While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On waiting to get something you've always wanted from life:
When I was single, childless and careerless, a friend said, "What are the things you won't have time for, once relationship/child/job come along? Get busy doing those, and relish them. The day will come when you'll realize what a gift this waiting time was."
So I relished. I hiked, I biked, I sewed, I decorated, I read books, I played music, I danced, I hung out with friends, I cruised thrift stores.
It took a long time for the things on my list to come to me. And now I'm so glad I took the opportunities my "waiting time" gave me - because now, I don't see it as waiting time, but time that I used to enjoy all those things that are now so hard to find time for now.
On the need to live independently before committing to someone else:
My wife grew up in a home with a hypochondriac mother and attended parochial schools. She married her first husband to "get out of the house." He was cleaved to his mother and made her a secondary citizen, slightly above the level of the children. She met me and ultimately left him. We moved in together, and after a couple of years we married and had a son (she had two others previously).
One day she came to me and declared that she wanted a divorce. We did not have significant issues in our marriage; the money and kids were not problems nor were any of the other "usual suspects."
Her explanation: She was turning 40 and, having never "been on her own," wanted to not be tied to anyone (other than the kids, of course).
While I completely understood her predicament and need to explore life on her own, it was the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me. I never saw anything coming; I could not eat or sleep for months and lost about 40 pounds, sacrificed all of my property and assets to benefit the children, and missed out on the day-to-day interaction that I would ordinarily have enjoyed with my son.
Today I am happy she had the courage to do what she felt she needed to do despite the ramifications. We have always maintained a very close and friendly relationship, and our son, now a grown man, is an outstanding young fellow. I would rather she chose this path than have her suffer another 20 years of unhappiness; it would have probably been worse for all of us.
Would things have been different had she gone to college and lived in a dorm? Should she have found a roommate and lived it up? Being a "good" Catholic girl in those days probably precluded that, but the tonic must have worked, for she has remained single and on her own for 20 years now.
After learning the hard way, I believe everyone needs to be on their own when they are young. In college, in the military, traveling, whatever ... get out, meet new and different people, and learn about who you are and what you want to be in life.
•E-mail Carolyn at email@example.com, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.
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