Carolyn Hax Live: 'You are freaking warriors'

Dec 04, 2020

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, happy December. Hoot is next week and link is up, so feed it all of the mayhem you haven't blocked out.

Hi, I thought about it after you answered me and decided to text my mom's sister. I hesitated because my aunt can be judgmental and when she helps you out she always lets you know exactly how much it costs her, but she did help. I don't want to put the whole story on blast but my mom's having a sort of mental health crisis. She had a rough year, and my sister can be a lot at times. Mom just wanted a break then couldn't face coming back. She could have talked to me before it blew up on her, but she has trouble asking for help. My aunt is staying over at my mom's for the time being, my mom is looking for a therapist she can afford, and my dad didn't hear about any of this. Probably the best outcome we could have hoped for.

I am so relieved. Thanks for letting us know, and good for you for taking the chance and getting your aunt involved. Sounds like it was just the right call.

Carolyn, Living in a small-ish apartment. My husband and I both working from home. I find myself having not gone outside for 72 hours straight! My job is demanding and my superiors and clients would prefer I was at my computer 24/7. I feel myself having moments where I feel totally out of whack, unbalanced, nearing a breakdown. AND I feel like I am being a total baby because I have it better than so many people right now, and then I feel shame, rinse, repeat. I tell myself to make time to workout, read, relax - I definitely think that a routine that involves making space and boundaries is key - but no matter how many nights I go to bed telling myself "tomorrow I will make time to workout, read, and relax" I am having such a hard time actually making that happen. I feel wiped out and over energized all at the same time. How do I get better at doing this new normal?

This may seem way lighter than the problem calls for, but I'm thinking the lowest barrier to entry is a good thing here:

Now that you're thinking about it, set some alarms on your phone. Examples: one at 10 am labeled "15 minute stretch," repeating daily; one at noon labeled "lunch break," repeating every weekday; one at 3 or 5 or 7 pm labeled "work out," repeating daily. Etc. make them as specific as possible--type of workout, number of minutes, etc.--and treat them as if they're orders enforceable to the fullest extent of the law. Truly. If your work is such that you can't always drop it at certain times, then set your timer for when you will be able to step away.

Try for a week. 

And don't feel bad. "I go to bed telling myself ..." is the start of everyone's story of not doing something. We do better with immediacy and specifics, especially now that our senses of time and motivation have been so thoroughly messed with.

The takeout food I order when I'm feeling "meh" is rarely satisfying for me and afterward I always feel that I would have been better off making something at home, both in terms of nutrition and cost. And when I have "reallyyyy meh" weeks (especially in the pandemic) this can happen daily for long stretches of time! The problem is even if I KNOW this, just telling myself "THIS WON'T BE WORTH IT" isn't enough of a motivator to put the Grub Hub app away. Where do I find the discipline? wisdom? strength? to say "Yes you're correct, internal monologue. To the kitchen we go!"

Same answer, different frustration: Use the times when you're feeling motivated (like now?) to make it easier for your meh future self to do the right thing. 

In this case, that might mean taking your internal monologue to the kitchen on your very bestest day and cooking ahead in volume. *Knowing* you will soon have days/weeks when you are, for all intents and purposes, incapable of going to the kitchen and feeding yourself properly. (By your standards of propriety. Judgment-free zone here.)

If you look at your circumstances (and this applies to overworked prior OP, too) and tell yourself you "should" be able to make these small changes, then I think you drag yourself into a shame cycle that doesn't actually motivate you the way you want it to. If fact, it probably undermines. Instead, look at these times when you don't do X even when you know you should be doing X as times you *can't* do X. Or else you would, right? So, you can't. Which means it would be more helpful to make a concrete change that you *can* make when you *can* make it. You can set your phone alarms now. You can cook ahead of time this weekend. Etc. Plan in advance to be your own crutch in your weaker moments. 

You can also preempt yourself in an easier way. So, you cave to takeout food, that's fine--hey, you're doing your part to keep some restaurants and delivery staff afloat. And we're all so freaking burned out. So instead of overpaying, overeating and overshaming, have a leftover container waiting when your food arrives. Put half (or more) of it away before you even start. 


Dear Carolyn, My cousin "Marie" had her second baby last month. Marie is a successful pediatrician, which is the job I always dreamed about and planned on having. I was pre-med in college, but then I got distracted after graduation (married young, had two kids within two years, ended up getting a research job that paid the bills and that I could do without more school). I have gone through several phases of regret about not becoming a doctor, including one very intense one when Marie graduated from med school and started her residency. This will sound terrible but one of my small comforts at the time was assuming that Marie would have to sacrifice something (probably a traditional family life) in order to be a doctor. Now it looks like that isn't true, and I'm back to feeling crappy. I love my husband, love my kids, am lukewarm about my career, and wish I had found a way to find satisfaction both in my career and at home. I don't know for sure, but think Marie would describe herself as very happy with both. This feeling will pass, right? How do I get back to having a healthy perspective on my own choices?

First, get Marie out of your life story. She has no part in it besides proximity. Whether she's happy or unfulfilled or a parent or not a parent or whatever else has zero (0) (nada) (zip) (eff-all) to do with you and your life and your purpose and your capabilities and your decision-making. (bupkis.)

Therefore, in all of her staggering irrelevance, she serves no purpose except to distract you from stuff you need to think about and to muddle your perceptions.

She may have served some purpose in showing you what is/was/may be possible, but for the sake of tidiness let's declare that from this moment on, every moment spent dwelling on her is a wasted one.

Where does that put you now? That's the question you do need to think about and answer. 

For example, you seem pretty certain that medical training would have been impossible at the same time as having a family. You know what? It is. For some people. For others, it's doable. And since you're looking only through the lens of your own self knowledge, maybe it's time for you to recognize that wasn't a viable path *for you,* and let yourself off the second-guessing hook once and for all for the decision you made. (If it helps in even the smallest way, I know I couldn't have done med school while childrearing. I don't focus that well or have the mental stamina.)

Can you do that? Accept your decision as right for you and move on?

If you can, then, next step: What decision makes the most sense for you now, given your circumstances now? Clearly they've changed. Maybe your realistic options have changed, too, in your favor.

Is med school still a possibility? In real life--not just what your preconceived notions tell you. If it is but you just don't want to, then, well, congrats? Sounds liberating. 

Or would a different health-care credential suit your life better now? PAs, nurse practitioners, nurses, and a whole army of therapists (occupational, speech and language, physical, psychological, etc.) stand with doctors to provide essential care. Why torture yourself with, essentially, a vision of yourself you formed as a child, when patient care = doctor, when the adult-you has access to so much more nuanced information.

Short answer, see the jail you've built around yourself, then see how much of it is imagined, then let yourself out of it.

A career change is typically harder while you're responsible for kids, yes. No unicorns and rainbows here. But finding a way to manage it and letting them see that up close could be really good for them. 

Thank you so much for the update. I hope you know that a lot of people out here were worried about you, your mom, and your sister. You have been in our thoughts. Well done!

Hi, Carolyn, I love reading your insightful and sensible thoughts every day. I have been struggling with motivation at my job for the past several months. As a perpetual overachiever, this is not like me. I like my work and am so grateful to have a good job that allows me to work at home and be the main breadwinner for my family. But the pandemic, losing our pet, and then being a caregiver for my elderly parent, and who knows what else have combined to drain the life out of me. Many days I accomplish very little despite sitting at my desk for 12 hours. I get distracted at the drop of a hat and keep putting things off. Any ideas for snapping out of this and getting back on track at work? I do not want to risk my job. Thank you, Droopy Ann

Have you tried less time at your desk? Controlled bursts of work vs. the long slog. The 12-hour sit (even outside a coronavirus hellscape) goes against every bit of research about mental productivity anyway, so it's not something you have to feel guilty for abandoning. My favorite aggregation of information on this is an article that declared any information-economy worker as just "a butt in a chair" after, I believe, 6 hours of work. But of course I can't find it right now to link to it. But it's true I swear. So don't be a butt. Get up, stretch, care-give, dance, order ill-advised takeout, feel like some semblance of yourself again, then get back to it. 

New goal in four words: Work less, do more.

I'm sorry about your pet. 

Dear Carolyn, Every morning, my husband walks our dog with a neighbor, John. Both John and my husband are retired engineers and really enjoy talking "engineer" during their walks. This is great for both of them! However, I do not like John - he is very nosy, full of (unwanted) advice and "handsy" - he almost always manages to touch my butt when we met accidentally. He knows I don't like him and has asked me why. I said, once, that I'm just introverted, and he said "don't be silly!" with reasons why being introverted is "silly." I'm actively avoiding him now. But the next time he asks, should I tell him exactly why I don't like him? I'm pretty sure I'll get a lecture on why I'm wrong. Thank you.

Tell him you don't like that he won't keep his hands to himself. And if he decides to explain why that isn't a problem, then you can tell him that's the other reason you don't like him: He asks questions but then doesn't listen to the answers. Then you can leave.

In my pandemic-television-addled mind, this is a very satisfying scene for the viewer. Good luck. 

Hey Carolyn! I've been reading you for years and so appreciate everything you've been doing especially in this pandemic to provide a space for people. I have another variation on the "to have a kid or not" question that you sometimes get: I have fibromyalgia and I'm feeling so anxious about pregnancy and infant care. My fibro isn't as well controlled as I like right now and I don't know if it ever will be. But as someone who's approaching my mid-30s and is in a happy, committed relationship and am otherwise ready for kids, I don't know if I should just push forward now despite my fears that I'm just going to be in pain or flared up for the next few years in particular if I choose to have kids. I do have a supportive partner and will have parents/in-laws who can step in to be there with those late nights and intense early years, but as a would-be mom, I just find myself hesitant to think that I am already setting myself up for a situation where I'm relying on other people instead of myself to have a child.

Well wait a second. Unless we're homesteaders, we all rely on dozens of people to help us rear children. (And if we are homesteaders, I'm guessing the numbers go down, but not to zero--and the interdependence probably goes way up. Let's see how much more time I can spend in a throwaway parenthetical hypothetical.) Relatives, paid caregivers, medical staff, teachers, neighbors, researchers, vendors, farmers, manufacturers, urban planners, maintenance workers, advice-churner-outers.

Maybe your health situation would make you more reliant on others, but that doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong. It just means you need to plan.

That is, if you're up for it. That's the part you have to figure out, whether your pain is or isn't too much of an obstacle for you to have a healthy family life. For figuring out that part, I urge you to hit the online-support communities. Ask around. Get a bunch of perspectives, and hold them up against what you know about yourself and your circumstances.

I'm glad this came up in the same chat as Marie the Pediatrician. While another person's life is not useful as one-to-one emotional comparison point to one's own life, many lives with many different circumstances and experiences, combined with self-knowledge--including mindfulness of whatever emotional freight is along for the ride--can yield a lot of useful intel. Hit the boards to see what others in your position have to say.

There's (at least) a whole book about this:

Can't vet it, obviously, but here tis.

Does your husband know his walking buddy has been making you uncomfortable with inappropriate touching? I’d want to know if my friend was upsetting my spouse like that because then they’d be an ex-friend.

Yeah, I once had somebody try to tell me that exactly the handsiness that had happened had not happened. I said "Are you really trying to tell me I imagined it? That is SO insulting." and hung up (in person I would have walked away). I didn't need him to agree with me. I needed ME to agree with me. And that meant cluing him in on the fact that whether he liked it or not, I wasn't falling for his shtick.

Who is not a failure... 1) I hear you. I have two degrees, two kids, and currently no career. (Even when working my most stable position was a service job). It is hard seeing other people juggling kids and my chosen career. But I can’t juggle. Penn can juggle flaming batons. No use comparing up there. Know thyself. 2) while still working, I had opportunity to work with quite a few med students. Some had small children. I don’t think I could do it, but some people can. Don’t foreclose your options unnecessarily.

Meal kits! I find the act of cooking very relaxing and I also feel healthier when I cook at home. But I find grocery shopping and meal planning intolerable. We've tried several meal kit companies and settled on one we like. Win/win--I always have ingredients and a recipe for a complete homecooked meal on hand without spending precious mental energy on planning. And it makes the take-out we do get--every Saturday night--feel like a real treat.

The chatter with the cousin was discussing regret, which was also a subject yesterday. But what is the utility of regret? It keeps you anchored in the past, which you cannot change.

Oh I think it's very useful--if we use it. Dwelling in it is a past-anchor, yes, but it often has information we might not have been willing to consider if we didn't feel bad enough to consider it. It's like any negative emotion that way, like anger or grief. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. It comes from something, and that something deserves a hearing if it's strong or persistent.

So, to use your point--we can't change where we've been but we can use the experience to help decide where we're going.

My live-in partner of 10 months texts his ex-girl friend. It creates big issues between us because he knows that it troubles me (yes, I'm insecure!!!), we've talked about it, and he lies about it when I ask him directly. The major issue is trust on both sides, which we're trying to tackle. But it hurts me that he won’t stop the contact even though he knows how much it affects me. What I'm wrestling with is whether I should keep hoping that he will stop—or "simply" let him be and stop being concerned about it.

"Stop being concerned about it" is an option? Then take it! Immediately.

As for "keep hoping that he will stop," when he has shown no signs of stopping and chooses instead just to lie to you about it to get you off his back, that's a hard no. Hope without foundation = torment. So drop it. He's not stopping and the only productive option is to assume it will never stop, unless and until it actually stops.

What you do now with that information isn't something I can really help you with, because it depends on your boyfriend's character and your ability to trust yourself.

The former: I actually think it's good he won't stop texting his ex. Either she's a perfectly platonic friend of his and he's right not to cave to your pressure to drop a perfectly platonic friend just because you're insecurely pressuring him to--or he's still entangled with his ex and it's good for you that's still visible instead of superficially pushed aside in an insincere gesture of fealty to you. Whew, lotta words there. But I think it's all covered. You want people to be themselves out in the open, even (especially) the bad stuff.

Ideally he would have the backbone to say to you, "No. She's my friend. I won't drop my friend just because you're upset that she's also an ex. I'm with you and we either need to trust each other or break up." Ahh. But he doesn't. Could be that he's a bad person, could be he's just immature.

And you don't trust yourself enough to have an idea what is and isn't trustworthy behavior out of him, or bad or immature, and he's not taking a clear line either, so you're kind of both looking at this thru a fun-house-mirror understanding of what "should" be happening in deciding how to feel about what is happening. 

Since you're already living together, my preferred advice of taking a step back, giving yourself time to think, and trusting whatever reveals itself, is not practical. 

So I'll do the close-contact version: Take what you *know* about him (not what you want, not what you imagine, not what you fear--what you KNOW) and accept it as the truth. If what you know is that he's a good person and/or good for you, besides the usual lumps, then go all in on it and stop doubting him and yourself. Commit fully. If he lets you down someday or you get hurt, so be it. There's no preventing that 100 percent. Or, if he's not good/good for you, then get out of there nowwww instead of waiting for him to become good.

Neither of these has anything to do with the ex, btw. She's the distraction from the point. He's good for you or he isn't.


I’m not sure why the OP thinks she has to have a problem with her husband’s friend. If you don’t like him, you don’t have to socialize with him. My husband has a friend (female, if it matters), that I just don’t care for. She hasn’t done anything awful—we just have nothing in common. OTOH, she and my husband have a lot in common (work, interests, etc) and enjoy getting together about once-a-week. And I do what I want. Couples don’t have to have all the same friends.

I am filled with admiration and respect at the level of understanding and forgiveness you seem able to show people, even those who have wronged you, or made life much harder for you. Hang in there.

I'm a coordinator for a physical therapy program at a big public university. We have many non-traditional students who are changing careers a little later in life. Lots of times these students are very successful in graduate school since they've had more life experience and can be a bit more resilient. Don't let the timing hold you back!

I constantly feel like a failure because I don’t have an advanced degree. I chose to care for my husband when he had cancer and then my kids when they were little. Yesterday (literally!) I had a conversation with a coworker who got his MBA when his kids were little and his wife was sick. He made compromises that I never could have made. His path wasn’t bad or wrong, but not right for ME. We all have our own journey, our own priorities and capabilities. I now have a plan to get my EdD, but I know myself and I don’t want to do it while my kids are home. Lots of people go to grad school while kids are at home, but I know myself and that’s not for me. My advice: Be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. It will rob you of happiness.

For the person working around the clock and not going outside for 72 hours at a time and feeling like a baby for complaining, I'm sending SO much compassion. I'm also recently falling apart after months of reasonable durability and adequate cheerfulness. I read this, written by a psychologist friend, and it made so much sense, about how cumulative all these stressors are, and that even positive changes can add to stress, simply by being *changes.* It helped me feel better about my own struggles, for sure. (If you understandably don't want to include the link, it's from Psychology Today, and you can search for "How to Deal with a Year's Worth of 2020 Emotions") 

I am single and live alone and work from home. I have not been around people since February and have no family or friends or relationships in my area to do a bubble with. I only leave the house for groceries and takeout. I am going to be alone for the I've been all year. I know it's the right thing to do, so I'm willing to do it. But all the advice about how to make this an okayish holiday with different things instead of the usual traditions is starting to grate on me. Because everyone giving that advice have people in their homes or in their bubbles they can do/see things with. It's a whole other Nth layer of singledom-hell worse than weddings, extended family vacations, and Valentine's Day combined. How do I deal with this other than screaming into the void where no one can hear me? Without blowing up friendships? Without turning off the internet? How do I find compassion for people who are trying to help but who just make things worse?

I am so sorry you have had to be alone in your solitude. You are nowhere near the only one in this position. I know people in their one-person pods are not all being quiet about it because I've heard from them a lot in this space--but it sounds as if your feeds have skewed +/1 100 percent to the people sharing their bubbles with others. Maybe people out there today can help? Like we did with the stay-home-for-TG stories, if anyone feels up to sharing a story of live-alone okayish-holiday (or everyday) plans, have at it. 

The one theme that, from where I sit, seems consistent since this nightmare started is that we largely got frozen as-is. Meaning, those living alone got frozen in place alone, and those living with others got frozen in place with their others, and the solos are lonely as hell and the multis can't get a moment alone. Slightly exaggerated, but that's the idea, and it has meant stress of two very different varieties. 

Anyway, I'm happy to turn over this space to support for the solo variety.

Hey babe...I know you like your walks with John, and you know I don't like him. I can deal with that...BUT... the next time he touches my butt, he will pull back a stump. Just wanted to give you a heads up....

Dear Carolyn -- I lost my job last year in a field I loved. Now I am applying for positions that I've never done before but hope I have something to contribute. The problem is - I'm terrified to the point I think I will fail and I'm being a fraud for even going down this path. I'm middle age and part of me says it's time for a change but I sure am scared. Any help and suggestions would be much appreciated

Wait a sec. You are applying for jobs you want to do and would take if you got them. Okay so far. If you get the job, you will do the work to the best of your ability. Okay there, too. If you can't do the work, then your new employer will either train you or reassign you or let you go. That's all part of the process, too.

As long as you are representing yourself honestly in the job applications, where are you a fraud in this? 

Now, the fear I understand. Change is hard. But that's for everybody, not just you. And the biggest thing to be scared of IMO is listening to the fear, allowing it to persuade you not to try. That's the scariest outcome there is.

So you're doing great as far as I can tell. You're scared and you're still trying. In certain circles, that is badassery, in fact. Good luck with it and check back in sometime soon.

When I was single, I loved going days without interacting with a single human being, but I stayed very connected to the world. I'm a prominent member of two online communities. I could spend hours connecting with people in these groups and never feel alone. It's such an obvious suggestion so I'm not trying to condescend, but have you ever considered online communities? I've known some of these people for over 25 years!

Solo, I too am in your situation...arguably even worse. I tried staying in contact with friends and acquaintances. Check in emails with how are you holding up. At first, people responded, but no one--I repeat NO ONE initiated a single contact to see how I was doing. If I got a response to one of my check-ins, I rarely even got a "and you?" and if I did and mentioned how it is difficult to be alone in the bubble, I never heard from them again. (And I didn't whine, just a mention.) After months of it always being me checking in, I decided to stop cold. And discovered absolutely no one on this earth even thinks about me. I never heard from anyone again. So, yeah, COVID, little to no work, and now I have no car. Add to that, I am in social solitary confinement. I only wonder, if after the pandemic ends, anyone contacts me, how do I keep from screaming "Gee THANKS, where the hell were you when I needed you." The only time I hear my own voice is if I am ordering something from a company over the phone, or if I talk to myself.

Uuuuugh I am so sorry.

I believe if your "people" saw this, they would be horrified at not staying in touch. I think social tunnel vision is a serious side effect of all this disruption. 

Two suggestions I know you didn't ask for but that I'm making anyway against my own policy of butting in unasked:

1. Use this empty time to become a trained volunteer staffer on ... something, a phone line, some provider of even socially distanced human contact. Think of the things you care about and see whether there's a need associated with it. Or phone-banking for fundraising, voter-motivating, I'll post other ideas if people send them. Force some connections and use your voice again. Are there students who need mentors via Zoom? ESL students who need to talk to native English speakers as part of their program? 

2. Pick your favorite 2 to 5 people of the ones you experimentally stopped contacting, and get back in touch. See it not as giving them another chance to take care of you--assume they're not capable right now and let that expectation go--but instead as a way of taking care of you. 

The comments here are another place to hang out, albeit with no speaking parts, if you aren't there already.

Hi you're not alone, ok well you are but I'm also alone in a matching boat far away, and tbh probably one of those people Carolyn is talking about that hasn't been quiet. I have no upside or positivity to share, but I do have: - solitary solidarity (*imaginary fist bump*), - I pretended Thanksgiving didn't happen, stayed totally off line that day to avoid the pics/texts/articles/gratitude I just didn't have the capacity to handle gracefully, and ya know what, it was a pretty decent Thursday, for 2020. I plan to do the same for future "holidays". And if you want to exchange deeply dark but humorous cards or texts and Carolyn can connect us, I'm in.

I can't, but the comments section can, I hope. WaPo or FB.

This is me. I basically go out once a week to get groceries and take out the garbage and it isn't easy, even though it's necessary. I think a lot of house dwellers don't quite 'get' that those of us who live in apartments and take public transit (especially in cold climates) have to manage more risk than they do if we want to go out - and especially more risk *to others*. Yes, I could go for a nice bracing walk, but it's December; it's icy out. Do I really need to slip and fall and break an arm and end up in the ER right now? Sure, I could go to the farmer's market for honey and vegetables; do I really need to expose myself to all the germs on an enclosed bus, or expose other riders to mine? So it's harder, and that's just the way it is. We have to stand firm, and take out our frustrations second-hand (say, by shaking our fists in rage when CNN shows our elected officials in a better light than they deserve, BRIAN PALLISTER) because it's better for us and for everyone else in the long run if we do so.

This might just be the sort of not helpful but well-meaning advice you're chafing at, but honestly, get yourself a pet, preferably a warm, furry one. And talk to it.

Don't have a lot of tips as this is the first time in 40 years that I won't be with my parents/family for the holidays, but just sharing that I get it. So much of the advice around Thanksgiving was about having your children help or doing something in the backyard (I live alone in a major city in an apartment with no outdoor space, except my parking space which houses a car), so I just felt left out. I Zoom'd with my family on Thursday afternoon and we chatted. Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday, so I didn't care much for not having turkey and all the fixin's, but I LOVE Christmas. So I'm bummed that I'll be alone in my apartment (again) without a tree (no space) or anyone else I love. I'll be watching the same church service as my parents on Christmas Eve and I'm sure I'll FaceTime with them, but it's probably going to suck. I'm trying prepare for that, and I probably won't be checking Instagram that day because I can't deal with all the happy families around the tree. I don't want kids, but I always thought I'd have a partner by now and I don't. So all that to say, I hear you and I actually get it. Sending you a virtual bottle of wine and virtual hugs from a stranger who feels lonely but knows I'm doing the right thing to keep everyone I love alive until it's safe.

Hi! Another single person, living and working alone since March and I'm with you on how much it sucks. My family lives on the opposite coast and my friends in the area have small children, so are podding with other families, or have older relatives so aren't available to pod. It's hard to complain when everyone else is juggling kids/distance learning/elderly relatives. However, I'm lucky in that this isn't my first solo holiday season (grad school is awful), so I've got a plan that I know works. Basically, I focus on the traditions I love and scrap the rest to indulge in my favorite things. My siblings, their kids, and I Zoom while decorating cookies, I've set up virtual movie streaming sessions with friends, far and near, to mock bad movies while drinking rose. Every evening I make a point to get out for a walk to enjoy the holiday lights. Christmas Eve I'll order take out from a fancy restaurant and share my steak with my dog. And for Christmas Day itself, I wear pajamas all day, have a movie marathon, and eat fancy appetizers.

I don't think the OP is asking for holiday-having tips. I think they are asking how to get people to see them where they are and how to tell others -- gently -- that their advice is really not helpful. As a fellow singleton, stuck here after a divorce last summer, I am also struggling with the fact that the culture defaults to families and couples, and that a lot of us don't seem to be getting much help or attention.

See below ...

Oh go ahead and scream into the void a little if it makes you feel better. Better than screaming at the peeps, right? And then you can say to them "I understand you're trying to help, but really, you're not. What I really need is just an acknowledgment that this sucks and maybe some hope that next year will be better." (or whatever it is that you need).

I completely agree with OP. I was fine with Thanksgiving alone - in fact, I love Thanksgiving alone, because I eat what I want when I want in sweatpants. And all my friends seemed to be in mourning about their family Thanksgivings on social media, so I kept quiet about it. But Christmas is hitting me different - I live 1200 miles from my family, who I don't really get along with usually but am now realizing how much I value the Christmas trips back I've been able to make every year for 20 years. Until now. I've basically got a stack of home projects, a stack of books, and a stack of TV shows and movies that I will escape to while I would otherwise be traveling for the holidays -- knowing full well I'll probably just mess around on the internet while playing with my cat, which I'm completely okay with. Because I also know this is a once in a 100 years thing and I'll really treasure the Christmas trips going forward. So I guess - just know it's going to kind of suck, have things that can keep you busy, and don't forget Zoom/Skype/whatever is a thing and can keep you connected with those friends and family you are in-person interacting with.

It might be useful not to think of it as The Holidays, but rather as just a random day off. You don't have to make new holiday traditions, you don't have to decorate if it doesn't make you happy, you don't have to come up with a special meal or a special way to treat yourself. You're just going to have one or more days off on or about December 25, which are not imbued with any specific meaning. Have you ever at any point during these months working from home wished for a day off? If so, tap into that feeling.

Me too. I just had a can of whipped cream delivered, I think that will help... I'm going to go and squirt some straight into my mouth whenever I have a crying fit! Just thinking about it is making me laugh! Hang on, it's not for too much longer! P.S. I also started therapy and got on antidepressants, it's helping.

I also live alone with no bubble. My (virtual) office is closed for the week of Christmas, so I will have ten days alone where I can't even distract myself with work. It's really tough. My plan for Christmas day is to binge watch the new Shona Rhimes Netflix series Bridgerton. It is silly, but it's giving me something to look forward to. The show drops on Christmas so I won't be to cheat and watch it ahead of time. I also bought a fancy candy advent calendar, so every day I look forward to my special treat.

You are so very on to something. We *need* anticipation. It is a fundamental part of feeling good. Thank you.

Today I got my first ever holiday card from my dad and stepmom and realized I had no one to share it with and it's really something else, so I showed it to a squirrel outside my window. It didn't care. Forgot what my point was, but they have strainers on their heads in the card so this year has done a number on us all.

I'm also single, living alone. And I agree - all the advice on how to have a "new normal" holiday is grating and doesn't apply. I have friends, family, relationships in my immediate area, but I don't buy into the "bubble" concept for people outside your immediate household, so if we're not getting together outside, we're not getting together. So I had a solo Thanksgiving, and will do the same for Christmas. I'd concentrate more on building new relationships where you live. There is no reason for you to be so isolated when there are safe ways to interact outdoors. Can you join a walking or hiking group, or do something else with people outside? Check out for these types of groups. Or ask neighbors to go walking. You may still be solo on the holidays, but you won't be as alone as you are now.

I am in the same position, but I have a dog (who has adapted well to my being home all the time), and I communicate with my daughter at college daily - usually by text, and with friends, either through facebook (and facebook communities) or email. Even if it's just a "Hi" I make sure to reach out once a day to someone, and it makes me still feel connected to the world.

I feel you and I have no answers. I honestly don't know where I'd be if I didn't have a dog to lift my spirits and force me outside for walks. I've been getting through it with meditating and reminding myself that I can hard things and this too will pass.

Have the holiday YOU'VE always wanted. No pressure, not expectations. Sleep till noon and microwave a pizza (note: don't *actually* microwave a pizza -- it gets soggy and gross; warm it up in the oven). Bake the cookie recipe your grandma made when you were a kid and eat them all yourself. Make that fruitcake everyone in the family but you loathes. Watch Die Hard without having to engage in endless arguments about whether or not it's a Christmas movie (note: it's not).

It IS a Christmas movie! It is!

The most helpful thing I've found to do when I feel like I can't handle any more is to go ahead and not handle it. I've stopped trying to talk myself into feeling blessed or grateful or anything I don't actually feel at that moment. In the last ten months of solitude, I've wholly come to terms with the fact that if crying on the couch watching Repair Shop, eating the same delivered chile verde quesadilla, and putting in the bare minimum at work (with the camera off) is what I can do, then that's what it is. Eventually, I'll feel better, I'll get through it, and I recover faster if I stop beating myself up for having a perfectly normal crappy response to an out of control crappy situation. Oh, and I have long since stopped reading advice for 'how to cope w/X' (even though, ironically here we are), because it's like doomscrolling...feels productive, is actually reductive.

I am alone. Have been alone. Not been out regularly except to get groceries. I've had one hair cut and three dentists appointments (first root canal!). Since mid-March. So, one great thing was a zoom theater class. Was it perfect? No, but I got to talk to some people who share my interests once a week. Did one early. It was free. Did another even though it cost money. Will do another if they have it in January/February. With clever people and compelling topics, it was a real connection. I've been going to on-line author interviews that would have been in person bookstore events in the before times. You don't have to limit yourself to bookstores near you the event is on-line. And I am planning project for my end of the year use it or lose it vacation. Yeah, it will still be alone, but I will be doing things to improve MY life, rather than my employer's. I probably won't get half the list done, but I'll make a down payment.

Hey! Another lonely, isolated singleton here who would LOVE to be asked how I am (offering a bump of solidarity & ditto on the exchanging of dark humor cards!!). Also want to second-upvote the online-community suggestion...I'm a bigtime YouTube commenter :)

As an introvert with no alone time and a special needs parent with no childcare or regular support, I am not reaching out to anyone, and I can only barely respond when people reach out to me. If, however, any single one person reached out NEEDING HELP and specifically asking for connection, I would be capable of responding in a way that regular communication is beyond me. It would actually be a comfort to me to be able to comfort someone else. Sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable to get what you need.

This is lovely, thank you.

Seems like Hax-world is an online community (sorry if my terminology is off). A standing date for all live chats? Be sure to comment after the chat, if not submit an update as a Question? Think of it as an exploration into human connections and issues! It's definitely one of my favorite online destinations! Many local libraries are having virtual book clubs. Don't have to go on camera if you don't want to. May be a place to hang out and see if you can find your people. Again...not intending to condescend or state the obvious. But just noting that online communities as a concept can seem off-putting to some so trying to offer some less conventional perspectives.

Thank you, everybody. 

Several of the letters today are from people who are showing major signs of burnout. Carolyn's advice is okay if there are truly no other options, but they are also only bandaids. These people need breaks. Take a week or two off from work. At least. You still have PTO. Take it from someone who is about to take an FMLA leave because I kept ignoring the signs of burnout and, well, crashed and burned (12 hours at my computer every day, day after day, with little to show for it, basic inability to manage life things like cooking meals, and total inability to manage self-care, which only became it's own burden). Then one morning last week I just couldn't anymore. My body and mind stopped cooperating, and several hours of crying at my desk became a hard conversation with my boss. Luckily, my company and my boss are both lovely, and I am so grateful to get this leave time. Your physical and mental health are so, so important. Attend to them. Find a way to take a real break.

Excellent advice, thanks. Even a few days off can be helpful. Completely off.

Hi Carolyn, I was wondering if you had any advice or resources for oversharing. It's been an issue with me for as long as I can remember, and while I was hoping I getting better by doing wild things like listening and asking people questions, showing interest in them first, etc., I feel like it's regressed somewhat during the pandemic. I get on a Zoom call or a (socially distanced) coffee date and it's like PEOPLE! MUST SHARE LIFE STORY! As I said, better than a few years ago when I wondered why I wasn't making friends (because I realized much later that I talked THE ENTIRE TIME), but I'm still slipping up and it's embarrassing. I mean, I'm honest with myself about the fact that this is probably a combination of anxiety, deep loneliness, and a longing to connect. But I'm never going to connect if I make it all about me! In the past I've tried (with a counselor) literally planning out what subjects to cover at what stage of getting to know people, to not scare them off, which I then promptly forget to do. It's like I turn into a babbling energizer bunny. Please, any advice would be appreciated! Thank you.

This is actually similar to the over-interrogating person ... yesterday? Anyway. Opposite problem, same advice: When you know you have a conversational quirk that you struggle to master, it can really help to get in front of it with people. "I don't mean to, but I can get carried away and share my entire life story as soon as someone says 'Hi"--don't be shy about reining me in." Then the other person is off the hook of figuring out how to handle their side of the problem. It can even be endearing--but you have to mean it when you encourage people to interrupt you. 

I am 10 weeks pregnant, and experiencing all that this entails: nauseated by random foods, exhausted all the time (and yet somehow also experiencing insomnia), crampy, bloated, and dealing with a perpetual headache that I can't make go away because Aspirin and Advil are off-limits. My problem, though, is with my husband. He's very health oriented, in an "exercise and diet can fix everything" kind of way. And now, when I tell him I'm feeling too cruddy to take another walk (I'm already doing 30-minutes daily, as recommended by my doctor), or that a kale smoothie is going to make me hurl, I get a lecture: "It's no wonder you're feeling bad, you're not exercising enough or eating enough healthy foods." No matter how much I explain it, he does not seem to understand or believe that I'm feeling crappy BECAUSE I AM PREGNANT, not because I'm a gluttonous slob. Is this as bothersome as I think it is, or am I overly sensitive due to hormones?

"No, it's because I'm growing another human in my body, and your experience is not the least bit applicable here. Either you grasp that, or we're going to have serious problems going forward."

No explaining beyond that. Might require marriage counseling--this is a big, big deal because it's an utter failure of empathy on his part, and that won't go away when the baby comes.

To the person with the suicidal friend: Please talk to a qualified mental-health professional about how to handle your role here. It's something I've had to do myself, and I could try to pass along what I learned but I think the stakes are significant enough to warrant anyone in this position hearing it firsthand, based on the specifics of your own circumstances. If you have any established relationship with a therapist, then place a call. Otherwise start here, on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline site, to find trained staff to guide you. 

Please don’t take your friends’ behavior as a value judgment of you as a person. This pandemic is HARD on people. Your circle might be handling their stress by retreating. I wish they weren’t, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. It might mean they don’t have much to give right now. It happens in normal circumstances (grief from loss of a parent, etc.), but it’s rare that it happens to everyone at the same time like now when we’re in a global crisis. Hang in there!

Carolyn, There is no one I'd rather have "butt in unasked" than you, so thanks. (I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically.) Re: advice point #1, I don't actually have ZOOM or the appropriate hardware necessary to download it onto. And frankly, I am too depressed to mentor anybody right now. All that stuff you always mention about how hard it is right now for all of us to just function at all, and how just barely scraping through the day is all we can ask of ourselves? Yeah, that's about the standard I'm going by. But, Advice Point # 2, I should have been clearer. I kept trying after initially contacting people....every several weeks or month or two... to check in and got completely ignored, in addition to no one contacting me. So trying again would just get me more ignored and make me embarrassed to myself. So, while I appreciate the offer of advice, it wouldn't help in my circumstance. Oh, and to the poster who responded that I need better friends--no sh@@!

Oh my, okay--I apologize for the misunderstanding. 

I hope you will take people up on the suggestion to find an online community. Start here in the comments, or on FB, I know people there will look out for you and make other suggestions. 

And here's another in-butting (given inch, taking mile): Walk, or do YouTube yoga (if you get this chat, that should be technology enough to get a yoga video), or something to get your blood moving and endorphins going. It's my personal hedge against darkness and it's an evidence-based depression remedy. 

Sorry for fussing. I'm just concerned and limited to reaching across the ether.



I've sent a card or two our to friends who might be struggling. Haven't heard back, not the point, just a reminder I love them. This chat today is a strong motivator to me to do more of that. One is addressed to go out tomorrow and I will do one a day for awhile.

Thank you, Carolyn, for publishing the solo letter. I've found out that I'm really not totally solo after all - so many just like me out there. Thank you!

Thank you for putting your needs out here for us today. I hope I'm not the only one currently going through my mental rolodex and then texting these people to say hello. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

This has truly been the most helpful advice I've gotten. I have posted to a few online communities but they all have no-COVID rules so I'm going to look for new ones. No idea how to do that but into the deep I go. There was a cartoon in April that said "2020 made us realize we're all different boats in the same storm." It's pretty apt -- I guess I was feeling like I was the only rowboat with a missing oar and everyone around me is on yachts but now I see the other rowboats.


That's it for today. Thanks all for stopping by, and have a ____ weekend. Enjoy filling in the blank.

And thank you to everyone who pitched in extra today on flying solo through 2020. To quote a past commenter, you are freaking warriors. 

did you guys change the chat software for some chats but not for all?

Hi there! I'm Carolyn's producer. We are moving everyone over to the new chat software by the end of the year. Carolyn's chat will move over on Dec. 18, the week after the Hoot. Thanks everyone! 

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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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