Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, September 21)

Sep 21, 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, September 21 at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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

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Hi everybody. 

My mom is a lovely person but had a tendency to make things "about her" and wants to be the center of attention. I'm getting married in a couple of weeks. While fiance and I are largely paying for the wedding, we've tried to give our parents the opportunity to be involved and give input. There is one request from my mom, however, that I am struggling with- she wants to do a "mother-daughter" dance to this impossibly cheesy, awful song. I don't want to do it, for a number of reasons: 1) It will be awkward. She will likely be crying and hugging me and making a big show in front of everyone, 2) Unlike my mom, I DON'T like being the center of attention. The ceremony, first dance with hubby, and father-daughter dance are about as much as I can handle. I don't see why we need to make everyone sit through another number, either. 3) Did I mention it was cheesy? It's really a horrible song!! Problem is, if I tell her how I really feel she will be offended and act dramatic about it. What to do???

Disclosure, I come at this from the angle of not having a mom anymore, but, I suspect you'll regret it less if you just give her her dance.

Hi Carolyn! My boyfriend and I have a mutual friend. I know her from college and he has recently started working with her. She has a great sense of humor that leads to a lot of inside jokes/references. The problem is that when the three of us are hanging out together, it often happens that either my boyfriend or I (mostly I) feels left out of the conversation because of said inside jokes relating to college and/or work (mostly work). I can completely understand the desire or need to laugh/vent about work and don't want to take that away from my them. I also understand how the inside jokes are something we all turn to to make conversation and avoid awkward silences. But it really gets on my nerves when I feel like a third wheel around them. Do I need to just let this go, or should I give them some time for inside jokes, and then go with an "Okay guys, let's talk about something else now?"

Hmm where to start.

First, if this happens for a good part of every outing with this friend, then she has a lot of insecurity to go with her sense of humor. I'm not sure you'll ever really be able to neutralize that, no matter what I advise or you and your boyfriend try, unless it's just to spend very little time with this friend. 

Second, before you do or say anything, you need to give yourself an insecurity test: Is this getting to you now because she's cultivating intimacy with your boyfriend right in your face? Or is this a trait of hers that has annoyed you since your college days and you're just seeing more of it now that she and your BF are colleagues?

Third, if it's truly not a love-triangle power-grab situation and it's just the social equivalent of a housefly, then the bulk of my advice is to write it off as the cost of her companionship.

That said, and especially if your BF also finds it irritating, you have an easy solution in just asking her/them to explain the joke. "I don't get it ... is X part of Y?" It's better if your boyfriend is just as annoyed by this tendency of hers because then you can just explain the jokes to each other as they come up. The beauty of this is that joke-explaining is so annoying unto itself that doing it will help deter the insidey speak.

And ...


Fourth, I add this not to be obnoxious but to help you with people who regard this as nails on a chalkboard:

It's fifth wheel, not third. A third wheel actually is very useful because it helps stabilize a vehicle (think tricycle--stable--vs. bicycle, which requires human balance to stabilize it). A fifth wheel is the one that's extraneous. 

Hi Liz and Carolyn, I love the chats, thanks for putting up with us every week! Are the chats from before 2003 posted somewhere?


Hi, chatter! Unfortunately, the archives pre-2003 are not posted on the site at the moment. We hope to have them up again soon, but we're  having to work out a couple of things first.  When they are posted again, I'll be sure to let the Nuts know. Thank you!

My absolutely perfect wonderful sweetest best guy in the world boyfriend just disclosed that he was molested as a child. By a family friend. I freaked out more than a bit because of the whole "the molester was a molested" thing. No signs of anything weird from him at all. Is it odd that I'm freaked out?

No, not odd at all, but I do urge you to take this more seriously than to give him the "he seems unweird to me" test. Not everyone who was molested will molest--most don't, if the research I've seen is accurate, though I am not to be mistaken for an expert--so you don't want to hurt him afresh by overreacting to the correlation. At the same time, the ones who are sexually abusive don't wear signs on their heads to alert the world of their danger.

Please enlist the help of a therapist trained to understand and explain what your boyfriend needs--especially since this isn't just about "Eeek he could perpetuate the cycle"; he also has a stronger than usual need to be with people he can trust to understand what he has been through and how that might (and might not) affect him emotionally.

This expert could also teach you what warning signs to look for, of what, when and why. 

To get started, give a call to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). It's a national resource that connects you to local providers of this kind of expertise. It's possible the hot line conversation will be all that you need, in fact.

Dear Carolyn, My mother-in-law is a very sweet, well-intentioned person. Over the last few years, she's become very self-depricating and sensitive. If you express any displeasure with her, she becomes very remourseful and cries. It doesn't matter how minor the complaint is or how delicately you phrase it. Her children tiptoe around her, but sometimes disagreements are unavoidable. I'm really worried about how this will affect our family dynamic in the future. Right now, we can't treat her like a normal person. She's a lovely person, so I don't think she's trying to manipulate us, but it's getting to the point that we have to tell her what she wants to hear all the time (or else feel the guilt of making her cry).

Is anyone concerned about this apparent personality change? If the "last few years" have transformed her into a notably different person, the first order of business is to urge her to get a comprehensive exam by her doctor. 

My husband also had qualms about the individual dance with his mom. A solution that we hit upon that made it bearable: we instructed our DJ to invite others to the dance floor a minute into the dance (and that minute can seem interminable!) and set up our bridal party to jump up and do just that, which encouraged others to come out to. Mom was happy and spotlight on hubby was short. Worked pretty well.

Love it, thanks.

Personally, when I look back I regret the times I gave in to my mom's drama, rather than standing my ground. This may be a reflection of you having a better relationship with your mom than I had with mine. I suspect my relationship with my mom is closer to the LW's than yours with your mom.

Certainly a possibility, thanks. In cases where it's a constant battle against drama, I can still see an argument for giving in, but only on very rare, very select occasions--the ones you choose for your own reasons instead of succumb to out of fatigue. 

Or, if you really hate being the center of attention, nix the father-daughter dance, too. I get where you're coming from, but weddings traditionally give the father of the pride several places to showcase his relationship with his daughter (the aforementioned dance, walking her down the aisle, perhaps making a toast), while shafting the mother of the bride. It will be easier to decline this offer if the message isn't, "Oh, fine, I'll be the center of attention -- just with dad, not with you."

I like this option, too, thanks. 

Ok, it won't be the song she wants. But why don't you let her cut in half way through the father/daughter dance. Both parents get to dance with you and you still only have two dances as center of attention.

That works too. Last one on this, I promise.

My mother died unexpectedly and suddenly at the end of May at 53. She had been ill (with my dad in a caretaker role) but was expected to make a full recovery as her illness was not something deadly. Starting in early July may dad was going out on "dates" with a few women, bike rides and coffee, he acknowledged it was too early but was asked and wanted to get out of the house. I was supportive. He's now started to call a couple by their first names and the level of date is increasing (e.g. making each other dinners and he brought one to a birthday party), he seems to be seeing these women several times per week. I understand my dad is lonely and I know he is an adult without minor children. But I can't help but feel perturbed by this: it feels too much too quickly. Additionally, he has completely eschewed any grief counseling (I haven't pushed it on him at all, he complains that his doctors keep bringing it up). I haven't said anything negative about the dating (I do try to change the subject after I say something like "well that sounds fun" or "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself"), but with a trip home next weekend, I really have no idea how to deal with this situation. Is this a complete butt-out area and something I need to come to terms with on my own? Is there a non-hurtful way for me to ask he stop mentioning any women unless it gets serious? I don't want to cut myself off emotionally from my father but him talking about "Kathy" baking him cake is surprisingly upsetting.

I'm sorry about your mom--that must have been an awful shock.

Your dad's dating is "too much too quickly" for you--and that makes it something you can't ask your father to fix, no matter how understandable your discomfort is. You're both still grieving and you're both doing so in your own ways, which is fine. The problem is that your ways conflict.

You don't say whether you've gotten any grief counseling yourself, but if not I urge you to--a support group might be better than one-on-one, in this case. That's a perfect place to talk about your discomfort openly, which will take pressure off you to say something when you visit your dad.

As you'll probably hear from others at such a session--I've heard it from readers just about every time this subject has come up--people who date quickly after losing a spouse are often the ones who were happiest in their marriages. When they regard their married years as the ones that brought out their best, they're motivated to find happiness that way again.

No new love can replace an old one, of course, but I don't think people go into these bounce-back relationships with that in mind. It's more the feeling of loving and being loved that they seek. Looking at it that way might make it easier to hear about Kathy and her cake.

Does your answer to today's LW2 change if the new girlfriend DID know about the old relationship? I have been dating my boyfriend for 2 years now, but at the start I was that new girl that he got to know in a group setting before breaking up with the long-distance ex. The difference is, I knew about ex and had met her once before. I still feel immense guilt about "breaking up their relationship," though, similar to the letter, he did not cheat. Am I more at fault having known fully about the situation? Should I apologize/carry guilt/do something different in the future?

I don't see fault here at all. His feelings changed. It happens. It's best when it happens, in fact, while people are just dating, vs. further along in the commitment process.

Reading the column "High school perfectionist is hiding eating disorder" -- that definitely could have been me. I'm now in my 30s and long-since healed thanks to great friends, an amazing therapist and a lot of time. But I'm scared that my own daughter will go through the same things I went through. I can remember feeling guilty about letting people down when I was a toddler - so not just high school (although that's where the pressure compounded into an eating disorder). This girl is asking for help and who to go to -- but as a parent, how do you see that before she asks and offer help... preferably long before it reaches such a crisis point? How do I make sure my kids know that they are great even when they aren't perfect?

A big part of it is to praise them for things they control (e.g., hard work) vs. things they have innately (e.g. good looks or talent at something). The opening chapter of "Nurture Shock" covers this nicely.

And since perfectionist tendencies are so deeply rooted in feelings and the validity thereof, I also suggest you read, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk."

Sorry to kick you to longer discourses on the topic, but raising kids to feel comfortable sharing uncomfortable truths is not a two-paragraph, on-the-fly answer. It's a style of communication oriented toward valdating your kids while not styling yourself as their handy personal doormat (since that actually accomplishes the opposite of building their inner strength). 

You also have a lot of knowledge on this, too, so give yourself some credit. You know what it feels like to be on that perfectionist hamster wheel, and you probably have a decent idea what the conditions were in your home, school and relationships that helped lead you there. 

Dear Carolyn, please help. I'm about to break up with my fiance of five years. (I'm nervous about that part, but I have friends supporting me and I'm pretty sure I can handle it.) The problem is my family, and family friends. Everyone knows my fiance, and people frequently profess how great they think he is. How am I going to explain to everyone I know that I'm scrapping the relationship and life plan I've been working toward for five years, without going into the gory details? (I have the uncomfortable feeling that if I did share the gory details I'd get a lot of minimizing and apologism that I really don't want to have to deal with.)

"Yes, he is great--we just weren't as great for each other as we may have seeemed." That validates your fiance and your family/friends' opinion of him, and also drives home the point that no one on the outside can ever know what goes on between two people.

And then slam the door shut on any further discussion. It's no one's business but yours--and exceeding painful business, no doubt. Hang in there.

Dear Carolyn, Thanks so much for taking my question. About 18 months ago, my sister and mom got into a very minor argument, after which my sister decided to stop speaking to not just my mom, but me and everyone else in our extended family without an explanation. My sister is an emotional person who has suffered from depression and anxiety, and is somewhat prone to cutting friends out of her life, but none of us can imagine what would merit this level of separation from her family. We've had your typical family drama, but I consider us a highly functioning, loving family. We can see she's okay from social media updates and the occasional short notes she sends to our grandmother, but haven't been able to get any other information directly from her. Pretty much everyone in the extended family has tried to reach out to her multiple times and through different approaches and she always refuses to respond (won't pick up her phone, won't answer email)-- even to say why it is she has cut off all communication. My mom is completely devastated to have lost her oldest daughter without any explanation of why or how it can be remedied. She continues to write and call her and spend hours thinking about what she could have done wrong. My mom's sadness is exacerbated by the fact that my dad died 5 years ago, and she now feels even more alone. I've tried just about everything under the sun to get my sister back so my real question is, what can I do to help my mom? Thanks so much.

Not much. An estrangement like this equates better to a death than anything else, given loved ones' inability to bring the person back--and it comes with an extra kick that the estranged person has chosen not only to be gone, but also to reaffirm that choice with every refused attempt at contact.

One thing you can do is remind your mom that the severity of your sister's reaction means it's not likely about anything your mom did--or even about your mom at all. The grief has to run its course but the guilt and second-guessing, those you can alleviate.

You can't decide this for everyone else, but I think the whole family's rush to get involved might ultimately be counterproductive. It's sensible to make an effort to get in touch, but when everyone jumps in "multiple times" it has the unintended effect of rewarding your sister with all kinds of attention for her apparently arbitrary behavior.  

If you're not able to make a dent in your mom's self-flagellation, or if she's open to new appproaches now, then suggest she get some counseling. Again, grief counseling makes sense here, though a therapist with skill at understanding family dynamics would likely be able to bring a lot of insight to your sister's choices.

Don't know about the age range of your mother-in-law, but perhaps she's going through menopause? It affects women in different ways, but for me, difficulty controlling my emotions, or having a physical reaction out of proportion with what I was actually feeling was an aspect. One day I was at work, with no distress whatsoever, with tears running down my face, so I saw my doctor. Anyway, the fact that it kind of abruptly started with your MIL makes me wonder.

Another possibility, thanks.

I work tangentially on sexual abuse issues, and it is a HUGE misconception that those who were abused become abusers. The poster should try to ascertain how successfully her boyfriend has coped with his abuse (how does he approach sex now, for instance?), and to gauge how he thinks about it (is he horrified at the thought of similar abuse occurring to a child?). I'd say that it's a good sign that he shared his experience with her.

Thanks for weighing in.

I'm a very energetic person, I have a naturally outgoing and extroverted personality. I meet a lot of guys and have no problem getting dates with them or bonding quickly once on them. The problem is, I think I'm too forthcoming, and after a few weeks or months, they realize there's no longer a chase and lose interest. I haven't had a serious relationship in five years, and even then it was out of pity after I lost a family member. How do you recommend extroverts remain elusive when it's their natural instinct to give themselves away? How guarded do we have to be?

If you had given them a chase, then they'd just have lost interest later in the process. 

I am NOT saying you are not interesting. What I am saying is that people who are interested in the chase are interested in the chase, not the person, and so they'll stick around only as long as the chase goes on. Since no chase can last forever, the relationship won't last forever. If you want someone to stay, then be yourself, and  someone who is interested in that will stay.

Do be wary of the "bonding quickly," though. People are complicated and it takes a while to get to know fully even the most out-in-the-open personality. In fact we could debate that "know fully" is even possible. Mix your enthusiasm with a little skepticism of instant bonding, and see how it goes.

OP here, thanks for the comments. Really sorry, I didn't realize you no longer had a mom and didn't mean to sound ungrateful (forehead slap). It seems like my options are to give in or nix the father-daughter dance to keep things "fair" (the latter of which I don't want to do). I guess I don't agree that dads get all of these opportunities and moms don't- the pre-wedding activities like showers are female-centric, for instance, she's been way more involved in the planning process because sewing, etc. is her thing, and we're giving both parents opportunities to make speeches. In a way I sort of saw it as intruding on my moment with dad by saying "me too!" I think I'm going to suggest that the song is dispersed into the middle of the dancing (and hope the dance floor doesn't clear out....). Still worried she may pout at that suggestion since there won't be an individual spotlight but will give it a go.

Oh my goodness, you are under no obligation to be sensitive to my loss. No one is. I choose to disclose it when I think it's affecting my answer or when an answer might sound bizarre or out of character for me without the additional explanation. 

I also don't think this has to be a matter of fairness, especially since I'm not a fan of the whole reception script anyway--the dance, the cake-cutting, the whatever-else. This is about a marriage, the celebration of which can and should be as personal as the bride and groom want it to be. 

Take away the whole I-wish-I-could-dance-to-a-crappy-song-with-my-mom!! conceit, and this dance you're dreading still looks to me like a small thing to do for anyone. But if it's also an annoying thing that doesn't express what you and your intended want to say, then it makes sense to have a look at the whole dog-and-garter show. Why single out your mom for a "no way, too cheesy!" when arguably the whole staged-dance thing is cheesy to begin with?

Rhetorical question, which I'll answer anyway: You're annoyed that you've handed your mom all sorts of involvement just to keep her happy, and she's still not happy. Yes? No? Close?

If so--or even if it's something else, I guess--you're still going to have to decide whether you've got one more bone in you to throw her, or not. My only suggestion on that count is to make the decision on its own merits. You're not at the top of a slippery slope, and you can resume saying "no" to annoying or unreasonable demands at any time. 



I've worked directly with abuse victims in both clinical and research capacities. Some victims go on to become abusers, but the vast majority do not. Others experience psychiatric and/or physiological difficulties on a spectrum of severity. Still others are relatively unscathed by the abuse. So, it's not really a misconception that victims end up as perpetrators so much as it is a gross exaggeration of the actual statistics in that regard. Translation: the variability in outcomes is enormous. What can't hurt is suggesting her boyfriend seek therapy, if he hasn't done so already. Even a session with an experienced clinician to determine whether this experience is something worth digging into more deeply or not could be useful.

Very sensible, thanks.

An alternate view: Last January I broke up with my fiancee of three years, after finally realizing that the relationship was a disaster. I stayed way longer than I should have because my friends and family appeared to think the world of him and I neither wanted to have to justify myself nor, bizarrely, wanted anyone to think badly of him. As it turned out, pretty much all of my nearest and dearest HATED him and didn't know why I was with him, but had never wanted to tell me so out of a desire to be supportive. Your family and friends are YOUR family and friends, not his - you might be surprised by who ends up supporting your decision.

I know this isn't the point you meant to convey, but I am in awe of your nearest and dearest for their restraint. Not even showing it on their faces! Wow.

Model it yourself. Acknowledge aloud when you fail, how you feel about it, how you are moving on from it. Whether at work, "oh man, I can't believe I missed that deadline! I feel like an idiot sometimes...oh well, thank goodness Ive built up a good reputation, so they know it was extraordinary circumstances.". Or. " I had the biggest screw up at work. I'm giving myself the evening to wallow, so give me some space tonight. I'll be myself tomorrow." Or even talk to her how you feel when you let her down.

Good stuff, thanks.

Now in my 30s, I have come to realize that quite a few of my problems with self-esteem and relationships stem from my parents not only being difficult to please, but from their reluctance to let their children (my sister and me) express a range of emotions. A pre-teen or teenager might in anger tell (shout, really) you that she hates you, but that is not a punishable offense. A kid that age typically doesn't know how to effectively express emotions - particularly the negative ones - without offending everyone around them. The parent getting angry about such an event just teaches the child to suppress/hide emotion - whether it be anger or fear (of failure, for example) or what-have-you.

True--the "How to Talk ..." book is excellent on this, and offers specifics on how to respond to your kids' emotions so as not to teach them to suppress/hide as they get older. Thanks.

To the mom who wants to protect her kids from being perfectionists (and developing eating disorders): My advice is to keep your home calm and develop routines so your kids know what to expect. Often times, kids who grow up in chaos try to find ways to regain control over their lives through perfectionism. As someone who suffered from eating disorders myself, I learned that I used food as control when everything was falling apart around me. I couldn't control *anything*, but I could control how much food I put in my body. So I did that. Like the mom, I also felt guilty about letting people down from when I was a toddler. It's no coincidence that my parents divorced when I was a toddler. My life was in total chaos until adulthood, when I wasn't at the whim of my parent's decisions.

Another useful angle, thanks. 

And if calm and routine aren't possible, a safe environment still is--"safe" being a place where kids aren't punished for having feelings that aren't convenient, and aren't expected to be more mature than they're developmentally able to be.

Possible to just be open and honest with your dad? "I'm not asking you to stop doing or appreciating anything, it's just hard for me to hear about stuff like this. You+Mom has been all I've known all my life, and dealing with losing Mom and then having You+Other People at the same time is a lot for me. I love you and I just want you to understand what's going on for me, and not be hiding it from you. Please don't take this as my asking you to stop doing anything, just understand if sometimes I can't be enthusiastic about it right then or seem kinda reserved."

Also good, thanks. 

I was molested as a child, and the idea of doing that to another child is so thoroughly repugnant that it makes me physically ill to think about it. The idea that a loved one is watching me like a hawk for signs that I am doing that makes me feel violated all over again. Of course people who were molested become molesters. So do people who were not molested. Please educate yourself, and if you feel you can't divorce your underlying bias from your boyfriend, then please do both of you a favor and end things. It wasn't his fault and he doesn't need to continue being an unnecessary victim.

Extremely well said, thanks. 

Dear Carolyn, My best girlfriend died over a year ago right after she turned 44. I knew her since fourth grade. My best guy friend, Guy, lives 3 hours away and visits me once or twice a year. We talk on the phone at least once ever couple of weeks and we text every once in a while. I've known him since we were 5 and in Kindergarten. My husband met him before we got married and doesn't have a problem with us being friends. Which is a good thing, because I wouldn't have dropped Guy even if my husband did have a problem with it. Good friends are hard to come by. My husband and I will be married for 15 years in November and we have 5 kids together. We have tons in common and we get to spend every Monday together. We have breakfast out and then we just spend time together until it's time to get the kids from school. We love each other more than anything, except the kids, and I would gladly step in front of a bullet for him. Two weeks ago we had one of our friends over for dinner and I mentioned that my BFF was visiting the following week to take me out to lunch for my birthday. My husband said, "You mean I'm not your best friend?" I didn't know if he was joking or not. It has been bugging me ever since. Is my husband supposed to be my best friend? In 15 years he's never called me his best friend, which doesn't bother me in the least. To be honest we didn't even start our relationship as friends. We just jumped in and let it go where ever it took us. I guess I'm just looking for a totally objective opinion about this. Thanks!!

Sounds like this is about semantics, not feelings. You've built your life around your spouse, and your friend is your closest friend outside of that nucleus.

Hi Carolyn, Today's letters got me thinking about cheating and that confusing question of when it's justified. I am fairly unhappy in my current relationship, but we have a child together and I would prefer to stick it out than break up. I have brought my unhappiness to my partner's attention; not much has changed. Sometimes I think if the right person came along to inspire me to break this bad cycle, I would be justified in leaving and in fact it would be the best thing I ever did. But I live a lifestyle where I am unlikely to meet such a person. Am I just a screwed-up person making excuses for not trying to better my life?

I don't know whether you're screwed up, but you are being awfully tough on yourself.

It sounds to me as if you're in a position now where you're doing what's expedient, and I think everyone gets into that position at one point in life, if not several.

But you're also starting to see that expediency is not a long-term strategy. There's nothing wrong with staying right where you are while you think about the bigger question of a long-term plan that makes sense for you, your child and your partner (to the extent that you can think this for him/her).

Even if you do all that thinking only to decide to stay right where you are, where you are will become a carefully considered choice instead of the see-who-else-comes-along default it is now. And that small attitude adjustment can make a huge difference, especially when you consider that the child you're raising is watching you and learning from your example. 

If your thinking process gets stuck in any mud, then consider therapy to help you get unstuck, and no, I'm not getting a commission every time I recommend professional help today.



My best friend and I had a falling out several years ago. I've gone through the various stages of grief since then. People don't talk about how the end of a friendship can be bad but it was bad for me. I went through various stages of anger and sadness. My attempts to talk to this friend again were rebuffed. I've always tried to acknowledge to myself that we were both in the wrong for how it ended. But now I feel guilty and angry all over again. I think that maybe I did not do enough, maybe I was such a bad friend and that's why this person rebuffed me. But I am also realizing that this person was not a good friend to me, that I allowed myself to be treated badly. I feel a mix of guilt and shame and anger at myself. I thought I was through my grief, but lately, these feelings have come up again. I thought I let go and moved on. Advice?

I think it's normal for bad feelings to bubble up occasionally, even after you thought you'd left them behind. Give this relapse some time to pass. If it doesn't, then it makes sense to treat it as something larger, where you look at the context and see what possible other hard or unresolved feelings are tangled up in this breakup.

I got dumped a week ago in the midst of wedding planning. After a day or two of sobbing, I felt good. I mean, really good. I've never navigated this sort of thing before, so I'm worried the bottom's going to fall out. Is it possible that after three years of having this man in my life I can get over him so quickly?

It's possible that you (both?) spent three years telling yourself this relationship was better for you than it was. Yes?

Hi Carolyn, What's your definition of a "soul mate"? I think I've found (one of) mine--a friend of a friend. We've started hanging out and he just "gets me". I have no desire to jump into a relationship with him (though he'd love nothing more) right now, but we both agree that we're each others' soulmates. I don't think soulmates are ncessarily romantic fact, I would say that romance with a soul mate might prove catastrophic. He disagrees. What do you think? M.

I have no idea what a soul mate is to you, which is the only definition that matters, but I do have a pretty good idea of what a red flag looks like, and your short question throws two: He's pushing for a faster commitment from you than you feel comfortable giving, and he's dismissing at least one of your arguments against an immediate declaration of happiness ever after.

Could be he's just smitten and goofy but please do be careful, and make sure that he treats your need to pace yourself with complete respect--even if his hyperbole gets a little out of hand. Otherwise he's not looking out for you, he's looking out for himself; emotionally healthy people are the ones who can show respect for both parties in a transaction at all times, whether you're just two strangers merging you cars onto a highway or a couple contemplating a life together. You both look out for both of you or this won't end well. 

What shall I do? I do not know why I am so perturbed by my boyfriend's having had a subscription to Playboy magazine- before he met me. We are not young- in our late 50's. He has volunteered to throw away remaining issues that will still be coming. I am happy about that. If he no longer wants the magazine because he has me, then we are in a good place. But I have a few reservations about what the man's mindset is, and I do not know how to analyze the situation. I will not badger him about this, or be controlling. I just want to have confidence that he is not interested sexually in other women. Words of wisdom, please?

Almost all men on earth are sexually interested in people besides their chosen mates, and the ones who aren't probably just aren't sexually interested in anyone. Same is true of women, I have to think. 

Also, the connection between "wants the magazine" and "he has me" is more imagined than real. It's not as if people buy these things only when they're between sex partners; they're a source of pleasure independent of sex. If he's not compulsive and can do without the mags because you don't like them, then that's about as good an offer as he's in a position to make.

That applies as a larger point, too: The only assurance of which you can be reasonably confident is that the man you love won't act on his outside sexual interests--and the way you get that is to choose someone who shares your belief in monogamy, and who has both integrity and impulse control. I don't know whether you've known this man long enough to have discerned these things about him, but you do, so think carefully about that.

Also know that you and he differ on values in a way that can be minor or serious, depending on the intensity of each of your beliefs: He has no problem with sexy images and the buzz he gets from them, and you do. People on both sides of the issue can probably agree that you both have to make peace with the other's beliefs for this relationship to work, because even if he sets fire to his girlie mags, he'll still be a guy who doesn't think they're wrong to have around.


I have a friend who sends an e-mail update to a large mailing list every two months or so, updating everyone on the status of of her fertility treatments. These updates include some pretty specific details about her body, as well as her mental state and her progress in therapy. While I cerainly wish she and her husband the best in their desire to have a child, I don't know how to respond to these e-mails. "Good luck!" seems too flippant, and responding every two months or so with the same "I wish you the best" seems very formal. I don't want to know this much about her fertility status, as we are not particularly close friends, and the weekly "prayer requests" with cryptic messages like "I don't want to talk about it, but please pray hard for me this week!" are mildly annoying. But not responding at all seems rude. What to do?

Don't respond. It's a mass e-mail, not a personal one, so no personal response required.

And while I get your TMI concerns and would say "Ack don't do it!" to anyone who asked my advice on sending out such emails, I don't think you should doing anything about them, either. You're getting them infrequently, for one, and I bet they're serving a purpose: You know what (not) to say if you ever see her around.

I'm sure at least some of my family genuinely like him - he and my father have a lot in common and get on very well, enough that I'm mildly worried they'll remain friends/in contact. He lives in a different continent, which means it won't be MUCH contact regardless, but also means I have to explain to everyone I've ever met why I'm no longer intending to move out of the country.

No, actually, you don't: "Nope, not moving--radical change of plan! How about those Nats?" If anyone presses further, the next step is your best "I'm humoring you now, for failing to have a clue" smile, and "It's a long story ..." and for the terminally clueless, " I'd rather not tell."

You really, really, really don't have to explain yourself to third parties. Really.

I'm like this. I bet it's less about being too forthcoming with yourself, your personality, history etc, but the sense of intimacy you get from sharing all that makes you think and act closer than you are with these guys and it's too much too fast for them and that's what happens. So you can be your extroverted self, but try to keep the (usually false) sense of intimacy from making you be clingy or "insta-girlfriend". Then it's "this cool chick" who he gets to see every now and again who he's hoping likes him back, rather than a woman with her heart on her sleeve who's acting like we've known each other for years all of a sudden.

A well-made point, thanks.

As a woman who has studied Playboy in an academic manner, I can say without snark that it actually does have very good articles. Also, boobies are fun to look at. It's 3:00 Carolyn, go home.

Okay. (heh you said boobies.)

Bye everybody, thanks, have a great weekend and come back next week, or else I'll just have a blank queue and no one to talk to. Sniff. And you are responsible for my professional fulfillment!!!!


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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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