Dear Carolyn:

My friend thinks all relationships are about power, and she's constantly trying to determine who has the power, she or the other person, and how much -- like life is a series of competitions. She says it comes from her parents' relationship, which, you can imagine, wasn't that happy. So she recognizes she has a problem (her words) and thinks she knows where it comes from, but doesn't feel empowered to change it, doesn't know how, doesn't know what to replace it with, etc.

In some senses all the power business is reflective of a lot of "rules" she has about her life and its interactions, too. So at what point does intellectual recognition translate into emotional change? She got insulted when I told her I thought of her as just "Jen" -- no judgments, no positives or negatives, I accept her for who she is, even with all the power stuff. I told her I would be her first relationship not to have power struggles, and she said (Seinfeldesque), "Not having power struggles is a power struggle." Thoughts?

Mike, Minnesota

That your friend gives me a headache?

All relationships are about power, I'll give her that. On some level, at least. Strength seeks strength and lameness seeks crutches and emotional equals mate best. But eesh. When your primary concern is not with the friend (or mate or co-worker or family member) but with the mechanics between you, that's not a relationship, that's a science project.

In your friend's case, it's also the safe little haven she's built. By dwelling on her parents' misery and "all the power stuff," she neatly talks her way around any real emotional sharing, and therefore intimacy, and therefore risk -- of which she's apparently scared to death. Unfortunately, her "intellectual recognition" is going to remain just that until -- and unless -- she sees it for what it is and summons the guts to discard it. Sad, really. Maybe headache is the wrong ache.

Dear Carolyn:

As I sit here trying to put together the goody bags for my baby's first birthday, I am becoming more and more of a wreck! It's going by too fast. Any advice on how I can slow down time? It's a real bitch how fast life flies by.

Washington, D.C.

Agreed. Which is why you might not want to spend it trying to put together goody bags for your baby's first birthday. The baby won't remember them, guests won't miss them, you're apparently not happy to be making them -- and if you're looking for a way to savor life, eliminating anything that makes you a wreck for no good reason is an excellent place to start. Besides, limited time is best spent living moments, not marking them.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. (Can Thoreau sue if I use that?) Your best days, especially with a baby, will be the ones when you set no goal for yourself but to appreciate the day. Only so many of these will be possible -- bills make sure of that -- but you can bring every day close, if you try.

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