My sister finds something wrong with everything, complaining constantly.
She also expects me to visit her at home and tolerate her dogs barking at me. She never goes anywhere without her dogs and talks to them in a high-pitched whine. She is angry with me approximately half the time. I recommend to her that she take happy pills, to no avail.
Signed, Twisted Sister
People who think more of their dogs than their relatives, are, I’m afraid, more common than we would like to believe. It doesn’t surprise me that a person who finds something wrong with everything would also be pet-obsessed. Dogs are dependent on us (so we feel important) but they are also easily pleased (so we feel successful), while real life is full of complexities that remind us of our unimportance and our failings.
Sisters sometimes remind us of our shortcomings too, hence her constant anger towards you. What can you do if you want to see your sister without having your peace wounded by her barking dogs and high-pitched whine? You can set boundaries, declining to see her with the dogs and coming up with appealing options that can only be enjoyed sans canines. However, if she turns down these proposals, you may have to back off and accept that she isn’t all that interested in maintaining a relationship with you. This is painful, but remind yourself that her decisions may have little to do with how “good” of a sister or friend you are. Some people just don’t have room for us, and we would be wise to learn not to take that personally.
Do not mention happy pills to anyone who hasn’t explicitly asked you for advice on their emotional state. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other—which means she may be perfectly happy with her dogs and her grumpiness, and consider you to be the tragic one for living without either of these essentials.
I joined a coaching group recently that is structured around goals, but I am wondering if something is wrong because I can’t come up with anything to work towards. I recognize that I’m privileged not to have obvious needs slapping me in the face, but that’s part of the problem: I can’t shake the feeling that it’s ungrateful to “go after more” (i.e., set a goal) even if the goal has nothing to do with material gain. Age and experience have shown me that the pleasure of “achieving things,” while lovely, is transitory. Also, given my age, interests and the industry I’m in, it just feels obvious to me that my past opportunities were better than those I am likely to have in my future. …so…why bother? Yet I love seeing the other coaching participants come alive as they talk about pursuing their dreams. How can get back in touch with wanting things again?
Signed, No Dreams
Dear No Dreams,
As readers of Persuasion know, I have a soft spot for melancholic women who think their best years are behind them, who are quietly moping through their days with no expectation of change or new sources of happiness. You don’t mention any broken engagements or crushed hopes — but you still sound, well hopeless. Are you perhaps more demoralized or depressed than you realize? What you state as matter-of-fact truths – that setting goals is incompatible with appreciating what you have, that achievement inevitably rings hollow and interesting opportunities are only for the young – are in fact highly subjective conclusions.
If you were leading a coaching group, would you tell the other participants the same things you are telling yourself? You would not, for you admit to enjoying their enthusiasm, even if — at this moment — you can’t access it yourself. But it is in there. You can come back to life. If you have joined a coaching group, if you are writing to me, you are already trying to come back to life. So it’s not really true that you don’t have a goal; it’s just not as concrete and definable as goals you may have had in the past. Talk to others in your group and listen for the emotion and enthusiasm that’s driving them to go after their dreams. If you’re willing to challenge your “what’s the point” feelings, you may find that opportunities begin to appear, and more importantly, to appeal to you.
Just a note on privilege: If you are the type of privileged person who seeks to deprive your sisters of an inheritance or keep less affluent women from polluting the shades of Pemberley, then yes, you are worthy of satire and need to stop complaining. But I reject the idea that the possession of a fine estate means one loses any right to the possession of fine feelings. Acknowledge your good fortune, do what you can to help others and get on with the ever-so-relatable business of living. My novels would be very short if I assumed those with ten thousand a year or even a mere competency couldn’t possibly have any emotions, problems or family dramas.