I am 44 years old, and I have never been able to hold a job for more than two weeks. I have tried doing more things than I could ever list; my resume is more than 37 pages long. Therapy is a joke: All any therapist wants to hear about is how much I hate my parents — which I do not. I don’t want handouts; I want to work for my meals and a roof over my head. I am running out of employers who will hire a middle-aged dummy. I don’t know where to turn or what to do.
— Help wanted
You have taken the first step: You have acknowledged that you are the common denominator. This takes a lot of self-awareness and courage and immediately precludes the possibility that you are truly a dummy. You may indeed have a limited attention span, a limited skill set or limited social skills. You are also probably so far down the path of self-fulfilling prophecy that there is no reason even to apply for a new job until you are closer to understanding why you are determined to fail.
Saying that therapy is a joke is the equivalent of saying that all food tastes the same. There are as many brands of therapy as there are varieties of restaurant. I recommend seeing an expert in behavior modification: someone who can help you get past the first two weeks of a new job without sabotaging yourself; someone who can help talk you through strategies for how to avoid repeating past behaviors. If employers are willing to hire you — and with a 37-page resume they clearly are — they can’t all be wrong.
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A friend of mine is going through her second divorce. Every time I start a conversation about how to avoid a third divorce she blames her problems on her parents’ failed marriage and on her childhood. Short of taking her by the shoulders and shaking her silly, is there an appropriate response?
— Friend of the divorcée
No doubt your friend was profoundly affected by her childhood — as children have a habit of being — and by her parents’ failed marriage. If she is old enough to have two divorces under her belt, one would hope that she is old enough to assume responsibility for her own choices — and her own mistakes. That reckoning, however, has nothing to do with age. Some people never learn to stop blaming others for the mistakes they themselves have made. Your best bet is to begin by sympathizing with your friend. Ultimately you will need to nudge her toward the realization that she, and she alone, is in charge of her own destiny. If you fail in that mission, take comfort in knowing that your friend has many kindred spirits in the world.
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My parents were divorced more than 13 years ago, and both are happily remarried. Their divorce was bitter, and they never saw or spoke to each other after it was finalized. My brother and I would like them to make peace so that we can celebrate our family occasions in the presence of both of our parents. Is it fair of us to ask them to kiss and make up?
— Hoping for parental peace
It doesn’t matter how old you and your brother are, the phrase “for the sake of the children” still applies — perhaps more now than ever. If both of your parents are in fact happily remarried to other people, it is more than reasonable for you to ask them to leave their bitter past behind. No one is suggesting that they become best friends — or vacation together. Expecting them to kiss and make up may even be a stretch. However, it is perfectly reasonable to ask — if not insist — that they mellow, mature and move on, momentarily. You may need to remind them that they are the grown-ups and you are the children, and that it is time for them to start acting their ages — and assuming their joint parental roles.
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