Carolyn Hax Live

Sep 09, 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, Sept. 9 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.

Think you know a thing or two about giving advice? Enter the Post Magazine's @Work Advice Contest and tell us how you'd deal with that annoying co-worker or overbearing boss. We are accepting entries through September 18.

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.

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Hello, and thanks for taking a break from ark-building to stop by today.

It's not in the recent columns list and I can't find a link on the front page anywhere.

You can find today's column here and I've alerted the proper authorities about trying to get it onto Carolyn's page and the Advice page.

Is there an appropriate way to say thanks to a boss who has been more of a mentor, and who has really turned my going-nowhere job into a dream job? A nice note? Gift? (we're both straight women, so I don't think there would be a misinterpretation of my intent.)

A nice note, unless there's a small gift you know she'd appreciate.

All week, the Advice page has showed columns for you and Ask Amy that are AT LEAST a day old. I can't find the current columns anywhere. What is going on?

As a follow-up to my previous answer, I just heard that this is a site-wide issue that the IT team here is looking into, so hopefully it's fixed soon.

thank you, oh wise and wonderous chat producer!

No, thank you for reading and participating!

I'm finding all of the focus on 9/11 a little hard to deal with. The attacks happened when I had just started high school and have had a deep impact on me mentally and emotionally. I also suffer from depression and anxiety (on medication, looking for a therapist), and dark, frightening news stories tend to make my symptoms flare up. Any suggestions for how to cope with Sunday and all of the news stories leading up to it? I know it's important to honor the victims and the heroes, but I don't want to get swept up in the huge deal media outlets are making of it. Should I just hide under a rock?

Yep. It's okay to do that. While you won't block out all of it--you'll still see headlines in newspaper boxes, public TVs,  magazines at checkout stands, etc.--I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much media exposure you can avoid if you try. TV news, for example, is both one of the leading culprits in stirring the anxiety pot and one of the easiest to avoid. Just stay off news channels, and bypass commercials for local news by getting your shows online.

Obviously a total news blackout makes for underinformed citizens just as we urgently need as many informed people as possible, but checking out for a few days isn't going to make much of a dent in that regard.


Thanks so much for taking my question! I ended up going home sick the day my question was in the chat, so I didn't get to see what you wrote until later. I read your response, and mulled over it for the next two weeks. You said he sounded like he was an emotional abuser, and I read the list of other signs. I agonized and overanalyzed every interaction for two weeks, and NONE of the other signs apply to him, at all. He's incredibly supportive, never, ever belittles me in public, never blames me exclusively for problems in our relationship, and takes on his fair share of housework. I think his "gaslighting" isn't so much blaming as it's "no, I swear I didn't say that!" forgetfulness etc. He just seriously has a problem admitting he forgot anything. I think the case is that he's so smart (like, we met at a Mensa meeting smart) that he's not used to being wrong (but he is sometimes, lol) He has no problem admitting he's wrong if you have proof that he is, but when it's a he said/she said situation, he has problems admitting it. For what it's worth, his father WAS emotionally abusive, and my fiance can't stand his father. I just think he's happened to pick up this one tendency. I have called him out on it multiple times, and reminded him that it's something he hated that his dad did, and every time he's a bit crushed that he's done something his father did, because he doesn't realize he's doing it. We have talked about therapy, and he's willing to go, but we talked about wanting to try to fix the problem ourselves before committing the time and money. Is it possible that he IS still emotionally abusive and that I'm just in denial? Is it possible to be emotionally abusive when only having one of the tendencies you listed?

Two weeks ago ... that's pretty far down in my memory pile. You're the one I advised to keep a joint calendar, preferably one where you can trace who recorded what, so you can have him note the things you agreed to? Particularly the type of things he forgets agreeing to?

To answer your larger question, yes, sure, it's possible for a person to have just one trait that shows up on abuse lists, and the otherwise-goodness of the person can downgrade that abusive trait into a merely obnoxious one.

Whether this describes your fiance, I don't know. One strong point in your/his favor is that when you make the connection to his dad, he looks inward vs. lashing out. That's very uncomfortable news you're delivering to him---that he resembles someone he shaped his life around not resembling--and the way a person receives uncomfortable news is one of the key red-flag areas. The classic abuser will lash out at the messenger and refuse to question his own behavior.

As for the smaller question of how to deal with the you-say/he-says obstacles, I'm sticking with the calendar advice. 

And keep watching your own feelings for signs that you're walking on eggshells. That's also a classic place to look for trouble.

And finally, I hope I'm answering the right question. I normally do a quick browser search but the questions are unusually long today and I'm off to a slower than usual start.




that link didn't work for me. it told me the page was not found.

The link to today's column? Here's a shorter one that hopefully works:

My mother recently said "I would seriously reconsider marrying someone who smokes" referring to my intended after she lost a close friend who only made it to 55. I think she has a very valid point. What kind of ultimatum can I give here (if any)? I have only ever said "I hope you consider quitting as soon as possible because I want to be married to you longer than 20 years and I would like you to see our children get married." Should I allow it to happen naturally, on his time, or throw out a threat?

That depends solely on what you think you can live with. While it is sad and unecessary that your mom's close friend had her life shortened by cigarette smoke, and while smoking obviously comes with all kinds of added health burdens, it's not quite so black-and-white that you'll bury a smoking spouse young and rock gently on the porch with your octogenarian nonsmoking spouse. Plenty of people marry someone who has a higher than average risk of dying young, be it through illness or habits or choice of profession, and they make that choice with their eyes open. They just calculate emotionally that they'd rather have this person for a short time (with hope of a long time) than not at all.

It gets a lot trickier when kids are involved, and you apparently plan to have them. In that case, you're making a choice not just for you but also for people who have no say in the matter.


But what if it turns out you're encouraging our addiction?

I'm more than happy to be your bacon-pants pusher :)

And, since their parent's smoking habit could easily affect their health, you have to factor that in, too. (Do you, to that end, trust this person to be meticulous about keeping smoke and smoky clothes away from your someday children? It's a detour off my point here, but an important one for you to take.)

But, again, it's not as if society expects cops, firefighter, soldiers to choose against having kids just because there's a higher risk to their jobs. They're just expected not to be reckless (like anyone else, actually) and to plan ahead in case something goes wrong (like anyone else, actually).

I could go on with the thinking points, but you have enough here to start connecting the dots into an opinion you can live with. When you have that, then you talk to your beloved smoker about where you stand, and you see where that takes you.





Help! Last year I moved in with my BF, who's lived in his apartment about 15 years. The neighbors across the way have also lived here since then. They sit on their patio every night and talk loudly and drink until midnight. We hear their entire conversations (and I swear she doesn't breathe while she talks!) BF is the kind who doesn't say anything to anyone, although he does say something to me sometimes. I'm sick of it. The other night I just really needed a quiet night but Ms. Blab was out there. Outside of that I really like them as neighbors. We are are friendly, they occasionally water our plants when we're gone. I'm tempted to leave an anonymous note - which I know is cowardly - just saying that they probably don't realize how much sound travels.....but for that matter I'm also REALLY sick of another neighbor who recently got a small dog and spends all day yelling "Spike, get in here!" I mean ALL DAY (I work from home). Help! thanks~

Welcome to apartment life. How do you fare with noise mitigation strategies like music, white noise, earplugs ...?

I'm just not sure what you can say to these people. It's their patio, and her strained relationship with punctuation is really none of your business. I can see a kind mention that you can hear everything, and that you wanted them to know their conversations weren't as private as they probably thought, but making it an issue of your comfort is probably a dead-end. Best case, they keep it in mind and pipe down for a night or two, but then drift back into old habits, because that's what people tend to do. 

As for the anonymous note: yes, cowardly, -and- awful to receive. In this case, too, one would probably be too easy to track down to serve your already dubious purpose. 

Feeling a surge of helpfulness after that one.

Yep, that was me! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you! Appreciate everything! He actually asked last night if we could get a shared calendar to put on the fridge. I just need to keep standing up for myself when he pulls that kind of stuff. I told him he was being a glass bowl last time he did it and he stopped trying to convince me he was right and told me he thought it was totally hot that I did that. Guess I just need to call him names more often? ;)

Glad my headache is gone, because now I get to smash myself a new one.

Suggestions for you from readers, coming up ...


Seriously: Look into Adult ADD. The not remembering commitments is SUCH a classic sign! I know at least two people with this, one of them the husband of one of my best friends, and this drove her CRAZY until they both figured out what was going on. Now they both know how to deal with it.

Definitely worth a look, thanks. And:

I read that three times to be sure I got it right. Sometimes, I think, seemingly smart people have the most trouble in asking for help. By way of analogy, if he had a lump that seemed to grow larger every day, would he start searching the internet for information, or would he seek medical advice? There's enough of a "lump" here that they've had serious discussions about it. What harm is there in seeking out a professional opinion on the matter?

Because then he'd need to admit someone else could figure out something he couldn't!?

I don't know, that just sounded like where things were going. And, yes, for some reason it's okay for a brain surgeon to have knowledge one doesn't have, but the idea of consulting a therapist/psychoanalyst/other mental health expert is often treated as one step up from a tarot reader. Sigh. 

The difference between those folks and a smoker is that police officers, firefighters and soldiers are defending our country, and arguably doing good. Smoking does no good whatsoever, other than feeding a drug addiction.

But that's a moral argument, and I wasn't making a moral argument. I'm talking about a pure emotional calculation: "Am I ready to hitch my life to this person's, as-is, knowing his/her choices could make "till death do us part" a nearer-term reality than the typical spouse?

Now, the typical spouse also accepts that a cement truck could do the parting for them one fine morning, despite all the yoga and bran cereal in the world. So that has to factor in, too, to the it's-not-so-black-and-white argument.

But just to re-illustrate my point, let's take courage and selflessness out of it and compare the smoker not to a firefighter, but to a motorcycle enthusiast, or a gourmand with a deep family history of heart disease and diabetes, or the inventor in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang played by Dick van Dyke, who strapped a rocket to his back to see if he could fly? Not heroism, just humanism that happens to come with risking one's life more than others do. 

Yes, I can be cautious and advise people to shun them all as marriage prospects, and I can climb onto a soapbox and declare they're all immoral for having kids, but that runs counter to everything I believe. I believe we're all better off--happier-- making our own choices based on what's right for us, as long as we do it with eyes open vs. in the grip of wishful thining, even when that means suffering a premature loss that was foreseeable all the way.

what does "her strained relationship with punctuation" mean???

Once she stops talking she doesn't stop, right? So, no commas, dashes, or periods. 

They have become impossible to find. I was reduced to calling up the print facimille and reading it there. Help would be greatly appreciated!

The "full" archive of columns can be found here: (full in quotes because it's not updated with today's thanks to an issue being investigated). And again, just to be safe, here is a link to today's column:

I do not suffer from depression, but I can sympathize with the OP. I have nothing but sympathy for those who lost loved ones on 9/11 or in the subsequent wars. I have nothing but respect for those who served or still serve in our military. We need to remember 9/11 and learn its lessons. But, can we please stop rehashing this every single year? I don't think this is the best way for us to heal as a nation, and it is clearly counterproductive to those that were hit harder by the events. It's been 10 years. It was awful. But let's not relive 9/11 every year. Let's honor our great nation and those who were lost by growing, evolving, and moving on.

It may be wishful thinking, but I expect this 10th anniversary to be the last hurdle to the very thing you say (until the 20th). Round numbers are milestones and milestones are the times people tend to reflect. 

Prudence is a BIG fan of the anonymous note - I think this is worthy of investigation of why each of you feels the way you do.

I can tell you why I feel the way I do: because I've gotten one, and it was horrible. You feel helpless, blindsided, judged. You can't ask follow-up questions, which are often important. And you never forget that someone felt you had a right to know something, but not the right to know the source of the information. It's a loser and I won't advise it.

does that mean I can skip the 15 year high school reunion? I keep in touch with the people i want to talk to, and just saw the rest of them five years ago!

I don't know, I see reflecting as good, in most cases. Especially when there's a buffet and an open bar.

Carolyn, We're engaged and I stay over at his place most days. We haven't combined finances and maintain two separate households. Our wedding date is set for next year. Is it a good idea to live together? When is it a good idea? It would make it easier financially but I think it might just be a good idea to keep status quo until we get married.

It's a good idea to live together when you think it's a good idea to live together, and no sooner. When people are open to it at any point, I advise them to wait till they've made a mutual life commitment; in your case, engagement would qualify. Because of that, I do wonder why you think it's a good idea to "keep status quo." Not that there's anything wrong with that on its face, it's just that some reasons for wanting the status quo are great ones and some are warning signs.

When someone dumps you to stick with his plan of grocery shopping with his ex after you had stayed for the night; it's time to quit trying to make the relationship work, right?

Maybe he's got guacamole in his fridge and he's out of tortilla chips. 

If you're always the one making the effort, and this is what it took for you to see that, then this hint to call it quits is actually one of those very well disguised blessings. CGI-quality disguised. But still a blessing. Make an effort for people who make an effort for you.


Maybe yours was from Prudence. :)


I could have been the Aunt in today's column! My older niece appreciated everything I ever gave her - sometimes she sent a note, other times she called to say thank you. Her younger sister was the complete opposite! She felt entitled to everything and never, EVER said thank you - not even when I left work to pick her up for school when she missed her bus. When she turned 18 I stopped sending holiday gifts, bringing back gifts from vacation, doing favors, everything. Her older sister noticed and felt guilty. The younger sister simply cut me out of her life. I was only useful to her when I was giving her what she wanted. The letter writer may want to simply appreciate what she has, a generous aunt.

May want to, yes, if the situation mirrors yours. There are also situations where the favoritism is capricious and cruel, sometimes even driven by the gift-giver's psychological need to secure an ally and create a rift between the haves and have-nots. Just ask people who grew up in homes where the favorite could do no wrong and everyone else existed only to be reminded of that. In those cases, seeing the aunt as "generous" is a slap in the face to her designated have-nots.

Who is Prudence??

That would be Slate advice columnist Dear Prudence, a.k.a. Emily Yoffe, who has an advice chat here every Monday.

I'm meeting my boyfriend's parents this weekend. I love him very much and think he's the future father of my children. I don't have a great relationship with my parents anymore, so it's even more important to me that they love me. Any advice/words of encouragement?

It's not important that they love you. It's actually not important that your boyfriend loves you or that you love him, because if one of those things fails to happen then you break up.

If you and your boyfriend go on to marry, then it does become important that he loves you and that you love him, but more in a you-want-this-to-last sense than an I-need-this-to-last, because you always have you and you can get yourself through all kinds of disappointments, sometimes even better for having been through them.

As for his parents, it'll be nice if they take to you. It will be nice, also, if you respect them and enjoy their company. Not necessary, but nice.  

And when I say it's not necessary, I mean that even if your boyfriend's opinion of them is such that he needs them to like you before he'll commit to you, that still doesn't raise the stakes of your weekend beyond the point where it would be nice if you found mutual affection in them. It's still not necessary, because  it;s not necessary that you spend your life with this very man. It would just be nice.

The better you're able to keep this in mind this weekend, the less you'll need everthing to be just right, and the less pressure you'll put on yourself, and the more you'll be able to be your natural self. That's your best bet, always; just be you.

And no, that's not another kind of pressure, "be yourself or you're doomed." It'll be okay either way, whether you're nervous or not, or hit it off with his parents or not. Just trust that the natural outcome will be the best outcome for you. 


Hello Carolyn, What do you think about an open marriage? My husband is pressuring me to agree, since I'm seven months pregnant, and he's frustrated that I'm not fulfilling my "wifely" responsibilities. Granted, our sex life isn't as fulfilling to him as it was when we were trying to get pregnant, but he's really laying a guilt trip on me.

I think open marriages are a  great idea when the two people in them both think it's a great idea.

I think the idea of them is offensive when one spouse is pregnant and under pressure to agree because the other spouse can't deny himself for a few months. I hope you have your finances in order, because I have no reason to believe you aren't married to a taker of epic proportions, and that rarely ends well. 

is the name of the chitty chitty bang bang inventor. Only sharing because it's too good not to.

Agreed, thanks.

If you call someone a glass bowl and they redirect the conversation to focus on your "hotness" then this person does not take you seriously. He doesn't see her as his equal. I mean how is she not getting this??? Something tells me we need to spell it out for her.

You did, in a potentially useful way: Turnaround, if your life depended on your answering this question correctly, could you say that he treats and views you as his equal?

Please knock it off. The more sensitive, conscientious of the two sisters is also the one who is the most hurt by the imbalance of generosity. SHE is the one you are hurting, not the other one. Swallow your righteousness and give some love to the less pleasant sister (who may actually need it more for the fact that she's able to ask for it less), if for no other reason, than for the sake of the nicer sister who aches to solve this problem and has no power to do so.

This could be its own thread: "the less pleasant sister (who may actually need it more for the fact that she's able to ask for it less) ...."

Sometimes people really are ungrateful or me-centric, but I also think it's common for people to ascribe simple, negative motives where more complicated things might be happening. For example, the accessible charm of a sibling could lead to an entire childhood where the less-accessible sib gets overlooked, ignored, misread, incrementally black-sheeped. By the end of the process, that black sheep will be easy to write off--"S/he never reaches out to me ...," but what if there were points along the way when the adults didn't act like adults and make the extra effort, thus teaching these less-accessible kids that the older relatives were concerned only with shiny things (favored sib)?

Certainly enough there for debate. 

Thanks for taking my question. Well, we are basically living together - I am at his place almost 100%. We are buying things we need together that neither of us have, such as furniture and setting up a household for two and getting a house. The only things that haven't happened are combining finances and getting married. So I guess staying at status quo isn't accurate as every day we move towards becoming one unit. I just have heard that cohabitation isn't always a good idea, but so far, it's been good.

Look at the reasons it often isn't a good idea: People move in together to save on rent or shorten a commute, and only after their stuff is commingled do they realize their relationship wasn't solid enough to justify that degree of closeness/commitment. Or, in a similar vein, they have a casual attitude toward commitment and move in together, only to find out there are other, unanticipated down sides to a casual attitude toward commitment. Or, two people move in together, and one is excited to have a warm body available without having to go on a date first, and the other thinks they're headed toward marriage. Oops. Or, they're both in agreement that moving in is the "next logical step," and the experience tells one of them that the relationship is okay but kind of meh, but now they have a dog and a couch they both paid for and everyone sees them as a couple and they do get along without fighting and maybe s/he's overthinking and marriage is the next "next logical step"?

Moving in with someone does have mistakes and bad outcomes associated with it, yes, but so does marriage. So does breaking up. All you can do is be honest with yourself about -your- situation and make the decisions about it that make sense to the two of you.




Wait, when did we go back to the 1800s? I'm so glad to know we're back to a time and place where men can demand to have an affair just because the wife who he got pregnant can no longer service his needs. This guy is a cretin and a manipulator. I now have to chant "Most men aren't like this, most men aren't like this" before I go on a revenging crusade for all of women-kind.

Make it a crusade for man-kind, too, because by far most mans are kind and they suffer by steretypical association with the "cretin and manipulator."

Is this something like Bacon Pants? This chat has its own lexicon. You should publish a Hax-tionary.

It does have its own lexicon, but "glass bowl" is from Tony Kornheiser's. Google it. It was a clever write-around for a word the Post won't print but that found its way into national news.

I have 5 nieces and nephews under the age of 4; no kids of my own. Some seem incredibly shy, others not. The 3-year-old won't speak to me and hides behind my sister whenever I'm around. For the most part I've always tried not to force things and let my sisters' children come to me when we're together. But now I'm having a hard time not favoring the youngest who's only a year old but actually seems to like having me around. And I'm having an increasingly hard time not taking the 3-year-old's action personally. Which seems incredibly dumb for an adult to do. Thoughts on a way to get right with this in my head?

You're already most of the way there; you recognize that there's something "incredibly dumb" in taking the kids' temperaments personally. (Though I think you're being a little hard on yourself.) 

Best thing you can do is have a little mantra to remind you that there are introverts and extroverts, and there are great, great people in both camps. The intros just need you to work a little harder to get to know them, because they don't have an inner force driving them to go sit in your lap and bat their eyes at you.

are a bonus, not a requirement for a good marriage. AND, it can take years for that relationship to develop. It doesn't happen overnight. I liked my husband's parents when we met, but we've had our ups and downs along the way. Now? LOVE them. But it didn't happen overnight.

Nice perspective, thanks.

Since when is it appropriate to call anyone names, catchy or otherwise?

When it's funny and you're both in on the joke. That's not what you meant, I know, but some of the hardest laughs I've had in my life are when I've been called a thoroughly inappropriate name by someone with really good comic timing. 

This guy doesn't sound nice; he sounds charming. There is a difference. Plenty of women can recognize that, but I wish all of them could.

Interesting, thanks.

Apologies, I know no one explicitly called me dumb, but when you read someone saying that they "have to spell it our for [you]" it comes across as a little imperious and I felt a little bit attacked. I know that wasn't the intent of the poster.

Well said. When I "listen" to it in my mind, the tone is of an exaspirated friend, which most people accept, but it can be a slap in the face in this form.

Which I first typed as "a face in the slap." Maybe I need to make good on my musings about padding my keyboard.

I've tried to submit the same question, many times, and it has never appeared on the chat. It is a question related to my and my boyfriend's relationship with his son's mother, and it's a pretty important question to me. I would love to have it talked about in the chat because I would like to know others' opinions on how to make the situation less harmful for my boyfriend's son. But the question never appears, despite my having sent it every week for several months, and I guess I'm tired of submitting it. Do some questions just never get posted?

Yes, some questions never get posted, usully because I don't see them during the chat. I receive hundreds, skim dozens, and answer 20 or so. I read over the outtakes when I can and pull some to use in columns, but I'm not sure I know of yours--not because I've never read it, but because it sounds like a few I've seen recently.

So, two things you can do: Post a new note to Levi with keywords to ID your question, which he can send to me now, or email it to ID'ing it as the one you're talking about here. It may just be that it's too long/too much detail for a speed forum and also too much to pack into a column (that's the biggest category of Qs that never see the light of day; things not suited to my platforms), or it's a topic I don't feel confident tackling.

But if it's one I just keep missing, I'm happy to have a look.


OH and now that I'm on the subject of topics I don't cover: 

I hope you've all seen the invitation to enter The Post's @ Work Advice Contest. Workplace questions are a staple, and I'm looking forward to helping pick a winner. 



A few weeks ago I asked (during the chat) what to do about a situation in which my (depressed) husband told our friends they needed to die because they are lawyers. Now my husband is on the cusp of losing his job, and he just doesn't care. He's not even looking for a new one. I only make half of what he does, so we're looking at losing 2/3rds of our income, which would put us on the street. My sister says I should give him an ultimatum and threaten to leave with the kids so he doesn't drag us down with him. But I just figure this is the "for worse" I vowed to stick through. What do I do, short of threatening separation, to light a fire under my husband?

What is this "for worse" pledge doing to/for your children? I appreciate and respect a dedication to your marriage, but you have other commitments, too, and you might well be to the point where serving one is a disservice to the other. 

Please enlist the help of a good family therapist. I get that you're teetering on the edge of serious money problems, so first try to get help through your employer, if you have access to an EAP. If not, then go to and look up Family-to-Family, a support class for the families of people with mental illness, as well as other support groups in your area. 

Finally: While I'm not saying, "Leave your husband," I do advise strongly against closing your mind to any one remedy to a serious problem. Whether it's, "I'll never see a shrink and tell a stranger  my problems," or, "I'll deal with my depression and not take pills as an easy way out," or, "What can I do short of X?," it's a regular thing to see people cut off an entire avenue for dealing with a problem, and it just doesn't make sense to me. Opening your mind to it doesn't mean you do it, it just means you're willing to explore -all- of your safe and legal options. People in crisis  need to explore -all- safe and legal options.  

Maybe my question came across as too desperate, but your response seemed harsh. I have a healthy perspective on the fact that maybe BF and I won't marry, but regardless of whether marraige is in our future, they're important to him, and he's important to me, so of course I want them to like me and I want for us to have a good relationship. Everyone (including BF) says "be yourself and they will love you", so I guess I was looking for something slightly more tangible. I will take your advice to keep loose and hope for the best. I know from the person that he is that they will be wonderful, but I'm still nervous anyway. Wish me luck!

If "everyone (including BF) says 'be yourself and they will love you,' " then that suggests people around you are all trying to put things in perspective for you, which suggests you have lost perspective. That's not a bad thing, it's totally normal, but it's a thing you might want to let yourself admit to and even embrace. In a, "Hey, this is who I am, and this is how it's going to be" kind of way. It's actually better to go into it all caught up in the long-term implications when you know that's the way you are, instead of being all caught up and thinking you've got it under control.

I actually can't think of any answer more tangible than the one I gave you, unless you wanted me to say, "Bring wine."  My advice is a set of step-by-step, mental instructions for putting your BF's parents in a less weekend-centric perspective, and giving you ways to forgive yourself quickly if things don't go exactly as you want them to. If that wasn't how it came across, then that's my failure to write it effectively.


Ok, here's the question: So my boyfriend and I went to his son's play last night. He's an 8th grader, and he had one of the lead parts -- he loves musical theater, and he's quite good at it. We go to every one of his plays and concerts. The problem is this: his mother and her husband apparently refuse to be anywhere near my boyfriend and I (this has never been discussed, so we're not really sure), and so at each and every one of these events, there is this awkward period after the show where we go to congratulate the child on his performance and, literally, the two of them turn their backs to us. Her parents are usually there as well, and they try to speak to us cordially (they genuinely like my boyfriend and try not to participate in their daughter's behavior), but the whole thing just gets weird. My boyfriend's son is then, of course, hugely uncomfortable, and so we usually just make a hasty exit in order to spare him any further stress. My boyfriend's and his ex's communication is so bad that during the first year or so they were divorced, she refused to speak to him at all, instead insisting on communicating through their son. Thankfully, my boyfriend stopped that and insisted that they speak enough to handle basic child-rearing issues, but obviously, any communication with her is a huge stressor for him. The situation seems to have worsened since she remarried; we're not sure whether her husband is insisting on the back-turning or what. Meanwhile, through all of this, I feel horrible for my boyfriend's son, who is really a great kid. He and I get along fabulously, and so while I have briefly thought about not going to his events anymore (perhaps it is my presence that infuriates the ex so much? ), that is really not an option, as he would be very hurt if I wasn't there (he practices his songs with me, we go shopping for costumes together, etc.). So is there anything we can do? I'm not really looking for a perfect solution, because I know you can't control someone else's behavior, but any ideas you've got for staying on the high road, while taking good care of a child who doesn't deserve any of this drama, would be much appreciated. Thanks, Carolyn.

Ah, I recognize this, thanks. (I've seen it once or twice, though, and didn't spot the high-volume submission).

I didn't answer you partly due to length, but also partly because I don't have much to add: It sounds as if you and your BF (and the kid's grandparents) are doing your best to show the boy that he's loved and that his mother's behavior is outside the norm; you've just collectively chosen to approach this quietly, vs by making a scene. 

When people are making the best choices they can under difficult circumstances, there isn't much for a columnist to add. If you'd like, there's nothing stopping you from enlisting the help of a family therapist, to see if there are any small details or  big ideas that you're missing. Should you find and develop a rapport with someone good, s/he could also become a safe place for the boy to talk about what's on his mind, since I'm sure there's a lot that he's wrestling with at his age. 

I'm Mopeyville and thank you for taking my question. We have a long history; but ever since they broke up, it always came down to his "friendship" with his ex and how our relationship was built according to his terms. It was basically one-side 99% of the time. I got the gist of his attitude is that our relationship was very close to friends with benefits. So that was what I would have with him but he knew that was not what I wanted. He could not understand it was not easy for me or why. He acted like I shouldn't be having feelings for him. Apparently it doesn't affect him at all and wouldn't care if he couldn't see me for a month; that kind of thing matters to me. The things I enjoy doing and often doing by myself, I could not share with him because its "just not his thing". It was such been a roller coaster for me. I felt frustrated, sad and angry not knowing how to deal with my feelings about everything and knowing he could just disregard me like that by not rescheduling his "plans" like I asked him to do for the grocery shopping fiasco. In a way I blame his ex for who he is now because he lived with her so he has changed in some way. He doesn't seem like the person I knew years ago and I miss his old self. He said he missed the old days too but it is confusing to me because we will never get that back. It was hard to accept each other as who we were now. So I'm just trying to go with my life and hope the awful feeling goes away in time.

This isn't going to sound credible, but I'm going to say it anyway: Stop taking this guy's indifference personally. You're saying yourself, throughout this post, that you and he just don't ahve what you used to, don't get along they way you used to, aren't who you used to be. So, end it. Accept that people change, accept that it's over, and accept that not fitting any more is a perfectly adequate reason for ending a relationship; it doesn't have to involve any judgments about someone not being good enough or caring enough or whatever. It's not your fault, or his , and it's certainly not his ex's. You.two.don'

Now, once you've rolled that into a decision to stop calling this guy, the next step is optional but encouraged: You've agreed to be treated indifferently by someone for what sounds like a pretty long time. That's something worth running by a therapist, since the first thing you bring to a relationship and the last thing you have to count on when it goes wrong are: You. That's it. Make sure your view of you is as a person you can count on in the clutch. Otherwise, your struggle with your worth will follow you wherever you go,when there are 1. ways to resolve it in your favor and 2. people trained to teach you those ways.

My incredibly insightful aunt, who was a wonderful mother of four, always said, "Sometimes, it's when you're the least lovable that you need love the most." I always try to consider this with my own kids, as well as the kids I teach.

She sounds like someone I wish I knew. Thanks.

And, buh bye--how I carried on today. Blah blah blah. Have a great weekend, and hope to see you here next week. Now I'm going to go stand outside and, like whoa, not get wet.


Not caring about losing his job is a symptom of the depression. Threats probably won't work but dragging him to his doctor or a psychiatrist might. I've been there with my husband...good luck.

Worth a try, thanks.

I think one of my posts got lost in the mix. I answered your question (that hypothetically had my life staked on it) with a yes, I feel that he does feel we're equals. We were being silly with the whole "you're being a glass bowl!" "you're hot when you call me that!" conversation, and I guess I didn't convey that appropriately. I am fairly certain that what he was saying with that was not a redirect but a "I like that you call me out on stuff that I do when I do things like that". Writing is so not a good forum for this. As my parents always say "It's all about the tone". Now I feel like my original question has gotten completely blown out of proportion, and I am definitely checking into the adult ADD thing, because he does get fidgety, and I feel like that fits quite well.

Last word. Sounds good to me. Thanks for your thoughtful stamina.

Thanks for taking my question. The counseling suggestion is good -- I hadn't thought about that for this purpose. So we should keep going to the child's events, right? There are times when I feel like our presence makes things difficult for the child, and it's so tempting to want to take the easy way out. But that can't be the right thing -- I know he wants us there.

yes, keep supporting him, it's the best thing, unless you get to the point where you feel he's mature enough to make the decision himself about your being there (he may be already; you just don't want to give him the impression that it's all on his shoulders or that you're trying to get out of having to go. Kids do read things into adult words, more than adults do.). You're making it less difficult for him by not making a scene with the mom + stepfather. 

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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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