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Asking Eric: Friends act like moving away is disappearing

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Welcome to “Asking Eric,” a new daily advice column by R. Eric Thomas, which replaces Amy Dickinson’s “Ask Amy.” You can read her last column here.

Dear Eric: I’m 33 years old and my parents are in their 60s, close to retirement age. They are also full-time caregivers to my disabled younger brother. They have asked that I move back into their house to assist them, as my job is remote and I am the only one of my siblings with this ability.

While this will offer many benefits, including spending more time with my brother, helping my aging parents, saving money instead of paying crushing D.C. rent and giving me the opportunity to move ahead financially for the first time in my life, my friends treat this as if I’m moving away forever and will essentially cease to exist.

How do I communicate to my friends that this kind of isolating language and sentiment is distressing without confirming their assumptions on what this life change means for me?

Helper: What you’re doing is admirable and practical, but it sounds as if your friends are too self-involved to see that. I feel bad for their families when the time comes to lend a hand and for you in the present for having to put up with their comments. There is more to life than the glitz and glamour of the District of Columbia, darling!

One tactic is vulnerability — try telling your friends “this is the best option for me. I’m proud to do it. When you make comments like that it makes me think that you don’t want me to do what’s best for my family. As a friend, I’d like you to work on supporting me so that we can have a relationship going forward.”

That said, are your friends really a good audience for your vulnerability? I suspect they may not have the emotional maturity for it. Making a life change like this can be daunting and scary, but it also allows you the chance to reevaluate your priorities. Is maintaining friendships with people who don’t see the value in saving money and supporting your family something you want to do? Maybe there are diamonds in the rough — people who don’t quite get it because they haven’t been asked to make the same choice, but who can still add value to your life. Try a proactive approach. Think through the ways you want to remain in their lives and redirect any isolating language into a conversation about how you are all going to work toward maintaining the friendship when you’re gone. Friendships, like any relationship, aren’t one-sided. Do you want to stay in the group chat? Are you hoping to come back and visit at certain times of the year? Do you want them to visit you? You can make these asks now, and then make a plan together.

This period will change your relationships and, sadly, your friends may be showing how wedded they are to a certain kind of lifestyle and a certain kind of proximal relationship. Better to know it in advance. Also know that you’re not throwing away your good life. You’re making choices you believe in. People who are worthy of your time will cheer on your choices.

Dear Eric: I am 54 and have to start looking for a job again due to outsourcing. My previous job was part time. Now I have this fabulous full-time job opportunity. However, my friends and family think full time will mentally break me. I feel I’m up to the challenge. What should I do?

Ready: Ask them why they think this way about your working full time. It would be different if one person was expressing reservations, but since you’re hearing this from friends and family, perhaps you should give their concerns some credence. They may have insight into your life or behavior that’s illuminating for you, even if it’s hard to hear. They may also misunderstand the truth of your situation. A conversation about why you’re excited about this job and why you feel ready may help change their minds.

After you’ve heard what they’re thinking, if you decide to keep pursuing the job, ask them whether they’d be willing to help you succeed. What are the ways that having full-time employment might create more stress for you or drain your energy? Are there ways that those who care about you can lighten the load of full-time work? What about warning signs of mental break? Ask them whether there are behaviors or symptoms that would raise an alarm for them, then set up a protocol for them to communicate that alarm. You’ll want to be able to address whatever they’re seeing and protect yourself from outside stressors and work overload.

Sometimes, our support systems can see things we don’t, and they can also help us achieve things we wouldn’t be able to accomplish on our own. Make use of your friends and family and take their advice with curiosity, confidence and openness. Good luck!

(Send questions to R. Eric Thomas at eric@askingeric.com or P.O. Box 22474, Philadelphia, PA 19110. Follow him on Instagram and sign up for his weekly newsletter at rericthomas.com.)

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