Carolyn Hax Live

Oct 21, 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, Oct. 21at 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. I can't remember if this is an announcement or a reminder, but my Facebook page has a shiny new "subscribe" button. I post (and tweet, @carolynhax) the column every day, as well as new Hax-Philes posts and whatever else comes up. Like the chat! I have to go over and post the link there. Give me 30 seconds ...

Hi, Carolyn! What is the distinction between being not very talented at parenting and being actually emotionally abusive? I'm in the process of making sense of my childhood, but I don't want to be unfair to anyone with my labels. Thanks.

If the "process of making sense" involves a family therapist, then that's the right place to take this question, since you can get into the details of the behavior you're attempting to label. If you haven't sought reputable professional guidance, then that's where I'd start.



Hi Carolyn - my family is moving overseas a few months from now. When people learn about it, they seem to lose any sense of tact and just blurt out the first things that come to mind. Almost everything they say is extremely negative, from questioning our sanity, to saying that I won't make any friends since I don't speak the language, or that it's too dangerous (it's not at all).... I get that they're just worried for us, but this is taking a huge toll on my attitude toward our trip. I try to explain what we've done to mitigate these things (we're taking language and culture lessons, we've researched with the State department which says that the country is very safe, etc) but even I admit that I sound defensive, and the conversation usually ends with them saying that they'll pray for me because I have a tough road ahead! What's a better way for me to handle these kinds of conversations?

In the future, you can handle them by returning from overseas to a more open-minded community. Cheez.

In the meantime, pick an answer to the more thoughtless blurtages that you can use without having to think, e.g., "You say danger/craziness/isolation, I say adventure," and then don't give the topic any more traction. As always, grant the more thoughtful responses a thoughtful answer.

Also, take your emotional reactions not as an entity unto themselves, but as signals. Even though you don't want to dignify people's tactlessness with a response, you can still use this time to identify and address any buried fears they're churning up.

And finally, don't forget that this problem will go away on its own "a few months from now," which is nice.

Good luck and have fun.




Hi, Carolyn: Been seeing this same guy going on two years -- he says he is a home body and doesn't like to go out. But he will come to my home late at night, while never inviting me to his. He never shows his feelings, only in the bed. Should I continue to see him? Not to mention I see him only once a month. I tell him all the time that I care for him, and he never responds.

The "feeling dumb" says you know exactly how this description will look to anyone reading it. So, please do yourself a favor and establish this as your baseline: If it leaves you "feeling dumb," it's time for a major overhaul, and if that's not possible, then it's time to declare it a loss. 

And by baseline I mean not just a measure for this time and this relationship, but a measure for all times and all commitments, be they romantic, professional, familial. 

Hi Carolyn! I hope you're having a great week! As a writer, do you have any advice on how to you deal with paralysis at staring at blank page? I've been dealing with writer's block for the past year (I'm an academic, so it's becoming career suicide!). Even now, I'm writing a small proposal and can't seem to put words together to form a coherent sentence. Any "kick-start" suggestions for those moments when deadlines loom and there's no time to mess around? Thanks!

Then form incoherent sentences. It's important not to worry about putting down "final" words.

Also, ask yourself the fundamental question: What am I trying to say here? If you don't know, then you've just learned the first rule of writer's block: It's actually thinker's block. Once you know where you're going, the words will come out and take you there.

Carolyn, At the risk of beating a dead horse, did the OP ever write back to answer your questions? Specifically, was the sister originally against her brother taking in the parents? Did she actually offer an alternative suggestion to dissuade him? Did she finally come to her senses and respond to her brother's email? Inquiring minds want to know! Thanks...and love your chat!

Here is the OP's follow-up, from a chat about a month ago.

Nope, never got the answer to my Q.

Hi Carolyn, When my mother turned 60 she told my father she never wanted to have sex again, and if he did he should find someone else. Three years later when he took her up on the offer she declared herself betrayed and hurt. He begged her to go to counseling but she refused. She pocketed the household expense money for three months then moved out, telling everyone he cheated on her. Dad is left friendless, broke, and fairly miserable. As kids we're left completely confused, do we listen silently when acquaintances bash Dad? Do we share the details of their sex life with the world? When Mom trots out her wronged-wife routine do we offer sympathy? (She told us herself about giving him permission, but now says 'he should have know she didn't mean it'.) I wish they'd just divorced him three years ago.

When acquaintances bash dad, please don't give your tacit confimation of your mom's slander. Instead, please stand up for him. If you say, "It's a more complicated story than it appears, and we stand by our dad," then you're telling the truth without giving up one detail of their sex lives.

And, seriously, sympathy for your mom? Really? You don't have to set fire to your relationship with her, but you also don't have to torch your integrity to pander to her. You're in the rare position of -knowing- she betrayed your dad, and not vice-versa. So, you say, "Mom,  please." You know, in the conversation-ending way.

The OP should keep in mind the possibility that, after the first six months (where the novelty of everything makes even the hassles of getting settled seem exciting in their own way), it will probably take a couple of years to feel really settled. In the meantime, they may be very homesick, but that does not mean that the people back home were right. It just takes time to adjust: a lot of time. I say this in my tenth year overseas with no language barrier but a surprising cultural one (given the absence of a language barrier and the many commonalities between the two countries) that emerged.

Thanks. I've seen and heard many versions of this same story.

Why would it matter what the label is? Dealing with the specific incidents and their ramifications for your current life is what is important. Unless one is determining whether current behavior is reportable, I don't see how the label matters.

I disagree. Validation matters. The reasons matter. The degree of deviation from the norm matters. The amount that was in the parents' control matters. The parents' history matters. 

That is, they all matter in the process of understanding your own history. Some of these answers won't be available, and some will be unwelcome or incomplete, but even an incomplete picture can help create a productive way to think about the consequences, to recognize the echoes in current relationships, and to keep them from getting in the way of a rewarding adult life.

Hi Carolyn, You pretty well blew me off two weeks ago because you didn't have time to answer, so let me be more succinct - as the hotline did not answer my question. Should I tell my friend, who does not feel depressed or suicidal when he's eating healthy, that his fat, Twinkie loving, manipulative wife (and his co-dependency) are not healthy? He wants to go to a retreat center and work this out. She doesn't want him to be away for any length of time - and complains when he eats healthy. He believes his job is to keep her happy.

Actually, I had two reasons for sending you to a trained professional: 1. it was indeed late, and 2. when you're dealing with someone you believe may be suicidal, you're walking an awkward line, where on one side you're terribly limited in what you can do to help someone, and on the other you're at risk of pushing someone deeper into the abyss.

Your friend has chosen, and chosen to cater to, an apparently destructive mate. This is in itself one of the most difficult situations for a friend to reverse. If you attack the wife, then he'll likely feel he has to defend her (especially if you make this all about food and weight and attack her as his "fat, Twinkie-loving wife"). You'll also sound like the person who wants to take the reins from his wife and be the next one to control him. 

Instead, you have to limit your comments to, "I'm worried about you," "You've changed a lot," "Yes, the retreat sounds like a great idea," "Sure, keep her happy, but you need to take care of yourself to do that well," etc. And when/if you get an opening, see if he'd be open to talking to someone about what you fear is his abusive relationship. Peace at Home's still-kicking "Domestic Violence: The Facts" (which I can send you if needed), "The Gift of Fear" (chapter 10 in particular) and the MOSAIC  survey are three resources that are accessible and very clear on the issue of manipulation and control. 

And to be very clear on my end: You can only do something if he lets you. 

To the poster that wondered why it matters: My father was abusive. Being able to say that made me stop making excuses for the behavior and let me understand what boundaries I needed to draw with him to continue on with my life in a healthy way. Leaving it as just 'bad parenting' makes the need for boundaries fuzzy and possibly guilt inducing.


Any advice on how to keep bouncing back when life keeps sending bad news your way? I feel like that ambush scene in "Bonnie & Clyde" when the cops keep shooting way after B&C have probably died. My father died of ALS in July, my mother has ovarian cancer (and her chemo isn't working), our dog is 15 & on his last legs (no pun intended), my freelance business is in the tank due to the recession. I'm talking with a therapist each week, but I still feel swallowed up by the never-ending crap tsunami. Advice? Other than getting a bulk discount of Kleenex?

Crap tsunami, well said. It offers an answer, too, since what can you do except scramble to the safest possible place and wait it out? 

Since it's not actual sewage lapping at your foundation, you can get a little more creative in the way you define "safe." I can't say this enough--strip your life of the stuff that doesn't matter or can wait for later; choose one or two activities that have a renewing effect on you and make time for those religiously; and spend what little time and energy you have to spare on giving and receiving love from those whose time is running out.  Also, take faultless care of yourself, based on the holistic trinity of sleep, exercise and healthy diet.

I'm going to mix two of the most enduringly useful pieces of advice I've gotten from people during my worst times: Find a steeple to chase--i.e., use a fixed point in the distance as the thing that keeps you from losing  yourself--and know that everything external eventually passes. That includes bad times, good times, bulls, bears, and every one of us. Trust and live by the laws of change. 

You didn't pick my choice, but all of the final 4 were terrific! I think I'm already a better employee just from reading all of their entries, esp. that awesome Q & A earlier in the week.

It really was a thoughtful group, thank you, both competing and commenting on their work. 

I haven't fainted, I'm just reading questions and nothing is leaping out at me. (Which, in a literal sense, is probably a good thing.)

I'm a 20-year-old female college student. My last ex-boyfriend of 5 months was abusive: emotionally, mentally, and even physically (a few times). He met many descriptions in Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?". After a particularly ugly incident involing his screaming, calling me names, and favoring another girl over me, I dumped him. About a week later, I got into another relationship with a wonderful man who has been my close friend for 6 years (we are now 2 months in a relationship). I love him very much. Sometimes I still blame myself for the lying and abuse from the ex (and sudden a-hole antics I endured from previous boyfriends), and I'm afraid of it happening to me again. How do I learn to trust my boyfriend and get over my past experiences? -Traumatized

You can't--and, arguably, shouldn't--trust this or any other boyfriend until you trust yourself.

Not that all the guys you're with are bad. It's just that a healthy relationship is a combination of factors, including two decent people (i.e., who feel obliged to be good to others for the sake of it), honesty, confidence in your ability to read your situation, and a pinch of skepticism--not so little that you rationalize every bad thing you see into the best-case scenario, and not so much that you're chronically jealous, suspicious or fearful.

The former can happen even when you're not in the best of emotional health. There are plenty of decent people out there, and it's possible to find one even when your sensors are on the fritz. But keeping your equilibrium when you're with this person will require either a healthy outlook on your part, or a very forgiving one on your partner's.

Since you got into this new relationship without mending from the old one, and you're looking over your  shoulder half the time, I suggest you put a concerted effort into making sense of your five-month nightmare, to include putting those "sudden ----- antics" from other BF's into context.

Since  it's hard to do these things while also dating someone else, consider going through your college's health services to find a therapeutic sounding board. Otherwise, take the self-guided tour, by looking for patterns: in the men you seek out; in the way you behave with them; in the behaviors of theirs you put up with or explain away; in the emotional habits you developed when you were growing up; in the habits you observed in your parents.

Don't be afraid to bring in ideas that seem unrelated--for example, your attitude toward school or achievment or friends or money or general conflict. Walk yourself through it all to see where you're strong and where you're vulnerable. Having that map of your self to guide you within a relationship won't make you clairvoyant or invulnerable, but you can get a lot smarter about what's safe for you, what you need to be careful to avoid and what reflexive responses tend to get you into trouble. 

It definitely works both ways. Once I recognized that my parents weren't abusive, but simply the product of lousy tools they'd been given by their own parents, it became *much* easier for me to understand my childhood and move on to a happy adulthood. One of my brothers, by contrast, is still resentful about stuff that happened when he was 12 (and he's 60 now!) so I have a bird's eye view on how not to live. That baggage is awfully heavy after all these years.

Also very well said, thanks.

What sometimes works for me is to start writing in the middle rather than at the beginning (because the mere prospect of an opening sentence can sometimes be daunting enough to block even the most fluent writer). At least in this case you have the guidance of a basic standard outline for all grant proposals in your field; when writing other things, I often don't complete my outline until I'm well through my first draft, and only then am I able to rearrange sentences and paragraphs to suit the outline. Also, I often write my abstract last, after I know what I'm saying. Best of luck to ya!!!

Interesting take, thanks. Another possible answer to the daunting-first-line  question is to try writing it, and, if you're not happy with it after a few tries, to give up and keep writing. I find fairly often that my real first line turns up in my second or third paragraph, which come out after I've warmed up a bit.

To the first poster, I wanted to say that I've spent the last year in therapy figuring out the exact same question and it's been the most positive experience of my life. The process of validating what happened to you, the coping mechanisms that Little Kid You developed to deal with it, and the effect of those coping mechanisms on your adult life is incredibly powerful, as well as figuring out how to feel about your parents now that you're all adults. If you're not in therapy now, I very strongly recommend it. I know that the process of finding a therapist seems so daunting (and in fact it led me to put off therapy much longer than I should have) but I promise you it is so, so worth it.

I know I'm posting a lot of these, but they're resonant. Thank you.

Everytime I've done anything the least bit unconventional or adventerous (joining the military, going overseas, even buying a house by myself) I've had to deal with negative people 2nd guessing me. I finally concluded that they're jealous because they don't have the cajones to strike out and try something a little scary. So, you must be doing something right if you're getting advice from the debbie downers.

There's a lot of truth in this, thank you.

I also think there's a useful set of instructions between the lines for people who produce these negative reactions. As hard as it is to see oneself as a source of negativity, we'd all be better for asking ourselves occasionally how others would categorize us: supportive, or naysaying?

Obviously there are times when it's important and necessary to warn someone off something, but that truth is actually an argument for making a deliberate effort to be supportive whenever possible: It makes your warnings -so- much more powerful when the time comes to express one. 

if instead you're always the person who says, "What about the crime," "Isn't that expensive," "Aren't those schools really bad," "You're going to let your kids do/eat/say/watch/wear that?!" etc., then your most heartfelt warnings will be tuned out before you finish your sentence.

CH, I need an opinion and advice. My only nephew is getting married next Spring during the Memorial Day weekend. My husband and I have a long-standing tradition of enjoying Memorial Day weekend at our lake cottage. Each destination involves about 500 miles of travel from our home here in DC. We don't want to skip my nephew's wedding but we also don't want to break our own tradition. I haven't seen my nephew in at least 8 or 9 years and I've never met his bride-to-be. We're big fans of marriage but we're really not into weddings. I know that if we don't go to the wedding, my sister (nephew's mother) will take it as a personal affront and it will cause a rift in the family. I also firmly believe that it's none of her business what we do with our "vacation" time and personal traditions. I'm torn. What do you think?

Memorial day at the wedding, preceded or followed by a long weekend (with vacation days off work) at the cottage?

You seem to be shopping for permission to blow off the wedding. While that's certainly your prerogative, and, yes, it's none of her business what you do with your vacation time and personal traditions, and her best response to your no-showing would be to square her shoulders and declare it your loss--still. Your righteous opposition to your -sister's- major milestone seems a bit overstated. She's marrying off a child, and she wants her sister there. Would it kill you to be flexible this one year, and go?

Hi Carolyn. After years of reading your chat with a pit in my stomach, knowing that wanting things to work didn't make it so, I finally ended tumultuous 5 year relationship in April. I have felt great since then! Intellectually, I knew your advice that if you can't accept how things are, you need to end them, was true. Emotionally, I had no idea how good it would feel to finally actually make that change. My ex did not take it well. We've kept in contact as friends (his choice, I thought time apart would make it easier), and he's repeated his desire to try again. He's taking responsibility and making real changes in his life to deal with what lead to many of our problems (cheating, emotional abuse, etc). I can see he's working really hard and seeing results. So, how do you even decide about trying again? I don't know how to figure out what's fair to both of us. Thanks for any thoughts.

After years of reading my chat (thank you!), I hope you'll recognize this as a major exception to what I normally advise: 

Do -not- agree to "try again."

I think it's wonderful that "he's taking responsibility and making real changes in his life to deal with what lead to ... cheating, emotional abuse, etc" and, yay, good for him that "he's working really hard and seeing results."

But absolutely none of this comes with any obligation on your part to reward him with your trust or time or heart ever again. He can bestow the product of his hard emotional work on someone else, when he's really ready, which I highly doubt he is after 5 or 6 months. 

If that's not a good enough argument, then try this one: If he were truly in a state of good emotional health, he'd recognize that the greatest gift he can give you is your freedom to find the happiness you deserve with someone who deserves you. 

What's fair to you is what you're doing--enjoying your hard-earned happiness. What's fair to him is quite minimal: You owe him civility. That's about it. So, you can quite civilly say you're happy to hear of his progress, and you can wish him happiness in his future endeavors. 



OP wants a Yes or No answer? Here's one: No, you should not tell your suicidal friend that his problem is his twinkie-sucking wife. You should take him to see your doctor, or offer to make an appointment with his own. If OP's friend's mood is that sensitive to diet, he should probably have a metabolic workup to check for things like hypoglycemia or diabetes. But it's more likely that the association between his diet and his mood works the other way around: When he's not depressed, he has the energy to pursue a healthy lifestyle and withstand his wife's criticism. He doesn't become depressed because his diet falters, his diet falters because as he slips into depression. And even if OP's analysis is correct, his friend should know WHY a poor diet affects him this way. Medical advice would also give him some ammunition against his wife.

Good place to start, thanks.

This is convoluted, but what if the person coming back to town was a recent ex? What if the boyfriend did in fact become involved with said ex while dating the new girlfriend? He was honest about it, took some time off from both and ultimately decided he wanted to date me. I agreed, but the ex hasn't really left our lives, and I'm not sure how to deal with that.

Define how "the ex hasn't really left our lives"--specifically, the degree of choice involved, by whom. 

I've been needing to get into therapy for far too long (years). After a recent bout of pretty severe anxiety I've gotten re-motivated to go - I found a therapist who is covered by my insurance and sounds good on her website, but I called and left a message over a week ago and haven't heard back. Is this a bad sign, should I find someone else? Or am I just coming up with excuses to put off going, and should I try calling her again?

Call again, since messages can get lost. This time, leave name and number clearly at the beginning of your message, followed by your request for an appointment. Also say that if she's not taking new patients, then you'd like some names of people she can recommend, if she's willing. 

If this doesn't work, please try the usual suspects: EAP at work, checking for others covered by your insurance, or going to a local clinic that gets you started while you search for a more permanent arrangement. The Women's Center is a good one to try in the DC area.

Carolyn, I think very slowly on my feet and in emotionally charged, conflict situations I always feel like I give up too much or too soon because I just can't think fast enough to grasp a situation or figure out how to defend myself/set boundaries. I walk away from any kind of difficult encounter with regret and a feeling of shame and "less than." Should I just accept that not everyone does everything perfectly and this is one thing that I'll never get right? Or is there another approach?

Your approach--resignation, but with a buff-and-polish you can call it acceptance--is about a third of it.

Another third is developing strategies to help you work around your nature. For example, you can come up with phrases that you practice ahead of time and that you can use in these charged situations: "I really don't feel comfortable deciding anything at this moment; I'd like some time to think," followed as needed by, "I'm sorry, I can't have this conversation right now, but give me a moment and I'll come back to it." That doesn't work when you're, say, getting hassled by a store clerk or dealing with some other fast-moving, stranger encounter--but for those, you can also try a rehearsed line: "I'm going to step away for a second and let others go ahead while I consider this." 

The final third is to choose your emotional partners carefully. If you feel that someone close to you tends to take advantage of your slow emotional processing time, then this might not be the healthiest friend or mate to have. Plenty of people will respect your need to reflect and won't press you to commit to things on the spot. Since you can't choose your relatives, you'll have to take care with the timing, duration and nature of visits, which can have a similar, tempering effect.

Something I've learned to do, thanks to kids, is that if I MUST say something negative about someone else's idea, I say at least 2 positive things about it first. The benefits: it makes me actually think about the whole idea, and not immediately reject it because it's new to me, and, if, after coming up with two positive things to say, I still want to say something negative, they are a lot more likely to be open to my criticism.

Sounds good to me, thanks. Also worth a try: Asking yourself why you have a negative reaction to it. Experience (and if so, are the two things really the same, or are you projecting)?  Jealousy? Fear of losing the friend to a move? A crappy morning that you're letting seep into your view of other things?

Anybody besides me think the boyfriend is married? "Homebody" "never invites her over" "sees her once a month at her place" "only for sex."

I think everybody, including "Feeling dumb" poster. Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking.

Hi Carolyn, OP here again. Thanks so much for answering my question. My lack of trust in him and lack of self-esteem are the only problems he and I have in our relationship, and it's keeping me from feeling elation and optimism usually present in early love. I have a horrible view of mens' attitudes towards women after having 3+ boyfriends who lied, manipulated, and criticized me. Sometimes I get paranoid and voice my insecurities, and he feels hurt that I sometimes think he's going to suddenly turn into a jerk and start lying to me or start criticizing my body like the others. He is incredibly patient with me. I've been seeing a counselor at school (for free) the past 2 months about it, but I'm going to continue because I feel I still need time to heal. I have been trying to work on myself by setting aside time for my hobbies and studies, and that does help to an extent.

I'm glad to hear you're taking concrete steps toward dealing with this, including the counselor and the careful walling off of your personal time. 

There's one thing you do need to watch carefully: When you get "paranoid and voice my insecurities," he actually doesn't respond with incredible patience. He responds by taking it personally--which I liken to an invisible fence for a dog. You cross over into a truth about yourself, and he gives you a little shock to make you reconsider sharing that particular truth.

He might well be a wonderful person, just an immature one--certainly it takes a lot of emotional strength to get outside a situation and recognize that the doubts of a traumatized loved one aren't personal. But it is fair for you to ask him for that strength, by saying explicitly, "This is baggage I brought to this relationship from old ones. I'm working hard to deal with it, and not take it out on you. When I do slip, please at least consider that I'm not accusing you, I'm accusing the ghosts."

If you cross a line and, say, make accusations, then he has every right to stand up for himself--but if you're just expressing insecurity or dread, then an "I'm not that guy" answer is probably closer to what you both need to hear.

Carolyn, I love it when you end such sensible advice with this type of question. Because this is when we get to read the follow-up with the juicy facts that were omitted in the first posting like how the sister often threatens others with a knife and throws wine glasses at people, and stuff like that.

Busted. Yes, I'm drama-fishing.

What do I tell my wife when she says (almost everyday) "Your friends must think I'm a spiteful, controlling [wench]."? Most do, based on their observations of her behavior and not anything I say--I'm noticeably reticent to discuss personal issues in public. I've generally told her things like "They don't think that," but that is feeling more and more dishonest. Of course, if I even hinted at what my friends do think of her, she'd insist that I never speak to them again (yes, I know that would be spiteful and controlling). Yikes!

Look, a marlin.

Even though what you badly need is a talented counselor, I'm going to venture an answer to get you out of your lie:

"Why do you think they'd think that?" There can't be even a whiff of accusation or sarcasm to this, or else the whole effort is a goner--that effort being to open the topic to an actual conversation, instead of her baiting you and your lying to her. If she answers defensively ("If"! I crack myself up), then go into full-on soothe mode: "I'm not attacking, I'm asking that as an honest question. You make that remark a lot, and I want to know what you're feeling." 

Because that's everything here--what she's feeling and not telling you or acting on in a loving or productive way, and what you're feeling but not telling her or acting on in a loving or productive way. She's acting out, and there's a "why" there that you both need to face. 

If you're not sure you can go into a session like this without getting angry, snarky, accusatory, defensive, etc, then think carefully about what you'd need to get to that state. Given how high her defenses are, you're going to need to have emotional zen as your target resting state throughout the discussion. Seriously. She's going to need to feel safe, if that's even possible--and if not, then please see "counseling," above, but go alone. (Control issues and joint counseling don't mix, at least not till individual counseling has progressed to a certain point.)


How many questions are submitted during this live chat? You must have hundreds to choose from!!

I do, but I see only dozens while I'm live--I try to read the rest later, as time permits.

Think of it this way: If he was content to mess with you for FIVE YEARS, and the only thing that made him decide to change was losing his punching bag, then do you think he is really invested in this change? A decent human being (one who makes mistakes and owns up to them) rectifies his life and changes behavior because it's the right thing to do, not because he thinks it will win him back his punching bag.

That's a good way to think about it, thanks.

Here's another way to look at it: Even if said human being sees it as true love, squandered by his own bad choices, and--again, as he sees it--he really is sincere about wanting her back as partner vs punching bag, the original poster (or any ex in this situation) has to account for the shock of change. He has lost his FIVE YEAR relationship and (we'll stipulate) is genuinely wrestling with some heavy emotional stuff. It is completely normal in this situation for people to pine for the comfort of the familiar. 

So, in other words, even if we put the shiniest, bestest-case-scenario face on this, his motives are still likely to be unhealthy for both of them. There's just no "I'm all better now, let's get back together" rationale here. Either he wants her back to regain his upper-hand status quo, or he wants her back as the comfy place that helps him feel better in a difficult time (and therefore spare him the ongoing hard work of facing his own rottenness). Two non-starters.

If you plan your wedding during Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend or New Years Eve, etc., it might make it easier for some people to attend. But shouldn't you also expect that it will make some people not want to attend because they have other things that they would rather do?

Of course. It also often makes travel more expensive for people. But this is more FYI than applicable, I think, to the question today. This is a sisterhood issue more than a scheduling issue, IMHO.

Are there any more initial cliches I can use?




Major red flag here. He could easily be thinking, "I got her to agree to stay in touch, I can probably get her back by telling her I'm reforming." This is absolutely classic. You don't, as Carolyn said, owe him any more than civility. Even if he really has reformed, what about your feeling of incredible liberation? Do you want to give that up and risk being a victim again because he's all "I did what you wanted so you owe me another try." Why yes, I have seen this before, why do you ask...

Nooooo, really?

Maybe if we frame it as, "Should I give up my euphoric happiness alone  to see if I can achieve moderate happiness with him, even though I risk a return to misery?"

What does IMHO mean?

In My Humble Opinion.

To the tsunami person - volunteer. Do something you have always wanted to do to help some{thing} in worse shape than you. This is what I did when I was laid off with one day's notice, while I was in radiation treatment for breast cancer. I got myself down to the local animal shelter and it saved my sanity. I even found out that I, a cat person, really likes dogs too.

This is a great suggestion IF it doesn't create time pressure that becomes another source of stress. 

Since part of the tsunami is the ailing mother, caring for her can have the same benefit as giving charitably--it's still getting out of your own head, and doing something tangibly good, which are the two main benefits of volunteering. But that obviously only works if the mother lives nearby. 

Stop it, stop it, stop it ... okay, BYE. That's it, donesies, enough. 

Thanks for stopping by. Hope I didn't miss anything or leave anything hanging, though I probly did. (Post me something on FB and I'll have a look through the queue.) And, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week--though I'll have to cut out at 2 next week, so scream at me as needed. Thanks again. 

This is such a female thing to do. I don't think men EVER do this. Women, for far too long, have been encouraged to be quiet about what we think or couch anyting negative with a positive. No. That's weak communication. If you think something is a bad idea, then you should just SAY it. Because if you're always trying to balance the positive with the negative, you come across as weak and wishy washy.

At work, maybe, or in some sort of joint project, or when it directly involves you--but when the idea in question is someone else's darn business and not yours, this search for the positive is exactly right. Situation matters.

thanks for the input....medical establishment just throws drugs at it. Diet and nutrition are totally linked and eating affects mood. How many readers chug coffee or alcohol and eat sugar to change their mood? BTW the comments about "fat Twinkie-loving" was to be sure I got Carolyn's attention. CH, thanks for the references. Can you post a link to the Peace At Home to which you're refering? I get a lot of hits searching that term.

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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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