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Dear Annie

Exploring sexuality or avoiding stress?

Dear Annie: I’ve been going through a lot lately, and it’s taken an emotional toll. Among other things, I’m in love with someone I can’t have. My family is a mess, too. My parents should have divorced a long time ago but are still married, probably just to avoid the hassle of splitting up. My brother’s mentally unstable, and while I do absolutely everything I can to support him, that takes a toll on my own well-being.

In my own life, I’ve found myself exploring my sexuality — which is, of course, an important and beautiful part of figuring out one’s identity. I’m having a good time, but I am concerned that I’m using this exploration to cope with the stressful stuff I’m going through. Every day spent without the person I love is full of heartache. Any advice as to how I can tell the difference between positive sexual experiences and sex for the sake of distraction? — Coping Via Sex

Dear Coping: What concerns me here is not just that you might be using intimacy for avoidance but the particular person with whom you’re being intimate, the person with whom you’re in love but “can’t have.” Friend, you are setting yourself up for a world of hurt if you believe you can convince someone to love you back by sleeping with them or by doing anything else: Love is not a matter of convincing.

All that said, the first line of your letter cuts to the heart of the matter — which is that you’ve been going through a lot. Therapy will equip you with tools to replace your unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Editor’s note: “Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.