Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, June 7)

Jun 07, 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, June 7, 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. Please say hello to Bethonie, who takes over for Haley today. 

Just a bit o business: I'll be on Diane Rehm Monday (link) in the second hour, on the topic of infidelity, with two other panelists. Please check it out if you can.

Re: yesterday's column about naming the baby. Give the kid a "unique, creative name" and the kid will spend the rest of their life spelling it for people, pronouncing it for people and explaining how their parents came up with such a crazy name. People want their children to have a unique name on the Internet- so give them a unique middle name. Besides, considering what kids post nowadays, it might be good if no one is sure that Sue Smith is YOUR Sue Smith. If your child decides at some point they want a unique, creative name they can always create it themselves.

I certainly received a lot of emails making some version of this point. (Here's a link to the column, BTW.) However, I've also heard plenty from people who love their unique names. On this topic as with so many others, I'd rather see consistency and careful thought from the parties involved than any attempt at a consensus opinion.

So, did you enjoy the reunion?

I did, thanks. I didn't go for long enough, though--there were nearly 900 people there, apparently, and I missed seeing a lot of people who are important to me. Good problem to have, I guess, but I'm a little heartbroken nonetheless. I also surprised myself by still being a little shy, reflexively, where I assumed that was a thing of the past. Maybe we can only grow so much out of our youthful selves.

Hi Bethonie! Welcome. Just wanted to say I'm a little bit down, this first week without Lisa de Moraes. Glad to be able to get the support from you and the nuts.

Thanks for the warm welcome. Hi everyone. Excited to be here!

Hi Carolyn, Long time reader here, first time submitter. I'm the last one of nearly all my friends to settle down. As a result, most friends are in the baby/toddler/teenager stage. Which is great, I'm really happy for all of them. knew this was coming. When my friends were all falling into great partnerships, I got to share their stories and excitement. Now? Everyone is too busy for me. I get it (as much as I can from the outside) that kids take tons of energy. I know this in my head. But there's a huge part of me that is just GAH! Do I address this with them? Or just let it go? It feels petty but at the same time, I'd like it if someone would return my call so I can share a sweet story!

I get it, and it's one of those things that just isn't fair--the first to pair off get all the story-telling attention, and the first to marry get the same, and the first to have kids. It's about novelty, not about you, and it's just a fact of life that newness gets more attention than the familiar.

Certainly good, conscientious friends get this and will do what they can to rally for the 10th friend to reach some milestone or another, but it's still not the same as having all 10 people experiencing your "wow" right along with you.

The best solutions I can offer are really just work-arounds, and they're not easy, and they're pretty impressive in their lack of creativity: Work on cultivating other friendships with people who are at a similar phase of life, and work on cultivating other interests that put you among people whose friendships with you aren't milestone-based.

The latter is actually underappreciated, I think. It's so common to have timeline-based friendships--because it's all you know in the beginning. In 2d grade, you hang with 2d graders, and you talk about cartoons and teachers and etc. In 11th grade, you hang with 11th graders and talk about SATs and parents and etc. And that tracks right to getting into college, getting work after college, meeting a partner, marrying or not, kids or not, and if you marry and have kids and watch their Little League games on roughly the same sked as all your friends (or if you make new friends largely from the pool of adults you meet on your spouse-and-kids journey), then you're going to know of little besides timeline friendships.

Yet there is so much to be gained from being close to people who share your interest in something completely untethered to life milestones, like a cause or a hobby or a taste for something out of the mainstream. 



Part of the reason they're so great, I think, is that it takes knowing yourself first for you to be able to know them. If you're just on a timeline path, you can be in the conversation without putting much of -you- into it--it's all about the scenery on this particular part of the road.

So, that's my unsatisfying answer: Look to who you are, at your most offbeat and interesting and focused, and see where that part of you wants to be on the weekend days that you used to spend with friends who are now chasing kids. That's where I suspect you'll find the kind of companionship your old friends no longer provide (or better).

A friend of mine has told me about his sexual activities that I believe would hurt his live-in partner, if his partner knew. My friend thinks his partner suspects but hasn't talked about it and continues doing what he does. I'm increasingly feeling awful about him and about myself for not telling my friend that I believe what he's doing is hurtful and his rationalizations are selfish. I didn't speak up because I was enjoying his friendship and didn't want to blow it up by confronting him: When the topic came up I listened and by that signaled it was okay with me. I'ts not. What do I say to him ?

"I find myself feeling really uncomfortable knowing what you told me the other day. I wish I had spoken up then, so I will now: I think what you're doing is hurtful to your partner, and your rationalizations are about protecting you, not your partner." 

Note that this sticks to saying what you think and feel about this, and doesn't venture into what you think your friend should do. You want to stay on the butt-out side of that line. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn, Would you consider a wedding version of the holiday hootenanny (preferably soon)? Sis just announced that she's hoping I have another early delivery (my first child had a terrifying and dangerous arrival at seven months) so that I have more time to lose the baby weight before her wedding photos. I know this will be funny eventually, and in the meantime, misery loves company!

Holy Bridezilla. I fear we can't top this, but I'm game to try. Bethonie, whatchoo think?

Love the wedding hootennanny idea!

Many commenters remarked I must have lingering "issues" with ex/their new spouse. Not so. First 3 yrs, my kid called step-parent by first name. (Joint custody). At 13, new sibling born; my kid told to refer to stepparent as Mom/Dad *whenever around sibling* this persists until my kid is now early 20s; 1/2 sibling is 5. Somehow that just seems *wrong.*

That's because it is wrong. I'm with you on this one, and stand by my answer.

I think. Your math doesn't work. Is 13 a typo? Was your kid 18 when the half-sib was born?

Either way, it's weird and wrong enough for you to have a place in this, to help counsel your son. 

Carolyn-- Your column today about family really hit home. For years I've been trying to make my relationship with my Mom better, always hoping that if I just tried harder and did more she would love me and accept me. We've had some wonderful times but it's always been a roller coaster. I finally hit rock bottom with her and feel like I need to let go of the Mom I want her to be and accept her for who she is and grieve that loss, but make the most of what I do have. Any book recommendations? I will be pursuing therapy, I think it's a must. Thanks and love your work!!

I'm sorry for your disappointment, but it sounds as if you have a lot of good things ahead of you now--the inherent benefit in "rock bottom."

This probably isn't the type of book you had in mind, but the first thing I thought of was "Anywhere but Here" by Mona Simpson. Another odd form of therapy that I suspect will hit the spot is a mildly obscure movie called "Ruby in Paradise," starring a young Ashley Judd in the kind of role I wish she had stuck to. It's a pitch-perfect take on the transition from a life where others let you down to a life where you come through for yourself. It's lovely, really, and that's not a word I typically use with a straight face.

I think this is a great idea, but FWIW, I would regard that request as an invitation to back out of sis' wedding. Seriously? Hoping that your niece/nephew will be born dangerously early so that your SISTER can look "better" in your photos? That may be the most selfish, disgusting thing I have ever heard of a bride saying to a bridesmaid and I wholeheartedly hope that the groom is aware of this request and sees it for the warning signal that it is. And that the bride herself wakes on her wedding morn with a giant zit on the tip of her nose.

"I wholeheartedly hope that the groom is aware of this request and sees it for the warning signal that it is." Right you are. Sadly--and this is just anecdotal--I have seen so many men dismiss flashy red warning lights like this about the women they're dating out of a mistaken belief that this is just what "women" do. I.e., fuss about their weddings to a degree of absurdity that normally wouldn't be lightly dismissed. And that in itself wraps up into an ugly little ball so many bad stereotypes about men, about women, about interactions between men and women, and about weddings that I feel almost like an accessory to idiocy by spelling it out here. I can only hope this is something that is dying off with time and social progress.

This is both a detour from the point and a bit of a straw man, but I had to get it off my chest, probably because I ran across one of these situations recently, where the she-half of a couple was being sitcom-shrill and the he-half of the couple was treating this as just the way things are between hes and shes.

As for "the most selfish, disgusting thing I have ever heard" from a bride, that bar is set pretty high, but you might be right.

In other words, Wedding Hootenanny is ON. Will check in with Bethonie later to plan it. 

Yes, *13* year difference in two kids' ages

Am I dense? 13 plus 5 is 18, not early 20s.

Do you think people should go to their high school reunions? I skipped my 10th and there were people in my life who genuinely couldn't understand why I would do such a thing. I had a former co-worker tell me to definitely go to my 20th. I just don't see any reason to go. I'm not curious about anyone. I keep track of a select few people on Facebook. I was bullied. And my biggest thing is that I would only go to be a braggy braggerson ("I live in New York City now and celebrities and musicians know my name and say hi to me!") and their responses would all be, "How many kids do you have and how big is the house you own because those are our measures of success." I just don't see the point.

1. "there were people in my life who genuinely couldn't understand why I would do such a thing": Really? People capable of seeing things only one way are automatically suspect.

2. If you're going only to brag, then it's still too early to go. Go when you don't give a [ ] what people think of you. That's when you're open to seeing how much better people can get after life throws them around a bit. Not all people--some jerks are absolutely immune to seeing themselves for who they really are--but I'd venture to say most, in my experience, get over themselves one way or another. And since it can be cathartic to talk to them, that's why you should at least consider going when you're ready--not to find out about classmates you haven't thought about in X decades, but to find out about you.

Honestly, it was so GREAT to be able to go out to dinner with a friend after I had the first kid. It was so nice to have a 'night off.' See if anyone is willing to do that with you...

Of course, yes, that's the place to start. The non-kid-party often needs to be flexible on scheduling, and the kid-party needs to be open to the idea that some people want nothing to do with socializing that includes the kids. There can be touchiness around both concessions--needlessly, imho--but these obstacles are common enough that it makes sense to go into it prepared to deal with them.

My girlfriend has an eating disorder. She told me as much a couple months ago, but it's not something she appears to struggle with daily (though I know "appears to" and "actually does" are completely different). That is, around me she eats healthfully. But, the other day I went to the gym in our complex and when I came back there was what appeared to be evidence of purging. I also noticed our candy stash went from basically full to half full. I'm not sure how to approach her about this because her general disposition is guarded and the few times we've talked about it she's told me she has it under control and she doesn't want to talk about it beyond that. Any ideas? Thanks.

People who have things under control do not resist talking about them. Meanwhile, eating disorders are strongly connected to maintaining an appearance that there is nothing wrong.

It's such difficult territory that your information needs to come strictly from authortiative sources. Start with the National Eating Disorders Association (link) and keep an open mind. 

Hi Carolyn! You always espouse the importance of taking time for yourself to be whole and ready for a new relationship, and I agree. A couple months ago, I fell head over heels for this guy, and I know he felt the same. Unfortunately, he had just gotten out of a 3-year relationship, and never gave himself time to recover. That eventually caught up with him, and he recently asked if we could take a break so he could fully get over her and piece himself together before we became any more committed. I agreed, and I do understand, but the process of waiting is really painful. Should I continue with trust that our strong relationship will prevail in the end?

Well that's a bummer, I'm sorry. 

I don't think such outcome-specific hopes or trust serves you well, though. Trust that the natural outcome of this waiting period will be the right one, whatever it is; trust that you're going through the worst of it now, because we're wired to get used to new realities, even painful ones; trust that you're strong enough to emerge from this difficult time better than you were going in;  trust that living in suspense without losing your mind is a life skill that, if you don't possess it already, is well worth cultivating.

Fill in the blanks with what works for you, just as long as your trust is centered on you and your choices, vs. what he does, which is out of your hands.

We're about to have our first child and my husband's mother doesn't want my husband's step-mom to be called "Grandmom" or any iteration of that. She thinks she should be the only one, yada yada yada. Besides saying that more people loving a baby can never be a bad thing, this child won't remember a time when step-mom wasn't a part of her life, and pretending that you can "force" your child what to call someone is ridiculous, any tips?

No, you seem to have it all covered--and having said it all, the less attention you give this issue now, the better. When your mother-in-law starts in on it, don't give it any traction. Just say, "We know where you stand on this, thanks," or a generous, "Don't worry, you'll be special to the baby," then lightly change the subject. 

And, hey, good luck with that! (Does anything bring out the worst in people more efficiently than emotional competitiveness?)

Any idea what to do about someone who "brags" about beating his child? He likes ruffling feathers so I feel like any confrontation would just fuel him. He believes that "time outs" and "talking" just give children more excuses to think up bad things to do. Someone did say something to him, and he got all offended. "Don't ever tell me how to raise my child." Earlier today, he said there's a big difference between "discipline" and "abuse." The thing is I've never met his family, so he could be exaggerating. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see if this kid grows up and gives his dad as much as he got. (My brother did that to my dad once.) I'm left with this vision of his potty-training daughter getting spanked for wetting her pants again. It scares me.

Me too, and breaks my heart. How unhealthy a mind does it take to view children as such evil schemers? 

Please call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, to discuss this more thoroughly with a staffer trained in child-abuse prevention, so you can see whether a call to Child Protective Services is warranted. I'd send you straight there, but the only thing you cite is a single spanking, which, while reprehensible (and, ironically, a good way to make sure there are more accidents, not fewer), is a thin premise for a knock on the door from authorities. Presumably you have more examples to share, so please do so in a call to the hotline. That's what it's there for. 


Quick note from producer: Carolyn is having some technical difficulties, but stay tuned. She should be back on soon.

Sorry about that--cable modem hiccup. It seems better now.

Familiar blueprint: Husband (partner) has affair with married co-worker (associate) at his law firm. I find out about it, husband comes clean and we work on our marriage. The mistress stays at his firm, and we don't tell anybody. Fast forward a year, and husband and mistress hooked up again, got caught again, and we work harder on our marriage. This time, the mistress has to leave the firm and is looking. But the legal market is tight, and she is the main breadwinner for her family, so it is taking time. I am having a difficult time watching him go off every day to the place where she is and where they hooked up to begin with. I feel like telling her spouse would help this. My concern is opening this box, because I really don't know what's in it. I don't want her to get divorced. I don't know how her husband will react. I really just want her back in her box and out of our daily lives.

Telling the husband and putting the mistress "back in her box" are a tangible and intangible thing, respectively, that you feel you can actually do to regain control of your life. The promise in both of them is false, though. She's out of the box and there's nothing you can do to get rid of her short of ending your marriage.* Stay married, and she--either as a colleague while still with the firm, or as a ghost if she ever leaves--will remain. 


That's not to say you should end your marriage; I'm agnostic on that. I'm merely offering that your post-infidelity reality is gray, and so will demand acceptance of a certain level of uncertainty. (I could argue that pre-infidelity, reality was just as gray, you just had the luxury of not having to see it for what it was--but that's almost as cynical a worldview as the one behind two annual Hootenannies celebrating the emotional wreckage left by our most cherished traditions.)


As difficult as this will sound, and assuming you continue to want to stay married, I urge you to live in the moment of your marriage--which, if I read you correctly, is one you value enough to keep even knowing you can't count on your husband not to cheat. Live the decision that what you've created and what you share is worth the risk. Instead of seeing the risk as something that is going on interviews and will eventually get hired away, see it as a fact of life that you're making peace with through the hard work you describe. 

*Of course, reality will always be gray, even if you leave this marriage, but it will be generalized, which is easier than gray with a face attached to it. Either way, your future is one where you make peace with the knowledge you have, vs. restoring your life to a point before you had it.

 I was about to apologize for the darkness of that last answer, but I actually think gray is plenty bright, not to mention easier to live with. Black-and-white comes with expectations just waiting to go unmet; gray, by comparison, is liberating. 

Dear Carolyn, After living in one state for three years, my husband and I moved a thousand miles away. I'd accepted a new position and we both felt it was time for a change. That was two years ago. Recently my husband has been saying that he wants to visit our old location to see friends and hang out with everyone. This possibility worries me a little bit. Since we've moved, he's had no contact (beyond "liking" posts on Facebook) with any of his friends in our old state. None of them have reached out to him and he has not reached out either. I'm concerned that we could plan a trip, fly back, and he would have a very disappointing time when none of his friends are available to see him/us. I don't want to see him hurt by people that he valued as a big part of his life. I'm not really sure what I'm asking here, except how do I approach his with him? Thanks!

Does he need to be insulated from disappointment? Is he inclined to have big ideas not grounded in reality, followed by big falls when reality shows itself? Not that you'd then have to cushion his fall for him, but I'm wondering why this is such an issue. Seems as if it would be natural just to say, "Sure, I'd like to go back--though I think we need to be ready to find out that people have moved on. I haven't been in close touch with anybody."

I have twin 15yo girls and an 11yo boy. We are going on a long car trip this summer. One of my 15yo girls does not want to go and wants to stay with her dad. She felt so strongly about this last year, that I gave in and let her. Her dad gave her a credit card and let her run. I believe there were days when he didn't come home, but I know there was no supervision. No surprise she wants to do this again. I made it clear last year (when I caught them both lying to me), that she was coming on our trip this year. She is a relatively responsible child, but she is negative about everything. Her sister and brother are zero problems and mostly up for everything. I've tried to plan our trip so there is plenty of down time and did that just for her. The others like to move, as do I. Honestly, if I left her home our trip, like last year, would be fun, easy and no strife. But I do NOT want the message to be that she isn't worth fighting for. That we don't want her. I am exhausted with this back and forth and giant statements about how this will be the trip from YKW. Is this the wrong path to take? Should I allow her a big freedom one more year? What are your thoughts?

My first thought is, what would happen if you invited your kids' ideas for the planning of this trip? A "long car trip" decided by someone else and handed to me as a fait accompli doesn't sound like my idea of a vacation, either.

I get that kids can't be handed the reins of a family without disastrous consequences, but letting them be heard while retaining the final say seems like a good way to encourage your kids to invest in family vs. clench-and-bear-it till they're free to run their own lives.

Maybe Bethonie could weigh in on the impact of having a "one-off" type spelling of her name?

I used to really hate the spelling and it still causes issues at Starbucks, but I can't imagine having any other name. The funiest part is that my entire family calls me Beth anyway. 

I work from home, and largely on my own. The hours are long, lonely, and kind of boring. After a few days of this, I get lonely and bored enough that I stop being productive. Going out for a while almost always makes me feel better, but I can't get myself to do that since I'm already behind on work. I then end up in a downward spiral and find it harder and harder to work. How do I head off this cycle?

Plan breaks and force yourself to take them. I can't afford the time either, technically, since my schedule is pretty rigid, but I've found that 7 hours of work + an hour or two off produces not just higher-quality work as I might expect, but also a greater -quantity- of work than 9 hours of going slowly bonkers. Try it. 

Haven't spoken to my father for 2.5 years, for various reasons that boil down to him being very selfish and refusing to validate feelings. He called the other day. Many many people in my life think I should let it go because "that's just how he is" and that I'm depriving him of my child (born well after I cut him off). I'd love a relationship, but his message didn't indicate any desire to resolve issues, simply to brush them under the rug. Thoughts?

There really isn't enough here for me to go on, but I do feel comfortable saying that I support unconditionally those who sever ties to people who are harmful to them.

When people sever ties to those who merely disappoint them, my advice is to try instead to accept that no one will ever be who you want them to be. We even let ourselves down by that standard. Instead, think of what you want from yourself, and from other people: to be accepted and loved as you are, right? And forgiven your shortcomings? You can't make anyone give you that, but you can give that to others, show them how it's done, knowing your only guaranteed reward is your integrity.

Hi Carolyn, recently my boyfriend of 5 months has brought up living together. I'm totally on board, mainly because the couples I know who have made it to the altar (whose relationships I look up to), all recommend doing this before getting married. My mother on the other hand seems to think it's important to wait at least for an engagement ring before taking that step or else the guy won't take you seriously enough. The last thing I want is for someone not to take my level of commitment seriously, since I do see marriage and kids in the future, but how do you know when you're ready to move in with someone?

As the squillion posts over the years about infidelity attest, a ring is no guarantee of a commitment taken seriously. In fact, people who hang it all on the ring are training their eyes away from the stuff that does matter. Your mother sounds like a stealth subscriber to the why-buy-the-cow mentality, which is nothing but a bad deal for women masquerading as concern for their well-being. Yuck. I mean, why isn't anyone worried about your taking him seriously enough? It's Neanderthal dust that we somehow haven't managed to shake off.

That said, I don't think a you-must-cohabitate approach is the answer. That, too, can provide misleading results, since you can live together in reasonable harmony, take that as a green light for marriage and still end up ruing the day.

So, what does work, you might reasonably be asking by now? Being patient, being yourself, and seeing where that takes you--after you've safely left the hormonal fog of new love. Other people's standards mean squat to this process. You have to take your own needs seriously, and see if your boyfriend does the same. You have to take your boyfriend's needs seriously, and see if he does the same. You have to see if the result of those efforts is a life you want to live, with a harmony you can sustain without twisting yourself--or his twisting himself--into a person you no longer recognize.

It sounds subtle but, when you're successful at tuning out other people's ideas of how you need to live and tuning into your own, then it's actually pretty obvious. Good luck.


Is there an alternative to leaving her with her irresponsible dad while not forcing a car trip on her? With a friend's family, maybe? Child swap with a family who has a kid they'd like to get rid of for a couple of weeks, maybe a restless 11-year-old?

Ooh, or some kind of camp or school or exchange program--there are amazing ones out there. Thanks for the push.

How hard would it be for him to post on Facebook, "hey, I'm planning a trip out to Old City--let's make plans?" and gauge a reaction? Also, and perhaps this is just my experience, but I know plenty of people who don't call, don't write, "like" each other on Facebook, but pick up like they've never left when they do visit in person. It's not really a commentary on their level of friendship, but just their modes of communication.

Yeah to both, thanks.

Please, please PLEASE address this with your girlfriend head on. My best friend and college roommate confessed to me that she suffered from bulimia after I figured it out (based on pretty much the same clues you mentioned.) She told me she had it under control, and I was too scared to harm our relationship to ever challenge that, even when I could tell she was still purging. She died a year after we graduated from college, at the age of 23, from a heart condition related to her bulimia. Please, please say something. Keeping quiet isn't worth it.

Thanks for this, and I'm sorry. For those taking this advice, though, please also go through the channels to get informed support as you "address this head-on." It's easy to get in over one's head. 

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. Have a great weekend and hope to see you here at the usual time next Friday. In the meantime, I'll be on Facebook (link) and other readers will be talking amongst themselves in the forum (link).

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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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