The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax Live

Aug 05, 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, Aug. 5 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.

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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, happy Friday.

Carolyn - Sunday's column got me thinking. Given the mother's comment that no inheritance would be forthcoming. And the LW's statement that the parents let them make/pay for their own financial decisions after 18. What would then be the LW's responsibility to the parents if the money did run out? Is there any obligation to take them in and care for them in their declining years?

That's one of the reasons I framed my advice as an ask-them-what's-up approach. My hunch was that the parents were running low and that's what motivated the mom to make the remark she did.

Unfortunately, the "obligation" issue isn't so clear as, "You didn't pay my tuition so I'm not obligated to take you in when you're 82 and broke." There are some people who could live with making that decision, but most would be haunted by the idea of leaving that 82-year-old parent to fend for him- or herself.

If the adult kids are uncomfortable with (or resentful of) the idea of taking their parents in after said parents retired early and burned through their inherited money, then that needs to be part of the conversation. That is certainly a fair response to the "We're leaving you nothing" remark, to say, "Understood, but if you're trying to tell me that you're running out of money, then we need to start planning now, because we haven't planned on supporting you."

How do you handle parental favoritism when it's real, not just perceived? My mom is dying and for the last several months she has been making statements that leave no doubt but that I am her favored daughter. Needless to say, this is tearing my sister apart. This has always been "in the air," but my mom worked very hard to hide it, balance it out, reassure both of us of her love, etc. But as she dies, her filters are fading, and she has said some terribly hurtful things. Everyone is emotional enough as it is, and this is just adding layers upon layers to the situation. When it has come up, I have told my mom how hurt *I* would have been if she'd said "something like that" to me; I have done what I can to validate my sister's hurt feelings. But I just feel so miserable about it all myself. I *think* that my sister and I are mature enough that we won't let this come between us, but that's easy for me to say, since I am the favored one. How do we muddle through this mess?

It sounds as if you're doing what you can already--you've let your mom know you don't appreciate her candor in this case, and you've let your sister know that you feel for her. It's important that you not veer into pity; that will only underscore that you're in the dominant position, the exact message you don't want to send.

It is okay, though, to say to your sister that you're treating this as part of your mom's illness, and that as far as you're concerned the "real" mom is the one you've known up until her illness started to take over. 

Dear Carolyn, With a wedding coming up, how can a bride-to-be who is several hundred miles away from the action (long-distance from fiance, wedding location, and both families) help her mother and the groom's mother get along better?

My reflexive answer is, stay out of it--trying to manage their relationship from afar sounds like just the right catalyst to send them into a lifelong grudge.

My second answer is to ask, what specifically are they clashing over? Are you assigning them things from afar, for example, and are they disagreeing over these things? Is one of them doing everything and the other feeling snubbed? I'd have to know how/why they're interacting to know what to advise.

Hey Carolyn, how do you know when it is time to stop seeing your therapist? I have been seeing the same woman for almost 10 years, and I am not sure that things are still improving for me. What's even worse is that I refrain from telling her things because I don't want to disappoint her or cause her undue stress. This is one of my issues generally - I pretty much don't share any personal aspects of my life with anyone because I fear the reaction. But I am no longer institutionalized for depression/suicidal tendencies, nor am I on any antidepressants. I just don't know whether I should stick with the current therapist or find someone new.

Do you see yourself writing down what you said here, and sending it to your therapist? Unless your therapist (this one or a new one) knows you're holding back, your treatment won't be effective, so my advice is to give your current therapist a real chance to help you. if that doesn't work, then say you think you've progressed as far as you can with her and that you'd like the names of some people she can recommend.

If this therapist would be disappointed and/or stressed by the truth of your thoughts and feelings, then it is indeed time to see someone new. However, I'm inclined to doubt that's the case; given that her job is to help you, and that helping you depends on your telling her the whole truth, it would make more sense that she'd be grateful to hear that whole truth come out. Think of it as doing her a favor by letting her be good at her job. 

What if you know your parents are running out of money, but they're still spending as if they're not. Is there any way to say - "Hey, stop, I don't want to have to support you for 15 years instead of 10"?

You can say that, just that way, but that doesn't mean it will work. I wish there were a magic answer here, but as in all cases where competent adults are handling their lives incompetently, there's just not a whole lot you can do. 

There is one thing you can try, though, and one thing you can do.

Try: to get your parents to join you at a meeting with a reputable financial planner, preferably one who specializes in people close to or in retirement; you want the person to be familiar with all available resources for the aging (there are offices of aging in most local jurisdictions, so that's one place to start when youtry to find someone).

Do: start putting money away for the day when your parents run aground. That way, you won't be pinched as hard if they do run aground, and if they don't, you'll have a nice lump of money to invest toward your own retirement.

I recently started going on a couple dates with a new guy. My best friend, who is usually so supportive and enthusiastic at any of my potential relationships, is less than excited. Yet she has made comments in the past about how awesome this new guy is and how "he's so nice, if he asked [her] out she would date him." Am I supposed to read between the lines and assume that my friend has feelings for new guy? She hasn't said anything definitive to me, but she has a history of playing the martyr and hiding her true feelings so she doesn't have to confront people. Am I a terrible person if I continue to pursue new guy and leave it to her to speak up if she feels so inclined?

No, but you'd be a better-than-average person if you were to point out the conflicting messages you're getting from her, and ask what's going on--whether she has changed her mind about him for some reason, or if she was interested in him herself, or ...?

Making it multiple choice is both a smart shot of humility, because you don't want it to sound like, "Admit it, you want him!," and it's also a gentle fig leaf if she's embarrassed by her feelings for him.

The original letter writer touched a nerve for me. My MIL is not dying and without a filter, and obviously (perhaps unconsciously) favors my brother-in-law over my husband. While she declares her love for both sons, she very quickly follows it up with a "but" of sorts, directed at my husband. Even at our wedding she noted my husband's flaws to my family while praising his brother to the heavens, to the extent that my parents even noticed her favoritism. I try to ignore this, but she cuts my husband down literally every time we are together. It tears me up inside to see my husband spoken to this way. He is a wonderful person that any mother should be proud of. I don't get it, I can't change it, so how does one deal with it?

This is going to sound perverse, but you can deal with it by celebrating it. For kids, there's no escaping the message that you're supposed to be the apple of your parents' eyes, that no one will love you like a parent will, that your parents are your safe place and fan club and personal chocolate-chip cookie factory all wrapped into one. Being the un-favored child is to wrestle with cognitive dissonance as the soundtrack to your life. Some people get used to it, some people have the precocious clarity to see it as their parents' issue and not their own, and some push it ahead of them like Sisyphus well past their childhood years. 

However your husband approached it, this wonderful person you married got wonderful by an arduous path. (In fact, the the favored kids have a hard path, too--both parties have to fight to build character, just against forces pushing in different directions.) There's no other way to see it than as an accomplishment. And that's something you can say to him at strategic moments over the years. He might not need to hear it at this point, but even then, I imagine it will help you make peace with it all.  

How is hiding her feelings for this guy playing the martyr? If you're right and she likes him, then what's wrong with what she's doing - withdrawing a little bit until she can be genuinely happy for you? If she wanted to play the martyr, she could admit that she liked him, then spend your time together moaning about how she'll never get anyone to like her. I'd let sleeping dogs lie with this one, since it seems like the main purpose of asking would be to get her to admit that you have something she wants.

Fair enough. I read it as her having a history, not that this situation necessarily involved sighing and swanning.  If her behavior could be mistaken for good sportsmanship by someone who didn't know the history, then you're right, she deserves the benefit of the doubt. If there is some sighing going on, then saying something gains the new purpose of clearing the air.

It was recently mentioned to me that I'm kind of dull to be around and just dull in general. I knew I wasn't an exciting person, but I didn't realize I was so boring. Now, the more I reflect on it, I can see that they're right. I don't have an interesting job, any interesting hobbies, or anything really provocative or humorous to say to anyone. Now it makes sense why my friends rarely call me or call back. Apparently I'm so easy to forget. So, where do I go from here? Thanks Carolyn.

Oh my. Who spoke to you about this, and what did s/he say, exactly? Arising from what?

I am asking for two reasons: 1. to see if "dull" is your interpretation or a direct quote, and 2. whether the context explains why someone would say something like this. 

For what it's worth, and in case you don't see this in time to respond for this chat: Whether someone is "dull" or "boring" is purely subjective, so there's just no broad application to be made of one person's opinion that you're not interesting. If that is indeed the opinion you got.

Hi Carolyn-- Do you have any way of telling whoever is pulling our posts on your daily column to ease up? In the past few days, many comments have been pulled that do not in anyway violate any posting guidelines. What's going on? Many of us feel censored and it is squashing the free exchange of ideas. Thanks.

I can't see any comments that have been deleted, but if you could send the links to the particular columns you've seen this on (and, ideally, the usernames of the readers whose comments have been deleted) to, we'll be happy to take a look. Also, if you notice future comments that have been deleted but apparently shouldn't have been, please send an e-mail to the same address.

Brand-new grandmother visits her daughter who just gave birth and proceeds to make critical, borderline cruel remarks on everything the daughter is doing wrong, from the way she cares for her child to the amount of weight she still needs to lose. Daughter, understandably upset and dealing with slight PPD issues, banishes Mom from the home, despite many voices of reason telling her she's overreacting. Is there anything a closely involved third party can do to help resolve this?

Support Mom through PPD, leave the mean-grandma issue alone for a while so the emotions can settle, and see where that leads. If third-party has a channel to Grandma, then it would also help to let G'ma know you're opting to let this settle for a while, and that you'll let her know when new mom might be receptive to a big fat abject groveling face-in-the-dirt-so-she-can-eat-it apology. Cheez. 

I mean really--is "You make a beautiful mom, congratulations," so stinkin hard to say? 

My problem is the total opposite of many that I've read here and in your column. I'm 36 years old, happily married, totally independent of my parents, and have been since I finished graduate school. I live a few hours away from them and try to see them as often as a I can, but lately they have been mostly ignoring me. I call once or twice a week, but the conversations are almost always cut short by my mom and they never call me. I have to beg them to come visit (once a year) and when I visit them (every few months or so) they seem completely disinterested in me or anything I have to say. I'm not sure what to do or what to think. I am an only child, so no siblings I can try to get information from. I don't think they are trying to hide anything from me, but I guess it's possible. Should I just be thankful they aren't intrusive? Do they just not like me anymore?

I'm sorry. This could be so many things. They could, for example, have taken great exception to a decision you made (say, leaving their church for another--such a common one) and not be the expository type. It could also be something totally benign, that both of them are live-where-you-are types who focus so completely on their immediate surroundings that they fail to maintain connections with people they don't see often. It's hard to conceive of their child being so abstract as to be off their radar, but that does happen. 

Chances are you have enough of an idea of who they are to piece together why they've grown so remote. If you still have no idea, then it might be worth a try to draw them out--but at the same time, also make sure you're basing your schedule and expectations on the reality. Make the number of calls and visits to them that you feel you need, just for peace of mind, and learn to expect them not to reciprocate as you'd like. It's a hard adjustment, but trying to get the answer--regardless of whether you succeed in getting one--will likely help with that adjustment.

The "dull person's" experience resonates with me. Thanks for pointing out that this is a subjective assessment, Carolyn. Ya gotta just be yourself. Some people sparkle like Rainbow Brite and some of us are, well, matte finish. But I bet the LW can think back and realize occasions when s/he has sparked and sparkled in the company of a particular person or in a particular situation. It just maybe that s/he doesn't flash that kind of excitement or wit in as many situations or with as many as some other people seem to do. So what? We each gotta be ourselves.

If LW is depressed, then conjuring those memories will be difficult, if not impossible, thanks to the grey cloud. But it would help that process to remember particularly rewarding friends and friendships; those stand out more clearly than occasions, and are good reminders that there are people who share your interests and therefore find you interesting. 

Granny-to-Granny, I can't believe some witch would make unkind remarks to any new mother, much less, her own daughter! She needs some timeout - by herself - to consider her behavior.

Done deal--timeout is already in progress. 

Please tell me that one of those "voices of reason" wasn't the baby's father. If so, you can add him to the list of people who owe the new mom a groveling apology.

Done, thanks.

The phenomenon is more noticeable than it used to be, because the posts in response to the deleted post are left intact now. (Previously, the entire thread would disappear.) We can't tell who published the post someone thought was offensive, because the software deletes that, too. (On other sites, you can tell who wrote a comment that was later deleted.) Are there actual people making the decisions about what gets deleted, and what gets left alone? If so, are they part of a third-party company? All of this is mysterious to those of us who don't work for the Washington Post. Thanks in advance for shedding some light on this. I love your chats and columns!

There are a number of people who moderate comments acrosss the entire site (and a large number of comments on each of Carolyn's columns), so it can be a bit difficult to track down any individual comment and who moderated it. However, if we have the link to a specific column it becomes easier to determine who moderated any deleted comments and why. So, please e-mail specific links to specific columns where this has been an issue to

My husband has been dealing with depression for years and one of the "side effects" is the alienation of friends and family. He'll get mad about something and go off. Most recently he told our friends (and dinner party guests) that all lawyers need to die (they are lawyers), and so they quickly left. My husband doesn't see anything wrong with what he did and refuses to apologize for his behavior. Do I apologize for him? Do I just allow another friendship to die?

Oh my, part deux. I take from this that he didn't mean it as a joke.

Either way, yes, you apologize immediately to this couple, and do what you can to salvage your individual friendship with them, because it sounds like you need any lifelines you can keep . 

And, next thing you do is call for support, because it doesn't sound as if your husband is "dealing" with his depression at all, not in a productive way. Have a browse at to find resources in your area--I'm specifically thinking about a support group for families of people with mental illness, but there might also be programs that specifically address depression. Also consider using the hotline to talk to someone about steps you could be taking on behalf of both of you.

Depression has many faces, but when one of those faces is unapologetic aggression and cruelty, then it's time to stop brushing it off as a "side effect" and instead call it what it is, disturbing anti-social behavior that needs immediate attention.  


Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I think (and it hasn't happened yet) that I wouldn't want to take care of my parents after they spent their money irresponsibly. I get that things can happen - especially in this economy - and you can't guarantee funds forever, but it seems like a different story if the parents are spending like crazy and expecting the kids to take them in. I don't expect an inheritance, but I also don't expect my parents to assume that I would take care of them if it's their own fault that they spent all of their money.

I don't think you're in the minority at all; I think your position stems from a sense of justice.

However, it's a lot easier to think this way than it is to act on this belief. Maybe Ma and Pa stiffed you on college expenses and partied away their retirement money, but few adult kids can legitimately argue that their parents did nothing for them (that they didn't owe you by having you--discuss).

Anyone who is staring down a decision like this would be well served by a research expedition into what the social safety net involves. Get a solid idea of where they'd land without any help from you (at least by today's standards; as we all know, this is in flux) before you make up your mind on what you'll do.

Just so people know, the recent deletion-zealotry isn't unique to Carolyn's comment forum. I'm a regular reader and commenter on a couple of other Post blogs, and deletion has been rampant this week.

Thanks for the update!

So let's say the OP coaxes the truth out of her friend, and the friend is indeed more withdrawn because she would prefer to have the guy for herself. Where do you go from there? The guy is interested in OP, not the friend. Is OP obligated to stop dating him? Will she need to vet all future guys with her friend in the future? Are we in middle school?

No no no. Where they go from there is to say, "okay, I get it---I appreciate knowing the source of your mixed feelings isn't that he's a bad person. It also helps me to know so I don't say something  insensitive." Done. No dumping, no vetting, no middle school.

in your photo. Is that Harry Potter? (Geek here)

Hi Geek, I have no idea. Let me check.

Geek: I'm lost. Can't find a pic with books in the background.

I think if your friends are not calling you back and/or telling you that you're dull, it's probably a matter of just not clicking with them. I've gone through phases like this with friends. When I find someone fun and interesting, I'm fun and interesting. When I think someone's nice but doesn't have a lot to say, I'm kind of the same way. My advice is to find new friends. Eventually you'll find someone who thinks you're awesome and hilarious,

Right. Could also be that your cohort is at a busy phase of life, which tends to happen if your friends are mostly the same age. To generalize wildly: People in their 20s tend to stay in fairly regular contact, 30- to 40-somethings drop off the face of the earth, and people in their late 50s, especially 60s start reconnecting. Anecdotal based on things I've witnessed in life and in my inbox, but worth considering before taking your friends' absences personally. 

What happens when spouses disagree about helping their aging parents? My wife thinks we should make financial contributions to help her mom. I think her mom can is fine with what her insurance, Social Security and Medicare cover, and anyway I think my wife's siblings are in a much better place to help her mom if there really is a need. How do we come to a happy agreement on this?

Again--financial planner? Having the numbers out for all to see can really help with these difficult decisions. You'll be more persuasive if you're able to show your wife that her mom's income supports a comfortable lifestyle, and she'll be more persuasive if she can show you that her mom will be forced to survive on canned beans and day-old white bread.

It's the photo at the top of the chat--author photo. Def. looks like Harry Potter. :)

Oh, those aren't books. Those are old bottles that my mom collected over the years. They're quite pretty all together. 

Does the LW have any aunts, uncles, family friends that she/he could bring this up with? It could be under the guise of "Do you know if anything is going on with my parents that I should know about? They seem distant lately and I can't figure out why."

Excellent suggestion, thanks.

Just when I figured out that LW was letter writer, someone drops OP on me! Can you translate?

OP = original poster. Similar to LW, but mainly used online since people aren't writing letters to this chat :)

My mom is the unfavored sister. To the point where, on a list of beneficiaries, my grandmother listed her sister (who is younger) first. My mom finally lost it over the weekend and told Grandma exactly how she feels. Grandma was totally disbelieving -- "I don't do that! I'd never do that! I love you!" I think it was an honest, clueless reaction and not a manipulative answer. I know it wouldn't make sense to say anything right now, as Grandma may think about it and try to fix it on her own now that she's been confronted. But I'm wondering -- if she later denies it, or if she's flabbergasted and mentions it to any of the rest of us -- is it okay/does it make sense to say that we've seen it too?

I think so, yes--not only because doing otherwise would be  dishonest, but also because it's possible Grandma is refusing to see it because she doesn't want it to be true. If that's the case, then knowing the truth will help her adjust her behavior to reflect the truth she wants to tell.

That said, be careful what you view as evidence of this favoritism. You offer up the beneficiaries list as if it's the ultimate proof, but to me it looks like a trifle. Maybe it's in alphabetical order, or in order of when she last saw them, or in order of perceived need, or whatever. You want hard facts when you deliver a sensitive message like this, not situations that can be read in many possible ways.




Carolyn, I'm the granddaughter of the irresponsibly spending parent, and I completely agree, in theory justice for the overspending parent would seem appropriate, but my mom just can't do it. She has given up her career and her life (it is a 24-7 job to care for her mother) to care for the frivolous spender. None of the her siblings help (financially or with time) because she is the daughter and it's her "job". It is a thankless job with her mother constantly criticizing her. But she is still there because she can't be the one to "carry out justice". Parent-Child relationships are flawed at best, so you never know what you will do until you are there, doing it.

So well said, thank you. I hope life is good to her after all this--cosmic justice seems due. 

Be careful asking aunts, uncles, etc. about your parents when you haven't asked them directly. It can cause all kinds of drama if they hear it from someone else first (unless they genuinely do not care, but that just seems bizarre).

Good point, though not everyone is a loaded drama gun. There are people who know what a discreet inquiry looks like, and those are the people to call.

Carolyn - "Dull Person" may want to read this old-but-still-popular article about introverts: Maybe he's just an introvert and doesn't know it, but that doesn't necessarily make him dull. There are lots of us out there who enjoy quieter pursuits.

I haven't read it and it may not apply ... is that all the disclaiming I need to do ... yes ... but since introversion is often misread and taken personally, I'll gladly throw it out there. Thanks..

Friends invited me to their out-of-town wedding, without a plus-one. I went, looking forward to seeing our mutual friends and celebrating the couple together. But, the couple seated me with none of the people I knew at the event...for an uninterrupted, 10-course dinner that lasted nearly seven hours. By the time we were allowed to get up and talk to anyone else, it was all I could do to drag my butt back to the hotel. On top of everything, I'm on a very limited budget so it additionally stinks to know I sunk this year's vacation money into one night of interminable, agonizing small talk. I assume it's totally out of line for an invited guest to make demands about seating arrangements. Does that mean the only courteous way to avoid this in the future is to decline weddings to which I'm invited solo? I am usually so happy to do stuff on my own--but I guess "on my own" typically doesn't mean "trapped for the duration of a transatlantic flight with 11 people you don't know, but who all know one another."

Please write this off as one bad deal, and don't apply its lessons to future events. I'm sorry. Been there myself, and it really was the exception.

I have a friend who I know others in our group find dull. Many of them tend to be very outgoing and our "dull" friend is shy, doesn't tell a good joke and doesn't always laugh out loud like the rest of us when someone else shares a funny story. But I treasure her friendship because she's a great listener, very intelligent and insightful and incredibly thoughtful. Not everyone is the life of the party but I believe we all have our own gifts. Don't waste any energy trying to become exciting enough to suit your current friends. Find friends who treasure you for who you are.

Or, something else I take away from your post, consider the situations, not just the friends. Big groups and loud places aren't everyone's best venue; some are better sharers of lunch one-on-one. Thanks.

That's it for today, I'm afraid--another week when I can't linger as usual. (Next week will be the same, then I'm back to growing old in my chair every Friday.) Thanks for stopping by and for the great Qs and thoughts as always, have a great 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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