Carolyn Hax Live: 'Tell your truth'

Oct 16, 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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Soooo, anything new?


Sorry for the delay--the forum crashed, but we're back.

Yeah for me - I'm moving in with my fiancé. Unfortunately, it's at the worst time of year. His business (which he owns and is trying to keep it going during COVID) is at it's busiest, he's working 60-80 hours a week for the next 2 months. We both knew this was happening, but the right apartment came along and we agreed to move in together. I fully support his business, the need for it to succeed, and understand that this situation is temporary. Yet I'm a bit wary that the first few months of our living together will be me doing all the cooking, cleaning, chores, etc. Any suggestions on how I end this precedent? I don't mind pitching in while times are unusual, but I'm also wary of how to change a trend that starts when I move in and ends when he gets past this 2-3 month hurdle...

What did he do last year during this period, when you were still living apart?

Seems to me the way to end a precedent is not to set it in the first place. Try to stay close to your normal amount of chores, and treat this as a time when fewer chores get done. 

If you still end up with a major domestic workload imbalance when it's all over, then break up and move out. Ultimately the problem would be a partner who's okay with letting you do all the work, and the solution would be a better person for a partner.

My husband and I got married in our mid twenties and agreed we would wait 5-7 years to try for a baby. Now that time has come and gone, we are early thirties (I'm female, and 32) and we both agree that we should get started soon. We initially talked about this year, but with coronavirus we have mutually agreed on summer 2021 as our official start date. We BOTH want a baby, and I thought we were BOTH feeling excited about this and happy about having spent all these years together just the two of us. But now, my husband keeps saying that he feels like he can't enjoy what's left of this time because the next big thing is looming over us. He wants a baby as much as I do (I think), but I guess the idea of taking that big leap makes him feel more nervous than I do. For me, we are already a bit behind the curve; for health reasons I would have preferred to start somewhat sooner but it wasn't practical because of school and our jobs. Is he just going through the normal process of getting used to the idea of a major life change, or should I be worried that he actually doesn't want a baby (not even a year or two from now)? How do I know the difference?

Ask him?

Next time he does it: "You keep saying this. Are you trying to get used to the idea and processing out loud, or is there something else you're trying to say? I'm not accusing, just looking for transparency."

I'm seeing a lot of "I thought," "I think," "I guess," "is he," "should I," and not a lot of direct conversation.

Hi Carolyn, I recently moved into my own apartment. I'd previously lived with the same roommate for 8 years. We both turned 30 this year and decided our apartment was too small, and that we wanted to spread our wings and live separately. Well, now I'm in my new place, and I'm just taken over by intense fear of missing out (FOMO) each and every night. I've formed a quarantine bubble with friends, and I just live in constant fear that some of them are hanging out without me. Its a constant anxiety. It goes away while I'm working, and emerges at night and on the weekends. The group typically makes a weekend plan together, but weekday nights seem to be a free for all with people hanging out. My therapist doesn't really seem to get my anxiety, she just keeps asking me what I can do to help myself feel better. And short of trying to force my friends to always invite me places, I'm not sure what I can do. I also have a fear of coming up with a plan myself, and no one saying yes. Any advice?

First suggestion is to suggest renaming what you have. It's not anxiety, it's hurt feelings, no? Anxiety suggests a worry  that's disproportionate to the risk something will actually happen. What you describe is your friends getting together without you, and the tough feelings that stirs up. Do they not want me there? Are they glad I moved out so they could see more of my roommate and less of me? Was I just the less popular part of a package deal?

These of course are real concerns and very painful. But they're not "fear" or "anxiety" as I understand them, because those are about what -might- happen and your distress is about something that -is happening.- At least, you suspect it is. Certainly the gatherings without you are happening, you're just not sure of the reason--innocent proximity/spontaneity or deliberate exclusion.

That would explain why you're getting the response you've gotten from your therapist. It's happening, so you can respond to it as a thing and not as a fear. Will you start being more active about contacting friends on weekdays? Will you find other things to do with your weeknights to keep your mind occupied? Will you choose those things maybe with an eye to broadening your social prospects, in case your group is starting to break apart? (Happens all the time, so diversifying is rarely a bad idea.) Meaning, what are you willing to *do*? That's the answer--taking some action toward holding the reins of your own social life instead of leaving it to your group.

Dear Carolyn, Sometimes when my husband tickles our three-year-old son our son will laugh, but will also say, “Stop!” I told my husband when our child says to stop he should stop and that we need to honor our child’s bodily autonomy. My husband got all bent out of shape about it and said to our child that he guesses they can no longer play that game. I told him they could as long as our son was okay with it and that our son sets the rules regarding his body and when one can start and stop. My spouse got upset and later stormed off. My Dad used to tickle my siblings and me so hard that the laughter turned into an inability to make sounds—tickle torture. I hated it and my boundaries were never respected. I fear having confusion about bodily autonomy in the home could lead to confusion regarding unwanted touches from others or eventually not respecting someone else’s boundaries. Unfortunately, if a request, suggestion, or statement comes out of my mouth and is directed toward my spouse, no matter how it’s relayed, his insecurities are triggered and I’m the unreasonable one. He tends to be more receptive when someone else talks to him. Advice? —Not a Laughing Matter

First, you are utterly totally completely unimpeachably right about this. It is the right battle to pick, the right hill to die on.

Where you could be doing better is in recognizing your husband's sensitivity. I won't defend it--he's behaving like a child, pouting and taking his ball and going home. But, it's what he's doing, and you want to be effective here, so you have to take it into account when you choose your words.

The 2 + 2 is that he feels accused of doing something inappropriate. You're connecting him to "unwanted touches." Distantly, of course, in a connect-the-dots kind of way. But that's something you can be right about while still creating the appearance of insinuating something "wrong."

In this case, since you're applying an evolved standard that deviates from past norms and that you adopted in part due to your own experience, your most effective path is to hit on all of those points with your husband. "I know you're just doing what everyone has always done. I'm not accusing you of anything bad and I know it probably feels as if I am. But I have experience with this that I may not really have shared with you before--not the impact at least. My dad used to do this to all of us, and I have no reason to think he meant any harm, but I hated it. Hated. I hated being tickled and I hated it when I said no and he didn't listen. It was hard because I was laughing so it looked like enjoyment but to me it was torture. So all I'm asking is for you to listen to him when he says no. Does this make more sense now that I've spelled it out?"

You can get into the body-autonomy stuff later. You don't have to get an entire message across all at once. The one you need to articulate now is "respect the 'no' when you tickle," you wonderful not-inappropriate father, you. Whew.

Defensiveness remains one of, if not the, most exhausting traits.

I didn't proofread that, so, either apologies or "you're welcome!" for whatever I just sent out.

Today’s letter got me thinking about my husband and his health risks. He’s in his 40s and has always refused to workout or do any physical activity at all. He is thin and has never been a big eater, so I’m not worried about him gaining weight but I would like him to be healthy and to keep his body moving because I know that’s important as we age. Any time I bring this up, he says that working out is for fat people who need to lose weight. I think he says that because that’s why I stated running after I had our last child but I keep at it because I know it’s important for health. I know he hates running so I suggested we do other things together like going to the gym, walking, biking, hiking, softball, you name it. Nothing has worked. When I point out that he doesn’t really know how “healthy” he is since he never gets a physical, and flat out refuses to do so, he says there is no reason to go to the doctor if he isn’t sick. I’m stuck since I don't want to fight about this or be a nag, but I am afraid that he is not going to be with me when we grow old and I don't want that. What can I do?


Except, maybe, stand back and "wow" with me over "he says that working out is for fat people who need to lose weight."

What the what.


You have made your point and he has "flat out" chosen his world view over yours. And while I am sympathetic to your desire to have his companionship when you are old, you can only state your preference, live your example, invite him to join you, and carry on. 

After that, it's a crap shoot. And would be anyway even if he agreed with you that it's important to be active. He could still get sick, you could still get sick, he could get hurt, you could get hurt, etc.

The best hedge against any future miseries is a one-two pair: prepare as well as you can, and be as flexible as you can about whatever outcomes you get. With the preparation side, you're apparently on your own, but the rest still applies.

Carolyn, This week I lost my best client. The work I have gotten over the years from her brought me so much joy, made me love my career. (I lost her because her role at the company changed, and there is no one else there who uses the sort of services I offer.) This was a huge blow, on top of the fact that as of two weeks ago, my car finally crossed the threshold of needing to be "put down." Between less money (and yes, I qualified for and am receiving unemployment, but still) and the impossibility of safely finding a new one during a pandemic, for the foreseeable future, I am without mobility. Add to this that I am single and childless, estranged from my family or origin, with no one in my "bubble" but me. I try to keep a cheerful attitude, but come on. Can I just have a virtual hug? I feel like I am at the bottom of a pit, looking up.

Yes, big hug (( )). I'm sorry.

I hope you'll introduce yourself in the comments under this transcript--it's a community that will take you in. I'd say "no questions asked," but they'll probably ask a thousand. When you're ready for suggestions, they'll have those, too. Take care.

Dear Carolyn, Because your answers to personal dilemmas are so wise, I'm sure that many people look up to you. Therefore, IMHO, it would be better not to write about your overeating. People will say to themselves, "if CH, who's so wise, can't control herself, what can I expect of myself?". If possible, It would even be better to be a positive role model. Noblesse oblige (-: An admirer

A pandemic and economic and political and environmental crisis where I can't make a stress-eating joke is not a pandemic and economic and political and environmental crisis I want to be in.



 I beg to differ anyway--it would be dishonest of me to advise from on high, as if I have everything mastered and solved. And dishonesty is not my idea of positive role-modeling. Plus, since I've been working my stuff out live for you guys for over 20 years, any pretense of having it all locked down and a-okay would last about a minute around here.



Carolyn - I went to an “elite” university where my friend group is very competitive with one another. Each conversation feels like thinly veiled life measuring. In the 5 years since college I have grown away from this - I just don’t want to measure my life against anyone’s or be measured against. I love these friends in some ways and don’t want to let go of them, but I also notice that I don’t feel great after seeing them. I get pulled back into that competitive mode and find it hard to resist, and then afterwards feel depleted because it just feels so dehumanizing to have your life weighed and measured for worth. I’m looking for advice on how to take the good and leave the bad in these situations.

Tell your truth. "I look back on Kollege and see so much competition and life measuring. It feels just ... exhausting to me, and dehumanizing. But I also get sucked in. Anyone else struggling with this?"

Airing this might feel risky to you, as if you'll get eaten alive by ivory tower sharks, but they can't eat you if you don't care whether they eat you. 

(The flagrant abuse of metaphors is proof of elite educashin.)

Have you initiated making plans with others during the week? Maybe they assume you don't want to do something then? I know I enjoy doing things with my big group of friends but also enjoy one-on-one time with them...but they don't know that if I don't ask! Also, I have friends who don't invite me to things they know I won't enjoy...saves them the rejection, and saves me from having to say no. Of course, I like hanging out by myself. But the key I think is to realize that just becuase people do things w/o you, it doesn't mean they don't like you. They aren't required to invite you to everything (just like you aren't required to invite everyone you know to every outing/event).

((( )))

You suggested a "You keep bringing this up" conversational opener to the wife whose husband may have shifting feelings on wanting kids. It could be just me, but hearing "you keep bringing this up" from my wife would feel like I'm getting repetitive - that is, that she's getting tired of hearing it. Gets a kind of emotional "flinch" response before I can buckle down and be reasonable about whatever's said next. Oddly, "Hm - you've mentioned that before" doesn't have the same effect. Again, maybe just me... but if not, maybe worth considering.

Definitely worth considering, thanks. Tone and body language can also make a big difference.

Any suggestions on how to let people know that you’re struggling without being a complete downer? Something between ‘I’m fine, thanks’ and ‘I’m struggling with health (both physical and mental) employment, housing, relationships, grief etc etc’ Thanks for all that you do

I'm sorry you're struggling. 

I think we all get an occasional pass on the "complete downer" thing. We don't have to be fairies of perpetual sunshine just to be worthy of friendship or love.

The flip side is that we need to be aware of when we're asking too much, when we're asking others to do our parts as well as theirs, or leaning too hard on only one person--but assuming you haven't even let on that you're not 100 percent okay, I think you're safe from that one for a while.

If you're looking for words, then I'd suggest being direct, specific, and open-ended: "I'm actually not so great at the moment, and I'm wondering if you have a few minutes for me to run something by you." That way you give the person a chance to say, "Sure, I'm free now," or, "Sure, but not till tomorrow, can I text you then when I'm free?" Or etc. 

And when you do ask for that person's support, be ready with an idea of what you want--is it a question, is it a favor, is it a chance to vent? And say so beforehand. "I don't need advice, just a shoulder." Or, "I have 20 things going on, and I could use an objective eye on what I need to deal with first." Or, "I am scared and would feel better if there were a few people who knew that and were ready to take my calls." Break it into pieces that seem doable. 

Good luck and, remember, difficult feelings tend to come in waves. What feels unmanageable today may feel, when tomorrow comes, still sucky but somehow not hopeless anymore. Or it'll feel worse tomorrow but better Sunday. That's why self-care is the game-changer it is: It puts your body in a better position to process whatever is swirling around it. 

Whether it's tickling or anything else, one of the most hurtful and frustrating things for a child is to have your nose rubbed in the fact that you are powerless.

Yes. The root of all tantrums.

Wow, Carolyn, I am surprised at your answer. Not saying you're wrong, but.... She does have some other choices. Perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, my husband was shocked to find through blood work that he had serious pre-heart problem issues that could be changed by diet and exercise. He sort of blew it off. I, being really grandiose at the time (much therapy and life has changed much of that) was furious. I told him we had committed to a long life together and that he owed it to the joint ownership of our marriage to do what he had to in order to stay around for both of us and our children. I actually told him that if he didn't do what was suggested by his physicians to take care of himself I couldn't stay married to him, that part of our marriage promises to each other was to make the best life possible for us. I meant it. He heard me. Now, this many years later, we have each taken the best care of ourselves possible, for ourselves and each other. Several years ago, he actually had a heart attack followed by cardiac arrest (caused by a medical procedure). There is no doubt in anyone's mind (including his physicians) that his excellent self care is what save him, as well as luck and blessing, No one has to sit around and watch someone chose to be dangerous to themselves and their loved ones by choice. Also years ago, when my husband saw me as depressed, he did the same with me. I am so grateful, and years of therapy was a gift that enhanced my life and the life of my family. Neither of us "threatened" the other because of the illnesses. Our boundaries had to do with what we did about our illnesses. We've now been married almost 60 years. I hope we have many more.

You're right that this is an option, thanks. It requires a willingness to divorce someone who chooses to be sedentary. Would you have followed through if he didn't change his ways?

Lots of places have rolled out low and no contact car shopping options. Not sure how that works given OP’s earning situation but car shopping can definitely be done safely right now.

True, we did it this summer. Thanks. 

If I understand what you wrote correctly, you didn't actually go into the unwanted touch part with your husband. And while it may be useful to explain the concept of the positive side of this: If your son learns by example that his parents have his back when he says "no", he will be less susceptible to people trying to use the "Your parents will be upset with you if you don't hug me" (and accept this "accidental" butt grope in the process) on him, I would dig in a different direction. Rather than trying to mollify him, ask him why it upsets him so much when you talk about stuff like this. Possibly why his desire to keep tickling is more important than his son's desire to stop being tickled (very calmly and neutrally). But you may find that the issue is something more along the lines of "It seems like you don't trust me and my parenting choices and it just seems easier to stop doing things that are problematic entirely than wait for the next line you feel I've crossed." Which warrants a very different conversation. So it's worth starting with that approach rather than trying to explain your reasoning that he has already not liked again (and the universe just smacked me upside the head about how I need to approach stuff differently with my own husband sometimes, tyvm, doh).

OP is totally correct. I started respecting the "no" with my kids immediately - long before they could say it. If they moved away or pushed my hand away as a baby I stopped the touching. Unless it's a safety issue (grabbing them out of the street) they get to decided whether they are touched. And the same goes for me - they know when I ask not to be touched that they can play nearby but that I need my body to myself for a couple minutes. Actually, at this point whether they want to be tickled is half of the game. I hold up my hands, wiggle my fingers and they either move in, or run away. If they move in, I tickle them and stop periodically to let them say yes or no to more. If they run away and look back to see if I'm following, I chase them. If they move away and ignore me then we don't play. It teaches them so, so much. We are communicating, I'm paying attention to them, they're paying attention to me, and they're learning all kinds of non-verbal signals. I can also really trust my kids with other kids and other adults too. I had a neighbor who was visiting and he was playing with my oldest and he asked if their game was OK (putting the 3 y/old in the laundry basket and knocking it over). I had no hesitation saying, "You're good as long as he doesn't say no - he'll tell you when it's not OK." I completely trust that my kid will speak his boundaries since he's been doing it since about 4 months old.

I have given up on my overweight maintenance-alcoholic husband, who is my soulmate and best friend. He keeps talking about losing weight and exercising but never does anything about it, so I've reconciled myself to growing old alone (we're in our mid-60s but my family lives into their 90s). I was angry about it for years but finally lost the energy so I have "detached with love," as the Al-Anon people say. Al-Anon might have some suggestions for the OP to get out of the vicious cycle. I'm sorry for her, and I know exactly how she feels.

Hello, in your 10/14 column, you said: "Sometimes, too, it’s a sign of depression. I spent years hanging out with a friend who eventually showed up only when it was her idea. If I made the plans, then she’d cancel at the last minute. Every time. The eventual diagnosis did not come as a shock, though I didn’t put it together in the moment." I have been in a similar situation and was wondering if you could elaborate on how you handled the friendship going forward. Thanks!

I just handed the reins to her. If she wanted to get together, we got together. If she didn't, we didn't. I would make suggestions but not pin hopes on them or count on her to come through. She actually dropped me for a long time, years, then came back. The diagnosis freed me not to take it personally--though now, with others, I skip to not taking it personally just based on the behavior pattern. I learned a lot from this friend and we are still in touch, though haven't lived in the same place for decades.

If your spouse isn’t able to get over his defensiveness & come around, please get therapy. Don’t wait until he reaches your kids to act like he does.


About a month ago we moved to a house in a new neighborhood. We are a retired couple with a small dog. We've spoken to some of our new neighbors and they have all seemed very welcoming. When I was out to take in our trash cans today, I saw our next door neighbor for the first time. I smiled and said hello. She frowned at me and turned away without responding. I was shocked. I came into the house and told my husband what happened and he said the husband had treated him the same way on an earlier occasion. I am at a total loss as to what we have done to annoy them. We only walk our dog in our yard and pick up after him. He is never out by himself or off leash. He doesn't bark. We keep our home and yard well manicured. We are quiet. These neighbors seemed friendly with the previous homeowners. What, if anything should we do? I don't want to make matters worse, but I can't stop thinking about this and to be honest, it just makes me want to cry.

Invite them over (assure them, within pandemic protocols). If they scream and point at you like extras in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," then ask them if you've done something to offend them, because you'd like a chance to make it right.

Since you brought it up, maybe your dog barks insanely and incessantly when you're not home? 

Also there is something to be said for demystifying the worst case scenario. For a long time I also worried no one would come to stuff I planned. But I love Halloween and had always wanted to throw a Halloween party. So finally one year I bit the bullet and did it. Guess what? As predicted, very few people came. It was disappointing, but I lived. I had fun with those who did come.

You're right, there's a lot to be said for it, and you're a badass.

Option 2 is to jump to the same conclusion. I.e., if this is your worry, then you probably have good reason for it, so assume you're not the person in your group to plan things and embrace your role as perpetual guest accordingly. Just be a good and generous guest who finds other ways to repay the favor to the planners.

The word we have for this is actually two words: "Loneliness" and "Jealousy." First, there's loneliness. You want to be with your friends, and you want to stay connected with them. If you text them during the day, you can suggest things you'd like to do together. Or just let them know that you'd like to connect and are up for anything they've got in mind. It might be that you're worried about not being at the center of it all, which is where the jealousy kicks in. That's the part where you're unhappy that other people are having a good time without you. Do you see yourself needing to be right in the middle of things? Is it okay if you are a member of the supporting cast? If that's not okay, that's something to look into. It's okay to like or want something, and nevertheless recognize that it's probably best not to have it all the time. That's true of drinks, excitement, or attention. Best wishes, and best of luck.

The obsessive thinking and constant fear is more than just hurt feelings. As someone who has suffered with similar symptoms in the past, I've definitely been diagnosed with anxiety & mild OCD. I'd change therapists.

Also, if this is the first time you have lived alone, it may be stirring up a whole lot of feelings that you are diverting into one area - the idea that your friends are getting together without you - rather than addressing all the implications of your move - the loss of a roommate, with whom you’ve spent the last eight years, a good chunk of your adulthood; turning thirty, another signifier of time passing; the many ways living alone can make you focus on, well, the fact that you are alone; the decision you made, to “spread your wings,” which is liberating but also somewhat intimidating. Add to that the pandemic, which can double down on feelings of being alone while the world goes on around you. In short, I suspect you’re feeling a whole mix of emotions, from fear to grief to exhilaration, but you’re tamping them all down into one box. So, not only do as Carolyn and your therapist recommend, and come up with a plan of action, but really examine what you’re calling “anxiety,” and see if addressing all the underlying emotions helps as well.

I'd ask him straight out: "If you had your way, would you want to have kids at all, or would you rather we kept on the way we are? I know how I feel, but it's important to me that we each know what we really want." Leave that door open for "I really don't want kids. I thought I would change my mind, but I really don't," or "I'm really afraid about the whole 'having kids' thing. It feels like (it's too dangerous now/the end of any joy in my life and the beginning of a lifetime of drudgery/just normal anxiety I'll get over)." Whichever it is, and however you guys decide to handle it, it's important to know what the real facts are, so that you can both make an informed decision. PS: nobody is under any obligation to produce children they do not want to have. Everybody should have their choices respected, no matter what their squishy bits look like. Neither having kids nor avoiding having them is more 'mature' or 'grown up' or 'moral' or any other adjective than the alternative.

This is all great but I might have PTSquishybitsD.

This is his new business and he's trying to revamp the business model with COVID. There is nothing usual, nothing he did last year, as this didn't exist. I'm asking is there a good way to invent or put in place a "Reset" button that I can push in 3 months...

Okay. I still think the less resetting, the better. If you didn't move in, then he'd me managing this and his home solo. he just would, because he'd have to.

It's really important not to lose sight of that--or, to put it more plainly from the other side, keep firmly in mind you are not moving in to be his unpaid domestic. Talk to him about a fair division of labor for regular times, then about an adjustment to that for crazy time, then decide if that sounds doable to you. Do not agree to anything you don't want to live with, don't do more than you think is fair, don't keep doing anything past the date that he can very well resume doing it for himself. Don't do anything he would refuse to do for you, and don't do anything you wouldn't feel right asking of him. You are not obligated. Period. 

My boyfriend is a relentless nail biter. We have gotten into so many spats about it because I think it's so unhygienic and unflattering. He says he wants to change, but it has been years, and still he gnaws at his nails constantly every day. I'm even more worried now than before because of the risk of contracting COVID. Any advice on what to do?

He can get the underlying condition treated (anxiety, adhd, other possible neuro issues), and he can put foul-tasting stuff on his nails to treat the symptom and redirect the fidgets to something less icky.

But does he want to? And if yes, will he actually take these steps? If no, then it's a take-him-or-leave-him proposition.

Recurring arguments are refusals to take reality for an answer.

My wife and I (both women) recently made the tough decision to not have kids. It's part expense, part pandemic-induced economic uncertainty, and part lack of enthusiasm on my wife's part. I'm grieving, but working (with my therapist!) to move through it. My very best friend in the entire world, who has been trying with her wife to get pregnant for awhile, called me and told me she's pregnant last week. I'm OVERJOYED for her! But it's also bringing back waves of grief. My bff and her wife each got to tell 1 person about the pregnancy--for support during the first few months and also to ensure they're not isolated/alone if something happens in the first few months--and I'm her one person. So I can't pull back from her right now; she needs me and I really want to be there for her. And bff knows about our decision (we had previously been trying to get pregnant at the same time), and knows that I'm struggling with it. And I'm so grateful for her presence in my life--she's the only friend who doesn't tell me stories about how awful children are to try and "cheer me up" about not having kids. I know the only way past my grief is through it, but I'm wondering if you can provide any tidbits of advice to being supportive and full of joy with my friend while I'm also grieving the fact that I'll never be pregnant or have a kid of my own.

Oh I'm sorry. Sounds like you need your "1 person" to lean on, too. Not this friend, of course, and not your wife, but someone outside the swirl of emotion. Your therapist may be the right person, even--if you can mentally treat your sessions as the place where you dump out all the difficult things to clear yourself for being supportive. Like, create a visual of it--a bucket you empty? chalkboard you erase? And have a tangible cue or reference handy to help bring you back to that point if you feel yourself drifting into sadness.

One thing you didn't ask about, but it's something I've said before and it's apt here because I actually object to the decision at the foundation of this near-torture: The "one friend who is sworn to secrecy because something might happen in the early months" thing drives me nuts. Well, that's maybe overstating it ... but the idea that info must be on Lockdown Till Week 12 is a kind of rigidity that gets way too much of a pass.

Yes, a lot can happen in a pregnancy, and yes, a lot of the things that happen occur more often in the first tri, and yes, it's agony to go from sharing great news to having to share news of a pregnancy loss. It's terrible and there's a real origin to the practice. But over the years I have seen so many contortions done in the name of protecting this news embargo so absolutely !!! that it seems way out of proportion. Tell your innermost circle, the *handful* of people you'd want to know good news or bad. Trust them and trust yourself to let go of utter control of the news. It's just a kinder thing to ask of our loved ones, even those who aren't grieving the exact thing their being asked to celebrate. 


Thanks for the response. I suppose I will have to thing I didn't mention is that I made the deliberate decision to not drink, about a year ago, and they all are big binge I would assume I'm not the first person anyone thinks of anymore when it comes to a "fun night". I guess I'm just worried about having this fear/anxiety about making plans, getting invited, having FOMO forever. Plans and friends never stop. Its overwhelming to think about.

Sounds to me as if you're at a crossroads, foot hovering and ready to step in an entirely new direction, and paralyzed with fear of taking it. 

If so, please take it. Your friends might be lovely and sympatico and in their relationships with you for the long haul, but they're still not, at least for a while, going to be the right besties for a teetotaler. You have come to conclusions to this effect and you're in therapy in part, I assume, because of them, but you're balking on the follow-through. And your therapist is trying to nudge you to follow through and you're resisting, saying, no, not what I want to hear.

So my other suggestion is to commit your next therapy appointment to *not* immediately ruling out where your therapist is trying to lead you. 

I also beg you to stop using FOMO. Lingo forms to convey a relevant concept, but with overuse it becomes the enemy of nuance and even a dodge unto itself. You have partially faced something really important. It's not a thing, a moment, a mood, it's you. Now square up to it fully. 

Thank you Carolyn for providing your excellent perspective. I concur, defensiveness is exhausting and my spouse’s extends far beyond this issue. My Father is/was emotionally and was physically abusive. The tickling was for his enjoyment—it never was consensual and was sometimes rough and painful—I dreaded it. My husband is now acting like we shouldn’t brush our son’s teeth, either because he doesn’t enjoy that, either. Not. The. Point. I’m hoping I can use your suggestions so that he (finally) gets it. Ugh.

Oh my. This sounds like counseling-level defensiveness. I hope you get through to him this way, too, but I am not optimistic.

And a lot of people have commented (did I post them? can't recall) that maybe his receptiveness to others vs. you is about your way of communicating. I thought they might have a point but don't now: It sounds as if his unwillingness to accept you as a messenger of anything he doesn't want to hear is a power problem, where he sees you as a threat to his.

So, if you make no progress and/or if he ever sticks to willfully obtuse false-equivalency BS about not brushing teeth or other, then it's time for you to set up an appointment with a therapist *solo.* To start at least. To trace threads from abusive father to ultra-thin-skinned spouse. You are so right about protecting your child, so stay on it. Please take care. 

Many people don't understand how tickling affects the body and think the laughter means "I'm enjoying this." Here is a very good article to educate with, and then have a discussion afterwards.

I picked my nail for years. I hated it and knew it was related to anxiety and stress. I picked when I was nervous or bored. Surprisingly Covid was what I needed to stop. I just don't anymore. For boredom, I keep a smooth stone on my desk and if I start picking at my nails during a call or meeting, I rub the stone and it keeps my hands busy. I have short stubby fingers so it's not like I love my nails now but I do love that I don't pick at them anymore.

That's the place out on I-95, with the Butterscotch tarts and Napoleon Ice Cream sundaes, right?

Obless nobleesh, if I go polish off the rum cake waiting for me in my kitchen right now.

I see my bad example, and raise me another.

That I can still be a valuable and worthwhile person who will have some struggles and still be generally okay at the end of the day.

Amen. Thank you.

I didn't bite my nails; I picked them, constantly. For me, it's anxiety/ocd. I've tried to quit for years. I'm in therapy (not due to the nails) and taking meds for said conditions, but I still pick my nails. I know they're unsightly. I know they're not pretty. People cheerfully tell me that all the time. I had an ex years and years ago who was obsessed with my nails. He constantly harangued me to grow them out, to have long nails, to stop picking them. He finally broke two of my fingers because "You don't care what your fingers look like, so why should I?" Still have the weird habit, don't have the boyfriend. (And yes, he was arrested and punished.) Believe me: we know it bugs you, we know you don't like it. We're doing our best.

Oh, this is devastating. Good for you for standing up for yourself, and putting the humanity in this conversation. Part of doing our best needs to be granting that others are, too. Thank you.

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks so much, have a weekendy weekend and I'll type to you here next week.

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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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