Carolyn Hax: Looking for sympathy, not answers; parenting and time management

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 14, 2012

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 feel lately that my friend, who is also my roommate, has not been sympathetic with me.

It seems like when I say something, she automatically asks me if I did X to remedy the situation — and if I say I haven’t, I get, “Well, why not?” Usually, when she tells me about a problem, I am sympathetic.

I know it is her nature to be more rational than emotional, while I’m the opposite, but sometimes she comes off as uncaring.


Should I worry about this? Should I just make note of it and realize it’s her personality to see things more rationally and to want to fix them instead of how I normally react, which is giving more sympathy? Should I even talk to her about it?

Great Friends, New Roommates

“Should I worry?”: No.

“Should I just make note of it and realize it’s her personality to see things more rationally . . . instead of how I normally react, which is giving more sympathy?”: Yes.

“Should I even talk to her about it?”: No . . .

Unless: Your effort to appreciate her as-is doesn’t work.

In that case, I suggest saying something along the lines of, “I hear that you’re trying to help me, and I appreciate that, but sometimes I’m not looking for solutions so much as a ‘Gee that [stinks].’ ” Spell out what you need.

While you’re there, ask her whether you’re giving her sympathy when what she really wants from you is some help fixing things.

And, also while you’re there, ask yourself whether her, “Well, why not?” answers tend to be in response to a recurring problem or two. Since I hear often from people worn down by a friend who complains about the same problems but never tries to fix them, and since my advice to them is to ask this friend — nicely — what s/he plans to do about said problem, we should both at least consider that’s what she’s trying with you.

Dear Carolyn:

Generally speaking, and not taking into account variables like temperament, special needs, etc., would you agree that two kids are more difficult than one? I have a sibling who is always claiming to be too busy to help with family business — she has one child and I have two, yet I find time to do what’s asked of me.

She swears that being a parent to a single child is just as difficult as having multiple children, which I find patently ridiculous. What do you think?

One or More?

I think getting into a whizzing contest on this is a loser, because there’s no possible outcome but hard feelings. It’s not a game show. Besides, you can’t discount “variables like temperament, special needs, etc.” The resulting information is meaningless.

Here’s how I see it: If it’s “just as difficult,” then why isn’t she doing exactly as much as you are to help with family business?

Ask for a one-for-one match in investment, regardless of brood size (or one that reflects percentage of share in said business, if that’s applicable). That’s arguably the only fair way to go.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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