Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Before complaining about what you don't have, take closer look
Ohio: I am in a large amount of debt from stupid decisions combined with a year of unemployment. I make a very good salary now but have little to spend after I pay my bills. I am on fixed payment plans, and while I will be totally out of debt in four years, I will have basically zero extra money for those four years.
My boyfriend and I had planned to get married, but with my financial situation we aren't going to be able to save up much, and having children is completely out of the question for four years (at which point I will be 30). I guess I am asking how I survive the next four years getting nothing I want and not being able to move forward with my life at all.
Carolyn: Survive? You're in debt, not Haiti.
And who says you're getting nothing you want and not moving forward? You have a job that pays you well, you've found someone you want to grow old with, and it's mutual, you'll be debt-free in four years, and you're all of 26. So, no big vacations or other indulgences, but that's the way most students, nonprofit types, many hourly workers, etc., are living. Your situation is not drastic, it's inconvenient, and to the best of your knowledge it's temporary.
If you have a simple wedding, you'll move forward. If you find ways to travel on a shoestring, you'll move forward. If you learn to cook frugally and healthfully, or to do without things you used to regard as necessary, or scour your area code for free things to do, or pick up yoga by getting DVDs from the library, you'll move forward. And, barring fertility issues, waiting a few years to have kids won't have serious consequences, and might just make you a more mature parent.
To silence a one-upper (and get her goat), let her win some
Louisville: A girl I used to be close friends with has become super-competitive and feels the need to one-up me on everything I say or do. It's become very frustrating to have a simple conversation with her. How do I handle talking to her so I do not encourage her to keep doing this? I do not want to participate in the competition and want to make this clear.
Carolyn: The only way to make it absolutely clear is to decline to return her volleys. Anytime she crows about something, and you find yourself responding with some defense of what you did or said, then stop yourself — mid sentence if need be — and say, "Oh, never mind," then change the subject. You want to respond to one-uppings with "Hey, that's great!" or "Really? I'm so happy for you" and nothing else.
It will probably stick in your throat, since it will feel like rewarding a one-upper, but it's merely a short-term reward. What she really wants — the long-term reward she's after — is attention. Being jealous would give her that attention, as would resenting her success or questioning your own accomplishments.
A breezy "Good for you!" has the great advantage of being a kind response to someone secure, and a deflating response to someone insecure. That's just the right target to hit.