Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared on Sept. 19, 2003.
Carolyn: How do you know what to keep within a relationship and what to tell your friends? I have a habit of going to other people first and then going to my boyfriend when I am frustrated with him. I know this is not constructive, I know that I unjustly fear his rejecting me, but how do I overcome that nagging thought that he will? Therapy, been there, doing that.
Dear J.R.: Go to your boyfriend first.
That’ll be two dollars, please.
You’ve tried the warm-fuzzy solution (talking to friends) and the expensive solution (going to therapy) and the long-shot solution (writing to me), and unless you want to stop passersby on the street to complain about your boyfriend, you’re running out of ways to “solve” your problem without actually facing it.
When you are frustrated with your boyfriend, you talk to your boyfriend. When you are afraid he’s going to reject you, you talk to him anyway.
Doing this will: kick your blab habit; conquer your fear of rejection (worst case, you get rejected for being yourself, far better than being loved for faking it); and render your what-to-tell question moot. That’s because functioning relationships don’t leave you a whole lot to whine about with other people.
This isn’t to be mistaken for biting your tongue around the girls. It is understood between trusting, well-adjusted partners that you both have the right to speak freely, as long as truly private (read: potentially embarrassing) matters remain so.
I’m talking about a habit, verging on second nature, of opening yourselves to each other to the extent that unresolved stuff becomes scarce. Have problem; raise problem with partner; discuss problem; fix problem if fixable, or change expectations if not; or break up if you fail at the first two; drop issue.
Granted, not a whole lot of relationships — friendships included — actually function this cleanly. I suspect that isn’t because they can’t, but because we’re too afraid to do the one thing they require, which is to say what we really think.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.