Window shopping: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, June 6)

Jun 06, 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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Any chance we're going to be able to hootenanny this wedding season?

If you insist. Aug. 15? That should give you all time to accrue some good stories.

And hello and all that.

My father, who is now 87 years old, is a self-made man who, despite his impoverished background, obtained wealth and influence. He's been an aggressive and successful professional, but as a husband and father, he has always dominated my mother, sister, brother and I in a harsh judgmental way. Nothing is good enough for him. In order to be my own person, I eventually left the country. Thanks to the internet, we renewed our relationship and now we get along better than ever before. But despite his impressive dexterity with the Internet, he will not help me have access to Mom via Skype. I have been asking him for at least 5 years to set up a regular, once-a-week, 15-minute Skype and he won't do it. In the meantime, Mom is getting worse and worse due to Alzheimer's. At one point, he set up a brief talk with her and I was thrilled. But he was so impatient with her slowness that he practically pulled her off her chair and took over. What can I do to convince him to give me regular access to Mom? I don't think seeing her just a few minutes a week is too much to access, given that I can't afford to fly home.

This is absolutely heartbreaking, and not just because you're losing your mom in two ways, one of them unnecessary. It's heartbreaking because there's nothing you can do unless your father decides to allow it.

You're far away, you've asked for a reasonable thing, you've tried several ways of asking already, no doubt. Even if there were some legal instrument you could use, like elder-care watchdog groups, this isn't a serious enough issue to warrant outside intervention. Perhaps he's refusing to Skype in order to conceal one, but you can't know that, so given that possibility it makes sense to have someone local be your eyes for you, if possible. Otherwise you are stuck behind the wall of your father's control issues. I'm sorry.

The one possibility you might have, shameful as it is for me even to type, is if you're able to appeal to his vanities. Right now it satisfies his craving for power for him to deny you. If it instead satisfies his power cravings to grant you these Skype sessions, then I suspect he'd agree to them.


Dear Carolyn, my sister is very aggressive and (of course) has all the answers, especially about how I should raise my now-adult children. Every day there is either an angry email or phone call: have you done THIS? How can you let hem do THAT? You must make them.....whatever. I know Sis will not change. Is there anything I can do, other than take fewer calls and not read her emails? Thanks (and thanks for being my daily lifeline to sanity!)

How about taking no calls and responding to no emails that contain such bullying? Some people in your position go so far as to ask a disinterested party, usually a very good friend, to screen the voice- and e-mails for you, so you're only exposed to the ones you need to see. 

I have a group of friends that I hang out with all of the time, my roommate and I are not very close, but we hang out with the same group of friends. She doesn't treat me with respect and then ignores me when we are in a group setting. I feel like I have tried everything, I am nice to here, I ask her to do things with me, and I even offer to help her out with things. If we didn't hang out with the same people, I would just remove her from my life by not spending time around her, but now that doesn't seem to be an option. I need advice quick! We will be living in the same house for a year and I feel like if I don't figure something out, things will go sour and possibly put my other friendships on the line.

Can't you just ignore her back? Think of it as subway privacy. You're so physically close your shirttails are touching, but you mind your own business don't engage. Not in an angry way, just in an I'm-just-living-my-life kind of way. 

It's weird, yes, but in the annals of weird generated by roommate situations, it doesn't even warrant a footnote.

Hi Carolyn, I recently found out that a former colleague of mine, in fact my successor in a position I held abroad for a couple of years, has repeatedly told me half-truths ( e.g. about a colleague being on leave when in reality he was in jail or – and this over a period of several years – about her long-term relationship issues with a guy who I now hear is not a guy at all but a girl). The thing is that she told me these stories deliberately, not as a response of my prying (I am an introvert who does not even ask good friends about their intimate relationships) and what is more, while she told these stories to me she did not tell them to other colleagues. I am not really keen on explanations for her behaviour (since she is also an inveterate name-dropper and enjoys basking in reflected glory she is probably a deeply insecure person). But I am planning a trip to the place where I worked and might meet her at some event or other (expats move in rather small circles). There are of course a lot of people going through life telling fibs etc, but in this case I am aware of it and what is more, she obviously made me the sole target of these stories. Should I confront her? Best

If I glean correctly that this person is of no consequence to you now, then I think what you should do is refresh your drink and ask her if there have been any interesting developments in her life since you last spoke.

Unless these stories are no more interesting for being fictional. In that case, just say hihowaya!!! and keep walking.

Hi Carolyn! I am recently divorced (quite amicable) after 15 years of marriage and am delighted with my new life. I am in no rush to start dating again, but I have noticed that I am now evaluating every man I see as a potential partner. As I am walking to work, there is a constant chatter in my head of "Ooh, he's cute!" or "Well, I guess I could see myself with him if he is smart and funny", etc. Is this just a case of flexing a mental muscle I haven't used in a long time, or is this somehow a problem? Thanks!

Dunno. Is it bothering you, or is it fun? Window shopping can be anything from a lovely way to kill an afternoon to a soul-sucking exercise in always-behind-glass reminders of what you can't have--and the only difference from one extreme to the next is the attitude of the beholder.

Dear Carolyn: I know you've covered whether to tell people about their spouses' affairs; if I remember correctly, you tend to come down on the side of "if you can stay out of others' marriages, then do." So, I hope you can help me decide whether to stay out of this one. My best friend and I work at the same large law firm (hundreds of lawyers). She and her husband, who have two small kids, are in closely related fields of specialization. The gossip around the firm is that he cheats. Often. At work. I've never witnessed anything specific myself, nor have I spoken directly with anyone who has. But it isn't vague: Lawyer X, on date Y, saw Husband with Paralegal Z, as they emerged rumpled from a boardroom late at night, from which all kinds of unmistakable sounds had been heard. Normally I would consider this kind of third-hand stuff too unreliable, but there's been so much of it that it's hard to brush off. People from other firms bring up Husband's name in conversation, unprompted, to ask if I know him, and they follow that with, "he's been sleeping with someone at our firm." It's hurting her career that a) she is married to such an obvious cheater, and b) she seems totally oblivious (whether or not she actually is) even though a lot of the cheating happens in her own workplace. Some people at work can't even look her in the eye anymore. I feel torn. On the one hand, I would very much want to know about these rumours, if they were about my spouse. On the other, if I end up telling her it could destroy our friendship.

You know the husband, yes? Well? If you have no reason to believe he's dangerous, then steal a moment to say:

"Your affairs are the talk of several offices. You're making a fool of my best friend. Tell her the truth or I will--because someone is going to, even if I don't."

The reason I make the point about possible danger is that, although most people color outside the lines because they have lousy self-control, a small percentage do it because they don't care about hurting other people. And so giving someone like that advance warning would be the equivalent to giving him a few days to figure out not how to fix things with his wife, but to neutralize the threat you pose.

If your gut says not to take that chance with him, then just talk to your friend about what you've been hearing. You actually said it very well here. You're right that I lean toward staying out of people's marriages, but you're no mere nosy bystander; you're a best friend. Plus, this is a particularly egregious situation with a high level of possible harm. 





While I sympathize with OP I wonder if he/she realizes that he/she is essentially asking someone caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease one more thing to do, on a schedule no less? It would be great if OP's father could grant this fairly simple request as it is likely in the best interest of his wife and child, but he might see the request as an imposition from someone who isn't helping with mom at all.

Possible, thanks. In my experience with ALS, it and Alzheimer's were always talked about as the two illnesses that are hardest on the caregivers, and this caregiver (assuming he is that) is 87, an age at which people more often are on the receiving end of such help.

Is this something one of your siblings could help set up, if they live close to your parents? Instead of relying on your dad for it?

Yes, thanks, I read past the sibs.

Your response to "Boy Crazy at 40" reminded me of the lovely exchange between Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window." Temporarily immobile due to injury, and bored out of his skull, he uses binoculars to spy on his neighbors -- some of them being quite comely. Grace Kelly catches him in the act and says oh-so-wryly-and-witheringly: "Window shopper." Ahhh...

I lerve that movie.

Hi from Atlanta! Long time reader, first time writer. This seems like such a small, nit-picky issue but, honestly, it's making me a little batty. I'm a vegetarian, run long distances on roads and trails, and have a regular yoga practice. All of these things make me happy and I enjoy them. My husband and I are non-procreaters, so the only person it takes time away from is him (and I think he cherishes those hours I'm out of the house!). I have had a few injuries over the years but always take care to heal and rest properly. For some reason a small cadre of people (mostly my judgmental MIL, cause what kind of question would this be without a MIL aspect) consistently are on my case about how all this running will "ruin my knees" and how I'm certainly malnourished because "people were made to eat animals" (?!)'s always something on any FB post about a race or yoga class or in person when they ask what I'm up to. Should I censor myself to those who are not truly supportive? (For the record, DH loves that I'm so into my health as he is into his...but he never gets the comments.) Is there a comeback other than telling them to back off? I don't want to be a jerk but I am SICK of being criticized for positive things!

Have you ever asked her why she says X to you, but not her son? It's the kind of question, when asked in a gentle tone at a calm moment, that can leave someone stammering for an answer. And you absolutely have standing to ask it.

Something else: The way you're looking at this is orienting you, no doubt unwittingly, toward defensiveness. Just look at the number of times you justify your lifestyle choices in a short letter ... I count 5 or 6, depending on how I tally compound justifications. The thing is, if you want to play Xbox and eat Funyuns, that's no more anyone's business than your yoga and carrots are.

So please internalize that message and make it the launch pad for any response you have to your critics from now on, including such non-responses as hiding people on FB, which I suggest you employ liberally. That way, you'll be defending your right to make your own choices, vs the choices themselves. Much more effective, and empowering too.

And since someone is going to write in with this point, I shall pre-empt it:

Shoving our choices in anyone's face is a social infraction no matter who's doing it. So, if you're overdoing the I'M SO HEALTHY, to the point where people try to shield their plates from you so you won't make an "ew" face at them, then dialing it back will be key to getting your critics to back off.


It definitely falls on the fun side of the spectrum. The part that seems to bother me is that I feel a little shallow for (by definition) judging these men solely based on how they look. My ex-husband is quite good looking but did not treat me particularly well prior to leaving me and our kids for a 20-year-old bartender the day before Thanksgiving. Most of me is enjoying window shopping but my subconscious is sending me nagging reminders that pretty packages can be false advertising.

Sounds like your warning system is working, then--you're admiring the art but a little alarm goes off when you try to take it off the wall. 

I like my metaphors shaken, not mixed.

And, too, you probably have enough painful experience to remind you to take things Very Very Slowly once you do decide to start dating again, if. It would make sense if you set the bar to it very high, in fact, and only dated someone you had already gotten to know in a non-romantic context. That preempts the problem of being fooled by packaging.

But if you're still not confident the alarm is loud enough to deter you, then do consider spending some time with a well-regarded therapist. Understanding how your mind works and why, particularly your impulses, is excellent insurance against repeating mistakes. Not perfect, but as good as possible.

And now, a wow. That's a turkey I'll never forget. I'm so sorry you and your kids had to deal with that.



OP here. I was wondering if there is any point in saying, directly, the kids are adults now, so I can't make them.....whatever. Or would that make her start harassing them?

No, because it was never your sister's business, even when they were young enough for you to guide their behavior.

"We'll live our lives, Sis, and you live yours. So what's new with you?" Don't give her any traction on things that aren't her business. You say you know she won't change, and that's probably true, but this is not about that; this is about -your- making a change. You're through being scolded, harassed, preached to. So remove yourself from it, quietly, firmly, consistently, and appropriately to the form of communication. Calls, you screen; emails, you ignore; rooms, you vacate. Etc. No rancor necessary, just a peaceful disappearance of her favorite target. 

Nowhere did the original commenter say she's actually talked to the roommate about this. She may be just hinting, which for certain clueless types (cough cough) can be equivalent to not saying anything. She should decide exactly how she wants this roommate to treat her (specific behaviors) and ask for them in a calm moment.

That's just crazy talk.

You're right. Keep the list short, though and stick to matters of respect and civility--i.e., no mention of her blowing off the many overtures of friendship. They don't need to be friends, just functional cohabitants. Thanks.

Dear Carolyn, Over the past year and a half, I took a massive beating in my personal and professional life. But, that's over now, and I have the entire summer free to relax and get back to my normal self. What should I fill it with? I've been relaxing, working on my hobbies, exercising, seeing friends, getting out and sightseeing in my own town.....anything else I should think about?

Giving back. Self-care is important, but time and time again, studies and surveys and polls turn up the fact that it alone doesn't make people -happy.- Dedicating yourself to a purpose, on the other hand, even a small one, does. It doesn't have to be an overarching Purpose, though that can certainly help with your focus and planning. It can just be a commitment to make even one person's life a little bit better for each day you're on this earth. 

Dear Carolyn, My husband and dad have had a long-standing disagreement over money regarding a property my parents and I co-own. We're ALMOST through with it; the sale closes today. I've tried hard to own my share in the conflict, and let whatever portion of it is about whatever else - personality conflict, masculinity, something - take its own course. However, this week my husband compared my father to his grandfather, the pedophile. This is still about money; he's not accusing my dad of molesting anybody. I confronted him on the spot, but I'm still fuming. Part over the comparison and part over just the -- we're ALMOST DONE with this situation. I guess the question is: I think I handled it the right way. But I'm still ticked. Now what?

Figure out WHY you're ticked. I know you think you know, but you may not. 

You say he's "not accusing my dad of molesting anybody." So, the comparison had another basis--what was it? If in the awfulness of what your husband said, and in its timing, there was a grain of a legitimate complaint, then that needs to be acknowledged. And if you can acknowledge that, then you'll get (presumably) a much better hearing for your complaint about his poor taste and timing. 

 Your phrasing--"let whatever portion of it is about whatever else - personality conflict, masculinity, something - take its own course" suggest you're not even fully aware of what this is about. And that could be part of your husband's anger and frustration.

Short version, at least try to figure it out. After you cool off for a bit, I should say. Good luck.

I really enjoy your columns and your insightful advice. My neighbor, “John,” died a few weeks ago. Earlier, I had guessed from the volume of visitors that he was sick and stopped by to ask his wife, “Alice,” if there was anything we could do. She, of course, said no (because nobody keeps a list around of things for friendly neighbors to do in times of crisis), and I couldn’t really think of anything concrete that would be useful. A day or two before his funeral, his son-in-law, who lives in the area, saw me and my wife working in our yard and asked us to keep an eye on Alice, to let him know how she’s doing, if she can keep up with the house, etc. We exchanged contact info and promised to be in touch. We knew John and Alice in a neighborly, talking across the fence kind of way, we would help them clear their driveway after snowstorms, and the like, but we don’t really know Alice well enough to know what we can do to help her out. She had regular visitors for the past couple weeks, but they're starting to taper off, so it seems like it would be a good time to offer some sort of comfort. I can’t imagine living alone after being married for so long. Do you have any suggestions that would be helpful without being intrusive? I thought I remembered reading a past column that was relevant but couldn’t find it. This might be a good one to kick to the Philes to hear others’ experiences. Thanks in advance.

When you're doing X (cutting the grass, cleaning the gutters, raking leaves, etc.), stop by to see if Alice would like you to X for her too, while you're at it. When you're cooking something that's easy to reheat, double the batch and bring one over to Alice. If you see Alice outside when you're on the way to the grocery store, ask if you can get a couple of things for her while you're there. Basically just assume a little bit of the load for her ...

But, this is important, make your offers specific. Almost no one feels comfortable responding to a general "If there's anything I can do ..." with something specific.

It's great that you're looking for ways to help. 

My husband has a very stressful work environment, and it is sucking the oxygen out of his life. He is always on edge and irritable and being in a generally bad mood for 23 hours a day means I bear the brunt of his frustration. This puts me in a bad mood and then there is a downward spiral. We have talked about him going to therapy and he is open to it, but hasn't taken any action. What is a constructive way to proceed? Are there ways I can engage with him that are more or less helpful?

You say nothing of a job change. That's at the top of the list, no?

As for therapy in the meantime, since he said he's open to it, you can take the action of finding someone(s) and making an appointment. Say you're doing it--and that you're taking the liberty only because he said he was open to it. The hurdle of making an appointment can be very high even to someone not hanging by a very thin thread, as your husband apparently is. Taking this off someone's to-do list can be a gift.

Also, to the extent possible (and if you haven't already), try introducing stress relievers to your daily routine. An evening or nighttime walk, for example, or a weekly massage, or yoga for two, or finding a sliver of weekend time for something you know he loves. Play good music while he's home, if hes not sound sensitive. Whatever you can do.

Also, as needed, remind him of what you can't do, and of what it's not fair of him to do. While it's natural for him to bring stress home, punishing you on a daily basis for his unhappiness crosses a line. He needs to hear that from you, if he hasn't already, in a calm moment.

As someone who visited an elderly neighbor like that, the startup can seem like the most awkward part. It feels weird to knock and chat with someone you never have before. I started by bringing over small things I was pretty sure she'd like--"I had a couple of tomatoes and thought you might enjoy them"; "I made too much banana bread; have some." After two or three times, you'll be able to knock without a "reason"--just to say hi--without feeling as uncomfortable.

For some reason this choked me up, thank you.

Plus, you and the OP are welcome counterweights to the husband who stole Thanksgiving.

Hi Carolyn, It's me, the LW from several weeks ago, writing back in with an update and a question. Thanks in advance! Update: The break did, indeed, turn into a full-on breakup. A lot of folks who commented on my question seem to think this is exactly what I deserved. For the record, though I was fixating unfairly on marriage and wanting to get things moving, I'm actually an intelligent, well-rounded, loving person, and in the end I deserved better than what I got from him. It's better that it's over. Moving on. Question: His mom, who is devastated by our breakup, has invited me to lunch this Saturday. While she and I have never hung out on our own before, she definitely liked me very much and was quite vocal about wanting me to be her daughter-in-law someday (one of many sources of pressure I was responding to).I get the sense that she does not know very much about why we broke up (e.g., she may not realize it was all her son's idea) and is looking for answers and closure. I agreed to the lunch because she's a very nice woman. However, I don't really know what the rules are for this sort of thing. If she asks questions about the breakup, am I allowed to give honest answers, even if they don't reflect all that nicely on her son? I promise this is my last question related to this story arc--maybe I'll write to you again in ten years, when my skin has thickened and when (hopefully) most of these difficult questions will have been long since worked out! Thanks!

"Deserved" is such a loaded word. I'm sorry the end was painful for you, I'm glad you are at peace with the breakup, and I wish you a happier experience with whatever comes next. 

As for lunch, don't throw her son under any buses. I suggest the mantra, "Neither of us was ready for this." Explain, if further explanation is warranted, that you showed you weren't ready in your way, and he showed it in his, and it's too bad it came to this but (assuming this is true) you're not worried about your own future or his. Leave it at that.

Do thank her for being in your corner--that's so very very not a given, as this forum reminds us so often. Though, not for repeating to her, she does need to tone it down if and when her son starts to date again.

This is what HR is for. Go to them, state your concerns, and let them follow up with the husband. If this is the talk of the office, he won't pin it on you for going to them, and surely your firm does not want this situation to be occurring-- it's rife with possibility for harassment lawsuits!

Interesting idea, thank you, since it bypasses the personal for the professional. I'm not sure, even rereading the letter, whether the husband is in the same firm or whether he just has a lot of, er, business there, but HR could still talk to wife, presumably. 

That post seems to invite follow-up and counterarguments, but I'm actually going to end this early today. Tendinitis that I've been in denial about seems to have shut down part of my right arm. Ahem.

Anyway, I'm going to kick the firm philanderer to Philes (fffff) and let you all duke it out and make any needed counterpoints there. 

Also, and this seems to be well-timed, I'm not chatting next Friday so I can go to my 30th HS reunion. Thanks for stopping by and see you on the 20th.

Here's the Philes for you to keep this conversation going:

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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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