I’m all alone and dealing with friends’ envy | TribLIVE.com
More Lifestyles

I’m all alone and dealing with friends’ envy

Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

I’m single, educated, retired, own a beautiful home in a unique location, am involved in creative pursuits and travel quite a lot. What I don’t have is a spouse or children. I am estranged from my siblings because they are mentally ill — the mean variety who purposely inflict damage to property. I am alone.

I’ve just experienced another friend expressing their jealousy in critical ways — sucking in their breath, mean laughing — over my ability to travel. I don’t brag, or go on and on about experiences. These friends are surrounded by family and love. I’m sure none of them would trade places with me. What can I say to defend/protect myself?

— Alone

I understand your impulse to “defend/protect.” That’s the effect snark tends to have.

But if you acknowledge your friends’ envy as a defense mechanism of its own — and it is — then suddenly what you have is a group of people rushing to defend themselves against each other.

This is such a missed opportunity — to listen, to learn, to understand, to support, to appreciate. Especially so since you’re all supposed to be friends.

I hope you’ll push past this urge to defend yourself and instead, counterintuitively, make yourself more vulnerable: “You’re just joking, I’m sure, but it stings. There are parts of your life/lives I’d kill for.” Or: “I love that I can travel, but that doesn’t mean the reasons I’m free to travel aren’t painful.”

Often the purpose of a response is to shut down further discussion of a topic that’s too painful or overworked — understandably, and the ability to do that is an important skill to have. But it’s not the only response, and it’s not always the necessary one for the moment.

In cases like these, where you’re among friends and where more understanding might actually help — unless you just need nicer friends — please at least try to find a response that prompts further discussion. Think empathy. Think, “Do we always want the one thing we don’t have, or is that just our mind’s way of trying on alternate lives to remind us why we chose our own?”


Dear Carolyn:

My husband recently took a new job in a very demanding industry. His previous job required him to work 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. most days, also some time on the weekends and some very late nights — like, 5 a.m. late. I have gotten quite good at accommodating his schedule, but he frequently complains that he doesn’t have enough time for his friends, and he gets frustrated that I’ve put many possible life changes (well, kids primarily) in a “no-go” column until he has a much different schedule.

I see this job change as an opportunity for him to set some realistic boundaries at his new job, since it’s a bigger company and he has more employees on his team. I don’t think this is unreasonable. However, he seems content just to see how things play out.

Am I being unfair to expect him to set some boundaries with work? Especially before committing to major life changes, like kids? Are there any suggestions you could offer him on setting those boundaries?

— Frustrated Spouse

Reality thinks fairness is hilarious. Expectations, too. And it thinks reasonableness is so cute it could pinch its little cheeks.

If your husband won’t change, then he’s not changing.

No matter how solid the ground you’re on to request changes and set limits until he does.

And if he’s not changing, then you need to accept that as the baseline, then decide from there what you want your life to look like. Sure, you can start by asking him one more time, explicitly, for what you want (no threats, though; coerced change tends not to stick): “I would like you to cut back your work hours, and I would like to have children.”

But if his response to that is something other than either an actual reduction of hours, or a credible, evidence-backed explanation for why it can’t happen now but will happen in X months — which then comes true in X months — then you need to scratch “husband as available parent” off your list of possibilities.

That’s because the only choices you have, ever, are the ones you actually have — and unless something changes, you have an absentee spouse. So your choices are: marriage to absentee spouse, without children; marriage to absentee spouse, with children; ex-marriage to absentee spouse, new life with or without children.

That’s it. And the more you work with the real, the more your expectations make sense.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.