Carolyn Hax Live: The 15th anniversary chat (Friday, May 18)

May 18, 2012

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Carolyn Hax's advice column, which debuted May 19, 1997. Read the very first "Tell Me About It" column, tell us how Carolyn's advice has worked out for you, and don't forget to keep reading for what Carolyn does best: give her best advice.

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, May 18 at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

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

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

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Hey everybody, great to have you here as I finish off the 15th year of this column. (The Style Blog is all over it.) Not sure about 15 more--I'm going to play that by ear, like I did the first 15. 


Hi Carolyn, I know you say to save living together for when you're committed to spending the rest of your life with someone, but what about when you're 95% sure, it makes total financial sense, and the other person really wants it? I guess I'm just saying, would it be a mistake to move in at less than 100% certainty?

Yes. And I say this as a skeptic of the whole idea of 100 percent certainty. 

People opposed to the whole idea of shacking up often trot out a statistic that marriages preceded by cohabitation are more likely to end in divorce than other marriages. It's a problematic use of a complicated set of numbers and social attitudes, but here's the part of it that people in your position have to take seriously: Once you move in with someone, inertia kicks in, steering you toward staying with your live-in love--and inertia is a terrible decision-maker.

It is so, so much harder to move out of a shared life than it is to move into one. As it is, people who have a little voice telling them the relationship isn't working have to face some painful possibilities, even if they live in separate places. The ones who cohabit are often sorely tempted to ignore the little voice and press ahead with the home purchase, engagement, marriage, even children, all with nagging doubts unexplored, because that exploration blows up not just a relationship, but a home. 

Don't put yourself on that path. Just, don't. Hold out till you're sure. (Besides, if you do it because "the other person really wants it," then you have all the potential problems I just listed plus a bad precedent of not being able to stand up to the other person's pressure.)

Hi Carolyn, I'm one of four siblings, and my sisters and brother have 1-3 children each. My parents are doting, ecstatic grandparents, and I don't blame them--the little ones are awesome. I am married to the most wonderful guy in the world, and we have decided we will either adopt (in about 5 years) or skip the whole kid thing altogether. For some reason my parents find this devastating. They are keeping a respectful distance with their disappointment (no emotional blackmail or tearful confrontations), but I have to wonder why they care whether I in particular have a child when they already have 5 grandchildren, probably more to come in the future. Do you or the 'nuts have any insight into their thinking?

They love you,  and they've probably already fallen in love with the idea of the kids you'd have. My kids are still under 10 and yet I wonder sometimes if they'll be parents and what their kids will be like. 

That certainly confers no obligation on them, or you, or anyone, to provide grandkids to satisfy your parents' visions and longings, but the idea that the grandkids aren't coming will take some getting used to by some parents. 

It's great that your parents aren't being petulant about it, and that you recognize and appreciate their restraint. Now I suggest only that you try to see it from their perspective and grant them the time they need.  


Probably getting many iterations of this question today, so let me throw mine in the pile: how would you change, if at all, your answers to the questions addressed in your first column? Thanks for the wisdom and humor of the last 15 years, and here's to many years more.

Thanks so much.

I re-read that column a couple of days ago, and it just seemed so obvious that a much younger version of me had written it. How exactly? I don't know. I think the bottom line of what I advised then would be the same bottom line now. However, the middle-age version of me, in the answer to D., would have poked at how and why D. did the "stupid thing," and whether the interest in winning the boyfriend back was really about loving him, or in getting absolution through him. 

The question from S.B. wouldn't be asked today. In fact, if I wanted to know how to stay close to someone a continent away, I'd probably consult with an 11-year-old. 

I've been reading you since 1997-when I came home for grad school at GW. Your column helped me to realize that this cute vet tech was MUCH nicer to me and treating me much better as a friend than my loser boyfriend-at-the-time was acting towards me. So after we broke up, I marched up the the tech and looked him the eye and said, "I'm not dating Loser anymore" when he asked me how I was doing that day. We started dating shortly after that, have been married 11 years this July, with three boys at home. Thanks Carolyn!!!!

This is awesome. What a birthday present. Thank you.

This is a good thing. You can't expect parents to not be disappointed about certain things. But isn't this better than if the parents said "eh, we have enough grandkids, we don't care if you have any or not."? And that they are trying to hide their disappointment shows they have respect and aren't trying to impose their desires on her. This person might have the best parents that have ever been complained about in this chat.

There's a superlative worth striving for, thanks.

Carolyn, I totally agree with your warning about inertia (and I have read the statistics on divorce rate among those who shack up versus those who do not), but I wanted to pass on my story as an alternative view. My boyfriend and I moved in together with the idea that we were going to be together forever, but no concrete plans for marriage. Living with him was eye-opening, because I saw a side of him that I did not see when we lived apart. We are now planning a wedding, and I can say that I'm going into it with full knowledge and skills of what it means to live with this wonderful, imperfect man. NOT being married while we were working through what it means to live day-to-day with each other gave me the option of clearly thinking through: is this someone/the life I want forever and the freedom to say, no, I don't or (as the case may be) yes, I want this, warts and all.

Thanks. It's not so much an alternate view, though, as a supplemental one. I don't have the digging skills to produce an example right away, but my standard advice is that moving in makes sense at the point where you've decided you want to be with this person for good. I don't think it's necessary or even pragmatic to wait till marriage (though I won't even try to talk people out of it who believe that's the only path; the principles of the principals trump all). 

I love the column and discussions and have read all the discussions back to 2003 and I recently started reading the discussions in the deep achives but then the format changed and now when I try to go there via this page: Link  and I click on the deep archives it just takes me in a loop back to the same page so I can never actually get to the old discussions. What to do?


Thanks for writing in about this, and I just want to let you and the rest of the chatters know that we've heard your cries for the deep archives.  I'm talking to IT about this issue now, so hopefully it will be fixed soon.  Thanks again for letting us know about the URL.

Carolyn, in response to opposite-sex friendships, you frequently ask the writer if the friendship is transparent, out in the open, in plain view. What does that mean to you? Example: my husband reconnected with a high school ex-girlfriend and has become friends with her, apparently emailing regularly. He mentioned her in passing this weekend, for the first time. They reconnected a good 6-9 months ago. On the one hand, yay, he brought her up in conversation. On the other hand, it's been *months* of them talking without him mentioning her to me. What would transparency/plain view look like in a case like this?

This is a tough call, because it depends on context. Well, specifically, volume: Does your husband have email exchanges going at the same pace with other people from his past? If not, then you can reasonably conclude that your husband knew he was doing something you probably wouldn't like, and that means he hasn't been transparent.

You can also skip all those calculations and conclude that if he was trying too hard to act casual when he brought her up in conversation, then he probably knows full well he was sneaking. And that can be true even if he doesn't have any romantic intentions toward this ex.

I think your best bet is just to say to your husband that you're grateful he talked about her, but that you have a nagging bad feeling about the *months* of sharing they've done without your knowledge. See how he responds.

Carolyn, I have a friend who is wonderful (have known her many years) but she is not the most physically graceful person. When she visits, she (unintentionally) stomps loudly at all hours of the day and night, making me feel terrible for our downstairs neighbors, dents things or leaves scrapes on our floors and walls, and knocks things over, occasionally breaking them (without ever offering to pay for or fix damage). I adore her and know she doesn't mean it, but I cringe every time she comes over. Is there a solution here? I don't suppose it's proper to ask her (again) if she can attempt to tread more lightly. I don't want to rule out our home as a venue for getting together, so it seems I just have to suck it up, but....

Suck it up and store your breakables. Or, start scheduling your visits off-site. It's not as bad a solution as you imply with your reluctance to "rule out our home." 

My boyfriend and I have a running disagreement over how I handle my parents. They don't like him, and then they take out all their dislike on me. My boyfriend thinks that the situation will get better if I only talk about him more. To me, their dislike ties into some deep-seated prejudices, and nothing I say or do will change that, so I severely limit what I say about him, especially if they start getting too negative, so I can at least keep up a reasonably good relationship with them otherwise. But, this makes my boyfriend upset because he thinks I'm not standing up for him, and sticking my head in the sand. What can I do? I feel like I'm stuck between two people, neither of which trusts my judgment about how to handle relationships.

So, what about that--why are you trying so hard to keep the peace with people who don't respect your judgment?

I realize I don't have much information, but it does seem possible that you re-created your family's emotional comfort zone (a k a, rut) in your relationship. And that it might be time to try to create a new one.

I recently received some exciting, but private, news that I shared with my family members. Due to the private nature, I wanted to tell each group personally so I could be sure to make my own expectations clear about the fact that I didn't want them to readily share the information. Threatening to share sensitive information with others has, unfortunately, been a weapon some members of my family have used in the past during conflicts. When I told each group, I explicitly stated my desire to tell the others personally, and my hope that they would respect my decision. I recently found out that, despite my clear communication of my own expectations, one part of my family told the other. I'm not sure how to handle the situation. I'm upset they didn't respect what I had asked, but don't want to make this into a bigger deal than it is. Unfortunately, this has made me lose trust in some members of my family when it comes to sharing this sort of exciting, but confidential, news. Should I confront the "leakers?" Thoughts?

Confront them, don't confront them, that's really a matter of what you need to sleep well at night.

The more important thing is that you recognize that for people who use sensitive information as a weapon, your effort to "make my expectations clear" is the equivalent of arming the nuke. Information is good enough, but the  private, embargoed  stuff? Boom.

If you don't want people to make these power grabs, you have two choices: Don't tell the leakers anything ever again, or tell them all at once in blast announcements. 

There is a third choice--don't care who says what to whom-- and that's the one that carries with it the ultimate liberation from those who leverage gossip. However, for you to get there, you're going to have to take a long emotional journey from where you are now, since you, too, see great value in controlling the release of information. You want it to come out just the way you envision it, and you're upset when someone messes that up. Getting the messer-uppers out of the way is only a temporary solution, whereas getting rid of your own expectations of the "right" way to share things is a permanent one. 

Dear Carolyn, I'm a junior in high school, and have always been a quiet people pleaser/ super over-achiever type. I'm very active in sports and academics, and I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and do what other people want or expect of me. Lately, I've been noticing that I tend to cave to people's demands and let myself get stepped on, and I'm too afraid to advocate for myself. All this pressure to be perfect and always make other people happy is literally killing me- it has manifested itself in the form of an ongoing eating disorder. I'm too scared to ask for help, but I don't know how to handle this alone. I'm hiding everything inside, but on the inside I'm really hurting and I don't know why. I feel so guilty all the time, but I don't know how to stop the cycle.

Is there a counselor at your school, or an adult you trust enough to say to out loud, "I feel a lot of pressure to be perfect, and it scares me even to admit this to you"? Think of it as just telling one person, that's all you need to do, and even practice saying the words out loud beforehand, so it doesn't sound strange when you finally do say it to someone.

If you just can't bring yourself to do it--or if you're not confident there's an adult in your life who won't judge you--then please call the National Eating Disorders help line, 1-800-931-2237.

What you're feeling isn't uncommon ... in fact, if you have about 30 min, watch this video. I wasn't going to share this but maybe it will help you. Just about everyone has some fear that if they do things wrong they'll fall into the abyss. Find someone who your gut tells you will not judge you, and give this person a chance to help; talk to that teacher or coach, see the counselor, or make the call. 


Hi Carolyn, I'm a big fan of the chats and columns! I'm hoping you or the nuts can help me with an etiquette question. I'm a student in a highly technical field, and I recently spent a considerable sum to purchase a computer with the necessary bells and whistles that enable me to do my research from home. Despite the rise in smartphones, friends often ask to use my computer when they come over. While I would never say no to someone who really needed to, say, check in for a flight, that's never why they ask. It's always just to look up something on IMDB or wikipedia. I don't feel comfortable letting people use a machine I can't afford to replace. My boyfriend says it would be rude of me to tell people they can't use my computer, that it implies I think they will break it (which, frankly, is true of a few individuals). Is there a polite way to set this boundary when friends ask?

Boyfriend's wrong--this is your livelihood, and you have every right to tell people, no, I'm sorry, I don't let others use my computer. If you can afford it, you can get a little tablet for your guests' trivia-Googling needs, or, better yet, your boyfriend can buy you one, since he's more concerned about the appearance of good manners than he is about your professional equipment.

My in-laws are very nice people, but seem to have no interest in any of my accomplishments (recently earned Ph.D, publishing a textbook later this year, successful career in an area of academia that's relevant to THEIR heritage and not my own). All they care about is the fact that their son and I haven't given them a grandchild. How do I have a positive relationship with them if they don't care about any of what I have to offer?

Well, you don't care about what they value, either--that's one way to look at it. 

You can't make them care about your academic successes, but you can train/discipline/force yourself to look at them as people who have always and will always have a different set of things they see as important. Forget waiting for them to be impressed; it's not happening.

Nor does it diminish what you've done, or make them bad people, or make you a bad fit for their son. It simply means that you and your in-laws are going to have to make do with the very small areas where your values overlap. You both love your husband--that's always a good place to start. And even if it ended there, too, that can be enough to keep things generally positive between you ... but you also have your knowledge of  "THEIR heritage"--something that I imagine can help you understand why they value progeny above PhDs. 

She can always tell people "I'm sorry, this is my work computer and I can't let anyone else use it." It's simple. It this day and age where your movements online can be tracked, you can never be too safe with who uses your stuff, especially when it's electronic equipment for work.

Works for me, thanks.

I used to be a high school teacher, and I know many people who still are teachers, and they would listen to the junior in high school's worries with compassion, concern, and non-judgement. High School is HARD. Almost single person in high school struggles with something - self-esteem, family issues, grade pressure, feelings of failure, etc. It is normal, and the teachers there WANT to help. If there is a teacher there that you trust, believe that she or he will listen carefully and try to help you the best way they are able.

Agreed, thanks. Also shared, along with those struggles: The fear that everyone else seems not to be struggling. So much compassion is out there for the asking.

I have been in your shoes and it's a terrible place to be. It took me more than a decade to figure out that you don't have to be perfect to be lovable. I was afraid to tell anyone about my problem and was afraid that if I couldn't control my food intake I'd lose control of everything, but please know that's not true. Please seek some help, and know that many readers like me are pulling for you.

In fact, we're more lovable for our imperfections. Thanks for the firsthand account. 

Carolyn - You've referenced your serious concern with people that "control information" today and before in your advice. I'm wondering why you have such an issue with it. This obviously hits a nerve with me since I'm also a person that shares information how I want to share it, and expect others to keep things private if I ask them to. I also extend the same trust to people when they ask the same of me. Why do you think a desire to keep things private, confidential, whatever you want to call it, is such a marked negative thing? And why do you consistently link it to controlling behavior?

Because it's linked to controlling behavior. 

It's one thing to have the occasional thing you don't want everyone to know, or to be asked occasionally to keep someone's confidence. And, certainly, there's not one level of sharing that's right for everyone. 

However, a certain amount of what is said to and about any of us is beyond our control. Telling a spouse not to discuss with friends anything about your marriage, for example, is an attempt to control how you appear to others by controlling the flow of information. How is that not controlling, period?

Or, another example, having news you want to share with people, but having an idea of how you want that news shared--you want this person to know first, and this one second, or this one in person, this one as part of a group on Christmas morning, etc.--that might not be sinister, really, but it is akin to trying to be the director of your own little life-movie. That may be fine for you, but too often it also involves micromanaging what other people can and can't say about your news. How is that not controlling?

And people who do feel the need to control their information so tighly, I've seen over the years, tend to have a general discomfort with letting things take their own course. Again, some of that is a matter of a person's temperament and it's unrealistic to expect a transformation to a que-sera-sera existence. However, if you look at any warning list of controlling behaviors, you're going to see a  theme of discomfort with leaving things to others, and it's not too many leaps away from distrust in others, which isn't too many leaps away from trying to assert control over what others do. 

You can be on the healthy end of the continuum, but it is a continuum. 

I think the boyfriend has a point. There is no way to break down prejudices if the people who have them are never exposed to the good stuff about the person they arbitrarily dislike. Let your parents get to know him better. There's no guarantee they will see him for the human being he is and realize they misjudged him. But if they never are allowed to get to know him, nothing will ever change.

He has a point, and you make your argument well. I do think, though, that there comes a point where even being right isn't grounds to keep pressuring someone to behave in a different way. A "running disagreement," to me, becomes problematic in its own right, when, say, the BF in this scenario doesn't just say to his GF, "You know what? I'm tired of your trying to placate bigoted people. I'm done."

In other words, it's still a situation where the LW is (from all appearances) trying to appease to two parties who are trying to change her. The real LW needs to stand up. 

I think a good quick question to him would be, "If Suzie knew you had been keeping her a secret from me for 6-9months do you think she'd still want to be your friend?" If the answer is no, then he knows he's been doing something wrong. If the answer is yes, then they've both been doing something wrong.

Like this, thanks.

For the poster with the clumsy friend: has she always been like this? Is it getting worse? If her clumsiness is more pronounced than it used to be, you might gently suggest that she see a neurologist.

A couple of others suggested this too, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, I'm half of a married couple still working out some of the awkward things that come up in the first year of marriage. For example: socializing with old, nonmutual friends. My husband is still close with several people from college and sees them often. Sometimes I'm invited along, and I always enjoy their (and their SOs') company. But many times, my husband indicates that he would like to visit with them alone, and I accept this because I guess it's more like the old days, even though it hurts my feelings. On the other hand, my husband is implicitly invited to everything I do with my friends, but often declines invitations--that hurts my feelings, too. Am I just looking at this the wrong way? When we hang out with friends who are couples that we each know equally well, things are always great. This is the only area in which it becomes muddled.

Have you said that being excluded hurts your feelings? I.e., has he spelled out why you're not welcome to come?

This can go either way, obviously, and there are examples of going too far in both directions: one partner who isn't welcome in the other's still-trying-to-be-single playtime, vs. the parnter who goes along to everything, even if s/he's the lone, thoroughly unwelcome spouse at what was understood by all to be a girls'/boys' night out. There's too little togetherness, too much, and a wide range of normal in between. 

I think this one comes down to the root of your hurt feelings. Is it just that  your expectations of togetherness are different, or is it that he's excluding you regularly enough for it to seem like he's not fully sharing life with you?



Dear Carolyn, A few weeks ago I got engaged to a wonderful, caring man and couldn't be happier. My parents like my fiance well enough and are always pleasant to him, but they are not very enthusiastic about the upcoming wedding. I went over to their house the other night alone to ask they why they have reservations about this wedding. They told me that I am too young and not established enough to get married (I am 26 and my fiance is 28). I was floored. I am a high school social studies teacher and love my job; my fiance is a third year resident at a local hospital. Right now, money is tight, but we both have solid educations and strong work ethic. I told them this, and also reminded them that rarely does a couple start off their life established, and they would not budge. They said over and over again that marriage is a huge decision and one that I am not yet ready to make. We have been dating for 3 years, so this did not come out of nowhere. I am at a loss on where to go from here. How can I convince my parents that my fiance and I are happily planning our future, that it is not perfect, but that we are both willing to work at it everyday?

Don't bother. They said their piece, and you've considered and ruled out their concerns, so now go be the adult you are and do what you think is right. That will be more persuasive than anything you can say.

Is it ever okay for parents to just take a break? Maybe a loooong break? My husband and I have two toddlers in diapers and are totally exhausted. We have been talking about splurging on a vacation for just the two of us this summer, and leaving the girls with a long-term sitter that we would interview and vet very carefully, of course. I vacillate between thinking this is the best idea we've ever had and worrying that it's selfish. What say you?

I scrounged a bit to find a column I wrote on this in April 2011, where parents of a toddler went away for two weeks, the caregiver got exhausted and passed the child to two different substitutes--one of them the ex of a relative. 

The child was unharmed, but that was nevertheless a reminder that if parents of a very young child are going to take a spa break, then the parents need to do better than to "interview and vet very carefully" a long-term sitter. Things happen, people get sick or tired or slip through the tightest vetting. Are you ready to live with it if there's a hitch?

That said, parents have to take their exhaustion seriously, and if you don't get a break, then you're at risk of becoming the hitch. 

So, I recommend a couple of things: 

1. Before you go off on a whoo-hoo pleasure trip, revisit your regular schedule and put in more breaks. If you can swing a long-term sitter, then you can swing one once or twice a week for a standing date or just break. A parents' helper is a good option, too, where you pay a responsible high school or college student to come play with the girls for an afternoon or two while you're home tending to other things (even if it's a nap or a book). 

2. Use any candidate for a long-term sitter as a regular sitter for enough time to get your kids comfortable with this person's care, and to demonstrate competence, safety, good judgment. That's just due diligence.

3. Also before a big trip (and after you get to know this sitter) take a somewhat-local overnight. See how it goes. And, also, hire a sitter for your sitter. Chances are neither of you pulls 36 hours of kid coverage straight without any help from the outside (be it each other, or the babysitting room at the gym, or a friend who stops by, or ...), so don't expect a paid employee to do more heroic work than you do. Especially with babies and toddlers, your caregiver needs a second paid employee (or awesome friend or relative of yours) to relieve Caregiver 1 for a several hour stretch. And you need to have emergency backup so you don't end up with an unauthorized kid handoff, and you 

4.  If you get through all this and still want to take a vacation, I still think you need to make sure you and your girls are completely comfortable with your sitter and your babysitter bullpen and your emergency options, and keep it to a length where you won't hate yourself if something goes wrong. 


Carolyn, How can I tell my brain to trust my boyfriend again after I found out he cheated on me? We have been together 3 years with a lot of challenges to the relationship, from my end and his. One of the biggest challenges is that he suffers from depression. We have made a commitment to try and work through this, but I can't seem to get over the betrayal and the nagging thought that he is still cheating on me. All outward signs point to him doing everything to make this right and that he is not cheating on me...but still I am so insecure. Its been 6 months since I found out. I've been to a therapist, he's been to a therapist. The therapist didn't seem to help much. I don't know what the next step should be. Any ideas?

Why do you want to stay with him? That's the origin of any next step.

Carolyn- My boyfriend and I have both left troubled marriages in the last year and are beginning to build a life together. Our exes are really good people, who we respect, but the marriages just weren't healthy for anyone involved. I am 5 years younger and significantly thinner than his ex-wife. While I know those facts play little role in our relationship, several of his friends, and even members of his family have made "trophy wife" comments about me. Some of the comments have been in a congratulatory tone, others have been really snarky. These comments leave me feeling defensive of my worth beyond being thin, but also hurt for his ex, who is a really wonderful woman. I guess I should let it go, but I want to let people know that comparing us based on we look is insulting to everyone involved. Thoughts?

This is a perfect case for a "Wow." Followed by, as needed, "That's incredibly insulting." I don't see why you should let it go.

Chat seems very slooow-thoughts?

I think Carolyn has reached the average number of posts for this chat, so it's not slow in that respect.  Are you having any technical problems? If so, you can email me directly to discuss -

That goes for all chatters, by the way.  If you're ever having a technical problem with chats or have a chat-related question, then you can email me directly.  I'd be glad to help.

Happy anniversary, Carolyn. Please help. My husband of three+ years and I are in our early/mid thirties. Around this time last year we hit a rough patch but with some counseling and a year of us working really hard, I thought we had gotten to a much better place. I was really proud of us. When I brought up buying a house and having a child (a subject that was discussed before the rough patch), he admitted he was still unhappy. He doesn't want to split but he also doesn't want to move forward. He's back in counseling (started as couples and then therapist said he just wanted to work with him) but I'm at a loss. Do I continue to stay and hope that things improve? Or cut my losses and move forward? I love him and want to be with him but can't continue to be responsible for his unhappiness. And I want to start building the family and the future we both at one time wanted. Thank you.

Thanks, and I'm sorry about your unhappy one.

I don't usually like to get this specific, but have you thought about a trial separation? Your husband clearly has some stuff he's working on, and he's not including you in the process, so there could be somewhat counterintuitive value in stepping away to let him deal with his stuff without also having to negotiate day-to-day life in a marriage. It could have the added benefit of helping you think more clearly about what you want, what's possible and what you're willing to wait for. 

It might be that you're not ready for this, and that's fine, but if you're at the point where you're seriously willing to "cut my losses and move forward," then a separation would be a less drastic step. 

Last night my husband of 15 years, and father to my 3 kids told me that it had taken him a long time to figure out how he felt about his flirty, hot (and newly single!), female work friend, but he knows now that I am the only woman he wants. He thought this was a loving thing to say to me, and tried to smooth things over when he saw my shocked reaction, and then he went to sleep. Meanwhile, I stayed up half the night sad and angry that apparently he feels no commitment at all to me. If he meets the right woman, he'll be out the door, but in the meantime I should be perfectly happy to be the placeholder for whomever he finds next. I pretended to be asleep when he left for work this morning, because this is too big to talk about before work, but tonight after the kids are in bed, I need to explain to him why I'm not okay with washing his underwear and cooking his meals while he mulls over whether or not to date other women. My definition of marriage means that that decision is already made. If he's shopping for other women, he needs to get his own apartment, and I need a lawyer. Obviously I'm pretty reluctant to start fights, or I would have kicked him awake last night. Any tips for how to have the conversation we need to have?

He does feel a commitment to you, he just ran up against a crisis--one that many if not most married people have--and came away re-committed to you. I see it as some extraordinarily badly delivered good news. 

But, for your own peace of mind you're going to have to find out whether he really will be out the door when the next crisis is hotter (or more available) than this one. So, have your conversation tonight, ideally opened with your (I think) accurate observation: "I know you thought this was a loving thing to say to me, but what I took away from it is a new, profound fear that if your next crush is more appealing to you than I am, then you're going to leave me."

Again--I don't think he was shopping for other women, as you say, but instead wrestling with feelings for one. Even for those whose definition of marriage means the decision is already made, there can still be feelings for people outside the marriage. Please don't deny either of you that bit of humanity. Instead, concentrate on the fears he stirred up in you, and on how you hope to approach a situation like this if you're even in the position he was in, and how you hope he will if there's a next time.

To put it more simply. This sounds absolutely insane from the outside perspective. I realize this couple is tired but I can't imagine she is thinking straight consider doing this with a new sitter. There is no amount of vetting that would make this reasonable.

That's the short answer. A couple of longer ones coming:

New business opportunity: Kiddie Kennel

But first: Shorter answer! :D

Not sure how long the LW is planning on taking away, but my husband and I have found that even 3 nights away can be a mjor rejuvination. We either go somewhere where we can drive or take the train (I LOVE the train - so much more relaxing then flying) which means if there truly is a crisis we can get back.

Heck, even two nights. One is still better than none, but two nights allow you to wake  up to an entire day off. 

Another option might be to bring the kids on the vacation but also bring the sitter. The sitter can be there to take care of the children during the day or the evening - sometimes both - and the parents can be assured of some time alone without the problems of being far from these very young children. Although it would cost more to cover transportation and room for the children and sitter, it might be worth the investment.


When I had just graduated high school, a couple hired me as a nanny for their vacation. They rented a house, I came along and spent my days at the beach with the kiddos, and my nights at dinner with the family. It was a great compromise that left them free to enjoy their vacation without entirely giving up their responsibility to their children.

The house rental takes care of some of the extra cost, but it also means dirty dishes. Thx. 

I received great advice once - When you are dating that is the best it's ever going to get. Not that good relationships don't become more valuable and meaningful with time but I think I got the point. This is the easiest it's going to be so don't put up with so much BS. Cheating, depression, trust issues, and therapy just sounds like way too much for a dating couple to overcome.

That. Thanks.

Nothing wrong with going on vacation & leaving the toddler, but I'd advise two things. First, limit it to a week. Second, relying on a paid employee is asking for trouble for a zillion reasons. If there are grandparents or aunts/uncles around, that would be ideal. We did it with our daughter--if we hadn't gotten away, we would have killed her. :). Now that we're grandparents, we do it for her. But hiring a sitter seems to be a big mistake. It's a job. He/she doesn't love your kids. And their own life/problems comes first if anything comes up. Family is better.

Yes, in general, but there are sitters who do love the kids they care for, and there are grandparents who have their own agendas or blind spots. If memory serves, it was the grandma and then the aunt who handed off the toddler in that April 2011 column. 

So, "better" is someone you have grounds to trust with the most important, most vulnerable responsibility you'll ever have. 

There are resources out there for trial separations - I read "Should I Stay Or Go? : How Controlled Separation (CS) Can Save Your Marriage." It was something I was willing to try, but my spouse was not (figured it would just be a path to divorce). The therapist we were seeing then wasn't a fan, and neither was the one we last saw - and we're on the road to divorce anyway (right call). I still think that if well-discussed, planned, executed, etc. a trial/controlled separation could be helpful to some couples. But she should be prepared for the possibility of resistance from her husband and/or his therapist.

Thanks. (Dunno the book myself.)

It just killed me the last time we had an open fight about this. Killed me. I was quite literally depressed for months. Much as I would like to shrug off their crazy, I can't-- I'm very sensitive to things (not just this, not just them), I can't. But I love them very much, and I like them a lot other than this, and they've been my best friends for the better part of 25 years, and I'd rather keep up the boundaries than lose everything.

Am I reading this correctly--depressed for months because your boyfriend asked you to stand up to your parents? 

If so, then I am going to recommend therapy, not because you want to keep up the boundary with your parents, but because there don't seem to be enough boundaries among you all--or enough understanding of them. Which, like the perfectionist's self-doubt, is a surprisingly common situation to be in. Boundaries are generally learned at home, in your most formative relationships, and if your parents don't understand them (which seems to be the case here), then it only makes sense to hire a "tutor" to fill in any gaps. 

... But if I read that wrong, I'll reconsider. 

"Cheating, depression, trust issues, and therapy just sounds like way too much for a dating couple to overcome." Maybe we could say this without writing off depressed people, since I think something like 2/3 of us are going to be depressed at some point in our lives.

It was an "and," not an "or." As someone who has been clinically depressed, I don't have a problem with it.

It might also be worth exploring whether the husband was merely oversharing about a crush that was confined to his head, or whether there were things that happened that made an affair/abandonment actually a possibility. Why is the distinction important? Because we ALL entertain crushes in our heads, and can keep our brains gnawing away at fantasies even if we never have the slightest inclination to stray, but actually taking steps that could lead to the end of a marriage is a warning sign about what might happen down the road. In a healthy marriage, it's fine (and probably preferable) to keep the former to oneself; secrets about the latter are doom.

Nicely said, thanks. Though i think it's important to be open to the possibility that "taking steps" this time was enough to spook him out of ever taking steps again. Just, I guess, underscoring your "might."

That's it for today. Thanks everyone for the congrats and well-wishes, and I'm sorry I didn't answer many of your very good questions on then vs. now. I have a strange mental block when it comes to thinking broadly about what I do, and I didn't want to post a bunch of "uhhh Idunno" answers (though I'm often tempted).

Have a great weekend, and, ooh, type to you Thursday next week at noon--I'm on hockey-tournament duty Friday. 

And, I also want to say, thanks for 15 years of impossible questions, thoughtful challenges, laugh-out-loud comments and the best education I've ever gotten. 

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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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