The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, March 22)

Mar 22, 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, March 22, 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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Hey everybody, happy spring.

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend of 2 years and I broke up about six months ago. I was heartbroken, but it was the right decision, even though at the time I couldn't see that. We ended on ok terms, but I outlined a strict no-contact rule, that while she didn't want (she still wanted to be friends), she has respected. Fast forward six months later and I've finally found my footing. I'm even dating again, and I feel confident the breakup was for the best. Looking back, we should have ended the relationship way before it was over, and she didn't treat me that well. The problem: We have a couple of mutual friends who I don't see that much, but when I hear that they recently hung out with my ex, I feel sad, left out, and hurt - even though they take time to hang out with me separately as well. It doesn't make sense for me to feel this way, but I can't help it. Even though I know I don't want to date her again, it hurts to hear that she's out having a good time, and I'm always in fear of running into her around town and seeing her with someone else. Is that normal? I've never been through a break up like this before. Should I get counseling? - Trying To Be A Grownup

I think the answer to "Should I get counseling" is always: If you think it would help, or if you think it would satisfy a need you're feeling right now, then go for it.

I also have a suggestion--well, more of an observation, that I think would apply whichever way you go on therapy. 

You have obviously mended well over the past six months. mainly, you've gotten used to your life without your girlfriend's regular presence in it. It doesn't take anything away from that to consider there are other ways you haven't fully recovered. The how-do-i-deal-with-mutual-friends issue is a great example of a second- or third-tier issue. You've gotten over the part when you don't want to get out of bed, and you've gotten over the part where you don't think you can see yourself with anyone else--so, now you have to get used to the idea of her having her own set of life-rebuilding stages. You've got your mind in the right place on it, and it's normal for your feelings to need a little more time to catch up.

Make sense? 

I'm looking for some strategies on how to deal with ambivalent feelings about my spouse's decision to (a) start a new career and (b) accept a position in a new location. On the one hand, I'm really, truly happy that she has settled on a new path that she seems to enjoy very much. After years -- at least half a dozen -- of hearing her carp about her old job/supervisors/colleagues, this is a good thing. I think I underestimated her career distress for a number of years, so this newfound happiness helps lower my residual guilt. On the other hand, the really bad part about moving is that it means we have to accept having a weekend marriage, or I have to give up a job I truly love and move on from an organization for which I've worked almost 30 years. I don't feel ready to do this. Should I be? Can one party in a marriage "insist" that the other give up a dream? How can we make this an issue over which we can compromise, rather than one in which either party has to make a painful sacrifice? Note: I should mention that for us, luckily, there are no serious money issues and our kids are about to graduate from college.

I know this belongs in the Useless Advice Hall of fame, but the time to make peace, together, with the idea of relocating--or not--was before your spouse started applying for jobs in different cities.

Since that didn't happen (and, certainly, even if it did), it's understandable that you'd be going through a mourning period for either your beloved workplace or your spouse's weekday companionship.

But beyond a brief period of poor-meism, you don't get to base your reasoning on the desire to get out of this everything you want without anyone making a sacrifice. That's magical thinking and your spouse and your marriage deserve better.

If your spouse went ahead and sought this out-of-town job without giving you a chance to express your misgivings about moving or a commuter marriage, then she, too, gave you and the marriage less than you both deserve.

That's a lot of electrons dedicated to the assignment of blame, which is rarely helpful in the arena of marriage and compromise, but I don't think you can get to the more productive steps until you sort out who failed to be honest with whom--be it honest with each other or honest with yourselves.



I think it's also important to think more broadly, and look deeper into the history of your marriage. Has your spouse typically set aside preferences to allow you to stay at this job, or have you been the one to stand down on most things, or has it broken about evenly over the years? Was your spouse the one who set aside her own ambitions to be primary caregiver to the kids, or did you back-burner more of your ambitions, or did it break about evenly?

Once you've gone through these two exercises, and gotten any hard feelings about the process aired and addressed, you'll have a clearer idea what kind of standing you have to insist on certain things. Ideally, it wouldn't come down to tallying each person's contributions to the marriage, but when both of you want something important and the two are in conflict, sometimes you have to look at your history for instructions for making the choice. Too bad marriages don't come with a possession arrow like in hoops.

So: What does each of you owe the other at this point, and are you both big enough and committed enough to give it? That's really the question you face.

(If you're sure you're choosing No. 1 or 2 , by the way, you do get to stall a bit--you can do the commuter marriage for a while to see how well it works for both of you, and to see whether your spouse likes the new job enough to justify your moving there too.) 

Hi Carolyn, My boyfriend has a colleague who is truly the most heinous person I've ever encountered. He's always been fairly unpleasant to my face (and to others in general, but that's besides the point), but I recently learned from some mutual friends that he said some nasty things about me and our relationship on several occasions to my boyfriend. My boyfriend brushed it off when I confronted him about it, but agreed to minimize contact with the colleague. I'm bothered with the fact that I will have to see this person eventually and that my boyfriend still sees this colleague in a social setting outside of work. What should I do?

Slashing his tires is out, and you probably don't have an opportunity to sneeze on his toothbrush, so your best course is probably just to ignore him.

We all have someone in our lives who says vile things about us, if not many such someones, so the main problem here is that you actually know who he is and what he's saying. In fact, you're actually on the lucky side since your smack-talker is apparently nasty to others, which is built-in damage control.

There is really nothing you can do to stop unpleasant people from saying unpleasant things (except when it becomes a crime), so the less of a spectacle you make about it the better. For grins, try saying with a big smile, "Hi, [heinous person]!" whenever you see him, then continuing on your way. I swear, it does a body good. 

Dear Carolyn, I have been dating a man for the past 12 months. He has been divorced for 2 years from his wife/partner of 30 years. They had no children but remain in close contact because they are "bestest buddies". She lives a few states away but was in contact almost daily via phone and email until I put my foot down. Many of her calls came in when we were together: in bed, having dinner out, driving somewhere, etc. I told "John" how I saw "Heidi's" contact as interference in our relationship. John did finally tell Heidi not to contact him unless it was divorce-related. I recently found out they are still in contact about her travels, her friends, his niece's upcoming wedding (which she will likely be invited to) and other issues. I told him today if he wants to continue to have a relationship with his ex-wife that is fine; however, I don't want to be a threesome in any way, shape or form. What do you think? Am I over-reacting? Why can't they move on? He says they are just friends and he is so glad she divorced him to give him a second chance at life. I see her as a ball and chain. Thanks for your help. Don't want drama

Drama isn't a bestest-buddy ex-wife. Drama is dating a guy who has a bestest-buddy ex-wife and thinking it's right or realistic to art-direct her out of the scene. 

Certainly it's just good manners for him to let her calls go to voice mail, like anyone else's that aren't urgent, when you two are together. Just as certainly, he can choose to be ill-mannered.

Certainly, too, what he sees as a fine and healthy friendship with his ex can be obvious to everyone but the two of them as a co-dependent mess. 

But it's his right to have it. So, figure out what your limits are, and what you are and aren't comfortable with. Then talk to him about it--not in an "I expect you to do things this way because that's how they should be done when people are a couple" way, but in a, "This is new to me and I'm trying to figure out what I can live with" way.

For example, maybe you can be comfortable with their talking on the phone often as friends, but you can't be comfortable with him yessing you about not calling her and then calling her anyway. 

Through this conversation and maybe others, find out where his limits are. If they fit well with yours , then stay, and if they don't fit, then don't. I think you'll find that's a lot more solid than trying to figure out who's right and what's normal and what constitutes overreacting. 

Hi Carolyn, Thanks so much for your column, I read it every day with my coffee. Over the past few years, I have developed an interest in genealogy and putting together a detailed family tree for future generations. Everybody in my family seems to appreciate this, except for my nephews new wife. I wanted her information (basic things: hospital where she was born, her parents names and dates of birth, their professions. To anybody who does genealogy, this is basic). She gave me her information, but for her step-father and mother. I asked for her biological father's information a few times, but she would give me a neutral answer or my nephew would say "we already gave you what we have." I decided just to look the information up myself, and it turns out her biological father is serving many life sentences for a violent crime. I can understand now why she didn't give me this information outright (if she even knows the entire story). She is a lovely girl, my nephew is very happy, and her mother and step-father have been nothing but kind to our entire family. But now that I hold this information, i don't know what to do with it. Do I owe it to our family (and future generations) to have the truth? Or do I owe it to my nephew to keep this under wraps, since it is clearly what he wanted? P.S. My husband thinks it was inappropriate of me to even look this up in the first place and refuses to talk about it.

I'm with your husband. You pressed "a few times" for information you knew this poor woman didn't want to give you!? Yikes. 

This information dies with you, out of belated courtesy for your nephew's wife. Since you were able to find it, then there's an excellent chance future generations will find it as well, when the painful feelings about it are moot.

I volunteer in suicide prevention. I love the work and it's deeply meaningful for me. But when people ask me why I'm so passionate about suicide prevention, I'm not sure how to answer. The truth? A bipolar depressive episode spiraled downwards into a hellish year that including a psych hospitalization and an impressively researched suicide plan. I didn't get the help I needed, but now I can help other people who are in the same pain I was in. But that seems like an awful lot of information to hand to my coworkers or my boyfriend's friends. "I just really enjoy it" seems creepy and morbid, and part of me is ashamed of myself for not speaking up when I know the stigma of mental illness can make it so hard to treat. On the other hand, I really don't need the mean guy 2 cubes down announcing I must be having a bipolar moment every time I forget to turn off the office coffeemaker. So - any ideas?

All causes are populated by people who have had a brush with whatever the cause is trying to prevent. None of these people is obligated to explain more of that connection than is comfortable for them--stigma or no.

That right there can be your answer, a rhetorical, "Don't we all have our reasons?"

If you want to be careful not to leave the door open to the nosy or socially clueless, you can also extract an answer from the impersonal part of your explanation above: "Suicide is so common and mental illness so stigmatized, it's a no-brainer to me." 

Thanks for doing the work you do.


Dear Carolyn, My father is disabled, and last year he moved in with my wife and I so that we could care for him. Sounds great, right? The only problem is that he refuses to even consider my wife's feelings, opinions etc. For example, my wife likes, on her days off, to spend time reading and basically be left alone. My father will go out of his way to talk to her (to the point where he will knock on the closed bedroom door while she is changing because why should she get a moment to herself). What should I do? My father refuses to move out by himself, refuses to live in a retirement/care home, and my sisters will not even consider looking after him.

You lost me at "Sounds great." I have a great pops and poppy (father-in-law), but I think we'd all agree that none of us wants to give up the comforts and rhythms of our own homes--including the freedom to live how we damn please. Maybe that strikes people as cold, but the trend is heavily in that direction--and often misread as a younger-generation blowoff of their elders. Truth is, a good deal of those elders are in no hurry to give up their beloved personal space.

Okay, detour over. 

There is no easy fix for your problem simply because your father is refusing to hear of any of them. I hope it doesn't come to this point, but you might eventually (or soon) have to choose between your wife's needs or your dad's. A good geriatric social worker (link) might be able to help stave that off.

In the meantime, consider this practical and horribly named option: adult day care. The days your wife is off would be a perfect time for your dad to get out and about to a center where he can socialize with someone other than you, your wife and the four walls. Bonus, if any of your dad's stubbornness is a manifestation of depression (so common), then getting out and being more active will help with that, too. He might refuse even this, but at some point you're going to have to let him know as gently as possible that it's either this or boxing up his stuff. Make it clear you all have to do your parts, and stick to that. I realize she's done her part by opening up her home to someone who doesn't care what she wants or how she feels, but it would probably help things along if your wife found some means of meeting your dad even a tenth of the way on his need to talk. 

Hey Carolyn, Back on the dating market after a multi-year relationship and I'm feeling a little unimpressed with the guys I've encountered so far. One thing I've noticed happening repeatedly (5+ different guys) is that after going on a few dates, the guys will always leave the ball in my court, usually by saying "Text me if you want to go out again." To me, this reads as lack of interest, but then if I don't contact them, they want to know why I haven't texted. This feels like terrible laziness and/or fear of rejection to me. Am I just behind the times? Is this how communication happens nowadays? (I'm not even that old!)

If their asking them to text you is "laziness and/or fear of rejection," then what is your refusal to text them?

Equality isn't a la carte, so in that sense what these guys are asking is not only fair, but culturally overdue. I also don't think anyone is well served by always being the one to initiate, so it works for me on that level, too. (Though as the beginning of a give-and-take, not as the beginning of your term as supplicant.)

But if it's not for you, then it's not for you. Either give it a try, or tell these men upfront that you're not comfortable being the one to initiate, so they can know where you stand and decide whether that's okay with them.

I live in a Washington, DC suburb where the school environment is highly competitive. More than 20% of the class gets straight A's, and many students are accomplished in their sport, music, or other extracurriculars. My children are not quite straight A students (mostly A's, couple of B's), and good at their respective extracurriculars, but not among the best either. I dislike attending award ceremonies or other events like it where everyone else's children are winning the awards and mine are getting "participation awards". My children are healthy and well-adjusted, which is more than enough to make me happy. I do feel anxious, however, that my kids won't go on to good colleges or a good job because they are not the best.

Yes, I'm familiar with competitive childrearing. it may be the most popular sport in the DC area. 

The best outcome for your kids--best best, with no meaningful challengers--is for them to find a place in life that feels right to them based on their skills, their temperaments and their passions. That some of their As turn out to be Bs and some of their teammates run/swim/flip/play/dance/sculpt/sing better is not even remotely an obstacle to this outcome.

What does often get in the way is a preoccupation with being the best, or with getting into (the best) college, or with gaining whatever form of recognition is most valued in their peer group. This is the stuff that scrambles the signals that they need to be listening for, the signals that will tell them where they will find their purpose.

When they find their purpose or at least a precursor to it, they will find both revenue stream that will allow them to support themselves and the resiliency stream that will get them through the bumpy times when the other stream dries up--all of which will free you to like them just for who they are instead of worrying about who they'll be.

You didn't actually ask a  question--does this answer it?

Dear Carolyn, I got laid off from my full-time job last year and have only been able to find part-time work since then (but my husband still has a great job, so I'm fortunately not destitute). My life is still quite full (friends, family, involvement with a community organization, etc), but most of it is stuff I want to do, versus stuff I have to do, so I feel a little self-conscious talking about my day when my husband gets home from a grueling 10-hour workday and starts doing household chores. Until I have a better job again, how can I avoid feeling so useless?

Do more household chores.

Hi Carolyn! I see that you have a liberal arts degree. I just earned my BA in English Literature and I am proud of it. You would not believe the people who hear what my degree is in and say, "What are you going to do with that?" Or, "You won't get a job with that." I have a very long explanation of why liberal arts degrees are still relevant in this world, but their remarks seem to call for a shorter response than a dissertation. How can I respond without being rude and perhaps even illuminating them in a concise way? It doesn't help that I haven't actually figured out what direction I want to go in professionally, but I do know that my degree has made me a more critical thinker, better writer, and I am glad I did something I loved.

All of which is wonderful, and none of which your questioners give a [poop] about. Just tell them that as soon as you get a job you'll let them know how wrong they are, and flaunt the skill of not taking yourself too seriously, the relevance of which no one ever has to defend.

So I have written you before (never published, but many times I simply feel better typing it) about issues with my boyfriends family. For some reason his step siblings hate me, and his mother decides to not tell the whole story to anyone to save peace. My BF, dealing with his step siblings for his whole life, decided to simply not talk to them especially after they both snubbed me with wedding invites. It really didn't bother me too much but now his full sister is getting married and it is a destination wedding, not too far from us. When we got the invitation it included just the 2 of us, so I asked if my daughter is invited and he said yes. So we started planning and I have been talking to his mother and she asked about my daughters dietary restrictions, she has ulcerative colitis, so she can let the rest of the house mates we are staying with for the meals we would prepare (each family is cooking one night). So now we find out it is adults only, not only the wedding, but the house we have already paid money for two bedrooms. Now one option is that we get another place, which means we now get to pay for two places or I stay home with my daughter. There are not many people she could stay with because of school...oh and the wedding is in the middle of week. I don't know what to do.

Sometimes the backstory can get in the way of the best answer.

If you want to go to this wedding, then check with the "not many people" to see if your daughter can stay with one of them, and go. Since it's not too far from you, you can also come for just the night before the wedding, no? And your daughter can spend the night with a school friend?

If you don't want to go to this wedding badly enough for it to be worth the hassle, then  don't go. Your boyfriend can either choose to go without you or skip it with you, though I'd advise the former--because it's his sister, obviously, but also because it'll be good PR for you. He can just say, "She really wanted to come, but Daughter had school so she insisted I go without her."

Life is long and this is just one event, not a referendum.

My boyfriend of 6 years (and father of my 4-year-old) and I are getting married in a few months (it wasn't right for us before, but we feel like it's right now). Our parents have been supportive of both decisions, but I'm already starting to get the "It's about time!" and "Finally!" comments from acquaintances, and I know I will get plenty of them at a family reunion this summer. I am stumped about what to say in response. I don't think those are necessarily "Wow"-worthy comments, but I'm not sure what a good reply would be. Thanks so much; I've loved reading your columns for more than a decade!


Sometimes cheerfully agreeing with people helps things go away faster. "I know, right?" or, "Yeah, what was I waiting for?!" or just mess with them--"I don't know, it hasn't happened yet ..." You've obviously had more important stuff on your mind in recent years, and it's okay to keep it that way. Congratulations and good luck.

Slight delay between questions--i needed to check with Weingarten on one of my answers (not about poop, farting or Joshua Bell, I'm sad to say). If any of you happens to be in a room with him, please ask him to check his FB messages, thanks.

Relax! From many of the hiring managers I've had contact with, today's managers are not looking at the schools from which the applicants are graduatiing, they're looking at work experience. Tell your children to get good part time jobs.

Right, and/or internships, exchange programs/study abroad, etc. Thanks.

Your advice to the lady who was dealing with phone communication between her boyfriend and his ex-wife wasn't what I expected for this situation. She was calling at inappropriate times often and he couldn't give his girlfriend the courtesy of not answering the phone every single time. What exactly is his right to have? His right to a friendship with his ex-wife? For what purpose? They do not have children or have assets together. So what are they doing talking to each other every day? She misses his company? Do she not have other male friends? Apparently they are communicating as if they are still married! I think the girlfriend takes preidcent over the ex-wife in this relationship and he needs to listen to her concerns. I would not want to have to plan my relationship around their so-called friendship.

Then you would have every right and reason to break up with him. That is the solution, not staying and trying to correct him.

It's condescending to say that OP should be "gentle" in insisting that his father respect his wife. You don't include that proviso when the parent isn't disabled. Unless his father is suffering from dementia, he father doesn't need to be protected from the consequences of his behavior. By all means, help him find other things to do, but let him know the living arrangement will have a very limited duration if he doesn't straighten up.

The "gentle" had nothing to do with his disability--I had actually forgotten about it by the time I finished my answer--and everything to do with the delicate balance of treating this as the father's home now vs. treating him as a guest. It's a huge part of the dynamic when elderly parents move  in. It's cruel to suggest they can't traet it as their home now, especially when they've had their own homes since adulthood and also may already be concerned about imposing, and yet it can be necessary to draw that line when there are problems, as there are here.

I liken it to when you have a problem with your child's nanny--s/he has to feel welcomed as part of the family, given the intimacy of the work, but then sometimes the employer-employee line has to be drawn. Both situations require a great deal of thinking before you speak. 

I am surprised you didn't mention your all-purpose "Wow" as an answer for the newly minted English major. People who say things like "you will never get a job" are rude and you sound defensive with your response. Just reply neutrally with a "Maybe" or "Okay" or "If you say so". Be a smart aleck punk like my brother, smack your head dramatically, and say, "Oh no! I did college all wrong! Now I will live off the taxpayer's test FOREVER!" (He majored in philosophy, and has been gainfully employed for 12+ years. Don't know how much he makes, but it is enough to keep him and his family living comfortably.).

Wow is for ugly things, not stupid ones. Stupid just gets the "okay whatever you say" treatment, in whatever form amuses the person delivering it. 

It's also really important to note what she proposes as a weekend solution. In my experience, the spouse who takes the farther away job gets a smaller/less home-y place to spend their weeks and winds up traveling most of the weekends. If this is how your situation shakes out, then know that she is making a huge sacrifice in order to have this other job and that is a demonstration of how much it means to her.

Good point, thanks.

Does your advice on commuter marriages change if the couple is just becoming parents? One spouse (female, pregnant and due next month) recently accepted a new job and moved to a new location, into temporary housing. The new job is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opporutnity to work for a Fortune 100 company (who has been great about the impending maternity leave). The other spouse was initially on-board but then failed to give notice and has repeatedly postponed plans to move. Can commuter marriages work with an infant in the picture?

Only if the infant stops being passive aggressive and gives notice for real.

If you've worked there for 30 years, I would think they might like you and think you're valuable enough to be flexible with. I know not every job can work with telecommuting - but can yours? Can you alternate - one week telecommuting one week in the office? Or work 10 hour days M-T so you have F off and can have 3 days a week with your wife?

Sounds good to me, but, then, it's 3 p.m. and I'm getting a little goofy.

If it makes the OP feel better, I think that growing up in a large, competitive environment is very good preparation for the real world. My SO grew up in a small town where he was constantly recognized for achievement as the big fish in a little pond. I grew up in a large urban area where I did well-- along with many many of my peers. My experience seems to mirror more closely our adult lives, where it's most important to be comfortable with what you have and what you are doing rather than deriving happiness and self-worth from external recognition and standards.


kidding. (see above.) 

I think the reasoning that people do better as adults when they're allowed to stumble toward their own bliss as kids is universally and pan-geographically applicable. 


Take it as a compliment. Assume they mean that they think you two are a great couple and have been waiting on a date since they know you're perfect together. Don't think of it as an insult and then you won't feel the need to make a comeback.

There you go. Thanks.

And there I go, since I really should stop now. Thanks everybody for stopping by. I won't be chatting next week, since Friday is a school holiday and I'll be off to tend to the little stinkers ... who aren't that little anymore, actually ... but I hope to see you all here April 5th. 

People often write into Gene Weingarten's chat, saying this is probably really a Carolyn Hax question, but ... this is the first time anyone has suggested that he could be helpful on one of your questions (that doesn't involve pooping, farting, or Joshua Bell)... waiting with bated breath for this one!

The wait will be longer than I'd hoped, since I haven't heard back. I'll either post it on the 5th or update the chat, which would be the Weingarteny thing to do.

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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 New England with her husband and their three boys.

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