Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here. This week, she welcomes a special guest: Nora McInerny, author of “No Happy Endings” and host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Q. It’s been a year since a breakup with my boyfriend and I still don’t want to date anyone else. We were together for six years and I did not want to break up, and I still feel all the time like he made a mistake. I keep hoping he’ll come around, and I would take him back in a heartbeat. But time goes by and there is no sign of that. I don’t talk about it to anyone because I know I should be “over” it by now. So — how far gone am I? Am I a hopeless case?
You’re only as gone as you think you are. That’s not meant to be motivational fluff, but rather to emphasize this: Continuing to think that something is wrong with you is only going to make you feel worse. Six years is a long time in your life, and there’s no switch to flip to make you over it. But then again, you might need some help reconciling that it is indeed over. The question here is not what you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel, but rather how you deserve to. And seeing someone for counseling could help you feel better faster. A skilled therapist would help you figure out how to find meaning and motivation in the fact that this relationship existed — and ended — in the way it did, and with meaning can come acceptance and moving forward.
When the kids go, what’s left?
Q. Our second and last child is going to college in the fall and I am finding myself without direction. This coincides with a new phase in my husband’s career, and he couldn’t be more excited. I, however, worked a part-time job all these years that I didn’t care much about but which allowed me to do the playdates and carpools and be around my kids a lot. I know that the empty-nest thing is real, but I feel something deeper here — more like terror that I will feel so empty and lonely and have nothing to occupy me. It is putting a lot of distance between me and my husband because he just doesn’t understand.
This is an important, complex transition in your life, and it makes sense that it’s bringing up deep feelings and anxiety. There is a lot of room, though, to turn it into an opportunity rather than make it solely a loss (though reckoning with the loss is important too). This is a chance to get to know yourself again, carve out new senses of purpose, find new directions that bring interest and engagement, and even to reach new layers of intimacy with your husband — if you and he are willing to try. Talk to him, and keep talking. Help him understand if he doesn’t seem to. Search out and talk to others going through this, too. Consider talking to a therapist — not because there is anything in you that needs fixing, but rather because this is a chance for you to gain insight and carve out your next path. And I’m betting you could use the chance to have your feelings validated as well.