While Carolyn takes some time off, readers offer their advice, this time on various relationships:
Many years ago I went through a devastating divorce after a long marriage, and my former husband eventually remarried. One day I saw a snapshot of his new wife holding the hand of my precious 3-year-old granddaughter, my first grandchild, at a fair. They were smiling together, obviously having a great time. It went through me like a sword. My first thought was NO! That's MY granddaughter! You WILL NOT have her!
Then I brought myself up and remembered: No child can ever have too much love, and the more people who love her the better. She does not belong to me, or to any other; furthermore, she will love whomever she loves.
Although I sometimes experience the sadness of not getting to share grandparenting joys as I had planned, I vowed not to allow jealousy to rule me nor contaminate my relationship with my granddaughter, who is now grown and married. We love each other deeply. As for the other "grandmother," well, that love continues also, and why not?
Our personal experience was with a grandmother who introduced her grandchildren (two adopted, one biological) to a neighbor and explained that only the youngest was a "real" grandchild; I managed to smile and say, "They all look pretty real to me," causing a little embarrassment to her, but she never said anything like that again. Sadly, though, the oldest child, who was about 6 at the time, never forgot this incident.
A number of friends and I have dealt with the issue of lack of closure and deep hurt after a sudden ending of a heartfelt relationship.
What we learned we must do is extricate the aspects of the relationship that were wonderful to us, and OWN them as deep and important parts of ourselves, and not just about the person who left us.
This makes the aftermath an incredible lesson in learning what we love, how we love. It brings to light parts of ourselves we didn't know were there, some bad, but most very good. It often gives us knowledge about ourselves that is of inestimable value as we go out in new relationships.
I hear so many of my mom friends say similar things that they are way too anxious to ever leave their baby with a sitter. I always wonder if there's a liiiiiiittle bit of vanity going on in these situations as in "No one can take care of my baby as well as I can." And you don't have to get proven wrong if you never test it out.
There are really very few people to whom you owe explanations; bosses and spouses come to mind first, and only for certain circumstances. Examples of a "succinct no" for all others:
"I can't make it."
"I cannot participate."
"I'm not interested."
"I cannot commit to that."
Providing more elaboration only encourages others to start negotiating or, worse, invoke their own objections to your "no" response. Once you start using these simple turn-downs, you'll receive little additional badgering, and you'll have less stress.
Delivering these messages via email and IM/texting is often easier than verbal communications a good place to start for the shy or wavering folks.
My husband is a workaholic (that is who he is, can't change it). The good side of the coin is, I was able to be a stay-at-home mom with our four children, and we have had an amazing life. Yes, he has missed some important things, but he has been able to be there for the kids when it matters.
Sometimes I miss being married to a man who does romantic, thoughtful things. But I'm not, and my husband has many wonderful qualities (the things that really matter!). If I want flowers, I buy some. I also think it is important to do nice things for your partner without strings. I make sure the cars are always up to date on routine maintenance. It's easy for me to do and takes a burden off him.
Ask yourself what you really want. I wanted a safe home, a refuge, a place where all of us could just be ourselves. That is what I made, that is what matters to us.
• Email Carolyn at email@example.com, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.