions of external validation, and as such they can only confuse you. Yes, you're a PhD candidate and therefore a fellowship is essentially currency, but it's still just non-you validation. As an exercise, consider privately declaring a moratorium on the seeking of support/remedies for your "impostor  syndrome." For a set period, seek assurance only from your work. If nothing else, it'll give you a break from "Oh ... don't worry"-style pick-me-ups, which aren't useful for giver or recipient. If you need someone to help you keep your footing and/or keep your self-doubt managed, consider finding that in some formal capacity--be it mentor or therapist or even an outside hobby at which you excel. 

Original poster, here. Thanks for taking my question about my grandma. We want to respect her wishes, but it's difficult for us to see her going through her daily life in such a miserable way. Depression is certainly a big player here as we noticed how she stopped doing her crosswords and watching her soaps like she used to. We are all convinced that when she stopped taking her thyroid medication, her energy and outlook ran out with it, but we know it's ultimately up to her if she wishes to make herself feel better. I will contact the elder care link and give it a try. Thanks for providing an outside perspective.

If the correlation between meds and sagging spirits is that strong, then do talk to the pros, asap. Check back in if you think to, and good luck. 

I was in law school part time and working full time several years ago. Many friends were very impatient that I was often busy with work or school or both. One friend told me - and I'll never forget this - "Listen, for the next few years, we're just going to be inviting you over for dinner and we'll feed you. Don't worry about reciprocating." I was so exhausted, I think I cried.

I might cry. This is lovely.

Hi Carolyn! I was so happy to see your answer today, and before I go any further I wanted to say that my fiance (on his own) decided that the person he has to be with on Christmas is me. We are doing Christmas on our terms, and it's the one that will make US happiest. Both sides are irked that they don't get us to themselves, but they understand. I am elated and relieved! Thanks so much for your advice, it's very comforting to hear from you that our thoughts of "us" rather than our parent's traditions are what is most important. Thank you so much, and I love the comic :) Sincerely, A Very Merry Christmas

To you, too :D

Bye! That's it fer today. Thanks all, have a righteous weekend and type to you here next week.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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