Carolyn Hax: How to be supportive but not overbearing

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 8

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I found out recently that a good friend of mine is having trouble getting pregnant. She’s miscarried once and has had fertility problems since — this has been going on for two years, but she’s a pretty private person and just told me a couple of months ago. I felt awful that she was going through this and of course told her she was welcome to talk about it with me anytime.

Since then, she hasn’t brought it up on her own, and I’ve had a hard time knowing when and how to ask how it’s going. The last time I asked, about a month ago, she was going through an in vitro cycle. She hasn’t brought it up since, and I don’t know how long it takes to determine whether it was successful or not. When we met for lunch yesterday, at one point there was a lull in the conversation, like she wanted to say something but didn’t, and I couldn’t find a way to bring it up without just coming out and saying, “So how’s the baby thing going?” Any advice for being a supportive, but not overbearing, friend?

Friend


(Nick Galifianakis/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

You’re soooo close here — you’re listening, you care, you’re attuned to her feelings. That’s going to carry you most of the way, so trust that.

The one thing I’ll suggest is that instead of the, “So how’s the baby thing going?” you toyed with at the last lull, use the next one to say, “I think a lot about you and wonder how your fertility efforts are going, but I’m not sure how or even whether to ask. Would you like me to check in, or let you bring it up when you’re ready?”

Re: Friend:

I could be your friend; I am in almost the exact same spot. Like anything that is full of emotional land mines and grief, sometimes you want to talk, and sometimes you don’t.

But I am never offended if someone asks how things are going. If I want to share things, I do. If I don’t, I give a quick answer and change the subject. Carolyn’s advice is good: Ask her how she wants you to handle this. The process of in vitro is a very hard road. It’s full of hope and if it doesn’t work, the grief can be enormous. Just continue being a good friend, which it sounds like you are.

Anonymous

Thanks for weighing in, and good luck.

Re: Friend:

I ask people how I can be most helpful to them. When my sister was going through her divorce, I told her I could be there as her sounding board, or I could just let her not talk about it if that’s what she wanted. Let them know you are willing to be a safe space, whether that means a place to vent, or a place that they can not think/talk about it anymore. Also, let them know they can change their mind about it anytime they want, that’s fine.

Anonymous 2

I like this, too, thanks. What all of these approaches share: centered on the friend, and also specific. You want to offer some options, not shift more weight to your already burdened friend.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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