Carolyn Hax Live: "Embrace it as loopy"

Feb 16, 2018

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, on this not-so-happy Friday.

Regarding the guy who wears a bra and the nosy friend (Feb 6 column)... I am an adult male who wears a bra daily. I don't need it but I enjoy it. I'm pretty careful to not show straps, but, in reality, I don't care. Some of the commenters to this column seem to think this is a slippery slope to one day waking up and saying "I think I'll look into that surgery." I know a lot of people in the trans community and there is a HUGE difference between people who dress for fun (guilty) and people who dress because it's a step on a path.

Yeah, I thought it was pretty well understood by now that the two are very different things.

It still doesn't change the basic fact of the answer, that it is not even remotely anyone's business but the bro's and his girlfriend's.

Thanks for checking in.

My sister saw my husband having dinner with a woman. This woman is someone he met at a support group for an issue he has dealt with for many years. She has become a wonderful friend to him and I'm very glad he has her in his life. However, my sister felt they seemed "intimate" in the way they were talking, and when she went up and talked to them at the table he was "evasive" about who she was (which was because he was respecting the confidentiality of their support group). She is now beating me over the head with her suspicions that my husband is having an affair and telling me I'm naive when I say I'm not concerned. I'm not going to tell her the whole story because I'm not going to violate my husband's friend's confidence, but I'm getting really sick of telling her to drop it and listening to her refuse to drop it. Is there anything I can do other than hang up when she says things on the phone and turn my back and walk away when she says things in person?

I'm sorry.  Lousy position to be in.

So far you've been telling your sister why you want her to drop it, to the extent you can--i.e., saying, "I am not concerned." That should be enough, of course, and your sister's ongoing intervention is a clear boundary violation, no matter how well-meaning it might be.

You don't have to resort to hanging up, though--not yet.

First, try turning your response into a question. "I have asked you to drop it. I have said I am not concerned. And yet you keep pressuring me about this. So I'm asking you now: What will it take for you to stop pressuring me about this?"

If she responds by refusing to drop it, then you have one more arrow in the quiver: "Has is occurred to you that I have my own reasons for not sharing your concerns about this, and that I have simply chosen not to confide in you? And that maybe you should trust me to handle my own personal life?"

If she responds again by refusing to drop it, -then- you need to move on to the hang up/walk away response. With a statement beforehand that you will do so: "I have tried to make it clear to you that your further involvement in this is not welcome. I feel I have no choice now but to hang up or walk away when you bring it up."

Sigh.

I've been pretending to go to college for the past almost four years when I actually dropped out in my freshman year. I’ve been working as a temp since then and living “off campus”. My family doesn’t know since I fake my grades, account statements, everything. None of them went to college so it hasn’t been too hard to fool them. I’ve been using the money they’ve been giving me to help me afford my room and board. I know I’m going to have come clean soon since they’re expecting me to graduate this spring with an engineering degree. I just don’t know how I’m going to do this. They are going to freak out, especially my dad. They're immigrants and me going to college was their dream. I’m actually thinking of just disappearing for a while and telling them by letter. I know that’s the coward’s way out but I could come back when it’s all blown over and they’ll probably be so relived that I’m back in touch that they won’t disown me. Is there a better way to handle this that won’t also get me disowned?

Please talk to a good therapist. Having a steady, professional guide will help you untangle this four-year knot, starting with the most important part--the fear inside you of being authentic--and working your way out.

Finding good counsel can be easy or difficult depending on your location, employment and insurance status, but I'll take a guess that you still live near the school and you're with a temp agency that may or may not offer insurance.

Being near a school means there is likely counseling available on a sliding scale based on income. You can call the school's mental health service to see if non-affiliated people have access, and if not, where a good local resource might be. If it's a university that offers degrees in counseling fields, then there might be a clinic where the students train and you can get reduced- or no-fee help.

If you have insurance through a temp agency, then find out who provides therapy in-network and set up preliminary calls to see if anyone is a good fit for you.

Lots of technical stuff so I'll repeat the emotional before I go: Please start the work of telling your truth by telling someone who is not invested--as you told me here, which is a start. Make the next person someone you have access to regularly who has the training and expertise to guide you back into the light. Take care.

 

I'm just jealous. What bras are these guys wearing that are not only comfortable but fun???

Maybe they're made of Muppet fleece, or have joy buzzers sewn into the cups.

There have been times when my professional life and my sobriety life cross paths. I attended a "Christ-centered" program, so I can always say a friend from church, but it is a delicate path to not "out" a brother or sister in recovery. I applaud your efforts to keep the sanctity of confidentiality when the truth could take the heat off. Bless you for your compassion!

In a lot of ways my life is really great right now. I just got engaged, I've finished my graduate degree, and I'm finally going to therapy to address my lifelong anxiety. But I'm still struggling, and I've realized that now I've gotten my degree I have no idea what I want to do next, outside of other people's expectations. On top of that, my fiance (whose in the mental health field) thinks I might have undiagnosed ADHD, and preliminary reading matches up with the spaciness and absentmindedness, and the general inability to focus on anything ever. (Some how I managed to excel in my college classes without ever really doing the reading). I guess I just want some reassurance that this will pass, and things can get better. And some reassurance that my struggle is real, and that I'm not a weak pansy looking for an excuse for not living up to my potential.

Wait--since when is "living up to my potential" such an obligation that one needs an excuse not to?

You don't owe it to anyone to use your life in any particular way. Sure, there are obligations we all assume when we live in society (obey laws, not be a nuisance) and when we form relationships with other people (don't exploit peoples's affection for us, make a good faith effort to be the people we claimed to be, meet financial and childrearing obligations)--but there's a vast amount of flexibility within those boundaries. If you went to grad school, for example, fully believing it was the right move for you, but you have since come to see that you were living out other people's vision for your life, then it would not be acting in bad faith to follow a different path. 

Please take a deep breath and take the time you need to sort yourself out. The idea that life is linear is one that can't die soon enough. Age is linear, but the rest seems to work better if we embrace it as loopy. Both senses intended.

We recently found out that a younger family member has been faking college. He is a little older than you and married. His wife didn't even know. They came forward together to tell the rest of the family. Nothing is settled yet, but it was a big deal that he came clean before he was caught by his parents. Your situation is a little different since you are also accepting money that is meant for tuition, but I recommend that you come clean as soon as you can. Talk to a therapist, make a plan for how you can support yourself and then sit your parents down and tell them. Do your best to pay the money back once you get established. Best of luck to you.

My brother did something similar to you about a decade or more ago. He eventually came clean, but it was only when he was in distress and needed a great deal of monetary help because of the lies he told. Please take Carolyn's advice to go for therapy now, before you are in more distress. My brother told us, went to therapy, and is in a good place. My parents and I had no issues accepting him as he is - a flawed human who made a mistake, the same as us. Please know you're not the only one, and you can get help. Wishing you all the best.

Hi Carolyn, I wish you didn't have the experience with this issue that prompts my question. But it seems my dear grandmother most likely has a form of motor neuron disease that has caused her to lose her ability to walk and, practically, to talk, all over the course of the last year. Then she will likely lose much of her remaining physical capacity until she dies of the disease. Grandma is 90 years old but was previously very active, and--for better or worse--remains mentally very sharp. She recently moved into a great nursing home nearby, with frequent visits from the whole family. But understandably, she is extremely depressed. She can barely engage in conversation. She worries that the 1-2 friends she managed to make at the nursing home (before her symptoms worsened) will drift away from her as she loses the ability to communicate. She feels profoundly isolated and shocked at the cratering of her quality of life. All her life, Grandma has been an upbeat, no-regrets type of gal, so this dark shift in her demeanor is really tough to see. Though who can blame her. Do you have any advice for how best to support someone emotionally in this terrible situation that will NOT eventually get better? This is new to all of us, and we would be very grateful for your insights (which again, I am sorry that you have). Thank you.

Have you gotten in touch with the local ALS support network? The staff can help you find communication devices your grandma can use to avoid having that sharp mind trapped in silence--which is the torture so many ALS patients face. It's been a while since I had direct knowledge of what's available, but my mom had a few to choose from and that was nearly 20 years ago (hard to believe).

Also,  it's important to let your grandmother express her fears--of losing her two new friends, for example--and to validate that: "You don't want to be lonely, of course. I understand." Then you can be specific in your assurances: "We aren't going anywhere. And we'll do everything we can to help you keep talking to us and to your friends." 

With any luck, she will find the electronic voice options as entertaining as my mother did, typing in obscenities to see which version she liked best.

Damn I miss her.

I didn't read last week's chat until it was over, and I wanted to chime in with a different "only child" viewpoint. There have been many lovely things about being an only child: a close relationship with my parents, opportunities to do many "grown-up" things from a young age and the accompanying maturity, etc. However, I am haunted daily by one thing: I am single and when my parents age and pass away, there's only me to handle it all. Only me to care for them and bear the emotional and physical burden of doing so, only me to sort through their things, and most of all: only me to remember how they were as parents. Some people can only have one child (like my parents), some people simply only want one child, and there's nothing wrong with those things at all. But if you're on the fence about it...give your child someone to share his or her burdens with.

I appreciate your adding this to the discussion, thanks. It's definitely something for parents to weigh when they're deciding whether to have more children.

It goes further than this, too, in that a sibling can help you -understand- your parents, not just remember them. 

But each of these advantages has a potential disadvantage, too. You're alone to care for your parents and sort through their things, yes--but so are a lot of people who have siblings who just refuse to help. So they're alone and burdened and resentful on top of that.

And, a sibling can help you understand your parents, remember your childhood, and be an emotional resource throughout your life ... or a source of torment from your earliest memories to the very end. 

Next topic: How people get themselves off the fence on anything, ever.

My husband's sister is expecting her first child in the next few months. My parents-in-law are over the moon about this, and it also seems like this is really important to her husband. The thing is, I'm 98% sure she doesn't and never has wanted children. I was really surprised to hear the news, she has seemed really ambivalent throughout the pregnancy, and is acting a bit depressed and isolated now. I worry that when the baby comes the disconnect will only be greater. New motherhood is isolating and exhausting, her husband works crazy long hours, and her mother can be a bit overwhelming. Neither my husband nor I is very close to his sister, but I worry about her. Any suggestions on how to support her in those difficult early days?

At this point, your best move is to put yourself in a position to see what kind of support she might need. Start checking in with her in a regular but non-invasive way. You live close, it sounds like? Since you notice how she's acting? If that's true, then you can invite her to something, offer to help (make the offers specific--"I'm running to the store, can I do some shopping for you?"), even plant the idea that you're available for unburdenings, if you see an appropriate opening. "If you ever need to vent, I'm here."

Hi Carolyn, Over the past week, I've discovered I have a pretty bad problem to have, followed by a very good problem to have. My fiance and partner of seven years told me on Monday that he didn't think marriage (or me!) weren't for him, and moved out - two months before our wedding. My question is: how do I tell my family and friends? The few I've told have been suuuper supportive, but I'm embarrassed by this unwanted streak of streak of high drama in my orderly life. I'm already dreading being "oh honey"-ed over while I want to focus on getting catering deposits returned, selling our house, and not deep-diving into self-pity. I know that I'll need the support (and the Kleenex) when the crisis part of this is over, but for now, I feel like a kid who's fallen out of a tree: my first instinct is to scream "I'M FINE I'M FINE I'M FINE" because attention paid to the injury will just make it hurt worse. Is there a script for this?

Well, if experience is any measure of what you can expect, you will radiate a please-don't-oh-honey-me-ahhhhhhh aura that people with social sensors will be able to read on you pretty quickly. So there's a chance you won't be as fussed-over as you fear.

One way to preempt some of the unwanted attention is to deputize the people you've already told to spread your news for you. That way you won't have to process everyone's initial reaction, a nice thing to cross off your list.

I'm sorry. It does sound like you're fine you're fine you're fine, though, or soon will be, even through the Kleenex phase.

I'm coming at this from the angle of a parent who is currently supporting two college students: One of your top priorities for your parents should be an absolute commitment that you act upon starting today to pay them back. They likely have sacrificed a good bit to send you to college, and you haven't kept up your end of the bargain. Please note that I'm not saying there is anything wrong with your deciding that getting an engineering degree wasn't for you. But letting your parents subsidize your alternate path without their knowledge wasn't fair. Were it my kid, I would want to hear, "Sorry Mom, I did this, please forgive me. I'm not going to take any more of your money, and starting right now, I'm going to give you (dollar amount) per week until I've paid you back." It's great to be sorry, but it's important to take real actions to prove remorse and show responsibility for your actions.

I was the same way when pregnant. I was indifferent about babies and the idea was conceptual to me. When the baby came, it took a bit to warm up to my new life, but I did, and love my baby (now teenager) fiercely. Does that always happen with every mother? No, but it's a strong possibility she'll embrace the baby once it's actually here.

From you column on Tuesday the 13th. Isn't it reasonable that if one partner has more free time / less work, job that they would turn some of that time towards the household, the relationship? My husband also had his job "dry up". He works about 5-10 hours / week, while I work 40. Given that automatically means a financial imbalance in the relationship, isn't it reasonable that the person in deficit would try to re-establish the balance, whether it be get more work (job), do more work around the house, do more work to balance the effort each person contributes to day-to-day life? Yes, they should have had a conversation about specifics, but I think the assumption that the underemployed partner would contribute in other ways is pretty safe/fair. Am I wrong?

It's safe/fair until it isn't.

So, one of you is un(der)employed and the other is full-time or beyond, so the former automatically rebalances the home workload to assume more of it proportionately. Perfect, sensible, no-brainer.

But then it doesn't happen, as with the couple in the column. At that point, treating it as a no-brainer and using that platform as the foundation for a simmering resentment is a mistake. Call it circular reasoning, but it's an issue because the un(der)employed spouse has an issue.

The issue can be with the assumption itself: "Okay, so you just expect me to be a housewife now?" This is a case where flipping the genders is useful but only to a degree, and historic roles and assumptions do need to factor in. There's a whiff of "make me a sandwich" here that is better addressed than ignored.

It can be with the tone (to use an e.g. from the column): "So it's, 'I paid for the house, now you clean it'?"

It can be with the sense of identity loss that comes with un(der)employment: "I'm in demand enough in my field that people seek out and pay for my expertise, and now I'm irrelevant." Depression was a possibility that a lot of readers raised and that I should have myself in my answer. This also makes for a twist in any gender-flip, because the weight of history and "provider" expectations tends to press down on men harder than it does to women in this position.

And the issue can be with the employed partner's failure to understand that looking for work is more time consuming than it appears, or that the spouse needs time to regroup after years of rat-racing, or that spouse's contributions at home are more than meet the eye.

So the answer has to be that even a reasonable assumption needs to be discarded for a discussion of what it actually going on. And if using/entitlement is indeed happening, then they deal with that accordingly. 

That, and assumptions in emotional partnerships generally just suck. 

 

My husband is wonderful, supportive, kind, etc. He truly is. We have been together a long time and we love each other dearly. We do have one issue that keeps recurring. When he gets angry, he yells. This is not necessarily at me; for example, the IRS messed up our taxes and he started yelling about how horrible they were. But what happens is that I often cringe at his yelling, which is sometimes directed at my, and, honestly, his anger in general. I came from a home where yelling was the precursor to something worse, which he knows and is very supportive about. So what ends up happening is he yells, I get upset and (often) defensive, we fight. He says he feels like he can't express anger around me, which I can see is totally unfair. I feel like he gets so angry, so quickly, over so many things that it makes me reluctant to tell him things that are negative, which is obviously not fair either. I know we are both at fault: he needs to control his temper and I need to be less sensitive. Any ideas? We have considered seeing a marriage counselor, but it has never gotten that bad. We usually fight, make up, and move up, but there are lingering hurt feelings on both sides for a few days. Thanks!

What's your definition of "that bad"? Cringing once a day vs. once a week or month? Holding back information all the time vs. most of the time?

Please just talk to someone. It's not an admission of defeat and not a source of shame. It's relationship health care. 

You might want to go solo first though. You make so many hedges and excuses for your husband in one paragraph that I don't feel confident in your ability to speak freely in a joint session. 

You're not happy with things this way. You are not each other's sanctuary. Please trust your gut. 

i also faced a guy who broke our engagement before our wedding. rather than saying "i'm FINE, FINE, FINE" which people may or may not believe, why not try "i'm sad but this will pass" or even "i'm not the first person this has happened to. i'll recover" which was closer to the truth.

This goes for all moms, not just the ones who are ambivalent, but my advice would be to get the baby out of the house so that she can have some time at home alone. Take a newborn for a walk, a preschooler to lunch, a young kid over for a sleepover, etc. Believe me, as a mom, the greatest luxury is an empty house.

A view from another perspective. Years ago, when my wife was unemployed for a few months, she wanted to stop the cleaning service and pick up more of the remaining housework. I was very much opposed -- my view was she had a job, namely finding employment so we had two incomes again and I preferred she not get distracted by doing more housework. It turned out part of the issue was she wanted to do something to improve her sense of self worth and we worked someone out (I no longer remember what).

I also take issue with the idea that the un(der)employed spouse is "in deficit." These things should be a partnership, not a matter of bean counting. "I washed 12 dishes yesterday, but since today we only dirtied half as many, you have to wash tomorrow's six as well as today's" is a tedious way to conduct a marriage.

Hear, hear.

If neither one of you were close to her before, why start now? Serious question. I've never been comfortable receiving overtures from people I'm not close to or who never made the effort. I assume they want something from me as everyone seems to want something from this SIL: closeness, a baby, enthusiasm, etc. Maybe you should examine why you and your husband weren't close to her to begin with before you start acting like her best friend. Address that first and then maybe you'll get somewhere.

Hm. Easy to get lulled into the logic of this at the expense of the emotional possibilities.

Namely, that OP doesn't "want something" from the SIL, but instead has awakened to the fact that being connected to the people in our lives is better than not being connected. And that maybe the ethos of leaving people to their own stuff is fine as an option but not as a default. That showing she cares is a lovely, low-interference kind of gesture that SIL (or others, this applies widely) can choose either to receive and reciprocate or politely decline, at which point OP takes no for an answer. That cynicism may explain some things but applying it to everything is an admission of spiritual defeat.

So, yeah. Maybe there are reasons they aren't close, but maybe those reasons have changed or are changeable to the potential advantage of both.

My wife just left me and I am so angry at her I can barely stand to talk to her. I know she’s had mental health issues for most of her life but until this last year she dealt with her depression pretty well. We were together for 15 years and we have 4 kids who need her. She just left one day with no explanation, no warning, nothing. I literally came home to a note and my bewildered children. She told them that this was temporary, but now she’s asking me for a legal separation. I am left to take care of the children, the house, and go to work so I can still pay all of the bills, including hers. I think I could stand it if she were in a hospital or seeing a doctor or something but she’s rented a house at the beach and she snuck back this week to take more of her things and our cat. The one thing I guess she actually cares about. I’m afraid to go see her in person because I am so angry. I am too ashamed, upset and exhausted to call our lawyer and I haven’t even told my family yet. What can I do?

You can go to a soundproof place and scream.

And you can find a therapist asap so you have a safe place to dump out enough of this confusion and sadness and rage to maintain a strong presence for your kids. Not that you can't show them you have feelings, that's natural and healthy for them to see, but you want to air the potentially destabilizing ones out of their earshot.

And in a bit--sooner rather than later, I hope--you can see that being in the family home with the job and the chores is the far better place to be than a beach rental, even with all the work and stress it entails, because you're the one with the kids, and you're the one who hasn't broken your promises to them. You're the earth beneath their feet. It is sacred.

It is also this: Your wife is either too ill to manage her daily life, or she just threw away this sacred thing for the life equivalent of a sunset poster with an inspirational quote.

Neither one promises a better outcome for her than your laundry and dishes and pain will bring you in the end. Please keep that in mind, too. Hang in there.

Speaking from experience. The husband yelling is making the wife anxious. Does NOT matter who he is angry at. She is on the receiving end. She will reach a breaking point. We were there, I almost left. Marriage counselor for both, each have a therapist (mine helped me recognize that it wasn't all my fault or responsibility to calm him, or to mitigate things so he wouldn't get angry). The marriage counselor actually had to point out to him my body language and opened his eyes to what his anger was doing to me. He is now on meds to control the PTSD and anger. What a wonderful change for the positive! I want to tell her there is hope, but it takes both of you working on it.

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks everyone for stopping in, and hope to see you here next week. 

Carolyn, when our descendants read this chat 100 years from now, they will decide that in our society only men liked to wear bras. I need to set the record straight: I am a girl and I like bras. So it's not just guys.

Got it. Guys and you.

I used to be a yeller and thought it was no big deal, even telling friends they need to just accept me that way. I thought I was just expressive. Then I spent an extended time with family due to some life craziness and witnessed how caustic and toxic yelling and anger can be, regardless of if it escalates. The cost to the people I love is just too much. I've spent several years actively dismantling that anger reflex and practicing gentle responses. The difference in *my* life, let alone my relationships, is priceless. I hope the husband of the OP can wake up to the destructive nature - and they can both stop excusing it as remotely ok.

This is excellent, thank you. And yay for you.

In This Chat
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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