The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax Live: 'Adventurous people find ways'

Oct 23, 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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Hi everybody, happyish Friday (don't want to burden people with any more expectations to feel they're not meeting).

Do you have any advice on how to deal with anger and resentment around relentlessly having to enforce boundaries? It took me a while to realize a lack of boundaries were the root of so much of my unhappiness and anxiety with my family of origin. I’m getting better at setting and sticking to them (thank you therapy). I’m also working on accepting the uncomfortable feeling I have around this since it’s not how I was raised, but is it always going to make me so angry? I know staying calm and not giving an emotional response is important to the process, but it’s hard! For example - I have been crystal clear that we are not allowing anyone in our house during COVID (my husband and I both have jobs with high exposure every day) and yet my Ring camera spotted my mom letting herself in this week while we were at work because “she was driving by and just needed to pop in to use the bathroom.” I had the locks changed, but there’s part of me that wants to call her and SCREAM “have you lost your damn mind?” It would be pointless since my mother is an expert victim as a way to deflect from the fact that she couldn’t care less if she upsets other people. So then… do I scream into a pillow or what? Maybe pre-2020 that would have been enough but pillow screaming stopped being enough somewhere back in June…

Of course you're angry! You -got- these boundary problems from your family of origin, from their trampling on you at will. Specifically and directly. 

So this is actually part of the enormous foundation-shift you've undertaken, and good for you for doing it. You've set the boundaries, you're holding them--and they'rea a doing their part by resisting your changes. That's not right, by any means, but it's -normal- for people to respond to change by trying to return things to the familiar. (Especially when the old way benefitted them.) And it's normal for their resistance and boundary-busting to stir up a lifetime's worth of anger at their disrespect for who you are and what you value.

Don't give in to the anger, of course, but do understand it and respect it, enough to channel it into something productive. Are there things that make you feel better that you have readily available to you--like a round of deep breathing, music, stretches, etc? That small adjustment can bring benefits to you whenever the anger stops by on its rounds.

I'll go out on a limb and guess "Cheapskate" is female — since women seem to bear the brunt of bringing "appropriate" gifts or dishes when men are amazing!!! just for showing up. Here's an idea: Treat the invitation as just that — an invitation. If you don't want to bring a side dish, don't. If you want to wear the same outfit — like a man wearing the same suit to every event — do it. You loved this but a lot of people found this to be sexist as well as tired relic of the past. Act like a man meaning be a lazy/poor guest? Would you have found "act like a woman, obsess about your hair and makeup" such brilliant advice?

"a lot of people"? That holds up in court.

Your orange, "act like a woman, obsess about your hair and makeup," is indeed sexist.

But the apple is making use of sexist expectations and flipping them to one's own advantage, which is actually a useful tool for dismantling sexism.

The OP was rightly pointing out that the expectations of female guests are, in general, much higher than the expectations of male guests. Men are not routinely asked to bring a dish and buy a new outfit. This is not the same thing as saying men are "lazy/poor guest[s]," not even if you twist it till it screams.

So, the OP just made an elegant argument for setting a baseline for being a good guest that applies to men and women equitably, and then meeting that baseline and nothing beyond it. And I'll applaud that any day, bloody. Thanks for the chance to do it a third time (old chat, adapted column, this chat).

One of the letters this week got me thinking about my former best friend, “Annie.” Annie was my maid of honor when I got married about 20 years ago and she did a lot to help make that wedding a success. When Annie got married 12 years later, I had 2 young children and couldn’t be as involved as she had for my wedding. Since her wedding was child-free (no children under 12) and babysitters were scarce, in the end we couldn’t even be there. I had asked Annie to consider a more child-friendly wedding, but she took offense and pointed out that my own wedding had been childfree. I tried to explain the difference - most of her friends had children under 10 at the time. But she couldn’t see reason and froze out those who missed her wedding (there were 3 of us, all with children) after she’d done so much for us. And I admit she did a lot - threw showers, ran errands, made centerpieces, decorated receptions, the works. Our friendship didn’t really survive her hurt feelings and other than social media, we don’t interact these days. I miss her and would like to renew the friendship. Where do we even start? Can I just say I miss her and go from there, without rehashing the past?

"But she couldn’t see reason"

Sweet deity.

Call her when you see why you owe her an apology, and can apologize sincerely for the sake of it, without wanting anything from her in return. 

I had a million babies all at once, so I know of what you speak. But you didn't even acknowledge the unfairness of timing that meant you couldn't do for her all the wonderful and greatly appreciated things she did for you. Instead, you greeted her time to be celebrated by her friends as a chance to ask her to sacrifice for you some more--and when she said no, as she was fully entitled to, you didn't take no for an answer and tried to correct her thinking to your advantage. 

There is nothing to "rehash" because you were out of line to bring it to the point of hashing in the first place. Big apology, wrapped in humility, and the wisdom of the ensuing years, or leave her be. 

I work a demanding and lucrative job. Think 80+ hour weeks for months at a time type of demanding. My compensation is how my spouse and I have been able to afford a very nice lifestyle. I have many hobbies and passions outside of work that I just don't have a lot of time for these days. I am always weighing and judging "is it worth it?" And honestly the answer is always on the line. On one hand submerging oneself in work in front of a computer for 80 hours a week is no "life." On the other hand, a few more years of this compensation, while hard right now, could help set me up for a much more financially stable future. Friends and family around me at once seem to applaud my success, while also frequently commenting on how insane my work hours are. I also look around at my peers outside my line of work, and my work-life balance seems to markedly be the worst. Curious what your and your readers thoughts are on this.

I wonder what would happen if you gave yourself concrete answers to the "Is it worth it?" question. 

Set goals, financial or otherwise; plot out a number of years you'll need to stay in this job till you get there; circle the date on your calendar; then see if you feel better about the churn of it all.

I really think that, emotionally, we do better with things when they're broken into pieces we can understand. Terrible work-life balance feels like a problem when you're asking yourself to endure it indefinitely; when you choose it as a limited means to a defined end, it can feel like a solution.

My partner, “Mark” and I trying to come up with reasonable expectations for when his 16 yo daughter, “Emma” moves in with us. She currently lives full time at her mom's place, they are basicaly within walking distance so she’s used to popping in whenever she wants to visit. She also occasionally stays the night. In March her mom had another baby (that makes 2 in 3 years) and Emma has asked to come live with us since her mom’s place is a little chaotic. We said yes, and her mom is a little hurt but agreed, too. The problem is, Emma has never had to do any chores at all while my 14 yo daughter “Kate” is responsible for her laundry, cleans her bathroom, and also pitches in with yardwork and the deep house cleans I do for all of the holidays. Mark doesn’t want to overwhelm Emma with a chore list as soon as she moves in since she has no experience in this area at all (her mom took care of everything). I can see his point since Emma has never even washed a dish but I’m reluctant to have Emma doing nothing but schoolwork and playing on her phone while Kate does everything, especially cleaning the bathroom they will now share. I don’t want to set my daughter up for some kind of Cinderella dynamic. Can you see a compromise here? If it matters, the girls get along very well.

OMG, Cinderella, perfect. 

So I'm with you, no chore-free grace period for the lovely not-stepsister, though I'd upgrade "reluctant" to "nooooo."

But it's not as if the only option is to "overwhelm Emma with a chore list"--and washing a dish for a 16-year-old is one of the flatter learning curves she's going to face in this life. This is a mode of thinking that you might want to address with Mark, by the way, of catastrophizing even the easier parts of blending a family when there are legitimately hard parts in play. Voicing a gentle counter-argument might be all you need-- this situation will probably tell you a lot.

Anyway, the other option is to bring Emma herself into the formation of the chore list. You're so happy she's here, make that clear, you understand it's going to be an adjustment. Let her settle in, an afternoon or a day. Then gather as a family: Here's how you've done things--Kate has been responsible for X, Y, Z, so now Kate and Emma will be splitting some of these. Say they can figure out how to split these between them? Or you'll help them by delegating, their choice. 

Leave out talk of the yard work and holiday deep-cleans for now, though. Just daily stuff. Sort that out, and when a bigger job comes up, then gather again and delegate.

The more normal you make this, that everyone does a part, the better. Tiptoeing around it as if it's a huge imposition invites a sense of aggrievement.




My birthday is this weekend (35!), and my partner and I are celebrating by going to look at townhouses. We are planning to buy this year. Part of me is excited about this (it was my idea and I've been doing most of the research), but the other part is rebelling against the whole thing. My 10-year plan for my thirties including living abroad for at least a year, which I never got around to doing. Yes, I realize there are people over 35 who do this, but I also know that investing in a home now probably means I won't be one of them. My partner is excited and optimistic about all of this, but I'm feeling more and more like a stick-in-the-mud. How do I stop feeling like I'm heading toward the end of all adventure?

Adventurous people find ways.

Your way, up to you--you can buy a townhouse and, when you're ready to move overseas, rent it out, or hold it for a few years and sell when you're ready to move abroad. Or you can set up a bank account separate from your regular ones as your dream fund, and designate a monthly amount to feed it, thereby making sure you don't over-buy real estate to the point it crowds out other dreams. Or you can leave this to the future and apportion a little time now to researching overseas possibilities, just to reassure yourself that you're not abandoning the idea, you're just taking things in the order that they're proving possible. 

Or you can not bother with any of this and just spill your newly conflicted feelings to your partner. It doesn't have to be a big deal--just a mind dump, so that it's no longer preoccupying. Label it as such first, just to make sure your partner doesn't run with it beyond your intentions, but also be open to where an honest discussion of it takes you.

Yes, making it normal is the perfect way to adjust. It is inviting to Emma into the family as it is, makes her one of you. It doesn't make a big deal about it, doesn't judge her for lack of experience and neither does it give her a pass based on prior privilege. The same would go for any other parts of the family that are different. Kids have been hearing their whole lives of being at friends that "the rules at our house are . . . "

LW, I'm sensing a little bit of a "people who aren't parents can't understand" angle. I definitely encourage you to not go that direction. I have 3 very young kids and my first thought was - what did they try? Any creative solutions? Mom goes solo to the wedding? If breastfeeding, other parent joins but stays behind at hotel? Searching really hard for a sitter? Parents don't have to do those things but when a friend goes above and beyond like Annie did, it's worth remembering. Frankly, it sounds like a bunch of friends boycotted the wedding because it was no kids and I find that unpleasant. My toddler would be freaking adorable at a wedding. For 5 minutes. I fully understand "no kids."

Yes, I got that sense, too, and was thinking of similar solutions, having used some of them myself. And even if they weren't possible, trying like hell to make them work before giving up on the idea is as strong a message as any. It's, "I tried *everything* to be there for you the way you were there for me," vs., "I tried everything to make you accommodate me." Thanks for putting words to this.

Don't think of the chores as a burden for the teenage girl, but as an important part of her education in caring for herself eventually. My mother the martyr stopped expecting her kids to do chores when I the oldest made any mistakes (rather than showing me the correct way to do laundry, e.g.), and so I felt really inept and socially backward when I first lived in an apartment with roommates who knew how to adult.

One thought I had is that what would be fair is to give Emma the real choice she has and not an unintentional bait and switch. It appears that she has not had to do chores when 'visiting' your home so she thinks she is choosing chore free, baby free house versus house with baby. I think it might be worth explaining to her that living at your house means chores. She can then choose between baby chaos and no chores versus no baby chaos and chores. Doing this in advance avoids the "welcome to our house here are your chores" greeting that your partner is worried about. And definitely it should be your partner having the conversation and enforcing the chore rules even if with your daughter it has been you.

Good point, thanks.

I think that the LW should also take a philosophical look at what she considers "enough.". As someone who just hit a big financial goal, let me say that there is no magical moment when you go from feeling insecure about the future to totally satisfied. Something that once seemed like it would definitely be ENOUGH feels smaller once it arrives. What is your definition of enough? How will you hold yourself to it, rather than seeing the even-nicer-lifestyle that will come if you just hang on a few more years? Because there is no finish line, and the goal you see in the distance is going to keep moving.

I was born and raised in a football city but I’ve always been indifferent to the sport. I’ll go to a super bowl party to see friends but I don’t schedule my life around games. The problem is that everyone else I know does, even my mom. I’m happy to do things on my own during games and stores, etc. are less crowded at game time, so that’s a plus. But I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that no one will even consider doing anything else on a Sunday afternoon. No offense to anyone whose livelihood depends on it but I was secretly kind of happy that football might not happen this year. Now my boyfriend won’t go biking with me on what may be the last nice Sunday before the weather changes. How do I get over this frustration?

This will sound glib, but it's really just direct. You will get over it only if you want to.

That is, if you genuinely make such good use of the time that you're grateful football makes it possible. Otherwise whatever you tell yourself to make it okay will just be a band-aid and we all know how those look after a few days.

Seriously. If this is a source of resentment now, it's not going to get any better with time. Either embrace your solo Sundays, embrace football, or embrace a more compatible partner. 

What is the most sensitive way to announce a pregnancy (unplanned, if that matters, but a pleasant surprise) to a friend who has been publicly battling infertility, including two failed IVF attempts? She has expressed to me in the past that it's really hard for her to hear about people who "don't even really want kids" falling pregnant without difficulty. I feel really guilty that I now fall into that category.

This is a hard situation no matter what you do with it. But even though different people feel and want different things, and take offense in different ways, the one thing that has come through over the years is that people in your friend's position appreciate the opportunity to respond to your news privately on their own time. So, in writing--email, text, at the best time you can gauge. This might take some maneuvering, but I think it's best if you just say outright you're mindful of what she has said to you before, that this is hard for her to hear, and you're telling her this way to give her room to deal with it.

FWIW, since we're discussing sensitivities and delivering news: "fall pregnant" hits me wrong every time. No matter what, it's more deliberate than a skinned knee. 

Background: My partner and I have primary custody of my two kids, who are nine and five years old. My partner has a friend whose elderly dog, "Max," is nearing the end of his life and has some health issues, though nothing that is yet immediately dire. The friend has decided his family can no longer invest the time and money in caring for Max. (Honestly I think this is pretty awful, rehoming a dog so near the end of his life, but I know people are under a lot of stress right now.) My partner wants to bring Max into our home. He thinks (and is probably right) that my kids would enjoy having a pet, even if it is for a fairly short time. I wouldn't mind adopting a dog generally, and it's something we've talked about, but I dread the idea of taking in Max for a few months only to inevitably have to guide the kids through saying goodbye to him (not to mention the accompanying expenses). 2020 has me completely ground down and I just cannot get excited about watching a dog die. But that makes me the bad guy who is talking my bighearted partner out of an indisputable good deed. Is it enough that I am trying to protect my kids from that kind of sadness right now?

Aw. This is terrible.

And, potentially, great.

I'll say upfront that if it's more than you can bear, then it's your prerogative not to bear it.

But if you can see your way to being Max's loving escort to the end of his life, and being open about that with your kids, as a calling, a privilege, and a blessing, then this could turn the whole idea of "protect my kids from that kind of sadness" on its ear in a really constructive way.

There is no beating death, and there's no keeping it away when it chooses to come for someone. So while you can control things to the extent of not adopting a geriatric dog, you can also drop a cosmic "bring it on" to help your kids grow up with mortality and all its complexity as part of their lives, and to greet it with compassion. Bring it to size. 

I feel the need to underscore the "being open about that" part--not dwelling, just, be clear he's an old guy and your family's job is to keep him comfy and loved.


I have recently learned that this is a very common British term, what they commonly say instead of got pregnant or became pregnant. It sounds weird on my ears as well, but maybe this person comes from a culture that uses that term as commonly as "fall asleep"?

That would explain it, thanks. I'll put my torches and pitchforks away.

Can I make a plug for chore splitting on a micro level? My sister and I had separate rooms growing up and shared a bathroom. My parentals' tactic was to assign parts of each task to both of us, i.e., I cleaned the sink, mirror, toilet and took our the trash, while my sister cleaned the tub, floor and put out new towels. Next week we swapped. Did this for kitchen chores, too. One person bussed the table, wiped down the kitchen and table, and put away leftovers, while the other loaded the dishwasher and washed any big dishes that wouldn't fit. Again, next week swapped. This prevented any hard feelings because we were in it together, and if you felt like you were getting the worse/harder/grosser part of the chore that week, you knew next week was your reprieve. Mom or Dad did a final look over to make sure everything met minimum standards of cleanliness. It made things go faster and lessened hard feelings because at no point was one person doing everything while one person was doing nothing. And you knew you couldn't dog your part either because you knew there would be an inspection.

Just two bits of advice for having had to do this three times: 1) tell the friend as early as you are comfortable telling other people and at least 48 hours before social media announcements. You don't want her to hear about this through the grapevine, but also know that she may choose to tell lots of people before you are ready. 2) don't apologize or give too much detail. You can acknowledge her pain and that this must be hard for her, but there is nothing for you to gain by saying things like "it just happened" or "I wish it were you, not me"

Email would most likely be better than text, with a note to say - something about opening in private. You don't know where she'll be when she reads the text.

I had that job for decades. Always on call, 80+ hour weeks, nights and weekends taken over by work emergencies. I’ve retired recently (able to about 50% stock market returns and 50% having had the money to put away there). It’s taken me a few months because I was so overwhelmed by work the past few years, but I wish I’d worked less and played more. Now at 66, I gave my job the best parts of my health and youth. Not worth it. Take some time off and think about it, please.

It’s totally normal to be angry when you first start setting boundaries. Or so says my therapist. When I first started this work I was SO ANGRY. All the time. I was resentful that people put me in the position of defending my boundaries in the first place. The good news is that it gets easier. I can’t remember the last time I got angry or resentful. I now set boundaries like a boss and don’t take on the emotional labor of people who trample other people’s boundaries. It says more about them then it does about me. Hang in there and keep doing the work. It’s worth it!

This is great, thank you.

Worth spelling out: "I was resentful that people put me in the position of defending my boundaries in the first place" represents a stage in the recovery process of the person with the new boundaries, because it's a form of blaming the other for our feelings. Just a reminder that it's new to people on both sides of the new boundary, and both sides have to learn not to encroach.

I need advice or be directed to resources on how to get over my own perceived mistakes and not worry about what people think of me. It's funny, because I'm a journalist (print) and on a daily basis my work is being edited and critiqued. That doesn't bother me. I appreciate a good editor/copy editor. But say I accidentally cut someone off on the road and I get honked at. I say something in person or social media that someone takes the wrong way and is offended or hurt. I'll ruminate about these things. I get anxiety. I often want to fix the record about my character and the type of person I am. I guess, it comes down to I really don't want people to be angry with me. But no one is perfect. In fact, I rarely get upset at others because I realize that most people aren't perfect. But I always worry what others think of me and my character.

This could be about your wiring--I know there's a cohort of people who dwell on stuff like this, perseverate, replay conversations for days while cringing. (I'm one of them.) It's a tendency that shows up to varying degrees with anxiety/OCD, ADHD, autism, dementia ... maybe others, these are just off the top of my head, though like anything else there's no doubt a sub-clinical level of this that isn't part of any specific condition. Behaviors are less like on-off switches, more like dimmers. 

Anyway. If it's really getting to you, then talk to your regular doctor (call) about relevant evaluations, or just try counseling. In the meantime, too, you can treat it as you would anxiety and adopt the various non-medical interventions that tend to work for it, like exercise, meditation, absorbing hobbies, etc. If that works, then you can skip the medical intervention part.

Hi, I'm Dani's stepmom. Thanks for answering my letter. I took your advice and apologized to Dani for not thinking about how she felt about the house. Frankly to me it's just the place where my husband died and I'll glad to leave it behind. He had a very aggressive cancer and died at home on hospice. Dani and I talked and she said she's worried mostly about losing our connection. I ponted out that us living in the same city will strengthen that more than anything. We made plans for frequent get-togethers once I move and she is very happy about that. Lastly some people worried that I was selling Dani's childhood home. Not at all - my husband and I bought this house after our wedding, and the downpayment was a wedding gift from my parents.

Yay, love a happy ending/middle.  Thank you.

Honestly, they should both work on getting each other's attention before launching into a conversation. I used to fit hearing aids (now I'm in research). Half my job was counseling couples on how to implement communication strategies that are just as handy even when there isn't a hearing loss: be in the same room, look at each other, and gain attention before starting the conversation.

I completely understand that the letter writer is frustrated that she is shifting her attention but he isn't, it doesn't seem fair. But whether it's a focus thing or a hearing thing (may be worth getting checked out: hearing loss starts earlier than people realize), he's not able to match her response. I think it'd be reasonable to ask him to gain her attention first as well. It may seem a bit bean county, since she doesn't absolutely need it right now, but over a life time there are so many things that may make her less able to easily shift attention it's a good habit for him to develop now rather than later.

To me it also just seems more polite (not that that counts for much re: their relationship). Bad communication habits are hard to break, so it'll take some practice and gentle reminders to each other. I've found that a calm "Just a second" if someone launches into a conversation as they enter a room is a good cue that the conversation starter needs to wait for attention to be shifted.

Interesting point, thanks, and makes a lot of sense. We're talking about conversation and attention with specific reference to today's couple, but I've been recalling since (and with a lot of input from readers) how many times I've seen versions of this problem in the wild. A couple of writers mentioned ADHD and hyper-focus, which can make a person's attention really hard to get--and also infuriate the person trying to get it. Hearing problems came up as well, and the immersion people develop in reading. With every example I was able to conjure a real experience (my own or witnessed) of someone struggling to be heard, with frustration spilling over. The huge pull phones have on our attention has to be making this scene play out in millions of family rooms daily.

So, in sum, call this an emphatic yes to the idea of making this a conscious effort, to be patient with the process of obtaining a person's attention. Something we largely take for granted can have a significant effect.

Oh have I ever been there/done that! What helped me to cope was a simple mantra I picked up from the title of a great book, "What do you care what other people think?" Really. I cut someone off? I wave an apology and move on. What a random stranger thinks of me doesn't really matter. I offend someone on social media? I _may_ respond with something like, "I'm sorry you interpreted my post that way. It was not intended to offend or anger anyone." My part is done. Or if it really was a thoughtless comment, I'll apologize. Again, I've done my part to address the misunderstanding. I work hard to be considerate, thoughtful, and respectful of others. It took awhile to recognize that that is enough. Also, making a mistake doesn't make you a bad person; it makes you human and it's totally OK as long as you own it and make up for it if possible.

Two books that really helped me - Sheryl Paul’s The Wisdom of Anxiety, Kathleen Smith’s Everything Isn’t Terrible, and one I just borrowed on the recommendation of someone talking about how to set boundaries - Sarah Knight, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k. I think a lot of that kind of anxiety can be an attempt at controlling the uncontrollable, and avoiding the underlying emotions - some of it is just how you’re built, as Carolyn says, but there are ways to manage it.

Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my stressed-out question. I just wanted to add that the kids have actually lost two (human) loved ones this year, a grandparent on their dad's side and a youngish aunt (covid-19) on my side, and so there has been a good deal of grappling with mortality in our household, much of it through books and discussions and tears. I don't think they especially need more of that sort of lesson right now, though I'm sure they could handle it. I'm just not on for taking it on voluntarily when it seems to be so pervasive no matter what.

Oh geez, that's a lot of grief and mortality education, I'm so sorry. Maybe your partner could be Max's angel by finding another loving home--or pinch hit somehow to make it easier for the friend to keep Max.

Well actually for me, there WAS a magical moment when I went from feeling insecure about the future to totally satisfied. I did obtain my goals, and felt I could relax. It sounds like that could work for you, if you you see an end in sight to your 80-hour work weeks.

I read recently--in much more eloquent words than I can recall and repeat, alas--that if you're able to look back on stupid things you've done and said with embarrassment and/or disgust, it suggests you've learned from them and have become a better person. I hope that's true.

Then I am now the great and powerful Oz.

This year has been awful - elderly parent died in a rehab facility of COVID in April; chronically ill sib (probably a week before needing a heart-lung machine) got an organ transplant and had some initial complications, including a bone fracture in the ICU; college sophomore offspring in a performing arts conservatory had to come home suddenly and learn to do performing arts via zoom, along with the angst of losing 90% of college-life independence; solo consulting practice income is down about 75% from last year; wildfires, hurricanes, etc. I signed up to do Get Out The Vote phonebanking in a surprise purple state this week (with all of my free time!) I had the most amazing time talking to strangers across the country about whether they had voted, and helping those who needed information. I was in tears by the end. Just sayin'. Sometimes happiness comes disguised as drudgery.

Now I'm in tears. Thank you.

Times have been tough for my family this year, as they have for so many Americans. But we all have our health and we've maintained upward of 75% of our normal household income, so I try my hardest not to complain, especially to people who are doing worse. So what am I to say to a close loved one who can't seem to stop griping about her canceled vacation and her postponed kitchen remodel? I understand that she's disappointed but can't believe she thinks these are gripeworthy problems compared with what some are going through.

You know what? Vacations are great, they're the gifts we give ourselves for hard work, if we're so lucky to have the means, and they often produce the memories we return to again and again years after they happened, as regular days fade to hard-to-recall gray. They bond people who travel together, or embolden people who travel alone, or educate people who maybe should never travel together again.

A scrapped vacation is not a death, no--but it's a loss. 

And the thing you're talking about, the seriousness and even horror of what some people are going through? It's very real, and deserves everyone's attention. But it also limits what the people with lesser grief can say to people, and where, and when. One can understand people are burying family, and others are losing businesses, and parents are suddenly homeschooling while working full-time, and know one's smaller losses are actually a version of "good fortune," and still want to rage at the moon. 

So if you're able, maybe try to reframe your view of your "close loved one," who could see you as the only safe person to rage to, given that you too are mostly unscathed?

From there, you'd be on better footing to say that you understand how disappointed she is, and is there anything you can do to help, because she seems stuck. Ahem. If she's open to them, then you can share things you've done to get past your disappointments and maintain perspective.


This could have been me, verbatim, before several years of therapy directed at this particular thought pattern. I still struggle with it but it's worth putting in the work to mitigate the self-judgment. One thing that helped was to try to separate judging the error, or perceived error, from judging myself as a person. Ask yourself: "Is this feeling useful?" The former is (you can use that knowledge for self-improvement) and the latter just isn't (it only makes it harder to make change when everything you do is a referendum on your worth as a person). It can also be helpful to think about what you would say to a friend who had done the same thing; it's much easier to see that one error doesn't negate a person's worth when the person in question isn't you. Perhaps surprisingly, I've also found that 2020 has helped nudge me closer to a healthy perspective on this. With the world falling apart, it's easier not to dwell on this stuff, and rather just to say to myself that I tried my darndest, failed and will try again tomorrow.

One thing I finally realized, some of my anxiety in cases like that involved a mix of unacknowledged anger and projection - I was actually angry with the people I was worrying about, but had trouble acknowledging the anger. Now when I get anxious about some thing I may have done, I flip it and see if I’m actually angry at them instead. A lot of anxiety is unacknowledged emotions, ones we deem unacceptable - which may be going on here, too, since the poster mentions how much slack she grants to others.

Fascinating, thanks.

The answer to this question is the not very helpful "It's worth it until it's not." At some point out in the future, you don't know how close or how far, is your breaking point, the point at which you simply Cannot With This anymore. Ideally, you'll want to plan your exit for slightly before reaching this point.

Is there anything that wasn't in your plan that you've done (or are on your way to doing) that you are happy about? Because if so, you know that the "plan" isn't the only oath to satisfaction. If you want to live abroad, great, find a way to make it happen! But if your sadness is more about failing to cross everything off an arbitrary list you made half a decade ago, let it go.

From 20 years down the road...I can take it or leave it and my husband will do things on Sundays (helps that we live away from home town now and the games aren't always broadcast here). He likes it, the kids like it, it's their special thing. I can enjoy the snacks or work in the garden or spend time reading a book by myself. Don't knock the appeal of 3+ hours to yourself!


Or you could just choose a partner whose team is a perennial winner, knowing their games are more often in prime time. :)

I could't help but notice that just below a previous reader's "Is It Worth It" response, I had a bright red box telling the original poster to "LIVE NOW."

I'll take that as a hint.

That's it for today. Thanks, everybody, as always, for the great questions, additions, and corrections. Have a weekend-like weekend, and I'll type to you here next week.

Hi all, this is Yu, Carolyn's producer. Just want to note that next week, we're using a new platform for chats and the format will be different. You can learn more about it here

Thanks, and see you at next week's chat

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