Chip, Chuckles and Chaz: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, May 30)

May 30, 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

Hello! After yet another inbox tempest this morning, I'm retroactively declaring this Poke the Bear week.

I've stopped watching television news in part because I think they're all biased, but mostly because it's really distressing to see how messed up everything is and how cruel people are to each other. So I get most of my news from the Post. I can't tell if it's me or news, but the Post is increasingly upsetting as well. I won't list all of the horrible things on the main page today, but wow, it just makes me want to curl up under my desk and read P.G. Wodehouse novels. Yet I still want to be a knowledgeable citizen of the world. How do I do that when the majority of the headlines make me want to cry or drink poison?

This probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but it's okay to take mini-vacations from the news. 

I also recommend the curated-feed method. There are so many ways now to tailor X platform to filter your headlines for you. Obviously this has a bad side, since it encourages echo-chamber reinforcement, where you only read/hear/watch material that reinforces your biases. But if you exercise some discipline, you can get podcasts or Twitter or Facebook or The Post to deliver a selection of headlines that keep you up-to-date on the issues you believe are necessary for a knowledgeable citizen, sans obvious bias, but that spare you from exposure to the hideous death du jour that upsets you terribly while edifying you not at all.

I recently started dating a man whom I really like, and the feeling is mutual. I haven't felt this connected to someone in years, but there is a big--gigantic, even--red flag waving right in my face and I don't know what to do. For all of his wonderful qualities, he and I do not feel the same way about having children; he wants them, and I very much do not. We have been dating less than a month, so we are still just getting to know one another, and while the topic has come up and I've said that I do not want kids, I don't think he really believes me because he makes jokes about surrogacy, adoption, or having a nanny raise the kids for us. I feel like it's too soon in this relationship to seriously get into such a deep and touchy subject (which is why I haven't pressed the issue), but I worry that we're wasting our time because it's ultimately a deal-breaker. Do I let things play out awhile and see if there is actually long-term potential before hashing this out? Or do I need to nip this in the bud now before either of us gets more attached?

"I don't think he really believes me because he makes jokes about surrogacy, adoption, or having a nanny raise the kids for us." This is your opening, and your obligation, to be clear: "You're making jokes, but I think it's important that you know I'm very serious. If it's kids or bust for you, then I'm not the one."

If both of you enjoy each other's company enough, and can see the value in fun-while-it-lasts companionship, then there's no reason this has to be the end of your friendship. You just need to end the phase of wishful thinking on the kid topic, assuming there is some.

Carolyn, I am faced with a terminally ill parent and a large, loud, gossipy extended family, all of whom are very easily offended and all of whom handle death in a way that my parents, siblings, our spouses and I find distressing and distasteful. As social media becomes more and more present in our lives, the last few passings in the clan have been announced online by family members within minutes of the death. I hate finding out this way. Everyone also "talks" to the person who died via their Facebook walls, and continues to address the deceased in present tense on the anniversary of their death and what would be their birthday. I know I can't orchestrate how people grieve, and if this brings them comfort that's their business, but I can't think of very much that's more depressing than having to see, year after year, them online and addressing my parent as if s/he is still alive. Is there any way to convey that we would prefer things to be done the old-fashioned way, and would like to not only break the news ourselves, via phone calls, but also prefer things to be private and tasteful and mostly offline? Or are we wrong and not "with it" ? Is there a way to say, hey, thanks for remembering, but it's really freaking creepy that you're talking to them - how about giving my living parent a call?

You can't control what other people do. You can only control how you release your news, and to some degree how you receive it. That degree is through limiting your exposure to sources you find upsetting. If you don't like hearing things from your relatives on FB, for example, then you take them out of your feed (or just stop using FB altogether). It's not perfect, but one click wipes out about 90 percent of the problem, and when does that ever happen.

To take it a step further, their offense is not your problem, as long as you are warm and civil and careful to include everyone using a form of communication you're comfortable using. For example, if you update everyone by phone, then, sure, they're entitled to get offended that you didn't use FB, but you are also entitled to see that as their problem, not yours. 

I'm sorry about your parent. It really is okay just to X this social-media concern off what must be a full list.

Hi Carolyn, My sister is twelve years younger than me and is six months pregnant at age 35. I have one 22 year old son and as much as I love being his mother, am looking forward to finally being able to do a lot of the things I put off while he was at home and in college. As the only sibling, I have a feeling that she is going to ask me and my husband to be the godparents of her child, which I don't want to do for two reasons: 1. we are not religious in any sense of the word and 2. as much as I love my sister, I do not want to raise another child. (I know that's not the 'definition' of a godparent but it appears that most people, including my sister, equate 'godparent' with 'guardian' these days). Is this incredibly selfish of me and should I just agree because I am her only sibling (her husband is an only child) or is there a way to gently suggest that someone closer to her age would be a more appropriate choice? I have every intention of being very involved in my new niece or nephew's life. I just can't imagine being a parent again at my age if the unthinkable were to happen.

I don't think anyone should be a parent who is wholly uninterested in being one. So, being true to yourself here is important, even if it will get you tagged as selfish. (It will--I know this from a past bear-poking episode where I backed a sibling's decision to say no to a request to be the worst-case-scenario parent of record.)

Thing is, though, this doesn't mean you have to say no to the godparent request. You can be honest with your sib and say you're not sure you'll be the godparent she wants, given your absence of religion and your desire to be child-free. However, you can be the child's guardian in the sense of choosing this better-than-yours home in the event of the unthinkable, managing finances and legal issues, etc. More like a fairy godmother than a substitute mother--you're there to float above and oversee.

I am not engaged, but I know he has a ring bought. So I did some research and found my perfect wedding venue: not expensive, halfway between his family and mine, lodging on site, in the woods. . . I got all excited about it and told a girlfriend of mine. She has been engaged for over a year and they have been waiting to get money saved up before planning the ceremony. Well, she BOOKED MY VENUE! My boyfriend has a good long-standing friendship with her fiance, so I know we will be invited to the event, but I do not want to go. Now I don't want to be friends with her, and am torn about whether or not I even want to use the same place. My ceremony will be extremely small with no one outside of family invited, so it's not like I'd have to worry about her being there. But I just feel like the place will lose some of its magic for me if I go to a wedding there before mine. So I guess my questions are: do you think I can be happy using the same venue that she stole out from under me? Do I need to choose somewhere else? Am I required to go to the wedding as my b/f's date even if I'm absolutely livid about what she did?

My oldest sister had her reception in my parents' back yard.

My next-oldest sister had her reception in my parents' back yard.

I had my (first) reception in my parents' back yard.

My next-next oldest sister had her reception in my dad's back yard.

None of the weddings was less magical for the fact of the others.

Now, I get this isn't directly analogous, since having generations of kids named Charles, Charles Jr., and cousins Chip, Chuckles and Chaz is a matter of inclusion whereas having your best friend who's due a month before you name her newborn girl Charlie just as you told her you always wanted to do if you had a girl is a blindside hit, an offense that's hard to forgive (as are having a Chip, Chuckles and Chaz ... but I digress).

But there is overlap worth considering now that you're in this spot: Uniqueness, when it comes to human experience, is a fiction we tell ourselves. Maybe in combination the elements of your life amount to something one-of-a-kind, but you can be pretty sure that each of the elements is something someone has owned, done, claimed, crowed about before. So you can drive yourself bonkers trying to hunt down elements that are at least unique to your FB feed, or you can decide that your experience has value in its value to you.

If you love this venue, then book this venue. Your friend's wedding will be different because it's your friend's. (Chip, Chuckles and Chaz will be different because their parents will dress them all in matching madras for Cousin Photos and they will be scarred by this into various forms of adult acting out.)

I think your point is one that people often forget - as a parent, you aren't necessarily dooming someone to raising your child, but rather saying hey, I trust you the most to make these decisions, whether that's you taking in my kids or deciding where they go. I think sometimes people get caught up in "OMG I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THESE KIDS." And, hopefully, it's never an issue, but good to have it settled.

Exactly, thanks.

This also may not be what you're looking for, but for me, finding a comedian/humorist that can help me laugh about how messed our world is, is helpful. For 9/11 it was Aaron McGruder (the Boondocks), for the Iraq War it was John Stewart and Steven Colbert, etc. The laughter somehow opens me up to feel the sadness and anger more deeply without it overwhelming me with grief.

Such a good point, thanks, and why I have The Onion on my feed.

Hi Carolyn, How can get away from this idea that I am unlovable until I lose weight? I know I'm nice, doing loads of cool stuff, give good email, etc. Yet I won't even flirt or consider boys as possibilities because I need to lose 20 lbs. It feels, logically, ridiculous and sad. I can't shake it. Any help??

Tuning out the negative internal messages on body image is one of the more difficult emotional challenges people face--and I'm defining difficult as something that's hard to eliminate despite having all the elements in place that we commonly view as necessary for change: awareness of the problem, commitment to change, sympathy for others in the same position, a logical and multifaceted plan of attack.

So, I'm going to kick this to Philes (thanks, Jess). I think a range of answers might be more interesting and ultimately more useful than one answer from me and a couple of follow-ups. 

My opinion, to get things started: I think the answer is in the "sympathy for others in the same position." You're probably harder on yourself than others would be, and than you would be on someone just like you. Cultivating the forgiveness you show others will ultimately help you. I also think that it helps to make sure  some of that "cool stuff" you do is unabashedly physical, like dancing or biking or building things. Putting your body to work tends to improve your opinion of it significantly.

Here's the Hax Philes where you can share your own suggestions:

Kinda shocked you didn't tell her to get over herself. Because, Really?

Thought I did, in my way.

But I also did sympathize to a degree where apparently not many did. To use another analogy, imagine saying you loved a dress and then your friend, without saying boo to you, went out and bought the same one for herself. If it's an H&M dress, whatever, and anyone upset about it would get a weird look and a "Get over yourself." But if it were a dress carefully shopped for and picked out for the purpose of self-expression, I think most people would look at the friend and say, "Really? You had to go out and buy the exact same dress I was excited about and spent hours picking out, without saying something to me first?" The answer ultimately is going to be to get over oneself, because it's just a thing, but a little sympathy would be in order, as well as recognition that someone pouncing on your venue/name/dress is legitimately off-putting. 

I could have been the man in this question. Twenty-five years ago, I was in a really good relationship with a woman who didn't want kids and I very much did. When it came time to fish or cut bait, it was a deal-breaker for me, and we ended the relationship. And now, twenty-five years later? I never found another relationship that was as good, and never had kids. So I guess I'd suggest that you not end it now, and give it a chance to see if one of you changes your mind as to whether this admittedly serious disagreement is worth ending a potentially good relationship. (Yeah, addressing his "jokes" is certainly worth doing, to make him understand that your position is a serious one.)

I don't have words, except thank you.

Is there a way to get this across to people? I'm 32, my husband is 37. We've been married six years, together for 12. When we first got married, my mom was on my case about having kids, despite knowing that I always said I didn't want one. Then I got a few blissful years of silence on the subject, but now she's kicking it into high gear even though my feelings haven't changed one bit. The worst part is that my friends are all having babies and there are pictures of me on social media holding babies or playing with little kids, which my mom seems to read as me actually secretly wanting kids but just not having them to spite her. I enjoy kids just fine, I just don't want to parent one. is there any way to get her to stop harrassing me about it? I feel bad for spoiling her chance of being a grandma (I'm an only child), but as I've told her, if that was her endgame, she should have had more kids to improve her odds.

The kindness of this is essential--if you say it angry it's a threat, vs a necessary nudge to the next square, whatever that is:

"Mom--you want grandchildren, I know, I know. I am not going to have them though.

"It's not about you in any way, and it's also not open for discussion, so no amount of pressure will change my mind. If you do keep up the constant pressure, though, what will happen is that I start avoiding you just to get away from the subject, and away from someone who doesn't respect my right to live my own life. If that happens, you still won't have grandchildren, but you also won't have me, either. I can't imagine you want this. I sure don't, but I can't think of any other way to stop the harassment at this point--unless you choose to stop it."

It's a lot like the boundary you draw with an addict.

Hi Carolyn! My healthy-enough-to-travel 70-yo father just told my mother that he doesn't feel like taking a trip to see me. They've visited me at least annually for 20 years and it's something we all look forward to, or at least that's what I thought. After I got over the initial sting of rejection by realizing it wasn't personal, my emotions ran from concern (he's becoming more and more of a shut in), to annoyance ("he's just being lazy", "he would flip if I don't visit them as planned later this summer"), to helplessness ("what can I realistically do from 250 miles away?"). Can you give me some tips for sorting myself out, especially so that I don't do-loop back to annoyance/rejection, which isn't a healthy place to be??

I know this is one of the hardest resting states to sustain, but what suits this situation best is a wait-and-see mind set. Your father could be just a normal slowing-down 70, he could have a health or mental-health issue that's just starting to announce itself, he could be in the middle of a tiring stretch of life right now and back to eager traveling after a month or two to catch his breath. And if he is just lazy--don't we all have that right sometimes? Sure, it's not fair to be lazy and skip a visit only to scold others for skipping visits, but even then, you can look at that and say to yourself, "Whatever, Dad," and shake it off.

So, keep living your life as you see fit and grant him leeway to do the same; overrule your impulses to respond emotionally; and keep an eye open to whatever comes next.

My wife and I have been married almost 6 years. The first few years were financially rough. We had a really tough time finding jobs but somehow we made it through the first tough years, constantly negotiating and sacrificing. Eventually I got a job transfer to DC finally getting into the field I wanted, and she got into a really great graduate program in another state and moved back in with her parents. We are three quarters through her degree program and our relationship is falling apart. Things started to get rough when during her second semester she took on too much and became very overwhelmed and stressed. At the same time, I began a part time graduate program and finally obtained the job in the field I had been trying for since leaving the service. In the last few months things have gotten really terrible. When she comes home for the weekend the house is never clean enough, the dog never trained enough, and I am not excited enough that she is home. If I want to watch a show, I’m lazy and don’t want to spend time with her.With school, the new job and relationship worries I have let stress eating get the better of me and packed on an extra 20lbs. Now that she is home for the summer every plate of food is scrutinized, every calorie commented on, and all intimacy halted. Can this ship still float, or is it time to head for dry land and run the ship aground?

Please find yourselves a good, reputable marriage workshop or seminar, and get to work. 

Over the years, I've asked therapists to recommend widely available resources, and they've identified Gottman workshops (link) as well as the programs available through Smart Marriages (link), though the latter will apparently steer you away from the "run the ship aground" option where I prefer to recommend more neutral (and nonprofit) resources.

Since you're in D.C., you might also be near enough The Women's Center (link) to take advantage of what they offer.

Wherever you end up, look mainly for two things in your marriage counseling: a worldview that aligns well with yours, and a safe place that gets you and your wife talking. It sounds as if your misunderstandings have clogged all channels, and sent you both retreating into self-interest and away from the common good. It's reversible but you both need to be willing to find ways to trust each other again. Good luck. 

Can I make a public service announcement? I got married last September and I remember getting all those questions about "how does it feel to be married?!" (with excited expectant look on face) and at the time all I could think of was "about the same as it did to be in a committed relationship...?" (with inquisitive look on face). But honestly, now that we're on the other side of it, both my husband and I have talked it over and agree that it was slightly miserable for the first few months. It didn't feel different right away, but it did over the first few weeks and it's not something you can place your finger on what exactly is different, but it is very much different. Personally, we didn't communicate well, we had more fights in three months than we did in our three years of dating, and i just kept thinking to myself "honeymoon phase?! THIS is the honeymoon phase?! What have I done??" and slowly but surely we got back to better communication and back to meeting the other's needs and I would say nine months after the wedding, we're a month or so into our own honeymoon phase, thankfully before we take our honeymoon in July. All that to say, I really wish someone would've told me that it would be okay if you got back from the wedding and things were different. And that they may or may not be gleeful. And you will have doubts. And you still probably did the right thing and chose the right person and the right person chose you. And it doesn't mean you should get a divorce or that your marriage was doomed from the outset. I've since talked to a few married friends and they all said the same thing about when they first got married. I don't know if people feel like that would be a downer or what...but I really wish someone would've said something, anything, to let me know that the honeymoon phase isn't a given for everyone and it might not be there right away and that if that's how it goes, it's okay and it gets better if you work at it.

Yes to the PSA, obviously, and thanks. I think it will resonate with many.

In fact, I'm coming up on a Reader Advice week (late June-early July). If anyone has a point to make, a bone to pick, a soapbox to climb, an old saw to refurbish, hit me: or submit it here but flag me somehow so I don't miss it. Thanks.

Hi Carolyn, Here's my situation: I'm 34. I usually prefer to just spend my free time with my SO of 9 years. I also have a small core of very close friends, and about twice a month, we have dinner/drinks with these friends. I'm an introvert, so I don't like large outings or parties, but will attend a few each year. But that means that I was turning down many events (e.g. game nights) and parties that I was being invited to. After a couple of events were cancelled due to low interest level among the people being invited, I started feeling guilty about doing saying "no," so I've been going to more events out of obligation. I guess I wanted to communicate to less-close friends and acquaintances that I care about them. That doesn't make the events any more bearable or fun. I find myself wondering why I'm doing things I don't want to do. My thinking is this (since I never organize large parties, group events): People who like to plan and organize group events generally do so because that's just the way they have fun, right? So, even though I prefer to connect with these people in my life in ways that are less stressful to me, I should continue to suck-it-up and attend some events to support their preferences, right?

"Should" is such a loaded word.

Meeting friends halfway is the most basic way to keep friends. Since it's probably safe to assume that not everyone would see your first choice (quiet dinner/drinks) as their first choice for socializing, it makes sense that you'd agree to others' first choice sometimes, even if it drains you.

That said, going out of guilt seems to be taking it too far. "I want to show this person I care," yes; "... or else I will beat myself up for not going"? I don't think your friends would want to be the source of those feelings.

Why should the LW "wait and see"? If s/he's so close to pops, why not pick up the phone and ask why he doesn't feel like visiting? Seems like that would be easiest, and odds are about 99.9% that it has nothing to do with how he feels about LW, especially given that LW knows he'd be upset if s/he didn't visit.

Yes, call. While it is easiest, though, it's possible they're not so close, especially given OP's reaction. It's also possible pops wouldn't tell or wouldn't be able to tell the whole story. 

My mother (also in her 70s) visits regularly but the first time she turned down an invitation I was surprised. She's a widow and I had this view of her just sitting around the house missing my father and going to the occasional prayer group and waiting to visit me so she could dote on her grandkids. She's actually very active, travels to visit a lot of other friends, has a lot of friends visit her and occasionally just needs a break. I took me awhile to realize that.

Yep. Retirement is time not at a job, so it's freedom to do anything within (and right up to) physical and financial limits. 

The wedding venue question brought up a question of my own -- what's the best way, if any, to tell a friend that you're considering the name you gave their child for your own? My husband and I are expecting a baby in September, and we'd like to honor my father and his grandmother in the baby's name. Cultural expectations have whittled the available names down to two -- both of which were recently used by good friends for their children. (We've tried to find other names starting with the same initials without much luck.) I'd planned to email both friends to explain why we liked these names and to say a bit about the people we hope to honor. Is that appropriate? I'm not even sure they'll care that much, but I don't want them to feel blindsided if we end up using one (or both) of "their" names. If it helps, they're both very traditional and popular names -- we're not naming the kid Whistles McGillicuddy Smith, for example.

Seems to me an actual conversation is the best way, vs an email. Anyone else, any thoughts?

Yeah, but the other end of the spectrum is you could have stayed, and thought "What if" for the last 25 years. It's a sucky position no matter how you cut the cake. I was the one who wanted kids, knowing full well he didn't. I stayed. It took me 5 years to know for sure it was a deal breaker, and while I wouldn't change it if I could do it over (he was that relationship that all the stars aligned otherwise) I *know* that was the right decision after all. 'No kids' needs to lay all the cards on the table, and make sure the guy really understands he can't change your mind (I didn't, but was honestly really surprised by all the women I knew who thought I could change his mind) and you two need to decide together how to proceed. I promise you, you can't decide this for yourself without talking to him about it. You'll hem and haw over if for far to long, justifying each decision and he needs to know now if he's at all make reference to it.

Ah. These are the words I now wish I'd had. Thanks.

I second what Carolyn said about body movement for fun stuff. Can I endorse pole dancing? It's sexy and it builds strength and confidence. Upside is that you see all body types. We have women from 18 to 65 in my class (the 65 yr old is crazy strong) and all shapes and sizes. It teaches you to love your body, and allows you to be sexy in your own self. Bonus, it's a really fun conversation while dating!

Endorsed like a six-figure check. 

Hey... there's nothing wrong with having a Chip. - Chip's sister

Thought "Chuckles" would inoculate me against this, dagnabit.

[Cue the sound of three people named Chuckles typing furiously to register their displeasure.]

Is it normal that friends with kids, once they have kids, become harder to feel connected to for those of us not there? We all graduated college together, started getting jobs, married, etc. Now I'm the last of the group that doesn't have kids- and I have a hard time feeling connected anymore to those that had friends- because I don't know how to relate to their primary focus anymore and because it's so much harder to find time to try to just get together, and even harder to say "hey it'd be great if we could get together without your kids" just so that time is not being interrupted every few minutes by a needy child (whom I love their kids, but, need that to not be the onyl part of get togethers)

It's normal, but this is normal too: People with jerk tendencies keep those when they have kids, and people with non-jerk tendencies tend to keep those when they have kids. (as do their friends, coincidentally.)

The practical application being, someone with a me-centric world view will find it difficult to impossible to hear that you aren't as charmed by their precious offspring as they are, and will make you pay for your honesty. Someone on the less self-absorbed end of the scale will have no trouble remembering that being around other people's snot-encrusted impulse-control-challenged need factories is not everything you had hoped your Saturday night would be.

Plus, few people are so absorbed in their kids as to miss a judgmental subtext. (On the contrary; they've likely been subject to so much judging just during pregnancy alone that they pick it up at the cellular level.) If you are genuinely happy for your friends and you get why their attention has shifted from you in a fundamental and necessary way, then they will be much more likely to respond warmly to your request for a just-adults evening. "Hell, yes, I need one more than you do" is often how those responses go. But if your tone implies that your friends have lost all perspective and that when you have kids you'll be much more grounded oh and by the way your kids won't cry and will walk, talk, poop in the toilet and prefer broccoli by six months, max, then your request for a quiet cocktail will be as welcome as a loaded diaper after a day of peas and blueberries.

Balance helps, too. Put in a couple of hours helping them wrangle their monsters at the zoo, and you're good for at least a couple of invitations that require them to get a babysitter. As with everything else, everyone needs either to be flexible or to live with the results of not being so.

A LOT of things are hard at first. New jobs suck for the first 6 months or so. New babies are exhausting. New marriages take negotiation. Moving to a new place involves a lot of loneliness at first. People ask you "isn't it great" because they don't know how else to start conversation and because they have a romanticized view of something they experienced in the past or wish they were experiencing in the now. It's okay if your internal answer to that question is, "No, not right now" - find a couple of people who you can actually tell that to, and with the rest just smile and say, "Yeah."

The one difference re marriage is that often the relationship/living arrangement is exactly the same as before, so it's surprising for it to feel any different. New job and baby and location, there's a clear before and after that you can see coming.

But yea to the rest, thanks.

I'm a bit surprised no one has pointed out that having a deep serious conversation about Huge Relationship Potential Dealbreakers For Your True Soulmate less than a month after starting to date them seems, well, a bit odd? I mean, at that point I'm usually trying to figure out if there's anything on Netflix we both like, along with if my eating habits haven't scared them off. Maybe its just me, but couldnt she work on getting to know him first more than if he meets a checklist?

I'm not surprised. Conversations go where they go, and if they go into a serious place that has a big nonnegotiable wall at the end of it, then you deal with that--on day 1 or in year 10.

you know how I've solved this in a win-win way? I bring ingredients and we cook dinner together after the kiddos go to bed. I can help with bedtime and read a story or whatever, then we get to have adult time after, all without babysitter expenses. I think what I've found is that if you're flexible, you can get the best of all worlds!

And they get a great friend. And dinner. And the kids get another adult who cares about them. And you need to clone yourself. Thanks.

Wait, why would being married make a relationship worse? I don't get it.

Can we change "worse" to "more challenging"? Things that once felt small can feel big, because the conditions and therefore consequences have changed.

There's also the whole other issue, which the PSA wasn't talking about, of people who wait till marriage to reveal facets of themselves they had concealed in the interest of getting the marriage to happen. But, again, that's something else. 

So hey.

Hey yourself.

Our daughter's marriage is ending after 25 years. We have known our son-in-law since the two were teenagers, and we love him as a son. Our daughter is alleging that he has been abusive to her, but we have never seen any evidence of this. He has always been highly reactive with a full range of emotional expression, while she tends to be passive-aggressive, withholding and stubborn. We have never sensed that she is dominated by him, and she has pursued every goal or desire that he did not share or support. She has never described any specific incidents of abuse. We support her in her decision to end the marriage since she is not happy, but we can't bring ourselves to end our relationship with our son-in-law on the basis of allegations that we simply don't believe. As a consequence, she is cold and uncommunicative with us. What are we missing here?

That you just told your daughter you believe in your son-in-law more than you believe in her, and that you just discounted her allegation of abuse. "Oh, you're just being stubborn." 

How would you react if someone said that to you? 

Now, maybe the relationship between them (and its breakdown) was more complicated than she's making it out to be, but for her to say that he abused her is (a) a serious charge, and (b) one you cannot disprove solely on what you've witnessed over 25 years. You're in a marriage, I assume, and so you know there are parts of it only you and your spouse can see. For example, can you be sure he doesn't gaslight her? Give her the silent treatment when no one's looking? Call her names or tell her she's worthless or stupid when he's having one of his "highly reactive" moments? 

You can't be sure. So you either believe her, or you pay the price of not believing her--i.e., apparently, you lose her. But, again, what do you expect? 

It might be too late, but you can talk to her. "I realize it must feel like a huge betrayal to you that we didn't take on faith what you were saying about Husband. I see now what a mistake is was to assume what we witnessed was the whole story. I hope you'll forgive us that. I also hope you'll help us understand the rest of the story, though of course you're not obligated to." 

Then, hope she's not as stubborn as you think.

You've just pledged to spend the rest of your life with someone called chuckles who farts and then laughs, not to mention has a weird attitude to money that you're both 'working on'. WHAT HAVE I DONE! when you pledge to spend you life with someone, all of a sudden the 'challenges' can take on hyperventilate dimensions.

Just don't hyperventilate right after Chuckles just ... well ... sorry.

I wonder if there's also an inevitable letdown after a wedding contributing to the challenging factor? Or after wanting/anticipating marriage for a long time? Sometimes after a big event I feel a sense of disappointment because it's over, and because I had expectations I didn't even know I had.

This too thx.

I'm an old married lady now, but back in the day, my friends and I discovered that our feminist-leaning, egalitarian boyfriends turned (sometimes subtly, sometimes more overtly) into *husbands.* It was never a conscious thing, but there was a shift in their behavior that we figured harkened back to the way their fathers acted as husbands. Once analyzed and pointed out, they reverted to their lovely feminist-leaning, egalitarian selves. The word marriage can do weird things.

I'm sure the ghosts of gender roles beckon on both sides, thanks.

if nothing else, there's the pressure not to break up that never used to exist. plus for the honeymoon phase the couple is in the spotlight and if something goes wrong there's going to be all kinds of judgment. it's like skiing and then someone puts rockets on them.


That's it for today. Thanks for stopping by, have a great weekend, hope to see you here again next week. I'm off to make an apologetic donation to the Society of Third-Generation Charleses Who Go By 'Chuckles.' 

"Hello! I am acknowledging that you recently experienced a major life event. One that took up a great deal of time and effort to plan and execute. I can no longer say 'Congratulations' or 'Best Wishes' but I recognize that your life is quite different now - even if it's not" . . . um . . . so that all comes out as a derpy "So how's married life treating you?" Sorry.

"derpy" makes it, thanks.

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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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