Mold-man: Carolyn Hax Live (Thursday, February 13)

Feb 13, 2014

This week's regular chat with Carolyn took place Thursday, February 13. There is an additional Valentine's Day-themed chat February 14. Submit your V-Day thoughts and questions at this link.

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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Hi Carolyn, would you mind posting this in the chat or on your Facebook page? There is a memorial page for Redheadwglasses on the American Cancer Society website, partly as a way of honoring Red, and partly as a way of doing something for her mom, who has lost too many people to cancer (husband, boyfriend, and Red).

Sure thing. Thanks for the chance to help.

Hi Carolyn, You recently asked for updates on couples who had written in in the past. You published a letter of mine a few years ago. In it I expressed my ambivalence toward my on-again, off-again boyfriend, basically saying I didn't think I was "in love" with him and talking about my various problems with our relationship. You pretty much told me to let the poor guy go because it wasn't fair for me to string him along like that. I'm not even sure you phrased it that nicely. While it wasn't easy to read your response at the time, I knew there was enough truth in what you said to realize that the way forward was my decision, and I really wasn't being fair to him. Reluctant to let him go, I got myself into therapy and through some hard work came to the understanding that my problems with my boyfriend weren't about him - they were about the fact that I had been raised with a very specific idea of what kind of man I should be with, and he didn't fit that mold. But more importantly, that logic and my own dating experience proved that someone who did fit that mold simply would not be a good fit for me and the qualities about my boyfriend that made him different from that mold-man actually made him an absolutely wonderful partner in life. It was a matter of shifting my priorities and understanding what really would matter in life in the long run - compassion, kindness, loyalty, friendship, hardwork and everyday expressions of love. Fast forward to today: we've been married for almost 3 years and have two young children whom we adore. I am extremely happy and so grateful that this wonderful man had the patience to let me figure out for myself what I really wanted and needed. - Happy Again

What a great and useful story, thank you, and congratulations.

I think this happens all the time, that our vision is impaired by some ill-fitting or outdated idea of what we're "supposed to" need or want or have or do. Not just with love but in all areas of life. Going with something you never envisioned can be flat-out scary.

So my flight to the Caribbean was canceled this morning due to the snowstorm and I can't get another. Awesome winter holiday canceled. Do I resort to wine, chocolate, or shoe shopping (online) to make up for this?

Yeah, duh. But it's "and" not "or."

I'm sorry about your trip. My to-do list would be crying, wine, chocolate, shoes.

Hi Carolyn, Thank God you're chatting today, as much of DC is snowed in! I'm expecting a baby girl in April and am working on choosing a name for her. The father is my ex. He broke up with me after I found out I was pregnant because the idea of such an intense commitment scared him. He is planning to have visitation with the baby but nothing more--he does not want custody, which I'm happy about. This question will seem a little out of left field. I have picked a name for my daughter, and I'm excited about it. My ex has picked a different name and has pushed it every time I've talked to him for the past month. I don't like the name very much (it's suuuuper common but has an unnecessarily variant spelling), but moreover I don't feel that it's his "right" to weigh in on what to name a baby he doesn't want. Yet my friends and family say that letting him have a say in the naming of the baby might inspire him to be more involved. What do you think?

I think that even though he's on a decidedly separate path from yours, you and he and the baby would be well served if the two of you collaborated on the name as if you and he were still together.

At least, try it: Say, okay, you don't like my name and I don't like yours, so we need to work on finding one we both like. If you don't want to talk that much or that deeply, you can exchange lists of names you'd be willing to use and see if there's any agreement there.

I know you have your heart set on a name, but a name with no baggage is so much better for the child. 

I broke up with my live-in SO a month ago. We agreed to try to stick out the living situation (separate bedrooms, of course) until early summer, when it would've been more ideal to split up our living situation. I just can't wait that long. I find myself growing more and more resentful of his behavior by the day, and little things make me want to throttle him (leaving ALL of the kitchen cabinets open, dropping food in the drawers on clean dishes, not cleaning up after himself ANYWHERE, etc.). I found a new place yesterday and am submitting paperwork today, but I feel like a jerk because I'm bailing. He knows I'm fed up and want out, but the apologist in me feels like I'm screwing him over by not even making it halfway through, especially when I was well aware of who he was before I ever even moved in. The living situation is unhealthy, and while I like him as a person and would like to return to being friends, the more time I spend with him, the less likely that outcome looks. Is it okay to sign those papers and move out? Do I owe him something more?

You owe him some notice, if you had originally agreed to stick it out. Instead of signing the papers and saying "Seeya" as a fait accompli, you owed it to him to warn him this was coming.

The no-notice alternative, if you're not on the lease, is to pay him the next month's rent as a courtesy so he has time to find a new roommate. If you're on the lease, be ready to pay the rent for the duration of the lease, because you're responsible for it--though he could release you of that obligation out of decency. Either way, springing this big surprise expense on the one person who can let you off the hook for it is not the best way to get things rolling. Very few exes start their post-relationship platonic friendship in small claims court.

(If this were an abuse situation, of course, i'd say otherwise--it's safety first, money a distant second in that case.)

Use father's choice as a middle name? My daughter's father and I divorced when she was 3 (now 15) and I have sole custody. He is in her life, but she loves him more than anything. I think it's important for a child to have some sort of concrete connection to a parent that is largely absent. And things may change in terms of visitation. Babies do good things to people's hearts. He may not have been ready for a relationship commitment, but may change his mind about how often he wants to see her. Be prepared for that.

Good points, thanks. The hers-first, his-middle naming plan sounds like a good compromise, as long as neither of you hates one of the names, and as long as the dad is a big enough person not to call the baby by the middle name out of spite.

Hi Carolyn: I'm planning a visit to my sister, who just gave birth to her first child and is recovering slowly from PPD. I have also agreed with my husband that we will stop using birth control this summer, once some travel obligations are out of the way. I'm really looking forward to meeting my nephew, but I can tell from our conversations that my sister's life is anything but glamorous right now. It might sound silly, but I'm afraid the visit is going to spook me, to to speak, and cause me to want to renege on my promise to start trying for a baby. I don't want that for my husband, and I don't want it for me, either. Any suggestions? How do I approach this visit so it doesn't make me run screaming in the opposite direction?

"Suck it up" makes a fine mantra, both here and down the road if you find yourself in the same anything-but-glamorous place as your sister.

If you can't see the reality of a new baby and still want a baby, then I see that as a good thing. I wish more people made the decision to be parents only after spending an extended amount of time immersed in the needs of an infant, the fatigue of the caregivers, and the mess of a home where an infant and tired parents are higher priorities than neatness.  

Have fun!

Dear Carolyn: My ex-husband approached me with the idea to buy our daughter a high-quality used car for her upcoming 21st birthday. I thought this was a great idea, but because my ex is notoriously bad with financial planning (75% of the reason our relationship imploded), I figured I had better wait and see whether he really came up with his half of the money. My kids have no idea their father is bad with money; we have always told them that we are great friends but just fell out of love (the other 25% of the truth). Then, two things happened in rapid succession: 1. my ex told our daughter about the car coming her way (she was SO. EXCITED.), and 2. my ex realized he didn't have the money after all. I'm furious, and once again am left holding the bag here. As I see it, my only choices are to front my ex's half of the money (which I will probably never get back) or have a long-overdue talk with my daughter (and her younger sister) about her dad's inability to keep financial promises. Neither option sounds attractive. What would you do? And no, my ex can't be trusted to deliver the news to her himself.

Have the long-overdue talk with your older daughter just by setting out the facts of the car saga, without editorializing unless your daughter asks. 

Then say you want your daughter to have some say in the car decision from here. For example, you can give your half, and your daughter can either buy a car with that or use it as a down payment on something and finance the rest. If she doesn't have income to qualify for a loan but a safe-enough car would require more money, then she can borrow from you and pay you back. Or she can use whatever her father can contribute, knowing it won't match your half. Or she can wait till he can come up with  his share--a day that might not come, but a learning experience for her.  

She's an adult, so give her a chance to make an adult decision on what comes next.

You can give the younger sister an abridged version of the story later, a gentle intro to the ways of her dad.

My husband and I have an ongoing fight. I'm not good at a lot of things. I know this from all my humiliating attempts at extracurricular activities as a child. If I am not good at something, I'm not enjoying myself, and I withdraw quickly. I'm okay with that. My husband is good at anything he tries - math, science, work, karate, etc. Even if he's not very good at something, he's a million times better than I am. This is where the tension comes in. I'm lucky in that the one thing I'm good at, I'm really good at. Although it has limited opportunities in my field, I don't mind because finding a good job isn't a challenge. My husband thinks I should branch out into different challenges as a backup plan, but I honestly can't think of anything else I'd be good at. It's one thing to come in last in every single race at a track meet but it's another to take a full-time job I'm bad at but I have to stick with because we need to pay the mortgage. My husband thinks I don't try enough, but I know from my experience and the experience of watching my gifted siblings excel without much effort that it isn't the case. He claims all his accolades came from hard work, and everyone is equal starting out. How do we even begin resolving this? Why can't he just be happy with me as I am?

"Why can't he just be happy with me as I am?"

That is the nub of it. It's time to ask him whether you and he can agree to be yourselves, and agree to conduct your lives the way each of you sees fit. If he says he can't agree to that, then you need to spell out that, any merit to the hard-work argument aside, you have a fundamental problem with his not accepting you as you are. You accept him and accept that his ways are right for him, and ask that he accept you to that very degree. Period. If he persists then I think it's time for a therapist to referee.

That's the marriage portion of your question. On the personal part, I find it painful to see the picture you painted of being a frog in a pondful of swans. With no disrespect intended, I find myself doubting your self-estimation. Are you really as bad at everything except that unnamed one thing as you say, or are you so accustomed to being in the less-than role that you never nurtured an interest that could have blossomed into a skill? Yes, some people do take to many things naturally, and yes, they often mistake the results for products of hard work (the classic born-on-third-base-thinking-they-hit-a-triple), but there is still no shortage of people who willed themselves into competence at one thing or another.

I'm not going to take your husband's position here: If you find no joy in trying new things, then do put your whole self into the one thing or few things you find fulfilling. It's no crime against  your lifestyle to do that.

At the same time, though, I hope you will privately vow not to limit yourself--and if there ever is something you think you'd enjoy, please try it and stick with the uphill climb. -Everyone- deals with learning curves, of varying steepness--and sticking with one that brings you, just you, a reward you value is one of the most satisfying feelings on the menu.  Just a thought to tuck away.


What interesting timing to read the update. I am so happy for her and her family! I was just contemplating my own relationship, and how I could have gotten so lucky. Watching friends deal with divorce, infidelity, strain of parenthood, and everything else, my husband and I have both mentioned feeling similar emotions: being so happy in our relationship, problem solving together, parenting together, playing together, but also wondering if there's some catch we're missing when our friends have ended up in such rough situations in their relationships. It does seem like luck many days. But just yesterday, I was thinking about how I never assumed I'd get married, never assumed I'd have kids, and I never really dated because I'd want to know people before doing anything emotionally charged, and by the time I got to know them, I was no longer interested in dating. Until I was. With no assumptions that I needed to get married or find a relationship, or what type of person I needed, I found someone who was well worth my time and whatever compromises we needed to make to be together.

This just says "Frame me," thanks --because stitching it on a pillow would take forfreakinever.

My mom loves to tell the story of how she was 8 months pregnant when she went to visit her sister for Thanksgiving. Her sister had 3 children: 6 months, 2 years, and 5 years. My mom claims she sobbed the entire 2.5 hour car ride home after the visit because she couldn't undo her pregnancy. But she says now that becoming a mother was the most important thing she ever did. This, coming from someone with a great career and a full life who never defined herself primarily (in my mind) as "mom." Anyway, I think it's normal to witness the chaos of early childhood and feel overwhelmed. From what I understand, it's different when they're yours.

Thanks. It is, but in the will you summon to stick with it. The hardships of it look more or less the same no matter whose eyes you're seeing them through. 

I broke off a relationship that was not healthy (if not abusive, then close to it). It's been four days. I know it takes about two weeks to start a new habit. Do you have any tips how not to let him back in my life (he is already trying)? I know part of it will be vigilance and willpower, but any tools to add? Also, he is fourteen years my senior (I'm 23), and he works with me. Not that those details necessarily matter, although I definitely am swearing off work relationships. Just, any advice for keeping it professional, even when he won't. Online only please.

I've always found self-loathing to be an underrated, often misunderstood tool. Did you like yourself with this guy? Would you like yourself if you slipped back into a bad relationship with this guy? I'm guessing no and no. So put yourself mentally back in that pit, remind yourself how crappy you felt when you were in it, and let his calls go to voice mail. Better, block him on all communications platforms, at least the ones you don't need for work.

For workplace encounters, prepare some keep-it-professional phrases in advance that you can have handy.


Owright, I have to bail--my column deadline beckons. Tomorrow in my usual time slot, Jess will host another rumpus room chat. Here's the transcript of the one she hosted so well last month, to see what it's like (link).

Plus, there are some Valentiney column roundups on the Style Blog here (link) and here (link). 

And to anyone with any last-minute Valentine's Day advice needs, I offer this (link).

Bye, thanks for stopping by, see you back at the usual time/distance next week!

If telling him to keep it professional at work doesn't work, or if you feel threatened in any way, please please do not hesitate to get HR involved. I had a horrible breakup with someone who was controlling and awful and happened to work in the same workplace (though not directly with me - totally different job functions). I tried my best to keep the breakup stuff separate from work, but ultimately he wouldn't abide by my request to a) leave me alone and b) definitely leave it all outside of the workplace. I was embarassed to get HR involved but good lord I'm glad I did. They were able to intervene in some really helpful ways, and it ended up being so much easier to have it out in the open so that I could get support from coworkers and management when things got progressively worse. Good luck. Don't go back.

Ooh, just saw this--thanks muchly.

In This Chat
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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