Problem: Help Me Become a Non-Pathetic Empty Nester

Our advice columnist to the rescue

Our only child will be leaving for college in the fall. She is easing the transition by going out constantly and refusing to help us with the DVR, saying it’s time we become more independent. Please tell me: What’s next? How do my husband and I keep from becoming pathetic old people who talk baby talk to the dog? What will this do to my marriage? My job requires me to be in touch with what’s going on in the culture, but my own personal youth consultant is leaving me. Please don’t mention how much sex we can have now. Please.

— E.Y., Bethesda, Md.


Dear E.Y.,

The desolation engendered by the departure of your child for college can be profound, particularly when you rely on that child to translate the world around you. When I need to know the meaning of words like “turnt” and “ratchit,” I have more or less accessible sources of information. But these trustworthy sources of slang now believe that the world outside their home holds attractions more alluring than helping their father manage his iTunes account.

Until the arrival of a grandchild, hobbies will be crucial. Marijuana and board games are two options. Many couples begin to realize that their new freedom has redeeming features. Which brings me to the subject you don’t want me to mention: In many ways, the empty-nest years resemble the newlywed, pre-kids years. Sex at unusual times and in unsuitable rooms has its appeal. An empty house can mean exciting kitchen sex. (This is not something I would engage in personally, because of my fear of blenders.) Once, your goal was to prevent your offspring from having sex in the basement. Now you can try it yourself! You may need pharmaceutical intervention to achieve what formerly occurred spontaneously, but this will not be the worst humiliation. The worst humiliation will occur when you try to mimic a Cialis commercial and end up breaking your hip in a claw-foot bathtub.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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