The Washington Post

Trading a Can of Worms for a Crate: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, January 10)

Jan 10, 2014

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

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Hey everybody. Been a while. 

I'm going to start with a couple of comments and follow-ups:


I am the OP who asked you for help concerning my sister who was planning to stay with me the weekend after Christmas. Your advice was sound, as were comments from your readers. I began composing a response to you with a little more background. Do you know what rubber-ducky-debugging is? The words describe a person talking to a rubber duck during an obviously one-sided conversation. The talker talks through this, never realizing the duck isn't contributing anything. In writing down the background, I was suddenly able to see this situation with great clarity. To sum, I ignored several emails and 5 phone calls from my sister, not mature, I know, but it was the only thing I could do. I have no tools in my toolbox that help me deal with her. The event turned out to be lovely, as she did not attend, and I never asked anyone why. I realized that if she can drive such angst into my heart with only the thought of her staying at my house, I need to build a barrier, not paint a line. Thank you for letting me quack.

Any time. 

RDD is new to me, but I like anything that can be illustrated with rubber ducks.

There are some friends who help me through bad times by listening to my problems, but there are other friends who help me by talking to me about anything else-- hobbies, interests, mutual friends, the outside world...anything to take me out of my present suffering and remind me that I still have a life and a sense of self-worth outside my problems. I value them both just as much.

Widely applicable, thanks, since different friends bring us different gifts, and it's up to us to appreciate them accordingly. 

Carolyn, one more time, re: today's column, can you reiterate that it isn't the mom/daughter-in-law/wife's job to make nice with the boundary challenged mother in law. LW says her husband agrees with her, but too often the new mom becomes the bad guy and focus of the MIL's rage/hurt/etc. He needs to step up and tell his mom when she is stepping over the line, and calmly reassure her that she still has a place in his life. Then it's not "my son is just being controlled by that awful woman."

Happy to let you reiterate it for me, thanks. 

I also probably should have expanded or emphasized the "ignore minor affronts" part of it. It's hard to overstate the power of just calmly staying your course through whatever fuss people are trying to make. 

Is it ever OK to take a "time-out" from the family (husband, kids) for several days? Maybe when I'm feeling not appreciated or respected for longer than I can normally tolerate? Without guilt?

I;m wondering why this is even a question. To my mind, it's fairly routine for one parent to hand over the household reins to the other for a whole range of reasons: work travel, family emergency, school reunion, a lark with old friends, attending/helping out with a wedding/baby's birth/funeral involving someone close to you but not your spouse. It just has to be balanced fairly between the two parents.

Now, maybe it's a question because your kids are very young and/or high-need, or money is tight, or there's no precedent for either of you taking time away, but often these are just complicating factors, not deal-breakers.

So my general answer is, yes, it isn't just "ever OK," it is usually OK and often necessary for one parent to act on a need to get away, as long as it doesn't come at a disproportionate cost to the kids. And if your spouse is not willing to work with you on this, then I'm guessing the problem is in your marriage and it's bigger than a weekend away can solve.

Though it would be a start--often it is eye-opening for the briefly-solo parent to see how much of the work the other parent routinely absorbs.

Carolyn, my spouse told me earlier this week that they want a divorce. I had a gay affair, and they found out in November. I thought we might make it, and I was pushing for us to work past this, but it looks like that's not going to happen. We both love each other, but I guess emotional love isn't enough. The thing is -- I don't even know where to start. I can't tell my family. I don't want to come out. I feel like a failure. No one in my family is divorced. Is there a step-by-step guide to this? Where do I live? What do I tell people? How do I navigate? (we have no kids, and we've already agreed to split everything 50/50, so this will be painful but not spiteful. I just don't know what to DO and I feel paralyzed.)

I can't tell my family.

Yes, you can, and have to. The bulk of your problem(s) right now trace right back to this truth: Who you are and the life you're living are not in harmony. You are one person and trying to live as another. Until you resolve this fundamental dissonance, you will remain at a loss for what to do next. Where you start is to accept who you are, then you decide how you want to live (from among the options available to you, I should say, since the option of preserving the illusion of your marriage is now off the table).

I don't want to come out.

See above.

I feel like a failure.

You are not a failure; your marriage has failed. Big difference. This will go a whole lot better if you resist the urge to see cosmic meaning in earthly things. When it all feels overwhelming, take each piece and deal with it as pragmatically as you can. Make lists, for example: 1. Find place to live. 2. Schedule the move. 3. Notify people on need-to-know basis. Etc.


No one in my family is divorced.

Hey, somebody had to be first! Flippant as hell, but you know what? You go with it. It's the only option that won't make you nuts.

Is there a step-by-step guide to this?

No, but ... well, there probably is a guide in a blog somewhere, so I'll leave that to Google. But right now what you probably need more than anything is a safe place to sort out all of your feelings in this. A good, reputable therapist is an investment in your future, at this point, one I suggest you make. (Don't be afraid to shop around.)

Where do I live?

Not for me to say, but, if you're really unsure, look for something short term while you regain your emotional footing.

What do I tell people?

"[Wife] and I are separating. I'd rather not get into details right now, thanks."

How do I navigate? 

With confidence that you will be okay, and that any seismic shifts will be scary but also necessary and, for that reason, ultimately to your benefit. Hang in there.

Hi Carolyn, My aunt and uncle have just enlisted me to help their 24 year old daughter "Sarah" who lives in my city, about 2,000 miles from the them. Apparently over the holidays, Sarah talked frequently about all her favorite bars, hid alcohol in her room and came off the plane drunk. Her mom called me hysterically crying. I reached out to Sarah and we're getting brunch this weekend. I'm torn how to approach this. I think her my aunt is predisposed to viewing alcohol as evil - she is the adult child of an alcoholic. I also drank a lot when I was Sarah's age and it caused me no ill effects. It was just part of my social scene as I'm sure it's part of hers. (I'm now married in my early 30s). But I do think my aunt's description was worrying. She's asking me to get Sarah to "admit she has a problem." How do I navigate this?

By saying to Auntie that you will make an effort to be in Sarah's life, so that if she is in trouble--with alcohol or anything else--she will have family nearby to lean on. However, you won't, nor is it your place to, "get" Sarah to admit or do anything. Just by asking this of you, Auntie betrays a need for a visit to/refresher with Al-anon. 

Use this brunch to enjoy Sarah's company and, again, strengthen the tie, if Sarah is game to. That better satisfies your aunt's objectives than would talking about her drinking--unless Sarah herself brings it up.

Please also don't lean too hard on your experience with alcohol when interpreting Sarah's. Two people can have identical behaviors and get dramatically different results. The only experience that explains Sarah is Sarah's.


Hi Carolyn, My fiance and I are planning our wedding for August 2014. I was recently contacted by a prospective wedding guest ("prospective" because we haven't even finalized the guest list yet, but this is a cousin of my dad's, who will probably wind up on the list), who disclosed that her husband, whom I have never met, is a recovering alcoholic who is triggered by being in situations where alcohol is present. She requests (in fact, she "begs" us, to use her words) that we not serve alcohol at our wedding so that her husband can be there without discomfort. At the risk of making it sound like we're a couple of lushes, a dry wedding is not the one we envisioned and we're not prepared to make such a sacrifice for such a peripheral guest (were he a parent or sibling of one of ours, we'd do it gladly). Any suggestions about how best to word my reply to my dad's cousin?

So presumptuous of her to ask this of you, I'm sorry.

Just say you're sorry about her circumstances but do plan to serve alcohol, and will completely understand if they choose not to come. 

Agree that they are totally OK, and should be in fact scheduled into family life. Less OK, I'd think, is reaching a breaking point and storming out which sounds like it might be the case with the OP. You are still totally entitled to that break, but it will be more disruptive (and less relaxing) if you just say, "THAT'S IT" and go to your mom's for the weekend, than if you schedule a day of whatever floats your boat in advance. Also, the storming out approach may be unfair to kids and spouse if they don't realize you're feeling burnt out.

I agree, thanks, especially on making the reasons clear to the spouse, but I also didn't get the same sense you did of a potential off-storming.

Hi Carolyn! I'm going home this weekend to tell my parents that my 2.5 year "happy" marriage is ending in divorce and I'm so anxious! We are a close family but I kept a lot of my unhappiness secret from them. They saw the happy, young couple not the couple that bickers and argues and held grudges.... How do I break this to them? I plan to mention that we went to lots of counseling and both feel at peace with restarting our lives before 30, but I feel like I'm letting them down big time AND know this will be a shock to them - they have no idea. Any tips??

yes. Repeat as needed, in your head, "I don't have to justify my life to my parents." 

Answer their natural questions honestly, and as fully (or tersely) as your comfort dictates, and recognize that people who love you will be sad for you, but don't "plan" your reveal around making this palatable to them. It's just not your job to live a life that serves their needs.

Have recently learned that the guy I've been seeing for a few months (and he says we're exclusive) has a reputation for not committing, dating many girls at once, and lying about it when the screws are put to him. A player. He admits to this and refers to it as a bygone chapter in his life, but the most recent episode was only a few months ago (it's the explanation for why the woman who introduced us didn't want to date him herself). How do I get a reliable read on whether his player days are truly behind him? Wouldn't lying about this ("I'm a changed man!") be exactly the sort of thing a player would do? Please help! I like him very much and would hate to throw this away just because of his reputation, but the more I think about it I agonize over wondering how a guy this great could be single in the first place. If it helps, we're 32 and 30.

Wait, what? Great people can't be single? Thinking that way is a worse crime, in my eyes, than being a player. It's a prejudice. I realize you're judging yourself harshly by that very prejudice, but that's all the more reason to challenge your bias.

So, the player thing.

Every single person out there comes with risk of letting you down, breaking your heart, not being the person you thought, just not being right for you, etc. You represent that risk to him. 

Knowing he has a history, and presumably a knack for sweet-talking, changes the stakes a little bit, since there's a better than even chance he is deceiving you, but counteracting that is your awareness of his tendencies.

So what you really have is a decision to make: Can you relax and trust yourself enough to treat him like any other guy, and just accept that getting hurt (in this case, played) might be part of the deal? Can you trust yourself to take him at face value as a flawed person, or can you go forward only if you're able to convince yourself that he's a changed man? 

If it's the latter, then I'd stay away--mostly because you'll drive yourself nuts looking for evidence of extracurriculars and worring that you look gullible. If it's the former, then you'll be in a good position, if he ultimately does play you,  to say, "The only one who looks stupid here is you"--and believe it.

If they live in the area and won't be traveling to attend you can also make sure to say "well there won't be any alcohol at the church, and while we understand you may need to skip the reception, we'd love for you to attend to most important part, the ceremony."

Yes, good, thanks.

Not to sound cliche, but IT GETS BETTER. I didn't come out until I was in my mid 30s and lucky for me, I never married a woman (did come close, but saved her that at least.) Whether you are gay or bi, you were born that way. In the long run, you will both be happier even though I'm sure it hurts a lot right now. 16 years ago, I couldn't fathom coming out/telling my family/etc. A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 15th anniversary (5 of them actually legally marmried!). Don't be afraid to get some counseling to help you accept yourself; I did it, way back when. Better for your and your spouse to find out now than to spend years more in the wrong relationship.

I'd make a crack about marmriage equality, but then I'd reveal that I have all the maturity of a 9-year-old. Thanks for the great post.

I was the "first" in my family to get divorced, when a seemingly picture perfect marriage fell apart. I felt all the things you feel -- failure, family disappointment, not knowing what to tell people, etc. I didn't have the gay affair complication, but I was pleasantly surprised at the unyielding and unquestioning support I got from my (fairly conservative) family. My friends were a bedrock. But I never could have made it through without my amazing therapist. It's an overused phrase now, but it does get better. For me, it took almost 9 months before I wasn't crying on a daily basis and 2 years before I was "myself" again. There are still some lingering emotional scars. But I am happy and healthy today in a way that I didn't expect could be possible when I was living in the awful first moments that you find yourself in right now.

Another great one.

I'm going to stick up for "It gets better," though. And easy-to-remember lifeline--that's what it is, no exaggeration--becomes that -because- it's right at everyone's fingertips. Remember how it started (link ... and hi, Dan).

A childhood friend of mine passed away suddenly this past fall. She was in her 30s, married, with a small child. I had not been close to her in many years, but enjoyed crossing paths with her on occasion where we always promised to get together soon. I went to the funeral services, hugged her husband, cried quite a bit. I still tear up just thinking about the tragedy of it all. She was a wonderful person. My friend's husband/widower recently invited my husband and I over for dinner, and we're thrilled to accept. But just thinking about it also makes me cry! I don't want to cry during the dinner out of the blue. I could easily see us all ending up having a good cry, but I don't want to put my own emotions on display if there's any chance I'll drag the husband into sadness with me. It feels terribly selfish! And truly, I don't know the husband that well to know if it would make things better or worse for him. I guess I'm wondering if you have any advice to help me avoid bursting into tears when the husband opens the door and/or when I see my friend's child for the first time. Or if you have any general advice on how I can be a good friend to the husband. What do you think he might need apart from a pleasant evening? I just want to do right by him.

I'm so sorry about your friend. If it helps, I've lost some childhood friends, too, and still--even many years after the death of one of them--can't predict when I'll hold together and when I'll cry.

Just yesterday my column was about expressing when you're at a loss for how to handle someone's pain, vs. trying to guess what they'd want (link). I think that advice applies here. By email or voice mail (however you've communicated with him about this dinner), if you feel at all comfortable doing so, explain that you want to warn him that you're still weepy about Friend's loss, and if he's not ready for that you'll understand. If he assures you it's okay, then just say you're grateful for the invitation and apologize in advance for any mid-dinner blubbering. 

If it helps Part 2, a common theme over the years has been that people who are grieving can't be "reminded" of grief by your tears--it's there all the time. Showing you care is often a comfort, even if you're both a weepy mess. 

Just a nit pick, but that should probably be "[Spouse] and I are separating. I'd rather not get into details right now, thanks." It looks like the OP went through grammatical gymnastics to remove gender from the equation... As to the original question(s), my best advice would be to separate the "gay (affair)" from "the divorce." They can, and probably should, have completely separate resolutions.

Yes to your advice, and thanks for the nitpick. I did assume. "Gay" reads male to me, after years as a copy editor enforcing The Post's usage of "gay men and lesbians" as preferred style for referring to ... gay men and lesbians.

Carolyn, I wanted to make the poster who had the gay affair aware that there are actually many support groups for those who are coming out of the closet while in a marriage and either trying to stay in the marriage or leave it. You can get resources on finding one in your area by calling 215-732-TALK between 6-9 PM on M-F. They will help you find one in your area. From what I understand, these groups are more common for men than for women, but they have done women's groups as well.

Thanks muchly.

I think this is so important! I felt like such a failure over my divorce, but I wasn't a failure. I did make some bad decisions that led me to a bad marriage. But I've learned and won't make the same mistakes again!

Right! You'll make new ones! Presumably. And that's best case--even those of us who learn from our mistakes will also repeat them, nertz to personal growth. (Yes, nertz.) This business of being human is basically a jalopy ride over potholes, which is why it's so important to ride with the best people you know, wherever possible, and to make sure you take note of any particularly beautiful scenery.

When I was going through a divorce, the best piece of advice I read is that it is completely normal to feel the full range of human emotions in a single day - maybe a single hour - there is nothing wrong with you for feeling them, and most of the time the best thing to do is let yourself feel them. Therapy, too, makes a huge difference and also helps the "fixers" of the world feel like they're taking steps to fix something broken in themselves. But, simply knowing that I wasn't crazy for feeling so many conflicting things, and giving myself permission to feel emotions as they came, provided a peace that made it all just a little bit easier to handle. Also, have an answer you're comfortable with for those few nosy people who will inevitably ask what went wrong. And, if you have the kind of relationship with a boss or coworker where you can (1) let them know (the basics of) what's going on, (2) let them know you're fine but dealing and may sometimes need to excuse yourself, and (3) consider asking them to tactfully spread the word so that others understand, it can truly help with the day-to-day when you're trying to function as a professional. You'll be amazed how many people are graceful and understanding and decidedly not rude about it, because so, so many of us have been touched by divorce. Finally, appreciate that this is a loss for your family, too. That doesn't mean feeling guilty - FSM knows you don't need another layer of guilt right now - but it does mean giving them room to grieve in their own way, too.

Good stuff, top to bottom, thanks. 

I have no idea why this is annoying me this much, but my sister is a control freak. Recent example is that her husband and daughter will be visiting for a single overnight, but of course they can't call and make arrangements themselves. So she calls with a demand that we throw a party for my father the night they're here. Does my father want this party, no. Does my brother and his family have the time and energy to contribute, no but they'll show up just long enough to inhale food. Not that 3 inches of snow and ice makes planning any easier, but every single person, including the 8 and 12 year old are phenomenally picky eaters. You know, the kind of people who don't think they're picky, they just have only 3 foods in the intersection of healthy and taste good, and they think these aren't preferences but universals. So if you have the audacity to feed them something else, you get a lecture on the perils of fat, bread, or fruit. I don't care if they want to get carryout or eat spaghetti, but if you want me to throw you a party, don't expect me to play short order cook. This happens every visit, and the sister spends weeks before the visit trying to micromanage food and years afterwards telling us that we did it wrong. And then she gets praised for being a Good Leader, when from my angle she's a drama queen. What I don't understand is, if this happens every single visit, why I'm still annoyed by it.

What I don't understand is why you still cater to it, literally and figuratively. If all they eat is X, Y and Z, then, fine, serve X, Y or Z when you host them--as long as it doesn't involve driving all over town to buy quinoa, kumquats and agave nectar. That's just practical, plus serving them W just to make a statement is glassbowlery.

But to her demand that you throw a party, you just say, "I'm sorry, no to the party--Dad doesn't want it and I'm not in a position to plan it right now, but I'm looking forward to seeing Husband and Kids" ... without you there to micromanage them, which you don't actuallly say, but I'm certainly thinking it. Might be interesting, no?

Anyway, you're no doubt as annoyed with yourself for kowtowing as you are with her for the bullying. There's no need to indulge her in these weeks of pre- and post-event nagging. "I've got it under control, thanks!"--then buh-bye/click/delete. 

It's marriage with an extra m. If it were lesbians it would be marfriage.

Duh, of course, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, love your chats and columns. I recently learned we are pregnant with our third (same gender as the other two) baby. Husband is very disappointed that we aren't having his gender preference, and I am too, a bit, but mostly trying to stay positive. Husband went from super excited about the pregnancy, and suggesting I "take it easy" and get pedicures, offering to cook, etc. to standard basic help around the house, childcare coverage etc. He never asks how I am feeling or offers to step up his help. We have good communication and he's shared that he feels like less of man, he wishes the child were a different gender and I am glad he felt comfortable to share but it is very hurtful, especially because I can't change the gender of our baby, and it makes me wish I wasn't pregnant at all. We've talked to a counselor who suggested we discuss the possibility of a FOURTH child, which I am unwilling to do. So now we both just feel stuck and miserable. Please help?

Has no one uttered the words "grow the ---- up"? After the requisite period of mourning, of course. 

Please know (and page through my archives to confirm) that I am a devout believer in validating feelings. They are what they are and pretending they aren't never works.

But sometimes they're so wrongheaded, selfish and destructive that they have to be called out as such. As in, "I feel for you--I was nursing a little gender preference, too. I get that you needed time to adjust.

"But look at how you're acting on these feelings: You're not excited any more, you're not pampering me any more--not that I needed it, it was just a lovely bonus--and you're generally and plainly not treating this baby as a good thing any more. And that's BS. This is a -person-. This -person- deserves no less of our love and excitement than a -person- of the other sex would have deserved.

"You need to decide if you can be fully on board with this child. I will not stand by as you treat him/her as less than. If you need help, I'll support that--whatever it takes for the moping to stop. Being 'more of a man,' in my eyes, is finding joy and being the best father possible without regard for the sex of the child." 

Of course, this could be seen as emasculating. Discuss.

The counselor has me shaking my head. What if the fourth child is the "wrong" sex--does that mean a fifth? Or all four are devalued by Daddy? And what if the fourth child is the "right" sex--does that mean the prior three get to witness the kind of love their father is capable of, just not for them? It just strikes me as trading a can of worms for a crate of worms.


I try to keep up on my acronyms, but this one has me stumped. Also, the poster missed an oppurtunity to say "Sweet baby divinity knows you don't need another layer of guilt"

Deity. Sweet baby deity (she noted, hitching up her bacon pants). 

Anyway, it's Flying Spaghetti Monster--not a missed opportunity so much as a volley to the original serve.

What is the privacy policy for posters on this chat? Presumably it is possible for WaPo to know who the poster is?

Actually, one of the quirks of our chat system is that we can't see who the poster is. When a question comes in to us it doesn't have any personal information other than IP address. So, you're pretty anonymous here.

Hi, Carolyn: My sibs and I were incredibly lucky to have all four grandparents well into our 30s. Recently, our grandfather passed away and we were all devastated. On the day of the funeral, my brother - the only out-of-state sib - said some intensely cruel, hateful things to the rest of us. As one sis later put it, she was unable to grieve for gramps because she was so upset by bro's comments. Bro had some recent stress in his life, but I don't think anything excuses the things he said. After a month of radio silence, minus some frosty Christmas greetings, my brother called me this week to apologize. Our phone call was short as I got so emotional I couldn't talk without sobbing. I later sent an email saying I appreciate the call and apology and am trying to forgive as that's what grandpa would want, but that I'm not quite ready to move on and act as if nothing had happened. The question is, what do I do now? I don't want to look like the bad guy because he tried to apologize and I wasn't very warm or welcoming. At the same time, I'm still intensely angry at him and the hurt he caused. Thanks so much, Carolyn ~ you rock!

I think it needs to be a longer conversation, initiated by you when you're ready. An, "Okay, I've collected myself, so I have a question for you--what was up with that?" 

Forgiveness often has to be independent of any explanations from the offending party, but if you are able to get a coherent read on what was going on in the offender's mind at the time, that can not only move the forgiveness process along, but also launch a reconciliation and even an improved relationship between you. Doesn't always happen, of course, but his taking the initiative to apologize is a good sign.

FWIW 1: Okay, "that's what grandpa would want"--but what do YOU want? What is your view as an individual, vs. member of this larger and clearly influential group?

FWIW 2: The "only out-of-state sib" might have been a throwaway and unrelated to the hateful things your brother said, but it could also very well be part of the picture--especially if your family measures closeness in miles and rootedness as well as intimacy, and his moving away was a statement of his perceived place relative to this tight (and clearly influential) bunch of relatives. 

Just tossing it out there. 


Hi Carolyn, I've been seeing "Mike," a fellow divorcee, for about three years. We each have professional careers, homes we own, and grown children. We're in our 50s and 60s, so no chance of any more children. Early on, we agreed that we weren't really interested in remarriage, just companionship. But over the past year or so, Mike has begun making noises about wanting to get married and move in together. I'm not against either idea, but I catch myself wondering - why now? My cynical side suspects he has begun to think about his own mortality and is trying to secure our future together in case he gets sick or needs live-in help. Our relationship right now is fantastic and I wouldn't change a thing about it, which I plan to tell him. Am I being a jerk for not wanting to "upgrade" our relationship?

Of course not. You follow what you want and feel, not what you're "supposed to" want and feel.

You might be a jerk for harboring this distrust of Mike, though, if Mike has done nothing to warrant it.

So, the solution to your problem, if there is a problem, might hinge on the answer to this question: What's feeding your "cynical side," life experience, Mike experience, ... ?

I'm also wondering, what if you get sick or need live-in help? Could make for an interesting conversation between youse guys.

I fully understand where you husband is, I've been there before and it does take the wind out of your sails when the gender doesn't match you expectations, not once, not twice, but 3 times!!! It sucks, but eventually you do grow the eff up. You are wise to be cautious on trying for a fourth. I'm the proud father of 4 girls, and each time it hurts worse and worse. In my case, the final pull your head out of your glassbowl moment was finding out our youngest had Down's Symdrome. As soon as I found that out, I knew that any gender preferences were irrelevant and we now had a little one that would need our A-game from here on out.

Nothing to add. Thank you.

My SIL was the second of 4 daughters born to a career military officer. She still glows when she talks about how her father responded to someone asking her if he hoped to 'finally get that boy' when her Mom was pregnant with the 4th. He said 'oh I'd be thrilled with another little girl; we love our girls.' I am sure he wanted a son. But his daughter heard him say this and now as she nears age 70 it is still something that matters to this second daughter (and it helped her cope with the fact that she only had sons although she longed to have a daughter.)

This too, thanks.

--4th of four girls born to Marine helicopter pilot father, who to my knowledge fielded that question the same way

I'm curious how you would go about "living" that concept, especially with such empirical evidence known beforehand. In my case, it was true because I was literally the last to know as he'd told everyone else he was going to bail. Sure does explain all the pitying looks I got when I went on about our "great future."

Well, the mind set goes, "I'm here and I have the guts to be sincere in my feelings. If you don't, then shame on you, not me." How you live that day-to-day isn't as neat or black and white, but here's an example of how it applies, using your brief example:

-You don't go on about your "great future"--or dubious one, or your future at all. You have today, and you live it. Tomorrow counts as future, and it's only as great as it actually is, and you greet it by, again, living it vs. talking about it. Not because you're afraid of going on the record with any hopefulness, but because there's no need for anyone else to be a party to your future. (Obviously there will be times when you do discuss it with someone, but that's for an intimate context--as in, where the person you're talking to isn't an acquaintance wearing a pity face and wondering what to say, but instead a close friend who will tell you what he's telling everyone else. Presumably after telling him to his face that he looks stupid trashing people behind their backs, ya?)

-You act on any pitying looks, in the moment. "You look stricken--was it something I said?"

You can fill in other blanks by using as a template the idea of being sincere, as well as unburdened by the need to convince yourself that your (possible) player is fully reformed. You're just a flawed person dating a flawed person and all that entails.

Make sense?


"Just by asking this of you, Auntie betrays a need for a visit to/refresher with Al-anon." I'm wondering if you can provide the Cliff's Notes version of the takeaway from Al-Anon. I have a good friend who's trying to drag his 80 year old mother into therapy with him because she doesn't treat him very well. It's painful to watch him beat his head against that particular wall, but suggesting he find a place of acceptance just prompts him to reel off a list of her transgressions that he "just can't accept." A good friend of mine and longtime AA member suggested Al-Anon might be good for him but he kind of brushes off the suggestion, without knowing really anything about what they do.

The takeaway: You can't change people, you can change only the way you respond to them.

So, the point of going is to learn to let go of the impulse to control people, and let go of the belief that you can fix a problem by changing someone else's behavior.

I think your response explains why i cater to it: because "it just seems practical". Each picky eater seems practical, but when you throw together 9 of them in one place, it becomes time to call a restaurant. Obviously, right? But that's not home-y enough or something. I don't even know what the unspoken rules are - that I have to find a dish that will feed everyone so it's a family dinner?

Yes, or two or three, buffet-style. I didn' t realize the picky eaters in question were picky for different things. 

But I like the restaurant idea better, for a reason and with a caveat. The reason is that having a bunch of people berating you about the food you serve them isn't exactly "home-y," either, unless your idea of home is subterranean and very very hot. The caveat is that people as high-maintenance as you suggest will complain about the restaurant, too. 

Either way, I stand by my advice: Go only as far to accommodate them as you can without resenting them, and smile and shrug your way through the flakstorm that choice touches off.

In conclusion, I leave you with this: link.


If you can get anywhere through the parenting of 2 children without realizing that you, as a parent, have zero control over gender, favorite color, interest in any particular toy/sport/craft/food, then you haven't learned the first lesson of parenting. Love, support, teach, discipline, watch, and wonder: this is what you get.

Yes, yes, yes. And, when the time comes, let go. Thank you.


Remember to treat the spouse you're divorcing with as much kindness and compassion as you can muster. Your coming out has rocked his or her world, too -- plus he or she has had to deal with your infidelity.

Thanks. Not only a good point, but also a potentially grounding way to look at it. Whenever there's a question about a next step, the path to an answer can be: "What is right for me, and what is right for Spouse?" 

Aaaand that's it. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, oh, and I have to move next week's chat--another disruption, alas, but it's hockey tournament season. Next chat will be Thursday the 16th at noon. Jess was a champ with the Rumpus Room chat, but I don't think we can ask her to do another until at least, idunno, February. 


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

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