Dear Carolyn:

So I just got into yet another argument with my mother. I have capably lived on my own for the 10 years I've been out of college. Yet every time we talk, she inevitably says something that leaves me feeling like a 5-year-old, and I in turn am admittedly rather snotty with her.

She of course is hurt, and when I've tried to explain why I get snappish, she doesn't see it. She doesn't feel she is treating me poorly or that her freaking out because I mentioned that I gained a pound or two is wrong. (Caveat: I used to be REALLY fat.) Aside from not talking to her at all, I don't know what to do!

The Mother of All Problems

Besides not acting like a 5-year-old?

It's good you can admit your snottiness, but surely you can go one better and put a lid on it entirely, instead of indulging the urge and then "explaining" -- aka defending -- it later.

That's no way to treat your mom, and you aren't doing yourself any favors, either. You resent her saying things that diminish your confidence and adult pride, right? So don't you think your mom, as well as your confidence and adult pride, would be better served by your saying honestly, "Mom, I feel diminished when you say things like that"?

True, she might still act all wounded; you picked up your snap-habit somewhere. This is, after all, classic family stuff. But at least she'll get information about your feelings that she can process later, instead of just a verbal kick in the chops. Then you can bring up the larger subject of the way you two communicate -- also later, when you're calm.

Or, you can not bring it up. Ten years into your independence, you have not only the awareness that mom-bombs will fly but also the power to duck them. That has to feel better than exploding every time.

Dear Carolyn:

A few months ago, my girlfriend broke up with me, saying she needed to "experience" more of college life (i.e., get drunk three nights a week and not be held accountable for whom she goes home with). She's 20 and has a few semesters left; I'm 22, graduated, but live in the area. After we broke up we tried to maintain some type of relationship, but it ended in my telling her to leave me alone, I never want to talk to you again. Now she's telling me she realized her mistake and wants to work it out. I love her to death but I'm skeptical because she's done this before, and I don't think I can handle the ordeal again. Am I an idiot for even listening to her?

Stinktown, USA

Trick question. You can be an idiot for ignoring, believing, tuning out -- in other words, for not listening -- but never for listening. Not if you do it right. In fact, that's exactly what I advise. Listen not just to her words but also to her. I think you'll hear someone you love saying that she got lost while she was trying to find her way and that she'd now like to take shelter in you. But you already know -- she won't find it through you, or through anyone but herself.

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