Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Jan. 13)

Jan 13, 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, Jan. 13 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

Got any of Carolyn's answers or readers' questions from the past year stuck in your head? Submit them for next week's Best of Hax 2011 chat that will take place while Carolyn is on vacation.

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, and thanks for stopping by today. It's nice to be back. 

Before I start, here's a reminder of the ways you can follow my stuff (and Nick's): @carolynhax and @ngalifanakis on Twitter,, and my bio page, which has been updating more reliably and is in line to get some new features:

Dear Carolyn, Is there something wrong with expecting a quick response when making plans for the weekend? Friend texts and asks if I'd like to get together Friday. I text friend back saying I have plans, what about Saturday. 48 hours later, no response. I make plans with somebody else for Saturday. She finally e-mails, that yes, she's interested in Saturday. I e-mail her back asking if she wants Sunday. No response. Am I obligated to keep my Sunday free in case she's interested? Is there a nice way to say, "if you don't get back to me in X hours, I'm making plans with somebody else so I don't have to sit at home by myself that evening?" Part of me feels bad, beacuse I don't think she's playing games, she's not that kind of person. The other part wonders why I'm supposed to keep myself available for people who can't employ the numerous methods of communication to give a yes or no answer to an activity they proposed!

There is something wrong, yes, with persisting with the same mode of communication when you have ample evidence that it doesn't work for what you're trying to accomplish.

When she finally emailed back to accept Saturday, the response that made sense would have been for you to call her to suggest Sunday, since your plans had changed since your text. If you had gotten voice mail, then you could have let her know that things are in flux and you hope to hear back from her soon.

And no, you aren't supposed to keep yourself available to someone who takes 48 hours to think, but that's true only of casual exchanges and invitations like yours.

Carolyn, I began dating someone about 3 months ago. Things are going really well; I like him a lot. For what it's worth, we're 30. My problem is that his ex is very intertwined in his life. They broke up about a year and a half ago, his decision, after dating about 3 years, and have remained friends. They have all the same close mutual friends (some of whom are also my close friends... that's how we met), and in the age of Facebook, his family (mom, bro, aunts, uncles, cousins) are all friends with her on FB, post on her wall, etc. I know there's nothing going on between them, but I also know she still has feelings (whether resentment or otherwise, I don't know) for him. Needless to say, she comes up in conversations... normally comparing me to her. It's always positive in favor of me, but I'll be honest... it annoys me. Plus, she's always around when we go out with the mutual friends. (She's made a few comments about their intimate history... as a joke, but still.) I am divorced, and I can tell you that nobody I know will compare him to my ex (or at least not aloud). I know I sound like the jealous new girlfriend, and I don't want to tell him who he can and can't be friends with. Plus, I feel for her, it has to be difficult to see your ex with someone else, and I can't imagine how she deals with it. Is this something I just need to suck up and deal with? It's not like he's doing anything wrong, or that she is... I guess I just don't like the comparisons and her jokes about their past. I'm being unreasonable, aren't I?

No, it sounds as if your complaints are reasonable, but you do sound a little impatient. This relationship is only three months old, and so it's still possible that the comments you're hearing now will die down as people find some other unusual situation to titillate them. 

If you reach a point where your proximity to the ex should be old news but is still the object of snark, then feel free to point out to your BF that it all has gotten really old. His reaction to that will likely make any decisions for you. Ideally, though, things will never degrade to that point.

My long term boyfriend's mother never comes right out and asks us about plans for kids or opinions about having kids. But she talks about her future grandchildren all the time as a certainty. When they recently bought a new car she told us she liked this one because it will fit babyseats. This is just one of many insane examples of how this comes up. It's gotten much much worse in the past year or so - I don't think a phone or in-person conversation has gone by without her talking about her plans for the future grandchildren. Why is she doing this? It seems especially weird since we're not married, engaged, buying a house or doing *anything* to indicate that babies might be on the way. Do we ignore it or address it? Current strategy is a monotone "Mmmmmm" coupled with sudden interest in shoes/dinner plate.

Your boyfriend needs to have a just-the-facts conversation with his mom. Is he up to it?

Carolyn I'm hoping for some assistance and not really sure the next steps. My husband just left his federal job with NOTHING else lined up. HE just couldn't take it anymore and after being unhappy finally left. I've noticed he's more relaxed, friendly, outgoing, funny and not stressed which is great but it's causing all the stress to go to me now while I wonder/stress about bills. How can I motivate him to get his butt in gear and do a resume? I have sent him jobs that would be great but he doesn't do anything with them. I work from home and it's starting to affect my job now as well (I don't have the option to go to an office and starbucks etc is too loud - I'm on the phone 90% of the day). What would you do with the suitation?

Have you spoken your mind as clearly with him as you just have with us? You lay out a very sound and compassionate case. 

I'm dating a woman who is beautiful, accomplished, and smart as a whip. So why can I not get past the fact that she's been married three times?

What's the rush to get past it? It would be wrong to judge her for her marriages without considering the details, or without weighing it against the rest of her qualities and history, but that doesn't mean you're obligated to skip those pages and pretend they're not there.

Her marriages aren't her whole story, but they're an important (and probably fascinating) set of chapters in her story. If you care about her and are trying on the idea of a future with her, then you need to read the chapters very carefully and figure out what they say about her.

Returning from my holiday trip home, I asked my boyfriend whether he could pick me up from Reagan Airport, about a 45-minute drive from his house. He said "Well what about X? She only lives 15 minutes away." I said that wouldn't work because X doesn't have access to a car right now. "Well then, what about Y? She has a car and she's only 20 minutes away." After several of these suggestions, I finally said okay, I'll grab a cab. Only then did he offer/agree to come get me. He was clearly working under the logistical convenience paradigm and I was thinking, we haven't seen each other in 2 weeks, buddy--how about a little romance? Is it bad that I should have to spell these things out for him or just normal for a slightly clueless, technical-minded guy in his 30s?

You tell us. Do you need romance to feel fulfilled by a relationship? And if so, do you see romance in the ways he does come through for you (assuming there are some)? If yes + no, and if you have to spell things out all the time vs. just the one time it takes him to get it, then it is a problem. I've seen these situations go both ways, where partners appreciate the nerdy/logical ways their partners care for them, and where the passage of times makes all that logic seem cold and depressing. You need to look carefully at the context, and also know yourself.

My girlfriend has borrowed my car several times over the past month (she's moving) and has not once refilled the gas tank. This should be a softball ("Hey, please refill the gas tank next time you use the car"), but in context a tough one for me because most of the problems we've had in our relationship have been due to my instinct toward bean-counting. She stopped keeping track of who paid for what years ago, and has expressed offense when I ask to be paid back for things. What's a graceful way to skirt this, or should I just let the gas go?

"She stopped keeping track of who paid for what years ago." So, would you say she has been fair to generous with you over the years? If so, then forget the gas tank (please)--and give some careful thought to why you're still bean-counting despite her generosity with you.

If instead she has been blithe about taking your money while offering up very little of her own--and she attacks you any time you so much as sigh in frustration over it--then you need to accept that your girlfriend is a taker, which is a character flaw you don't want in a mate.

Either way, you're at a  point where you feel you can't be honest with your GF, so there's some work to do between you regardless of which way the money is flowing. The direction of the flow will tell you who is at greater fault--the beneficiary did it--though you're still the one who will have to act on your own behalf.

Monday's the anniversary of my friend's stillbirth last year. Send a card, or say nothing unless she brings it up?

Send a card, say you are thinking of her. 

My brother and his wife are getting my niece a nose job for her 18th birthday, for purely cosmetic reasons. Having grown up with the same distinctive Eastern European nose, and seeing the blossoming beauty in my niece, I am heartbroken at this notion. I really want to sit her down and tell her that looking the way I do was a liability at first, but that from age 25 onward it gave me a striking appearance that has become a part of who I am and has consistently attracted men to me, now well into my 50s. Not that this should decide it for her, but I am sure that fitting in and seeking male attention play a part in her desire to look more average. Should I just nose my way out of this? My brother's wife seems to be part of the problem, as she is big on fitting in (and has what many would narrow-mindedly call the perfect upturned Aryan nose -- apparently recessive).

This is such a bummer. Since your niece is young and the changes will be permanent, I think it's fair for you to tell your brother what you said here (minus the swing at his wife--stick to your personal experience), and let him know that you'd also like to talk to your niece before she has anything done. Any time someone is on the cusp of a change that can't be undone, I think it's okay for loved ones to speak up once.

I relocated to Los Angeles two years ago and was long distance with my Chicago-based girlfriend for about 18 months. We have been dating for four years, so understandably she's thinking pretty seriously about marriage. When she first brought this up, I said what I honestly felt at the time--that I didn't feel comfortable living in two separate cities and that we would need to be in the same place for me to feel ready to get married. Well, as soon as she was contractually able, she relocated to Los Angeles and has been here for six months. I think she believed a proposal would be immediate, and our relationship has grown more strained with each day it doesn't come. She finally asked me point-blank last night whether I'm ready to get married (technically I suppose I was proposed TO) and I answered that I am still not ready--I can't imagine being ready for another six months at least, maybe even a year. I don't blame her for being frustrated with me; I would be frustrated too if I had made a cross-country move only to hear "Someday." What do I do? How do I fix this?

"We have been dating for four years, so understandably she's thinking pretty seriously about marriage."


"Understandably"? Why, because she's a she? Are you male, and is that why you've given yourself a pass on the automatic consideration of marriage at the four-year point?

Please just level with yourself, with her, and with whatever preconceived notions you're harboring about the way things are supposed to work. You either love and value her to the point where you have no interest in a future that doesn't include her, or you have doubts about her or your relationship or yourself that you're overdue to express.

In other words, respect her enough to let her make decisions based on reality, as opposed to some societal Kabuki where the eager female finally wrangles the reluctant male when he decides he owes it to her to relent. Barf.

Hi Carolyn, I've been dating two guys non-exclusively for a few weeks each. It's not serious with either one yet. How do I decide which one to invite to my upcoming birthday dinner? They're both fun, great guys and I'd love to have either one there.

How about neither? Easy peasy.

Carolyn - My 27 year-old stepdaughter (married little over year) is driving myself, her dad, and sisters crazy! Her younger sister is engaged and my husband and I are hosting an "engagement party" for the sister. Stepdaughter 1 is so jealous and telling every one that she never got an engagement party. She has ranted and raved to engaged sister about this and telling her what she will and will not wear (as far as wedding dresses and trying to ruin the day for her). I really feel stepdaughter 1 needs therapy and medication (stems from mother passing 4 years ago). She also doesn't really like me because I don't play into her childish ways. I am ready to blow and unload on her but I know that's not my place. Her dad says it doesn't do any good talking to her! Any thoughts on dealing with her other than completely ignoring her which I've been doing? Thanks

Okay, I agree that the stepdaughter's wig-flipping is beyond the pale. But I'd still like to know: Why didn't you throw her an engagement party when she announced her intentions?

Hi Carolyn, My fiance has developed the annoying habit of exclaiming to me, "Oh, you and my mother are exactly alike!" (referring to his mother's tendency to chronically over-worry about little things). He usually says this in response to me saying some reasonable adult thing like, "We haven't had the chimney cleaned in a few years. We should get that done soon so we don't have a chimney fire," or when I get freaked out at him messing with his cell phone while driving. This is frustrating to me because, while his mother is a very nice lady, we are NOTHING alike. She is a quiet, passive, churchgoing homebody who is militantly against alcohol; I'm outgoing, liberal, nonreligious and love throwing a good cocktail party, etc... I could go on and on. Even if I were just like his mother, he picked me as a partner anyway! How should I respond when he throws this unfair comparison at me??

"I noticed you've done this a few times lately--said I'm exactly like your mom. Would you please explain what you mean?" Better to find out what he's thinking than to get angry over an assumption. Plus, he might not realize he has been doing it, and might sympathize with you as soon as he sees it for himself.

If I had to guess, I'd say he's working through a fear of marriage and doesn't fully appreciate what he's saying, but that would just be more of the assuming I'm advising you not to do.

Carolyn, you have been a huge help to me in my current relationship, through both directly answering my questions in the chat, and through my application of your advice to others. I have a new one for you.... do I have to get rid of my favorite hoodie if it originally belonged to a way-long-gone ex out of respect to my current love? I still have a sweatshirt that I got from a college boyfriend (7 or 8 years ago). It's my most comfortable item of clothing. I don't wear it outside because it's old and worn-out, but I do still wear it around the house. I'm wondering if it's insensitive of me to keep it. It doesn't symbolize anything. It was a high school sweatshirt of his that he rarely wore before he gave it to me. He's engaged to someone else; we don't keep in touch other than just seeing him pop up on my Facebook feed every once in a blue moon. I love my boyfriend very much and don't harbor any feelings for the ex. I can't recall whether or not I've ever worn said sweatshirt in my boyfriend's presence. He would know it didn't originally belong to me because it's got the ex's high school's name on it, not mine. I don't really think he would care, but my empathy meter isn't always the best. What do you think? Would your answer change if my boyfriend and I were living together?

At face value, my advice is to keep wearing the sweatshirt without apology, because the feelings behind it are what matter. 

The only reason I'm calling that "face value" is that the sheer volume of words you've produced to defend the sweatshirt are suspicious. (The words themselves all seem fine, though.)


I have the same nose, and 25 was the year I started feeling comfortable with it, too. Now, I realize that if I had done anything to it, the resulting button nose would have completely unbalanced the rest of my strong features. I suggest a girls' night with your niece immediately - perhaps with a viewing of "Dirty Dancing"?

Good visual, thanks. 

Hi Carolyn With the still birth, what if my friend is male? Do I send a card, or say nothing unless he brings it up?

? Men grieve lost children, too, acutely. I gave the "send a card" answer because that's what the question asked, but the best way to acknowledge someone's loss is the way the grieving person would most appreciate it. If you're not close enough to be sure, then you go with the card, since that's straightforward.

I concede this whole situation is petty, and I'm not exhibiting the best behavior but I feel that I have an obligation to get back to people who invite me to things (no matter the medium) and wonder why others don't do the same.

I don't mean to suggest that letting an invitation hang for 48 hours is okay, or that getting annoyed by that makes you petty.  I just  think you have to account for the medium. You didn't get in touch with this friend; the friend got in touch with you, via text, and you texted back an alternative. That's highly casual. If you have more formal expectations--that a friend would get right back to you with a "great, what time?" or a "need to check a couple of things, might take a day"--then forgo texting for something more definitive.

With this friend, at least--paying attention to people's patterns is also part of the deal. Some people will text right back, so texting's fine, and some will leave you hanging, so either talk to them directly or keep a little asterisk in your mind next to their names, reminding you to lower your expectations. It's the getting annoyed at something when you still have remedies available, that's what doesn't make sense to me.

Simple: You just say "sorry, I wish you would have gotten back to me sooner b/c I have plans now - how does Sunday work instead?" Then, just repeat that mantra everytime she doesn't get back to you. If she really wants to get together with you, she'll eventually learn that means responding quickly. If she's just using you as last resort plans and doesn't respond until she knows nothing better is coming along, well, why would you want to be friends with that person anyway?

Make great sense to me, thanks.

My mom does this too, even though I'm single. But the worst example I've witnessed was when a single friend's mother, during lull in conversation at a gathering with a bunch of our friends, half-shouted, "Like I'm always telling [friend], you don't need a man to have a baby!"


i have a beautiful friend with that nose as well, and she was toying with a nose job as well. Her ultimate decision was that she could not justify "fixing" it on herself and then possibly having a daughter who may struggle with self-esteem issues. She couldn't figure out how she'd parent a child who felt "different" when she herself had "fixed" her difference. It was fascinating to listen to her think through it. Of course, she was in her late 20s, not 18.

That is an interesting take, thanks.

Not really. My boyfriend thinks of this as just one of her crazy ways that we have to live with. She is the type to get something in her head and bring it up a lot. When that happens the status quo in the family is to ignore it, possibly because addressing it gets you nowhere. Admittedly this isn't affecting our life negatively, but the relationship I have with my mother is such that I would be able to say something to her but I don't feel like that's my place here. I feel like I'm learning to navigate a different family dynamic here. (Also can this be online only pretty please?)

Oh, fine, now you tell me.

"I feel like I'm learning to navigate a different family dynamic here." yes, that's exactly what you're doing, and with any luck your boyfriend is also learning to navigate your family and your way of doing things.

It's reasonable for him to hope that you will follow his lead, and tune out his mom's apparently familiar brand of crazy. It's also reasonable for you to spend some time trying on your BF's way of handling it--what if you just laugh it off, tune it out, regard it as moon talk instead of a mandate? 

If you discover that you can't brush  it off, that it's not silly in your eyes, that it's manipulative and boundary-violating, then you talk to your boyfriend about the way you see it vs. what he's been saying, calmly and with substantive examples. Then you see whether there's comfortable ground between your views. 

All part of the deal.


Jennifer Gray has said in many interviews that she went from famous and immediately recognizable to "just another face" once she had her nose made to look more mainstream and less unique.

Yes, she is a famous example of regretted plastic surgery, if not the most famous. I believe that's why the poster suggested DD.

As to why the LW didn't host an engagement party for stepdaughter #1, I saw no indication that the LW was married to stedaughter #1's father at the time that stepdaughter #1 got engaged. So why should she have thrown a party?

Then it shifts to why the dad didn't throw her a party. Point being, where there's dysfunction, I look for an equal and opposite dysfunction. It's not always there, but even that can be illuminating, since context usually is. 

Hi Carolyn, Does your plastic surgery answer differ at all when the person in question is a 29-year-old woman? I'm debating having something "augmented" - not for my husband or anyone other than myself, but because I've always been flat as a pancake and it has affected how womanly I feel. At the same time, I'm almost afraid to go through with it because it seems like something "good girls" wouldn't do (I realize this sounds ridiculous, but I can't help it). I also struggle with how my family would react.

Yes, the age difference is huge, since the maturity leap from 18 to 28 is huge (or at least should be).

I am a bit saddened by your post, though. [Something] size has nothing to do with womanliness, and you seem to know that. Plus you're being so tough on yourself, both in your arguments for augmentation and against it. 

How about starting from a place of being kind to yourself, and see what decision that brings? 

Carolyn Are you kidding me??? Jennifer Gray is beautiful after surgery. No way would she go back to being the ugly girl.

Not to speak for Carolyn, but I'll let Jennifer speak for herself:

Don't be a bean counter: But if she's returning an empty or even half-empty tank to you, she's not being considerate. It's not JUST about money: It's about appreciation of someone's generosity and making sure that you don't have to refill the tank before doing the things you need to do. That costs time and aggravation, not just money.

Thanks. I went back and forth on this. One the one hand, you're right--all borrowed cars should be returned with plenty in the tank. On the other hand, moving is hellish and she might reasonably be off her game as far as noticing how full the tank is. 

Then I realized it fell under the umbrella of her generosity over the years. If she routinely gives, then the empty tanks are best let slide. If she routinely takes more than she gives, then the empty tanks need to be seen as a Sign. 

I.e., didn't change the answer.

Dear Carolyn, Perhaps the best solution for this is to ask him his intent with saying the comparisons. Something like, "When I hear you compare me to her, I feel (sad or 'annoyed' or whatever). Is that what you are intending?" Going from there allows him to express his reasoning which may in his mind be 'a complement' or perhaps his own therapeutic effort to work with your feelings of insecurity. Doing this might open a door to deeper conversations in understanding and respecting each other.

I like it, thanks. Might also be his way of working through -his- feelings of insecurity.

Dear Carolyn, I'm in my late 30s and have been engaged twice, only to have both fiances break things off in the eleventh hour. I'm currently dating a guy, who is 50, and has been in several serious relationships but, by his description, pulled the plug when things got too serious. I cannot help seeing parallels between him and my ex-fiances, and it's really scary. He knows about my broken engagements and insists he really loves me and would never propose unless he was sure...fat lot of comfort that is. He also says he wasn't mature enough for marriage in his past relationships, but the last one ended when he was in his 40s! Am I being a dolt for thinking this guy might be the one? He is, in every other way, wonderful and a very compatible match for me.

I'm not going to use your word, but I think you're being unfair to yourself if you don't look hard for a pattern in the men you keep choosing--beyond the leave-'em-late tendency. What are the common denominators, the things  you've found attractive about all of them? What leaves you unimpressed by more emotionally available men? Pardon the jargon on that one, but it's just such an apt way to describe men who are comfortable, patient and steady in showing their feelings for you, who are comfortable with your feelings for them, and don't ever leave you wondering whether they'll call.

That pretty much describes the guys you aren't falling for, right? And given your frustration with your history--and your seemingly well-founded doubts about your current love--it's time to ask yourself what's so attractive about guys who, despite whatever good times you have together, give you the distinct impression that they can walk away at any time. 

Dear Carolyn, My parents make a strong, overt distinction between married and non-married SOs, meaning the former are included in absolutely everything, appropriate or not, and the the latter are routinely excluded from things that are family-only. For instance, my sister's husband was invited to (and attended) my otherwise all-women baby shower, while my boyfriend, now the father of my child, was not invited to our annual Christmas vacation. Her argument is that being treated like family is one of the benefits/incentives of legal marriage. (For the record, I would like to get married, but realize it's not right for my boyfriend and I at this time.) I declined to go with them, but now I'm seething at being forced to make that choice. Trying to see things Mom's way, but right now I'm furious. What are your thoughts on her policy and my situation?

Mom sounds bullheaded, and from an outsider's distance I dig the irony of a pro-family move that splits a family.

But since my opinion counts for nothing here, and since dwelling on the rightness or wrongness of Mom's policy hasn't gotten you anywhere (nor is it likely to), your better bet for pondering is your situation.

Are you doing all you can to serve your child, your sense of what's right, and the health of your relationship? If not, then focus your energy on that, and if so, then keep reminding yourself that you've got the right priorities for your circumstances. It sounds as if your mom believes that priorities are independent of circumstances, and that's just a different world view from yours, one she's entitled to just as you are to yours. 


What do you have to say about two people who have a child together, but insist they are not ready to make the marriage commitment? Are these two types of commitment really so different, or is that (as I see it) just a huge load of bull?

Funny you should ask. 

I'd have to know the circumstances to call something bull, because there's often a reasonable explanation for something that appears off. (And as everyone knows who has been to a traditional, all-hoops-jumped-through wedding of two people who turned out to be terrible together, there can be a whole lot that's off about something that appears perfect.)

To give an example of something I'd call reasonable, take a statistic that I dug up this week for an upcoming column. A couple of sources put the rate of premarital sex among American adults at 85 to 95 percent. So, darn near everybody. And since birth control (and self-control) can be imperfect, sometimes unready couples produce babies. And sometimes these couples decide that despite their unreadiness as a couple, they like each other enough and like children enough to find it hard to imagine aborting or placing their child for adoption. So, they step forward gingerly into the business of being a family.

I wouldn't banish them from Christmas, but, then, I can only Christmas for myself.

A friend and I just attended a speed-dating event. She glowed. She connected with just about every person in the room and wound up with something like 20 "very interesteds" on her contact card. She already has several dates lined up in the new year. I will add that she is only single because her last relationship ended due to distance. Meanwhile, I was excited to participate, but somehow wound up feeling like a draggy frump and a bad conversationalist. Zero "very interesteds" and only a handful of "interesteds," meaning close to 90% of the people I met that night have no desire to see me ever again. With the disclaimer that I understand these things are forced and counterfeit and that they don't mean anything in the scheme of things, I am feeling really, really down about myself. I feel like the night was a snapshot explanation for why I am unhappily single. Please knock some sense into me. Thanks.

You had an off night. Any reason it has to be more than that?

Why, yes, there is, she said, answering her own rhetorical question. It can easily be more than that if you're not one to glow in circumstances like these. But even that's a narrow band of significance. Please take it from someone whose own parents called her an acquired taste: Not acing the two-minute-conversation test says ... er ... that you shouldn't marry someone you know for two minutes.

Judge yourself on the quality of your friendships and of your day-to-day life. Artificial constructs can be useful in a limited way, absolutely--just as long as you also regard any failures in them in just as limited a way.

Hi Carolyn, I'm in the middle of my first winter in Chicago, where I recently relocated for a job after 18 months of unemployment. I am so, so miserable here. The weather is killer. The job makes me feel absolutely hopeless. And I am painfully missing my fiance, who is back home in Nashville. I thought we could make the long-distance thing work, but am finding it really really difficult, plus whenever we talk it immediately devolves into me complaining about how miserable I am. Yet I can't leave this job, because I can't afford (potentially) another 18 months of being broke. How do I get with the program?

Two things I've advised in separate cases (I think) in the past might work together well for you here: 

1. Take faultless care of yourself. Healthy food, enough sleep, whatever level of exercise you're healthy enough to undertake, careful money management, and a productive hobby or two to keep you moving forward through your slumps--ideally one that involves the company of others who share the same interest.

2. Be a tourist in your own city. This doesn't always work for the unhappily relocated, but you're sitting in a fascinating place that's begging for your attention and admiration. (I know you got into this hole by being unemployed and broke, but if you have any financial leeway now, use a little of it on clothing that will allow you to manage the weather a bit better.)

Just taking these steps will give you something else to say to your fiance on the phone, which will help with the complaining problem, too. And, it will tell you about your emotional health: If you can't find the energy or will to make any positive changes, then consider the possibility that your misery has crossed over into clinical depression. That's down the road, but still worth mentioning. 




Whenever someone asks my boyfriend and I to do something, he seems to jump at the chance. Whenever I try to get just the two of us to do something , he doesn't seem as enthusiastic. Similarly, he always seems to help friends right away, but takes a long time to getting around to anything I need his help with. It's hard not to take this seems like the problem is me. But could it be him?

Can I split the difference and call it the relationship? It doesn't seem to be working, whatever the reason. Try backing off a bit--say, not contacting him, and only returning his messages--and see what the pace of things looks like when he's the one setting it. 

I once read an interview with the director Sofia Coppola, and she said that when she was a teenager, the actress Anjelica Houston told her not to get a nose job, that she would grow into her nose. Good advice from one great beauty to another.

I love this, thank you. And a shnoz appeal thread is a welcome first.

Can't say I'm a big fan of plastic surgery, but I was a big support of my best friend when she had "something" augmented. Why? B/c it made her top portion proportional to her bottom half, which helped her feel more comfortable. It ended up looking natural and 10 years later she's still happy w/her decision. Plus, she was in her 30's. So maturatity, life experience and ability to pay matter.

Thanks. And, again, the emotional state is so important. As I said in my answer to the potential augmentor, don't do it (or avoid it) because you're being tough on yourself. Be kind to yourself, then make the call. 

Carolyn, I love the brother of today's letter writer. He does sound amazing. I am inspired by his seeming emotional intelligence. If the letter writer and her bro have a good relationship, perhaps she (right, she?) can talk to her bro about her sitch, if it feels right. If he really is a good egg, he will support her and perhaps have some advice or insight for her.

I think the LW was male, but that's beside your excellent point, thanks. 

I had a boyfriend once who would compare me to HIS mother. I said, "Well, you don't have sex with your mother so she and I are about to be more alike than you think." After a few weeks he stopped the comparisons.

Heartwarming, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, Last night I was watching a movie with my boyfriend. During one of the moving scenes, he started to tear up and by the end he was pretty much crying. I was flabbergasted at first - my boyfriend is pretty "manly" (to his credit, the scene was sports-related) and doesn't get emotional easily. While the scene was moving, I would not say it was really a tear-jerker, so I thought it was pretty amusing that he was getting emotional during it, and I made the mistake of laughing. Well that made him angry and now he is not speaking to me. Was I wrong or is he being over-sensitive?

Both, but, to borrow some insight from my 8-year-olds, you started it.

And wow, you were so much more wrong than he was. It pains me to think of someone who doesn't normally show vulnerability getting a ridicule beat-down for it. Maybe the scene wasn't all that moving to you, but who knows what experience he has buried inside him that this scene dredged up. Find him, say you were -totally- out of line, and that you were more shocked than anything else--an explanation, not an excuse.

Again--his not speaking to you isn't exactly the right thing to do. But it sounds as if both of you are uncomfortable with your emotions to a degree, and his anger exposes that his is a high degree of discomfort.

Your happiness--apart or together--is actually directly proportional to how safe you feel with the people you love. So, think for a moment how important it is for you to feel safe with a boyfriend, then  do whatever you can to be that safe place for him. His willingness to trust you will depend largely on your sincerity, but also on his courage.

Hey Carolyn! I know it's late in the day, so I appreciate you taking my question. My SO and I recently decided that it would be the best for our relationship if we start on that track towards marriage. We're both in our late 20s and have been together for a few years and feel it's the right time in our relationship to move in together. Is there any advice you could offer to this situation? We're already planning on getting engaged within the next year and are excited to move in. However, he has experience living with previous girlfriends before and I don't share that same experience. Any advice would be great!

I have one advice. (Plural: advices.) Move in when you're engaged. Not that the legal distinction matters to me any, just that the time to move in is when you've made the decision to spend your life with the person. Otherwise it's a tryout, and anecdotal evidence does not have good things to say about tryouts that involve packing up your commingled stuff when they fail.

Marriages fail, too, of course, as do life partnerships of other kinds, but you want to keep fluidity to a minimum because moving out adds a whole other level of pain to breaking up--and avoiding that pain adds a whole other risk of delay when one of you realizes but can't face that it's time to break up.

You said this guy has lived with "previous girlfriends," plural. You might want to find out why he isn't  being a little more circumspect.

Hi Carolyn. My son wants to go to NYU. We live in Florida. He hasn't traveled much, has never been to New York, and isn't very independent. We are concerned that he will make an expensive wrong choice. He's gotten into two Florida universities, but feels like the students will be too conservative for him. I am dreading a showdown if we say no or a debacle if he goes. Help.

Time to bring him to visit New York, no? And, to encourage him to be more independent, regardless of his school choice?

FWIW, here's how you sound: like you want him to stay in Florida, and you're just constructing whatever arguments support your getting what you want.

That's a sure way to make a kid gaze longingly at your idea of a worst-case scenario. Back off, please, and encourage him to explore what interests him, so he doesn't have to take your word for was is and isn't right for him. (Translation: Take him to New York.)

NYU is highly competitive, so it's not as if his going is a sure thing, even he's a great student and even if he comes away from a visit loving the city and the school. So, support the idea of his independence and trust that to bring you all somewhere good.


I don't know if you're familiar with the dating site OKCupid's blog, but they geek out about messaging stats - and find that the more men *disagree* about a woman's attractiveness, the more interest she is likely to receive. I.e., 'tis better to make the guys who like big noses REALLY happy, than to be weakly all things to all people:

Just going with it, because it makes sense, thanks--and I'd say it applies to personalities and interests, too.

Why do people even have engagement parties now? Isn't the dang wedding enough?

No, it's never enough!!!!!!!!! 

Actually, this is enough--I'm done for today. Thanks all, have a good weekend and type to you here next week.

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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 She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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