Carolyn Hax Live: 'Engage with the good, disengage from the bad'

Sep 13, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answers questions and responds to comments about a father caught in the middle, potluck weddings, a son's childcare demands and more. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hello, everybody. Happy Friday.

My boyfriend is the sweetest man in the world but completely lacks problem-solving or critical thinking skill and I’m worried about what the future will be like if I stay with him long-term. Just to give you the most recent examples, I was trimming some vines and when he offered to help, I asked him to get the small ladder which was in the back yard. He came back without it and said that the gate was stuck (we do have major problem with that gate.) When I asked why he didn’t just go through the house to get it, he literally hadn’t thought of that. If he’s at the store and our list says “gala apples” and the store is out of that variety, he’ll come home without apples before he’ll think to buy another kind of apple let alone another kind of fruit. Even though the fruit is for him and he likes all kinds and has a piece with breakfast every morning. The day he locked his keys in his car, I was at a friend’s house 10 minutes away but it never occurred to him to call me and ask me to bring his spare key, or to call a locksmith or Triple AAA. He just waited for me to come home – 3 hours later. And even though he’s taken public transportation in our city all of his life, if there’s a problem with one bus line, he cannot look at a transit map and figure out an alternate route. We have been discussing marriage, and on one hand I wonder what kind of father and life partner he’ll make but I’ve never been with a kinder, more loving, generous man. What should I do?

I wonder what kind of father and life partner he’ll make 

You already know. You just described it in some depth despite the brevity of the question.

Is it a problem for you? Will it become a bigger problem for you over time, just due to an element of fatigue at having to problem-solve for two? Will adding a child increase the stakes of the problem?

This is stuff you need to think about, without flinching.

Maybe the most important thing you can do is know yourself--because, in a way, choosing a partner for anyone involves prioritizing X trait or quality and understanding that involves having less of Y. For some people, marrying kindness and generosity at pronounced pragmatic cost would be an easy "yes," and for others it would be a painful but necessary "no."

Hi Carolyn. I was married to my daughter’s father for only 4 years. He is from a foreign county where he is back now as a tourist ‘driver’. I have taken her to see her father 5 or 6 times in the last 10 years and every time he spends less time with her. I could of course hire him as our driver, and he would have to spend time with her but I refuse to do that. He should want to spend as much time with her as possible. I don’t want to make another trip and want to tell him if he wants to see her again he needs to come here (which I would pay for). I know my daughter would be crushed if I told her we are not going back to see her Dad. She does not seem to let his indifference bother her and she says she loves him all the time. How do I handle this please?

Tough one. It's painful to watch your kid be let down by someone who "should" care about her. With "should" being, as always, the most useless word in our language when it comes to planning and decision-making.

But as painful as it will probably be to prolong the whole visiting ritual, I think you have an excellent reason to keep it up:

If you stop visiting and leave it to her dad to come here, there's a good chance he won't come--right?--and therefore your daughter will associate the (sudden or gradual) loss of her dad with *your* decision to stop visiting.

If instead you keep visiting, then your daughter will be able to connect any deterioration of their relationship with his choices in her presence. 

Plus, a "We're not going" decision that will "crush" her is a big change for her to process at once, right now; a series of visits that are less and less rewarding for her will change her views and connections incrementally, over a period of time in which she is also maturing with age and developing emotional resilience. 

She has, by your implication, an unrealistic view of her dad. I understand your impulse to be the messenger and correct her yourself, because, again, it's hard for you to watch this play out. But reality itself will be a better messenger than a mom (I assume) who's losing her patience--if for no other reason than letting reality handle this doesn't involve putting your relationship with your daughter on the line.

I’ve been married to my husband for 14 years, and for the last 11, he (let’s call him Joe) has been in the same job, working alongside a colleague who predated him at the small company. The colleague is not very good at what they do and doesn’t take initiative, which means that Joe has to run most of the projects in the office, even though they are technically peers. Their mutual boss knows this but doesn’t do anything about it. Some people think the colleague is senior to Joe since the colleague has been there longer, which bothers Joe a lot. Also, Joe suspects that the colleague is getting paid the same, even though Joe works twice as much as the colleague. I’ve had to hear Joe complain about this person on and off for 11 freaking years. I’ve tried listening, making suggestions, trying to provide some perspective (saying, e.g., if this colleague is the worse part of a job you otherwise like and pays well, then so be it, etc.) but I feel like it hasn’t improved. I’m still hearing about colleague weekly, if not daily. Is there a point when I can tell Joe I’m just so sick of hearing about the colleague and he either needs to do something about it, change his views on it, or just stop mentioning it to me?

Sure. It's a fair complaint. And a loving one, if you say it warmly and if saying it means you don't start rejecting his companionship out of wild-eyed exasperation that you haven't given him a chance to address.

It may be too late for this, or maybe you've already tried it as part of the 1000000 ways you've urged him to talk about something else. But ...

Joe does have choices, as we all do, even if he thinks he has no other options for employment. Whether he knows it or not, Joe is choosing this situation over job-hunting or being unemployed. You could use this word, too: prefers. He actually *prefers* this to the alternatives. When he no longer *prefers* to do his colleague's work for him gratis over the alternatives, then Joe will presumably start looking for other work.

If he is able to see it that way, then maybe it'll lessen or even stop the chafing in the same old spots.

 

I'm drowning. I feel like the very last priority in my life is me - single mom, helpful boyfriend, 1 very, very very stubborn 10 yo child. I work full time in a job I hate, have massive amounts of anxiety, am struggling with depression, am always overwhelmed, and my child is not one of the easy going happy kids - he's anxious and won't own his choices and blames them all on me (one small example - if you won't pack you own lunch, won't eat a lunch I pack, AND won't eat the school lunch, YES you will be hungry and I don't want to listen to the tantrum while I make dinner cause YOU KID chose this - yes that's a small example). I'm trying new meds (Zoloft didn't cut it) but its too soon for them to take effect, I'm trying therapy (need to be on effective drugs for it to help), but how do I survive RIGHT NOW? I'm drowning. Kids dad is involved but undermines every single thing I do so its not actually helpful. I literally feel like I'm drowning and failing at work, parenting, partnership, everything. How do people keep going?

I'm sorry. It's a lot, I understand.

I can't speak for how "people" keep going, but I have a word that has helped me when I get overwhelmed: "enough." It's convenient because it has two meanings that both apply. The more useful meaning to me is this one: "I don't have to do it all perfectly or even correctly; I just have to do *enough.*" If your child gets to school every day and has food available to him and if you show your love for him by being present and affectionate, then, that's enough. You may have great and important reasons for "every single thing I do" (the stuff his dad is undermining), but chances are your son will be okay if you take a break from this or that struggle to catch your breath.

Which brings us to the second meaning, the, "Enough!" part of the deal. You are grinding yourself to a nub trying to get it all done and get it done right, so at some point you need to recognize you can't keep doing that to yourself--if for no other reason than you can't be an effective anything (parent, partner, worker, patient, self-advocate) if there's no time for rest and stillness. 

So, say enough/Enough and find things to cut away temporarily to give yourself room to breathe. The dinner-making might be a dietary or financial necessity, i know, but if it's not, then you can join the ranks of parents who have instituted Cereal Night (or ice cream or pizza) as a means of finding 30-60 minutes toward the cause of not collapsing in utter surrender.

Lean on your people, too. Even the not-totally-helpful ones. I know you know this, but, sometimes reminders can help.

Anyone with anything to add, have at it--I'll keep an eye out.

Carolyn - I live in DC. I like it here. My husband and I are both gainfully employed (not our dream jobs, but jobs that are more good than bad), my family is here, I bought an apartment in a neighborhood I enjoy. Now, 5 years out of undergrad, my DC friends have all moved away from DC. I always heard that this was a transient city but now I am really feeling it. My friends and their significant others are off to new jobs, new commutes, new adventures. I am still here - doing pretty much exactly what I have been doing since college. And - I like it! But I am missing my community and connection, and also feeling like the last one at the fair. It makes me feel lame or boring for not having a more dynamic existence or new "news" to share. I've never thought that you should move to chase friends - move because you genuinely like the place you are moving to and the things you are doing there. But maybe that idea is misguided? Any advice for this strange transitory time?

See yourself as being first at the next fair.

Communities/connections will grow back if you nurture them with effort and with the energy of liking your neighborhood.

And there are other ways not to be boring than to move away from a place you enjoy.

If it helps, in my experience, the D.C. transience is at its worst among early-20somethings and slows down over time.

Because of difficult events in her childhood, my mom has unhealthy and hurtful communication patterns, mainly a tendency to avoid direct communication and instead use mean passive-aggressive comments and/or totally avoid an issue. She passed those patterns down to me. Through therapy and with the support of an incredible spouse, I've been able to identify these unhealthy patterns and largely break away from them. My mom has a deep fear of being deserted/left behind, and she frequently makes snide, cutting comments about how far away I live (an hour), how she feels alone and unwanted, etc. She does not come out and say that she feels insecure about our relationship or fearful of being left alone; rather, she holds on to those emotions and then slips in mean and hurtful comments that feel like grenades being launched at me. I feel confident that I am doing my part to maintain contact with her and send the message that I love her, but her insecurities run very deep and her fears become her perceived reality, and all the efforts I make don't change her perception. How can I continue to show love and a desire for relationship when she seems to not believe it's true? How do I set boundaries so that I do not become consumed with trying to convince her I care? And, how do I communicate with her knowing she does not have healthy communication skills?

Given how deep these issues run and how you've struggled with breaking the pattern yourself, the best place to address this is probably ongoing therapy--because that would allow you to bring situations to the office when they're fresh in mind, and to role play them. "She said, 'ABC.' My response was, 'XYZ.' Was there a way I could have handled that more productively?'"

In general, though, there is a way to talk to your mom that's worth trying, IF (big if) you have the presence of mind to do it in the moment. And it's not a failure on your part if you can't; it's difficult, especially when emotions are high. But if you're able, try listening to the snarky aside, and reflect back to her the emotion message you hear underneath it. For example:

She: "[mean and hurtful comment.]"

You: "I'm hearing that you're worried I won't" come visit you/call as often as you'd like/whatever.

If she says no or backpedals or says another nasty thing, then just say as neutrally as possible, "Okay, my mistake." Then change the subject or end the conversation.

But keep it up regardless. As calmly as you can muster. Responding this way is both loving communication--because you're showing willingness to express your feelings and validate hers--and firm boundary, because you're demonstrating that you will be genuine with her but won't react to snark.

Cheat-sheet version: Engage with the good, disengage from the bad.

Your letter hits home with me. I used to call it the "overwhelm" (read that in a book somewhere). The "overwhelm" was a place I could not climb out of. I was drowning in the "overwhelm." I could not see out. Yes to everything Carolyn said... but also -- This is the depression talking. There is a way out. You made the first step with the med-switch and starting therapy. Let that be your victory for now. It's the first step in climbing out. A tiny little light in the darkness. Be proud of yourself for this. It is you NOT DROWNING. It is you NOT FAILING. It is you believing in yourself and finding your way out. You can do it. I did. Have faith.

Therapist here and therapy can help in the absence of medication and before it kicks in! Some people don't respond to medication and get better through therapy alone. Don't sell yourself or your therapist short by waiting for meds to work. Google Self Compassion/Neff and take just a couple of minutes a day to practice some mindfulness. Let your therapist help you challenge those should statements. You can do this.

I know it's nobody's job here to diagnose anyone, but I have ADHD and dyslexia and that guy reminds me a lot of myself. I didn't get diagnosed until I was 30. I hope that he goes and gets evaluated, whether because the letter writer told him it's driving her nuts, or because she broke up with him, or because he's sick of not having fruit for breakfast when he wants it. It may not be ADHD, but what the OP described sounds like someone who's really struggling with executive function issues. My heart goes out to both of them. It sucks to always feel like you're just fundamentally not capable of basic adulting, and it sucks equally to be the person doing the executive functioning for two adults and to be the person who knows they are constantly disappointing that person.

Excellent diagnosis, at minimum, of the double-bind of executive function issues. Thank you. An evaluation is definitely in order.

I’m an economics professor and your mention of trading off characteristics and that joe must “prefer” something about this job sound a lot like my consumer theory lecture!

Next stop, Hollywood!

My fiance and I parted ways after he admitted that he never wanted children. I've always wanted to have kids, so we made the gut-wrenching decision to break up. During this time, I cried and told him I probably would never find anyone to love me and have children with me. My fiance compassionately agreed to help me get pregnant, provided that we would not be a couple and he would give up his parental rights once the baby was born. We were together for another few months until I got pregnant, then dealt with the fallout of breaking up again. Fast forward to today. I'm pregnant, lonely, and seeing my former partner on social media with his new love is stabbing me in the heart. I know this is what I wanted, but I can't help but feel he didn't love me enough to stay around. Please help me. I feel so lost and alone and I don't know what to do.

Oh my oh my.

Okay.

There are some fallacies here, big ones, that are tormenting you, so let's get them dealt with upfront. 

"I can't help but feel he didn't love me enough to stay around." False--he just didn't want kids enough. But if that's not persuasive, look at it this way: If we take your reasoning as sound, then YOU also didn't love HIM enough to stay around--because you had that option, too. His was to stay with you and have kids he didn't want; yours was to stay with him and not have kids you wanted. Same-freaking-same. Okay? Okay.

Next: "I cried and told him I probably would never find anyone to love me and have children with me." I can't say for *certain* that's false, but it was certainly post-breakup-cryspeak. Life is nothing if not surprising, so anything you tag a "never" to that you haven't already determined to be physically impossible is a fallacy just waiting to become official. 

Next: "My fiance compassionately agreed to help me get pregnant." I'm sure he felt compassion, but whether the decision was compassionate is ... complicated. Not that your child will be anything less than the light of your life--it's just that solving the one problem created an acute other problem (or problems).

Next: "seeing my former partner on social media with his new love is stabbing me in the heart"? The fallacy here being that one must see one's ex or anyone else on social media. You don't have to! Self-torture is optional, so I suggest opting out. Block, cancel, quit. 

Here is the good news: Once you clear all of these out, then you've got at least the potential to be instantly un-lost. Clear out the idea that he didn't love you; clear out that you're unlovable; clear out that ... well, allow the thought that your fiance is a loving and compassionate person who meant well, but also allow yourself to see that the decision you both made introduced complexities you didn't foresee and would be wise now to sort out with some professional help. (Ask your OB to recommend a therapist); and clear out the social-media self-flagellation, at least until you're feeling emotionally more solid.

And replace all of these with the following truths as your beacon: The breakup will hurt less over time, and you're going to be a mom. Everything you do from now on, at least till you feel better, can be streamlined to these two things: what will help you recover, and what will help you be a good mom. Call in whatever reinforcements you have at the ready, be they friends, family, hired (therapist, doctor, prenatal yoga instructor, etc), proximate (both senses--make the effort), and focus on doing what you need to get well and get ready. 

It's going to feel painful and lonely for a while because all breakups do. Trust yourself to heal, because that's what all of us are built to do.

 

I hope that Q answers why I took so long. Sorry.

Oh, I am you in about ten years! My husband is extremely literal too, operates completely on his own wavelength, and also is immensely kind and considerate. Things that are obvious to the average person just aren't to him. And yes it drives me bonkers and YES I'm very glad I married him anyway. We do have kids, and he is not so out to lunch that he isn't safe to care for them by himself--I think that's a big deal, as far as where to draw the line. (They end up wearing some reeeeeeally wired outfits in some reeeeeeally off sizes, but they are happy and loved.) Also, mine knows he is like this and is willing to put in the hard work (and it is legitimately hard for him) to learn a few specific habits a year, just because I say they're very important to me--things like remembering to lock the doors. Normally this is fine, and the fact that he never puts laundry away in the same place twice isn't an existential threat to our marriage. But it is and always will be there, and when I'm short tempered it starts to feel like I'm the only adult around and I have to take a walk and grouse to myself--but I always end these walks by reminding myself why he's so worth his foibles, why I chose this life. Even when my keys aren't on the hook where I ALWAYS leave them because he randomly put them in the playpen as a baby toy and then left for work. WHYYYYY

This feels so true, real, and so full of love. Thank you.

You could also suggest he be tested for executive function disorder. I suggest this because the LW described my late mother to a tee.

I married that guy, 26 years ago. Spoiler alert: They don't change. You can't "train" him. You will end up being the family quarterback, keeping track of all things and delegating specific tasks with detailed instructions. You won't be able to leave for a weekend without writing every little thing down. You'll do his thinking for him. You'll have to anticipate, track, delegate and follow up on everything. Or, you could refuse to come to his rescue, which forces him to figure it out. Which requires great willpower, especially if it concerns something that really has to happen. Your second-guessing him ("why didn't you go through the house?") doesn't make him feel good about himself. He may come to resent what he perceives as you being controlling, even though you're picking up after him to make sure things get done. Only you can decide if all of that is worth it in order to have all of his really good qualities.

My god daughter used to say she loved her dad all the time. She visited him for two weeks a year, and every year, he'd hire a baby sitter to take care of her not only while he worked, but in the evenings when he and his partner would eat meals at restaurants and come home in time to wish her a good sleep. The other adults in her life really struggled with whether we should let her keep visiting, but he was dying of AIDS, and she kept saying how much she loved him. Come to find out 20 years after he died, she was saying that to try to keep us from knowing how hurt she was by the way he treated her. But when I ask her if we should have stopped the visits, she says no, because he was the dad she had and she needed to work it out for herself. Which she did, eventually. Keep taking your daughter to see her father and be there for her as she figures out what she probably already knows: he's not the father she wishes she had. But he's the father she does have, and she needs to come to grips with that in her own way and time. The best we can do for kids with an unsatisfactory parent is, I think, to love them through it all, and never, ever, ever make them choose.

Gut-punch. Wow.

I have friends who have let me down in ways that they more than made up for in other ways (specifically a charming, outgoing, energetic friend who will never be on time for anything ever), and I have other friends for whom the extra work was not worthwhile, even when the down sides were less frustrating for me. The same balance of how someone makes you feel comes up with a life partner, only you're hoping you won't want to drift away after a few more years. A key difference, though, is that if you have biological kids with this man, you will also be raising his kids. Those kids will likely come with many of his traits. Once you decide if you can love and accept him as a whole package, can you also love and accept that his kids will share some of his traits? While you are trying to decide, do what you can now to make life easier. Forget anything similar to 'gala apples' on the shopping list when what you really want is 'fruit for snacking'. If his three hour schedule detour was a low stress way for him to turn his focus to something else *he* found appropriate for that time (rather than an anxious, unproductive suspension of his day, then you could benefit from reframing how you view these differences. Is he helpless or just going with the flow in a way that is far different from what you expect or would do in the same situation?

I've been seeing someone I really like, whose company I super enjoy, but very quickly it has turned into us hanging out at my place. On the one hand I enjoy this; I am a bit of a homebody, it's relaxed and low-pressure, I have snacks. On the other, I feel some mix of taken for granted (aren't we supposed to be having dates? shouldn't he be making an effort?) and concerned that this Means Something (am I too hideous to be seen with in public?). I don't think it's just a FWB situation and I don't know it (we don't always have the sex, and he has explicitly said he is interested in a relationship), and I don't believe he is with someone else such that he's trying to hide me. I want to say something, but every configuration I come up with makes me feel demanding or like I want him to spend money on me. We've been pretty open and honest so far, discussed our pasts and our emotional needs, but this one thing I can't seem to figure out. Any help would be appreciated!

How about, when you'd rather go out, you suggest going out? Plan to pay. See how that works.

That way you don't have to worry about answering all of the subquestions. Just answer the main one: When I'm living the life I want to live, does he still fit into it?

Hi Carolyn, been a fan for years, thanks for what you do. I recently found out that a close friend lost her job back in March and has been pretending to all (including her family) that she is still working, she dresses up, takes the train into town and kills time for 8 hours everyday. I am flabbergasted and do not know how to approach this with her. Obviously there is no shame in losing a job, but carrying on this charade for over 6 months is troubling.

"I'm sorry you're going through this," and buy her coffee, and listen.

It is indeed very troubling, and she will need friends who are up to the job of supporting her, which includes (and is not limited to) nudging/steering her toward professional help if/when she tries to lean on friends as an alternative. It's pretty common.

But throughout, being warm and available will help her get past the shame piece, which no doubt drove her to these extremes.

Thank you for the kind words.

There are national groups such as single mothers by choice and choice moms that I think would be a lifeline for you.

Good call, thank you.

This should be written into standard wedding vows.

Unless it is, in which case s/he's not the right one to marry.

I screwed up and lost a terrific woman nearly 12 years ago. I'm married with kids now and the regret has been worked through, therap-ized, counselled, etc. and I'll go months and then I'll have a dream about her and it all comes back, the second guessing, the regret, the guilt and it will be with me for weeks...my closest friends believe I'm still in love with her. I've brought it up with my counselor. I know that's not fair to my wife...I don't know how to work past something that comes when I dream about her...that's not something I can control.

You can't control the dreams, no--but you can control how much you indulge your impulse to keep seeing her in your mind as exactly the person you knew 12 years ago (or idealized 11.5 years ago, ahem).

She's not that person anymore, she's 12 years different. Same goes for you. And the way you felt about each other then ... let's say 12.5 years ago? That, had you stayed together, would be long gone by now, overwritten many times over by the feelings and relationship you and she shaped with your actions and experiences. You could be six years divorced from her by now (over some version of the same thing that broke you up back then).

So, short version, stop making stuff up. Yes it's not fair to your wife, but it's also not fair to you. And not! real! So when you have your next dream, wake up with a little smirk and remind yourself it's fiction now, and go hug your wife.

Deal?

As a writer, what do you think about using "they" to represent either gender?

As a writer, I'm all for the simplicity of it, and the compassion.

As an ex-copy editor, I've resigned myself to being a late adopter.

Is it a coincidence that God looks like Nick's cousin Zach Galifianakis? Mind=blown.

Actually, Nick's Gods are usually Nick's dad. Zach's uncle, so, good eye!

I was wowed by Nick's elaborate cartoon accompanying today's column, and was intrigue by the tiny letters "After Oliphant" near the top left, at the top of the throne scroll. Could you please ask him if this piece was homage to one of Oliphant's editorial cartoons?

I'm guessing it's not to one cartoon, but instead to Oliphant's style, of which Nick is a longtime, ardent admirer.

I had this same problem, which also often included falling asleep on the couch with the TV on for most or all of the night (I had a rough transition to living alone again after a breakup). I decided to change my environment to break the habit and moved my TV into the bedroom. It was initially going to be for a short time but I liked it so much I've kept it there so far. I may not always do all the things I planned, but I do have more space to think about how I want to spend my time without having to engage in massive willpower to avoid just crashing on the couch with TV to numb out. And if I do want to watch TV it's a more conscious decision, and if I fall asleep to it at least I'm already in bed!

This is in re last week's question, but it's a great point, and one worth expanding on: I think we tend to underestimate how much place affects life choices. How much we exercise, eat, read, socialize, etc., all can be significantly affected by a seemingly low-significance change--like rearranging furniture. Cool stuff. Thanks

Our 85-year old Dad has an awful girlfriend of less than a year, who just moved in with him. She met everyone at Thanksgiving last year and made a number of incredibly toxic comments, including saying to the only African American person there (he is a roommate of one of my 20-something nephews), "Oh, you're just a token here." She also told girlfriends of 2 other nephews that she didn't need to know their names because, "You're the cat's pajamas now but you won't be around for long." Again, she was just meeting all of thus, and all these people for the first time. Now, Thanksgiving is coming and we can't get Dad to agree to come without her. No one has a problem with Dad having this girlfriend -- his choice. We just don't want to spend the one day we all have together all year (we live all over, mid-west to east coast), having to ensure she doesn't offend, insult, etc., family and friends. Note: She is not mentally deficient (she's in her 70's and "sound of mind" -- I guess). She just thinks she is being incredibly intellectual and witty when she makes these stupid comments. I think. Regardless, we don't think Dad should dictate the Thanksgiving guest list -- that he should be invited and if he doesn't want to come without her, his choice. It just makes us all sad. We want him there -- but I guess not enough to invite her toxicity into the holiday. Any option we are missing?

Yes--having her there and saying the quiet part out loud. For example":

She: "Oh, you're just a token here." [btw--O!M!G!]

One or more of you: "What a horrific thing to say. Do you think that's funny?"

You can expect one of three outcomes: She'll mind her mouth thereafter; she'll stop coming; you'll have the pleasure of telling her exactly what you think of her, *from the high ground.* Merry Thanksmas.

"The best we can do for kids with an unsatisfactory parent is, I think, to love them through it all, and never, ever, ever make them choose."

Agreed.

I’m a therapist trainee and my very experienced supervisor likes to say “I’ve seen relationships survive everything except an absence of respect for each other”. I think it’s worth asking yourself if you respect your bf despite these quirks, or if these quirks have led to a loss of respect for him. Loss of respect is toxic, and it doesn’t matter what you “should” feel- what do you feel? Do you respect him as a partner?

Figure out what this woman represents to your unconscious and it might feel easier. Maybe you’re dreaming of your lost youth, or the sense of possibility you had at 26, or the dream of moving to another country, or... whatever it is, it might demystify the dreams as not being about her but about you and your relationship to your life.

Chances are you aren’t grieving/missing this person, but the person you were/wanted to be back then, or a dream of your life back then. Focus on exploring with your therapist what that missing piece is and see how you can attend to that (missing sense of adventure, whatever) in your life today.

Single mom here to two boys. I often felt overwhelmed because of the standards I set for myself. At some point I decided to just cut myself the same slack that our culture does for the movie stereotype of a bumbling, single dad. It has helped immensely and given me more room to just enjoy my kids (and I know them blues about the kid who comes home hungry from school). I echo what others have said about a good therapist and really leaning on whatever support system you have. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

"cut myself the same slack that our culture does for the movie stereotype of a bumbling, single dad"

Freaking brilliant. 

 

That's it for today--past the limits of my executive function.

Have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by, and I'll type to you here next week.

 

If you're relying on him always to be the one to make plans, *you're* taking *him* for granted.

ha.

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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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