Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, May 17)

May 17, 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, May 17, 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 forum, home of the Hax-Philes and Hax fans. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hey everybody, sorry for the delay. 

I wrote in last week about my husband wanting to vacation alone, leaving me with our two small children. The advice from you and the nuts really helped me stand up for myself while being empathetic toward him. I explained that I would have no problem with a weekend trip, for instance--the time was just too long. He ultimately agreed not to go. He's actually going to be spending a lot of time this summer watching the kids while I do an internship for my degree program, and I hope that will give him a little better idea of what my life is like! Thank you, and thanks to everyone who responded.

You're welcome, and I'm glad to hear things are going in a direction that sits well with you. If you think to check in after the summer, please do; I'd be interested to hear how his summer of child care changes things for you both.

Hi Carolyn: I have a very lovely and very sweet coworker who struggles terribly with her weight, and talks to me about it a lot. She wants to lose weight and is frustrated that her efforts to exercise aren't affecting the scale all that much. Unfortunately, within a few hours spent with her it's easy to see why she's not having much success. She eats large amounts of fast food on a regular basis--I have often seen her open a rather large meal intended for one person, and then open an additional sandwich or side dish. She also doesn't restrict her snacking between meals. I am not being judgmental, just practical, when I say that she clearly overeats, and that's just during the 9-5 workday. So my question is, what, if anything, can I say to her about it? I feel like the fact that she discusses her weight constantly at work opens the door for me to offer her feedback. I am slim and she seems to think that's mostly luck (it's not; I have to work really hard to keep my weight down), so I worry that she would reject anything I say as smug or impractical advice.

"I feel like the fact that she discusses her weight constantly at work opens the door for me to offer her feedback."

No, it doesn't. For the love of double cheeseburgers, don't say anything unless you are explicitly asked a question. If and when you are, say that the only thing that has ever worked for you is strict portion control. I.e., don't comment on her choices, stick to your own.

If she presses further, or challenges what you say, or dismisses it with some reference to how easy things must be for you, then don't take the bait. Either go vague--"weight control is such an individual thing"--or go into lockdown: "I'm not comfortable talking about this."

Why? because someone who complains about her weight while regularly eating fast food is nowhere near ready to be serious about weight loss, and that means anything you say about the mechanics of weight problems will get tangled into her emotional problem, and, especially as coworkers, that won't serve either of you well. 

My parents want to hang out with my husband and I for at least one day every weekend, and often invite us to do things far in advance. We enjoy spending time with them, but we need to start turning more of these invitations down: we need more time to see other people and prepare for our upcoming baby. How can I politely decline an invitation when I can't give a specific reason we'll be busy or offer another time to reschedule the event (because we already have plans with my parents for the weekends before and after the one in question, and we don't want to schedule any more time with them)? Whenever I turn them down they ask what we'll be doing that weekend instead, and they are very sensitive to any impression that we're choosing other people over them.

Oh my goodness. You say, "We have other plans," and when they press, you draw a line. "Mom/Dad, I love you and enjoy your company. We have friends, though, too, and also like to spend time with just the two of us." If they press even more, then you say, "I'm happy to make plans with you once/twice a month (or whatever you're comfortable establishing), but beyond that we want our flexibility."

It's not about being polite here, it's about setting boundaries that are long overdue. That "very sensitive" says they almost certainly won't take it well, but the longer you put off this reckoning, the worse it's going to get.

I'd also be remiss if i didn't point out that parents and adult kids with healthy relationships (by my Western/North American standards, for sure) don't have to have this conversation. Kids start "choosing other people over" their parents in early elementary school are hardly look back. They come home to family, yes ... and count on them, and feel strongly attached ... and after they launch into the world they reserve most holidays and the occasional vacation for family ... and sometimes even move near each other ... but the expectation that you will be each other's primary source of entertainment is atypical. 

If there is not a cultural foundation for this expectation in your family--if it's just their way and they expect you to fall in line because that's what they want--then you might consider talking to a good family therapist about the mechanics of drawing boundaries that suit you better than the (lack of) ones preferred by your folks.

Hi Carolyn, My fiance died last year around Father's Day and he was an only child. For Mother's Day, I sent his mom flowers. This was a no-brainer - he always sent her flowers, I knew she'd like them. Gearing up for what I know is going to be the really hard first anniversary of his death, what, if anything, should I do for his dad on Father's Day? He's not a flowers kind of guy, but I want him to know that I'm thinking of him and that he's still a dad. Any thoughts? Thanks.

I'm sorry, a tough time for you all.

I think a note to say how much he meant to his son would be very thoughtful. The more personal, the better. If he liked to tell stories about his dad, for example, or quoted him often, or referred to advice his dad had given him, etc., then mention that. Chances are you had a view of your fiance's affection for his dad that his dad himself didn't have. Sharing that is a priceless gift.


We're trying to get a virtual book club for Hax fans started in the Hax Forum, and not many people have seen the post yet. Could you please post a blurb about it in today's chat? Thanks muchly!

I hadn't even seen it yet, so thanks for the great idea and for sharing it here. 

I recently took a trip, with my husband, to see my BIL graduate with his masters. He and his fiance live a plane ride away, so we rarely get to see them. The fiance is very beautiful, and I happily agree with every compliment she gets...until its been three days of "oh how pretty you are" and "you're just so wonderful" and "what a great couple", with no compliments directed towards my husband and I. My brain begins to ask "how come no one says nice things about me/us?" To add to my low self-confidence and questioning, my MIL has now uploaded pictures from the trip, and I only appear in one, with my back turned. It doesn't even look like I was there! I understand that not everyone can be photogenic in every picture taken, but really? Not one picture? I just feel very left out of the family get together, and that my in-laws think less of me, as petty and silly as that sounds. My husband suggests that I bring it up to his mother, as he doesn't think she realizes the way this comes off to me. Is there a tactful way that I can bring this up without sounding like a brat?

No, actually, there isn't.

It's not that you don't have a point; I could argue that you were in fewer pix because it wasn't your or your husband's graduation weekend, but I've seen many parent-plays-favorites situations to believe that myself. I don't doubt you're both getting treated like second-class citizens, and I also take as a given that it genuinely hurts.

But the only thing your  mother-in-law can do to change that is find you both equally beautiful, or, I suppose, choose to favor you instead--and that's just not something someone can request and receive. You can ask for better treatment, but even then, you're essentially saying, "I get that you're just not as smitten with us as you are with the other couple, but could you just pretend a little out of respect for my/our feelings?"

Bleah, right?

So you're stuck doing what -you- can do to change things. (more)


On that list you'll find:

1. Work a litle harder to cultivate a better relationship with your MIL, if that's what you want.

2. If that's not what you want, then recognize that, and take it as a good reason not to worry about whether you're her favorite.

3. If you're really just hoping to avoid being ignored again at the next big family thing, then work on a couple of ideas with your spouse, be it to pitch in more (beats standing around) or to schedule some time to do your own thing away from the family. Skipping the occasional event makes sense, too, since most people usually have to anyway. You didn't mention anything (I don't think--these two-parters mess me up sometimes) about a precedent for MIL's favorite-playing, but if there is one, then your spouse will probably have a lot to add to this conversation. 

4. Consider getting to know Ms. Fabulous a little better. Adoration is actually very isolating, and she might appreciate someone who cares to know her vs. just look at her.


My husband just got a promotion offer this week that would require us to move to a new city two hours away. We've lived here for 12 years -- have a toddler, dog, house, a TON of amazing friends, live in a community we adore and I have a job here that I love with lots of great co-workers. The move would be an amazing career opportunity for him, but would require us to literally leave our entire life behind. (I would still be able to do my job, just working remotely -- which means by myself in my house all day.) We haven't made a decision yet, but I cry every time I think about leaving our friends, or our neighborhood, adjusting to working from home 10 hours a day in silence. I know my husband thinks this is an opportunity he can't pass up, but I think the sacrifice is too great. Do you have any advice for how we can talk through this without me defaulting into a selfish position? From my perspective, our life outweighs his job. I want to be a supportive, open wife in this, but I feel like I'm the one who has to give everything up. I literally see no upside to moving (for me) which I realize is short-sighted, but it's how I feel right now and I can't shake it.

He's also at high risk for "defaulting into a selfish position," isn't he, just by thinking this is something he "can't" refuse? He can say no to the promotion, just as you can say yes to moving. The question is whether there's a net gain or loss to you as individuals, as a couple and, by extension, to all of you as a family. 

What will help most in the conversation you need to have (soon) is for both of you to be able to trust that the other is able to see things your way. For that, you need to say to your husband that you will keep an open mind to what he wants, and ask him to say or write down all of the advantages. In return, you ask that he try to see things your way: Being at home by yourself for 10 hours a day in a new place with a toddler is basically a 2 + 2 of depression, so you're not going to be able to make or support a joint decision unless you feel confident he really gets that.

Once you're there, then you both need to look--again, honestly and open-mindedly--into what each of you would have to do to replace what you're giving up with either choice. If you move, how will you replace the root system you've developed here? If you don't move, how will your husband replace this level of career advancement?

You're going to need to make a logical decision, both of you, when both of you are emotionally attached to your preferred outcomes.

The one who can more easily replace what is lost is the one who needs to give in,* so I suggest you start this difficult process by at least agreeing in principle on that. The one who wins* also needs to back fully the other's effort to replace what s/he had to sacrifice. 

*I am sure there are less charged and binary terms I could use here, but I'm already slow enough, thanks.



I have been with my boyfriend for a year, and I am very happy. However, he has a few quirks. He doesn't make a lot of eye contact during conversation (some, but less than the average person), and sometimes faces away from the person he is speaking to. He also tends to ramble a bit. I find these traits tolerable, and the rest of his personality more than makes up for it, but my mom is convinced he has autism or Asperger's. My mom is not an expert in psychological disorders, but thanks to the power of Google searches, likes to think she is. She has been giving me warnings about this, and told me I should encourage him to see a professional. She has also hinted that my relationship will not work out in the long run, which is very hurtful. I am 30 years old and I know that I should be making my own decisions in this relationship, but there is the sinking feeling that my mother may be right. Should I bring this up with my boyfriend, even though his behavior does not affect the way I feel about him? I've told my mother to leave this issue alone, and she has agreed not to bring it up anymore. Whether or not she keeps her promise is another story

I'm glad I get to say this (though I swear I'm not just using you), because it's a useful counterpoint to today's column (link): Just because your parent is the one making the observation about your relationship, that doesn't mean you're somehow failing to function as an independent adult or not "making my own decisions in this relationship."

Someone noticed something, it doesn't matter who, and it's something your sinking feeling says you have to take seriouly. So ignore the source and deal with the information on its face. Your boyfriend has quirks. You find them "tolerable." You agree there's a possibility he's on the autism spectrum.

Next, you need to think bigger about what this information means. Are the quirks limited to communication, or is the intimacy between you limited, just as the eye contact is? Is he able to make, enjoy and keep good friends? If not, is that an issue for you, or are you okay with someone whose emotional needs are different from what you're used to, as long as he's able to meet them in a healthy way? 

This might be the most important--have you really needed him to come through for you in this past year, or has it been a generally easy time for you? If something big were to come along and knock you flat, would he be able to give you what you need? If the same big something were to happen to him, would he withdraw, or would he be able to deal with the difficult time -with- you?

None of these differs much from the type of stuff anyone should ask about any prospective mate, even absent any quirks. But since the issue is on your mind, now's the time.

Once you've done the thinking you feel you need, then, yes, it makes sense to say something to your boyfriend. Start with, "Your behavior does not affect the way I feel about you. Yet, I have noticed you turn away from eye contact, and even sometimes from the person you're talking to. Has anyone ever mentioned that to you?" If he does in fact have Asperger's or similar, understanding and treating it could improve his relationships and with it his quality of life. That's worth a query, whether you stand to gain from it or not.

Speaking of--the "She has also hinted that my relationship will not work out in the long run"? Most relationships don't work out. Fact of life. If he has Asperger's or similar, that is not a diagnosis of relationship doom. Either way, you're going to have to understand and adapt to each other, right?



Thank you for taking my question! And yes, I have been to therapy about how to handle my relationship with my parents-- things were much, much worse for most of my life (lots of blowing up and/or silent treatment on their end and tears on mine) and now I'm much more able to tell them no and (privately) roll my eyes at their reaction rather than getting upset. It's not a cultural thing for us, but I'm their only child, they don't have any other friends or strong family ties, and they don't even get along with each other that well, so I get a lot of focus and pressure. It's good to be reminded that that isn't normal. I guess it's time for a harder line.

It is. Sorry to hear so much has been laid on your shoulders. I'm sure this came out in your therapy, but I'll say it anyway: Parents choose to have children, and assume obligations to care for them accordingly. They do not confer obligations to their kids, be it to support the parents in their dotage, or entertain them on weekends, or even to show gratitude for all the bottom-wiping and rides to soccer. Certainly a good child will come to a sense of gratitude and duty on his or her own, but it's not automatic, and it's not the parents' place to decide the what, when or how. 

Perhaps after showing sympathy say - if your regime isn't working for you why not consult a professional say a personal trainer or a nutritionist. If she's actually ready for help, it could give her something to work with that doesn't involve you and if she's not, no skin of anyone's nose. If you do this, please remember to phrase it as 'if you're not happy with the results' - it's about her achieving her goals.

Love this, thank you.

I feel your pain. i have been married for over 30+ years and am the only in-law still in the family, but there are many times over the years, mostly at holidays, where I am left out of photos, or inclusion into holiday rituals Once I got a hunk of cheese that had been re-wrapped as a holiday gift.. It hurts to this day, but I handle it differently than I did in my youth. When we were first married, I would complain to my husband. That did no good, so I just learned to live with it and see it for what it is, an intentional slight. The only way I have learned to deal with it is to promise myself not to do it to my sons' girlfriends or fiance and I hope I can keep that promise (so far, so good). Take the high road on this one because if you mention your feeling of being left out, it just sounds insecure and so needy. In addition, mother-in-law and sister-in-law (in my case) then will know that it bothers you, which gives them some kind of control and satisfaction. It really is their problem, even though it hurts you. Be strong.

1. You sound awesome. Thank you for sharing this, and I'm sorry your in-laws have failed to appreciate your value.

2. I am quite put out that you didn't contribute "Once I got a hunk of cheese that had been re-wrapped as a holiday gift" to a Hootenanny. Regifted cheese! I mean, that's first-ballot hall-of-fame material.

I'm stunned that a move of 2 hours is giving this woman such vapors. Two hours means you can visit on weekends. It means you can make lots of phone calls, and people can visit you. It's not a move to another continent. It's also an opportunity to explore a new city, make new friends, and discover how much fun it is to work in your PJs.

Have you ever worked from home in a new place? With a toddler? I have, and "vapors" is unfair. There's a reason abusers use isolation as a weapon against their victims. It's awful, and it's also not as easy for some people as it is for others just to force themselves out of the house and into circulation--be it due to their temperaments or the nature of the work they do or the nature of the communities they move to. 

Besides, I could just as easily argue that it's absurd to treat a promotion as even close to equal in value to deep roots in a community. Best just not to assign value to either one and let the two of them approach the decision with all of the various needs and challenges in mind. 

I agree with CH that your co-worker's habits and open discussion of her weight are not inviting your advice. However, when your co-worker comments on your weight and how "lucky" you are that you are slim that opens the door to stating it isn't luck. It is based on dietary and exercise choices (if that is the case) and perhaps describe what that means. I am often on the receiving end of "why are you eating salad, you're skinny" comments and I typically say I'm skinny BECAUSE I eat a lot of salad. I don't actually need to point out that the commenter is eating a double cheeseburger, fries and a soda to get my point across.

Right, good point, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, I am in my late 50's dating a man for 2 years who is in his early 60's. My main question is this: How much is too much time together? He and I are on the same page about not wanting to socialize without the other person. However, friends and family have been somewhat critical of our "togetherness". They feel it is unusual that he and I do not spend alone time with our friends. Thoughts?

Depends on what your friends are really saying. If they just think you're unusual, then, okay, they're entitled to their opinion just as you are entitled to be unusual.

If they don't like the man you're dating, then this could be their way of saying er ah okay, we'll play nice because that's what adults do and because you're our friend, but wouldya please meet us halfway and leave Mr. Rightabouteverything home occasionally?

If they're worried that one of you is controlling the other, then it couldn't hurt to take a second look at the whole "He and I are on the same page about not wanting to socialize without the other person" agreement you've got going. If you're just nuts for each other's company, great, but could one of you go somewhere without the other without National Guard involvement? Even in my world of ultimate relativity, that answer has to be yes.

Yesterday I was offered a good job in the hometown of my girlfriend, whom I planned to marry. Our plan was she would follow me there when she could figure out her own career, and live with me until we while we planned a wedding. Yeah! Then, last night, she told me she wasn't sure that she was "all in." She said she was conflicted by her feelings about me. Long story short: We broke up. Boo! I'm heartbroken. And I don't know what the heck to do about this job. I fully expect to be laid off from my own job in the next few months, so I NEED the job. Plus it's a good job and I'd be excited to do it. But I don't know anyone in this new city other than my gf's family. And I'm grieving. There are also financial issues. I'm way underwater on my mortgage and couldn't sell my house except at a steep loss. (I could possibly rent it.) Anyway. I'm not even sure I have a question. I just need some clear headed, I don't know, guidance, from the Haxster. Any thoughts you have are warmly welcomed. PS: If my gf is reading this, she definitely knows who she is. Baby, I'm not mad, just sad.

Haxster feels your pain. How big is the GF's hometown-- we talking Mayberry or Manhattan? I think anything big enough for you not to risk running into her every time you go out for a beer is probably big enough for the both o' ya. It would also help if you moved not to her town proper, but to one within a comfortable commuting radius around the new workplace--especially if you could find one that has a nightlife/community life of its own. College town, say.

You'd have to go, though, with the clear understanding--stated to your now-ex--that you would be moving to her town as if you knew no one there, and will not lean on her as a social support, and will not entertain any hopes that you will win her back. This is pure economic necessity.  

It's a setup that's weird and difficult and will feel more than a little contrived, but when you're looking at layoff + underwater mortgage, the job (+ renting your house) comes close to trumping all. 

Now i need you to promise me I didn't just give you permission to harass this person. You really really really can't get in touch with her when you get there, or hang out at her favorite spots, or go over to talk to her when you "accidentally" see her on the street or drive by her house. Any and all moves to stay in touch are hers, and if you can't live by that then moving there is a terrible idea and forget I endorsed it. I'd also say this if you were female and she were male, btw. One pot of bunny soup and all advice is off.  


Wow, that was a spectacular crash. I'll try to post a couple of Q and A's before I go, but unfortunately can't go past my hour-past-ending time of 3 today. Sorry bout that.

I'm getting married in a few months...on my future sister-in-law's birthday! She does really love having her special days, so we felt happy she agreed to our having the wedding on this day (it was the only one available at our venue), especially as she doesn't like me very much. In any case, I ordered a few dozen cupcakes and am just trying to strategize how to celebrate with her that day. We've got two options: (1) celebrate beforehand, at a time when her many out-of-town family members likely wouldn't be able to make it or (2) ask the DJ to pause the music sometime during the reception for us to sing happy birthday to her (at which point her family members will be there...but it might disrupt the flow of the evening? although weddings always have these disruptions, and the crowd weathers them fine)! Just wanted to know your thoughts.

Oh, yes, interrupt the wedding, by all means. "Flow," if it even exists, does not trump family goodwill. Though why you're doing all this and her actual sib isn't, I can't imagine. 

Hi, Carolyn! I am about to receive an official job offer from a prestigious company ... and it comes with a huge pay bump. Career-wise, it's amazing. But ... my husband and I have been trying for a few months to have a baby. I'm 35 and only in the past two years decided I wanted to have a child. Husband and I are on the same page, but what do I say to my potential new employer when I get my official offer next week? Do I say anything at all? As far as I know, I'm not pregnant at the moment; husband feels I should be telling them I'm trying to conceive, and that just doesn't seem feasible. Help!

No, do not say anything. You and your employer will deal with any babies if and when you get there. For all you know, it won't be for another year or two. (I know that's not what you're hoping for, but obviously you don't have 100 percent say in this.) Or your husband might end up being the primary caregiver after your company sanctioned maternity leave, or whatever else. This is something companies deal with all the time; part of doing business. Congrats on the near-offer.

My husband of over 9 years has become 'friends' with a female employee (yes, he's her supervisor). This friendship has led to him texting this girl sometimes 50-100 times in a day, 200-300 times a weeks and up to 1500 or more texts in a month. I have seen some of the texts. They talk about everything from music to movies to her boyfriend problems. He once spent over an hour on the phone with her while we were away visiting our friend, discussing her cheating boyfriend. Of course, he maintains they are still 'just friends.' I have asked him multiple times to stop texting her so much and develop a more professional relationship with her. Finally he got fed up with me asking, I guess, and did quit. However, I found out that he started chatting with her on Facebook, telling her it was a 'safer' option. I know he deletes some of their conversations (both text and FB) that he doesn't want me to see because he has admitted to that. He says it's nothing but because of 'how I am' about their relationship that I would take it the wrong way. Bottom line is he says that I am over-reacting and I need to see a counselor over my 'daddy issues' (my dad cheated on my mom) and jealousy because although he talks to her he's still at home 'spending time' with me (as he texts). I say he needs to stop this 'relationship' before it ends our marriage by becoming something he says it's not (or I get fed up with asking him to stop contacting her). I feel it is inappropriate, a type of emotional affair and damaging to us. Who's right here? Am I just over-reacting?

Sure sounds like an emotional affair to me. His intimacy is with her now, and his role for you is of obstacle to that intimacy. Add to that, he's being openly dismissive of your concerns by connecting them to your dad's behavior, which is not only a red herring, it's mean.

You do need to make clear that you're not talking about the cheating that's not happening, you're talking about what is happening, which is his taking his best self (such as it is, but you can leave out that part) outside the marriage. That's what you're objecting to, and you'd appreciate his dignifying it with a response instead of a nasty remark about your dad or your old emotional wounds.

I type all this out knowing the chances are slim to 0 that he'll fall to his knees with remorse over how he has hurt you with his self-indulgence, and recommit himself to your marriage. But, the part where you state your feelings clearly is important. 

Then you say yes, you would like to see a counselor, -with- him.

Wait--first step is actually to document all this contact with the employee. (A whole other issue, that he's her boss, but that's Karla's turf. Wait, telling the prospective employer about trying to conceive was, too ...) I suspect you're going to need it, either to prove to your therapist that his blaming you is a stretch, or to arm your attorney.

Then you ask him to join you at marriage counseling. Be ready also for your next step if he refuses. Are you at the "Please move out" point? If not, what will it take for you to get there, and, also, what will it take for you to feel your husband is taking his part in your marriage seriously?


That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and I'll type to you here next week. Sorry again for the delays. My computer seems to have gone geriatric on me in a matter of weeks (kind of like my eyes just did this past year, but I won't bore you with my personal problems with reading glasses).

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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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