Carolyn Hax Live

Jul 01, 2011

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, July 1 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 more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Hi everybody, happy almost long weekend.

Hi Carolyn. I recently saw a question you answered about a mother-in-law who is obsessed with her cell phone. I'm wondering if you can help me figure out what to do when the person is my live-in boyfriend and he's constantly on his cell phone checking Facebook. Mid-conversation, mid-argument, watching TV, in the car, at the restaurant table, last thing before sleeping and first thing when waking up, among many other times. I find it incredibly annoying and rude, also makes me wonder why I'm not interesting enough to hold his attention. Is there an effective way to handle this because nothing I've tried so far has worked?

Break up with him. If you do not enjoy your time with him any more, if you've spelled this out for him, if you've said why and what he can do to fix the problem, and if he has not made any changes, then it's time either to accept him this way or end the relationship.

Carolyn - I am 31 & about to get married next month. This has been an extremely difficult year since my little sister (18) died in a car accident less than 6 months ago. She was to have been a bridesmaid. My heart is broken at the thought of life without her. I put on a brave face and most people don't realize how much I am struggling with this. I had started gaining weight before her death but after I just lost all drive to keep going with the exercise. I have gained 35 pounds in the last year and although I don't think it is that bad, all the weight sits low. People are constantly congratulating me on my nonexistent pregnancy. This happens multiple times a week and has been going on for months. My self esteem is so low right now and I just don't understand how so many nice reasonable adults think it is ok to assume someone is pregnant and ask it outright. I'm not really sure what I am asking you except I just need some suggestions for going forward and getting past this. Missing My Sister

I'm so sorry. Are you talking to anyone to help you with the grief, and also the stress of going through a huge life change while grieving? That's a lot to take on. Given that you've chosen the "brave face" route, grief counseling might give you a badly needed source of relief.

Not that the "brave face" route is bad--if that's what keeps you going, then it's the right choice for you--but when maintaining it proves stressful,  getting a discreet supply of support somewhere could make the difference between getting well at your own pace and denying yourself a chance to recover.

Hello I just got married (2 women) and am not sure how to introduce my better half. Partner seems like we are in business together, lover seems like all we do is have sex, girlfriend seems like we are in high school, and wife, well, seems a little strange. Anyone else have this problem? We have been together for 15 years so this is not a new issue for me. Thanks...

"Wife" is the way to go, because it's true and gets the job done without coyness or fuss. I get that it seems a little strange, but that's true of every newly married couple; it takes a while to get used to the new label.

If it helps, there actually aren't a lot of situations where you need to specify wife, husband, friend, neighbor, etc.; when you think about it, most of the time we're talking to people who won't become part of our lives permanently, and so the nature of the relationship doesn't matter. Most of the time, just using the first name will do. 



Carolyn, any advice on how to deal with a mother who is smothering me with love. I'm married, have a family, my wife and I work and have our own income. Yet, Mom insists upon family vacations, family dinners, family everything. And she always makes reservations and non-refundable deposits first, then invites us second, with that little (or big) bit of guilt thrown in. How to say: let me live my own life and meet you on my own terms?

1. Spell out what you're willing to do, with compliments and kind statements mixed in. "We all love the family vacations you organize. Given [Wife's] obligations and our limited vacation time, though, we can only go on one a year/every other year from now on." Your phrase is nice, too, so throw that in, except "meet you halfway" might sound more like two adults meeting as equals.

2. When she ignores you:

She: Books a vacation without asking you first.

He: "I'm sorry, Mom, but I made it clear; since we went to Cancun this year, we can't make another famaily vacation until next year/2013."  

She: "But I put down nonrefundable deposits!" [and other guilt-inducing pleas.]

You: "I hate to see you waste your money, so please check with me first next time."

She: [More guilt.]

You: We have other commitments, Mom, as I told you. I'm afraid I'm not budging."

Then  you need to deflect further discussion by saying there's nothing more to discuss and changing the subject. If/when she wails/complains that you don't love her, don't care, put the in-laws first, etc., then just say: "I'm sorry to hear you think that." And that's -it.-

Same applies to dinners she plans that you don't want to attend, etc. Accept the number of invitations that feels right to you, decline the ones that feel like overkill, and gently, kindly, firmly become an immovable object who will not get into long rehashings of each "no" you issue.

It will be ugly and stressful at first, since, to this point, you've trained her to recognize "no" as negotiable and badgering as her path to yes. This next phase is all about retraining her to recognize your boundaries. As long as you're kind and consistent, it will eventually take, unless her issues are such that she is unable to recognize boundaries. But you won't know that till you put in at least a year of disciplined interaction with Mom.



My sister in law is a very nice, very intelligent flake who is never on time and is never accountable. My guess is she has narcissistic personality disorder because she there is always someone else for her to assign blame. My wife has always let it slide because she thinks the sister in law is fragile. I called this appeasement. We asked her to prepare and conduct a naming ceremony for our daughter months ago--she came to town having done nothing. I considered this the law straw, but she decided to ignore the harsh email I wrote to her. How can I make this person understand it is her fault I cannot trust her to do anything she promises?

Why did you give her the responsibility of conducting a naming ceremony? I.e., why are you still expecting anything of her except to be very nice and very unreliable?

Her failure to do things she promised is her fault, of course, but it's your/your wife's fault for securing and counting on her promise. Accept who she is and what her limitations are and interact with her accordingly. That will be a lot more satisfying in the long run than setting yourselves up for her to disappoint you, and then getting tie-severing angry when she--surprise!--disappoints you.

I've been seeing a guy for about a month. Over the last week, I sensed he was withdrawing, so I confronted him about it in what I thought may be a relationship-ending conversation. He said that was not the case and he was still interested. The next day, I texted him and asked him to come over one night this (long) weekend and I would cook him dinner (I've had dinner at his place, btw). He said he wasn't sure because he'd be celebrating the 4th with his buddies. I'm confused and a little irked. I texted him and said as much, and he just ignored it. At this point, I haven't seen him in over a week, have no commitment from him this weekend, and have talked to him once on the phone since the last time I saw him. Am I right to be mad? If it's over, I won't be devastated but I hate being jerked around. My friend says I'm being demanding.

Sounds like you could have stopped opinion-shopping after you talked to your friend.

One month?

I don't have the benefit of knowing how he was with you on your early dates (1st week), or how well you and he meshed in the comfy middle dates (weeks 2 and 3) , which presumably created the expectations that were knocked down in the rocky late stages (week 4). However, even if he laid on the affection and grand pronouncements,  such an instant bond from anyone is more worthy of skepticism than trust. You just don't know a damn thing about each other yet.

Things came on fast, and now you've gotten clingy faster. In the unlikely case that this relationship isn't over, your next move is to apologize for getting ahead of yourself. 

Do you ever invite your Mom to events? Maybe dinner at your place once a month?

Great to mix in preemptive attention, thanks. It underscores the "I care about you and enjoy your company" half of the message, instead of the " ... just not every week" half.

NO! Do not say "given the {wife's} obligations. Do not put the wife in the middle of this. Giving how over-bearing the MIL is, I'm sure she is already over-bearing on the wife. That could backfire and cause more hard feelings.

I disagree. The wife has family, too, and they are fully entitled to as much access to this family as the overbearing mother has. You are correct to note that it might get the  mother off on a rampage about how the wife's family has more access than she does, but that just means the son/husband will need to state clearly and back firmly his commitment to fairness.

It's actually a neutral stance--"We love and want to spend time with both families"--and a necessary one. Overbearing Mom needs to know that drawing these lines isn't just about selfish use of their time (although some of that is just fine), it's also about being committed to capital-F Family. 

Why not use better half? It seems to say it all, but without some of the fraught meanings she's identified in the other words.

It strikes me as coy, but maybe that's just me. Wife is fact without flinching.

She might also ask him to get evaluated for ADD.

Good thought, thanks.

I think she should cancel/postpone the wedding and get a good therapist. She started gaining the weight before her sister's death. So a certain amount of stress was already there...and then her sister dies. Too much to handle in a short time frame.

Another good thing to consider, thanks. Obviously it will come with stress of its own, but if the groom (presumably) is willing and able to support her in this decision, then that will offset that stress and maybe even give her a strong foundation to concentrate on and deal with her grief.

Why not spouse? it's always been my moniker of choice in a heterosexual relationship. Can't see why it wouldn't work in a same sex relationship.

If that's what you normally use, then that's what you should use. That even applies to "better half." And "ball and chain," for that matter. 

Wow - this is SO awful, PLEASE allow yourself to grieve as YOU need. Obviously counseling or other support group as Carolyn says, but I would also not discount exercise - it's a great stress reliever and you will start on the path to losing the weight. Motivation is at an all time low, I get it, but sometimes it's the little victories that get us going when we most need it, so give it a go while no being too hard on yourself if you aren't up to it every time you plan it.

Stress-reliever and depression-fighter, which makes the suggestion all the more appropriate. Even just a daily walk would be a good start. Thanks for posting.

Hi Carolyn! Love your chats. I've been out of work for about 3 months and collecting unemployment. Honestly, it's a nice break, but my husband is worried about the money (which is valid; we need it). At the end of each day, he sort of "audits" me--asks for a report on what I've done during the day. He's listening for things like did I apply to some job I had mentioned, did I do research on other potential jobs, and if not, what did I accomplish around the house instead? He's always kind about it, but often I feel like my answers disappoint him (I'm not going to lie and say I sent out resumes when really what I did was sleep in, then watch trashy TV for hours). I know I should be actively looking for work, but I'm just not at the point where I want that to be the focus of my life yet. Do you think these audits are okay? Note that we have an otherwise happy, healthy marriage.

The audits aren't okay, but neither is your unilateral decision to drag your feet on looking for a job.

You need him to back off, he needs you to suck it up, but the more important thing each of you needs to do for the other is to acknowledge and respect the other's position. He's worried about money, working to support you both and watching you sleep late and watch TV. Don't you think he'd like three months to replenish?

Meanwhile, you're an adult and an equal and still being forced to trot out your progress as if he were your parent. 

Put those together, and you'll get a solution: You put 2 to 4 hours per day into your job hunt, -without fail-. That leaves you, what, 5 to 7 for lolling? And in return, he doesn't grill you on your job hunt when he gets home, trusts you to have his needs and feelings in mind, trusts you to update him when you have something to report, and saves post-work conversation for the typical topics of adult conversation.  


My boyfriend doesn't bring up the notion of wanting kids so I feel I need to bring it up sometimes. He says he wants kids - a boy and a girl - and I ask him "what if I can't have them?" He seems to dismiss it and I am worried. I have had health issues since I was a kid that might prevent me from having kids. I am okay with not having them (I think - I have to be) but I don't want him to stick around with me and realize he hates me because he wasted time with a barren woman. He is turning 35 this year - so I wonder when he thinks these kids are coming. What do I do?

He wants a boy and a girl, does he?

I think you should be less worried about being "barren" (ugh), and more worried that your boyfriend has made it to 35 without a solid relationship with reality.

I suppose, to be fair, it's possible that he has a great grasp of reality, is happy to say what he wants and just as happy to adapt to what he gets. In that case, though, there's an issue with communication. Since you're half of this equation, couldn't he make this all go away by saying to you, "I'd like to have a boy and a girl, but, obviously, it's not entirely up to me so I'm fine with getting what I get."

What now? Consider pressing a bit. As in, "You do realize you can't just go out and pick two kids, the sexes you want, when you want? It's possible I have no kids at all, or triplet boys, or one girl, or whatever?" If he still shrugs you off, then you can say okay, you're just worried he'll come to resent you if things don't turn out the way he wants.

And you can also do some projecting on your own. You know the guy, presumably, so you know how he handles unexpected life turns, disappointments both minor and major, obstacles, etc. If he's good at taking life as it comes, then consider trusting that and not even re-opening the discussion. (And dealing only with the why-can't-he-just-say-that? thing).  If he takes things hard and tends to dish out blame, then that's a problem even if your fertile self delivers his boy and girl on demand. 

Dear Carolyn, My husband's 26-year-old daughter just finished grad school in another city and cannot find a job. She's going to be moving in with us to work part-time and get her act together. This will be the first time she and I have ever lived under the same roof. Of course, my husband's children are always welcome in his/our home, but this particular daughter and I have never gotten along very well. She blames me for the end of her parents' marriage, and our personalities just happen to clash. What I'm wondering is, am I allowed to make her being nice to me into a condition for her living here? After all, it is my house too.

Sure, but you can't spell it out that way. And you also can't do it without your husband's backing. You and he need to talk about it, agree that you and the daughter don't need to be friends but you do need to be civil and treat each other with respect. Then he needs to agree that he will gently draw the line any time he witnesses poor treatment, and ask her to move out if she refuses to behave respectfully.

You, too, will have to do your part, especially if the daughter chooses her moments to mistreat you and makes sure there's never anything for her father to witness. You need to be skeptical of your own defenses, and ask yourself--every time--whether the daughter actually did something cruel or thoughtless, or whether you were just predisposed to perceive it that way.

You also need to prepare yourself to let some small things go and focus on the goal: of having everyone treat it as everyone's home. Know that there's room in that goal for all of you to have the occasional bad day and say the occasional wrong thing. 

Also to seek medical advice for the weight gain which could be thyroid related or causes.

Right right, always the procedure when there's a noticeable change in one's health. Thanks.

A quibble. The obligation/desire to spend time with wife's family is not "wife's" obligation it's "our" obligation to wife's side of the family.

Fair nuff, thanks.

I use "Doing that gives you a double chin" on those friends who peer down at their phones mid-conversation with me. It's harsh, but dang does it work! (Look closely; it's true of almost everyone.)


Maybe if we say it enough times here, it will somehow seep into the collective (un)conscious - don't congratulate someone on her pregnancy unless/until she announces it to you/the world in general. I am sorry for the writer's loss, and for this additional pain.

Worth a try, again. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm being left out of the planning of my own wedding. My future wife has a lot of very strong opinions and is also being backed (financially and otherwise) by her mom. I don't have very strong opinions about weddings generally or this one in particular, but I feel like I should be concerned about the fact that I've been consulted about almost nothing this whole time.

"I don't have strong feelings about the wedding plans, but as I've watched it all come together, I've realized I do feel strongly about being included in decisions that affect both of us."

Please please PLEASE take very seriously any response from her that doesn't feel right to you. Don't make the very common mistake of saying, well, I don't care about the wedding anyway and she does.  Your lives together will be a series of decisions and plans, many of them expensive and of lifelong consequence, and you don't want to be yoked to someone who thinks it's okay to act unilaterally or insist on having her way. 

I thought the bigger issue for the poster was the possibility that she might not be able to have kids not the fact that her boyfriend seems to think conception is like ordering off a menu. Not that that's an appropriate way to think about it, but I think the other issue may be bigger.

They're not separate issues, they're the same issues. She is trying to talk about reality, and he's talking about fantasy. So, either he's not thinking clearly or not communicating clearly. That's the issue.

I think dad and stepmom need to agree beforehand on what daughter is expected to contribute to the home -- either rent or a share of the housework or both -- and dad needs to clearly and firmly make that clear to daughter before she moves in. Also what the boundaries/rules are on guests.

Also good, thanks.

Keep in mind the stepdaughter probably isn't thrilled with the idea of moving in with her father's wife either.....

Fixed in mind at all times: "We're all in this reluctantly, and we're all in this together." Tx.

And everyone else behind the scenes who make this chat happen. You may not be highly visible, but your work is greatly appreciated.

Yes, Jodi, thanks.

And now, goodbye--I have to end where I'm supposed to today, possibly the first time since we decided this would be a two-hour show. (2001 maybe?) Anyhoo, thanks everyone for coming, have a great weekend and see you here next week.  

In This Chat
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.

Carolyn's Columns
Past Chats
Way Past Chats
The Hax-Philes
Recent Chats
  • Next: