Carolyn Hax: Marriage, kids, house — they’re not a package deal

Carolyn Hax
Columnist April 21

Adapted from a recent online discussion, and continued from yesterday.

Dear 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 agree with you that I shouldn’t be more focused on “checking the box” [of marriage] than on enjoying Boyfriend himself; I’ll cop to having a bit of box-checking anxiety. Marriage is something that’s valued highly among my friends and family, and, as indicated, I’m among the last to get there, and the anxiety does mount exponentially.

[But] I love Boyfriend and want to be his wife, have children with him, buy a home together, etc. Watching other people headed toward these things makes me happy for them, of course. This may have started with the weddings, but that’s probably incidental and more a function of my age, career status, desire for kids, etc.

Anonymous again


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washingon Post)

Marriage, kids, mortgage — these, sometimes, are miserable for people. I don’t mean to sound so cynical, because I’m actually not. It’s just that each of these life milestones is a joyous celebration for about a minute, followed by sometimes lifelong responsibilities. That involves implicit trust, hard work, balanced teamwork, and a few good breaks along the way for it to remain a source of occasional, cork-popping elation. Meanwhile, when something goes wrong with each one, it can bankrupt you, or anchor you someplace you don’t want to be, or worse.

And so the White Picket Fence package can’t reasonably be pursued as a package for its own sake, because the individual elements don’t work together that way. The only high-percentage path is to think of marriage if and only if you meet the person you can see yourself having in your life for the duration. With kids, you have them if and only if you’re in a stage of life where you can and want to give a good life to a child — or if you can get there between the oops-discovery and the due date. Buying a home is what you do when it makes financial sense to, whether you’re single or one of a pair.

See what I mean? Each piece has to make sense. As a package, they’re never going to deliver on what their cultural image promises.

Hi, Carolyn:

For the past two years, I have been seeing a great therapist. I’ve made a lot of progress — so much so that I’ve reached a point where I don’t think I need therapy anymore. I now feel like I can deal with any residual depression/anxiety issues on my own. So, hooray for progress!

But, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to my therapist. This might sound weird, but it feels like breaking up with a friend (even though I’ve essentially paid her to be my friend). Any thoughts?

Breaking Up With My Therapist

Taper! There’s no reason you have to lose her phone number. In fact, people who have had successful therapy (congratulations!) often find they benefit from occasional tune-ups. See if you feel better about leaving after making an appointment for, say, 30 days from now.

If you get to Day 28 feeling marvy, then you can cancel or kick it another 30 days down the road, and if that tune-up is sounding good, then it’s there for you.

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

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