Carolyn Hax Live (August 14)

Aug 14, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Well hello there. How's your pandemic going so far? 

I'm doing okay, though I have started getting teary when our mail carrier pulls up and I have to fight the impulse to go hug her. 

In addition to my full-time job (which I am very grateful for during these times) I am also one of the caretakers of a relative. We all live together (3-4 people in the house at any given time) for financial and medical reasons. Lately, it seems like the relative in question is looking to check out. She's had some health scares and appears to be nearing the end. The problem is that I am burnt out and it has turned me into a nasty person. I am short with my relative, I lack patience and am generally not nice to be around. I suspect part of this is resentment. I work from home, so I am around her 24/7, but the other caregivers go into the office, and one even took a socially distanced vacation. I feel as if I get no breaks, but it's still not kind of me to take it out on her. I know I will regret my behavior if she really is nearing the end, and I don't want her to feel unwelcome or uncared for in her final weeks. How do I snap out of my selfishness and be kinder and more patient?

I am sorry you have to go through this.

Please, please, when one of the other caregivers is there, leave the house. Somehow. Give yourself a break. If that's impossible or impractical for whatever reason, then build breaks into your day internally. I'm thinking meditation, mainly--it's something you can do any time and its mental health benefits are well documented. Even if you can get outside for socially distanced walks or other mind-clearing activities, meditation is worth adding to your day.

You're learning the hard way the truth of the concept of putting on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else.

My little sister is in her late twenties and has never been in a relationship. She seems content with her life, has a great job, interesting hobbies, traveled when it was possible, and owns her own home. Overall she’s doing better than many people in her age range, including most of our cousins. Maybe she’s asexual, I don’t know or care as long as she is happy. My family, though, is very pushy about her single status and it’s getting worse as she gets older. She constantly gets harassed by some busy-body aunt or uncle but our parents are they worst – they desperately want her to get married and have children even though my brother and I are both married have 4 children between us. The day she settled on her house they ruined the mood by saying she should have waited until she got married. My sister takes it all in stride but as they get more insistent she gets visibly uncomfortable. I’ve asked her if she wants me to tell them to shut them up and she says no probably because I have a tendency to be extremely blunt and she doesn’t want me to cause a rift. I have talked to the more outspoken family members individually and asked them to leave her alone. They say that they’re just worried about her, they only want her to be happy. They refuse to acknowledge that she IS happy. The last thing I want is make my sister more uncomfortable than she already is by telling the older people to shut the #$%^ up and mind their own business at the next family gathering, but I really want to support her and make them stop. Any suggestions?

Ugh. I'm actually sorry you asked her first about speaking up. As a witness, it is your prerogative to note in the moment how self-absorbed these comments are, every time you hear them. As if these relatives have the secret to life and need to impose their definition of the good life on everyone else. "Why do you get to decide how someone else lives? Why is your definition of happiness the only one anyone is allowed to have?" I still think it's okay to do this, because you're not telling your family to "shut up," you're inviting them to have a conversation about values. You're going to have to watch your sister carefully for discomfort, though, and save it for later at her first flinch.

This is so infuriating. I am furious on your sister's behalf.

I do think you have room to do one other thing, offstage: You can go back to your parents and ask again that they zip it. When they claim they’re "just worried about her" and "only want her to be happy," as them directly how they think harping on this is making her life any better. How they think constantly reminding her of their worries and her perceived shortcomings can do anything to help. *Do not back down.* Their rationale is BS and it's beyond time for bystanders like you to close whatever loopholes they've given themselves to treat your sister like crap as if it's some kind of public service.

This is, of course, more management of the middle than I typically advise, but given the degree of overstepping your family has done, it's actually in the realm of bullying, which confers responsibilities on bystanders that aren't otherwise in force. You, the bystander, have a responsibility to step in to let the bullies know you're not standing for it on your watch.

 

Here's one I don't thing you've tackled before. I know at least 4 people who have published books on Amazon. All have asked me to please leave a review. Three of the books were fairly good (one was really great), but one was really hard to slog through. Three would have benefitted from being trimmed to half their length. I have navigated through real-life situations by finding something honest and positive to say about most situations ("What do you think of this dress?" etc.) and I can do that with written reviews. But what do I do about star ratings and remain honest? They're pretty black and white. If I can't lie (and I won't, because then reviews are worthless), should I decline to leave a review at all? So far I've just put it off, but I'll be asked again. Is there any way I can decline that's not hurtful?

People are asking you, to your face, more than once, to review their books?

That's not cool.

The success of a book is unfortunately dependent on these reviews, and so it's common practice for authors to ask everyone they know to leave a review. But, because of just the kind of awkwardness you describe, these requests are only friendly if they don't put people on the spot.

If I've misinterpreted the circumstances here and you're being asked at arm's length--via social-media blast, for e.g.--then just leave positive reviews when you can do so honestly, and ignore the requests when you're in a two-star kind of mood. That's easy. 

If you're being put on the spot, then your best option is to give a noncommittal response to an author's direct appeal--even, "Such a raw deal, that authors have to do so much of their own marketing"--and then, again, leave reviews only when you can honestly give a lot of stars and skip the ones that would be negative.

I recently resigned from my position as a partner at a law firm where I have worked for many years. I killed myself to make partner but once I made it, I began to realize that it just wasn’t worth it. I’m so burnt out that I’m not even looking for another position at this point in time; I want to take the next six months or so to recover. My husband is ecstatic about my decision since he’s seen what this job has been doing to me but everyone else in my life is questioning my decision even when I have made it clear that their input is unwanted and unwelcome. I’m still transitioning clients and all of them, along with my coworkers, family members, and friends are all in shock that I’m leaving my career in the middle of a pandemic. I need a break and frankly we can more than afford it. I’ve have three years’ salary banked, and that’s in addition to our joint saving and investments. I’ve told people this (not the exact figure but that I have plenty of money saved) but they don’t let up. I don’t know how to respond without shoving my bank account in their face or being way too personal with people that I don’t feel comfortable sharing those things with. They’re making me feel like a complete failure when I say I’m simply taking time off. How best to answer these people?

With questions. Such as: "Why are you more worried about this than I am?"

Meaning, stop explaining yourself--it's not your responsibility to justify yourself to anyone not yourself or your SO--and instead turn the questions back on the questioners. "Why do you ask?" "You seem intent on questioning my decision about my own career. What's that about?"

I'm actually fascinated by this level of pressure an interest, so if you ever do get any of these people to answer your rhetorical "wt[h]" with an actual answer, I hope you'll write in to share it.

And, before I go, a moment for the "making me feel" issue: No. That's not how it works. They can "make" you want to run away screaming from such obnoxious and entitled people, but they can't introduce feelings unless there's something already there. The grilling has just made it harder for you to put doubts away, yes? So, deal with them as advised above ^^, and then deal with any remaining doubts internally. 

Good for you, by the way. It's hard for people just to walk from something they'd built their lives around--hard to admit it wasn't working.

My boyfriend and I are on the verge of breaking up, I guess. I am devastated because we’ve been going out for a year and I was thinking this relationship would lead to marriage. Ever since our area's pandemic status moved to green, my boyfriend has been throwing caution to the wind (no mask except when absolutely required, weekly meetups with large groups of friends) and it's made me nervous. We had several arguments about it, escalating to the last one where he told me I always acted like a “boring loser” and he couldn’t take it anymore. When I asked what he meant by “always”, he said how I exercise every day and eat healthy and how serious I am about my job. It was like a lot of pent-up anger came pouring out. When I asked why he was with me if he felt that way, he laughed and said because I was hot and it made his friends jealous. I left because I couldn't listen any more. He’s been texting me a flood of apologies, saying he didn’t mean it, he made it all up because he was mad. It sounded like truth to me. Is it possible he made that all up? He’s pushed me to “loosen up” before but never called me boring or seemed annoyed by my lifestyle. I really thought he loved me. I’m so brokenhearted. How do I figure out how he really feels?

He seems nice.

You know from his behavior over the past year whether he accidentally lost his cool or accidentally told the truth. There's always a trail. We don't always see it in the moment, but, when we look back through the lens of new information, it's usually right there in plain sight.

To be clear, I'm not saying what your trail leads to, whether this was a burst of stuff he doesn't really believe or a burst of truth he's been holding back until now. I don't know which one it is. I'm only saying that a good look backward over the past year almost certainly has useful information for you. I'm only saying that *you* know.

Of course, if you look back and find ample evidence that he doesn't really think this, that he just made that all up, then you have to reckon with the fact that when this guy gets angry, he becomes a verbally abusive jerk. 

So, instead of wondering whether you were right to really think he loved you, it's time to ask yourself whether you really love him.

You don't stay with someone because you think you owe them the forgiveness they're begging for--you stay because this person contributes to your living your best life.

 

 

 

Reading between the lines on the cabin drinking inquiry, it seems that dad and daughter are off skiing in the morning, and mom is taking care of her grandkids solo while son-in-law sleeps it off. If that's the case, I think part of the remedy is to bang on son-in-law's door and say that you need help with the kids. Or maybe you have an errand to run and want to make sure the kids are supervised. But under no circumstances should you have to enable the behavior by babysitting during hangover time. And I say that as a son-in-law!

Well, wait--another way of reading between the lines is that the son-in-law doesn't want to hang around with his wife's family ... or that the son-in-law really enjoys the neighbors and this is his vacation, too ... or etc. There was a lot of room for interpretation in that letter, which is why I used the word "if" so liberally.

It's still not the LW's place to dive into the business of the daughter's marriage. If the issue is that LW doesn't want to babysit while son-in-law is at the neighbor's, then LW needed to say so.

Due to COVID, we relocated to be near my parents, and they have been invaluable sources of help. We love them and are so grateful for the way they've stepped up, and because of that, we try really hard to walk on eggshells about our opposing political views. Right now we, like many parents, are really struggling with the decision to send our (preschool-age) kid back to school. Our area's case count is low, his school is small and they're taking many measures to keep the kids safe, and he thrives in school, so if we can make it work, great. However, (gestures at all evidence this is a terrible idea). I read and research constantly and lose sleep about it. In the meantime, my mom sends me daily articles with the gist of "Kids need school or else they'll become socially isolated, obese malcontents with no hope of getting jobs in 20 years." I have just been deleting everything while gritting my teeth (because in this case, I do think she means well and thinks she's providing me with information I haven't considered) but I'm close to losing it. Do I just keep deleting? I can't figure out a way to say "I know you think you're helping, but you're actually making me crazier?" that doesn't come off as a political statement (side note: curses to this administration for making A BASIC HEALTH ISSUE a political one!).

Your feelings are yours. What is wrong with, "I know you think you're helping, but you're actually making me crazier?" 

Or its kinder version, "I know you're trying to help, but I'm overwhelmed by information at this point, so the most helpful thing you can do for me now is to give me room to sort through it."

Just because something has been politicized doesn't mean you can't talk about it at all. Just be clear about your needs,  don't over-explain, and don't engage beyond your comfort point. As needed: "I'm not going to discuss this any further."

I am an elementary teacher and am struggling right now. I fully understand that most schools going fully online is really difficult to navigate for parents and families who work. I get it. It’s impossible. But I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend of people (who in March said we should all get raises because teaching is hard) saying really really terrible comments about teachers online. It is horrifically demoralizing and I don’t even want to start teaching online in the fall because what’s the point? Parents will still complain that their kids are learning anything or that we’ve been on vacation since March so “suck it up.” Yet we’re also facing massive budget cuts (my school cut 10 full time teachers) which inevitably mean our class sizes are much larger when science is telling us they should be smaller. I guess my advice is: how would you recommend approaching the school year while maintaining my mental health? I know that the quick answer is “stop reading the comments” but that’s really hard when my district tells teachers and families the same announcements on their Facebook pages and that’s usually the way we get our updates during this crisis. Just, ugh.

District means union, right, so, you have a rep you can bring this to? Seems to me fixing the communication point is one of the few easy things a school administrator can do right now.

Another suggestion is ... just, I'm sorry. I'm sorry the emotional byproducts of everyone's stress and rage and exhaustion and fear and worn-to-tissue-paper skin are coalescing around the school issue. You don't deserve it, it's wrong, and anyone who knows teachers or has a shred of empathy that hasn't fallen into the maw of stress-rage-exhaustion-fear* knows it's a source of torment. My sister just said today: "Our choices are heartbreak or terror." People really do know this, so, I can only urge you to keep reminding yourself the nasty commenters are in the distinct minority.

*Bonus suggestion, if you have the bandwidth: Note that the people who once were empathetic this spring and now aren't are victims here, too, even if their particular manifestation is through public jackholery at the people just trying to do their jobs without dying or causing death. I'm not saying to let people off the hook who have resorted to all this public anger--I'm not lining up to befriend them myself--just that I think it's important not to dehumanize the people behaving so badly, and instead see them as the other side of the coin of 2020 horrors. People are freaking out. If there's any way to feel any compassion for the general state of mass out-freakage that has led to your being attacked, then that might actually, counterintuitively, boost your own mental health.

I’m exhausted by this argument and hope you can help me think straight. 10 years ago, I bought my sister out of the beach house we inherited from our parents. Her children didn’t like the beach and she needed the money because she and her husband felt my nephew would do better in a private school. The transaction went smoothly and all has been well. Until now. My wife and I are retiring and have put the beach property on the market since we’re planning to move out of state. My brother-in-law saw how much we’re asking and hit the roof saying we took advantage of them when we bought them out. I tried to explain that we made substantial improvements after Hurricane Sandy but he and my sister are still upset. I want to lay out all of the financials, what the property was evaluated at when we bought them out, what improvements we made, how much it cost etc but my wife is furious. She’s very private about money and thinks this is none of their business, especially since it was her money that paid for all of the upgrades (we use a yours/mine/ours money system). I think a good relationship w/ our family is worth a little financial transparency. What’s the reasonable thing to do here?

Your brother-in-law is way out of line, shows no working knowledge of real estate values, and is calling you a cheat--and, bonus, your own sister isn't standing up for you.

I'd still offer to show them the financials, though, because it would put into numbers everything I just said. Which can actually be helpful in the long-term health of families. "You have just called me a liar and a cheat. I am willing to show you our financial records, but that will show you only that I am not a cheat. It will not change the fact that you believed me capable of cheating you." Then see how they respond.

You're looking at estrangement for sure if you don't produce the records, initiated by them. Producing them will reduce the estrangement likelihood to "probable," initiated by you. That's pretty much the math. I'm sorry.

My son seems to keep a pretty good mix of going outside to play and screen time so I usually don't police it. Occasionally a neighbor kid will come over and ask him to play outside and he'll decline in favor of the screen. Normally I don't have to make him go out since he has a pretty good balance but I feel bad when the neighbor kid comes over and he declines. It's not out of any dislike for the kid, they are friends and do play together. I feel bad for the neighbor kid because he's overweight so his parents make him play outside more (not a cruel amount in my opinion, just enough to get more exercise) but all the other kids prefer screen time so a lot of time he's by himself. Inviting him in is not really an option because his parents want him outside. When my son does go out he has fun and usually forgets about whatever he was doing on the screen but I also worry forcing him will make him resent his friend. Thoughts?

I'd be inclined to let kids work out stuff like this. I feel for the kid, too, but having had long stretches of solitude in my own childhood, I can't get behind the idea that having to entertain oneself is a uniformly terrible thing. Resourcefulness comes from many sources.

There is room here, though, to use this situation to start a conversation with your kid about being a good friend. He probably hasn't given it much thought that his friend has fewer options than he does. When is it appropriate to think about a friend's circumstances, and make an effort to accommodate them? Certainly it's not your son's responsibility to make his friend happy--that's the emotional-boundary side--but it can be a gesture of friendship to think beyond just ourselves and what we want, to what might bring happiness to someone else. This could be a really mind-opening topic, especially if you do less speaking and more prompting for your son to speak.

Just wanted to send an update. My abusive partner is now my ex, and I am moving on with my life. Two weeks ago today, I moved into my new apartment, a week ago today I got a part-time job as a dog-walker for someone in my building, and I applied for 7 full-time jobs this week. Life is good, due mostly to the generosity of organizations, friends, and family--but also because I realized I had more resilience than I could imagine. Thank you to everyone in Haxville for your support over the last 4 months!

Yay, thank you so much for this. Good for you. 

 

Everyone has been particularly mean this week, including me. I feel sore inside (yes, I'm on antidepressants). Is there some reason that this week is so bad?

Probably just accumulated fatigue. Spring, lockdown, people managed ... then sort of lost it a few months in. Summer, was supposed to be different, people managed ... but are now kind of losing it a few months in. 

Lay in supplies for November. Lots of flannel.

In today's column, you defined threat and consequence. But, how do you lay out consequences without threatening them on a regular basis?

You don't always have to spell out the consequences. I actually have been saying for a long time, I actually think it's really useful *not* to. It's sort of a hybrid ultimatum: You decide what you need and what the consequence will be if you don't get it. Then you articulate the need ... but keep the consequence to yourself. That way, you are letting the people around you know where you stand. They can either provide you what you're seeking or not--of their own volition and for their own reasons (i.e., they want to give you what you need) vs under threat (i.e. to avoid losing something for themselves). 

Then, either they provide it--yay!--or they don't, at which point you follow through with your consequence.

So, example: planning the family activity. LW wanted help from others, so, internally, LW can decide to put up with, say, two more weeks of not getting any help, after which LW will no longer do the planning for everyone. LW then notes LW has been planning everything, is tired of this, and would like some help. LW doesn't spell out that they have two weeks to start helping or LW is out. The others either start helping--yay!--or, after two weeks of still getting no help, LW says enough and stops planning the events.

It is actually a simple and elegant way, imo, to respect boundaries, allowing people room to hear their own voices and find their own motivations.

I find it especially useful with couples, when you really don't want someone deciding, say, to marry you just in response to a threat.

 

You might also reach out to the local hospice organization to see if they offer caretaker support services that you can take advantage of, even if your relative is not a hospice patient (maybe also check to see if they're eligible).

We're having this exact issue with in our family right now. I spoke to a lawyer recently. He said the question is not "what is fair with 2020 hindsight?" but "what was fair in X year of the transaction?" He used the analogy of stock in a company like Apple. Maybe in 1997, you traded your old car for 250 Apple shares worth $1,000. That those shares are now worth $600K today doesn't mean the deal was unfair in 1997. You don't get to rewrite history.

One option would be giving him a limit on screen time, with no reference whatsoever to this kid. The limit might help him choose to play with the kid when he know he can't be on the screen much longer anyway. Then hopefully the fun he has with his friend is reinforcing in and of itself. No judgement whatsoever on the screen time, by the way, but just an option if your goal is to get him playing outside more without resenting his friend for it.

Was from the chat “Life in the time of coronavirus” if you’re looking for the link. If it’s safer for the OP to not link back, I’m so glad OP got out.

Thank you, I didn't want to get bogged down in a search. I think there was another follow up, too, shortly after that initial post.

Chances are that you can find a man who, even when he's angry or frustrated, will not think to call someone he claims to love a "boring loser." Maybe he did make it up, but regardless, he's demonstrated that that's where his mind goes when he's out to hurt someone. There are people to whom it would never occur to go there, no matter how badly they feel provoked.

I've been feeling that way, too (actually last week). I think we're all going through cycles of something like the five stages of grief, maybe "fear, disorientation, boredom, acceptance, and 'when TF will this all end' anxiety." I can't say I've figured out a graceful way to deal with it all beyond recognizing that it's more or less out of my hands and I can ride it out ... again. And hoping that, eventually, we will, individually and collectively, figure out how to navigate our lives in these new circumstances. It's been six months or so, sure, but it's also ONLY been six months or so. You don't re-learn how to exist in six months.

Well said, thanks. 

I found that I needed to switch up my distractions/diversions. Judging from my mail, a lot of people hit that point this summer. I couldn't come up with anything new immediately, either. There was some can't-deal time first. Regrouping, let's call it.

My sister's therapist suggested that she start figuring out what she can do to make the fall and winter under quarantine more like a cocoon, rather than a prison. So she's signing up for a snack subscription service and stocking up on craft supplies. I thought this was a great idea and was hoping the nuts might have other suggestions-- a collective brainstorm perhaps.

What is the best way to handle a partner that has said they want to take part in household decisions and feels bad when you end up doing most of the work... but then doesn't follow through with the stuff they say they're going to? We need to find a pediatrician for our baby, due in one month. They have a list of 3 potential practices, they have a list of questions to ask, but this has been on the to-do list for 2 weeks now and they haven't called. We just talked about it just last night and it is now 2pm today and they STILL haven't called! I'm afraid to say "Call the pediatrician today or I am calling on Monday" or to send them a gentle reminder today because I know they're very sensitive about this and they're dealing with some pandemic-induced anxiety and I don't want to make it worse. But we seriously need a pediatrician and I'd like to have one a month out. Thoughts?

I think the conversation now isn't "Call the pediatrician or I will," it's, "Obviously there's an obstacle here. Do you know what it is, so we can deal with it?" 

While the imbalance in domestic attention is So Freaking Real, there's also another reality in play: that we all have things we gravitate to and shy away from. Whenever you have a reluctant partner, the first thing to look for is the gravitate-too/run-from list. Basically you want to delegate to foot-draggers anything they enjoy or are good at. If there isn't enough there to make for a fair division of labor, then also delegate to the foot-draggers anything else they don't actively resist or hate.

So, if your foot-dragger is, say, a phone-hating introvert with pandemic anxiety, then the call to the pediatrician isn't the thing to delegate. Better to give them responsibility for ordering things online. 

This sounds infantilizing as hell and like a big chunk of emotional labor, but it's still better than delegating things counterproductively and then reaping the resentment for the next 20 years. Better to figure out natural inclinations upfront and divide things accordingly. Emotional labor can be something you put on your side of the ledger, too, when you're figuring out what's fair.

Does your son understand that this friend can only play outside? Maybe spelling that out would help--if son ever wants to see this friend, he'll have to say yes to playing outside.

I'm really struggling with whether to have a third kid. I always imagined having 3, I'm from a large family so I enjoy the noise, and I think of how nice it'll be to have all the kids and grandkids around when we're older. On the other hand, my kids are now 2 and 6, and it's *so much* easier now. They play well together, I have time to myself now, and I think about how nice it would be to focus on me for a while. I usually use the "which choice will you regret later" tactic in approaching decisions like this, but I'm getting nowhere with that. Any advice?

This is deceptively simple, if you let it be: Until it's a sure yes, it's a no.

RE: "Such a raw deal, that authors have to do so much of their own marketing"--AUTHORS don't. the people who do their own marketing on Amazon, etc., are the self-published people who know little about writing and couldn't get even a small local press interested. Allan Eckert started as a self-published author, but he had other look it over first and used a local printer who could give him advice on fonts, binding, etc., that made it "a real book." And as for kids needing school, they may need social contact, but not necessarily the kind they get it school. School was a matter of social isolation for me, as my elementary classmates made fun of my advanced vocabulary and I was unfamiliar with the games they played. Kids need education and socialization, but they can get both elsewhere than in school, and school can be a negative influence. And about people being angry this week, here in my area the weather forecasts have started including the fall pollen count!

Good on points 2 and 3, but you're wrong on 1: Authors published by major publishing houses also have to carry a lot of responsibility for promoting themselves. Not James Patterson, maybe, but pretty much everyone else. 

Would you all like me to post people's suggestions for pandemic-friendly distractions? Or have you seen them all at this point. I am at your service.

This part jumped out at me: "I think of how nice it'll be to have all the kids and grandkids around when we're older" -- the poor children are not even teenagers yet, but the parent is assuming that they will have children 20-30 years down the road. These are the assumptions that set oneself up for heartbreak.

Good catch, I totally missed that. Thanks.

Can you talk to your relative when you're feeling calm, and tell them a version of what you said here? "I'm not dealing with the stress of the pandemic very well and I feel like I'm taking that out on you. You don't deserve that. I don't want you to feel unwelcomed or uncared for."

There were apparently a bunch of updates in the comments she says, but here's the chats I could find quickly through Google. #1: https://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live20200313.html #2: https://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live20200320-new.html #3: https://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live20200408-new.html #4: https://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live20200506.html

Taking your word for it--thanks so much.

My guess is that laying out the financials for the BIL is likely to lead to them demanding half the profit, so LW might want to be prepared for that.

Yikes. Perhaps a chat with an attorney before anything else. 

Plus, OP's spouse would still have to agree with the financial sharing in the first place, which is not a given. I meant to include that, and to suggest OP present it as a matter of clearing their name. 

 

Thanks.

Please know that some of us working parents with kids who will be learning online are sending you SO MUCH LOVE. I love how much effort you have put into this coming school year and last spring. I love how you made the best of an incredibly difficult and stressful situation. I LOVE how much you love our children. Yes, you are loving our children every day by teaching them and you are our love-givers when we are not around and I cannot tell you the gratitude I feel for that. Sincerely. I am glad that you are teaching online and thereby staying safer than you would be in person. I AM GLAD. Because you deserve to be safe. Please know there are reasonable ones among us. And we send love back to you.

From someone who has been in a very similar situation but stayed: run run run, and as much as it hurts to walk away from something you thought was promising, be grateful this guy showed you his true colors before you were married. My ex also said nasty, vicious things that he would later apologize for and insist he didn't mean. I want to signal boost something Carolyn said in her answer that needs to be louder: this is an abusive tactic. Someone who will make up and say nasty things to get the upper hand in an argument is not someone you can build a happy life with. The profuse apologies are right on schedule. He is trying to get you to believe that his actions during the fight didn't count and aren't real. This is known as the honeymoon phase after an abusive episode. Once someone treats you with that level of contempt and bullying, you cannot trust the good times to stay. It is also very common for abusive men to show their nasty side for the first time when you are well into the relationship or have reached a new level of commitment. I vividly recall the first time my ex unloaded a shocking, mean barrage on me. We had been together a year and a half and were talking marriage. Up until then he was the best boyfriend I ever had. Like yours, he apologized profusely, he didn't mean it, he even promised to work on his "anger" with a therapist. If I could go back in time, I would break up with him then and there. Instead we got married, and his verbal abuse slowly escalated. Your uneasy feeling that those nasty things he said must have come from *somewhere* is your instinct trying to protect you. Please listen to it and get away from this guy. Staying with someone who is willing to treat you that way will only eat away at your self esteem, and divorcing a person who is capable of being that nasty is a nightmare. Please take it from me. Break up with this guy and stay that way.

THIS. This. Yes. Thank you for saying it so well.

To the person who wrote into the chat last week (or sometime in the last century, anyway), about how we’re in the middle of this, and the middle is always hard - that really helped me. I’m reading a book by Bruce Feiler, about transitions, and what he calls “lifequakes,” where he uses the term “messy middle” - I think that’s where we are, and that helps me too.

Maybe my family life was/is way more crazy-up-front than everybody else's, but that seems really passive aggressive and manipulative. We always broadcast the consequences for everything, and you could either deal with it, or not. Up to you. But you could never say you were unaware.

But it's neither of the above. 

passive aggressive = showing anger or hostility by inaction. So, I don't like your house rules, so I just ignore them and leave my stuff all over the place instead of telling you I have an objection to your rules.

manipulative = trying to influence people for your own purposes. What I'm advising is to state clearly what you want and need, and let other people decide for themselves what to do about it. The whole point is to for people not to be influenced, but instead to act out of their own free will.

You can be upfront and still not go around or-elsing people.

I agree with the LW who wrote about her attorney's points. In addition, the couple selling the house took on all risk with what the market would bear. If the house had lost value, for example, would the sister and her husband be offering to reimburse them for those losses since they pulled out? I doubt it.

No, do not tell your mother you are "overwhelmed by information" about COVID-19 and school. She may take it as an invitation to (in her mind) suss it out for you and continue to tell you what (she thinks) is what. "I have all the information I need, thanks." If she prods you about "new" information she finds for you, then, "I have ready access to professional opinions all along the spectrum and am keeping abreast of developments. I do not need or want you to send me information on this subject any more. You may mean well, but this is not helpful, and any further such emails will be deleted unread."

I think it’s just sinking in, it’s not just a marathon, but an ultramarathon, on more than one front. Hydrate, stretch, rest, repeat.

It's probably the same smallish group of trolls trash talking the teachers. Every time you see one, just block them. It might be a little tedious at first but eventually you'll stamp them all out and be able to read the announcements in peace.

It seems like the LW’s parents have been helping with childcare. Maybe grandma wants a break and that’s why she’s pushing going back to school.

If so, then let's hope her adulthood center activates in time for her to say so.

1. Thank you! 2. I've been using statements from Brandon Bayne's syllabus to kind of center myself. Perhaps it's more what the haters need to hear, but it can comfort you as well. (https://medium.com/@HipHopPrez/the-covid-chronicles-nobody-signed-up-for-this-62000d6737c)

Thanks! Posting unvetted.

As Hank Stuever often said in his (dearly missed) chats: Sometimes no review IS the review. I'm not sure how well that would go over if you said it to someone's face though.

I'm guessing not well. 

Hi Hank! (I'm a huge fan myself.)

When they say, "We just want her to be happy," tell them the truth: "She looks mighty happy to me. Why would you want to change that?"

"Seems to me *you* want to be happier."

Oh, honey. He told you who he is. Believe him.

"No, you don't just want her to be happy. You want her to be married and have kids. If you wanted her to be happy, you'd stop making her unhappy by nagging her about it."

Was today's cartoon a mistake? Same one from a few days ago but with different caption...

It was a two-part joke.

How lucky is your sister to have you! At least she has some support

Please pass on to the big sister wanting to stop the nagging that she's a fantastic woman. My parents disapproved of my legitimate and no-harm-no-foul life choices from the time I was 16-36. It was exhausting, frustrating and now (46) has me 90% disconnected from them. My sister never helped. In fact, she'd pass along and, possibly encourage, the hurtful comments: "She has no life." "She's wasting her intelligence." "She's wasting the education we paid for." I want and love this big sister. Kudos!

Your advice really hit home Carolyn, "You're learning the hard way the truth of the concept of putting on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else." While my experience was somewhat different, I had a very demanding corporate job and a tween daughter who left mom's home and came to mine after a stepfather incident (you can fill in the blank, sigh). She needed me, when she needed me, important meetings etc., or not. I became so burned-out, and resenting the constant demands. It was only when our therapist helped me to understand that I (everyone) has limitations in terms of stress, and had to learn new skills I hadn't previously needed. Some of the things that worked: 1) Fresh Air, in the woods, etc., unplug from people 2) Go for a drive and play music LOUD 3) Exercise, if only a few minutes to get the blood pumping and break a sweat. 4) Meditation, absolutely 5) Try to find a few minutes for myself during the day, break up the stress, small time-outs. 6) Someone to vent to, a sympathetic ear, frankly therapists are as good as it gets.

Thanks for this, and, wow. New heights of infuriating on what was already a high-rage day. Good for you for knowing "She needed me, when she needed me." 

My cousin and I are the Independent, Single Sisters though I am The Gay One. My aunt and uncle tend to Make Comments (her sister is married with children) and I have never had a problem pointing out obnoxious behavior in progress, usually with a single comment. "Careful what you wish for--maybe she'll get married like her sister did and move 3,000 miles away to another country with the grandkids, too." They usually shut up about marriage and children after that.

I think that makes you the Totally Badass, Will You Be My Friend One.

I think you can tell your sister that you can not sit idly by while she is being harassed and bullied, and that, while you will not tell the, to “shut up,” you will speak up on her behalf - to tell them she is happy, to ask them to be happy for her, to ask them to ease up on her and let go of their expectations for her life, which are standing in the way of their ability to celebrate her life as it is. Otherwise, you are condoning and even abetting their mistreatment of her. While your speaking up may not help, I’m not sure it can hurt any more than her being subjected to continual abuse - and at least she’ll know she’s not alone, and you’ll know you did your best to stand up for her - and she’ll know it too.

Please have a meeting with your other relatives living in the house. Set up a schedule of caretaking duties and times when people are 'on and off duty.' It sounds very unbalanced and just because you are working from home doesn't mean you should be the default caregiver 24 hours a day.

The Caregiver Action Network is a great resource: https://caregiveraction.org/. They may be able to help! Hang in there!

Is your Agency on Aging involved? Does this relative have a caseworker? Please take a look at your relative's insurance and what services they might offer. Get a caseworker, get a caretaker who can come in (x) pre-authorized hours per week, get all the help you can. You're all lucky to have multiple people in the house to help with caretaking, yes, but invite in some professionals too. You ALL need a break.

The reality is that your family decided to sell their share of the beach house at what you determined was a fare price at the time. That’s the end of it. They used their funds; you aren’t asking them for an accounting of how that turned out. They aren’t entitled to ask you for an accounting of what you did with the house. What if real estate values had declined and you we’re selling the house for less than what you paid? What about all the years of maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc.? I don’t think you should share specific numbers with them. And if they’re going to be in such a snit over this, does it really matter that you might not see them or see them as often?

My kiddo started online school just yesterday and she's SO happy. The spring iteration of it caught everyone by surprise - no one had coping strategies down. Not kids, not teachers, not districts, not parents. Kiddo was *thisclose* to walking out on her freshman year in frustration and anxiety. But her teachers/school/district clearly spent a TON of time this summer working out how to do this and it shows. I cannot tell you (and her teachers) how much I appreciate it. She's excited for class, excited to learn, and I just hope that everyone else who is anxious and worried about online learning has a similar experience.

So great to see a happy customer, that's all. Thanks!

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, go soak in some summer, find some relief, and I'll type to you here next week.

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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