Carolyn Hax Live: "Wonderful things don't always stay wonderful" (August 12)

Aug 12, 2016

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Carolyn, A couple expects me to attend their wedding, but the invitation was received only four weeks before the long distance wedding. (No save the date was mailed either.) If I were going to be invited, I would have expected an invitation at least two months before. I'm afraid just a "no" answer would be taken as an offense, but answering "I can't attend because it is hard to plan a trip on such short notice" may not be polite. It would be extremely difficult and expensive to organize a long distance trip on a few weeks notice, and in my mind, the couple should have sent an invite sooner considering the distance and the wedding wasn't planned last minute. I see sending the invite so late implies a lack of consideration for guests. Any advice on an appropriate response when asked why I am not coming? Thank you!

Send your regrets. That's all you need to do.

If asked, say you really tried but the travel costs were prohibitive. No need to point the finger at the couple and the late invitation. If they give you a hard time for that, then they're being doinks, no?

I have what would appear to be a good life: a job I love, I travel to wonderful places, I am actively engaged in my community.... but it all feels flat. Nothing is WRONG, but I just feel empty. Depression??

Maybe. Could be something else, too, so why not start the process of figuring it out? Make an appointment with your regular doc to rule out depression or other illness as a cause. 

If you're in good physical and mental health, then move to the next step of examining each piece of your life as a candidate for possible change. Start with the small stuff--eating and exercise habits, ways you use your free time, people you do and don't spend significant time with--and rethink what has become automatic. 

If changes on that level aren't satisfying, then take on the question of purpose, which can touch your job, your community contributions, your role in your family, your allocation of disposable income. Wonderful things don't always stay wonderful. Maybe you do better with new challenges, maybe the rationales for your choices are no longer relevant, maybe you've been a passive witness to enough wonderful places and would now rather share your good fortune with others. Blahs can indicate a problem, yes, but sometimes they're an opportunity. Deep breath, start digging. Good luck. And check back in sometime?

I have an 18-year old son about to go off to college. He is bright and talented and has a good sense of humor. The problem is that he is super shy and I get the sense that he feels like he has nothing to say or contribute during any adult conversation. If an adult asks him a direct question, he doesn’t maintain eye contact and can barely summon a one-word response. I was a lot like that at his age, but I didn’t have half the brains and talent that he has. It made life so much harder for me…in terms of getting the jobs and projects and appreciation I deserved, and I was almost 50 before I gained the confidence I needed to get over my intimidation of authority figures or anyone I felt was sort of “superior” to me. I don’t want him to have to spend 30+ years figuring that out. Any advice to help him come out of his shell?

What helped you turn the corner at almost 50?

You say you have a son with anger problems. Trust me that the problems are probably worse when you aren't around. I was in this situation, and his parents recognized the problem, but stepped aside when I asked them for help in getting their son into an anger management program - they thought they could talk to him and it would all be ok. Well, we just went through a terrible divorce, where the anger got so bad that he threw me around in front of our daughter. I don't know if parent support would have helped earlier, but he never got better, and he's just getting worse. How much of a difference it would have made to have his parents fully on board telling him the behavior was not acceptable! I just hope that I saved my children from the cycle of abuse, as much as I can with joint custody. Because trust me, with the child protective services system, unless they are in immediate danger, nothing is done for the children. Which means they can be shamed and pushed around as much as he wants. Please help them.

Chilling, thank you.

Dear Carolyn, I liked your answer to LW1 a lot and I'm sorry to read about the LW's loss. I have a question that I've found extremely difficult to pose in my real life. How do you react to somebody who you think actually is milking grief? I lost my mother about 18 months ago and my sister is still acting like we just found out about the news yesterday. She mentions our "recent loss" to everybody from waitresses to her hair dresser to the checker at the grocery store. On more then one occasion, we got a reduced rate or something for free, and this makes me feel very uncomfortable. My sister also avoids any difficult conversations and Mom's house currently looks like a shrine to her because my sister is unable to clean it out and goes nuts if we offer to do it without her. My brother and I think that part of this is genuine emotion but part of it is that she really likes being a grieving person. I don't want to bruise her genuine emotions, but my patience is getting very thin.

Can someone "like" being a grieving person? I don't know. I suppose it's possible in someone who thrives on attention in general, and you'd know whether that was true of your sister before your mother's death.

It could also be, though, that she's stuck. Grief is different in everyone, as most people know, and so it runs its own course, but that also means some grief doesn't progress to a resolved or manageable place. The Mom's-house-as-shrine suggests your sister might be in that position, because it's hard to see what attention feedback she gets from denying you and your brother permission to clean it out. 

It sounds as if you live close to your sister, so maybe she will agree to come with you to a moderated grief support group. Do your homework first--a call to local hospice providers would probably yield a few names--and get the process going. If she gets something out of the meeting or two you bring her to, maybe she'll start to go on her own.

Hi Carolyn, I'm going through a spell where I can't get it together enough to be nicer to my husband. I see myself doing it and I always apologize but pretty soon an apology isn't going to be enough. We have a toddler and a four month old, both work full time, and I haven't slept more than three hours in a row for four months. I know I am stressed and over-tired, but that's not an excuse for sniping at him like I do. It's just, he drives me crazy. FWIW, I never yell at him or say things that hit below the belt, but he sees my annoyance at every little thing he does, which is so unfair because most of the time he's not doing anything "wrong". I'm nursing so can't get away long enough to get some sleep/get my head together. Any advice from you or the nuts?

I said a couple of weeks ago that solutions are very often embedded in the one thing we're ruling out.

You HAVE to "get away long enough to get some sleep/get my head together." HAVE to. Pump your way to a breast-milk reserve so your husband can do some night wakeups (instant spouse-love right there, when he gets up and lets you sleep); call in babysitting help so you can get a break, either out in the world or alone in your home for the first time probably in months; set up a date night with your husband once a week without fail or excuses. If at four months you're still totally at the mercy of nursing (which I doubt, since you're working full-time), then get some expert guidance on gaining more control.

It is really hard to make space for a break when you feel like nothing is getting enough of your effort, but the thing that's hurting your effort now is your failure to rest. Period. And the thing you're going to damage first is the institution you entered to provide the support scaffolding for the rest of your life. That's not just cruel to your husband and a poor parenting choice for your kids, but also incredibly self-defeating for you. Your husband seems like the safe place to dump your unguarded emotions but he's not, he's the one who needs your best. 

And you think, "But he drives me crazy!" I say, the crazy is in your circumstances, and those circumstances are the lens through which you're seeing your husband. 

Even if I'm wrong, there's no down side to addressing the crazy as if it's the whole problem. That's because, if it turns out that you have other problems besides the crazy, you will automatically be coming at them as a better rested spouse, parent and colleague, which raises your likelihood of solving those other problems from nonexistent to existent.

Again, you HAVE to do this. Picking at everything your husband does isn't just "unfair," it's emotional abuse. You're right that this hectic and emotional phase of life doesn't excuse it, but you have to go further than that--your phase of life doesn't excuse doing nothing about it. Call in whatever reinforcements you need to get.your.rest.

Carolyn, My husband recently was let go from his job (6 months ago) and decide to retire (he's 69). Since then he's talked about how he's feels alone most of the week (I'm still working), how he's overwhelmed with the things that need to be done in the house, how he wonders if this is all there is to life after work.... I've been trying to be patient -- suggesting that he goes to therapy, create a list of things to do in the house and start with one of them, visit friend out of town.. but he is resisting each suggestion. Do I just ride this out or is there a way I can get him to start something?

Have you asked him, in response to his comments about feeling overwhelmed, what he would like to do, or for you to do for him? You can also *gently,* *kindly,* not take a non-answer for an answer: "I'm serious. You have been talking this way for months. I have made suggestions, so I know that's not what you're looking for. Waiting for the answer to come to you isn't working, either. Now it's time for you (or us, together) to come up with an answer, even if it's just a place to start. What is it you're looking or hoping for?"

You can have in your pocket, literally and figuratively, the name of a therapist you can take him to in case he is too down to self-direct anymore. Making an appointment and driving a person to it is the classic horse-to-water scenario, but it does happen sometimes that the horse is unable to get there, and so you try it. Again, if your effort to draw out his wishes yields nothing but more despair.

Just wanted to say...I have a cousin who is EXTREMELY awkward. Or shall I say - was. As a college freshman he blossomed, and is now a great conversationalist, really friendly. He cannot WAIT to get back to school for his sophomore year. Maybe your son will have a similar experience?

I'm a young-ish person who was also extremely shy and adult meddling and encouragement always made it worse! I honestly believe it's a thing that people need to figure out for themselves. College will probably help a lot, as it forces you to have new experiences and meet new people, so don't sweat it and it will likely disappear. Also, is this shyness only around adults? It's fairly normal to be intimidated by perceived authority figures or maybe he just doesn't feel like he has much in common with "grown ups"!

Another thought for the new mom sniping at do-nothing-right-Dad: Picking at everything he does can also put a young parent off the whole idea of being involved and engaged in the hard work of being a parent. This phenomenon can affect anyone but it is a particular problem that women impose on men--the "I've got this, you do it wrong" impulse of breastfeeding moms who for obvious biological reasons take the lead in the first few weeks or months, but then don't tolerate the daddy learning curve when he's able to take on a significant share of the nurturing. It's so important to be patient during that learning-curve time, especially for a strung-out parent who needs the load-sharing most, to give the other parent a chance to become a veteran, but it's too often the strung-out ones who get annoyed, impatient or flat-out controlling during that process.

My body image is ruining my life. I'm in my late 30s and chubby. I have been obsessed with trying to lose weight since I was 9, but I have crappy genetics and insulin resistance which makes it next to impossible. I have gone through periods in my life when I literally could not be eating less and moving more. The only thing that has ever worked is being on a very low-calorie liquid diet, but I've put a bunch of it back on because I started eating solid foods again. I'm working with a doctor and going back on liquids soon. In the meantime, I feel totally hideous and this is ruining my life. Everywhere I am, from job interviews to doing errands to just being at home paying bills, my inner dialogue is talking about how fat I am, how I will always be fat, I am so so ugly... I should probably see a therapist, which might help the head chatter, but the physical problem is a real thing and will always be there. I don't know what to do anymore. I need to lose weight because I have arthritis in my knees, I have a family history of diabetes and heart disease, etc. And just for once I would like to find myself not ugly. How do I stop this endless cycle of misery?

Yes to the therapist, but, more important, please welcome Lindy West into your I-hope-soon-to-be unruined life. Here's a good introduction via "This American Life": LINK. I also recommend her columns/blogs, which I've been reading since she was at The Stranger (she has since moved up to Jezebel and now the Guardian ... and maybe I missed a step in her well-deserved rise). She also has a memoir, "Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman," that I haven't gotten to yet but has earned raves. LINK

And now from me: Where did any of us get this idea that pressing down harder-than-average on a scale made our lives less valid? It is, if you think about it, so insanely arbitrary. And petty. None of us alone can stop Society from doing what Society does, but we ourselves can choose to reject what is perverse and ridiculous in its teachings, and choose to embrace  and reward with our time the people who do the same. 

As a non-doctor I can't speak to the arthritis and diabetes angles, but given the problematic nature of extreme weight-loss techniques--and of low self-esteem--I hope your doctor is balancing all of the real and potential risks across the board and not just choosing to focus on pounds.

 

 

 

I'm a mom of teens and young adults. My husband doesn't get along very well with the kids and it is becoming increasingly painful for all of us. I feel like I have an imperfect but close relationship with them. I don't know what to do to help. I can't really talk to my husband about the way he acts with the kids because we have a stable but uneasy relationship as well. I encourage them to speak their mind with him but be resectful, when they bring issues up to me. This phase of life feels hard, but I sense that it needs time and flexibility and a lot of mutual grace and respect. I'm not sure what my question is. Resources, maybe? How do you raise parents of kids who are mostly raised already?

Would he be receptive to family counseling? Sounds like the "time and flexibility and a lot of mutual grace and respect" are things you know you need and can personally choose to provide, but from others might be wishful thinking.

Parents who are at odds with their kids tend to be that way because their expectations don't match reality, often because they (the parents) don't have an accurate idea of what to expect from any given age. If you're able to convey what to expect from teenagers and young adults, or if you have a resource you've used to help you understand what to expect, then do pass that along as non-judgmentally as you can (how he takes it is the part of the equation you can't control). But sometimes the best messenger is one who is objective and also trained to say, hey, this is normal and nothing to get worked up about and here are some things you can do. Or, not do--sometimes just knowing it's okay not to get upset is the magic serum for family peace.

Another thing that can help is to pay close attention to where your husband struggles in dealing with the kids, and get at that not by jumping to correct him but by validating what he's seeing and what he's trying to do. "I know you want X and Y, understandably." If you can put yourself in that spot, even better. "I've struggled with that, too." Then you are in a better position to add, "I think you'll have better luck if you try Z," or, "I had some luck with Z."

Obviously working on your own "stable but uneasy" relationship is a priority, even if I'm mentioning it last. In my experience, uneasy + home = instability. And families who don't get along well.

 

Another thought--have you been screened for postpartum depression? Depression can sometimes manifest itself as anger. Therapy and/or medication could help. (And can also keep you from seeing that it is possible to take some breaks and get out of the house, which were excellent suggestions by Carolyn.)

Yes, good call, thank you.

When my kids were a similar age, I had what sound like the same kind of anger issues with my husband, and in retrospect I see it as postnatal depression. I believe I focused my rage on my husband because it was safer to be angry with him than with my kids. I would recommend LW discuss it with her ob/gyn.

Posting to underscore the original. Either PPD or sleep deprivation alone can produce the anger the new mom is feeling, and certainly the two can team up to produce all kinds of misery. The important thing regardless is to call in the troops for support. Thanks.

Carolyn, I feel compelled to point out that doctors frequently are a source of anti-fat bias in their patients' lives. I don't know about OP's doctor but I have seen doctors blame a patient's weight for their genetic, type 1 diabetes. If OP is only getting one message from their doctor about their health issues they should try finding one who will not focus on one aspect of their condition to the detriment of other possible solutions.

Thanks. I can even argue that if this doctor is the source of the only opinion, then a second opinion is called for, regardless of bias. 

In fact, I've got a personal story that applies beyond this one health issue:  I had a great internist in DC, who I saw about chronic headaches. Turned out I had an eye problem that needed to be surgically corrected, plus TMJ, plus a caffeine addiction that I needed either to break or feed like clockwork. So, I was actually having three different types of headache from three different sources--which I was only able to discern because my doctor was tenacious and creative. My definition of a good doctor now is based on the example she set.

I realize doctors are under enormous time pressure lately, but if you prepare ahead you can have good questions ready that direct more open-minded care. So, when one doc seems to be on a straight line as far as dealing with a problem, I strongly recommend pressing in new directions and getting backup opinions. 

My husband and I took a newborn care class before our son was born. I basically remember nothing from the class except one thing, that has proved immeasurably valuable to me over the last 19 months. When you feel like opening your mouth to criticize your spouse, first ask yourself "Will this matter in 5 years?" It really helps to separate what is and isn't worth speaking up about - a mismatching outfit, who cares? A safety issue, I'm saying something. It has also helped me better articulate with my husband WHY I am speaking up. As my son turns into a full-blown toddler, I ask myself the question in relation to his behavior as well. He's getting muddy? Fine, won't matter in five years. He wants to run out into the street, that might matter and I stop him. It's just been a good clarifying question for me.

Good stuff, thank you.

I can relate (as can so many of us). I am going to check out the Lindy West resources that Carolyn suggests, and therapy has been very helpful to me (please keep looking if the first one isn't a good fit for you). My negative feelings about myself and other larger folks have really changed partly because I have friends (and have seen strangers on the street) who are on the larger side and dress like they know they look good (and they do!). I used to dress to try to hide my body, and I had a friend who wore clothes that fit properly, and I thought she was brave (or crazy). But I have finally been won over to the idea that I can wear whatever I want and not try to hide myself, and that I will look good to myself and other people. It was a long road for me but so worth the work it took to get here.

In reference to today's answer to the perplexed hostess dealing with the issue of people gathering in small groups at her parties, I am surprised you didn't mention the possibility that some of these people might just be introverted and are much more comfortable sticking with their group. I am fine going to large parties out of a sense of social obligation, but the "force-mixing" you describe sounds like torture to an introvert like me.

... which is why I also suggested inviting this group to smaller gatherings instead.

I also object, as an introvert myself, to the notion that being wired to feel comfy in smaller groups means it's okay for me to wall myself off from a larger party every single time I attend. My knowing myself obligates me to figure out how I can be polite within the social construct I'm offered. If I can't mix at a big party, I can choose not to go. Or I can sit in a smaller group and leave an opening in the chair-circle to make it clear others are welcome to join us. Or I can get up occasionally and mix, then huddle, then mix. Introversion is not license to bird-flip.

BTW, I was surprised at how many people took the LW to task for that question, suggesting s/he (I can't remember) was attempting to micromanage guests. The group as described had a mini-party to themselves at every party. The host absolutely had grounds to object to that, and standing to consider ways to break the min-party up.

That's it for today. Thank you for stopping by, and thanks to Teddy for producing.

I should also add that the doctor I referred to has since retired, since I already see requests for her name. I'm sorry about that. 

And don't forget we're Hooting in two weeks about weddings: LINK. Keep those stories coming, and have a great weekend.

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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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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