(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Columnist

Dear Carolyn: What do people really want to hear when they ask when my husband and I are going to have children? When I say we don’t plan to, the next question is, why not? Do I tell them it was a tough decision to make and one I find myself struggling with but know to be the right one? That we can barely keep ourselves afloat financially or that we both have trouble keeping cool under pressure and that would be a rough situation for a kid? Or a bunch of other reasons even harder to hear than those?

It’s hard not to feel defensive. Fortunately, it’s not our immediate family asking.

Childless Couple

Childless Couple: We could project what people want to know — I’d guess they’re just making conversation, oafishly — but they know better than we do, so next time just ask them. Literally, “Why do you ask?”

If you can keep the defensiveness out of your voice, that’ll help preempt awkwardness, but it’s not a requirement. There’s something to be said for their knowing they’ve struck nerves, especially if it teaches them not to pry about babies again.

“Why do you ask?” is a rhetorical question, but some people will respond with their reasons anyway; remember, if these were socially skilled people, your uterus wouldn’t be up for discussion in the first place.

But with people who do press on, you’re under no more obligation than you ever were (zero, by the way) to satisfy bystander curiosity. Instead, greet any attempt to prolong the discussion with: “I see. It’s such a personal question that it still catches me off-guard.” This simple, uninflected truth says “butt out” without the combative edge.

And then you can change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation entirely, whatever the circumstances permit.

While I understand feeling defensive, please let yourself off the hook. There is, in fact, only one right decision when it comes to childbearing, and you’ve made it: taking the responsibility seriously. Good for you.

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I live together. He travels for work two to four days per week. When he’s gone I am lonely and depressed. I have asked him to consider a new job where he’s not on the road constantly. He asks me to get off his back and says he’s only trying to make a living. What do I do?

Traveling Joe

Traveling Joe: If he dumps you or dies, then what’s your plan? Find a new man to lean on?

Single-source dependency is misery, be it on a drug or boyfriend or anything else. It means you’re always begging someone for your happiness.

There’s nothing wrong with missing someone, maybe not even someone who wants you “off his back.” But when you have absolutely no resources for living fully in his absence, no friends/books/hobbies/causes/purpose, then you’re not just squandering valuable days of your life. You’re also denying yourself the most profound source of strength: seeing value in yourself, and your time, independent of anyone else.

Such value means you’re not beholden to any one person; you can address your own loneliness, avoid neediness, tell dismissive boyfriends to stuff it.

Please use this week’s solo time to list, seriously, on pen and paper, all the ways you can start taking care of you.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at bit.ly/haxmail.