Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, August 10)

Aug 10, 2012

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, August 10 at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody. Had a little trouble signing in today but all seems to be well now.

As I mentioned earlier this summer, August is complicated for me this year, and I am going to be off again next week. I don't like taking Fridays off so close together, but it's just how things fell.

I thought you went too easy on the woman in Wednesday's column who berates her husband for looking at porn, throws away or deletes his porn, and withholds sex when he doesn't knuckle under to her demands. That's controlling behavior, with more than a hint of self-righteousness about it. She claims his use of porn "hurts me," but it doesn't, not in any material or objective way, unless you count challenging her fantasy that a married man will never look at or fantasize about another woman. She complains that he hides the porn, but that's essentially what she told him to do with her behavior; one could argue it was the respectful response, which she in turn disrespected by going looking for it. (Unless he's really bad at hiding it, in which case it's his fault for being sloppy. Or maybe it's a quiet "f you" to her abusive behavior. Yes, I said abusive.) Imagine if it were something that didn't bear the social freight of porn, and she were ferreting out and discarding, say, his comic books or his sports magazines. I think in that case most people would say the problem was pretty unequivocally hers.

But it is porn, not figurine-collector magazines, so there's more to it than "social freight." In fact, I got slammed by a few people who thought I went way too easy on the husband, who they argued was a sex addict in need of treatment.

I also heard from people who were grateful that I was fair.

Once all those tallies were in, the conclusion I drew was that these comments were less about me and my answer than they were about the writer's position on porn.

I think both halves of this couple are in a longtime, co-dependent rut that's rooted in their own need to justify what they believe, and that they do to support that belief. Throw in a few signs of old-school thinking (that men are dogs, and good women keep thoe canine impulses in check), and you have a 20-plus year marital battle. It would be great if they were both willing to get counseling and, more important, willing to challenge their own positions, but I'm not optimistic.

Twenty plus years ago, my husband and I used to be good friends with another couple. We grew apart over time, with different values and child rearing philosophies. After they treated our son and me extremely rudely (not me being oversensitive, my husband agreed) at a gathering about 15 years ago, we stopped seeing them. Periodically the guy would get in touch, trying to sell things to me professionally. About a year ago, he and my husband reconnected. They have similar musical tastes and have fun going to shows together - cool. However, the guy keeps wanting us to get together as couples. I have absolutely no interest in doing so - by the time we originally ended the friendship, I really found them repugnant. My husband and I are both fine with things as they are, but the guy keeps asking, and it's gotten really awkward for my husband to keep putting him off. He's said that I have to work so often that the guy asked if we were separated. It seems unfair that my husband has to be in this awkward position or tell them the truth, when I'm the one with the issue. So, do I suck it up and see them, or is there a good way for him to tell them that while he would like to continue to be friends, I prefer not to join in?

"I would like to continue to be friends, but my wife prefers not to join in." No?

I hope it was just a technical snafu and everything is okay with you and your family. Take care, looking forward to today's chat.

Thanks for your concern. Last Friday was a day off I knew was coming back in May or June, so I don't know why it went up as a cancellation; maybe it's to indicate that there's no transcript, so people won't write in asking why it isn't there.

Dear Carolyn, I am nearly 17 years old but no guy has ever been interested in me. Most girls my age have at least had their first kiss. I have only had one or two friends that were guys, and very distant ones at that. I think myself to be moderately attractive, I am #1 student in my high school class and very hard working. I don't have much of an outgoing personality, but I don't completely lack social skills either. I am one of those people who was a few close friends, but not very close or very many. I am more of a loner, but I still make an effort to be friendly. I honestly don't know whats wrong with me. Sincerely, Confused

Nothing, probably. The way you describe yourself, you sound like a perfectly normal, healthy introvert. A smart one at that. Add those two and it's not at all unusual that you'd take a little longer to form the kinds of relationships that don't come naturally* to you. The best thing you can do is accept yourself the way you are, give yourself time, and direct whatever effort you put into this toward getting to know more guys as friends, the more non-threatening the circumstances, the better--say, in your better classes, where you likely feel in your element, or a summer job, where you have both proximity and relatively equal status with your fellow summer employees.

Why does the "smart" matter? Overthinking, usually, plus there's the intimidation factor. A girl who sits at the top of the class and sticks to a couple of close friends can be very intimidating to approach. Not that this is bad or necessarily what's going on with you; it's just a common set of circumstances. 

*I realize I'm assuming the doesn't-come-naturally part, but a smart introvert who has, say, a pile of brothers might feel comfortable around boys and have no trouble getting dates. (Often, in that case, she'll have trouble making close female friends, for the same reasons you're  a late entry in the first-kiss derby.)

Hi Carolyn! What is the best way to deal with parents of unruly children who do nothing to stop the undesirable behavior? The children inflict bodily harm on others and put themselves in very dangerous situations. Limiting my time with the family is part of the solution, but there are times where my children and I absolutely have to be around them. I am not worried about me, but I am worried about the safety of my two young girls. For the hour and a half I am forced to socialize with the family do you have any words of wisdom on how to address the behavior of the kids?

Why can't you say to the parents, "When your kids do X, I fear they're going to hurt my girls"? If it's a legitimate fear based on witnessed behavior and non-exaggerated risks, then it takes priority over playing nice with these parents.

OK, so close friend has decided to give it another try with the loser boyfriend (drugs, limited employment, lack of emotional maturity) she broke up with five years ago when she fell in love with Loser Boyfriend No. 2 (drugs, limited employment, lack of emotional maturity ... yes, there's a pattern). She asked for my thoughts -- knowing what they would be -- and I told her, honestly, but not cruelly, ending with, "You're old enough to make your own decisions." She, of course, ignored that advice and is pursuing this relationship. Bad idea? Yes. My responsibility? Nope. Here's my question: At some point, if they stay together, I will probably meet him. It is not my job to judge, so of course I will be civil. But I'm really not a good enough actress to fake a "sincere" "Hey, it's so great to meet you!" that I really don't feel. And, "Hey, aren't you the guy who totally screwed her over five years ago?!?! Oh, my gosh, how the heck have you been?!?!" doesn't seem quite appropriate. So, any suggestions on how to handle interacting with someone you know isn't a good influence for someone you care about but, nevertheless, is around?

1. "Hello, I've heard so much about you."

2. You do realize it's your close friend who's the bigger problem, right? Someone with her pattern has emotional issues as serious as those of the men she dates, if not worse. When she has asked for your thoughts, have you ever said, "I think it would be a good idea for you to consider counseling, because these men may have good hearts, but they're so obviously troubled that your seeking them out concerns me"?

I can relate to this from the other side, and completely agree with Carolyn. The husband of a friend of mine doesn't want to see me at all since something happened some time ago (details not relevant). My friend was very honest with me, and things are just fine. We simply meet without the husband and there are no hard feelings other than the husband not wanting to talk to me.

Your friend did the right thing (yes, I completely agree with me, too), but I hope you realize you helped make this work by taking the bad news like a grownup and not making the truth-teller pay. Nicely done.

Why can't people understand that two people can be friends without including their spouses? I had a friend but the husband was so boorish to the point I ended our friendship when we couldn't get together without him.

Hm. Maybe your friend did understand, but her husband's boorishmess extended beyond what you saw--namely, he made it so unpleasant for her to remain your friend without him that she gave up.

Not defending that, obviously, just splainin.

My friend's husband is obnoxious and offensive. I've been friends with friend and her family for almost five years and I'm out of serenity. I just want to leave now, but our lives are entangled. I feel like a heel waiting out mutual obligations to make my exit, but I don't see any good of telling them what's going on. My friend will just see one more person denigrating her husband. (She seems happy and she's repeatedly assured me that she's happy with him.) Her husband generally gets defensive and is unable to admit fault. Does waiting a couple weeks and then pulling quiet, gradual exit make me a coward? (No, it's not really possible to see the friend without her husband.)

This isn't a theme chat, I swear; I noticed this question early in the session but am just getting to it now.

But the precedent is helpful: I think the best thing you can do is tell your friend you value her greatly and know this is a sore subject with her, but you'd prefer not to be around her husband due to some things he has said/done lately. (Specific ecamples required.) Say you'll understand if she can't do this, though you'll miss her if that's the case.

That is, if you really mean it that you plan to vanish on her at your first opportunity. Truth-telling sounds kinder, as unkind as it will feel.

Sorry for the delay; kid-injury timeout. Just a flesh wound, he'll be fine, but a trip for stitches means I've just lost my child care and may have to interrupt the chat here and there.

(This was not one of the anticipated August disruptions.)

 

Hi Carolyn. The boyfriend and I broke up just the other week. I completely agree that it was the right thing to do because we needed and wanted different futures. But I cry every day! I was crazy about him and miss his company, but I don't want to get back together. What can I do to help my heart catch up to my head in getting over this?

Hearts are notoriously resistant to help with these things. Which is the great thing about hearts--if they could just switch themselves on and off, what would be the point?--even though it doesn't feel great now.

Best thing I can suggest is to give yourself time to cry. If you don't force yourself into a million distractions, then your cry phase will run its course naturally, the tears will taper off, you'll even get sick of them, and you'll surprise yourself by finding you have room for other feelings again. There's just no substitute for time. I'm sorry.

I love my job. It's the closest thing I can imagine to a dream job, in a highly selective industry where positions exist in only a few cities in the country. My husband does not particularly love his job, although -- as he'll fully allow -- it pays well, has a great mission, and is in an office full of nice coworkers. He just feels he's outgrown it and is and ready for a change. I support this in theory, but whenever he forwards me listings for new positions, they almost always involve huge pay cuts (50-60%) and cross-country moves to locations where I would have no hope of finding work in my field. He doesn't seem particularly excited about these potential positions, other than that they represent something different. Recently he told me that he's frustrated because he feels like his career has taken a backseat to mine. I told him that I didn't want him to feel resentful, but that if I were going to uproot my dream, then I'd want it to be because we were heading toward his dream -- because he'd found a great job that he was passionate about, and not just something he would be trying out for a change of pace. Was that unfair of me? FWIW, there are many organizations in our city that cater to his qualifications, and I would fully support him making less money if we could remain in this area.

Sounds fair to me, though I'd have to hear it from his perspective to be sure.

What you could do is ask him what he thinks is and isn't fair to ask you to give up, and for what? You've set it out pretty clearly, that you don't want to give up your bliss for his what-if. And, again, that makes perfect sense--so perfect that it's hard to see why he doesn't see it. So, how would he frame it?

 

There's obviously a pattern, then, that she's refusing to acknowledge. So she has to take the consequences of it "not being really possible to see me without my husband."

exactly.

It does seem like there's a theme emerging...I took the truth telling approach with a close friend who married a person with a lot of social problems (long list, all observed by multiple people). Since this talk our friendship has been hollowed out. We rarely discuss the kinds of important things we used to and I feel like friend has become very isolated. I am so sad about all of this.

Rightly so. It's small consolation, I'm sure, but if this spouse's "social problems" are indeed shun-worthy, then your close friend is ultimately better off with that information.

(Actually ... if the problems aren't shun-worthy and the "multiple people" are just being snobs, then that's useful information of its own. Not that I think this is happening here, just trying to be thorough.)

I was a "late bloomer" and didn't have my first kiss until I was 20 even though I was what was considered one of the "popular kids" of my highschool and college. I have have a very active dating life in my adult life (I am now 28) as well as my junior and senior years of college. Many of my friends who had boyfriends in highschool and in early college, look back more on their friendships rather than those relationships as the high points. I also credit the fact that I have been a late bloomer as part of the reason I am self-sufficient and independent, which interestingly enough can attract guys (and the right kind of guys who appreciate you for you). I guess all I have to say is- don't worry about it. I remember feeling very frustrated and thinking that there was something "wrong with me" but in retrospect- I just was focusing more on figuring out myself and enjoying a close group of friends- the boyfriends came along in time.

Reassuring words, I hope. Thanks.

I have some very nice neighbors with 4 kids. Their oldest two, 9 and 10 years old, are good friends with my sons, 8 and 11. The four boys spend a lot of time at my house playing, and some time at their house too. Last year when the neighbor boys showed up to play, they started bringing their 3-year-old brother along. I called the mom and said I can't stop my work (I work at home) to babysit the little guy and asked her not to send him if I wasn't planning to hang out with the boys, as our house is not childproofed for a little one any more. She agreed, and yet has been sending him up consistently anyway, every few weeks for a year. I send him (and his brothers, so he doesn't walk home alone) home every time. Is there anything else I can do? I feel mean to the little guy to say he can't play here over and over, and the older boys--theirs and mine--get frustrated with me because their play plans get disrupted. But I really can't afford to quit work every time my boys want to play. (If it matters, when I have the time to supervise, I don't mind having all of them here, but that is both rare and scheduled in advance.) I really had to work up my courage to ask her not to send the young one, and it's kind of throwing me that she said "OK" but is just ignoring what I said.

Did you say specifically, "Please call me before you send Toddler over"? I ask because an established protocol could help you here. (Re-)state the "Please call first" request clearly, then, when she sends Toddler over without calling, call her and say, "So sorry, I'm working, please do call so I don't have to break the little man's heart." Also say it to the 8- and 11-year-olds: "Hey, guys, sorry to disappoint you, please remember to call first." Repeat as needed, without the exaspiration of repetition if possible, until it sticks.

And if it never sticks, then you are in a rotten position where being in the right does you very little good, but you are in the right and you should just continue sending them all back home. You're not being mean, you're being firm. Life will say no to all these boys so regularly and so certainly that you're actually doing them a favor by setting these limits now. You'll be a nicer messenger than most.

I have come to realize how abusive my husband's parents are. They withold time and affection and frequently have huge emotional outbursts. I've learned to limit our time with them to activities that are low stress and convenient for them. The problem is my husband's behavior is veering in the same direction. I mentioned this to him about 2 years ago and asked him to get counseling but nothing has changed. I can't and will not be married to someone who turns into them. I don't want my children to have that kind of relationship with me or him, but it's starting to look like I can only affect my relationship with them. I know I need to make a decision, but is there any last ditch way to get him to come around before I ask him for a divorce?

You can go to counseling yourself, to provide the background on both your in-laws and your relationship with your husband, and to see if there are any strategies that help in your situation--be they for communicating better with your husband or just helping your kids through a childhood where their parents are sending them dramatically different messages. Because you have children, divorce won't make the abusive behavior go away; you'll need to reckon with it regardless.

Hey, how about your husband quit and start his own business? can he do that? are there things he can do? consult? my husband did that a bit ago (then got woo'd by another company, so we moved for his new dream job, but still, I was working and he was 'contracting') - i mean, there are probably a zillion things he could do (teach classes at a local college, or a bunch of other places, contract for companies, find people he thinks have great jobs and 'shadow' them - offer them services for free for some training, or - a totally new career that he can research....???) - is that a possibility? it sounds like you are doing well, and so - would it be possible?

Sounds good to me, though if he's set on scratching the I'm-bored-and-I-want-to-start-over-somewhere-else itch, she can expect him to rule out any suggestion that doesn't involve uprooting. One advantage to that, though, if it is indeed the case, is she'll know where he really stands.

I had this happen years ago when a friend's SO dropped the N-word at a party, in front of my other heavily pigmented friend, no less. When I went to my friend and said WTH? she attacked me for not trusting her judgement in men, which had never been good, so I backed off. The problem is we have a mutual friend who later came to me and said the other friend missed the friendship and did I want to reconcile? I thought about it and realized no, I didn't feel any anger or animosity over what happened, but whatever bond we'd had was just no longer there and I honestly didn't miss her. But ever since then, I get sarcastic comments about how judgemental I am. Since I don't want to rekindle the friendship, I must still be feeling like what the friend did was bad and I'm angry. But I'm just totally indifferent. I've said the above to the mutual friend but the sarcasm and eye rolls continue. At what point can I abandon reasonable discourse and tell her to freaking drop it, possibly in a raised voice?

Sounds like you're at the beginning of a bigger transition, not just out of one friendship but out of a cohort you've outgrown?

Just a theory, not passionately held, but the fact that you're getting "sarcastic comments," accusations and eye-rolls says you've got at least one other friendship you won't miss when it's gone.

To answer your specific question, you can say to the eye-roller one (more) time: "This is no longer about the N-word boyfriend or her defense of him. I feel no anger over that now. I don't want to reconcile with her because I don't miss her friendship. If you're absolutely convinced I'm not being straight with you, then that's the way it will have to be, because I'm apparently not going to change your mind and you aren't changing mine."

Then give some thought to that whole outgrown-cohort thing, seriously.

 

 

 

 

Sounds like he's taking his frustration out on you a bit and is a bit jealous. I don't think it's really about you as such or about him want all these jobs across country. Just a bit of a change of perspective to help you stay positive for him as he looks for new work. I think your boundaries are fair and excellent. In the meantime, is there a course he could take that is job related or something that will give him a sense of challenge and not being in a rut? I was feeling a bit that way a couple of years ago - stale and needing freshening up in my field. That can be fulfilled in bridging ways - like gaining new skills from a course - as he keeps job hunting.

Also sounds good, thanks.

What are the chances the neighbor mom doesn't know that the boys are bringing the little one along? Perhaps she'd stop them if she caught wind of it but they're just all taking it upon themselves to go over together. (Which begs the question of whether the little guy is supervised at home.)

Oh duh, of course. Thanks. That makes the call (each and every time) make even more sense.

If that's true, though, then the little guy is supervised at home--it just happens to be supervised by the 11-year-old, in which case it's important for the mom to know she needs to tweak the rules a bit. 

Parents do have different thresholds of what they consider dangerous situations for their kids. I'm a more hands-off parent, and so I let my toddler climb all over a playground, even to edge of too-high ledges without my intervention. What I like about Carolyn's suggestion of "When your kid does X, I fear that..." is that it's a a great Situation-Behavior-Impact statement that shouldn't really offend. If the submitter is just concerned the parent isn't protecting her kid enough, it's possible the other parent may just have a different style. Now, if my kid was hurting another, or even pushing or slight hitting, dang right I intervene. (As opposed to say, my kid taking a toy from another his size, in which case I might stop and let the kids work it out first). But if these other kids are truly hurting hers, she also has the right to say something to them. No reason to be afraid to discipline other children, just make sure, as Carolyn said, you're not exaggerating.

Lots of similar eye-of-the-beholder comments, and this one covers most of their points, thanks.

Since I began dating my now-husband, one of his best friends has acted a little ... weird. I don't know how else to describe the best friend's behavior other than to say that he overtly dotes on my husband and makes it a point to tell me that he used to this or that with my husband first. My husband laughs it off. While I've tried to do that, it just feels like the best friend is competing with me and ... gah ... this sounds even more weird ... claiming ownership of my husband. When we visit with the best friend, he focuses all of his attention on my husband, and I feel like a tag-along. (No, they were never in a relationship with each other, just really close best friends.) When I brought this up with my husband in the past, he accused me of being too sensitive. Am I?

Sometimes people are too sensitive. However, the oversensitivity that bears pointing out by loved ones--sensitively!--is the kind that occurs on a regular basis, that interferes with the mood and relationships of the oversensitive person, and that reflects some underlying problem--anything from immaturity to bad emotional habits picked up at home to past abuse to a personality disorder.

When someone reacts to a specific situation, and there's no pattern, then the "too sensitive" is a cheap shot, a deflection of responsibility for feelings that, even if ultimately unfounded, deserve to be treated with respect.

Assuming you've had no history of flagging the behavior of your husband's other friends, (or exes), or past loves' close friends or exes, then you are in an excellent position to read that something is a little off. And, a mate who has your back and has nothing to hide will show you enough respect to hear you out and address your concerns honestly. (Once--then you need to make up your mind whether it's a big enough deal to take on. This is not license to harp on the best-friend thing eternally.)

Since your husband has apparently blown you off, I suggest you go back to him, point out that you've never made a similar point about anyone else, and you'd appreciate his taking you seriously here instead of just blowing you off/laughing it off/keeping the issue alive when you'd rather deal with it and put it away.

 

Hope it's not too late for the chat! We're in the great debate about whether to have kids, and it's answer we know we need to come to in the next year or so. But one of the things holding me back is that that, while we're not rich, we've definitely got a nice life. We have some savings, don't stress too much when we need or want to do something (weekend trip, broken appliance, sick dog and vet bills). But we're frugal, so it's not like there's some huge cushion, i.e., I have this great fear that having a kid will make us poor and really impact our quality of life. And I don't want to resent the kid because I have to buy store-brand ketchup for the next 20 years. Is there a way to be more comfortable with this?

I think if you were to do an informal survey, people would say they'd choose store-brand ketchup gladly, even gratefully, in exchange for the privilege of watching and helping a child grow up. (Privately they might think, brand names in a priorities contest with kids? Don't have kids!!!)

But what you're really talking about is standard of living vs. quality of life, and the money you spend on kids will put a dent in your standard of living for sure. If you feel your current standard of living is directly connected to your quality of life, then leave things as they are. If instead you think you can do without some of your little luxuries for what you believe is a greater emotional good, than go for it.

In fact, why not make all those money-saving changes now, and see whether you care? (Some of us like generics. Hmph.)

 

I submitted a question a while ago about my mother, who is an alcoholic. She drinks about a fifth of vodka a day. She claims it is to "help her sleep," but she is also deeply depressed and uses it to sleep around the clock. I have confronted her but do not expect her to seek help, as she has not altered a variety of other health-affecting habits. My question: My sibling and I both know what is going on, but her immediate family does not. Is there a benefit to telling her siblings about her alcoholism? I do not expect or hope for an intervention as I do not think it would be successful. But I also feel like if her health took a turn for the worse or she lost her job (a real possibility), it would be nice if they weren't all in the dark about what was going on. But I also suspect I may selfishly want someone else to just take on the mental burden of this, and maybe I should just let things sit until something actually happens? Thoughts?

Al-anon, please. Tap into the community of people who have seen all this before.

To answer your Q, yes, I do think you're going to have to bring your mom's family into this, but I think it's important for you to get your emotional foundation set before you do this. With addictions, it can be hard to see the line between helping and getting sucked in, so protect yourself by mapping out those lines, then decide your next step accordingly.

I'm sorry. This is going to be hard, but there is a lot of support out there for you.

That's it for today--my producer is off to host "a Google Hangout with the crew members of Curiosity." Clearly I am not cool enough. 

Thanks for stopping by and for your patience through the boo-boo break (5 stitches, I'm told), and I'll type to you again on Friday the 24th.

 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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