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WWMUD: Should I go back to school?
Plus responding to emotional gaslighting, and saying no to a huge ask
In this special WWMUD issue, I’m previewing the kind of questions and answers you’ll find every week in my subscriber-only advice column. Join today for only $6 a month ($66 for the year) and have access to my newsletter and article archives, mini-podcast episodes of each issue (narrated by me!), comments, subscriber-only chats, and other exclusive features.
Dear MU, I’ve always toyed with the idea of law school, but never committed because I figure I wouldn’t like being a lawyer. But now I wonder if I’m actually just scared of failure. How can I tell if it’s fear or if it’s not the right fit for me? —Elle Woods, maybe?
Your first sentence confuses me, said with love. Despite my dad telling me I was very good at arguing during my teenage years, I’m pretty sure I’d hate being a lawyer. As a result, I’ve never once thought, “Maybe I should go to law school.”
So the obvious question here is, “Why have you toyed with the idea of law school?” If it’s because your parents always pushed you to go, you think the idea of being a lawyer sounds respectable, or the financial potential at the faaar end of the tunnel sounds appealing, but you really have no drive to do lawyer-ing yourself, then you can give up the idea right now. Going back to school is a major financial, energetic, and time commitment. You have to want the destination bad enough to slog through the “journey” part.
If, however, you’ve always dreamed about being a lawyer, and can see yourself happy and successful in your chosen field of law despite the challenges of getting there, that’s a different conversation. Now, you’re down to the practical—do I want to invest the time and money, am I willing to start from the bottom again, and yes, what’s my back-up plan if I get through school and decide I don’t like the hours, the environment, or the work? That’s a very normal and reasonable fear to have, but it’s fear of the unknown, not a premonition.
You won’t know if it’s a good fit until you’re doing it. So now you have to decide whether or not to try.
Dear MU, How do I respond when the guy I’m dating doesn’t recognize his actions or comments have hurt me, even after I’ve tried to share that I’m hurt? —Frustrated
I’m going to assume that you’ve already asked yourself, “Am I just feeling triggered because of my own stuff,” and the answer is no, they’ve actually done or said something harmful. Here’s how I’d start: “I understand that the same comment/action wouldn’t feel hurtful to you, but we’re talking about me. And regardless of your intentions, I’m telling you that what you said/did was hurtful.” Stop there—don’t over-explain or justify. Say nothing, and let him reply.
Even if he doesn’t really get it, if you get an “I’m… sorry?” then you’re getting somewhere, and can continue the conversation. Explaining what they said or did and how you experienced it (and listening to how he experienced it too) can lead to a better understanding of your relationship dynamic. If he continues to be defensive, tell you you’re too sensitive, or insist you “shouldn’t” feel hurt, then the conversation changes: “You don’t get to dictate or minimize my feelings, and it doesn’t feel good that you keep trying to. I need some time to think about how to move forward from here.”
Taking a break from the conversation in the moment—not angrily, but calmly—may give him the space he needs to reflect without defensiveness. It also gives you the space you need to evaluate whether this is a one-off or a pattern, and if you’re willing to tolerate being emotionally gaslighted on the reg, if that’s what’s happening.
Dear MU,my sister asked me if I would take her four kids if she and her husband died. I said no—and my family is furious. with me. I don’t have kids, and I’ve been clear that I never wanted my own. Taking her four kids would be a financial hardship for me. I’m upset that they don’t respect my answer. —Auntie Only
As a parent, just thinking about what would happen to my son if my husband and I both die (which would mean we died traumatically and suddenly) makes me nauseous. No parent want to plan for this, and yet as responsible caregivers, we have to.
Telling your sister clearly that you don’t have the financial or energetic capacity to properly care for her children is the kindest thing you could do for her right now—even if she doesn’t see it that way. It’s a huge responsibility, and even though (God willing) it’s highly unlikely to happen, your sister and her husband deserve to know that their kids will be welcomed enthusiastically and competently into a loving and stable home after their passing. Other than the “loving” part, that’s not you, and they deserve to know that too.
Give it time, because they are likely struggling with who their next choice would be, and what that means for their kids. Don’t press them for understanding or acceptance yet. That would be far more likely to come when they’ve secured other plans and can breathe easy knowing their kids would be well-cared for.
And also, they may never see this as anything other than a supremely selfish act—and you’d have to accept that too. How they respond to your clear, kind boundary is not your business. Try not to get angry or defensive about your decision. Continue to repeat that you could not properly care for their kids, and their kids deserve someone who can be fully prepared for and devoted to their upbringing. Reassure them that you’ll stay in their children’s life and do as much as you can to ensure they feel loved and supported—and that you know this is a horrible thing to even have to think about as parents, and you understand it must be terribly stressful. A little compassion can go a long way here.
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Melissa Urban has been helping people set and hold boundaries since 2009 (the earliest days of Whole30), and is absolutely not a therapist. If you have a question for WWMUD, email email@example.com or reply to this email. Open to Subscribers only; Founding Member questions take priority, so please identify yourself as such in your email!