Excuses to Unplug: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, November 1)

Nov 01, 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 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 tellme@washpost.com.

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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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I had a thought about Saturday's column with the soon-to-be-divorced mother wondering if she should continue taking her son on an hour-long trip to visit his grandparents. Along with the excellent insights from other readers, I would like to offer that spending an hour with a son, especially as he gets older and into his teenage years, is a rare opportunity. If the son is unplugged, she can use that hour to listen to his concerns about school, friends and his relationship with extended family members. That hour in the car turns into two with the ride home, and these trips might become wonderful opportunities for her to spend high-value time with him.

This is such a good point, and it's applicable well beyond this one circumstance: Car time -is- "high-value time," if you unplug. Thanks.

It has been interesting reading the different takeaways from today's column (link). I was warning her against her own impulses to get too involved in other people's problems, not against a guy with debt--which I said could play out in different ways. I actually don't find his moving-and-hospital debt all that alarming, at least, not without more info on how he handles it and his future spending.

From the responses I'm getting, I can conclude either that I didn't express myself clearly enough or that people are influenced more than usual by their own experiences in interpreting what I wrote. Probably a little of both. The responses here:

Why does it seem that people who have no debt seem to freak out when other have debt? No debt is an amazing thing! You are free to save, spend and set your own goals. But recognize that life may not have turned out that way for others. Student loans can be significant, but how or why those loans came into play is a big factor. Medical debt can happen, even to those with health insurance. Sometimes it takes a credit card to teach a lesson. Sure, there can be red flags with it. But if the person has a job, is working on the debt, etc., then take a deep breath and allow time to tell if it is a new financial leaf! My now-husband once charged a vacation to his credit card while we were dating. It took 3 years to pay off and he never again charged more than he could pay off at the end of the month. I had no debt, but when we married, we paid what was left of his debts (a loan) together. We planned it together. People learn their financial lessons differently and at different times in life.

... and here:

You were right to warn the LW in today's column to wait and see how her boyfriend does making the transition from ski bum to responsible partner. I've seen too many high-achieving friends (men and women) attract underachieving partners, and it's a trap for both sides. Does he admit when he makes bad money decisions, or does he blame his woes on everyone and everything else? Is he tight-fisted about all his spending now, or does he treat himself and then expect her to pick up the tab for all joint outings? Is he generous in non-financial ways, like cooking or cleaning or suggesting fun free things to do? Some debt is understandable, but the impulsiveness of moving to be with her and wanting to get a place together after just three months is a red flag. Even if he intends to work hard and get rid of debt, it would be so easy for him to get comfortable with the status quo if she's paying for most of the rent and groceries. If he's not pulling his weight in other ways, that's going to get old fast. Learned the Hard Way

... and here:

For today's LW, I met and fell in love with a man who had student loans and credit card debt. While managing my own finances well (with a little credit card debt...the result of being a bridesmaid 7 times in one year), I found his financial life to be messier. When we got married, we tried the whole yours, mine and ours checking accounts and I kept getting notices from the bank that his account was overdrawn. Oh, how I hated that! I discovered that he simply is not good at managing the day-to-day ebb and flow of a checking account, so we gave up the yours, mine and ours and just have 'ours' that I manage. You know that he's GREAT at? Long-term investing and retirement planning. He has made some excellent stock purchases and manages our retirement accounts so well that we're on-track to become financially independent in about 15 years, or when we turn 50. Any guy who is working a full-time job and a part-time job and is doing the right things to erase his debt should have your respect.

... speak to the range of reactions.

And here's some good news, as I clean my queue of follow-ups:

Hi Carolyn, I wanted to say thank you to you and everyone for the kind and compassionate advice last week, both here and on the Hax Philes. I really didn't expect so much niceness; I was scared I'd get eaten alive/flamed (you know how comments can get). Since then, I got PPD resources from my doctor, and the baby started sleeping more at night (8 hours on several occasions!). It's amazing how much better I can deal with the day's screaming if I can get sleep at night. Things are looking up. Thank you again to all of you!




And some good-bad news, or is it bad-good news, or just [stuff]-happens news that is at least on a happier trajectory:

Hi Carolyn, I'm the newlywed that packed her bags from Sunday. I want to thank you for your response - it was perfect, and hit the nail on the head. By the time it was published I had realized that, like you said, the marriage I thought I had in fact never existed, so there's nothing there to save. I think I knew this all along, but it's always nice to hear it from an objective source. Thank you again.

Thank you, too, for writing back. 

So, I'm LW from Wednesday's column who wanted to veto my boyfriend's friendship with an alcoholic. You paint me as a really judgmental person, but my backstory is this-- my mother's parents were abusive and unrepentant alcoholics, and even though my mom has had ongoing therapy, the consequences of that are something that she, and by extension, I, will have to live with for the rest of our lives. The missing piece of information-- whether the friend is in recovery or still abusing-- is not something anyone in our circle of friends knows. They all cut off contact years ago, and that was it. I don't want to risk going through all the dysfunction all over again, and all the extra grief of imagining how my mother must have gone through this. Anyway, I explained all this to my boyfriend, and it turned out that he didn't have strong feelings one way or the other, so he didn't get back in touch.

I suspect you're in no mood to split hairs, but I painted as judgmental anyone who would categorically deny an alcoholic a place in his or her life without regard for whether said alcoholic was in recovery. My answer was conditional based on a lack of information.

I appreciate the extra details, because they're significant and would have allowed me to give a non-conditional answer--well, less conditional, since there's no such thing as having all the information.

However, I stick to my initial answer in this sense: While your mom's suffering at the hands of alcoholic parents does give you more leeway, and while you always have every right to decide who is or is not in your life, there is a point where barring the door to people, even for sympathetic reasons, crosses the line between protecting yourself and denying others their humanity.

I'm not saying it has happened here--since you don't know whether the drinker's still drinking and your BF doesn't feel strongly about contacting this friend, dropping the idea makes perfect sense. I'm merely saying that backstory doesn't absolve us of the duty to be at least as tough on our own biases as we are on other people.

Hi Carolyn, I've got a question into which you might have particular insight. My sister writes first-person features for a regionally well-known magazine. Her work is published weekly, and honestly I read some, not all, of the articles. Recently I've noticed that she sometimes writes about our family (including me) in a way that makes us sound like caricatures of ourselves, and not always in a positive way. Mom is a little pushy, Sis casts her as a boundary-challenged social oaf. Sis and I have a small spat about holiday plans, Sis paints it as the hugest deal ever. I get that it's a little like stage makeup - the mythological proportions make it easier to understand at the distance from which her readers are encountering us. And she's always careful to protect our identities and to balance the bad with the good. Still, sometimes this smarts, and I have to wonder whether she truly sees things as she describes them for work, and if so, should I be apologizing when I read that I've hurt her? Though she and I have talked about this, and she says I just shouldn't ever take these things personally as a rule, I'm not so sure.

Coincidentally, I've given this a lot of thought since I posted the David Sedaris piece in the New Yorker on his sister's death (link), which moved someone else to post a story on her discomfort with his writing (link)--and also moved me to Google my way to her obit here (link), which I don't have words to describe, except maybe "devastating," or "beautiful," or both fused together somehow, and which isn't exactly relevant to the issue at hand but it's a must read and so there you go.

After all this lot of thought, my opinion is that works like your sister's are best taken as entertainment, not reality. Best for your peace of mind and so for you; best for your sister, since it's her art form; best for your family relationships. I realize this has to involve a degree of denial, since it's your reality and your feelings that are going under the blowtorch and being twisted into a form you don't recognize as your family. But, that's my point--it's not your family, it's art made from the raw material of your family, which means it gets changed in the artistic process. If you find you can't detach your feelings from it, then I urge you not to read her work. That's just as acceptable, to my mind, as her using this raw material.

If you are going to read it and you do become concerned that you owe her an apology, then I suggest you just ask: "I read X and I'm worried now that I owe you an apology. Are you upset with me, or were you taking artistic license?"

To go back to the Sedaris example, the sister, Tiffany, asked not to be in his work, and he apparently honored that (I have read some but not all of his books). Something else to consider. 

Any way to post a link to the Hax Philes discussion of "Hate being a mom"'s post from last week. The topic struck a chord with me and I'd like to read more, but I'm having trouble finding the Hax Philes link. (Sorry, I'm techologically challenged.) Thanks!


Here you go.

A former friend has contacted me at various times over the years looking for an explanation as to why we are no longer friends. I unilaterally made the decision to withdraw from her life about 5 years ago by essentially not returning her calls. I did this after realizing that our friendship had no give and take, she was very manipulative, and there was little joy for me in being friends with her. Some of her behaviors while we were friends I attribute to what I believe is an undiagnosed mental illness. My question is, do I owe her an explanation? I have resisted up to this point mostly because my explanation would be hurtful to hear and I just don't want her in my life again.

Time and again, I receive letters that remind me that there are few things we can hear that are more enduringly painful than the complete disappearance of someone we thought was a friend. 

Tell her the truth. Don't say anything gratuitous, but do explain that you felt the friendship ran only one way and that you felt manipulated. Make it clear you are saying this not to restart the friendship, but to answer the nagging question you raised with your withdrawal.

I advise this with one caveat: It's important never to make the choice lightly to interact with manipulative people. However, you never had the direct conversation, so have it--from the distance of telephone or email if you think that's warranted.

Dear Carolyn, I'm getting the sense that my boyfriend is planning some sort of public, showy, highly premeditated proposal to coincide with the upcoming holidays. I CAN'T WAIT to marry him, but I'm a tiny bit disgusted by proposals of this sort (many of my friends have received them, which I'm sure is why he feels some pressure to do things the same way). That said, if he did it in some big fancy way, I'd obviously say yes and would put my uncomfortable feelings about the publicness aside. Should I say something to him, or let it be?

You've never said, in the wake of these friends' public proposals, that you find them off-putting? Commenting on others' experiences is one of the best, low-freight ways to get a message across about preferences, about all kinds of things.

If you missed that chance, then either go to big games together until someone tries the mortifying Jumbotron proposal--one seriously expensive way to avoid a frank conversation--or have the frank conversation. It's essentially your proposing to him, so, how do you feel about that?

I appreciate that different people have different views on proposals, and that many see it as a Moment that they look forward to and plan for and therefore guard carefully. However, I'm a walking buzzkill who thinks proposal/wedding/marriage stuff big and little is best talked about before a decision to marry, so that the decision to marry can be contingent on a good outcome of those talks.

Maybe you're good with all the big stuff and it's just this showy-proposal thing you think you've missed, but, buzzkill again, I'm inclined to believe that not knowing or not agreeing with each other's preference on public vs private moments, plus the forced cheer of a public proposal, plus the reticence to jet get in there an talk about it, add up to something more complicated than happily-ever-after-except-for-that-marching-band-proposal-thing.

My wife had our baby last week and asked that I take two weeks' vacation to help her get into a routine. But she also invited her mom to stay with us for the baby's first month. My mother-in-law is a pro at this stuff and I really appreciate the help. But I feel at least superfluous around my own house, if not downright in the way. I'm not sure it makes sense for me to stay home for another week, but I worry that mentioning this to my wife will make her think I'm being unsupportive or that I'm trying to escape the new challenges we're facing.

You're on to the right problem, but I urge a different solution. Explain to your wife that you feel superfluous with her mom around because she's such a pro ... and that you'd like to ask Grandma to take a back seat for your remaining week off work, so you can learn by doing while you have the benefit of her safety net. She'll have the following two weeks when you're back at work to get her fill.

At the risk of making too much of this: If your reaction to feeling superfluous to your child's care is to go back to work (or run errands or whatever else), then you're taking the first steps toward detachment from your marriage and child. It's an old story and it's worse for you than anyone else affected by it. Get in there. Set that precedent. 

Don't back down, either, if grandma doesn't take it well. better to do damage control on that relationship than to start a bad pattern on your relationship with your wife, child, marriage and home. There will be countless times when it will seem "easier" for the more experienced person to handle everything, but that quickly gives way to an overburdened everything-doer, a detached bystander and enough resentment between them to light Manhattan at Christmas.

You could always "stumble" on a YouTube video of a public proposal while he is around, and express your feelings then...

That works, thanks, though I still think the ability to raise a tough topic should be a prerequisite to marriage.

Please for the love of all that's good in this world the old gods and the new tell your significant other about this issue. I would have been so happy had my fiance told me she didn't want some big showy proposal. Do it now - in the end everyone will be better for it.

You're right. 

And while I'm here--you okay?

My parents are nationally recognized writers who throughout my life have had an national (if not international) platform to write about their lives, much of which included me and my sibling. I have grappled with this on and off, and I have come to realize that although some of the things they wrote about bothered me, it was coming not necessarily from THEM but them as they related to their intended audience. So when my attributes were exaggerated, it was for the benefit of the reader to capture a story telling mechanism, not necessarily how they would describe something if they were talking to a close friend. I have zero national platform for anything, but I see it in myself - I speak about my husband, for example, to a coworkers in a way different then I would to a friend. That said, I have asked them on several occasions to curtail the use of my "character" and have completely seriously said "no comment" to them on a few topics. The fact that they respond easily and well to these brush offs makes me much more generous with them when I see myself in print and roll my eyes. At this point I couldn't care less what their readers think and that sentiment is awesome to learn by any means, but coming from a unique perspective does certainly make me laugh at how weird life is.

I love this, thanks.

Interesting--this is a more general topic than alcoholism, isn't it? We all have hot buttons: alcoholism, cheating -ex's, , etc. While each of us should avoid prejudices, particularly where it is difficult and we don't have "normal" to compare to, let's hope that our loved ones are sensitive to our hot buttons (as was the case of LW). Knowing my wife's -ex cheated, I include her on many e-mail conversations that I would not otherwise, just so she knows how I am communicating with people outside, who might have different expectations than I do. Nice that LW's SO recognized it was just nostalgia or whimsy on his part, not something important.

Yes, excellent points--and I think it's actually the combination of the two that makes this work in a relationship built on trust. The person with the hot-button owes it to a partner to do the work--it's the willingness more than anything else--to minimize any reflexive reactions, and the partner in turn owes it to the hot-buttoneer to be sensitive to the possibility that no amount of hard work will snip the wires. 

Thanks for the follow-through.


My fiance and I are planning a small, affordable wedding with our family and friends next year. We are a young couple who decided that home ownership is more important than an extravagant wedding, and we are making sacrifices on the guest list, venue, wedding dress, and decorations to make sure that we can afford this wedding,and our mortgage payments. My main problem is my fiance's family. His family comes from Vietnam where public appearances are very important. He believes that his family will feel that they will lose face if we do not have a catered 7 course meal with black tie waitstaff, like his siblings had when they got married. We are paying for this wedding ourselves, and I do not want such a huge expense, plus I feel like my own blue collar family as well as myself would be very uncomfortable with something so formal. Whenever I try to explain this to my fiance, he tells me I am being culturally insensitive, and that I cannot understand because I am not Vietnamese. Should I allow us to take on an expensive extravagance for the sake of being culturally sensitive?

I try not to make too much of word choices, but in this case I think the way you wrote this sentence--"My main problem is my fiance's family"--is a possibly marriage-killing mistake.

Your "main problem" is not his family. It's that you and your husband don't agree on how to handle your cultural differences. And that includes the failure of both of you to recognize that, "for the sake of being culturally sensitive," applies to both of you. He is just as obligated to agree to an informal wedding that would make your family comfortable as you are to agree to a formal wedding to make his family comfortable.

Neither of you has any claim to cultural primacy here, and I don't like your chances until you're both ready to see this--or until one of you decides you just don't care enough to hold your ground and defers to the other's way of handling appearances. The latter option is fraught, though, so don't pounce on it just because it's there. Too many people enter that state more with an, "I don't want to break up so I'll make this sacrifice," mind set instead of an, "I genuinely don't give a [fig] which culture we honor and hey, his rituals are fascinating to me, and even though I think his parents are being irrational and forcing mine to make a sacrifice they themselves refuse to make, my fiance recognizes this and is prepared to make it up to me in other ways, including to stand up to them when the stakes are higher, and he I are solid in words and deeds on respecting each other's needs, plus he defers to me on X, which I value so much more, so bring on the seven-course meal." 

You've got to see the long game here.

I have a different take on this situation, and I'm a mom of two young kids. If her mom is there, he should go back to work now, and take a week off when the mom leaves! That is when he is really going to be needed. But he has got to talk to his wife about this and they need to be on the same page. Tell the wife you love her, that she is doing a great job, that you will miss them both like crazy all day, but that you are thrilled to pieces that your mother in law is there to help and buy you this time so you can be there when she's not. Then go back to work and save that paid time off for when you need to spend it for real to support the hell out of your wife. Your wife really may need you to step up your game when she's on her own, alone, day in and day out. Until then, when you are home from work, don't act like she's been on vacation all day and claim you are too tired to take care of the baby. Change diapers, take the baby for an after dinner walk, just you. Use time before you go to work and after you are home to take time with the baby. All this is null and void, though, if your mother in law isn't so much a pro, but completely overbearing and pushing you into doing things in a way you ultimately object. If that is the case, I second Carolyn's advice and push back on her and take your place in this family now. If your wife is planning to go back to work, you also need to have enough vacation time saved up so you can stay home with a sick baby since she'll likely have zero leave stored up when she starts back.

An excellent different take--that rides entirely on his actually taking the week after Grandma goes home. It has to be a promise fulfilled, because it's one of those things that pops up in memory when things aren't going so great, and there will be times when things aren't going so great. It's so easy to imagine the week not taken hardening into a grievance: "Remember when you said you'd save your week off to do baby care another time when we needed it more? And you never took it?"

Even if his intentions are sterling, there's a high risk of going back to work and never need-needing to take the time off "for real." Sometimes things chug along more or less smoothly and the obvious occasion doesn't present itself. So, yes, if the mother isn't overbearing and it's just a one-helper job, then pick another week to be a helper and do that. 

A few weeks ago you mentioned that Friday Night Lights makes for great marriage therapy. I'm halfway through the first season now and I love it. Say more about what you meant about it being good therapy.

I think this will be a self-answering question when you get to Season 2 and beyond, because the first is the most teenagey and most focused on the players. Over the full arc of the story, you see the Taylor marriage as the backbone of the series. They're both smart, strong leaders in their professions and they're both loving parents and they're both devoted to each other. These elements aren't always in harmony, because they can't possibly be because life is just that way, and so the therapeutic part is in watching the way the two characters find each other in situations that pull them apart. 

Carolyn, My wife and I have two kids. She wants a third, I do not. As a compromise, we agreed not to use birth control for 6 months and see what happens, after which I'd get snipped and we'd move forward whatever the outcome. We specifically agreed not to use any sort of fertility treatments (our first 2 kids took ~ 1 year each to conceive). I just discovered that she's been taking a fertility drug (one with a side effect of increased risk of multiples!), obviously without my knowledge. I have not confronted her yet. This is obviously a huge breach of trust. I can't decide whether I should be furious, or sad that she's in a mental and emotional state where doing this seemed like a good idea to her, or both. She has a bit of a history of getting obsessed with things, losing perspective, and then rationalizing unacceptable behavoir. Advice?

Really good counseling. There's too much on the line here, it's too big a breach of trust and there are too many contributing factors for a three paragraph answer to cut it.

I will say that the fact you're torn between anger and sadness is a glimmer of hope, from where I sit. It says to me that you know your wife well, and you've stuck by her to this point, so you're not looking at an "I don't even know the person I married" situation. This is something familiar to you and so you have some idea of where you need to start.

If you haven't gotten counseling before, then I suggest you get names of reputable therapists from the family doctor you like best--your primary care doc or your kids' pediatrician.  

Hi Carolyn, I'm 31 years old and I have wanted a nose job since I was a little girl. My nose isn't big or bent to the side but the tip is a little wide and I want a slight adjustment. My boyfriend of 10 years is against it and said I will look like a different person and regret it. if it wasn't for him, I would get it done. I now have doubts and worry that if I'm not happy with the outcome he won't support me. How do I let him know that I'm me regarless of my nose and that his job is to support me?

You don't. It's not your place to shape his opinion to your liking or tell him what his "job" is, any more than it is his place to tell you what you will and won't regret.

You can want support, but you can't make him give it. You can only decide which is more important, his support or your nose, and whether you can feel good about his decision in spote of his lack of supoprt.

It's fine for him to say, meanehile, that he's worried you might not like the result of surgery and come to regret having it, or to worry that he won't like your post-op face as much as he likes the pre-, but he doesn't know you "will ... regret" anything. 

So, it would help if both of you got back to your sides of the line here. You get to decide what you do with your face, how you feel about it and how you feel about your boyfriend. He gets to decide how he feels about your appearance and how he feels about you. Both of you get to air concerns about the after vs. the before, and both of you have to live with any consequences, but each of you has to decide your own priorities and make your decisions from there. 



My husband of a year and a half has yet to tell one of his female friends he is married. She lives in a different state and they once had a fling in undergrad. She texts him constantly at all hours of the night asking for relationship advise or whatever else. I've asked him why he hasn't told her and he says it would change their dynamic. Is this something I need to be concerned about?

A year and a half ago, plus.

Apparently this genius hasn't figured out that hiding his marriage from an ex who is in constant contact with him is likely "change" the far more consequential "dynamic" he has with his "spouse."  

It is, right?

I mean, if I'm the only one concerned about this, then my advice should probably just be, "Mazel tov."

Needing caffeine--back in 5.

Carolyn, When I moved into my basement flat this year, the guys upstairs were very warm and friendly, and we really haven't had much cause to interact since, outside of the occasional "Hello" when we cross paths at the doorstep. In the last month or two, my two dogs have developed a barking proclivity, and I'm concerned I've become a very annoying neighbor. I've been jammed at work and unable to address this behavior issue head on--mostly because I don't know how, and need to learn what the right way to respond to the barking is -- but things will clear up in November and we're signed up for puppy preschool starting next week. I'd really like to know how much of an annoyance this is for them in order to be able to adjust my response to the magnitude of the problem, but I don't know how to raise the topic with the neighbors in such a way that allows them to respond honestly or isn't terribly awkward. I also don't want to put myself in a situation where I wind up over-promising and under-delivering. Any tips for dealing with this type of wrinkle between neighbors?

Tape a note to their door saying you're sorry about the barking dogs and that you're working on it. Better, deliver the note with a loaf of pumpkin bread.

I'm the mom whose online chat question from May appeared in Monday's paper. Once the column appeared in the paper -- something I didn't want to happen -- I was pretty angry about the incredibly nasty and judgmental comments that showed up in its wake. I did write you an update, which I expect you are not including today because it was too long (or, maybe, too pissed off), but after a couple of days I realized that there is a community of habitual online commenters to your column, and some of them seem to have made a mark for themselves being flame-throwing trolls. So I'm moving on. However, I thought I should point out to you that the online chat creates a certain expectation of treatment, and published columns lead to something else, and perhaps you need to clarify to everyone what they are subjecting themselves to when they participate in the online discussion. In my case, I dashed off a question quickly, and attempted to summarize family dynamics succinctly, because I was under the impression that I was participating in a casual online discussion, looking for your advice and perhaps the advice of a few other participants (vetted by your producer). When my question was printed in the paper (and that includes, of course, the online version of "the paper"), I was suddenly at the mercy of all of cyberspace and of the Washington Post's lack of comment monitoring. I was called names, my children were judged, etc. I did not compose my question with the expectation that it was going to be so widely disseminated and scrutinized. I have learned (and, after this, will never post a question to you again -- who needs more abuse in their life?), but I think you need to be clear to your readers what might happen when they submit a question on this chat.

I apologize for unkind comments. 

I too am frustrated by the lack of civility in general in comments sections. While I think the crowd that hashes things out under my column is actually one of the more civilized out there (certainly compared with anything that mentions politics--those will burn skin), easy for all of us to forget that I and other writers whose stuff appears online are used to getting verbally abused by the commentariat, but those who write letters to me are not.

I do in fact warn some people before I post to Hax-Philes (the ones I suspect are going to get pounded), but that's only because in Philes, the comments are the whole answer. For letter-writers, I've treated the comment section as self-explanatory: If you've ever been there, then you know what's coming if you write in. 

Yours is the second missive I've received today from someone who feels mistreated by the comments, and the first to suggest that people look at the chat and the column as having different levels of exposure and therefore (in)civility. I'm not sure what I can do, or want to do, about the former, and the latter has never occurred to me, but I will give some thought to both now that it's in the front of my mind.

(As for your email--I get a lot of it, and some slips by me. I'll look.)



Yes to counseling, but also stop TTCing right now, today. Do not add a pregnancy to this mix. You can say "you didn't hold up your end of the deal, so the deal is off for now."

Right, thanks.

TTC = trying to conceive, since I can't be the only person who had to Google it. 

Yes, counseling, but I see something else going on here. The husband agreed to try for a 3rd for six months knowing full well it took a year to conceive the first two, so he's partly responsible for this. He doesn't want a 3rd child, and yet, he dangled a carrot in front of his wife saying, "if you can get pregnant on your own, you can have this" but it's clear he didn't think it would actually happen. He either wants a child or he doesn't, but giving his wife false hope seems pretty cruel, to me, and no wonder she took great lengths to have the child when she was given a hard deadline knowing how tough it had been the last two times, and how much harder it would be now that she's even older. I'm not remotely justifying what she did - it was wrong, but the husband absolutely set her up by refusing to just take a hard line and saying absolutely no on the third child.

You're right, and I caught that, too, but I didn't flag it because she knew as well as we did that it was a setup--or at least had all the info we have and presumably is capable of adding 2 + 2. And she knows he doesn't want her to succeed. And etc., all of which I wadded into "too many contributing factors." Sigh.


Hasn't the texting hubby any idea that marriage is SUPPOSED to change the dynamic of his other relationships? Especially with his ex-girlfriends? Some old-fashioned phrases like "forsaking all others" come to mind. What does he think marriage means exactly, if not a change in relationship dynamics?

Your guess is as mind-boggled as mine. 

This is why comments sections need to be eliminated. Certainly people should stop reading them, but the sections should go so that anyone who has an argument to make can do it the old-fashioned way, by actually composing a letter on the subject. You know, follow-up posts, or letters to the editor?

The problem is, this throws out huge vats of good with the bad. Some of the comments are insightful, funny, challenging, mind-expanding, compassionate, useful in the way only a veteran of a similar situation can be--I've learned so much over the years from reader feedback, and that includes outtakes from this chat, emails sent to me directly and the comments section. Without the comments, all that good stuff goes back to my-eyes-only, and while I can pass along what I've learned through my column, making me the gatekeeper again cuts that gusher of information and insight down to a trickle. I don't think that's the answer. 

Do you know how many letters to the editor actually see daylight? Precious few.  

I'm open to suggestions that fall between "all" and "nothing," and will post a Philes on it, if that would help. 

This is great lesson to anyone that once you put something out there into the ether, it can take a life of its own. I mean, CH can post a column link in FB and the commenterati have free license out there to slice and dice as they please, not to mention all the other syndicated outposts of the column and their comment forums. If you want privacy and civility, take it up in a brick and mortar office with an actual therapist or counselor.

Or, as I said, know your tolerance level for criticism and put the blinders on accordingly. There are days when I know I'm not up to it, and slip into denial accordingly--and I'm callused to the point where I don't flinch at being called an f-word c-word. Maybe this is caving where a fight is warranted, but so far I see it as societal toothpaste out of a tube.

Lady with the kids: Just ignore the jerks. Something about being anonymous makes some (?) people lunatics online. I once had some media coverage for a memoir I wrote, and the commenting that went on made me out to be a man-hating crazywoman terrorist . One comment was so hateful that I emailed the guy and said, 'Look. You don't know me. I'm not speaking for everyone. This is my story and my reaction.' He did a 180 and fell over himself apologizing. Probably bought my book too, because he had the brush with 'fame.' People are weird about that too.

Good one, thanks.

I thought if you submitted something to the chat you did not want to be used for the column in the paper that you just put "online only" before your question. Do we not do that anymore? Seems like an easy way to solve the problem of hey I dont want this in the paper

That still stands. 

Just wanted to let you know, I read the article and thought you did a great job of explaining the differences between your daughters and seeking advice. I am one of four children in my family and we are all wildly different. Anyway, I usually don't post or read the comments at all. I'm most interested in Carolyn's take and them I compare it against my own ideas. Of course, if I was the OP of a questions, I'd read all the comments too. It's important to remember, there are nice chatters/readers out there that don't take the time to say nice things. I think the more passionate you are, the more likely you want to spew into the comments.

Or spew on them. Thanks.

And, to finish on an uplifting note and give the many helpful commenters their due (not all negtives are unhelpful, by the way):

Hi, Carolyn- I just wanted to thank you for taking my initial question about how to manage my ex-in-laws' visits with my son. I have since attended several of my ex-in-laws' family gatherings with my son, and they have gone very well. I know they are grateful to see my son every chance possible, and my relationship with them has continued to be strong despite my divorce. My son is only 2 right now, so the hour-long car rides usually result in him falling asleep in the car pretty quickly at this point, but I can certainly see how in the future they will provide a good excuse to unplug and reconnect with him (an advantage I hadn't thought of). Thank you, and the 'nuts, for emphasizing the "decide who you want to be, and act accordingly" aspect of all of this, and re-confirming for me that this truly is about doing what's in my son's best interest regardless of whose "responsibility" it is based on the custody paperwork. That really helped in the emotional, early days of the separation, and continues to be the framework in which I base all of my decisions/actions in these situations. Thank you again!

Great stuff, thanks.

That's it for me. Have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you all here next week. 


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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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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