DEAR CAROLYN: My husband's family is super dramatic — constantly fighting or talking about one another or dissecting the fight between other family members. For me this is grounds for staying away, but they just keep on gathering while complaining about one another. My husband is not much of a participant and we do keep our distance, but sometimes he gets caught up in it and I can't escape when I'm with them. How to cope other than to yell that I think they are all royally [messed] up and should stop interacting at all if this is the best they can do?
IN-LAW: Well, that's one opinion. They apparently think otherwise.
I'm with you, but it's not our call.
As long as their drama merely annoys you versus causing you harm, then you have the option to just accept this as the channel they're tuned to and to quit hoping they'll put on something more interesting.
That analogy is personal for me: The literal version, a TV on constantly when no one's really watching it, makes me crazy — but it's not actively harmful to me. So when I'm visiting people's homes or stuck in waiting rooms where the TV blares away unwatched, I put up with it. I want the people in my life or I need the appointment, so I manage.
You want your husband in your life and he wants his family in his life, and he seems to have escaped the worst of these tendencies himself, and you're already limiting your exposure to them, so … you can decide to go Zen on the dysfunctional reality show they leave blaring all day during your infrequent visits.
This solution may seem inadequate to the task, but it's a deceptively big emotional step to take — to decide to give up on vindication, on ever being proven right about this family or effective at fixing them.
If you're feeling ambitious: The surest way to eliminate frustration is to learn to want what you already have, so make it your goal — the plot of your own inner reality show — to find things to like. The rich anthropological material, perhaps, if you can't find anything else.
HI, CAROLYN: I have to make a difficult decision between moving away for a new job, which means big upheaval but a great job, and staying here to get an advanced degree and telework with a new company. This could be OK, but has a lot of unknowns. I am so torn my stomach is in knots, and I have to make a decision soon. Any advice on how to approach this? My current job is somewhat toxic.
STRUGGLING: When careful research shows neither option is clearly superior, that could be the definition of a tough decision — or the opposite. If neither is clearly right, then neither's clearly wrong.
So why not treat both as good options? Flip a coin, read your feelings, go with it.
Life is complicated, we can't see the future, and we certainly can't see the alternate realities we would be living if we hadn't made this or that faulty choice. There's only: 1. What we choose; 2. What we actually get; 3. How we handle it. Save your strength for No. 3, where the real work of contentment gets done.