Carolyn Hax Live (Thursday, January 16)

Jan 16, 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.

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Hax Philes discussions

Hi everybody, or, if I didn't publicize the date switch well enough, hi crickets.

I missed the chat last week, but this really rubbed me the wrong way: at this point, the disappointed spouse is upset over genitals. He could very well have the baby with the SEX he wanted, just to find that said child may grow up identifying as transgender or a non-binary gender. Technically, this could still happen, so he may very well end up with a child that is the preferred gender. Considering the world we live in makes it more okay for non-cis individuals to be open, I really hope the spouse figures out a way to work through the issue.

Thanks for the note. It doesn't even need to be this complicated--by feeling so strongly about the sex, he negates the entire unwanted sex in one stroke. And he negates the selfhood of the child (kind of what you're getting at, but broader) . And he exposes his motives as entirely about him. 

Now, I'm long on the record as seeing biological parenthood as an ultimately self-serving act, with an instant, delightfully ironic obligation to be selfless about it the moment sperm meets egg. But once you start picking and choosing what kind of parenting experience you prefer, then you've failed at that obligation.

Hi! I think I might have submitted my question on the other link to this chat (the one that says "rescheduled to Thursday" etc). Is it still available or should I resubmit to this window?

No worries. I brought over all the questions that were submitted to the wrong place, so you don't have to resubmit. 

My boyfriend of nine months tells me that he adores spending time with me; that he feels so peaceful, relaxed, and happy when I'm around; that he's amazed by how well we get along, how great our sex life is, etc. I can see his face light up when I enter a room. But he also tells me that he doesn't know if he loves me, because in his last relationship he felt "passionately," "madly" in love--and that's not how he feels with me. My belief is that the new-relationship passion doesn't last long anyway, and that what he's describing feeling for me *is* love. But I know that I can't make him see things that way. Is there anything I can do other than enjoy the relationship and hope he comes around? Or is there something missing in this relationship?

One thing for sure, it has only one person fully on board when it will eventually need two.

I agree you can't change his mind for him, but I don't see anything wrong with pointing out that you see "passionately" and "madly" not as love, but instead attraction. And you can say (if you don't) that you don't feel "passionately' and "madly" for him, either, and (if you are) that you're grateful for this, because (if it is) this peaceful, relaxed and happy love you feel is exactly what you want. You can even say you hope he eventually gets his head out of a dark place and you will be patient for that just in case. Assuming he likes his partners blunt.

Then, yes, you can't do much besides enjoy and hope. Good luck.

I work closely with lots of doctors. Became friends with one and would talk when I saw him. Around thanksgiving and new year I asked if he had any plans and both times he said he had to work. Well to find out he told a close male co-worker of mine that he and his "fiance" had just bought a house! He never brought up a fiance to me. I finally was able to ask him if he was seeing anyone and said "no". How do I move on from this lying co-worker? I mean I work closely with him and have stopped all conversation that was flirtatious and have remained strictly professional. I finally thought that I had maybe something developing with him only to find out he was never available and leading me on. I feel stupid for ever flirting with him in the first place. Should I confront my flirtatious coworker and let him know that I know 1) he was lying and 2) I know about his fiance?

Oh, ugh, no. Cut your losses and remain remaining "strictly professional," not just with this guy but in your workplace in general, for the indefinite future.

I get that a lot of couples meet at work, and that the long hours of many careers allow people to meet in precious few other ways. But you just had an Incident in an apparently tight and gossipy workplace. Your main concern now needs to be avoiding another.  

I have a friend who is constantly making poor decisions when it comes to dating. It is largely the same bad decision over and over. She does not see this and ignores any and all advice that suggests she make different choices and instead blames the guy(most of the time it is not his fault). Each time she ends up very hurt and shocked as to what went wrong, though it's no surprise to everyone else. I don't want to abandon her as she's been a friend for a very long time, however, each time she asks for advice, it's ignored. Then when it ends badly she she comes looking for pity and more advice. What do I do? I don't want to cut her out of my life but our friendship now mostly revolves around her man-drama, which doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

"I don't have any advice for you this time because it's the same as it was last time, and it's apparently not what you want to hear or are ready to hear. I do feel for you. I just won't go around in circles with you again. I'm sorry."

Hiya Carolyn, Love your chats! My question: how do you gauge whether it's a good move to give a toxic person a second chance? I have an ex who was quite a piece of work--during our time together he was not honest, completely undependable, and sometimes cruel. For years afterward I felt like he was the only person in my life I genuinely wished I had never met. I was leveled when it ended, and it took me a long time to get over it--including some hard time with a therapist. We haven't really been in touch in about years--in that time he has repeatedly reached out and consistently expressed remorse for how he treated me and said a lot which made me think he's grown up and is embarrassed by his behavior. I ignored these entreaties. However, I recently met up with him for the first time in about 5 years, (offering 30 minutes and inventing a fake obligation afterwards as an "out") and it was great--we spent hours talking and it felt like we were both two totally different people in two totally different lives. He wants to restart a friendship. I am never going to date this man again (helllll no), but part of me does want to be friends with him. The other part thinks I should stay as far away as I can get. I find myself preparing for him to be a glassbowl. How do you tell when someone is worth giving a second chance? How do you tell when a toxic person has changed?

How do you tell when someone is worth giving a second chance?

When the potential benefit to you of the person's presence in your life outweights the risk.


How do you tell when a toxic person has changed?

A moot point if he fails the risk-benefit test. This person does fail, right? Just based on the combination of his untrustworthiness and your vulnerability to him?

Madly and Passionately is not something Hot and Quick, after just 9 months. Madly and Passionately is waking up one day, years into the relationship and quietly realizing that you would be absolutely devastated if this person were to suddenly leave your life.

True. I would call that Deeply, though.

Its been in a few of your columns lately, but being friendly and flirting are not the same thing. That doctor politly turned down her request to socialize after work, how does he become the bad guy? Last week it was some guy claiming his date's ex flirted with him when he bought a sofa, nothing good came of that. Friendly is not flirting, just wanted to point that out.

I agree, but I don't see how it's applicable in either case. Nothing in my answer called out the doc as the bad guy, though the lying is at best suspect, unless the flirtatious colleague was so over the line and the flirtation so one-sided that Doc felt the need to protect Fiancee from any kind of attention.

And, in the prior letter you cite, the flirtation of the furniture-selling ex husband was just a plot point in the story of how the GF figured out that Current Guy bought the furniture from Ex. I mean, given the context, I can easily see telling the story: "Yes, actually, I do remember the guy who sold it to me--I remember well, because I think he was hitting on me." 

No bad guys in either case, no?

Again--I agree that friendly and flirting aren't the same. Nor are, for that matter, flirting as a way of being friendly and flirting with intent.


Why do so many people behave as if the workplace is a bar scene? I experienced the aftermath of an office relationship that ended so badly that I left the job. The other party kept trying to rekindle the relationship for a full year. Because he wasn't my boss there really wasn't anything I could do and the office was so small there was no way to avoid him. My advice is just don't get involved unless you're ok with living a nightmare everyday at your job.

a: Because people get lonely, and most of them spend a lot more time at work than they do at bars.

I think the problem in your scenario is not that you tried to have a relationship with someone at work, but that the someone failed to have and recognize boundaries. That's a risk we all take in any relationship. Since that risk shoots way up when a workplace is involved, it's important to be cautious--and prepared to leave if things go south. I don't think a future without workplace flirtations is ever going to exist.

One of my friends was like this (the guy), had had many great girlfriends, and lots of passion. But, none of those worked out. Then, he dated my other friend and even told her once that he didn't see her as his future partner. She broke up with him and took her space (what do you do when someone does not want to marry you). He got his head out of his behind and they got back together and now have been married for 3 years with one kid and are very happy. The dude was very idealistic about how things "should be" and nearly missed someone fantastic in front of him. I'm not saying she needs to break up with him, but she also needs to remind herself, that she's deciding to Choose him or not! And, if he can't get his head out of the clouds to appreciate what they have, it may mean her "unchoosing" him. I will say that the dude in aforementioned relationship also was usually the guy breaking up with his ex-girlfriends and so was a little unaware that she was choosing him, and thus that she also could decide to "unchoose" him.

Excellent points, thank you, especially there at the end.

I'm the mother of a 2 month old and just going back to work. I'm finding it to be one of the saddest experiences of my life. Any tips from you Carolyn or the nuts? I'm trying to appreciate the positives (lunch with both hands, adults conversations) but I am perseverating on missing so much, especially given that I miss 90% of his awake time. I am terrified he will forget me and have cried about it daily for the last 1-2 weeks. How much of this is normal?

All of your distress is normal. (And, for those who feel guilty about feeling relief at going back to work and being able to use both hands and finishing sentences, that's normal, too.)

You are the mom, he will not forget you. It's normal to fear that he will, but if anything parents should fear how powerful their influence is, not how weak.

If there's anything not-normal here, it's in having to be away from a baby so soon. Two months is quick--quick enough that there might also be an element of post-partum depression involved here. If you have some other options or some flexibility, then your sadness is more than enough reason to start considering them. If you don't have options, then don't worry, your place in his heart is not at risk. 



Me again. You're probably right. I already find myself thinking "You can only be friends with this dude if you're prepared for him to disappear without warning." Thinking about my own vulnerability to him is a good wake up. Thanks

Sher thing. Thanks for writing back.

Been there, from the other side of the coin. Pretty sure I've got myself sorted out a bit better (although, honestly, I not only still sometimes make the same mistakes, but I'm making them with the same *person* for approximately the 4th time now. Yes, my friends can be seen as saints). I've mostly stopped talking to them about anything relationship-related, largely because I figured they were getting annoyed (combo of having been called out on it and also having been through a similar thing with a different friend, so I can empathize with their situation). Anyway, not feeling able to talk to my close girlfriends about relationship stuff is a pretty lonely place to be. And it's put some distance between us. And may be contributing to the willingness to get on the least-fun-merry-go-round ever for the 4th time. Not to say it's the the friends' fault...just a bad mix of feeling lonely and disconnected and will take pseudo-intamacy and all the destructiveness that comes along with it to compensate.

Oh my goodness--please read this and see what you're doing. You're basically giving up on yourself and giving your life over to a destructive cycle, just because ... I'm not sure why. Because it seems too hard to stop it?

The thing driving you to make these same mistakes is beyond your friends' ability to solve, or else talking to them (back when they were still listening) would have solved it. Please take your combination of loneliness and disconnection and helplessness to a good, likable, reputable therapist. I realize it can be expensive or difficult depending on where you live and what your insurance permits, but I am confident that whatever it costs, it'll be less than what your unhappiness is costing you, especially if you project well into the future. Square your shoulders and decline to get on any ride that you yourself bill as the "least-fun ... ever." 

Have been a fan for several years and am hopeful you can help. I woke up Christmas morning and realized I had zero Christmas presents to open. This realization shook me a little - not in a materialistic way, but as a stark example of how isolated I've become. While I don't have family in the area, I made sure to send an order of food (filet mignon and lobster) before Christmas in addition to sending souvenirs from my recent trip overseas. Knowing that not every family is perfect or redeemable, the isolation I feel extends into so many facets of my life. I do try to be friendly and approachable at work - yet very rarely go out to each lunch with anyone. At work and when I'm home, I've tried to initiate fun (inexpensive) restaurants or events to go to every once in awhile so as to not be a pest or be too needy. Again, very rarely that anyone takes me up on the invite. I try to initiate conversations in the corridors at work in a friendly and fun way so as to not be considered a 'downer' since anyone rarely stops by to visit me. Today I made a point to stop by to see a coworker I had not seen in several weeks to catch up since we have similar interests and good conversations. To no avail since they were busy with work and would not be available until next week. I'm trying not to take this too personally, but it's getting very difficult. To say that it's been discouraging is an understatement. During the weekend, I try to go to different places to go shopping and running errands. Bound and determined to get out and about, I went to church (solo) Christmas Day, and even saw a movie - again solo. It's difficult to undo broken relationships I currently have, so I'm hopeful that you can help me rebuild and start anew this new year since the silence and aloneness is reaching deafening proportions.

I'm sorry Christmas was such a slap in the face for you. I think it's actually a common experience for people regardless of the configuration of their day--it can hit people surrounded by family, in supposedly happy marriages, or alone but with strong ties elsewhere. Thoreau and his "quiet desperation."

I don't think there's a reliable answer in people, since they're always beyond our control, but in purpose. "Shopping and running errands" is actually a known tonic for the lonely--one that is linked to deeper loneliness. So I suggest instead that with your weekend hours, you dedicate yourself to providing something that you have in abundance that is needed in the extreme. Time, expertise, money, companionship, labor? One cause or another needs all of these. And whether you're a volunteer cuddler of babies born to addicts or walker of shelter dogs or stocker of food pantry shelves, you will not only see yourself in a whole new and meaningful way, but you will also place yourself into a community of like-minded people, one that will gave back to you just by allowing you to give. Something you control.  

Also keep in mind that at just two months post-partum, not all of you has recovered. You are being overly emotional about leaving your baby because your hormones (and probably lack of sleep) are making you overly emotional. It's what happens. I was much weepier, much less rational, and, in retrospect once the fog lifted at about 10 weeks, very tired and a bit out of it. Once I went back to work, it took a lot of energy and time to do the mom and the work thing, and I worried about tons of things, not all of them rational (your baby won't forget you!) because I was using more than my quota of energy doing the mom and work thing. Cut yourself some slack!

That's what I was getting at with the "quick," but you're right to spell it out, thanks.

Id like to say to today's letter writer about reconciling her "two loves." I had two--yes, two--affairs. My husband found out about both and, amazingly, forgave me both times and we did a ton of work on our marriage and, I'm happy to say, are in a really great place. My first affair was almost exactly as you describe: a long-lost love that I thought was unrequited. I fell head over heels for him, despite the fact that he was an unemployed alcoholic living with his mother....but he was a poet! And a musician! I don't want to disparage him or myself too much, because he obviously gave me something I needed....or thought I needed. But I took it at the expense of my marriage. At the time, I would've told you how much I loved my husband (and our two kids) and how I would never leave either--as if that somehow made what I was doing okay and less hurtful to my husband. Looking back now, I'm simply embarrassed--dreadfully so--at my immaturity and willingness to play fast and loose with my husband's heart. Don't let yourself go down the same path. There's nothing but heartache at the end of it, I promise you.

As sincere a promise as I've come across in a while. Thank you.

I think my friend is seeing a bad counselor. My friend is just like the self destructive, non-advice taking friend above, and when she tells me what her shrink advises, my jaw drops. She's been seeing, and is obsessed with, a married man who is leading her on. It's so obvious to her close friends what she should do. But her shrink is advising her to do the opposite. Is there anything I can do here? I'm thinking not, but....

"If what you're telling me is accurate, then I have serious concerns about your therapist."

There isn't much you can do, but you can speak up, and you can also recognize that your friend might be far enough gone to be twisting the therapist's words.

I know you often recommend therapy no matter the cost, and I definitely feel that therapy is worth it to a point, but how do you know when it's too much? I have been seeing a therapist for grief and PTSD (not covered by insurance), while she's very good, I wonder about the cost. Basically I've had to stop saving for a long overdue vacation with my husband (a sort of therapy itself, no?) in order to pay for my very frequent sessions. I can't help the feeling that it's a bit of a conflict for her to advise me on this, although I know she's probably the person I should be asking. Thanks.

Yes, do ask her. She might be willing/able to reduce the fees, or reduce the frequency of the sessions. You also have every right to know what she has in mind for the duration of your treatment. Will it always be this intensive? Is there a goal she has in mind for you to reach before pulling back on the frequency of appointments? Also--do you have goals, and is she aware of them?

The short answer is that if the therapy is needed, intensive and effective, then you treat it as a necessary short-term expense. If it's starting to feel like a long-term commitment without tangible results, then it's time to say, okay, is it time to revisit the treatment plan.

Also, laws governing mental health care coverage have changed, so if you haven't checked to see whether your coverage is different as of Jan. 1, make sure you do.

This may be due to leaving out more details to keep a concise questions, but.. please go back and read what you typed. No where in your question do I see you actually booking, scheduling a time for dinner, drinks, lunch, catching up with a co-worker. You say you suggest/casually mention things but not actually present a concrete invitation. I'm going to assume that you are a bit of an introvert and the thought of an outwardly expressed desire runs the risk of humiliation if it is not accepted/embraced. I'm an extrovert, but I get that too. However, I'm also a bit dense in the workplace and may be focused on work to read hidden messages in what I mistake to be only a casual conversation. Perhaps a therapist or even a Toast Masters can help you break down that wall and actually extend an invite. Worth a shot. And at least with a Toast Masters, you are getting professional benefits and scheduled not-alone time. Good luck!

Good stuff, thanks.

I highly, highly recommend as a place to find everything Carolyn is recommending and more. In most areas, there are many groups for every sort of interest from volunteering & community involvement to just plain fun. I use this site every time I move and it really helps make the move easier. I've also made some great friendships that lasted, though these do take time to build. The thing to remember is everyone in these groups is looking to make friends/meet people/etc. If one group is not a good fit, there are always more to choose from Not sure where the poster lives, but a quick search for volunteer within 50 miles of DC brings up 100s of meetups.

Another great suggestion, thanks.

My tween child, who lives primarily with her dad and step-mom, recently received an injury to her hand as a result of a physical altercation with the step-mom. (The adults minimized what happened, even giving the old cliche: "She fell.") Our kid feels really let down by that. How do I help? Specifically, how do I help our kid cope? The complexity of our situation requires diplomacy and wisdom - I can't just call this woman out to the parking-lot.

A grown-up who fights with a kid, causes an injury and then covers it up is an abusive one.

Please call Childhelp's hot line, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Something that involves complexity and the possibility of abuse belongs in the hands of those trained to help your child. Childhelp is a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and is not the same thing as CPS, though it can help you with a decision to get authorities involved.


We're about to have our first child. A cousin of mine recently got married and, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I have learned that she and her husband both hold extreme anti-science opinions, including opposing vaccination. It's not relevant at the moment, but what am I going to do when they start having kids? Vaccines are very effective, but they aren't 100% effective, and I don't want my own kids getting sick or even dying just from playing with their cousins.

It's the kick-it-to-the-professionals portion of our program. When the time comes, talk to your pediatrician for relevant and up-to-date information. Remember, though, that vaccination requirements are governed by state law, not federal, and exemptions are available, so your kids could be, and likely at some point will be, in school with kids who haven't been vaccinated. 

Also, if you follow Carolyn's advice, this is the time your friends can help you (and will probably jump at the chance!)--finding therapists, making appointments, and all that other stuff that can seem so insurmountable when you're down so low.

True, thanks.

Glad this is a heavy topic today. Found myself sighing heavily every time my coworker walked by... there's just something about him. Maybe because he looks just like my husband but doesn't want to talk to me about our leaky faucet. I'd never do/say anything other than in my head, but reading the posts, feeling this way (and now actually typing it.. gulp!) makes me now feel less school girl and more realistic. And humbly grateful for that leaky faucet and the man I share it with. Taking this energy and refocusing it where it belongs. Home.

I think thinking/feeling/doing embarrassing things is what keeps us bearable as humans. (We just have to recognize them as such.)

I am from a large family, as is my husband. We both agree that if possible, we would love to have four kids and give our children the same wonderful upbringing we both feel we had. We are recently married and nearing 30. I know I have time to have children, but having many- the clock feels like it's ticking a bit. My older sibling recently got engaged and is getting married this year. We had talked about starting to try before then and now I am torn. I know another sibling of ours is trying to conceive right now. I worry that engaged sibling would be disappointed at two siblings out of commision (so to speak) and that he would love for us to toast and dance the night away as he did at ours. Is that a valid reason to wait or am I being silly?

I'm going with "silly," though I love the regard for your sibling. Anyone else?

Thanks for the awesome chats and columns! I have a question about the argument/apology/forgiveness process. What if, as the forgiver, I'm faking it? I had an incident with a very close friend of mine, where he treated me with a junior high school level of tantrum and snarkiness over a misunderstanding (we're over thirty, btw). When I called him out on it later, he explained his side of the misunderstanding but agreed that his reaction to it was totally inappropriate. We had a very adult airing of grievances, appropriate apologies, and a discussion on how to avoid this situation in the future, and both agreed to move past it. My issue is: I have not moved past it. I feel like an annoying grudge holder, but I'm still upset and disappointed about the way I was treated. I accepted his apology because I believe it was sincere, but I feel like I was magically and immediately supposed to feel better at that point and I don't. I don't trust him not to treat me like that again, but I feel like I have to pretend that I do, since I accepted his apology. Help!

Idunno, I think all these pieces work independently of each other. You can forgive, for example, and not trust. You can forgive and still be disappointed. You can trust in one way but not another. You can agree to move on in an instant but still need time for the on-moving to occur. 

So, in this case, you can believe his apology was sincere but still not trust him not to do it again. That just means you trust that he recognizes his mistake, and trust that he doesn't want to repeat his mistake ... and trust that his mistake arose from who he is and therefore might happen again. It's all trust, just not the "I trust this will never happen again so I will go back to acting the same way I always have with this person" kind of trust. 

Another thing that might help is to figure out why you took this so hard. Is it that this friend isn't who you had thought? Is it that you aren't who you had thought? That your friendship isn't what you had thought? Generally, when distress lingers like this, it usually means you've lost something of value. Identifying what it is might help.

My adult kids were home for Xmas and as we chatted about their childhood it became clear to me that they didn't even remember Miss Nancy who watched them from babyhood to Pre-K. "Did she have a big dog?" one asked. That's what one of two remembered about the women who had them 5 days a week for four years.

Nice perspective, thanks. Though I feel a bit for Miss Nancy, who almost certainly had her own bond with the kids. 

You are so thoughtful to think of your sibling's wedding above your own wishes to start trying for a child. For what it's worth, my brother was married last year - and the most fun woman at his wife's bachelorette party (including a trip to the club) and wedding was a 30-something, 7 or 8 month pregnant woman :) She broke it DOWN!!!

The mental image I have of this is in the form of a Nick illustration.

Many responses to this, so I'll throw a bunch out sans comment:

Do what's right for you and your husband. One of the benefits of being from a big family as you get older is rolling with the fact that there is a time span when someone is ALWAYS pregnant, someone ALWAYS has kid events to attend, and someone ALWAYS has grandchildren to spoil. You can't freeze-frame everyone's life at one point in time.

Oh, goodness, live your life. Who knows how long it will take you to conceive, who knows how long it will take the other sibling to conceive, who knows how anything will play out? If you have a close, wonderful family like you say, I'm sure your various siblings will be nothing but thrilled for you if you get pregnant. A very pregnant bridesmaid -- or a bridesmaid with an infant -- is nothing new at a wedding, and another cause for celebration.

Have you talked to your sibling? Maybe he would love for you to toast and dance, but maybe he'd be just as happy being an uncle. Or, maybe he'll be too preoccupied with his wedding to have strong feelings.

My partner and I (of three years) have decided to take a break for an undetermined amount of time. Our relationship was good, but not great. I always wanted more, he was never sure of what he wanted. (Generally, he moves slow and I move fast on all decisions in life.) We both think that with some time to reflect and work on ourselves, apart from one another with be good and we may come back to it better and stronger than before...or we won't come back together at all. I think he is leaning more toward the former and i'm leaning more toward the latter. Any advice on how to navigate a break up like this? So while my instincts are telling me "It's over - move on!" I recognize that there may be a better way for me to deal with this. Thanks for all you do - I love reading the chats each week.

Unless your instincts routinely steer you into a brick wall, I can't imagine any "better way" that begins with tuning them out.

Thanks for the kind words.

OK here goes. Wife has 2 affairs and I find out but forgive and we move on. Life is great for 6 months (no counseling, yes that was bad), then we lose all intimacy for a while. I accuse her of cheating, she denies, eventually I get proof and file for divorce. Now she wants time to sort things out and explore counseling, etc. we have 2 elem age kids. So, what to do? Give another chance "for the kids and us", or blow everything up and move on? Any testimonials from the gallery re the benefits of staying? Can someone slap me in the head?

I just have no slap in me on this one, I'm sorry.

Sounds to me as if she needs to move out and get counseling, a lot of it, while you have primary custody of the kids. Those are the terms on which I can envision not closing the door on the marriage permanently, for two reasons: her agreeing to this would be a solid indication of her sincerity in wanting to repair herself and the marriage, instead of just saving her own butt; and the arrangement would allow you to preview life as co-parents in separate homes. 

But, it's not my marriage and family, nor is it the gallery's, so our utility is limited. I can't overstate this part: Over the years we've had a lot of people contribute their success or horror stories stemming from the stay-together-or-don't-for-the-kids conundrum, and among the clearest themes to emerge was this: It depends. The details of each set of parents, each kid, and each household were decisive of the outcome. 

For that reason, I suggest you talk to a good family therapist and a good (reputable, mediation-minded vs. just flat-out successful) divorce lawyer before you make any moves. 


Hi Carolyn, A couple of months ago I met a man who was in town visiting from out of the country. We are both in our 30s and hit it off immediately, but we only had about a week together before he had to return to his native land. After he left, we began communicating regularly (through skype, etc) and things were going sufficiently well that I booked a trip to his country in March -- though, because I have family and other friends there, there was always an understanding that I was not merely going "for him." Things seemed to be going great when... he went silent over the weekend. I finally reached out yesterday and he confided that he felt things were getting too intense and he needed to step back. I don't mind giving him space -- in fact, I'm very much inclined to do just that -- but a part of me now fears that if I allow myself to get close to him on his terms, I will get hurt. I strongly suspect that if we both take it easy, we will both have a much better time; on the other hand, I'm concerned about simply viewing this as "fun" if he can't at least commit to the possibility of something beyond March. Any advice?

Unless he makes a strong effort to stay in (or get back in) touch, this is over. I'm sorry. As for March, either plan to see your family and other friends or cancel the trip. If you have hopes that you'll see him and that seeing him will fix things, then that will only cloud your judgment.

My therapist led me to a definition of forgiveness, once, in the context of my own past, which I was struggling to let go of (and sometimes still do). "Forgivieness is the decision to not hold onto the pain." It was pretty clear that this is rarely a one-and-done decision, and that our hurt feelings and our circumstances can repeatedly lead us back to that decision over the same incident.

I like this, thanks. I think the step before the letting go is often recognition that we're holding on to the pain for a reason--often it's hope that we'll get a better outcome, or get an apology, or get vindicated. Sometimes it's because we get something out of the pain, like a sense of martyrdom or plain superiority to the person who harmed us. Reckoning with that thing actually can make it a one-and-done decision, though I agree it's not always so.  

Hi Carolyn, I have a best friend who is family, at this point. I know she'll be in my life for the rest of it. I know she loves me. What frustrates me is that she never visits--even when we were in college, etc, it was me who came to her. Now we live a plane ride apart. In the last 5 years, I've probably gone to see her 8 times. She has come to see me twice, each time after I got upset about her lack of visiting. She has offered the excuse that she and her husband are "barnacles" who stay put, that she feels guilty about climate change, that her grandparents were refugees and thus engendered a distaste for's always something. She is self-employed with an entirely flexible schedule. I have a job that requires a huge amount of travel, so planes make me sigh inwardly. I am finding myself increasingly resentful about her lack of visiting. Do I just need to reconcile myself to the fact that if I ever want to see her, it'll be me taking the time, expense, and hassle?

Pretty much. It's the same answer no matter what the details--if a relationship gives you X when what you want is Y, then you either need to embrace Y or give up on the relationship. 

If it helps, you don't need to make One Decision That Governs All Things. For example, you can decide that you're not interested in traveling for her right now. You can then decide later that you are interested in traveling for her. Or, you can decide that you will travel for her N times a year and that's it, barring an emergency. You can revisit N as your life evolves.

You also get to decide how you feel about her reasons/excuses. If you think "it's always something," then I could argue that she deserves to know this is how you feel. It sounds as if you might be responding to her as if her reasons are valid but inwardly feeling certain her excuses are feeble, in which case you've created the environment in which your resentment flourishes. At least give her a chance to respond to your true feelings. Your going to see her, after all, bruises the climate as badly as her going to see you. If that's really her issue, then she needs to insist that you stay home, no?

Thanks, I do actually see a therepist and she's the one who's helped me frame this guy as an un-fun merry go round (silly but effective mental image). I guess I just wrote in to highlight that at some point the "line in the sand" of not talking to someone about a topic that is as all-consuming as this stuff can be is effectively not allowing them to talk about anything other than the weather and what you cooked for dinner last night. Which is isolating and can (and in my case does) contribute to the very thing that is the cause of all the trouble in the first place. I'm not expecting my friends to be my therepist, or solve my problems, or listen to the same story with a slightly different tune for the 10th time. But feeling cut off has been its own struggle and is a contributing factor to the dwindling of our friendships. Was just trying to say that this course of action does come with other side effects.

... which you can say to your friends, certainly.

Here's the thing. The point of saying "no mas!" isn't to shut down or isolate the friend. It's to say, "You have come to me for help for years, and nothing has changed. I have enabled this by playing my role in it for so long. I need to change that. I hope my doing this will nudge you toward Plan B--changing your approach to this problem either on your own or with professional help. Once it is a different conversation, then I will be happy to be part of it again."

Which no one is actually going to say, not even someone speaking a scripted line. But that is the point.

So it's not just that weather and last night's menu are all you have to talk about; certainly their personal lives are of interest to you still, right? It just means that you don't tell your relationship story until you have a new one to tell. It's actually not that high a bar to clear if your therapist is giving you new ways to think about it. "Thanks for the push: I'm figuring out a lot in therapy" ... at which point they can prompt you for more information or let it lie. With a close friend, once you've made some progress, it's certainly fair to say: "I know you hit the wall on me with Topic, but I have made progress, I think, and I also think it would help me to talk about it some, if you're willing." Close friend, tight parameters, it seems fair to me.  

I'm glad you've got a therapist who's helping out, and thanks for writing back.

Make sure you're actually listening to what you describe as your friend's "excuses." These may be entirely valid reasons. For instance, you say, "She is self-employed with an entirely flexible schedule," but are you sure her schedule is as flexible as you think it is? (I say this as someone who is now self-employed and have a much less flexible schedule than when I had a regular office job.)

I can vouch for this one, too. The work still has to be done, even if I'm the one who decides when I do it. Thanks.

You know what the best part of my day is? Hands-down the only part that is 100% guaranteed to be a bright spot? Picking my son up after work. Whether he's sick or well, tired and grumpy or having a blast, nothing is as rewarding and having that grin light up his face and hearing him shout "Mommy! My Mommy's here! Hug!" That's a lot harder to appreciate and value if you don't step away.

Nice thought to end on.

Thanks everybody, and hope to see you here next Friday at the usual time. Have a great weekend.

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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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