The Other F Word: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Thursday, July 25)

Jul 25, 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 be online Thursday, July 25th, 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Follow @PostLive on Twitter

Hi, everybody, and thanks for stopping by on a Thursday. This isn't going to be a typical marathon chat; I'm still on deadline for the column today so I'll probably skip at what is usually the halfway point. Sorry for the changes.

Dear Carolyn, At what point can one stop prioritizing other family members' life events and start prioritizing one's own? I have dutifully attened my older and younger siblings' weddings complete with the entire dozen or so contrived events for one, which were not at all convenient for me; I have been flexible with my folks about holidays so they could accomodate my siblings' spouses, etc. One sibling and spouse are now expecting a child - due shortly before the time my boyfriend and I were discussing a wedding. I am 99% sure they wouldn't attend based on the fact that they 1) have always prioritized spouse's family events in the past, and 2) are having a baby. Is it so bad for me to go ahead with plans for my own life as work for me and the man I want to marry? Is it fair to accept that people make time for the things that are important to them? At what point is it okay to stop planning how my life goes around my siblings, and then, of course, what would be the best response to my mother, who would be devastated that the whole family "couldn't" attend?

There are actually two questions here. The first one is the one you cop to, about whether and when you can prioritize your own needs when it comes to scheduling. The answer to that is easy: You have been entitled all along to set your own priorities, so, sure, start now. If it's important to you to see family on holidays; or split time between families; or alternate seeing family and doing your own thing; or start a tradition of doing your own thing and seeing family at a less expectation-fraught time of the year, then make your plans accordingly. Your family will be free to respond as they please, but that's all part of the deal: You have your priorities and they have theirs.

The second question is, can you schedule your wedding when you know a good chunk of your family can't come just because you've had it up to ^ here with contorting yourself to accommodate them? The answer to that is, technically, yes, because it's your life and your wedding, but cheez. It just seems needlessly foot-stompy when a wedding could just as easily be two months earlier or later, in most cases.

This is why it's best not to suppress-suppress-suppress your own needs and desires to please other people. It so quickly hardens into resentment: "the entire dozen or so contrived events"?

Carolyn, I appreciate so much how you are able to simplify complicated issues, and I'm hoping you will have some of your elegant advice for my current problem. For context, everyone involved is over 30. "Ex" and I dated on and off for years, which ended years ago. It was not a healthy relationship. I am two years into a much healthier and happier relationship with my wonderful current partner. The problem is that Ex's parents want to meet up with me and insist on coming to my home that I share with my current partner. Ex's parents were always very kind to me, but I just want to be done with that very sad chapter of my life. As an introvert, I find it very invasive that they would invite themselves to my home, especially since they know I am seriously involved with someone else. The last time they invited themselves over, a couple years ago, Ex basically told me I'm a horrible person for not wanting to hang with Ex's parents, which made me feel guilty enough to meet with them. I don't want this to continue. I don't want to be rude or cruel, but I can't help but feel that they've put me in an awkward position. Any attempt to get the Ex involved will just lead to guilting and shaming for having the audacity not to want to hang out with Ex's parents. Is there a kind/ethical way to give them the brush? I don't want to be a jerk. Thanks for taking the question!

Unhealthy apple, unhealthy tree. That "ex's parents ... insist on coming to my home" is inappropriate, and therefore your permission not to worry one bit that you're in the wrong for saying no to them.

If you want to see them, then you tell them X is an excellent restaurant/coffee shop and you'll meet them there Thursday at 7. If you don't want to see them, then say how you have always appreciated their kindness, but that reminders of this part of your past are painful for you and you hope they'll understand why you're choosing to decline their invitation.

Hi Carolyn, I recently became single and have some questions about dating again, particularly about an STD reveal. I have the big H, which isn't curable... Luckily, I have been asymptomatic and am taking a daily prescription to reduce the chance of spreading it to others. When exactly do I tell a guy that I have it? I realize not every guy will want to be with someone who has this. I lucked out with my ex, in the fact that I told him after a couple dates (and after we had fooled around a bit), but before we had sex. Should I do the same thing in the future? Telling on the first date is obviously a "no"... But when after that? I did debate on not telling until after having sex since this is such an important part of a relationship to me, but saying "Oh, by the way, I have herpes" seems like setting myself up to fail. My friend suggested acting like I just found out about it and haven't known the entire time. What do you think?

I think you had it right the first time, and in fact aren't giving yourself enough credit when you say you "lucked out." You waited until after you decided to sleep with him, but before you actually did it. Check. Plus, you apparently chose someone who had the decency not to make you pay for your honesty or for having a health condition that says nothing about you except that you've had sex before. Check. Granted, it's possible to misjudge someone, but luck still only shares responsibility with your own honesty and judgment.

I don't know what your friend is thinking. Does she want people to put on an act for her?

Hi Carolyn, I wrote awhile back about my husband who had spanked my son so hard he left marks. It's been a very difficult year for my kids and although I'm happy to say he's getting better, I'm done. We live separately in our house and I'm just ready for divorce. But I guess I'm also afraid. He has no problem cursing me out and making me feel stupid. I lose my words. How do I proceed? Take him to my therapist and tell him there (if he'd even go)? Write him a letter and let him read it while the kids and I are gone for a week? I'm miserable. I need to move forward but have no idea how. I have no support near me although my family is supportive of me doing this. Thanks. Signed, Desperate

It sounds as if your fear is healthy, so please respect it.

If you have not presented this to your therapist as you have to me, then that's what you need to do. I also suggest you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline--1-800-799-SAFE (7233)-- to say you need comprehensive services in your area to help you leave a man who has a history of being physically and verbally abusive, and to help you protect your children in the process. You want legal, physical and emotional protection in place before you take any steps toward the door.

I'm not saying this to talk you out of it, just to urge you to take every possible precaution: Abusers are at their most volatile when people try to end relationships with them. Take care, and please do check back in. 

Carolyn, I think your answer is a good one. However, I can see where the poster is coming from. When you are the single person in the family you are expected to accomodate everyone else because you are viewed as "less than" since you are only one person instead of two or more. Since it looks like the poster is the last in her family to get married, it seems that she has been put in the "less than" category for some time. Obviously, I can relate (my family even continuously suggests that I shouldn't get a room in family vacations and just sleep in the common space since it is just one of me- ugh).

Yes, been there myself, and I do get it; I didn't mean to sound unsympathetic to the problem. I just thought the hinted-at solution was a resentful over-correction.

While it's too late for the OP, people who are in the early stages of the Single/Childless Adult Family Member Always Sleeps on the Stinkin Couch Syndrome would do well to think carefully about how much accommodation makes sense to them and how much p***es them off, and to make sure they agree only to the former. Better long-term for all involved, even if it brings on short-term flak when you say, "Sorry, no family Thanksgiving for me this year, I've got other plans."

I've read your article on how to decide if/when you're ready to marry someone from 2009, but I wonder if you have similar tips/advice for when the time to move in together is? What are the things to consider when weighing the move? Conversations to have with a partner, contingency plans to be made, and if someone can ever just absolutely, positively 100% *know* that it's the right thing to do (for those particular people, at that particular time, in their particular circumstances).

Move in with someone when you both are ready for what you both agree is the end game, whatever that is. Do you both plan on/believe in marriage? Then don't move in till both of you are ready to marry each other. Would you both be fine with cohabiting happily ever after? Then move in when each of you sees the other as the right person for that future. Do you both see this as great as long as it lasts, but you're both headed in different directions when summer ends? Then go for it, assuming the lease permits.

If you're talking at all about how this is the logical next step, about how you'll save a fortune not paying rent on two places, about how it'll make your commute so much easier, about how you can't know if you're right for each other until you live together,* etc., then stop that. Are you it for him, is s/he it for you, is the shared legal address a mere formality? That's where the soundness of your decision gets tested.

Once you're sure, then do your homework on the legal implications. 

* Maybe so, but it's a messy, commingled-stuff breakup waiting to happen. Decide on each other first. If there's a concern you have that you want to test by shacking up, take that concern as a "don't move in" warning unless time says otherwise. If you do decide you're in it for life and if living together then reveals a surprising incompatibility, then, yes, you still have the messy breakup, but some of those are inevitable.



So, I also think the first questioner could benefit from advice to explore therapy. (Then again I also think every answer should have the postscript "also therapy might help.") It seems she thinks she's the righteous party here, but the things she appears to resent are pretty much just par for the course of caring about other people. I also wonder how young she is, because it might just be a part of needing to mature to realize these things -- so I suppose all questioners should include a postscript with their age and whether they're in therapy! haha -- thanks for the chat, I love it and your advice.

"It seems she thinks she's the righteous party here, but the things she appears to resent are pretty much just par for the course of caring about other people." Well said, thanks.

Hey there Carolyn, I have identical twin girls, age 2. My husband and I really try to encourage them to become their own people (no matching outfits, although sometimes we do variations on the same theme) and are planning to make sure they're always in different classes at school, etc. On my wedding day, my MIL gave me a family heirloom--a piece of jewelry worth thousands of dollars, given to her by her mother (she has no daughters of her own and I'm the wife of her eldest son). I wore it in my wedding. I will wear it to whatever other fancy events I attend throughout my life, but otherwise it will remain in a safe deposit box till it's time to pass it along. For the first time the other day, I thought about the fact that I have two "firstborn" girls and only one special necklace to give. This totally freaked me out. Right now, they are both girly girls who like dress-up and things that glitter. Who knows whether that will be true 50 years from now, but if it is, I dread the idea of having to choose between them. You said something the other day that reminded me of this dilemma. When I only have one of something important to give (whether it's a necklace, the last cookie, my lap on a train ride), how on earth do moms of twins (or just 2 kids) make those decisions?

Split the cookie, do shifts on your lap, and hope the cosmos burps out another, comparable heirloom to you have two of them to give.

When that doesn't work out, take the long view. It's not as if this train ride is the only train ride, or lap space is the only measure of affection, or family jewelry is the only gift of value, or giving it to a daughter is the only proper use for a gem. Think of it all as going into one big pot, from which you feed each daughter carefully and fairly. There are going to be times when one of your children needs you so much more than the other does, and you will need to pay the needier child the extra attention--and it will break your heart for the other one regardless, but less so for your knowing that when it's her turn to need more, you will provide it. Apply that attitude across the board and you'll get a more workable answer to these individual who-gets-what questions than "split it down the middle."

BTW, the whole "firstborn" thing reeks of unfairness anyway. Nice that the fact of your twins interrupted that precedent with this generation.

I love my husband dearly, and he's a very understanding and supportive guy. He's stood by my side as I've dealt with some pretty severe health issues (both mental and physical). The problem is that because I have so many less understanding people in my life demanding my time and attention, I end up exhausted and unable to really cope with adding anything more and he always ends up being the one to get the shaft. He doesn't complain, and he understands that it's easier for me to tell him I'm too tired than to explain to my boss why I missed a deadline or tell a needy friend that I can't help with her latest crisis. I'm trying to say no to more people to make more time for him, but in the meantime I don't know how to make sure he knows that I deeply appreciate having this island of understanding among all the people who don't get it and won't leave me alone. I don't want him to end up thinking I'm taking this for granted and being miserable. Why is it always the kindest people that get treated unkindly simply because they won't be jerks about it? Shouldn't it be the opposite?

That's up to you. Say no to the ones being jerks about demanding your attention, and your husband will be instantly and duly rewarded for his kindness with your full presence. This isn't a "why is it always ..." question, it's a "why can't (or won't) I."

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend was married before, and now has full custody of his 8-year-old daughter. I love kids and think my bf is a great dad, so no problems there. But the way he describes his ex-wife, who lost custody through a series of really poor life decisions, makes her sound so terrible that I sometimes question his judgment for having started a family with her. Out of respect for me, he doesn't talk about her very much. But I crave an open conversation in which he explains to me what his thought process was when he married and had a child with her. Is that the wrong thing to do?

It's a great thing to do, but you'll have to undo or rethink whatever preceded his decision to stop talking to you about her "out of respect." I don't know what it was, but you did something to shut down the topic--maybe you got upset about how much he talked about her, or maybe you were very very liberal with your opinion of her choices, etc. If you want him to open back up to you, then you'll need to stop worrying and/or stop judging both of them long enough to listen to the truth.

One way to start that is to identify why he shut down, and take responsibility for it, and commit to changing your approach. E.g: "I realize you stopped talking about Exie because I got so upset about it, but I see now that by doing that, I shut down the possibility of openness about your and your daughter's past, which means I now can't get to know this whole part of you as well as I'd like. I'd like to remedy that, starting with a promise that I will stop judging/freaking out and just listen."

If you can mean this, that is.

Carolyn, I too understand the siblings who are not married and don't have kids being upset about feeling "less than." What should my wife and I do when my parents and her parents schedule family events around when we can come so they can see the grandkids. I know that creates tension with my siblings, but I don't know how to change the dynamic. If I say that we can't come on a certain date, my parents reschedule the event.

You can say to your parents that you understand they want to see the grandkids, but that you worry that always scheduling around you will eventually wear out the others' patience.

That's it for this truncated wrong-day chat. Thanks for stopping by, and hope to see you next Friday, when I'm back to my usual overlong spot. Have a great weekend.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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