Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, January 18)

Jan 18, 2013

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

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Follow @PostLive on Twitter

Hi everybody, happy Friday. I have to leave at my scheduled end time today (2 p.m.) so when I start to run long as usual, yell at me. Thanks. 

Thanks for that great tribute, Carolyn! I'm also glad to know that I was not the only 10-year-old who devoured advice columns for the glimpses they gave me into the grownup world.

Thanks, and I appreciate your linking to it, because I forgot to (in my mind, yesterday might as well be oblivion). That line actually emerged from spontaneous conversations in the newsroom among people who studied these columns as kids. I wouldn't have thought of it without my editor mentioning them. It was true for me, though, too, so there it is.

Hi there - I have a friend who is involved in a 6 year affair with her married boss. She is a beautiful woman with everything going for her, including a fantastic career. I do not understand why she stays with him. He has promised her he will leave his wife many times over the past 5 years, it's never transpired, and many times she's discovered that he is lying. But she just sticks with it and repeats the cycle. I finally started being honest with her and it's gotten uncomfortable. She distanced herself from me after I told her [nicely, I thought] that I believe he is lying to her and never going to leave his wife. If I want to maintain the friendship, do I just keep my mouth shut? Recently she's taken to telling me that his imminent divorce is "real this time, it's really happening". Which is just.. awkward. I really care for her but I don't know how to handle this large difference of opinion.

One route: "I realize you don't want to hear what I want to say about this relationship. In light of that, how would you like me to handle it?" 

I'd actually be interested to hear what comes of that.

I have a large group of friends and am nearly the last single one. Several have children and some are even working on their second kid. I have hosted baby and bridal showers and delivered food to new parents. After a string of bad boyfriends and bad dates and no dates, I have FINALLY (hooray!) met someone who has knocked my socks off. Instead of just being happy for me, my friends in this group have been disinterested and have been trying for weeks to get me to say something negative, for example: "What is the closest thing to a red flag that you've seen so far?" I feel like I have been a cheerleader for their life events and feel like this is the time for them to reciprocate. I'm not crazy and I don't have on rose-colored glasses about this new relationship (I promise), so why can't they just smile and be happy? How do I handle this?

I'm going to go with truth again on this one: "I feel like I have been a cheerleader for your life events, and I wish you'd reciprocate instead of fishing for signs of trouble. Is there any reason you're asking what's wrong, instead of celebrating with me over what's right?"

There are a few possibilities here: 

1. They see red flags and are hoping you come around to seeing them yourself, instead of having to hear it from them.

2. Your rocky history has conditioned them to expect the negative. Just as parents have a hard time seeing their adult children as anything but the 11-year-olds they used to be, people can also be slow to adapt to growth and change in their longtime friends.

3. It's just your basic pot-stirring. They are living vicariously, and there's more to talk about if there's trouble than if you're stable and contentedly watching Netflix together. 

4. Their experiences make it impossible for them to reproduce the kind of "Hey, good for you" cheerleading you were hoping to receive. The ones with kids in particular are probably living many of the down sides of married-with-children life, and so they're looking at you through their own lens of "Watch out for this!" and "Boy was I wrong about that."

You know the context, of course. Does any of these look like a front-runner? If there is, tweak your truth-telling accordingly.

Hi Carolyn, Can you elaborate on this statement? I'm intrigued. When did you ever publicly ask for advice? Did you get good advice? How did it turn out? (BTW, Your comments about Pauline Phillips today were very touching - she will certainly be missed. If it was she who helped inspire you, we're all so very lucky she did. Thank you.)

Thanks for the kind words. 

I didn't say I (or they) asked for advice; I said we appeared in need of it ourselves at times. I got a divorce during the run of my column, and so did Eppie Lederer. Pauline Phillips reportedly undercut her sister by making a grab at their hometown paper, offering a reduced rate if the paper didn't run her sister's column. Wow. 

What I was saying is that frailty will out, and when you're a professional know-it-all, such public frailty serves up a delightful gotcha moment. I see it as part of the package, though, since being pratfall free for decades is just not realistic, credible or, to my mind, likable. I'd rather hang with the "oops" crowd than with people invested in appearing perfect.

I'm in almost the same situation as LW1 in today's column. Almost meaning that we are only just dating at this point, but I do feel he's someone with whom I could become serious. I know my parents aren't bigots, but they have some ingrained stereotypes. I want to shield him from this as he deserves nothing less than to be treated like the sweet, compassionate person that he is. He has not met my parents yet, but asks about them all the time (a very 'African' thing to do). Any tips for trying to contain my parents when they slip up?

It's not your job to contain them. They get to be themselves, and then you get to decide how to handle that. Calmly standing up for your boyfriend is probably your best bet, which can include saying to your parents, kindly, "That's actually a stereotype, Mom/Dad," if one of them says something insensitive. 

More important than containing your parents is getting your own world view in order. For example, why do you want to "protect" a grown man? Why the parenthetical noting that asking about your parents is a "very 'African' thing to do"? If this is the attitude you bring to all your relationships, then, okay, but if this is special treatment, then I think that warrants more attention than your parents do.


This is more of a quick question about submitting links and stuff. What language is this chat running in? I would love to submit things so they're properly formatted, but I can't seem to find this information. Could you please provide an example of how to do this so the submitted link shows up as an embedded hyperlink? Thanks.


Hello, chatter. Thank you for writing in with this great question. Unfortunately, you can't submit a question with hyperlinked text, words in bold, etc. When you see something hyperlinked, it's because I do it on the producer's end.  It is very helpful when you include the url to what you are referring to in your question/follow-up one of Carolyn's columns/chats.  Of course, if you don't, then I'll just hunt it down anyway.  But it makes things move much faster on our end if you do, and that is much appreciated.

Hi Carolyn, I'm 99% sure that I'm the writer of today's second letter. ("Loggerheads" doesn't sound like me, but everything else does.) I know your advice is correct. It's just difficult to accept my husband's position because he has been so all over the place about this issue, first saying he could go either way, then wanting one, then not, and I'm worried that right now he's speaking from a place of fear (of a sick child, of "turning into" his abusive father, etc.). I'm 36, so time's a wasting, but I guess I have no choice but to wait for him to work through this, and meanwhile to do some working through it of my own. Right? Anyway, thank you for the advice. And to the commenters chiding us for not having discussed this before we got married: We did. We were on the same page, then. People change.

"Loggerheads" was in the original letter, so it might not be you. It is a fairly common problem.

Since your husband has been "so all over the place," I strongly recommend marriage counseling to sort this out. The answer changes dramatically when there's evidence that the opposition to children isn't reasoned and founded, and instead is coming from a place of indecision or fear. You have much more leeway to press your case.

There are countless people, in fact, who can testify to having been pushed a bit before they'd agreed to have kids--and being grateful for that push. I just can't in good conscience cite them unless there's some sign the "no kids" party is actually on the fence, because pressuring someone who is sure is disrespectful and out of bounds. 

If I were in the African Boyfriend's place, I would like to be gently warned ahead of time, something to the effect that "My parents are great people, but they have their limitations like anyone else and can say some less-than-sensitive things about [subject]." I'd be less likely to be shocked and offended and more likely to just forgive silently and move on.

Sounds good to me, thanks.

Am I the only one who finds this funny? I mean she's been dating her boss for 6 years so I would expect the career would at least be going well!

Ha, I totally missed that. Thanks.

 I have a problem with indecision - it's not life-crippling; but, bad enough that it's starting to annoy me. I feel like I always need to know all my options before I can make a big decision and I'm constantly wondering if there is something that I would like/would work better. Right now, this is playing out in my personal life - I love my boyfriend; but, I wonder if there is someone out there who would be better for me. Is my questioning a sign that it's not right and I should move on or do I just need professional help?

Since it's an umbrella I-don't-like-the-way-I-operate feeling vs. an I'm-not-sure-about-this-guy issue, therapy sounds like a fine idea. Take the time to find someone who's reputable and compatibe, and start digging.

One thing you might want to explore to get started is why you feel the stakes are so high for getting these big decisions right? When faced with the prospect of a life commitment to someone, or having kids, that's fairly common, but with other things in life, it's often not that hard to say, "Oh well, X didn't work, I guess I'll try Y now." There's no need for a life to be linear, and in fact it's rare when one is.

If this is true let the posters know: It is best to use a text editor like note pad and then copy and paste. Some programs do weird and annoying things like when an apostrophe is used. Thanks


Yes, this is true. If you type your questions into a program like Microsoft Word and then copy and paste it into the box on the chat page, it messes up the formatting when it's submitted. That means we have to go back and correct everything, and that takes a while with long(er) questions (and we sometimes miss things). So using a text editor (like note pad or word pad) is best if you do not type your question directly in the chat box.

I tend to be a live-in-the-moment person and while I have long term goals that I am working toward, I tend not to focus on details. For example, I just realized that I have absolutely no idea where my boyfriend (of 2 years) stands on marriage. I did not even realize that we have, litereally, never talked about it, until one of my aunts asked me if she should plan for my wedding this year. And now I can't figure out if it's a good thing (not getting overly caught up in details) or an omen that this topic has never been discussed in 2 years of dating. I guess I'm not sure what my question is, but this realization just really struck me and has stuck with me.

What a funny coincidence, picking up these two questions back-to-back. Maybe you and the prior poster can coach each other ... unless you're like matter and anti-matter and your meeting will result in total annihilation.

As long as you: have long-term goals that satisfy you; feel at peace with your live-in-the-moment approach; and show respect for the needs of people close to you, then I don't see any reason you should force yourself to dwell on details.

In a way, this is a trick answer, because your asking about it suggests you're not at peace--however, even people who are at peace can be knocked askew by the occasional inquisitive outsider. Give it some thought, sure, but don't be afraid to stick to your ways unless and until you're sure they need a change.

Just to point out that changing positions on such a key issue and being "all over the place" can be a sign of abuse, by itself. I'm not saying all people who waffle on being parents are this way, but this guy's MO sounds passive-aggressive to me. And making it sound like he can be persuaded can cause someone to stay in for the long haul until it's too late -- and 36 might well be biologically too late.

That's a valid point, thanks. Remember too, though, that the husband is himself an abuse victim, and while one possible outcome is that he's an abuser himself, another is that he lacks the confidence to know and embrace what he wants. I would hope the LW has a good idea which one of these is in play, and can include dealing with that in their goals for counseling. With the caveat, of course, that if the husband has abusive tendencies, then her counseling should be solo to start. 

I'm African, and yes I agree it's a very "African" thing to treat parental relationships differently, and attach a different kind of importance to parents. Not bad, just different. I wouldn't say that all Africans have the same attitude about parents, but her aside is acknowledging a cultural norm that is defintely different from the mainstream American. I wouldn't consider it inapprorpriate or bigoted to acknowledge that.

Excellent, thanks. 

Hello, it's not exactly a new experience for an African American man to be discriminated against. As much as you may want to protect him from that, he's probably far better equipped to deal with it than you are equipped to keep your parents' views from him. It hurts so much to see someone you love be discriminated against, all the more so because it may be new to you. But it's not new to him. Stand up to your parents, of course, but if you plan on being with this person, to children with him, you need to engage in a dialogue with him about his experiences, because it will become a part of your life. Sadly, it will happen again, even if your parents come around.

Good point--though it conflates African and African American.

Yeah the person who does not want children has to be listened to. But what do you do when you went with your husbands decision not to have children, then he leaves you for a younger woman, after you are past the childbearing age, and has baby with her? Women have the clock ticking, men don't seem to.

I'm sorry, that's really crappy. I wish it were the first time I've seen this, but it's far from it. 

I imagine what you do is stomp and yell and curse him and her and fate until you get sick of doing that and find other paths forward. It's always a possibility that the thing we count on--anything from a spouse to a career to our health, anything--will get yanked out from under our feet. It's devastating and life changing.

And while it's the end of something, I think we all have to treat these also as the beginning of something, with defining that "something" to our satisfaction as our no. 1 priority.  

I used to be pretty bad about this as well. Then I read a helpful article that said if you're having trouble choosing between two things and you've analyzed them and have determined each option's pros and cons, then take it as a sign that they're both pretty much equal options and you'll be happy either way -- then just CHOOSE one and push forward and be done with it. And that the more you do that, the more comfortable you'll get with making decisions. It has helped me!

That is a useful way of thinking, thanks, one that crops up often in my mail queue in response to big-decision questions. I also think that process can have the same effect as the coin-flip, where treating the two as equal reveals a preference you weren't aware you had.

Thanks for taking my question. I think the reason I wanted to shield him from my parents' stereotypes is because his parents have been nothing but amazing towards me (they're still in Africa) and I just wanted him to get that same feeling from my folks (though I guess that's not possible - I guess I'm trying to reconcile that). Also, he asks after my parents a lot because that's just what you do. A typical beginning to a conversation is: 1) how are you? 2) how is your family?

Yeah, I can think of few more productive decisions to make than a decision not to have feelings as goals. You cantrol what you put into a situation, but not what you get out of it.

We just found out it's worse than we thought, but how worse we don't know yet. I keep bursting into tears and I'm trying so hard to pull myself together and be strong for my mom and dad, but they're doing the same thing back at me. Our whole family is like "oh, no, I'll be fine. how are YOU?" None of us wants to be a burden or ask for help, or seem scared. But we're all scared witless, and we're an emotional family. We also tend to "catastrophise" things, but are getting better at seeing and believing we can get through most challenges. My question is: how can I gather the strength to be a support to my mom - and my dad - instead of her feeling like she needs to comfort me in my distress? I know that practically I am adaptable to changes, but I can't begin to think of the possible loss of my mother. It's too much, I'm not ready. I can't stop crying. I know I'll get through this hysteria, but is there a way to hasten it? I want to be clear headed, supportive and helpful as we navigate through this. I just moved home 2 years ago after being thousands of miles away from my folks for more than 20 years, looking forward to enjoying them as adults I like, not just parents. And I have! I'm a wreck and I need guidance to find a better place to be standing as we go forward.. Thanks for all you do.

i'm sorry about your tough news, and I hope you get the best news possible about your mom's condition.

From what you describe, it sounds as if your best first step is just to spend this early stage crying. It's in your nature to, so you're not likely to be able to transform into a non-emotional person, right? And, you know from experience that your hysteria phase will pass, so your shortest route to the point might well be to stop fighting it. Think of it in terms of rush hour traffic: You know you're going to have a high volume of cars/feelings no matter what you do, so open as many lanes as you can and keep that high volume moving till it clears.

Another thing to consider is that needing your mom to comfort you, and not vice-versa, isn't the worst thing. Obviously you don't want to become and remain such a blubbering mess that your mom's illness stops being about her, but one of the nasty blows that comes with illness is the sudden role-reversal it forces. People who mere weeks ago were self-sufficient suddenly find themselves dependent on others. Your mom might actually not want you suddenly to become the person who takes care of her. She could need time to adjust as badly as you do, and so she might appreciate still being needed as a mom. Again, you don't want that to get out of hand, but in these early days it's okay for all of you to need each other, even as you're trying to emerge as the one others can lean upon. 

To that end, I suggest you find yourself a good support group, because that will give you a place to dump all those excess feelings, which will then allow you a little more control over the spigot when you're with your mom. 

last thing--your just having moved home is not a bad break, it's an excellent one. Sure, this isn't what you had in mind, but you are by happenstance in the perfect position both to help and be helped. 


My husband and I have discussed having children (and I have no doubt we'd be loving parents), but we keep saying that will come later. We're both well into in our thirties now and I don't think we can put it off much longer. But I'm scared I will regret having a child, or conversely, that I will regret not having one if I don't at least try. We like our life. In fact, it's pretty perfect right now, and it took a long time of risks and wrong turns to get to this place. What if I don't have enough patience, energy, selflessness, etc. to raise a child? More than anything I would just like to own the decision either way so I can stop dwelling on it and move on.

Well, in a way, you've made and lived with your decision not to have kids for a long time. How has that been for you? Is it a way of life you're content to make permanent? if yes, then make it permanent. Done.

If instead you're thinking there's a better way to be than this--for you--then start weighing the risks and rewards of having kids. Think about other changes besides kids, too, while you're at it, because it's not as if it's a binary choice, The Exact Life You Have vs. Having Kids. There's more than one way to change your life's trajectory--again, if that's what you want.

I was a cheater (nuts flog away). Not always, but pretty much any relationship that goes beyond a couple of years I end up cheating. I went to therapy to try and figure out why I'm so insecure, easily bored, and can't control my impulses. This seemed to help and I began dating someone. 5 years later, I hadn't cheated and was happy so we planned a wedding and said our I do's. Well, I'm finding those old familiar itches that pretty much led to the self destruction of my previous relationships coming back. I'm tempted to flirt when the opportunity presents itself. I catch my eyes wandering more when I'm out and about. And I find myself avoiding sex with my spouse or closing my eyes and imagining it's someone else. How do I get my head and heart back into my marriage?

No flogging permitted on fully owned failings (unless that's what you wanted--but that's not really my thing).

I'm wondering why you haven't just dragged yourself back into therapy, since it's something you believe has helped with this very problem. It's not unusual for people who've had therapy--even those with the most dazzling results--to need a tune-up occasionally.


I think I just got knocked askew because my family has never even remotely hinted at my personal life before - so the question itself took me by surprise, especailly because my aunt has never even met my bf. And then not having an answer (or rather realizing that the answer is "I have no clue, we have never even talked about it") threw me because I feel like I should probably have a clue of this by 2 years into a relationship.

Those both seem like good thinking points to me--why is your family so hands off, and why are you as well? Again, it might just lead you back to where you started, that you're of live-in-the-moment stock and that's okay. But, it could also help you understand yourself a bit better, which in turn might help you make better, more conscious decisions for you. I don't like the word "should," as inyou "should have more of a clue," but you can decide to have more of a clue if that's what you want for yourself. 

Hi Carolyn, Love the chat and the columns and couldn't care less whether you've read Strunk & White or not. I'm thrilled to be engaged to a kind, sweet, smart, generous guy, who proposed to me with a ring that is the exact thing I had thought very strongly and told many friends that I did not want (a plain solitaire). I wouldn't think of telling my fiance that it's not really my style/preference (it is, in essence, now the right one because it came from him). But how do I respond to friends/acquaintances who raise their eyebrows after the weirdly let-us-see-the-ring hand grab that seems to follow right after the announcement of an engagement?

"I love him more than I love my opinion of rings." Unless he's there, in which case you just leave their eyebrows un-remarked upon. Congratulations.

That's it, as promised, and thanks for the many kicks in the butt to get out of here. have a great long weekend and hope to see you here next Friday.

In This Chat
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.

Carolyn's Columns
Past Chats
Way Past Chats
The Hax-Philes
Recent Chats
  • Next: