Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, July 27)

Jul 27, 2012

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, July 27 at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

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

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Hi everybody, thanks for stopping by. There will be no chat next week, so if you think you might have a problem then, ask about it preemptively now.

Hi Carolyn, Regarding your answer to the LW who asked about what to do with friends who think a Facebook post or text is "reaching out," does your answer change if the person in question is one's parent? I rarely get a phone call from my mother (maybe once every several months) and never get an email. I'm lucky if she "likes" a facebook post or sends a text. I've tried calling and emailing but usually get voicemail or no response. She says she's eager to visit and be a grandmother to my kids, but I don't see a lot of effort. FWIW, she divorced my father a few years ago and is trying to have a second adolecence (ditching family for parties, talkes of little else by partying and drinking, texting while driving with my children in the car, etc). Yes, I realize this is deeper than a tendency to text, but I can't even make the first steps towards repairing our relationship if all I get is a "like" on facebook every once in a while. What do you think?

You say this: "I can't even make the first steps towards repairing our relationship if all I get is a 'like' on facebook every once in a while. "

I say this: You can't even make the first steps toward repairing your relationship if your mom is not interested in admitting and seeking treatment for her drinking problem and the emotional problems underlying it. I'm sorry.

When is the right time to evaluate a relationship? My girlfriend and I have been together for three years. I love her and she makes me happy. I could definitely see spending the rest of our lives together. However, we face a number of uphill challenges that make things difficult. We are long-distance, we each have exes with whom we share custody in our respective locations, and my family is completely unsupportive of this relationship. I feel that if we were in the same place all of the time, I wouldn't have any doubts about our relationship. But the physical distance between us can sometimes be so wearing and I feel like it's too overwhelming. So when is the right time for me to be evaluating this relationship? When we're together or when we're apart? When we're together we're happy, I feel positive about us and leave her feeling energized for the long-haul. When we're apart, my strength starts to fade and it becomes more difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure which time I should be thinking about my future.

Shared custody issue disappears when your kids are of age. How far off is that? We could sort through all the emotional stuff, but in this case I think you make your decision based on number of years before you have any hope pf being together. If it's fewer than five, I can see toughing it out, but more than that and it starts to sound like waiting for your life to start, which I never recommend. 

BTW, the significance of your family's support (or lack thereof)? 0.


Dear Carolyn: I am a 32 year old, married with children, educated professional who on outwards appearances should have no reason to be miserable. However, I am. Over the past couple of years, some events in my life have triggered some deep self esteem issues that were probably always with me but now I can't seem to get over and move on. I feel that I am unlikable, unlovable and that no one really cares about me. I have a great husband and a seemingly good life, but I am possessed by irrational thoughts that I am a worthless human being. No one in my life really seems to be able to help or give me the type of help that I can use to move forward. I think I need help but am scared and am not sure if my issues are serious enough to warrant it. I definitely think my self esteem issues are starting to impact my marriage and how I relate to my family. In addition, I see this as a cycle that my mom also suffers from and I don't want to inflict it upon my children. At what point, is there a solid basis for one to seek counseling? I am afraid to call a counseling place and have them shun me for not having serious enough issues.

No "counseling place" worth your time and respect will shun you, ever. Your fear of that, in fact, sounds like depression talking, as do a few other things you say in your question (feeling unlikable, feeling "possessed by irrational thoughts," nothing you try is working, mom had similar issues...). Please do your homework to find a reputable therapist with whom you feel comfortable, get a depression screening and then be patient while the process sorts out what's happening with your mood. 


My wife is friends with a former coworker (also married). I have always supported their friendship & never thought much of it, until one night when I saw an email from him that read "can I see you tonight?" Immediately something struck me as off -- the wording of the just didn't strike me as a "friend" tone. I thought if it was nothing (ie., just getting together to chat about work), then my wife would mention it to me...but she didn't. I went into her email later to see her reply, and found the message deleted from her inbox, as well as her trash folder (which made me think it was something she didn't want seen). Later I went & looked at our phone bill, and found that she was making multiple texts & calls to him on an almost daily basis - so much so it rivaled what she & I make day-to-day. I brought it up with my wife, who claimed she had no idea it was so much, that they are simply friends, and that it's not a big deal. Am I reading too much into this? I just can't shake the feeling something is going on outside of being just friends.

It sure looks like you have something to worry about--people don't double-delete innocent e-mails. I think you need to go back to her and say you've thought about it, you want to believe it's nothing, but that you can't shake the feeling that she's not telling you the truth. Cite the double-delete and whatever else you've seen that doesn't track with "simply friends." Then say you'd rather have a bad truth here than false reassurance.  

Of course, if she decides to stick to her story, you hit a wall; you either get to twiddle your thumbs waiting for something to happen, or you become a snoop, neither of which is an appealing option. But, till you hit that wall, I suggest making it as palatable for her as possible to tell you the truth, no matter what it is.  

Wait. Who is texting while driving with the children in the car? The LW's hard partying mom? Or is the LW saying she can't respond to her mom's texts because she's driving and has her children in the car. If the LW's mom is driving and texting with the kids in the car, she doesn't get to drive them anymore. If the LW is ignoring texts from her mom because she's driving with her kids in the car, then good for ignoring those texts. BUT, she should be ignoring any texts while she's driving whether the kids are in the car or not.

I read it as the mom texting while the grandkids are in the car. 

You say above that the significance of one's family's support for one's relationship is zero, but in other contexts, you've said that when family dislikes a significant other, one ought to at least think about whether the family is raising a valid criticism.

True. In this context, I see someone who has no doubts about the relationship except distance, so I don't see family carping as factoring in in any significant way. When there are doubts, that's usually when I say to give the family a fair hearing.

But, you're right to call me out, because family objections always deserve at least to be heard, even if you don't respect your family's opinions and even if you're not harboring doubts of your own. People have a lot more to lose by putting their fingers in their ears and saying NAH NAH NAH than they do by treating criticism as valid till proven otherwise. Thanks.

Thanks so much for answering my question, Carolyn. I know there's a ton of baggage my mother is carrying and I don't understand all if it. But she's my mom and I love her and I want her to be happy. And I want to have a relationship. I just don't know how to go about it. She won't seek treatment and I know she really thinks she has done nothing wrong. I guess I just know life is short and I don't want to regret not repairing the relationship while I had the chance.

Of course, but you also need to be realistic about how much of that repair job is really under your control. Al-anon might be a good next stop for you. Also, as others have said, don't let Mom drive your kids any more. Her judgment is too compromised.

Carolyn, Love your columns and I stay tuned to all your chats; however, I disagree with your sporadic jabs and diatribes at women who find ways to incentivize their men to stay ( a la baby ).... I hope that you are honest with yourself to acknowledge that guys play their own "games" too. We are all just trying to survive and be happy in this world. Thanks again and I love the chats.

Of course guys play their own "games." I've done crappy, manipulative stuff, too. I don't applaud any of it. Are you seriously suggesting it's okay to try to get pregnant in hopes of forcing a man to stay with you? Because I maintain there's no defense for that, and if I ever suggest there is, I hope the rest of you will harangue me into retirement. 

There's also no defense for using "incentivize" in a sentence, though the punishment for scorching eyeballs is lighter than for using human life for your own selfish ends.

No, it's more like 10 years before one of us has kids of age. Theoretically I could get into a court fight with my ex to move the kids since I have primary everything, but that sounds exhausting and expensive. Family support (lack thereof) is big for me just because I've always been the golden "perfect oldest" child. This is a gay relationship and none of my big Catholic family is pleased. So in the time that my GF and I are not together, I get a lot of whispering/snide comments/etc. that make the distance twice as hard. I keep hoping something's going to change that makes a real "Plan" come together but so far... nada.

Thanks for writing back. I'm downgrading the significance of family support back to 0, and I'm inclined to agree that moving the kids isn't a great idea as long as your ex is important to them. (If he has little or nothing to do with them, then that's a different story.)

As for waiting vs. giving up, it sounds as if the best thing you can do is to stop hoping "something's going to change," and instead choose to make a decision based on the facts at hand. That doesn't mean your decision will come quickly or painlessly, it just means you'll turn your attention to deciding, vs. distracting yourself with hope.


I didn't mean that to sound as dreary as it did.

I didn't necessarily read the overall problem here as being that grandma has a drinking problem and that and the issues underlying it are the cause of the problems with her daughter. Sounded (maybe - and if there is a drinking issue, of course it should be addressed if possible) kind of like the daughter thinks her mom is acting in ways unbecoming to women of a certain age, to the detriment of their relationship. But just because a new-ishly single older woman may be going to bars and having a few drinks instead of staying at home baking pies doesn't necessarily equal a drinking problem.

I hope you're right, because if the facts of this situation support it, then I agree with you. Thanks.

My best friend in the whole world, known him since high school (now 41) is brilliant, successful in his field. Seemed happily married, has two kids, and as of last week is living on my couch. Seems he had a long running affair with a much younger woman, spent all of his family's savings (including college funds for the kids) on gifts, cars and a home for this woman. Wife threw him out upon discovery, can't say I blame her. Frankly, I don't know how he had the time, and the depth of the deceit is deeply troubling. Given the length of our friendship, I read him the riot act asking for some kind of explanation, and the one I got was sorely lacking and deeply selfish. Very out of character for him. He's leaving my couch after the weekend, and I dont think the friendship is going to last. Having been close with his family, I was wondering if reaching out with some help for the kids' college fund ( I can afford it) or in some other way would be a good idea, or if I just should drop a note to the wife, or just butt out. Part of the problem is that friend used being with me as his go to crutch of a lie, so I fear she sees me as a co-conspirator when I was in the dark. It's all so sad.

It is sad, and infuriating, and mystifying, and familiar. I think it would be a lovely gesture for you to pitch in for the kids' college funds--not out of any sense of responsibility (and in fact doing it might make you look guilty of aiding and abetting), but just as gift to some kids you care about who got royally, um, eschewed.

The wife might refuse, but that's no reason not to try.

Dear Carolyn, My sister is homeschooling her kids this upcoming year, and I can't imagine somebody less suited to this task than she is. My brother-in-law makes good money and she does not have to work, so she does have the time to homeschool. But she does not have a college degree and was never even interested in reading on her own or academics in general. Part of me suspects she wants to homeschool because it gives her a little bit more credibility as a SAHM. We live in a good school district where my children are thriving and I am worried that my nieces and nephew will miss out on an education due to my sister. Suggestions?

"Butt out" is the only suggestion I have, I'm afraid. Even though their exercising it irresponsibly will set back these kids' educations, this is your sister's and her husband's prerogative.

Another reason not to speak up: Your reasons for concern are loaded with condescension and contempt for your sister. That puts you in a lose-lose situation, because if your dim view of your sister is absolutely bang-on justified, then she's only going to get defensive and dig in on homeschooling. If instead your dim view is not justified, and she has a far more mature approach to her kids' schooling than the one she had when she was just a kid herself, then you'll not only risk alienating her just as her kids will be needing their "village" more than ever, you'll also be the bad guy. 


Hi Carolyn, I'm in an interesting time of limbo--just finished grad school in May, husband leaves to go overseas in the fall, and I'm spending time at home. I'm going to dive into the job search once he leaves, and we're enjoying some needed, stress-free time together before he goes and the freedom to dart off on weekend trips whenever he's off. My problem is my weekday laziness. I have all of these grand plans to get the house in order, get our finances in order, write more, read more, exercise, make new friends, etc., but I can't seem to bring myself to log off or get out of bed and do them. This was fine in the weeks after I graduated and needed to succumb to exhaustion for a bit, but how do I break myself out of this pattern of utter laziness I've fallen into? Hubby has been supportive so far, but eventually he's going to get sick of coming home to a dirty house and a wife still in her PJs. Thanks.

Have you written down a schedule? Often that's all it takes, especially if it's an easy one that includes incentives for getting things done. E.g., if you're up and showered by 9 a.m. and have done some kind of exercise, and if you do 30 min of housekeeping and 30 min of banking/planning, then you can spend the afternoon on a good book. Or whatever. 

Hi Carolyn, I hope you can take this question. I've been married for five years, together for seven. My husband can be a big bully, and can go so far as to throw things around, and be really hurtful and insulting. I've been in therapy basically since we got married, and left him shortly after our wedding after a particularly scary fight. We reconciled, he worked on his anger management, and I continued therapy. We are both marijuana addicts, and I've made a lot of progress in stopping addictive habits and behaviors. I've been clean of marijuana for 4 months, and had a few relapses over the last couple of years. He continues to smoke daily and has many excuses for not giving up. My career is going very well, I've gotten myself out of debt and have a good social network. I am able to support myself. Four months ago we had another fight (not while under the influence) in which he threw things and kicked the stuffing out of our garbage can. This was the first incident in nearly four years. Then I had promised myself I would never tolerate the physical displays of aggression. Over the last four months I have been basically planning our divorce, and talking to him about my feelings. He does not ever want to listen or hear how it affects me - it's a "not this again" sort of response. So what's stopping me? I believe it's fear, and feeling like a huge hypocrite. I am no better than he is, and not sure yet if I am really self-aware enough not to make several more serious mistakes in my life. I want peace and security, and that has brought me back from the brink of divorce so many times. Not sure what I'm asking here, except your usual straight to the point perspective. Thank you.

Leaving wouldn't make you "better than he is," any more than staying would say you're his equal or inferior or whatever else. You have your life, he has his, it's not an inner-beauty contest or a contest to see who's right.

Your only reponsibility here is to make a (deceptively) simple decision based on what you think is the right path for you, using the best information you have. And that information is, if I'm reading your letter correctly:

You are not happy in your marriage.

You have established limits on what you'll tolerate, and your husband has gone beyond them.

You have expressed your feelings and asked him for what you believe you need.

Your husband has chosen not to provide you the things you've requested of him.

You are in a position to stand on your own, financially and emotionally.

All I have to add is that there's no such thing as mistake-free living, so you can expect to make several more mistakes in your life with your husband or without--which means the whole issue of making mistakes has no bearing on whether you stay  in your marriage or go.

Also, "peace and security" come in many forms, and they're no good if they're in a form you don't want or trust.

Does that help clarify your thinking?

I've become concerned during the past year or two that one of my female friends (I'm male) draws too much emotional support from me. We've been friends for many years, but lately she only seems to turn to me when things are bad with her husband. The most glaring problem between them, in my mind is that they haven't had sex in a year or two, because she feels uncomfortable having sex with him. She acts rather blithely unconcerned about this, even though it upsets him--and he's alluded to it in conversations with me). I've recommended many times that they go to couples counseling, but she instead just wants to talk over everything with me, when things are bad. She's one of my oldest and dearest friends, but I'm concerned that she may use emotional support from me to fill in gaps and that it keeps her from seeking real help. She's also now decided that she wants to have kids, but still won't be intimate with her husband. Apart from obvious logistical difficulties with that, I'm concerned for future kids, if she doesn't act to fix things.

You can't fix a lot of this, but you absolutely can fix the problem of her using "emotional support from me to fill in gaps and that [keep] her from seeking real help." Next time and every time she reaches for you as a crutch, say, "I'm sorry, I'm not the person to tell this stuff. I think you and 'Rex' need counseling." Repeat as needed. 

If you feel like adding, "And for the love of booties, don't bring a baby into this train wreck," then I won't be the one to tell you not to.

I'm in my 20s and a routine blood test showed that I have high cholesterol, 270 to be exact! I made some bad diet and exercise choices and genetics really doesn't help, but I'm drastically changing my lifestyle to lower my cholesterol and to keep it down. So I'm going on a strict diet and I'm exercising more. My issue is with going to people's houses where they cook food that I should not eat, specifically my boyfriend's parents house. They cook food that is very high in fat and sodium which is not good for me at all. While I can every once in a while splurge and get something that isn't healthy for me, I'd rather do it on my own terms. His parents take things personally and I'm afraid of offending his parents if I don't eat their food. I don't want to put my diet more at risk by eating their food, but I don't want to offend them or make them feel bad. What do I do?

Have you talked to your BF about this? What has he suggested?

My husband is a wonderful human being and I love him very much. But lately I've been berating him for little mistakes -- forgetting to pack something, taking the "wrong" way when driving, running a few minutes late, etc. Please tell me this is just a combination of heat, pregnancy hormones and anxiety about having our first child, and I'll return to my normal self soon. The reflection I'm seeing in the mirror isn't a pretty one.

You need to tell him this, out loud, probably more than once. You can even give him a suggested text for when you start berating him, like a code word to stop harping or a reminder he can give you, a la, "Remember, I am a wonderful human being and you love me very much"--that is, if you can roll with it and laugh at yourself in the heat of the moment. "Princess Bride"-ians can use, "As you wish" (or, if appropriate, but I hope not, "As you wiiiiiiiiiiish.")

If you can snap out of your pecking mode quickly, then you're probably right that it's heat, hormones and stress (oh my). If not, then you might want to think a little more carefully about what's gnawing at you and why.

Thanks for taking my question. You are right, I was harsh on my sister. It is just hard to see somebody who was so very disinterested in education her whole life decide to be a teacher. I will butt out and let the chips fall where they may.

As I said, you might be absolutely right in your assessment--but having so little respect for her puts you in an unusually bad position to interevene on your nieces'/nephews'* behalf. She'll smell it on you. People always do.

Actually, now that I think about it, you might (slight might) be able to get away with suggesting a local homeschool resource, if your sister hasn't hooked up with one already. There are groups and networks that make it less homeschooling than school-outside-of-schooling, which might be what she's had in mind all along.



*I'm flaking on the genders of the kids.

For the letter writer: I was also in an abusive marriage like the one you describe, to a man who smoked marijuana daily, drank heavily, regularly and explosively lost his temper, and who had little patience for my requests of more respectful treatment. Please believe me when I say there is no peace and security in a marriage to someone like that -- in fact, it's exactly the opposite. Divorce is not a picnic, but being on your own terms and away from that sort of environment makes for a far happier, not to mention infinitely more peaceful and secure, life. My life became immensely better after I left my ex and I wish the same for you.

An important pep talk, thanks.

Hello again. First, thank you for calling this situation what it is. I've always known my mom has a drinking problem and said as much to my dad a few years ago, but I pushed it out of my mind. In short, my mother has issues due to a trauma years ago that I don't know the specifics of (she said something in anger to me as a teenager but didn't elaborate). No, I haven't let her drive with my kids in the car since the texting incident and I never let her spend time with them without my supervision. I don't want her to be a cookie baking grandma, but when she chooses pub crawls over a pre-planned trip to visit us (we live in another state) and our conversations revolve around how much partying she's done without so much as a question about my family, then I get sad. Anyway, thanks so much for giving me clarity and an idea of how to move forward.

You're welcome, and I'm sorry it has come to this.

Carolyn, I really hope you will take my question and help me see my problem from a new perspective. Husband and I have been married 12 years. I have always thought it was fortunate that we shared many of the same interests. We are both very busy professionals who are physically active. However, I have been sidelined with a knee injury for the past 4 months that required surgery. I am recovering well, but it's going to be several more months before I am able to return to activities such as running. In the meantime, husband is training for half marathon and attending martial arts class. This leaves exactly 1 night a week that we spend together. I am feeling very abandoned. I have told him how I feel. He apologizes, recognizes his tendency toward single mindedness, but he is not going to give up either the half marathon or the classes. So it seems that my choices are to either hang around the house waiting on him to find time for me or to fill my time with activities that I am able to participate in. Not a hard decision. What I'm afraid of is -that this will become our future. Parallel lives where we occasionally make time for each other.

It won't be this way unless you continue to choose it after you are able to run with your husband again. 

That said, there are two concerns that warrant your attention. One is that neither your health nor his is guaranteed, and so it would be smart to prepare yourself for a time when you can't count on your default compatibility and instead have to make an effort to share interests.

The second is toothpaste you won't get back in the tube: You've seen that when you're in pain on the couch, your husband isn't going to cut his running schedule in half in order to keep you company. That's a revelation not to be taken lightly, especially if you have (or believe you will) cut your mileage down to keep him company through an injury. It's also quite natural to project your husband's response to your injury onto bigger challenges in your lives--what if you get really sick, or permanently disabled, or ...? Will his "single-mindedness" always take precedence over your needs?

This is worth a larger conversation--not one with an accusatory start, but one that centers on your concern that you're on your own when you'd really like his support, and you fear it will always be thus.  

I suddenly feel really old - I said something about Fonzie in the office this morning and got blank looks from the two young coworkers to whom I was speaking. They have never heard of Fonzie or Happy Days! Yikes.

Well, now you get to tell them what "jumped the shark" means, since they've no doubt heard of it, if not used it. Teach the young'uns some important cultural history.

Princess Bride - best movie ever! Just sayin'

I'm just relieved you've heard of it. 

I'm really struggling right now because I want to have a second child and my husband does not. We both agreed to stop at one and he had a vasectomy. I know he doesn't want more (he came to the conclusion before I did and gave me time to decide that for myself before scheduling his vasectomy). But he has mentioned adoption a few times, as in "if we change our minds, we can look into adoption." For what it's worth, I really was on board with the one-kid thing, and I'm not exactly sure what changed my mind, and I am a little concerned that I'm romanticizing the idea of having another one. I'm also very against the idea of trying to convince somebody that doesn't want (more or any) kids to change their mind. But I don't like keeping this from him, the feeling is very strong. Should I tell him or wait to see if the urge passes?

Don't let it build, talk about it. I suspect it'll go better if you start out by saying this is something you're not even sure about yourself, but you need to say it out loud so that it doesn't consume you.


The next part, you've pretty much written out already: "For what it's worth, I really was on board with the one-kid thing, and I'm not exactly sure what changed my mind, and I am a little concerned that I'm romanticizing the idea of having another one. I'm also very against the idea of trying to convince somebody who doesn't want (more or any) kids to change his mind. But I don't like keeping this from you."


Good luck. 

Hi! I'm 44 and have been online dating off and on for 6 years. Unsuccessfully. I mean, I've met some nice people and some weird people but never found anyone that I connected with. Now I'm reviewing my online dating is long and very detailed, and I've answered a LOT of the questions the website provides. It is probably TMI. So should I take down all of the content and just put up some sexy pictures? The problem with that is I'm not a sexy picture type...I'm really more interested in the kind of guy who would read a profile and respond to something about me other than my looks, which are of the ordinary girl next door variety. Please advise!

Okay, you realized you're at Z--but that's no reason to zoom all the way to A. Edit your profile vs. replacing it with fiction. You but with less detail. Aim for M-Q. 

My husband and I just talked about what I can do to keep my snipping at bay. He suggested that I pour out my pregnancy woes to the tune of "Guy on a Buffalo": Even more ridiculous than Princess Bride, and a great idea. I couldn't stop laughing, and it's hard to nag when you're doubled over.

It's also hard to be doubled over when 8 mos pregnant, isn't it? 

First, although no sex for a year or two is a problem, it is probably really a symptom of a much deeper problem--so yes, they should head to counseling. Anyway, I'm putting my chips on she's really in love with the poster (big reason to extricate himself from the situation)

Certainly possible. Also possible, she's not in love, but in ... distraction, if that makes any sense. She's avoiding the trouble at home and looking for attention outside of it. Either way, the advice is the same: Dive, dive, dive ...

This question touched on a hot topic in my house right now. I have committed to a half ironman this fall. I did so speaking with my spouse and now that the training is coming into a full swing, he's very unhappy about the time commitment required. First it was I'm not home in the evenings, so I started getting up DAILY at 4am to work out so I could be home in the evenings, well, now the complaint is that he misses me sleeping next to him for those extra 2 hours. I get I spend a lot of time training, but this is a life goal for me and something I take very seriously considering the number of recent deaths in the triathlon world. I see this as a suck it up, it'll be over in 2 months once the race is done, and he agreed to this when I signed up. Am I the husband in this circumstance? Should I back off and spend more time at home with him? (I've asked him to run/bike with me, he has no interest.)

Nope, this is  different. This is a onetime pursuit of a onetime goal, and it will be over in two months.


If anything I could argue your spouse is the one in the husband's position here, for not supporting you through a temporary change in what you need. Just because yours is positive and optional vs. negative and accidental doesn't mean the essential emotional dynamic can't be the same.


If memory serves (how quickly the details get pushed out of my mind, it's scary), the husband of the injured runner wasn't just training for an event, he was also going to classes just for the sake of classes? If you were doing something similar, and adding X commitment on top of your half-ironman, then you'd be more like the OP's absentee spouse.

Someone who describes their looks as "the ordinary girl next door variety" doesn't sound like she has a lot of self-esteem, which may be a bigger issue than the looks or the profile.

"Therapists won't want to see me because my problems aren't significant enough" is a sign of low-self-esteem. "I'm not a raving beauty" or "I'm not a sexy-picture person" could be signs as well, sure, but they could also be signs of refreshing honesty and self-acceptance. 

While I heartily endorse the "butt out," I couldn't help but notice that the OP said that her sister doesn't have a college degree. In most states (VA I know), a college degree is required before you home school. Some parents think that they can just decide to keep their kids home and teach them, but it's a little more complicated than that. Unless her sister wants to run afoul of the state truancy laws, she needs to have her ducks in a row. But I agree that this information needs to be delivered carefully.

Interesting--I had no idea about the degree requirement. Thanks.

Thank you for taking my question. It is the larger issue. I have in the past curtailed my activities when he was injured, I am much better at giving than in receiving. It is difficult for me to demand support. I end up feeling like a drama queen, because I have to be completely miserable before I am able to voice my needs. That is on me. And you are completely correct that I am seeing that I am on my own and I resent it. Before my surgery I had a very important event (to me) and he misjudged the ending time and was not there when I finished the race. I have been there for every one of his races, start and finish - freezing cold, rain, etc. I do not want to settle for second place.

That's something you'll need to articulate, then. You also need to think carefully through the two unappealing possibilities (the appealing one, that he hears you and puts in a genuine and sustained effort to show you the same care you show him): 1. That he hears you and makes some effort, but not to the degree you hoped for, because he just shows affection in a different way from what you'd prefer; 2. that he doesn't budge and continues to dote on himself as his No. 1. Both of these leave you with the prospect of just accepting your husband for who he is and making your life decisions accordingly, but if anything the 1st is harder, since you can probably sympathize with him while also not being happy.

In the meantime, you need to do some work on identifying and expressing what you need, and on regarding that process as a gift to others vs. a whiny imposition. If you didn't tell your husband, for example, how important that event was, and yet it mattered enough to you that you're still upset that he missed it, then you actually set him up to fail you.

What you describe is the thought pattern of the habitual people-pleaser, and it's a hard habit to break--especially since it's hard to see a habit rooted in serving others as "bad." Yet, again, if you're not equipping people to give you what you need, and then harboring resentment when they fail you, then you're not serving them--or you, or anyone. It's actually an unselfish act to say to someone you love, "This is important to me, and I really want you to be there/care about it, too/help me by not standing in my way." It doesn't mean you'll get what you want--but it does mean you'll be able to see who is and isn't willing to give you what you want, and that's one of the most important pieces of information you can take into a decision to commit to someone.

Changing those thought patterns isn't easy, and it often comes with major upheaval in your closest relationships--since many of them will be in the you-give-they-take mold--but it can be done, and it can be liberating.

Have a good, close friend write it for you instead. Seriously. S/he'll give you better perspective and might see good things you don't and point out potential red flags. Plus a good friend will keep you grounded - i.e. "You like hiking? Since when? You don't even own boots!"

Emphasis on good, and emphasis on close. Thanks.

Take this from someone who was VERY successful at online dating-- met my fabulous husband online. There is actually a method to writing a good profile. The key is to be (1) positive and (2) very brief. (Also, you absolutely need to include a photo, and if you are a woman it must be a full body photo but it doesn't need to be sexy.) Here's the thing about online dating: people read profiles to try to see what they have in common with potential dates. When someone writes "I am very into tennis, I play 3x a week. I love to cook Mexican food and I have season tickets to the symphony" the reader thinks "Well crap, I don't know how to play tennis, spicy food upsets my stomach and I don't know a violin from a tuba-- I guess we aren't a good match" and they weed you out. Instead, write "I love to be active- especially outside, see live music, and I'm an adventurous eater-- and cook!" Viola-- who could say they don't have much in common with you now? The goal of your profile should be to get as many introductory short coffee/drink dates as possible so you can see if there is any chemistry-- don't get distracted with trying to find someone who has all the same interests so early. If there is chemistry, your date will sign up for tennis lessons. TRUST ME!

Another good one, thanks.

Um, yes, state requirements vary, but a college degree is not required to homeschool in VA.

So, moral of the story, look up the state requirements, since I don't have time to, unless you like my usual stretches of dead air so much that you want me to multiply them in service of a question that addresses a very narrowly defined issue.

Is there anything that I can tell my boyfriend to comfort him about the fact that his parents have always treated him and his brother differently? Their reasoning is that the other brother has a health problem, so they've always tried to make the path easier for him. This health problem obviously makes his life a little harder but not enough to necessitate the level of hand holding that has been happening for 15 years. It's obviously in my boyfriend's best interest that his parents didn't do this to him. He's much more independent than his brother and he has a much better relationship with them. In any case, he still feels like they love his brother more than him.

Seems to me the source of comfort has been available to him all along, and he has declined it--he doesn't want to believe health is the reason his parents doted on his brother. He wants to believe they love his brother more. Whether the facts point to that or his feelings do is almost irrelevant. He believes what he believes.

So, I would take it down that road for him. As in: "Okay, you have a good reason for parental favoritsm, and you;ve rejected it. You think your parents loved your brother more. What now? What if we stipulated that, yes, they loved him more--what do you want to do/say/hear/accomplish now that you have this information? Does it change the way you see yourself, or do your work, or pursue your hobbies? Do you think that makes you the better person, the lesser person--or neither because it ultimately wasn't about anything you did? Does it change the way you see your parents? Would it matter if they did it on purpose or unwittingly?"

More combative than some people want to be, perhaps, but it sounds as if there's no peace for him till he gets to the other side of this, so why not throw down a few markers along the path there? 


My in-laws are coming for a visit. They have little interest in either my husband or myself, but claim to be very interested in their grandchild. Which they are, in a trophy sort of way rather than a really caring about her sort of way. For example, the baby had a serious medical problem that lasted months and they couldn't remember basic details about it and often didn't ask how it was going. I've also discovered that my mother-in-law is emotionally abusive, mainly through refusal to speak to people when something upsets her, and that something is usually totally irrational. She did this to my husband for weeks at a time when he was little. Our baby is now almost 2 and I'm not comfortable with the in-laws being around the baby. Given their pattern of behavior, what limits should I set and how can I best protect my child?

Short, infrequent, supervised visits with er "challenging" grandparents generally won't hurt a child, and often can be enlightening. Just make sure you pull the plug if your in-laws ever find a way to be abusive to your child even in that small, supervised window--if, say, they call her fat, or treat her like she's stupid, or if they openly pit one sibling against another, the kind of stuff that can haunt a kid. 

I am a traditional person and believe that couples should marry before living together. My son has a live-in girlfriend. How do I respect their choice without condoning it? I do not want them to be an example to younger members of the family of how things are done. Should the live-in be invited to family gatherings, be viewed as "part of the family", etc? Or should we be cordial and polite but not so inclusive as to blur the lines between real family and pseudo-family?

If you hope to have any kind of relationship with your son, treat the girlfriend as you would any girlfriend. "Condoning" isn't up to you.

I think it's also a good idea to at least reach out to the wife. You feel betrayed as well. She might appreciate knowing that there wasn't a conspiracy and that you feel a little of what she's feeling.

Agreed, thanks. (Sorry for the long silence; I'm taking a last run through the queue to look for follow-ups and it's taking me longer than usual today.)

Actually, you don't need a good, close friend. You need a practical been there, done that friend. The one you'd ask to look at your resume. Someone who has done online dating, and isn't bitter.

Right, better, thanks.


And that's it for today, finally. Thanks everyone for stopping by, have a great weekend and hope to see you again Friday Aug. 10.


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The problem is, you've just given Mom permission to leave the live-in girlfriend out of family photos; possibly to exclude here from family weddings, depending on how strict family is about fiance(e)s and spouses only as guests... I think this will endanger her relationship with her son and the girlfriend. She doesn't have to allow bedroom sharing in her own house, but even that starts to seem kind of silly.

Agreed. If her approach is to exclude GF's/BF's even of the nonresident variety, then, yes, she's going to alienate this one fast. If her approach is to receive them warmly as guests of her son--which is the assumption you caught me in, thanks--then that's what she needs to continue to do. 

But it does change his work and hobbies. He works in a family business with his dad and his parents support his brother's very expensive hobby while not supporting his. So, I guess the answer is acceptance and recognizing that it's not his fault, and honestly not really about him.

Yes. And, taking it a step further by getting a new line of work, if the favoritism is so far under his skin that he can't stop thinking about it. 

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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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