I am a 65-year-old active woman who still works. I play tennis several times a week and have a loving relationship with my kids. I know with certainty that I have many good things in my life. However, since my sister died last year, I have been having second thoughts about a lot of the decisions I have made over the years – especially regarding relationships and my choice of jobs.
I realize now that more than a few of my decisions were based on low self-esteem, although I don’t come across that way. I’m feeling depressed and lonely, and it’s hard to be positive. I feel like my world is shrinking, and I don’t know how to get back on track and be a positive and happy person again. As it is, I’m faking it with my children, and my friends have no idea how I really feel. How do I improve my life at this late stage?
in San Diego
One way would be to be more honest with your friends and fake it less. If they are good friends, they’ll be willing to listen and give you an honest perspective or the benefit of their life experience. That’s what friends do for each other.
You are lucky to be vital and active, because it means your world doesn’t have to shrink any more than you want it to. Because you say you’re lonely, perhaps it’s time to consider enlarging your circle of acquaintances.
The loss of your sister is probably what started your re-evaluation of your life and choices, and that’s normal. But please remember that regret is the cancer of life. You can’t change the past, and you mustn’t allow it to cloud your future. While you may be having second thoughts about choices you made when you were younger, the lessons you learned from them have made you the person you are today.
I think our culture is severely lacking when we don’t teach our children how to politely and non-aggressively stand up for themselves when the need arises. People suffer in all sorts of relationships – work, family, friends – because they’re afraid of confrontation. Raising a subject that may be embarrassing and risking angering someone isn’t fun, but it’s communication.
If you have a problem, large or small, address it in private with the individual. And if someone tries to talk to you about something you’d rather not hear, be an adult, listen and respond civilly instead of reacting childishly.
We teach children to respect authority, be kind to others and be leaders – but we don’t teach them healthy confrontation, which is something we all encounter in our lives.
– Talking Out
Dear Talking Out,
I agree with you. The kind of communication you’re describing is a skill. It requires not only a strong ego on the part of the “confronter,” but also tact and diplomacy. And the “confrontee” needs to have the ability to listen without responding with hostility to what is being said.
In my university classroom, students place their feet on chairs, teachers lecture while sitting on their desks, and the dean of the school herself sits atop her desk and places her feet on a chair in front of her. Please tell me that this is not OK!
– Proper in Washington
It appears you come from a generation or culture in which the atmosphere has always been quite formal. I can tell you it’s “not OK” if it will make you feel better, but if it’s acceptable to the teacher, the dean and the school, then it’s time for you to loosen up.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.