Tell Me About It

Tell Me About It
(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dear Carolyn:

How do you know when you are being mistreated (and should do something about it), or if you are taking things too seriously or personally?

Va.

The easy answer: If one person makes you defensive, then that person is probably bad for you; if nearly everyone does, then you're probably bad for you.

The answer if you need more of an answer:

You can be "bad for you" in two general ways -- by seeking out relationships with highly critical people, or by taking even the most harmless remarks as criticism. Or both, I suppose, if you like your maintenance high and your relationships testy.

Both, however, share the same source. Insecurity. The fact that people are different from you -- in habit, taste, culture, faith, sense of humor, sex drive, intellect, income -- is not personal. It's not an insult when people don't change to please you; it's not an insult when you can't change to please someone else. Even people close to you.

If you like and accept who you are, you aren't going to fear other people's differences, or your own, as a threat. You can handle a few negative reviews.

But if you have doubts, other people become reflections of those doubts. They become the critics you need to impress to show yourself you're okay; they become the people with "potential," the ones you hope will validate you by learning to do things your way; they become the abusers who feel right and familiar and comforting because they share your low opinion of you.

Think of it this way. Obviously, we're fine with liking and disliking others freely. Someone doesn't do it for you, you move on (often after telling everyone how you feel). But we often get hung up on granting others that same license -- specifically, license to dislike us, much less discuss it with others.

So we fight ourselves, through them, and fight them, too, and force closeness where maybe distance belongs. All efforts to prove we're okay.

That's why the am-I-being-mistreated question is really the woollier question, how sure do you feel of yourself? If you can honestly accept that others will like or dislike you -- and you're not just saying that because you know you should be able to say that -- and if you can choose or refuse people's company accordingly, I think you'll find you're neither taking poor treatment from someone nor dishing it out.

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend basically has told me I have a year, then she expects to get engaged. We have been together about two years. I am in my mid-20s and don't want to get married until 30 at least.

She is great, I love her, but I am not sure she is a person I could spend the rest of my life with. HELP. I have tried explaining that I am not ready to think about that, but she doesn't seem to care.

A.

She sounds like a keeper.

But I'll give her this -- she's clear about what she wants. Please return the favor: "I don't want to get married until 30 at least. You are great, I love you, but I will not be proposing to you in a year. I'm sorry."

If you suspect you never will, time to set her free.


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