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Posted on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Woman feels life is unraveling and doesn't know where to begin to recover

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I'm entering my late 30s, and feel like I'm about to take a giant step back. My marriage is collapsing, and I'm struggling to cope with close but long-distance friends who have stable (even happy!) marriages, babies or kids, etc. I don't want to avoid or lose those friends, but my heart is breaking as things unravel around me and I realize I will most likely never have a biological child. Every announcement I get, every card or gift I buy and send, every ultrasound profile picture on Facebook (really? anyone wanna see my spleen?) ... they are constant reminders that other people are living their lives, moving forward, and I'm not.

I feel a growing distance between where I'd like to be and where I am, and it's starting to consume me. Past counseling hasn't been particularly helpful, and while I'd be willing to try again, I'm not sure where to start. Hubby still wants to stay together, but I don't want to be tempted to stay just so he can be a sperm donor. Not fair to any of us. So where do I begin getting on with what looks to be a single, child-free, family-free, and maybe even old-friend-free life?

-- No do-overs

That's a lot of gratuitous freight to add to a situation that's heavy enough on its own.

Life is not some kind of train that you can miss, or fall off and never get on again. You're having marriage problems and you need to deal with them -- head-on is the path of fewest regrets -- but that's all they are, marriage problems. They're not whole life problems, or timeline problems -- and your friend's successes aren't your failures.

Heck, you don't even know they're successes, unless you can see their worlds through their eyes.

Just because they're on the timeline you wish you were on, that doesn't mean their lives are perfect. They have crap of their own, both arising from their marriages and kids and in spite of them. There are joys and agonies in lives of all kinds, it's just that the family breed of joy has greeting-card opportunities attached. That's it.

So work on your marriage, full-bore. The rest will be OK. You'll be OK.

--0-- --0-- --0--

For "Do-over":

I'm 39. About three years ago, my wife had an affair, and our marriage ended. I lost my job in the recession. Then I had a life-threatening illness I'm only just recovering from.

This may not help much, but there's nowhere to go but up. You'll have survived the worst that life can throw at you. And most importantly, you can still -- if need be -- find your own happiness. My life now is more like it was when I was 22, not 32, but I'm making progress and determined to find my happy ending. It's not going to end like the state it was in previously, that's for sure. Hang in there. Get some therapy (with a new therapist; sounds like you didn't connect with the one you had). It helps.

-- Anonymous

Thanks for the thoughtful words.

I highly recommend a happy middle, too, not just a happy ending. The middle accounts for most of our lives.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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