Advisory whiplash: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, April 25)

Apr 25, 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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Hi everybody. Sorry about having to push back today's start. Kids are home on their spring break and I couldn't make everything fit just so.

Hi, Thanks for all the great work you do! (Is that enough buttering up to get my question picked? Just kidding - I know you may not even see this.) I discovered something on my 14-year-old daughter's Tumblr page that makes me think her best friend may actually be her girlfriend, in a romantic sense. I am totally o.k. with her being gay or bisexual, if she is. Should I tell her what I saw and ask her about it? She's been very depressed and anxious lately (even suicidal at times). I feel like I'm tiptoeing in a minefield trying not to make things worse for her. Should I talk to her dad about it? We are divorced and I'm not sure if I trust him to be sensitive to her. Also, should I mention it to her therapist in case it is related to her depression and anxiety? I don't want to out her if she is not ready (or not actually in a same-sex relationship). Thank you.

Yes to talking to the therapist (who presumably can only listen, vs. respond, due to privacy laws), and I also suggest talking to people at PFLAG. Even though it's possible the Tumblr discovery has sent you to the wrong conclusion, the possibility that you're right and your daughter's fragile mental health both point to your doing your due diligence. I also don't recommend talking to her dad, given your concerns about the way he'll handle it.

Where I'm hoping my advice will bring you is this: first, that your daughter will trust her therapist; next, the therapist will steer your daughter toward opening up to you; next, that you and your daughter will decide together, if needed, how to talk to her dad. 

Dear Carolyn, I have a problem I am sure a lot of people would like to have: my in-laws asked us to join them on a week vacation to Disney with the bulk of the expenses paid by them. I have two children, ages 6 and 3 and a niece and nephew who are 8 and 4. My husband grew up going to Disney occasionally because his sister is somewhat of a fanatic and he likes the rides. I have never been to Disney and our kids have some exposure to the movies, books, and characters but have not been clamoring to go. I want to accept this offer, BUT: lines, waiting, the heat, rides, and Disney itself has never appealed to me. I am willing to check my own lukewarm thoughts about Disney at the door to give my kids and in-laws a great vacation, but I am not sure if I can sustain this attitude for an entire week. My sister-in-law already emailed me a "Disney itinerary" that was intense. My husband is on board with us splitting off a few afternoons to relax a bit, but I'm not sure if that is even possible at the Sensory Overload Theme Park or how to bring it up with my in-laws. Please, if anybody has been in my place before, I would love to hear how I can make a great vacation for everybody else without going slowly mad.

Yes, this definitely won't crack the Top 10 problems of April 25, 2014.

But since it's a straightforward answer, and since I do sympathize with dread of overstimulation, I'll bite:

Yes, it is possible to relax and regroup. That's what the pools are for. (Or, in bad weather, a show of some kind can be a reprieve.)

For the easily overloaded, the All-Inclusive Resort Survival Plan is to beat the heat and lines by hitting the attractions as soon as they open, then bail out by lunch for an afternoon based at the hotel. 

The part where relationship tactics come in and where I stop being a Disney shill is in dealing with your sister-in-law: Decide now which parts of the itinerary you'll agree to, and then let her know (or have your husband do it) that you appreciate the schedule and will use it in hybrid form--some group stuff, some decompressing. Don't apologize--that will make it soind liek a bad thing when it isn't--and don't budge. 



Most of the time, my husband will not accompany me on road trips to see my family. Average time of trip: 5.5 hours. He says he hates driving. When he does see my family, he gets along with them fine. But we have two small children, and handling them both is a hassle, but I do it, because I want to see my brother and sisters and family. I don't like that I have to do it, but again, it's worth it for me. That's the background. So this past weekend, my husband is on the phone with his brother and sister, and as I listen, they plan this epic road trip that starts in Pennsylvania with a stop in Ohio and ending in Michigan! And I'm listening to him talk about this, and he's so excited and he just ropes me right in for this road trip. It's pretty petty of me, I admit, but I want to just say: "I don't feel like taking a road trip!" just so he can see what it feels like to deal with two small children by himself and not have your spouse there when your family is asking about him. Is it unfair to expect him to join me on road trips, too? If you say I'm being childish, I'll keep my mouth shut, but to me, it feels like he only wants to go on trips when it's on his terms.

By strict bean-counting accounting, you can't ditch this road trip to get even because it's just one that he's proposing (apparently the first ever?), vs. apparently fairly common ones to see your family.

And in the more general area of bean counting, bean counting is just a terrible idea. Either state your problem with the status quo, or figure out some way to embrace it. The in-between, where you say nothing and allow your anger to accumulate, it a marriage-killer--even when it seems like the issue is too small to merit that kind of power.

Meanwhile, the issue (if I read you correctly) isn't so much that you want him to come with you for the sake of it, but instead that you are worn out by traveling solo with both kids.

So I wonder: Why don't you address all these points with one tweak to your common practice: Instead of alweays traveling solo with both kids, why don't you mix it up, and travel, say, once with both kids, once with no kids, once with Kid 1 and once with Kid 2, and once with everyone--on a permanent rotation? If that's not enough of your husband's presence, then maybe this, on a six-trip rotation:

All four of you;

You and Kid 1;

You and Kid 2;

All four of you;

You alone;

You with both kids.

That way, you'll not only spread out fairly the occasions where each of you is alone with both kids, but also each of you will have a chance to nurture a closer bond with one child at a time.

Yes? No? Maybe?






My husband and I have a group of friends, and most of us are taking a group vacation soon. After we agreed to go (and made all the arangements), we found out that one couple was exlcuded from the trip. Apparently 2 of our "friends" have a problem with the wife. The organizer was well intentioned but oblivious to the fact that this was not ok. My husband and I invited the excluded couple on a separate trip, but what on earth do we say to them when they find out they were not invited? Should we pretend it never happened? What if they ask?

Presumably you said something to the couple doing the organizing/excluding, since you got their answer about their dislike for the wife in the other couple. What did you intend to accomplish by bringing it up to them--register your disapproval? Change their minds toward inclusion? Float the idea of your withdrawing from the trip in protest?

You need to handle your position honestly--that's how you best serve your friendship with the excluded couple.

Normally I lean toward not covering up but also not going out of your way to tell a difficult truth. However, in this case, I can envision that finding out about this trip (as they will, no doubt) will put the excluded ones in a terrible position. They will feel stung, but also loath to bring it up--which will then leave them without knowledge of who left them out and who would have included them. Wouldn't you want to know, in their place, that not everyone huddled together and decided they weren't wanted?

This puts you at a different crossroads. If you still want to go on this trip, then you have to own that. "It was their trip to plan, though I was disappointed you two weren't included." If you would have backed out but had already put down nonrefundable money, then you say that. If you're to the point where you don't want to be a party to another couple's inclusion, then you pull out of the trip.

The bonus in the last choice is that you then don't need to tell the excluded couple anything about the trip. They'll find out it happened, no doubt, but also figure out you weren't there, which will let them know the same information--i.e., the fact of your loyalty to them--that you otherwise would have had to spell out.

I'm struggling to express myself clearly here, so I hope this makes sense. 

Hello Carolyn, I liked your answer this past week about the boyfriend who couldn't get past the girlfriend's sexual past. I would like to offer one thought, though. She wrote that he was upset that she wouldn't do things with him that she had done in the past. I think it is cruel to tell a current SO, "I used to do that, but I won't do it with you." In my 30s (I'm in my 40s now) I had a girlfriend tell me she used to perform oral sex and enjoyed it a lot, but wouldn't do it for me because she thought of me as a potential husband and "wives and mothers just don't do that." That was just mean. "Yeah, I like it, I know you'd like it, but I won't do it for you." If you don't want to do something, just say no, don't say you used to do it but you won't anymore.

Thanks for the post.

A couple of things: First, we don't know that the LW handled the information that way. She could have said, "I know from a past relationship that I'm uncomfortable with X." Remember, in my answer I addressed the TMI issue, so while I would reduce that statement to the detail-free, "I'm not comfortable with X," it's not automatically "mean" or "cruel" to indicate you've closed a door on a past behavior.

Second, I'd argue that while your ex-girlfriend's comment was a howler, it wasn't mean so much as a massive favor to you. That's true whenever someone exposes a world view that (a) affects you directly in a significant way and (b) is seriously warped. She drew (or draws, I suppose, but with someone else now) some sexual lines that strike me as both arbitrary and sharply judgmental. Misogynist, too. The best time to find that out about someone is as soon as possible. The best way to find that out is as plainly stated as possible. 

Forget doing you a favor; she gave you a gift.

So, maybe we can agree on this: If you have overly sexually detailed reasons for not doing something anymore, then keep that to yourself, but if you have philosophical reasons, then spell those puppies out. Sooner the better.


Hi Carolyn (and friends), After a string of really tough jobs (long hours, no boundaries, bullies in charge, territoriality), I've been offered a position in that seems like it has potential to be both challenging AND sane.  But the job is located in DC, and I've lived here for 10 years now. My family is in New England, and since my dad passed away a few years ago, it's been my goal to move back up there to be closer to them. I'm not finding much work there in my field, however--certainly not work that pays what I need to make given my student loans. Deciding between my career and my desire to be close to my family is difficult for me. It's made even more challenging because I can't seem to weigh my options without considering where I'm more likely to find a relationship. I'm in my mid-30s and hoping to get married and have children sooner rather than later. I'm having a hard time believing I'll meet someone in this city. I know that I can't predict when or where I will meet someone, and I need to live my life in a way that makes me happy regardless, but I don't know what will be more fulfilling for me. I suppose what I'm asking is--how do I prioritize between my career (almost certainly going further here in DC) and my desire to be close to my family? And how do I disassociate this marriage/baby countdown clock from my other decisions? I can't control it, so it shouldn't play a role in my decision-making, but every time I consider my options it seems to loom over everything. Thanks!

Brain clutter is making your job choice difficult.

You need a job to support yourself, yes?

You have not found a job up north that supports you, yes?

So, you take the offered job, and see where that takes you, while continuing to keep an eye out for jobs in your location of choice.

Hi Carolyn, I'm a 19-year-old college student. I attend a university close to home and often visit home on the weekends, because I value my relationships with my family (especially my much-younger siblings). I will likely have to live at home during the next school year for financial reasons. My brother is...well, a teenager. He's often extremely mean to my parents. In particular, he gets angry at them and says they're awful/horrible/he hates them when they are strict about his grades and schoolwork (which I have come to realize is genuinely loving and kindly meant). Worse, he's extremely dismissive and angry when my mother gives him presents (something she loves to do). Every time he does this, he makes her cry, scaring my other siblings (ages 9 and 6) and infuriating me. Logically, I understand that it's hormones, that the teenage years are challenging, and all that. Emotionally, though, I can't handle this. Not only do I get angry at him in the midst of the situation (making the whole thing worse), I end up furious with him and have trouble forgiving him or treating him kindly even later. How can I get over this so that I still care about my brother at the end of it?

From the safe and comfortable distance of my desk, the problem here seems to be that your mother is trying to raise your brother the way she raised you, when he's a different kind of kid. If nothing else, she needs to lay off the gifts; making herself feel better is a lousy priority for a parent to have, especially when she is in possession of solid data that her actions are making her son feel worse.

This observation is about as relevant to your situation as broadcasters' play-by-play is to the outcome of a game, but it seems worth mentioning.

Plus, your mother is the adult and so, presumably, more capable of hearing constructive suggestions from a bystander to her drama with her son. Talk to your mom, and float the idea that while you benefitted from your parents' childrearing methods, maybe Brother needs to be handled in a different, more hands-off way.

And then--at the risk of inducing advisory whiplash--please find a way to get yourself out of the middle of this. Maybe the money issue can't be solved, but I hope you've exhausted all possibilities of getting assistance from your school, and/or finding affordable housing. This battle between brother and parents is not your battle to fight, and so being this invested emotionally is not good for you. There are ways to stay involved without getting sucked in--for example, alone time with your brother, alone time with your younger sibs, etc.

Even if there's no way out of moving home, I still suggest making the campus your center of emotional gravity, and treating your home time as a means to an end. It will be difficult, but if you prepare ahead of time to draw certain lines on how you will and won't get involved, then that will make it easier for you to stay out of the middle of it all.

the real issue isn't that she's tired of traveling alone. It's that she travels alone because her husband LIED about the reason why he won't join her. IMO it's not about bean counting at all. It's about truth and lies. And lies are marriage killers.

I went back and re-read the question, and I'm not comfortable with the LIE label. I think the question itself got it right--that he's okay with it now that it's on his terms.

And I guess I'm more sympathetic to the idea that something genuinely unappealing can then genuinely become appealing when it involves fun payoffs (cool destinations vs. in-laws), and special guest stars (adult sibs who presumably don't see each other much?). So, going after him as LYING would be a divisive wedge where sympathy would probably accomplish more.

"I get that you're excited about road-tripping with Brother and Sister--heck, even I got swept up in the idea--but now I'm having a bad aftertaste. All this time I've traveled solo with the kids to see my family because you 'hate' driving. It's just not sitting right with me, so I wanted to air it and not let it fester."

Loving the vacation theme of the chat so far. Stress and drama and all, it's happy news to know that summer is coming.

Plus, John Candy doesn't make nearly enough chat appearances, considering the role he played in my formative years. And that I'm very big in Sheboygan.

Disclaimer: I am not being paid by Disney, I am no longer a travel agent. As a former travel professional, I strongly advise you go on the Disney website and check out everything. You can take a virtual tour of the hotels, the parks, the restaurants, etc. They have a new pass program that is supposed to eliminate the stress of the long lines in the heat. They have frequently asked questions that you will find helpful. In other words, do you homework BEFORE you get into it with your sister in law. With the knowledge base of the resort and parks, you can go over the itinerary and easily shape it to what you want and need.

The info overload can be overwhelming (I found it more so than the parks themselves) but you're right on, thank you.

I can think of plenty of things I tried in previous sexual relationships that I wouldn't do now--and it's for precisely the reasons Hax suggests. I don't need to go into dirty deets to explain why I'm not comfortable doing X, Y, and Z acts from my past (particularly because there are some things you find out are really not your bag b doing them). If someone told me that they'd done it before but weren't comfortable doing it anymore, I'd respect that. And if someone told me I was being cruel by not giving up all the same sexual favors of previous relationships... Well, I don't owe my current partner all the sexual experiences of my past, that smacks of something really ugly to me.


Sometimes an older sibling saying to a younger one, " you're acting like a jerk," can be very effective. Don't ask how I know this.

Heh. Deal.

If you can't take Hax's advice and steer clear, here's a soliloquoy to help remind yourself of perspective and maybe help others, when teen bro goes apesh**t and ma cries, (in everyone's earshot) : "OK, OK, 9 and 6 yr old bros, this isn't armageddon; Teen bro is just being a jerk, and he knows it, and mom knows it, and they're gonna be OK. Just some people have to occasionally act like jerks when they're teenagers. Not everyone. You don't have to act like this when you're teenagers." Repeat as needed. Teen bro will get sick of hearing it and maybe tone it down. Ma will be reminded of perspective and effect on younger kids. You will remind yourself you don't have to fix this. Good luck.

More excellence, thanks.

Hi Carolyn! I'm the chick who wrote to you last month about my bad experience with my first kiss and I wanted to give you and the Nuts a quick update. I was all set to take your advice and talk about it with him and be assertive in what my comfort levels were. And then it all fell apart literally the next day. We went to the movies and he was a jerk: complained for 30 minutes when I said I didn't really care for popcorn (he bought a giant tub for both of us without asking if I wanted any), made obnoxious and loud comments during the previews, and made racist jokes while we were leaving. I was pretty fed up with him, and apparently he felt the same way about me because that was the last I heard from him. So that was that, onward and upward, etc! Thank you and everyone else who commented for your lovely and helpful advice--it almost made me cry reading it. Hopefully I can put it into practice in the future!

This also works as a bulletin. If you're dating a racist with strong opinions about popcorn and previews, beware: Bad kisser. Thanks.

My mother-in-law repeatedly tells my 4-year-old daughter she is superior to other children. Yes, she uses that word, says it with a serious, straight face and takes care to explain what it means. What's up with that? My offspring is indeed very bright, but I don't see what is gained by telling her she's awesome and her peers are not. Grandma is great in all other respects, so I've put up with this so far. My husband thinks it's no big deal and that I should chill. Should I?

I think your husband is wrong, but if he won't cooperate then your options are pretty limited. 

I suggest you, then your husband, then your MIL read chapters 1 and 5 of "NurtureShock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Better to go wild and read the whole thing, but I'm assuming your MIL at least will be hostile or just closed to some of its ideas, and in that case keeping the assignment short will improve the chances that she'll get the message. 

That message being, for those not interested in a reading assignment: When kids hear repeatedly that they're wonderful, it actually inhibits their willingness to try hard and risk failure, and instead of building up their self-esteem, has the inverse effect of eroding it. Reading up on this would actually help with today's column issue, too. The bigger book to look into (on the Chapter 1 topic) is Carol Dweck's "Mindset."

But, that's getting a but ahead of myself. After you and your husband read it, you two should talk. I think it's important to challenge his "no big deal" with some evidence that it is, in fact, worth choosing this battle. Good luck.

The real issue is this: " I want to just say: "I don't feel like taking a road trip!" just so he can see what it feels like to deal with two small children by himself and not have your spouse there when your family is asking about him. " You know what kills marriages more than bean-counting, and more than lying? Making decisions purely on the basis of how much pain/discomfort you can inflict on your spouse. (Expecting your spouse to read your mind is on the list too. Yes, it's hard to reciprocate taking the kids by yourself when your spouse agrees to go on the road trip) And speaking of lying? She said "yes" to her husband, and now is saying "no" to Carolyn. Maybe work on that too.

Fair nuff and very well said, though I do put this under the bean-counting umbrella ...

It's really really easy to tell someone about things you used to do even if you won't do them now. People ask. Particularly people you're in a relationship with. Particularly people who have been asking about your sexual past. It's really easy to go from "How many people have you been with?" to "Have you ever done [insert specific sex act here]?" And what are you supposed to do, lie? Just because you know it's something you have no interest in doing again? That seems stupid. If anything is cruel, it's asking your partner about their sexual past and then holding it against them when they're honest about their preferences.

A wholehearted yes to the last sentence, though the "And what are you supposed to do, lie?" strikes me as disingenuous, or at least short-sighted. You can say, always, "I don't think it's a good idea to get into a show-and-tell on our pasts. We're adults. Our experiences brought us to each other. I'm comfortable with that and hope you are too."

And if s/he's not, then you need to ask yourself why someone is asking about your sexual past. This whole bit--"People ask. Particularly people you're in a relationship with. Particularly people who have been asking about your sexual past"--is something I warn strongly against taking as a given. And I think asking, "How many people have you been with?" is tantamount to wearing a sign that says, "I'm immature, feel threatened easily and am best not treated as a romantic partner until I grow up a bit." I'm long on the record with that one.

Hey, my mom did the same thing! When my kids were literally less than six months old! Since it was my mom and not my MIL, I just tackled it myself. "I dunno, Mom. Their hand-eye coordination is terrible; we have had zero luck getting them to clean up after themselves; they show no indication of retaining the multivariable calc that Husband is trying to teach them. They can't even talk. Frankly, so far, they're a big disappointment." She knew it was tongue-in-cheek, but after three or four of those types of responses, she stopped making the remarks. (If she had continued, I'd have stopped treating it like the joke that it halfway was.)


Rest assured that I'm punching myself in the neck for pointing this out, but if sibling is speaking directly to 9 and 6 year old bros, it's a monologue, not a soliliquoy. The latter implies a deliberate disregard for the presence or absence of an audience.

A handy memory aid (link).

I'm the LW re: daughter and the bragging friend. Just to clarify, my daughter brought up the "na-na na na-na, I got an A" issue to me on the ride home from school a few times, so I thought I'd get some viewpoints on the subject. Boy did I! Thanks for the responses. Some resonated, some didn't, yet appreciate the food for thought. Do appreciate the tips on not providing her with a 'script.' Thanks to those of you who didn't make me wrong for wanting to help, and didn't accuse me of middle-school behavior, or over-coaching. But hey, I asked for advice and I got it. Fair enough.

Thanks for writing back. I hope it proves useful despite its unwelcome package.

Hi Carolyn, I have a baby on the way, and am finally starting to show. This means that the upcoming baby/babies in general becomes a conversation topic at group gatherings. As someone who has been childless & mostly disinterested in babies her whole life, it was always kind of annoying when this conversation topic took over things like: book groups, other people's birthday lunches, dinner parties etc. Now that I'm showing, I'm often the source of these conversations, and while I'm happy to answer people's questions, I would still prefer to talk about other things. I find myself feeling awkward at being the center of attention, and almost certainly boring other people. I feel rude trying to redirect, so mostly I just answer the questions, or if it's my turn to contribute, try to steer topics back to other people. Is there anything else I can do w/o seeming rude?

Redirection is actually the polite way to tell others you don't want to discuss something. Please do feel free to give people a quick or breezy answer and then change the subject.

Sorry for all the white space. I've been looking for something quick to end on but everything I have in my queue is a long answer waiting to happen. One more try ...

Hi Carolyn, I suspect I may have submitted this question in the wrong place, so re-asking (and abridging a bit, ha!). Basically, ended up at the bar last night with only a guy I've been seeing casually for about a year (who is also a friend), and his ex (they were together for a very long time and broke up several years ago), whom I also know and with whom he is close. They had a benign disagreement that escalated into being pretty personal and mean. I took a walk to the restroom, and when I came back they were quiet for a moment and acknowledged me, then continued their fight, which by that point was about the reasons for their breakup and was ugly and intense. I stood nearby for a minute and then left quietly. Honestly, even as a totally disinterested third party I think I would have been upset by witnessing their fight -- I definitely left with a stomach ache and still feel icky about it. I haven't heard from either of them today. I expected/hoped for not an apology, exactly, but an acknolwedgement of the awkwardness. Assuming I don't get that, should I say something to him? If so, what? Seems like the kinder thing might be to just realize they're likely embarassed and let it go, but is there any value in my trying to clear the air? Thanks!!

Off the cuff, I think you sit back and wait to see what he does. Sounds as if these two aren't completely through with each other yet. Plus, if nothing else, both have underperforming situation sensors, which should have told them to take this fight somewhere else and at some other time. 

Anyway, I'd give the thing time to rest, and see not only whether and when he gets in touch with you again, but also what he says about the fight. If he says nothing, then you get to say, "Okay, what was that about the other night?" The exact detail of what he says doesn't matter so much as the fact of his being upfront about it. If he's not, then that's when I think you need to treat it as an issue.

Oright, must go. Thanks everyone for stopping by, and thanks Jess for great producing as usual and for some extra tech advice on the fly. Have a great weekend and see you here next Friday. 

Durnit--meant to add this in the chat. "Buttering up" most often gets a question ruled out, since posting someone's praise makes me feel self-congratulatory. Just an FYI.

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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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