Go where the weird takes you: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, January 31)

Jan 31, 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 tellme@washpost.com.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

My husband is not very affectionate. He never has been, and when we were dating, it annoyed me a little, but I never considered it a deal-breaker. Since we married a year and a half ago, I have been wanting more affection, and we've talked about it many times. He says he is willing to be more affectionate, but he never delivers. As a loyal reader, I know the next step: This is who he is, and even though I've said I would like more affection, he isn't willing to meet that need for whatever reason. So, can I live with this level of affection? The answer is yes, because I would rather have him in my life with less affection than leave him over this. But, I'm having trouble getting over the feeling that, if I had known when we first started dating that I would be facing the need for more affection and the fact that I'm not going to get it, I may have made a different choice. How do I reconcile that I can live with it, but may not have chosen this if I had known then what I know now?

You say you've decided you "can" live with it, but that doesn't sound the same to me as "want to."

A bit of phrasing I'd like you to parse is "than leave him over this." You didn't say that you didn't want to go through life without him in it--you said you don't want to leave him. Those are, or at least can be, two different things.

I suggest you look at it as a question of which is driving you more: wanting him or not wanting upheaval.

If you come to a conclusion that you -want him- in your life, then I don't think you'll be as troubled by the idea of how you'd handle a do-over. 

I don't think it's possible, though, to put this entirely to rest as long as you believe he wasn't the best choice for you. If that's the case, then you also need to think about how you'd feel if he secretly thought you weren't the best choice for him. Would you want him to tough it out? Talk to you? Leave, on the theory that it'll hurt more now but less over the long haul?

This is more complicated than a unilateral can-I-live-with-it decision. This is about being married to someone who fundamentally disappoints you. He should have a say in where you take things from here, so I suggest you shift the conversation from "I want more affection" to "I realize now that you're not going to be able to give me the affection I want, and I'm not sure what the next step is."


Hi Carolyn, I am feeling so, so, SO frustrated by my own impatience and antsiness and how they limit the potential of my relationships. I'm 33 (not exactly a kid anymore) and really would have liked for my current relationship to go the distance, but as with many past relationships, it has only taken me about 6 months to become bored with our routine of dinners and movies and having what seem like (but really aren't) the same conversations over and over and over. In fairness to my boyfriend, I've asked him for a little bit of space while I think about whether I want to return to the dating world, and he has kindly let me have that but is saddened by it. There's nothing wrong with him whatsoever; if you were to ask me to list reasons to break up with him, I wouldn't be able to think of a single one (besides my own boredom, a constant in every relationship). I wish I could say being single felt more natural to me, but it doesn't--I already miss the closeness of a relationship. Do I need therapy to figure out why I can't sustain a relationship? What does it say about me as a person if I can't stick with something--someONE--for longer than a few measly months?

Because you've apparently given it some thought, because you're nevertheless still at a loss to explain what's going on, and because there can be several possible explanations (or combinations thereof) for your boredom, yes, I suggest therapy. 

It could be, for example, that you're choosing based on what's attractive to you, vs. what's important to you. A gap there could make you ritually unhappy at the point when your hormones hand the reins over to your brain.

I should probably give more examples to keep this from sounding like my only answer, but I'm off to such a slow start today that I think I'd better get to posting ...

Dear Carolyn, I apologize if this question seems jerky. I am a 31-year-old, male, longtime reader of your column. My girlfriend and I have been together for just over three years, and talk of marriage (namely her desire to get married) has been coming up a lot lately. She wants to get married sooner rather than later, and I understand where she's coming from. On a rational level, I agree that it's time to get married. But emotionally, I'm not quite ready (though I believe I will be within a few months). I have no better explanation than that. I just have to work through my own nerves, which I will make an effort to do because she's worth it. In the meantime, a big problem looms: Valentine's Day. She has made comments hinting that she believes a proposal is coming on Valentine's Day, which is reasonable for her to think. She has also made it clear that she would like me to plan our Valentine's Day celebration. I won't be proposing on Valentine's Day, but since she's expecting me to, I know that whatever I do plan (dinner and cocktails) will come as a disappointment. What do you suggest I do--talk to her beforehand to warn her not to get too excited about a V-Day proposal? Seems like such a buzzkill, but I would hate to waste energy and money on something that won't be what she wants.

Before I get to the answer you're requesting, I/we need to answer the underlying question: Why aren't you ready? What has to happen between now (not ready to propose) and "a few months" from now (when you project you will be ready)? I'm not buying your assertion that you don't have a better explanation. There's something, and I have no doubt we will all feel better when you say it. (Please be there to post a follow-up ...)


I am a single mother of two fantastic kids, my son is in his last year of college (at a school just under two hours away, so he comes home on breaks and for the summer) and my daughter is a junior in high school. This week, while registering for a college tour for my daughter it suddenly hit me, and hit me hard that "someday" is almost here. "Someday" being that day in the distant future when the kids are grown and out of the house and, as a parent, you get to concentrate on you again. Now that "someday" is no longer in the distant future and is, in fact, looming, I find myself crushed by the reality of it. I raised my kids to be independent and (yay!) they are. My son is planning to move to the opposite coast this summer to pursue his dream of being a musician and my daughter nearly quivers with anticipation when she talks about going away to college. I am incredibly proud of both of them and am so looking forward to seeing what and who they become as adults, but I am at an absolute loss over how to make this transition. While I have a career, friends, even an S.O. of several years (though that seems to be petering out - which would be another plea for help entirely) my future feels so empty without these two incredible people in it on a daily basis that I find it hard to even imagine. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books that tell you how to grow and raise children, but are there any that tell you how to let them go? Please, Carolyn and 'nuts help me out here - before I become that old(er) lady in the grocery store who tells the mom with the crying baby and tantruming toddler "Enjoy it while you can, dear. It goes so fast they'll be gone before you know it."

Hey, don't knock that old(er) lady in the grocery store. For one thing, she's a heck of a lot better to have around than the people who stare at you and your tantruming child as if the tantrum proves you are the worst mother on earth.

And, she brings a ray of love to a moment when you generally can't think of anything good about being a parent. "It's awesome," she reminds you when you're at your lowest. 

They should pick their moments, of course; I distinctly remember wanting to kiss some and throat-punch some others. But I digress.

Part of the reason you're so rattled by the prospect of an empty nest is your love for your kids and the companionship they provide you--but it's also because of the clean and clear sense of purpose they hand you. When you're faced with a tough decision of any kind, minor or consequential, you have them to ground you, direct you, and validate your purpose: "I'll be better for Children if I do X," so you do X. Decision made, sense of self-worht affirmed.

With them launched into adulthood and out of your daily life, you're going to have to come up with answers the hard way. What do YOU want? What is -right- for the sake of being right, instead of right for The Children?

The easy answer to your new phase is to direct your energy and time into a diferent purpose, one that feeds the same part of you that was so well nourished by motherhood. The hard answer is figuring out what that is. Don't be afraid to take your time, try on some ideas, and get to know the part of yourself you tucked away during your parent years. With so much of you focused on others, it's almost impossible for there not to be something you set aside. Trust yourself and let it come to you.


Dear Carolyn, So, after a year or so of unwisely holding on, I'm finally coming to terms with the reality that my married boyfriend (I know, I know) is not going to leave his wife (and young child), as he has repeatedly promised he would if things continue going well between us. Right now, things are as good as they'll ever get, considering we can't travel anywhere or meet each other's friends or start a real life together, so because this isn't enough for me anymore, I'm going to end things this weekend. I know this is pure bad sportsmanship, but I really want him to come clean to his wife rather than getting off scot-free. I just can't stand the idea that I'm going to walk away from this empty-handed, while he gets to keep his happy deluded family. I don't think it would be right to go to her myself, but I don't know what else to do. Can you please talk some sense into a person who for the past year has apparently had none of it?

... as he has repeatedly promised he would if things continue going well between us.

So, this is an extended audition for the next wife he'll be married to while auditioning your replacement? Are you auditioning him, too, or is he such a wonderful lying sack of feces that he had you at "Hello"? 

Right now, things are as good as they'll ever get, considering we can't travel anywhere or meet each other's friends or start a real life together, so because this isn't enough for me anymore, I'm going to end things this weekend.

Really? From where I sit, things are as bad as they'll ever get. You're with a bad person, hiding, helping him deceive his wife, indirectly harming a young child, and your goody bag for the experience is packed with self-loathing. When you pull the plug, things will get instantly and dramatically better--and likely trend upward from there, if you put your energy into understanding your poor choices and chucking the self-loathing swag. 

I know this is pure bad sportsmanship, but I really want him to come clean to his wife rather than getting off scot-free. I just can't stand the idea that I'm going to walk away from this empty-handed, while he gets to keep his happy deluded family.

Staying leaves you empty handed. Leaving gives you yourself back. Circling back just to punish him will sacrifice pieces of that newly restored self and also give you a whole other bag of self-loathing to unpack. I suggest you pass.

I don't think it would be right to go to her myself, but I don't know what else to do.

End the affair, throw away the artifacts, cry, take a shower, go for a long walk, call a friend who both accepts you and inspires you to be the best version of yourself. 

Can you please talk some sense into a person who for the past year has apparently had none of it?

I did my best. You can do this. Good luck, and check back in sometime if the mood strikes.

Dear Carolyn, I just wanted to tell you I thought your advice in this week's column for the woman who was jealous over her friend's pregnancy was spot on. We tragically lost our newborn last year and it was (and sometimes still is) very difficult for me to be around pregnant friends and small babies - a mix of sadness, jealousy, anger, etc.. As a matter of survival, I had to learn to be upfront with friends and family about how I felt, what I could handle, and what I couldn't. That sort of emotional honesty has been a revelation; it's allowed my friends to understand where I'm coming from, and I found that just expressing those feeling out loud often have eased the tension/difficulty, making it a lot easier for me to feel comfortable around them. It is absolutely possible to feel simultaneously lost in your own sorrow and really happy for someone else, and recognizing that that's OK makes life easier for everyone. Unintentional hurt still happens sometimes, but this whole terrible experience has really made me believe that a lot of unnecessary negative feelings/situations could be avoided through the simple of solution of actually talking about how we feel. Real friends will do their best to support you in your challenges even as they celebrate their joys, and the vice versa opportunity may easily present itself down the road.

This is helpful and heartbreaking, thank you. I'm so sorry for your loss.

The past is the past. We can all second-guess ourselves. I happened to marry a man with (what I realize now was) some ambivalence, and he has matured into an AWESOME husband and father. I choose him. We all choose to stay in our marriages, every year we don't leave. You choose him NOW, or you don't  own that choice. (Also are there other ways you can feel close - sharing an activity or project nearby? Recently we washed the car together and I realized hey, we really feel like fun, tactile, partners-on-a-team right now).

I love this too, thank you. 

A small thread-tie, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about when I suggest spending time with an inspiring friend. Choices aren't fixed in the past, they are dynamic and present-tense--yes. So useful, especially when feeling stuck.

Speaking as an often obtuse husband whose wife is often willing to (metaphorically) hit me over the head with a two-by-four: Does she want spontaneous affection, or just affection? If the latter, her husband said he is "willing to be more affectionate," so she will have to be the one to say, "Hey, give me a hug" when she wants a hug or reach for his hand when they are walking.

Thanks much, especially for the parenthetical.


I think it also depends on what she means by not affectionate.Certain things it's possible to compromise on/live with. He doesn't like to hold hands in public is a lot easier to get used to than he never wants to have sex and she does.You can also initiate affectionate things such as hugging or holding hands since he says he will try. But if it's a low sex drive LW may be out of luck.

Another useful point, thanks.

Yes, I'm here, and so glad you took my question because it's pressing on me a little more every day. Comprehensive answer: I just need to get past the psychological obstacle of feeling like marriage marks the official end of carefree youth. This is probably just a maturity issue on my part. She and I are very much in love and have shared many happy times, and the idea of altering the current state of things (even if it's just to make it official) is scary to me. I know myself, and once I think through and live with the decision for a while longer, I will become comfortable with it. I foresee that happening soon, it just hasn't yet. More specific answer: Some friends and I will be traveling to the World Cup for 14 days this year, a trip that will cost us about $2.5K each. I am extremely excited about this and feel like I'm living out a lifelong dream. But I also feel that if I get engaged and married soon, this marks the last time I'll be able to make a stupidly irresponsible decision without impacting someone else. (Evidence for this viewpoint: all the guys going are the ones who are still single. The husbands and dads backed out in the planning stages.) I know that is one of the best things about marriage (that both partners are held accountable for making smart decisions), but I have to be ready to get there. I will be, I'm just not quite yet. So, those are the facts. And now I call your attention back to my Valentine's Day problem. I hate disappointing her, and I'd like to make her very happy on Valentine's Day, if that's possible at this point. (It was on previous Valentine's Days, but I'm afraid the stakes are too high now.) Oh, and her birthday is the week before V-Day, as well.

You did have a much better explanation in you--thanks for bringing it here.

I find myself tugged in a couple of different directions on this. 

The first is to agree, yes, it's not a coincidence that the single people are the ones making the extravagant trip. It's smart not to delude yourself into thinking nothing will change when you fuse your life to another's. I get that the prospect of (effectively, if not actually) closing single-person doors is significant and deserves careful thought on your part.

The second is to say, hey wait a minute. Yes, being committed to someone closes some doors, but it opens others. It is not unheard of, and in fact is common, for people to value what's behind the commitment doors so highly that closing other doors isn't seen as a sacrifice, but an honor. Some people wouldn't want to take that trip if it meant leaving their best friend (and any little-buddy offspring) home. If you're not one of them, whose heart is as much hers as your own, then arguably you aren't ready to get married. Whether a couple of months will do the trick or whether that feeling will never come in your current relationship, I can't say (but I suspect you can).

The third is to say, hey wait a minute. If you're marrying the right person, then you will still be able to take the extravagant trips, if that's what's important to you, because you BOTH will go out of your way to give each other what you value. (And also not take advantage of each other's willingness to do so--i.e., no 14-day international whoop-it-up travel while foisting a colicky baby on your partner, ya?) 

Finally, there's an inner eye-roll I need to suppress. If she's it, then stinkin propose, and don't make a show if it on Valentine's day, which is just ... well. And if you don't see the joy, beauty and logic of just stinkin proposing, then I don't see what good a few more months of harrumphing will do.


Did that cover it? After leaving dead air that verged on epic, I certainly hope so.

Funny thing is, I'm feeling rested and rarin to go today. The questions are striking me me as unusually complex.

I'm just going to go where the weird takes me today, even if it's slow(er than usual)--hope you're all okay with that.

Just something quick to add-- please please please resist the temptation to call/text/email/facebook your kids at every moment of every day while they are at college. I am in my mid-20s, and when I went to college, my parents did an excellent job of giving me my space when I needed it and then being available when I needed them. I never felt smothered, and now 6 years later, my husband and I have moved to the same town they live in (as has my brother and his wife), and we make a point to see them regularly (almost daily). I firmly believe that because they gave me my space when I was in college, it made it easier to connect to and socialize with them as an adult. Many of my friends who's parents couldn't leave them alone after they went to college have moved far far away and do not have the same relationship that I have now with my parents.

Bingo, thanks.

Thanks a lot. We've got two four-year-olds and already I can see how soon the day will come when they are gone. Both of us have meaningful careers we care passionately about and so many extracurricular interests that we will be happy to take up again when we have more time. But even though we have our parents' excellent examples of how to have a fulfilling post-kids life, I just can't imagine that anything will be as compelling and fascinating and captivating as our children. And now I'm crying at my desk like a freak.

Oh come on, the freaks are the ones who don't cry. But, then, I do work at home.

Speaking of twins (yes?) and how soon the day comes, 11 years ago this very instant I was typing this chat while in labor. Happy 11th P and J.

Dude, man up & have an honest conversation with her about VD.

That would have taken me so much less time to write. 

But I would opted against using initials. (snort)

Actually, you have a gift of being bored after only a few months of dating. The rest of us get bored after a few years of marriage and wonder if we should divorce or not. Getting bored after a few months means that you don't have to go through that silly divorce phase.

Well-played. Initials would work here, though: TSDP. 

Hi Carolyn, I wrote to you in 2009 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/19/AR2009061903358.html) about my new husband's sudden about-face on reproduction. I just wanted to thank you for your advice and let you know that after putting a lot of time and energy into our relationship, individual therapy on both sides, and a lot of growing up, our first child's due in three weeks. I'm amazed at how much our relationship has grown in the last five years and I'm so glad I didn't do anything drastic. Instant gratification is almost never as gratifying as it is supposed to be. So far, this seems to have been worth the wait. Thanks again.

No no, thank you--this is such great news. 

One quibble. I don't think instant gratification is supposed to be gratifying, past that one instant.

(And for all of us, really) The question made me think of this Washington Post story from several years ago, written from the perspective of a woman who was expecting a proposal on Valentine's Day and the fiance who wasn't quite ready to give it to her. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/29/AR2008082901907.html Maybe a useful perspective to read your girlfriend's point of view?

I look forward to reading it myself, thank you.

How does he respond when you're affectionate towards him? If he rejects your overtures, I see that as a bigger problem than if he welcomes them, but doesn't want to initiate.

Ooh, I missed this before--thanks. I agree.

This young woman's letter has haunted me all week. Feeling that giving up alcohol means a diminished life is the disease talking. Please consider the possibility that your life will be MUCH better and even more fun not drinking. Our son turned to alcohol like too many LGBTQ young people to numb his pain; he has now been sober almost 4 years, and the difference in his life is like night and day. When before he was continually dealing with covering up his drinking and problems associated with drinking, he now has time and energy to really enjoy his life. He's involved in community theater, runs half-marathons, looks great, is more involved with his family and friends, etc. The treatment program he went to had "Secrets make us sick" as their slogan, and it's true.

LW, are you there? How's it going?

So, what if it is a fundamental disappointment - is it okay to end it? I am in a similar situation (not with the affection, but with the disappointment) and everything I read is making me feel like a failure and a pariah because I don't want to keep trying to fix something that's so broken. I'm just tired and want to be done. We have no children, aren't legally married (we do own a house together). Isn't it okay to just say, you know, what, we suck at this, let's just call it a day?

I have an opinion, but instead of saying it I'm going to be a complete jerk and ask you: Why would you think it -isn't- okay to call it a day in this situation?

10 months ago I broke up with my fiancee of 3 years. Blending a family proved too difficult for us. Within a month of our break up she was "in love" with her shoulder to cry on, and within 3 months she had moved in with him despite owning her own house. I asked for the ring back the other day and she was visibly upset/angry and walked away. Am I crazy for wanting the ring back? Should I feel guilty for asking for it? I thought at this point she would offer it back.

You ended the engagement, a tidbit I almost forgot about as I was reading the saga of her new love and living arrangements. 

I will not wade into the issue of who gets to keep the ring--that one keeps lawyers busy--but ... would the sporting thing have been for her to give it back? Yes.  Would it have been sporting of you to say, I dumped her, so I won't make an issue of a non-family-heirloom* ring? Yes.

So I think you're both entitled, in your own ways, to be upset at your treatment in the great ring transaction. 


*Grandma's ring reverts to the family of origin, duh. Again, this is me talking, and it's not to be mistaken for a legally informed opinion.

Carolyn, When is an age gap in a dating relationship problematic? I've been single for nearly a year after getting out of a controlling long term relationship. I've lately become friends with a man who is significantly younger than me (10 years). He initially pursued and I rebuffed him because of the gap but the more I got to know him the more i got interested. What I am wondering is when is a gap like that ok and when would I be taking advantage of him to take him at his word that hes an adult and he would like to date?

What does his "word" have to do with his status as an adult? He is or he isn't. If he is, mazel tov, and if he isn't, don't.

I a married with two kids and I am going to Brazil for world cup for 12 days with my brothers and various friends. My wife and kids will be staying home. I just wanted to let you know that life does not end with marriage and or kids.

If you were single, you'd be going for 14.

My sister recently visited our parents for the first time in 2 years (due to physical, not emotional distance). After she got back home, she emailed me to say that she thought our mother has a mental illness. She said Mom seemed stressed and depressed and that she saw evidence of hoarding. I was floored. Mom is a packrat for sure and closets are stuffed to the gills but nothing overflows into the house and I doubt it impacts their quality of life. Plus, Mom told me privately that she was stressed/depressed at the time because of complications arising from my sister's visit (but obviously I don't want to relay that back to sis). At the same time, I want to respond to these concerns seriously. It's possible that things at home have changed gradually in a way that I didn't noticed but my sister (after a long absence) was right to be concerned about. How do you go about evaluating something like this?? How should I respond?

You don't say, but do imply, that you see your mother often (or, often enough for you to miss any gradual changes). If that's the case, seems to me that you can go see her now, with your sister's concerns fresh in your mind, to see if there's any merit to them. 

I belong to a club, and "Jan," one of the members, recently suffered the loss of her father. Some club members decided it would be a good idea to send flowers. While they were taking up a collection, Jan emailed a memorial notice including a request to donate in lieu of flowers. But the other club members -- all of whom had seen the "in lieu" request -- kept right on going with flower plans. I'm upset that they aren't honoring Jan's wishes for donations, and further upset that they're signing the flowers "from the club," implying that we all ignored Jan's wishes. I suppose I should say nothing until I'm asked directly for a contribution, but should I just say something polite like "I donated directly," or should I say something pointed like "I honored Jan's request, unlike SOME people"? Should I take the opportunity to push through some sort of protocol about how the club should handle life events like this? Or should I just let it go, let it go, let it go?

Send a check to the designated charity, then choose options a, b and e: don't say anything until they approach you for a donation, then say, "I donated directly," and let it go, let it go, let it go.

Anyone remember Bad Manners Day? I want Middle School Day, where we get to say all the snotty things that come to mind--like finishing sentences with, "... unlike SOME people."

He's 20, so an adult, just I keep seeing articles about brain development and I guess I was worried that a 20 year old really isn't? Maybe I'm just psyching myself out. Thanks for taking this one.

Sure thing. Just anecdotally, having been 20 once and then 30, and also currently knowing people who are 20 and 30 (not the same person, mercifully, because that would just be freaky), it's hard for me to envision a relationship between people those ages that isn't hampered somewhat by the age gap. However, that's not only anecdotal and therefore not applicable except as a thought experiment, it's also something you don't need to puzzle out beforehand. If you like each other and are both adults, then get to know each other better. That will tell you much more useful things about your ages and etc. than any general opinion on age differences will.

Never in my life will I understand why a woman (FWIW: I'm male) would want to keep a ring symbolizing a relationship that's over (setting aside pawn shop values). Why would that be a keepsake?

Hm. One tweak: "Over" could mean a long relationship that had a lot of happy times before it unraveled, and I can see keeping a symbol of that. In that case, too, returning it could be a terrible slap in the face.

If instead the relationship failed to launch, a la the broken engagement, then returning it makes as much sense to me as it does to you. 

FWIW, I think pawn shop values can't be set aside, because even if the ring is never cashed in, there's a sense of keeping a thing of material value as compensation for one's poor treatment. Meager compensation, but, there it is. 

Thanks for all the responses. Carolyn, when I read your answer, my first (very visceral) reaction was, "Oh my, having him in my life makes it so much better." I do love him and want him in my life. And he is affectionate when I initiate. I just wish he would initiate. There are times when I look at him and am just overwhelmed by how much I love him, and I want to grab his hand or hug him or whatever to express that. So, I think I interpret his lack of affection to mean he doesn't share the same feelings. I hope he feels the same way, but I guess he just reacts to it differently. I do appreciate the advice to change the conversation to "what do we do about this," rather than "this is what I want." Thanks, all.

"So, I think I interpret his lack of affection to mean he doesn't share the same feelings."  


That. That's what you can fix, without another Conversation.

Stop interpreting! We all, all show affection in our own ways. Please look carefully at ways he shows his, perhaps ones you haven't recognized as such. Responding to your overtures is one--that's nothing to sneeze at, in fact. Also look at what he contributes to your household. Pay attention to the way he listens to and supports you. Is he kind? Does he cook for you, or say nice things about what you cook for him? Does he take on the chores you hate? Is he the yin to your yang in ways you take for granted? 

You feel this very visceral love for reasons, so open your eyes, ears and heart to those, instead of torturing yourself with a narrow focus on one specific thing.


I wouldn't say it's "going" really, but I'm not giving up. Currently listening to "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown and making an effort to face my shame, because that is what I feel constantly; shame. When I hear about people with "real" problems (e.g. the woman's son who was facing a potentially life-altering truth about his sexuality) who turn to alcohol to cope, I feel like such a loser. I have a have a good job, an amazing child, a reasonably good marriage (I call that a win, even if it sounds mediocre), a house, a car, a dog, etc. etc. What the hell am I coping with? What am I trying to escape from? All things to work out with my therapist, I know, but in the meantime, I'm just trying to accept and actually face my problem so that I can eventually kick it's ass (excuse my language). Thanks for taking my letter and for your answer, and also thanks to the nuts who commented. It was...needed (can't think of a better word, sorry).

Thanks so much for checking back in. 

I'm going to venture that the harder thing for you to give up, even harder than the alcohol, will be the self-flagellation. I'm reading your post and I just want to reach through the screen to grab you arm before you strike again.

We all have stuff. Some stuff is objectively worse than others. Some of that worse stuff is very useful to recognize--to help us gain perspective, to remind us to be grateful for our own problems, and to inspire us with the human ability to rise to even horrific challenges. 

Other people's terrible stuff, though, is not useful for belittling our own stuff. Pain is pain, and you have pain, and it deserves your respect. It could just be the pain you have is a physiological vulnerabilityto addiction, one that makes a simple gesture for one person--"No thanks, just a club soda"--into an Everest climb for you.

That doesn't mean you're broken, or shameful. It just means you need to invest in climbing gear and start adapting to higher altitudes.

I was just introduced to Brene Brown, coincidentally. Good choice. 

"She has made comments hinting that she believes a proposal is coming on Valentine's Day, which is reasonable for her to think." This seems like a big lack of communication thing, with one "hinting" about something that the other has somehow allowed to become "reasonable to think" despite knowing it's not. Am I being mean or does the whole situation not bode well for anyone?

Why not both!

No, I don't think you're mean. I think I'm on the record (abundantly, scarcely, distant-pastedly, who knows) with my strong preference for the engagement by conversation, meaning, you can't pinpoint a proposal--or proposer and proposee, even--because you both just decided your way there. Thanks.

It's not that married people have fewer choices, they just may make different choices. Maybe someone who is happily married might value staying around town for a few weeks over going off with the boys. Maybe someone whose goal is to buy a nice house would decide to choose not to spend the money because he thought of what he wanted for the future in a different way.

Right, thanks. But these choices aren't unilateral--that is a legit difference. 

That's my problem though- how do I know if there's merit? In other words, how do I tell if something I've accepted as "normal" is actually a sign of a problem? FWIW, my dad has never raised any similar concerns to me (although he also gripes about the closets being full). PS- thanks so much for taking this! I've been going back and forth all day wondering what I should do.

Try the NAMI helpline--1-800-950-NAMI. This is what they do. 

You can also read up on hoarding. It has hallmarks that I think you'll either recognize or respond to with relief--"Oh, okay, she doesn't do -that.-"

I'm a woman, with my boyfriend for 2+ years. We thinking maybe about engagement, but it's a long way off. I also just read that old Post feature about engagement and OH MY GOD, I just want to tell the men out there that women are not all like this. That woman scares me, and if I were the boyfriend I'd have cracked under the kind of pressure she put him under.

Now I have to read it.

Maybe right now, because I'm signing off. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, hope to see you here next week.



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

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