Hard little kernels of existential fun: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, November 22)

Nov 22, 2013

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online 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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Sorry for the slight delay--took me three tries to get into the forum.

I'm a 27-year-old male in my first serious relationship since college. As a rule of thumb, how much do I need to scale back my friendships with women out of respect for my new girlfriend? She has never openly expressed jealousy but I can tell she does not always feel comfortable with the way I interact with other women. I have many female friends and am not willing to give them up completely.

I hope you don't give them up at all. Here are the two lines you don't want an extra-relationship friendship to cross:

1. serving as your primary source of intimacy;

2. serving as cover for some ulterior motive.

That's it. These apply not just to your friendships with women, but with men, too. Once you are in a committed relationship, then that person is your first consideration. Not only, but first--as such, both of you are free to have many friendships without regard to the person's sex, and owe it to yourselves and each other to both use and honor that freedom.

Now, I'm throwing that out as a general "rule of thumb" for you. Since not everyone is going to see things the same way, the most useful rule for practical purposes is for the two people in a committed couple either to have the same philosophy about friendships, or to share a commitment to respecting each other's philosophy.



As for your SO's discomfort, have a closer look (over time, if needed, since the answer isn't always obvious, especially to the people involved): Is it coming from her emotional makeup, or is it coming from the way you act around these female friends? 

The answer you come to won't change the baseline answer here--be true to yourself and find partners who are comfortable with that true self--but wherever there's a problem, there's an opportunity to learn something. Is she insecure to the point of struggling with boundaries over your legitimate Platonic friendships? Or are you behaving in a way that strains the boundaries of "Platonic"? Or is it some combination of the two? And if yes to any of these, how did you get to this point, and how can you back yourself onto a healthier path?

Would you consider putting this on Hax Philes? I almost always agree with your advice, or don't strongly diusagree, but this is an exception. Assuming she means 2 hours away by car, not plane, e.g., DC to Richmond, what's the big deal? 9 of the 11 members of my women's book club said of course they would move. Of the dissenters, one is caring for her elderly mother and grandmother and the other has a chiuld who is being treated at Children's Hospital forcystic fibrosis. Three of us have moved to support our husbands' careers and andone husband has moved to support his wife. In this day of internet, skype nd daily long distance phone calls, this is nothing. To the chatter's question of am I overreacting, our response is absolutely,

Here's my position and the reason for my answer:

I have moved, a lot. I have a career that I love, my husband has a career he loves, and even my ex-husband has a career he loves. I have young kids. I have worked from my home and have worked from an office. I have worked from home while having small kids. (Yes, I had child care; some people wrote in to say that someone working full-time from home with a toddler would not at the same time be watching the toddler, which I didn't get into because to me that is obvious. My point was that the job gets X hours, the toddler gets Y hours, and therefore the Z of nurturing roots in a new community is at risk of being squeezed to near oblivion by other responsibilities.) I have lived in extremely welcoming communities and gotten established quickly; I have moved into friendly ones that took a little time to break into; and I have moved into neighborhoods where the fricken neighbors didn't even wave hello. Not an exaggeration.

I offer all this to show that I don't have any one experience or bias coloring my answer.

So, here's the thing: The question touched on professional advancement, being a parent of young kids, being in a community, and deference to a marriage. 

It is absolutely perverse to me--yes, perverse, I feel very strongly about this--that one consideration among these four would get some kind of automatic pass as the thing this person should value, and therefore agree to. A promotion and the adventure of a move might be what your book group sees as a no-brainer, but someone else could rightly say the whole point of jobs and kids and marriage and etc. is to root oneself in a community that provides support, companionship, laughs, whatever else. 

Being two hours or even a split-the-baby one hour drive from this community is so emphatically -not- the same thing. It means you can't grab a 15-minute cup of coffee, or peek over the cubicle wall to share something funny you just read, or reciprocate kid care, or all the other minute community transactions. It means you can have dinner once a month, maybe, but please can't we agree that's very different from living right where you want to be?

And so the only people who get to decide which of these two major features--investing in career and mobility and roots in the nuclear family, or investing in community roots--are the two people in the marriage. 

And that was my advice: Figure out what YOU TWO value, and take it from there.


Thanks for taking my question last week. I talked to my husband about it, and he confronted his mom who denied that I could have heard anything, until my FIL said that he's used the guest room to eavesdrop on her phone conversations (mainly to find out what he's getting for Christmas. I love my FIL). After that, MIL and SIL were very apologetic. I'm not sure that this will cause them to talk less about me (or anyone else) as SIL seemed pissed that she had gotten "caught," but at least I think they'll be more careful about who overhears. As an extra bonus, my husband and I have decided to stay in a hotel when we visit his family from here on out. It was his suggestion, and I appreciate it very much. Thanks again for taking my question and for giving good advice. Thanks also to the 'nuts who shared their experiences with similar situations. I admit that I am kicking myself a little bit -- if I hadn't been so upset by what I heard, I could have used it to make an epic story for the Holiday Hootenany.

Oh, don't worry, that opportunity is merely delayed, not erased.

Thanks for checking back in, and YAY for your husband and father-in-law for doing the right thing. 

I'm sure SIL was angry at getting caught, specifically at having it exposed for all to see that harping on you as the bad guy made her the bad guy. If you can stomach it, then the best play for you now might be to kill your SIL with kindness. Icebreaker or revenge beyond reproach--either outcome looks like a win to me.

As someone much older than 27, I have had relationships with women who are available because their husband's infidelity led to divorce. I have found that if I keep relationships with female friends: 1. transparent and 2. matter-of-fact, two things happen: First, those that had any romantic potential dissolve and disappear as they seek men who are available, and second, those that remain, seem to stay at a distance, not wishing to be a third wheel. In short, the problem is self-resolving if there are no games involved, like flirting to create jealousy.

Dead on, thank you, as far as it goes. The one part left uncovered is the insecure-partner contingency. If your committed relationship is with someone insecure, then even the "1. transparent and 2. matter-of-fact" relationships with women will be regarded as a threat. (That is then an argument for ending the commitment to the possessive one, not for ending the innocent friendships.)

Just for some perspective, I am now-married in my early 30's. But when my husband and I first started dating, I had about 3 male platonic friends. At first, this troubled him a bit, I think, until he got to know them better. Something that really helped us was all of us hanging out together. Even something simple like going to a bar to get a drink, with exposure comes comfort. Now they are some of my husband's closest friends and two of them were in our wedding.

Another great point, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, I have a followup question about your advice. Let's say girlfriend and boyfriend are in a long-distance relationship and boyfriend's main/best friend where he lives is a girl. They go out to dinner all the time, go to bars together (alone or in a bigger group), etc. Would you say this is breaking the first rule (serving as your primary source of intimacy)? The girlfriend can't expect the boyfriend to just sit around all the time, but she can't be there to experience all the day-to-day intimate stuff.

There's always a loophole, isn't there.

yes, LDRs are different. I would not expect the boyfriend to dump his friend or distance himself in service of the LDR. However, the girlfriend can expect the boyfriend to be transparent about his friendship and respectful of lines, and to pull the plug on the LDR quickly if he develops feelings for his "main/best friend."

If she can't trust him to do that, then that's the bigger problem than his having a wing-woman. 

HI Carolyn, My husband and I followed the moving-two-hours-away column and comments with great interest. We made this decision, five years ago. I work at home- toddler and baby in day care- and it is TOUGH to be so isolated in a community where we haven't had the time/opportunity to establish bonds. Tough enough that it has strained our marriage and we're having to seriously re-evaluate if this decision is the right one for us now. I've found that I can't share any of these feelings about my dislike of working from home with friends/family; we've received several of the same comments. Neither of us have jobs that are easy to come by, and we're fortunate in many, many ways. But I don't understand the strong judgment.

Obviously I don't either. Thanks for giving such a clear description of the other side, though I'm sorry it has been such a rough time for you.

Some people offered up, re the "strong judgment,"  that there's somewhat of a "the letter-writer is always wrong" culture in the comments, and I think there's something to that. It's something I've no doubt fed, too, in the way I operate my column; I choose letters that invite me to call out or suggest behavior changes to the LW, because that's whose attention I have. It seems silly to write answers that hinge on someone else doing something. But, that selection bias does set a tone and I'm responsible for its ripple effect.

I think it also hit squarely in another collective bias, the I-did-it-and-I-was-fine-so-what's-YOUR-problem? tendency that also rears its head on childrearing questions. Of course, it's applied just as wrongly there, too, since what worked for one child does not automatically work for all children, and what worked for one family or marriage does not work for all families or marriages. Certainly I've seen a lot of people throw around the idea that the LW will make new friends in the new place and it will all be okay, but I also have seen in the minority dissent that I'm not alone in being very wary of this generalization. There are too many variables, to my mind, to say that. 

And, yes, the economy does have its say here too. Having a secure job or career is not a gimme, and not having one is such a huge problem given the effects of unemployment (depression, other health problems, unemployment bias to name just three), but that doesn't mean we all have to abide by a "be glad you have a job" as our guiding life principle.

This is all, again, why I stayed away from choosing one side, and instead advised respect for all sides. It's no less than a "What's the meaning of life?" question, and I doubt anyone would want to live by someone else's answer to that question. 

And here I thought I'd be explaining myself about today's column (link).

I have been single for a long time. I haven't even been on a date in a long time. Recently, I was talking with an old friend who suggested I get out more. I replied that I'm perfectly happy with the way things are...and I feel that that's true. My friend looked skeptical and suggested that I'm just so afraid of getting hurt by someone else, I'm just fooling myself into believing I'm happy. At the time, I shot my friend a look that said "you've crossed a line here" and the topic was dropped. But thinking about it after, I realize that there's really no defense to that accusation. No matter how much I feel that I'm fulfilled just the way I am, I could turn it around and say that I'm that un-self-aware or that good at fooling myself. I really don't think I'm afraid of getting into a new relationship, just . . . not terribly interested, but is there a way I can prove to myself that my so-called contentment isn't rooted in fear?

Old friend: "I'm just fooling myself into believing I'm happy."

You: "As long as I'm succeeding at it, I don't see the problem."

Not to get all rainy Friday on you, but, isn't there an element of self-deceit to all contentment?

If you continue to be nagged by doubts about this, then put on your pretties and "get out more"--not because your friend said to, but as a challenge to yourself.

Either you'll enjoy it, in which case you keep at it, or you'll wish you hadn't listened to your pushy* and judgmental** friend, in which case you snuggle back into your status quo. 


*Just checking--did you open the door somehow as you were talking with this friend? Not that that excuses the line-crossing, but, as you try to figure out whether you're fearful vs contented, it's worth running that conversation through your mind to see if you were accidentally more honest with your old friend than you're being with yourself.

**Single is not an affliction! Agh!

Hello Carolyn, About five months ago, I had a big blow-out with my sister, in which she unloaded about a year's worth of complaints against me. When I tried to respond to specific charges, she told me (I kid you not), that I wasn't getting it. It wasn't about specific things that I had done wrong, it was "everything about the way that I had acted and been over the past year. This conversation shattered me (I wasn't in a good place on a number of other fronts, but this was the last straw). And, for several months after this, I was a mess as I tried to assimilate all this information. Now, I have moved on in a lot of ways, but I still have a lingering after effect: since I had no idea she was so angry at me, and since her anger covered such a large territory, I don't really trust my own behavior in social situations. Even when I go out and have fun with my friends and family, the next morning is like a cascade of "Did I talk about my work / my kids / my political opinions / the books I am reading too much? Was I too talkative, not talkative enough, etc.?" I am not sure if this is something that I just need to give time, or if this is something that needs a concerted effort, or counseling to address. What are your thoughts?

I'm sorry--I know exactly what you're talking about. There is just some criticism that insinuates itself into everything you do thereafter, and it's the classic can't-un-ring-the-bell problem.

One thing that can get you unstuck in this spot is to subject the source of the criticism to some intense scrutiny. Specifically: Is your sister's opinion a valuable one? Is she a good judge of character, unswayed by bias, in possession of all the relevant facts? Is there something going on in her life that might explain her meltdown? Is there an explanation in the larger dynamic of your family?

Both yes and no answers can be useful here. If no, you can't trust her criticism, then you give yourself credible permission to overrule her and say, "No, she's not right about me--her tirade was about her."

If yes, you can trust it, then you give yourself a punch list (flagellation list?) of things about you that need some work. Don't overcorrect and declare yourself a hopeless unlovable mess, but do correct in as pragmatic a way as you can.

For example: Did she call you selfish? Then you can correct by making sure all of your conversations from now on start with your asking the other person a question and really listening to the answer, and taking things from there, and by making sure all of your decisions go unmade until you've thought through their impact on others. Write bulleted lists if you have to.  

Whatever criticism she has that you deem valid, turn into a concrete, streamlined set of actions. Repeat until new habits form.

If the answer is yes and no, some things you can trust and others you can't, then you blend the two approachesby changing what feels right and dismissing as unreliable her other complaints.

Counseling may ultimately be the answer--especially if/when obsessive thoughts come into play--but you can start just by applying time and logic and seeing where those take you.

Well needless to say I've had a YEAR. As the holidays approach I'd love any advice on how to cope with all the conflicting emotions I have. This year I lost my father unexpectedly and after a fast, awful battle with stage 4 cancer (he was young and in perfectly great health). Saying the things I saw him go through were horrific would be an understatement. I was battling infertility at the time, then was blessed with being pregnant, during his cancer fight. At his funeral I was pregnant. My pregnancy was complicated and involved bedrest, my delivery was very traumatic, and I experienced intense postpartum. Now as I sit here with my twin daughters I'm unsure how to navigate the holidays. I'm so blessed in a million ways, but the loss I feel seems to creep into everything. The cancer took his mind quickly so I never got to really say goodbye. He loved babies and wanted grandchildren so badly, my heart is broken that he is missing this. The holidays are such an acute reminder of a passed loved one - how do people cope?

I'm so sorry.

A lot of people look at twin babies and say, "How do people cope?"

And you know the answer to that one: "They just do." As you have dealt with your bed rest, your traumatic delivery, your depression and the needs of your two babies, you will also deal with this grief, and that includes just moving forward and taking care of one immediate need, then the next, then the next. 

Fortunately, with holidays, the immediate needs list is very short. Babies have no idea what they're missing! and in fact holidays generally just mess up their schedules and make them cranky just as everyone around them is trying to achieve tableau perfection. Cue the train wreck.

So, give this whole thing some thought, and decide the one to three things your holiday must have. A visit from X, a trip to Y, a day entirely without Z? A certain food, music, event, decoration? A gift to ____? Be ruthless in scratching things off. Buying gifts (scratch), traveling (scratch), hosting (scratch), multi-course meal (scratch)--or, whatever it is that takes more out of you than you think you have to give.

Then, add in what restores you. You have to take care of yourself, that's the key to making everything else work. Even if it's just to let yourself off the hook for crying at inopportune times.

Then, consider a way to honor your dad--small as can be so it isn't a form of stress. Meaningful is all you need.  

Then, trust yourself and trust time. You won't stop missing your dad, but the pain will be progressively less sharp when you do. 

And when you feel lost in it all, use those sweet babies as an anchor. Taking care of them in as unhurried a way as you can is a gift to them that will come back as a gift to you. As is calling in help when you're not up to it. Their needs are a natural path to follow as you heal.

Not that you have to do this, especially with friends who are not that intimate. But when I find myself disagreeing with a friend's assessment about me - 'you're not happy single', 'you're so busy, how do find you me time' etc - I like to reply 'hmmm, why do you say that', This helps me dismiss something as poppycock or realize they have point. Sometimes the poppycock morphs into the person having a point, of course! I find a bit of something concrete in this situation goes a long way - but only with people you trust.

An eye-opening plug for eye-opening, thanks.

I recently encountered the same exact situation as Happiness or Fear -- except that I was openly bragging about how terrible the dating scene is and how much smarter it felt to just opt out. Isn't the big question, Carolyn, whether you can work on deepening that contentment without a mate while also ditching the fear and still "getting out there"?

And while spinning plates, like this (link). Yes.

When I was about to marry my husband a few years ago, my mother in law droped a bomb on me, sharing a personal trauma history with me that was haunting and sad, and then telling me never to share it with my husband. Since then, she has made me, and sometimes my hubby, but mostly me, the family secret keeper. She will randomly call or email and start of as though we are having a normal conversation, then share incredibly personal information about another member of the family. Read: This one's drug addition, a failed pregnancy, an most recently, that one of my in-laws children might have a sever disability that could hinder her the rest of her life. However, after she tells me these things she 1. Wants me and/or my husband to tell no one and 2. Refuses to discuss it ever again (she ignores or brushes off follow up questions such as: How is so and so doing? or Has so and so gotten the help they need? Are they feeling ok? This creates not only discomfort for me as I see the in laws and feel I know things I should not, but it also puts me in the know but makes beign supportive or helpful to these family members much more difficult, as I cannot do anything that will let on that I "know". Any advice on how to change this dynamic? FYI my husband recognizes and is frustrated by this behavior but also feels clueless on how to change it.

What have you said to her about this directly? Any "Please don't put me in this position" conversations, either specific to one secret or generally about all of them?

Hi Carolyn. . . When my boyfriend and I got together it was a breath of fresh air. I've never been one to hang out with groups of girls because they don't understand my sense of humor. I like to tease people and mess around with them, and it's even better if I'm getting teased back. My boyfriend understood this, and his entire family has this kind of relationship with each other, just like mine. I never took his insults to heart because 99.9% of the time they are just playful. But now we have hit our one year anniversary and I'm finding myself tired of it. Even during our anniversary dinner almost nothing he said was sweet or romantic, but he was quick to throw out one of his playful jabs no problem. Nothing about the way he acts has changed, but all of a sudden I'm starting to get really sick of it, and I'm getting more insulted all the time. I want to hear nicer things more and more often. Have I changed? Or is this the result of falling deeper in love with someone? I don't want to lose him, but this is wearing me down to the point of questioning a relationship that is exactly what I asked for.

Everything you say here, please re-cast into a moment of truth with your boyfriend. Either he'll be able to grow with you and toggle comfortably between playful jabs and sincere affection, or he won't, and you can decide your future based on that. (Really, you can. If he has only one emotional gear and you want to use two or more, then you really do want to lose him.)

I am the youngest of five siblings. We lost my dad almost a year ago. My parents were married for 60 years, and my mom is lost without my dad. She has never been alone. I am close to my mom, and talk to her every day, and now sometimes twice a day. I visit every week and usually spend the night. She lives two hours from me. I am heartbroken that none of my brothers or sisters has the time to call or visit. I promised my dad that I would take care of my mom. I will happily fulfill that promise, but I cannot be the answer to her loneliness all by myself. I have a job and a family, just like my siblings. I do not want to have a showdown with my brothers and sisters over their lack of ...caring? interest?, but how do I get them to wake up?

They could easily be writing in to say that it's up to your mom, not her kids, to be the answer to her loneliness, but they're under pressure from one sibling to be your mom's entire social life. 

Obviously, we all need to spend time with people we love, for their benefit as well as their own. I'm not suggesting that everyone let ol' Mom figure it out her own darn self at, what, 80-ish years old.

But, it's okay to give your mom some responsibility for her own happiness before you go divvying it up among your sibs. It also would help, no doubt, if you looked at this not with a conviction that they're wrong and you're right, but instead that they have their way and you have yours. That makes your task a lot less presumptuous, because then it's not, "How do I get them to wake up," but instead, "What's the most productive, realistic way to encourage my sibs to get involved?"

If you work with their strengths, then you'll be so much more successful. You can start by listing strengths--who's mobile, who's organized, who's plugged in, etc.--and seeing how those can be leveraged to enrich your mom's life. Then approach each sibling in a "Hey, I have an idea" way, which is going to be much better received than "I'M SO SICK OF TAKING CARE OF MOM ALL BY MYSELF." 

"Hey, since you're so good at ___, do you think you can do ____ for Mom?" _____ can be a project, like going through photos with her, or a check-in, like Skyping X times a week, or tending to the Y at her home, etc. Such involvement will make them more present in her life in the process.

Where Mom herself comes into this is in figuring out some of these ideas herself. What does she need, what does she crave, how can her arrangements at home be adjusted to make these things easier, what does her hometown offer in the way of support and socialization? Does she even want you doing all this?

Don't rule out professional guidance here. A talk with a geriatric social worker might yield useful ideas. eldercare.gov is one place to start.


My best friend since my early 20s and I have hit a rocky path. It feels like the biggest in the last 18 years of friendship (wow, that's an insane number). We have survived our twenties and thirties, the death of a spouse, single parenthood, and being miles apart. And history tells me that we will get through this too. But right now, in the middle, it feels awful. Sad. Lonely. It's because I don't support my friend's change of heart, and she feels judged. I am judging her. Up until a few weeks ago, she always stated that she would never live with a guy. And now, she decided that she is willing to make that compromise for the man she is dating. The stupid thing is that if any other person had decided to shack up, I wouldn't care. It's all around me. But I'm completely surprised she would change her mind. I'm disappointed, and I told her. I also told her that I wasn't going to bring it up again. I know she is an adult, and I will love her no mater what. I don't feel bad pointing out to her inconsistencies. I would expect her to challenge and question me if I did a 180. That's what close friends do. But now when I talk to her, the distance is huge. She doesn't want to talk about her boyfriend or details about her life. Our conversations are very surface. I don't know what to do.

Wait a minute. "Challenge and question" are different from "judge." The former, yes, are what friends do for friends when needed, in a loving way. "You've been so adamant in the past, I'm curious and concerned about the sudden change--are you looking back and seeing that you formed your old opinion without all the facts, have your beliefs chanced, or are you looking ahead and thinking you'll lose this guy if you say no to moving in?" 

To judge is to say "I think less of you now." That's it. And if that's the case, then the distance between you is appropriate.

Please figure out where your thoughts are on this. If it's the former, and you're just confused, then say so to her: "I don't think less of you for moving in with someone, I was just surprised by it and concerned that you were being pressured or something. I guess I just wanted to know what changed. But I support you in your decision and hope you'll trust me again, enough to share with me the way you used to." If it's the latter, and you do indeed think less of her, then you need either to open your mind to a more live-and-let-live way of thinking, or you need to respect your difference in values as paramount and accept that your conversations and intimacy with her will suffer accordingly.

Dear Carolyn: My best friend cheated on her husband. He doesn't know, but I do -- I was supposed to 'help' her not cheat, until she did anyway. She knew I had strong feelings about infidelity, but now she finds my attitude 'personally hurtful.' When I suggested she find someone else to confide in, she accused me of abandoning her. Truthfully, I hate being included in this -- I hate lying, and I feel like my role is to prop up her state of denial. She insists that since the affair (which went on for months) their relationship is 'better than ever,' but ten minutes later she'll be sobbing about how hard it is to constantly lie to her husband. When she says she's happy, I don't believe her. When she says they're now trying for kids, I feel sick. It's gotten to where I'm so deep in her marital troubles, I can't separate it from our friendship. Is there any way to fix this? I'm horrified by her actions, but that feels like a failure my part to rise above and be a supportive friend. How can I reconcile the two?

Interesting to have these back-to-back, because "supportive friend" in this case asks something very different. If you believe there's harm in shacking up, then it's the shackers-up harming themselves. In this scenario, the friend's detour from her old self is harming others, directly and badly. 

When harm to others is involved, then a supportive friend has every right to make the friendship, and all its support, contingent on addressing the harmful behavior. "Please look at yourself, what you're doing to yourself and your husband--please see that there's something bigger going on inside you that's driving all this chaos." It sounds like she's overdue to get some good couseling--solo, not marital--and that you're the right person to advocate for it. Even if she won't agree to it, you can keep the conversation in one of two places: where no talk of her marriage occurs, because you've gotten sucked in and you don't belong there and you won't discuss it further unless and until she deals with the underlying problem(s), or where your only talk is of steering the conversation back to the those bigger issues. It can be supportive to refuse to indulge.

Can I just say how annoying I find it when I hear a woman say they don't like other women? There are billions upon billions of women out there. And if you really can't find a girlfriend who is hilarious, ironic, a tomboy, flip or just flat out cool, then that's on you. Not the rest of humanity.

Sing it.

The great Miss Manners put it this way: you owe nothing to this spreader because she is asking you to do something that she is refusing to do, i.e. keeping quiet about other people's business.

Love that Miss Manners. 

I do recommend that the LW tell this to the mother-in-law, to serve fair notice that hereafter secrets will not be kept. 

I'm so sorry. I've been there (minus the twins) and know how hard it is to face the future without someone you love. My dad died on Thanksgiving and it took years before I could face the holiday without crying. There isn't an easy answer to your question but I just wanted to say that it gets better. Slowly but surely. I still miss my dad, sometimes intensely, as I smile at the grandchildren he never met but would have so loved, but the ache has grown manageable and I am now able to remember the good times more clearly than the bad, and to talk about him without crying. It sounds really corny, but I think that the line from Sleepless in Seattle really captured grieving well: "Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out." I hope your holidays are peaceful and filled with babies who sleep when they should and smile when they are awake.

Beautiful, thank you.

Your father would have wanted you to celebrate your children and their first christmas. it would have made him happy to seehis baby girl with his grandbabies. My FiL passed away and we had a picture that specially comes out at christmas so he can see his granddaughters joy on that day

I like this, too, with one caveat: Her father also wouldn't want her prostrating herself to celebrate just to serve her idea of what he'd want. So how about the more moderate version:

Your father would have wanted you to put your heart into being a mom.

The writer sounds like me -- except my boyfriend was very sincere and initially a little taken aback by my jabs. Over time, he began to give as good as he got and I suddenly realized how tiring it can be to be on the receiving end of my "humor." I've really worked to be more sincere and to make sure my teasing isn't masking either (1) an actual concern or (2) a fear of emotional intimacy.

A good point, thank you.

Hi Carolyn. I'm in my mid 40's and I guess finally having my mid-life crisis. After watching my friend's husband die of brain cancer within 12 months of diagnosis at 52, a co-worker drop dead of a heart attack at 53, I'm acutely aware that life can change in an instant. I am happily married and have an elementary school aged daughter, but seem to be wondering more often than not, "Is this all there is?" I feel as if every day is an episode of Groundhog Day - same things, same people. I love DC, but really want a change. Feel like I need to make the most of the time I have left with my family. Moving out of area not an option for at least a few years. Any suggestions as to how to get rid of this feeling that my time is running out and how to make the most of it?

Interesting timing. I just went to the funeral of a friend yesterday--47, brain cancer, awful--and one of the most powerful things said in her eulogies was that when she got her diagnosis, she didn't make any dramatic changes to her life. She felt she had all there was, and just wanted to live it. And, while I don't know the details of your life, it's possible her "this is everything" and your "is this all there is?" are essentially the same. Happily married, children still at home, working, living near a major city. It could be that merely appreciating the mundane -is- "mak[ing] the most of it."

Tweak as needed, of course, since travelers should find ways to travel and givers should find ways to give and artists should find ways to art (that's a verb, right?); maybe, too, you are due for a significant change. I'm just suggesting you start by not ruling out that the structure of your life is fine, and that putting it in better lighting is all you really need to see the beauty of various moments.

Thank you so much for your response. I'm not the OP, but I needed that.


"Isn't there an element of self-deceit to all contentment?" Thank you. I find myself thinking this very thing sometimes and then wondering if I'm just effing crazy, so I appreciate someone of your stature shining a light on that hard little kernel of existential fun.

THAT'S IT! That's what goes on my promotional material, a la McD's and their billions of burgers:

Shining a light on hard little kernels of existential fun since 1997.

Beats admitting my sole claim to "stature" is that I'm effing crazy.

I'm also done for today. Thanks for stopping by and have a great TG, whether the mantra that gets you through it is "nom-nom," "om" or "OMG." See you here Dec. 6. 


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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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