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Carolyn Hax Live: Getting Past the Breakup Blues, plus Speaking Your Mind vs. Avoiding Conflict, Bottling Up Or Stifling Tears

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008; 12:00 PM

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, August 15 taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

A transcript follows.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Interested in the ALS Association's Walk to D'Feet ALS on October 12, 2008? Make a contribution at Carolyn's page or sign up to walk with the Hax Pack.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's brand new discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. Elizabeth has put the links for the ALS walk up in the intro material, so please do have a look to see if there's anything you can do to help. The walk is Oct. 12, and the bigger our group, the bigger the impact, and the more we accomplish toward fundraising, research, legislation, and badly needed patient support. And, there's free coffee and a Zuzu T-shirt in it for you!!! Thanks for thinking of us.

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Dallas: CH, I have a terrible problem when arguing or attempting to talk about emotions. I clam up and can't verbalize. It frustrates the heck out of my SO but I hate confrontation. I can't say something if I know it will result in hurt feelings. Help!

Carolyn Hax: Would it help to keep in mind that even more painful feelings will result from your -not- saying what's on your mind?

If you have reasoned this already and it hasn't helped, then this will be a simplistic response, and I'll need to do better. But it all starts with making the connection that things that are hurtful in the moment can be helpful later. Where are you on this?

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Re: Picking fights to get dumped: Hi Carolyn,

I recognized my behavior in that post last week, and I broke up with my boyfriend of 2 years. I wasn't happy with our situation, but I didn't want to be without him.

We've talked a lot and decided to take an extended break (wait for him to finish med school overseas so we can at least remove the distance issue before we even reconsider dating again) but see other people and remain in contact. I need help being less jealous/irrational. I am the one who called it off, I wasn't happy with our relationship, it was unhealthy. I am moving across the country next week and want to meet new people, and maybe eventually start dating. The thought of him doing these things, however, makes me sad and jealous. I'm almost afraid of him falling out of love with me or losing all romantic feelings for me. I honestly hope we end up together, and that me dating other people will just serve to reinforce the fact that he's a good person and we're a good match, but the timing is off.

I hope you can offer a few words that will help me stop feeling like a basket case.

Carolyn Hax: The thing about being a basket case is that you can't just stop. Or else you wouldn't be calling yourself a basket case, you'd be complaining of being in a bad mood.

This is about sloppy, conflicting, counterproductive emotions that are all in a pile waiting for you to sort through them. And it's about as appealing as going through your junk drawer after stuff has been piling up in it for two years. The way you go about it, though, is the same. If you're too upset and distracted to think straight, then you postpone the sorting till you feel better, and concentrate your energy on whatever it takes to feel better.

Then, as you do feel better, you clear your schedule (metaphorically speaking, in the case of an emotional sorting session) so you can concentrate on the task at hand. For you this means getting yourself through your move: take care of yourself, get as much sleep as you can, make good lists and use whatever willpower you've got to stay organized and pace yourself.

Then ... when you get there, plod along getting yourself settled. If you feel like a basket case still, that's fine--nothing wrong with big emotions hitting at inconvenient times, as long as you keep plodding along. That's your job. Plod.

And -then- you can worry about your relationship. (cont'd)

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Carolyn Hax: I think the major feature of this stage is overriding your emotional need for neat expectations. The I-want-us-to-end-up-together mind set will do nothing but make you miserable. It'll hold you back in the past when you're trying to get established; it will take a new shape in your mind that will, over time, drift away from its anchor of reality; it will crush you all over again even if you do end up together, because what you actually have will absolutely be different from what you imagined. For all you know, it will be even better, but if you're getting yourself all excited for one thing, you risk being so disappointed that you don't even see that it's better.

I understand I'm asking you to switch off your imagination, which sounds (and at the moment probably is) impossible. But over time it is in fact possible; you simply have to commit yourself to the realities of the moment, not wispy hopes for the future. Here's where the sorting comes in: Whatever stuff about your ex is lingering in your mind needs to be held up to the light, so you can see the reality of it, vs the emotional memory. Either he'll start to make sense to you,and the ache will start to fade, or you'll get sick of dwelling on it, and the ache will start to fade. The absolute necessity here is that you be honest with yourself. Tell the truth and your imagination will adjust accordingly.

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WDC: Hi Carolyn. Adding another dimension to the 'hating confrontation' problem submitted by Dallas - I tend to hold everything inside, which results in constant criticism, irritation, etc, as the problem builds and gets bigger. By the time I can talk about it, I can't rationally, because I'm too mad/irritated/disgusted by the issue to isolate things that could be done to change it! Part of the problem stems from the fact that I don't feel like I have the right to tell my SO some of the things that bother me about him - like I'm being too critical and should just accept these 'flaws'. But they drive me nuts and impact the relationship. Any tips?

Carolyn Hax: Why are you with someone who bothers you so much?

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No. Va: What is the best way to tell someone you are not interested in them "in that way?" I have a kickball teammate who is very persistent and will not get the hint. I can't fake a bf because my friends play with us and we all go out together regularly. I just don't like this guy. I keep turning him down, but with every rejection, he bothers me more. I'm about to quit the team. It was supposed to be for fun, not a meat-market.

Carolyn Hax: Have you said this?: "Apparently I haven't been clear. I am not interested in dating you. Please stop asking me."

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Breakup blues: Hi Carolyn. Not a unique question here, but more just hoping that you might have some words of encouragement. I am 3 months post-breakup with my BF of over a year. He cheated on me and left me for someone else. This after he said he knew how much it hurt to be cheated on (his ex-wife cheated on him) and wouldn't do it to someone else. When he found out his ex-wife was getting remarried, he flipped out on me and got together with some woman at work (before breaking up with me!). I would have thought that his heinous and selfish behavior would have helped me slam the door shut and be glad I was free of him - indeed, my friends are glad I am free of him. Instead, I am obsessed with images of him being happily coupled with the office hooch he left me for, while I am in the proverbial fetal position mourning his betrayal. Any thoughts that might help me regain perspective?

Carolyn Hax: I can see the temptation to blast yourself with "He's scum and he didn't deserve me!" propaganda, and I can see why your friends are trying to do it for you. I use the same tactic sometimes in the column, and sometimes it does actually apply.

But I'm not sure it does here, and that might be why it's not working. Is what he did, technically, a betrayal? Of course. It also exposed the emptiness of his promise, and made you feel like a fool for believing him, and all the other fun stuff that comes with getting dumped.

But I think the real lie exposed here isn't the one he told you. I think it's the lie that any of us can be, or that the world can be, as black-and-white as such promises suggest. The words, "I'll never cheat on you," do not a guarantee make. As far as a shield against pain, it is absolutely, flat-out meaningless. I actually believe (from what little you wrote here) that -he- probably believed what he told you. But he also had not the slightest idea what he'd do if someone (say, his cheatin' ex) poured his emotional foundation in a box and shook it really hard--for a second time. (more)

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Carolyn Hax: So, what you're processing right now isn't just that someone you counted on can hurt you in the one way you thought he wouldn't. You're processing the full force of the saying, "Anything can happen." Because, honestly, anything -can- happen. A faith in other people can't be what gets you out of bed in the morning, or else you're in for a terrible letdown. A faith in yourself that you can handle whatever happens--that is something that really can sustain you. So use this smack in the face to develop some of this kind of resourcefulness. Stand up, brush yourself off, wish this guy--who clearly has emotional crap of his own--some genuine happiness, and start concentrating on the things that will help you carry on.

By the way, this isn't as cynical as it sounds. Most people do mean well, and do actually try to do right by other people. But even then, it doesn't always work out perfectly, which brings you back to the thing you have to be able to count on: You.

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NYC: I wrote to you a couple months ago about my girlfriend of 4 years breaking up with me because she was "having too much fun" going out with her younger, single friends and meeting and picking up random guys. Since then she's pretty much cut off all contact with me. I've come to a certain peace with that, it's fine.

But then recently she wrote me an email saying she was still open to "seeing" me, if it wasn't too weird for me, (I'm reading that as a sexual invitation), and she signed the email "forever yours".

What is that? I don't get it. Is that just a crazy mind-game she's playing with me? A control thing? Or is that a sign she might be hurting and confused about what she's doing? (FWIW: she has a long history of mild depression that she doesn't treat - cycling on and off meds, going very sporadically or not at all to counselors, etc) Also, FWIW - she is 37. I don't know if that's really important, but in my mind I would expect this more from a 27 year old woman, not a bright, educated, highly professional 37 year old woman.

I'm confused as to what's really going on with her, and what my role should be now to her.

Carolyn Hax:"Thanks, not interested."

Takes [parts] to say that, but I bet it would be liberating.

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Rosslyn Again: Hey Carolyn--Cold Feet in Rosslyn here again.

I had never thought about it that way before, but one of your posters was right, I think, to call me out for having higher expectations of a wife who won't bear my children. Which, when you put it that way, is definitely unfair.

After I read that, I wound up in a lengthy, serious conversation with my OAOA fiancee and aired that concern, phrased exactly the way your poster put it. She won't budge on the kids issue, but swears she still feels the "zing" to which you refer, and that she'll do anything (else) it takes to restore my confidence in our upcoming marriage.

Now that I think about it, though, I really can't envision a childless life in which she is constantly making it up to me that we don't have children. Zing or no zing, I think I've found my answer.

Don't get me wrong, though. I do love her. But I think you'll agree with my decision, no?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. I hope she will come to agree with it as well. It's too big a difference to try to smile and communicate away, no matter how well you smile and communicate.

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WDC again: I feel like if I dealt with the issues that drove me crazy, he wouldn't bother me. But I let them build, and I don't communicate my frustration (which is unfair), and then I just get angrier when things don't change. It is the authority issue/right-to-comment issue by virtue of being his SO that I can't figure out.

Carolyn Hax: You didn't use the evil S word but it still sounds as if you have a terrible case of the "shoulds." You should let him be himself, this shouldn't bother you so much, if I speak up it should go away, I should speak up.

The only way a couple gets any peace is through recognizing what -is.- See who he is, see who you are, see how that makes you feel.

This process is always complicated by the fact that some things can be changed between two people, and often are. E.g., "Would you please not wake me up by turning the light on? If I try to wake up that quickly, I get crabby"--and the other person says okay and doesn't turn the light on any more while you're sleeping. (Or doesn't budge, and keeps turning on the light.)

For people who aren't sure where the line is between things you can reasonably request, and things you just have to accept, this prospect of possible change can present itself as an obstacle to making any decisions at all--because then anything that bothers you could eventually change, right? And if it doesn't, then you should be able to accept it, right?

This is where practice comes in. If you haven't formed a working understanding of what you can and can't ask of someone, and what you can and can't ask of yourself, then I would suggest a deep breath and some trial and error. Start speaking up and see what happens. Then, trust yourself and your own feelings. "I don't like being treated this way," or, "Asking that made me feel like a jerk," or even, "I feel like I'm angry all the time." The other person--either through actions, reactions or non-actions--will contribute to your education, so it's important to listen and watch just as carefully as you speak.

Obviously if you're with someone who is abusive or just really bad for you, this can be fraught--but that takes us back to your learning to trust yourself. If you are -persistently- unhappy with someone, either in up-and-down form or always down, then that's your cue to get out.

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Stop me from myself: WHY should I not tell my ex's girlfriend that he still loves me? This--and more--came straight from him. He has a reason why he doesn't want to be with me but it doesn't make any sense. Now he's said all this, he refuses to talk about it.

If my boyfriend still felt this way about his ex, I'd sure like to know.

If you're reading this and your name is....

Ok I won't say it here but why shouldn't I forward his email?

Carolyn Hax: Because things like relationships aren't linear. Your ex's loving you now doesn't mean he won't fall for his girlfriend tomorrow. Hell, he may have fallen for her already and maybe he's so freaked by it he reached out to you in some warped gesture of romantic self-sabotage. Of course, you could also be right that he's stringing his GF along, but what's to say you're the best messenger for that bit of information? Her senses need to develop in this area somehow.

These rationales/izations don't apply universally. Sometimes the details make it into a more linear situation--e.g., if his GF were your best friend, of course you'd show her the e-mail--but the less you know about all involved, the less of a mandate you have to act.

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Fed up, DC: I'm too nice. I bite my tongue and never say how I feel. I'm tired of it. I've spent 3 decades like this. Can I start spurting the truth to my friends and family, even if it will cause conflict? Or should I just continue to be polite and quiet? I'm starting to feel like I'm going to explode.

Carolyn Hax: Think slow leak, vs. spurt. That way everyone involved has a chance to adjust to the new circumstances. Enjoy.

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Too Good?: Hi Carolyn- Strange question but I'm hoping you and the gang can provide some perspective. I'm in an 8 month long relationship with a great guy - throughout the entire course of our relationship I've been suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness that has made my life very very difficult in some respects. Recent diagnosis helps and I am hoping that the new cycle of medication and therapy will improve things even more. However, my BF has only known me during this crazy time. Yet he insists I am wonderful, talks about marriage, etc. There is a part of me that appreciates his acceptance and very glad to see how he responds to serious medical issues. But another part of me wonders how he can love me knowing only this untreated ill part of me. Am I overthinking this?

Carolyn Hax: No, I don't think so. "Why does he like me?" is a legitimate and astute question to ask--I would say in any circumstances, but particularly in yours.

Fortunately, you don't have to get an answer immediately. You can give it time and see, over the course of another 8 months, or 16, or whatever, how your health is going and how your relationship is going. If his attachment was to the unstable version of you, then you and he are going to falter. If on the other hand he was able to see your real character through the instability, and if his temperament is such that instability is something he can handle, then you might be unusually well suited to each other. Concentrate on your health and see how the rest plays out.

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Breakup blues again: Thanks for your response, Carolyn. It's hard not to read it as an ultimately cynical one, though. What role can trust possibly play if you have to walk around assuming a shoe is going to drop at any moment, from any direction, because people are ultimately unreliable and their words mean crap? Also, it's going to take awhile before I can genuinely wish him happiness. There were way better ways to break up with me but he didn't apologize for hurting/lying/cheating; he was defensive and minimized everything and said that what happened between us was just "life". To hope that his "life" with the office hooch is a happy one is a little more than I can manage right now.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, I let it go the first time, but would you please lay off "the office hootch"? This is between you and your ex, and vilifying her just increases the bile where it's in your best interests to reduce it.

Trust has a role, a huge role. Primarily, you have to trust yourself, as I said--trust that you can hang on if and when a shoe does drop. You also have to trust your ability to choose good people.

Then, when you feel you do have a good eye for good people, of course you're going to put your trust in them not to rain shoes on you 24-7.

But that trust, and the trust in yourself to choose good people, has to come with an asterisk: We are human. We get emotional and do stupid [bleep], and we get fooled sometimes who do stupid [bleep] to us. The best of humans earn that distinction not by being perfect, but by recognizing when they're being jerks and doing their best to clean up whatever mess they created.

And so by all means save your affections for people you feel you can trust, and trust them not to abuse you, but also recognize that people--you included--can't be counted on not to make any mistakes. Don't look constantly for dropping shoes, but instead know that one can drop at any time, and try to surround yourself with people who won't drop them lightly, who will feel remorse when it happens, and who will do their best to take responsibility and make things right. That is trust you can trust.

By being defensive and minimizing everything, your BF essentially told you that he's not mature enough to warrant that trust, to handle the mess he created--and I'm not just talking the mess from his cheating on you, but the mess from his ex's cheating and all that came with it. Of course, his cheating in the wake of her remarriage (right? it's been a while since the details) was all the proof you needed of that. He's an angry wounded child who got busted, and he's acting like one.

You, too, have some angry wounded child going on, but you have the advantage of being you: You can recognize this and do something about it. You can see where your humanity got you into this mess, and you can see where you can do better next time--for example, in revisiting and upgrading your concept of trust.

And, you can see where you -can't- do better, where you just have to know that sometimes caring about people hurts.

Finally, I hope you can come acknowledge his particularly high percentage of humanity. When you get there, maybe then you'll be able to say what your friends are saying, that, as ugly as it was, the breakup was definitely for the best.

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New York, NY: Hi Carolyn,

It seems like we're having a lot of questions about speaking your mind. I have been working on this for the last couple of years in therapy, and now I pretty much say what's on my mind, even if I'm nervous about how the other person might respond. A big part of that was the knowledge that my SO -wants- to know how I feel, even if it's negative. It took a lot of repeating of that for me to believe it. But it's so difficult with my parents. My relationship with my father has always been difficult, and I live 2000 miles from them on purpose. They are coming for a visit, and I'm working really hard not to be a basket case, worrying about them offending my friends, about my friends offending them, etc. It's so hard to -stop- trying to control everything, especially when they -don't- want to know how I feel, especially if it's negative!

Carolyn Hax: I think it's great that your SO wants the truth, and is teaching you that a negative truth doesn't always have negative consequences.

However, your parental visit and your worries about it suggest it's time to advance to the next step: That emotional honestly, ultimately, is not about what your listener can handle, but about who you really are. During this visit, behave in a way that is comfortable for you. If you offend someone, then that will be your responsibility, and you'll have to handle that when it happens--be it by apologizing for something you did wrong, or by holding your ground when you feel you've done nothing wrong. Again, it's about being yourself and owning what you do.

Here's what isn't your responsibility: what your parents and your friends take away from each other. They are adults, they will think and speak as they choose. If you can help either party by providing a bit of background, or acting as a buffer, fine, but not at a cost to your soul.

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Kansas City, MO: My mother abandoned my family when I was a baby. She started a new family, and I have half siblings I haven't seen for 25 years. They may or may not know I exist - I could reach out to my half sister but I'm not sure it's a good idea. If she has a good relationship with our mother I could sabotage that. But maybe she would like to have a sister as much as I would. I want to do the right thing and can't decide.

Carolyn Hax: These are so hard. I would want to know you, but she may not. In the end, I think you have to err on the side of giving an adult the facts, and letting her decide what she wants to do with them.

Of course, if what she wanted was never to have been told, there's nothing you can do about that, and we don't want to get back into the whole life-isn't-perfect thread.

This is, of course, assuming you're prepared to offer facts and just facts. If you have any reason to believe this is going to turn into your dumping your anger at your mom onto your half-sister's lap, then you need to save the contact for after you can talk about your mom without all the residual anger coming up to the surface--perhaps after counseling for such.

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Reston, VA: I'm 35 and thinking about starting a family with my husband. It has made evaluate everything in my life in thinking about if I'm ready. One thing seems to keep coming up in my mind, which is that I have surrounded myself with really intense, anxious, and inconsistent, albeit very close, friends. While their intentions are truly good, most are selfish adults who don't have the best grip on reality and are kind of all over the place. I love them, but know during the upcoming ups and downs of starting a family I will need a solid, consistent support system. As I get older, I'm starting to realize I don't really have one, except my husband. I don't really have a solid family or friend support outside of him. Which I feel puts an awful lot of pressure on poor hubby. Is that ok? Should I be as sad as I feel?

Carolyn Hax: Idunno. You chose your friends for a reason, and now that you're changing your priorities, it doesn't seem ... right? realistic? to regard them as disappointments, especially since they haven't actually disappointed you yet.

To be fair, I think you're right to have no expectations of them--but I think all friends deserve that favor in these circumstances. Not to make this a you're-all-you've-got theme day, but no one has any right to go into the baby-making business with expectations of a support system. You can count grandma and grandpa, and then they can find out they're physically not up to it for whatever reason. You can count on friends who have small kids, too, but they can be overwhelmed themselves, or your kids won't get along, or whatever.

Since you never know how it's going to turn out, the best resource you can line up for your family-to-be is the ability to locate resources when you need them. Anticipate that you'll need resources beyond your husband, and be ready to ask people for ways to find them.

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WDC for the third time: I do think that part of the difficulty in speaking my mind comes from the fear that if I do, and my boyfriend thinks my request/complaint/feeling is unreasonable, etc - that he'll leave me - which I KNOW would be, in the long-term, a good thing if my true self didn't match his idea of what I am. But I do think that is, in part, what holds me back.

Carolyn Hax: That is absolutely, emphatically, arm-flailingly and unto itself an argument for forcing yourself past the fear. The right person for you will handle your truth. Speak your mind, please, and give yourself over to the miracle of self-selection.

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San Francisco: my problem isn't holding things inside or avoiding confrontation exactly. The problem is that I find it hard to have any kind of emotional conversation without losing my composure and crying. Got any advice for keeping the tears in check so they don't get in the way of productive dialogue?

Carolyn Hax: Prepare your listener for them, explain that they will come and they're reflexive and so you can't stop them but they will go away if you two just keep talking.

Because they will go away if you keep talking. It's just overflow emotion that you have to allow to spill over.

I realize this doesn't help much if you're talking to your boss, but if it's just a friend or a mate or your mom, there's no reason you can't blubber-snarfle-quaver your way to a productive dialogue.

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nice vs. doormat: Why do people equate being "nice" with being a doormat? It's hardly nice. It breeds anger, contempt, loathing of self and others, unhappiness, etc.

The old 'nice guys finish last' thing it bull, too. NICE guys do pretty well. Spineless guys get used. (Women, too.)

Just being rant-y, but I'm noticing the "nice" trend.

Carolyn Hax: If you cried as you said that, then I'd stand and clap.

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Clueless, MO: Re: Kansas City, and others similar, can you help me understand why some people feel a need to shock someone else they don't even know, after 25 years in this case, simply because they are "half-siblings?" I just don't understand the motivation -- is it more than curiosity, especially with possible consequences of shaking their worlds? And for what?

FWIW, I have 4 half-siblings who are 10-16 years younger than me, and continue to want to "stay in touch" although I barely know them at all, and live on the other side of the country. Not that they are bad people, but we are VERY different, and I can't imagine what good it would do for either side to be "in touch." Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--I really appreciate the other side. It's a reminder that anyone who is deciding whether to make this kind of contact not only has to consider that the contact might be unwelcome, but also that it needs to be reciprocated to be pursued any further. You reach out, you back off.

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Alexandria: I sit here ready to go back for another year of law school, but find myself feeling incredibly alone and unfulfilled. Most of my friends from college have gone their separate ways, gotten engaged/married, gotten used to me being elsewhere, and moved on. I'm in my mid-20s and I feel like I've accomplished nothing. A terrible bout of depression kept me from really engaging in anything substantial in college and these days, the things which used to interest me no longer do. Maybe people are just better at faking interest at what they do than I am, but if you told me when I was 15 this was what my life was going to look like, I'd have been shocked. I just don't know what to do. I'm tired of a life unlived.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you're still in treatment for the depression, at minimum having someone you talk to who can monitor your condition.

As for the lives your friends are living, I wouldn't put too much stock in appearances. People are up, people are down, many are both at the same time--but few are letting it all play out in full view. That's why looking over your shoulder at others is but one small way to assess your place in life; it's just too unreliable to be useful.

Your life is what matters, and if it doesn't resemble what you had in mind, join the club. Depression can certainly affect both your ability to enjoy the moment and your ability to see where that moment is leading, so you need to be careful to weigh your impressions for the depression effect.

And I would also suggest taking steps to inoculate yourself against it. If you're healthy enough for it, find time for exercise. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Slowly, one move at a time, start looking around for fulfilling new things you can do with your time. If nothing appeals to you, try do-gooding just so you get the buzz of doing good. And so on.

And finally, give yourself a credible narrative for where you are in life right now. It's not a place of no progress or substance, it's a place of temporary immersion in something generally unpleasant for the purpose of reaching a goal. It's not failure to bloom, it's a bloom of delayed gratification. If your concern is that the gratification will never come, get technical and do some homework on your possibilities after school. Having a steeple to chase, even if you end up changing your goal later, can do so much when you're feeling a little lost.

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McLean, VA: I'm impressed with your stamina today, Carolyn. You've answered a lot of questions with really lengthy answers! You deserve some sangria. (I do too, but for different reasons.)

Carolyn Hax: No no, the stamina is all yours--thanks everybody for being patient with all the complex (convoluted?) answers. Wound up down the rabbit hole today. Anyway, thank you, and I'll type to you not next week--I'm off--but Aug. 29. Happy sangria.

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Boston, MA: So to follow up with the theme of the day - what do you do if your emotional response is crying (stress from not feeling you're doing well on an assignment, whatever) and the discussion IS with a senior colleague or boss?

Carolyn Hax: Ooh wait, just saw these ... (your answer is coming in another post):

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For San Fran: I'm a cryer too. I have cried at every job I have had. I cry when I have deep conversations or confrontations. I cry when I am really happy. I cry when I am sad. Like Carolyn said, for me, it is just emotion overflow. I used to try to stop my tears out of embarrassment. I would end up hyperventilating. Not good.

If you just let the tears come and don't try to stop them, you will be surprised at how supportive people are for you. When I have cried at work, it is usually because I am passionate about something. I usually say something like, "I'm sorry about the tears, it's just that this means so much to me." It's not even close to an everyday thing (that would be extreme). But, my supervisors have said, hey, she got emotional. She really cares. Be strong in those tears. They can work to your advantage. They are a part of who you are, so let them come and have them work for you.

In relationships, it's the same thing. Explain to your SO that you are crying because you care. Take time to let them out. Take a deep breath. And then say what you want to say. It's amazing how taking ownership of your tears will set you free.

Carolyn Hax:... to the point where you might even cry less. (On the theory that trying not to cry just makes the tears come faster.) Thanks, and bye fer real.

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