While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On the agony of the bombshell:
My mother was movie-star gorgeous and let me know she was disappointed that I didn't measure up.
Eventually, I realized she was indeed both blessed and cursed. I had good women friends where she did not. When she turned about 50, she decided she was losing her looks (she wasn't). Although she was smart, funny, capable, and talented, she saw herself only as beautiful, and pined away. Her life was lived in one dimension.
A long-ago subordinate (a woman; I'm a guy) was an ex-model. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
The comments, backbiting, and sabotage by envious women were disturbing. And unstoppable, at least by me.
Women peers reported that the ex-model spent a remarkable amount of time prior to every meeting in front of a mirror prepping herself, fixing hair and reapplying makeup. While some men viewed her as beautiful, an equal number didn't seem to notice.
In retrospect, I think her life was awful. She must have assumed her career success was dependent on looks, something nonsustainable.
On going to reunions despite a painful school experience (or: Bombshell agony, continued):
I have been to all of my reunions. The 10th was awful - very competitive, still playing the old games. By 20, everyone had seen some hardship and tragedy and was much more forgiving and willing to share the people they had become. By 25, the mellowness was just delicious.
Keep in mind that "it's not over until it's over." One of our "Senior Beauties" came up to me, the class nerd, at a reunion and said, "I always envied you in school." (Me?) "You were admired for your brain, and I was just a pretty face."
Healing is possible, but you have to decide to be a part of it.
On showing concern without dwelling on difficult topics:
Over the years, various members of my extended family have been in counseling for one reason or another. Our code is simple. All parties are in on it ahead of time. The caring family member says to the counselee, "How did it go?" This is code for: "I care about you. I know you are doing something difficult and challenging. If you want to talk about it I'm here." Any answer is acceptable, from a one-word "fine" or "terrible" to a blow-by-blow account of the whole session and the issues addressed.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.