Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, June 27)

Jun 27, 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, everybody. Next Friday is the 4th of July, so no Hax chat next week. If you can anticipate next week's problems, then send them on in.


Hi Carolyn, I'm a teacher and for the first time in six years, I've decided not to work full-time in the summer and instead enjoy some of my unpaid time off. I'll still tutor once a week and work three weeks of summer school to earn some extra money. My husband and I have been working really hard to become debt-free and will accomplish our goal shortly, so I felt like I could relax a little on the extra jobs. Before making this decision, I discussed it with my husband several times and he assured me he was OK with this new plan. Now that summer is here, he's admitted that he's resentful of my time off and that when teachers make comments about "deserving" a summer break, it breeds resentment from those who work 12 months. If it were up to me I'd work a 12-month job that earned a more competitive pay. That goal has not worked out, so instead I'm enjoying a benefit of my current job! I'm devastated that I'm now going to feel guilty every day I don't work this summer and furious that he waited until the day after school let out to let me know how he really feels. Please help!

This is a use-of-summer-vacation question only on its surface. It's really about the fact that you and your husband are due for another conversation, and see it as part of a series that includes the initial "several conversations" you had before making this decision and the conversation where he was honest about his feelings of resentment. This is a big change to the day-to-day balance of your marriage, so patience and persistence will serve you best in establishing a new balance.

As for your fury that he waited till the first day of your summer to speak up, I do sympathize, but please also consider that he wasn't able to identify his own feelings until you were actually not working on a day he was actually working. Some people, maybe even most, aren't able to anticipate feelings; even the ones who can will probably be off by a few ticks on the intensity.

One teacher-specific point: As the spouse of an educator who has summers off and uses the time to recuperate, I have seen this up close. I am fully on board with the idea that the relatively low pay and the draining nature of the work mean the time off is well-deserved (and I take exception to your husband's presuming to speak for "those who work 12 months," if that is indeed what he said). And yet it can still be hard to clatter away on my keyboard with the strains of "SportsCenter" and snoring wafting through the air at 11 a.m. The next installment of your conversation might go better if you focus on making this easier on each other. He owes you respect for your profession and you owe him the sensitivity not to have your leisure right in his face. Good luck.

I thought that answer was going to come out SO much faster than it did. Sorry for the miscalculation on time.

What's the best way to decide to work on a marriage or just accept the status quo? Details: I married in my late 30s. First marriage for both of us. I am so over the dating scene so I have zero desire to return to its awfulness. As soon as we got married, the sex dwindled and the affection followed. We still get along daily conversation-wise, but for some reason my husband isn't interested in a physical aspect. I tried talking about it with mixed results: I need to say when I want sex because he can't read my mind. I need to not tell him I want sex because it kills the mood. I need to remind him when I'm ovulating. Don't tell him that I'm ovulating because it puts too much pressure on him. (You get the point.) Before you rip me a new one for projecting a premarital ideal, this was NOT what our life was like before marriage. I married him, thinking what we currently had would be it. Had I known he would morph into this, I never would have uprooted my life to marry him. At the same time, I don't want to divorce because I don't want that alternative either. If I accept the status quo, how do I go about doing that without being miserable? (Ironically, I got married to get away from the stupid game playing and mixed messages. Fate is laughing at me somewhere.)

Off the cuff, sounds like he might be terrified of conceiving a child. Could be a bunch of other things, too--pursuing excites him more than having, the Institution of Marriage has him freaked, he's on a natural ardor-cooling path that happened to coincide with the wedding, etc.--but the most important thing that's going on is that his state of mind has changed and he's not being transparent with you about that change.

So, please talk to him not about sex, but about talking. Say that to your eye there has been a Before and an After in your relationship, and that you're confident you can handle whatever is happening to change things, but you're not able to do that unless you know what it is. And say it's okay for him to say whatever it is, truly.

If he either can't or won't say, then the next logical step is to find a really good marriage counselor or marriage seminar/retreat. Often people who balk at the former will agree to the latter, because the bar to entry feels lower.

Hello Caroline, I read your column occasionally and also look at what the Haxphiles post. Occasionally, I am overwhelmed by the vituperative comments from what seem to be regular Philes. Just wondering-- do you monitor this at all?

All the comments, like on any Washington Post article, are broadly monitored to make sure they follow our discussion guidelines. We also rely a lot on the community, so if you're seeing stuff that's out of line, go ahead and use the "report" button. 

Also, you may have heard that the Post is embarking (with the NY Times and Mozilla) on a big project to create a better commenting and community experience. We're having a big discussion right now about what you guys might want out of the future of commenting, so if you have thoughts, come share them.

Thank you so much for answering my question. In my head I was thinking that all the symptoms were warning signs of abuse, but told myself I was possibly being ridiculous. Now that I have an outside perspective, that helps how I will approach. I noticed in the comments that people were suspecting they were in early high school. My brother and his GF are 22/23 and it's not their first relationships and there have been multiple "Get a room requests." She actually recently broke up with him for something trivial, but they got back together the next day. He again reached out and I was frank with my advice (which was greatly infuenced by your past columns and chats-thank you!). He agreed and was glad to be validated, so hopefully as time passes, he'll begin to realize her controlling/possibly abusive tendencies and he'll free himself.

You're welcome, though I am reluctant to accept thanks about something that remains unresolved and possibly dangerous.

The thing about abuse is, he doesn't need to realize her controlling tendencies. He just needs to figure out he doesn't like being accused of things, being told what to do or having to tiptoe around her temper all the time. I hope he comes around soon.

Resentment or jealousy can easily co-exist with a sense that the LW fully deserves a break. Put another way, the LW should note the sentiment, be sensitive to how she discusses it, and go on with her life. There's only so much she can do to make her partner feel better.

Yes--and thank you for touching on a point I intended to make but forgot to as I got bogged down in that answer: Feeling guilt is by no means a requirement. This teacher did the work, participated in the debt-reduction and had the spousal conversations. Now's the time to own it, not get into knots about it. Be aware, be discreet, but don't be apologetic.

I taught for three years and quickly concluded that it was a 12-month job packed into 10 months. 20 years later, I've held a succession of higher paying positions in the private sector, and they've all been challenging and stressful, but nothing I've done could compare to the difficulty and constant, non-stop stress of being a teacher. I never begrudge a teacher the time off.

Thanks. It's actually a double whammy--the job is 12 months condensed into 10 but generally paid for 10, if that, relative to other jobs available to people with a teacher's level of training and education.

Just curious about an aspect of your chat: Do you respond in real-time as questions come in starting at noon, or do you ever get an early start on the questions that no doubt come in early? Sometimes your responses are lengthy and deeply considered, and sometimes they are short and reflexive. I wonder if a time element is involved?

I don't get an early start. A producer of yore encouraged me to try it as a way of cutting down on the long silences, and the result was kind of funny. No matter how early I started, I spent the entire time writing and revising one answer. So, I just gave up, and accepted that I have to write on the fly and submit to the pressure of needing to hit "send."

Every question I pick up, by the way, is one I think I can answer fairly quickly. (I skip a lot of them knowing I can't possibly form a responsible or coherent answer live.) I can never predict when one of them gets a one-sentence answer and another gets a 15-minute one, not till I actually start writing. I'm highly un-self aware.

Channeling Carolyn here: Please don't procreate with this man until you get this figured out. A unengaged husband is one thing, an unengaged father is tragic.

Great catch, thanks.

I can't believe I'm doing this--I just spent what, 15 mins on a long answer and I'm pulling the plug. It's just outrage bait and I don't want to send it out there half-thought-out. I'm really sorry.

Well, my problem is that there will be no chat next Friday! Wah!

And there's barely a chat today! (Head on keyboard.)

Hi Carolyn, I received a request from my mom yesterday that really threw me for a loop. My mom wants to have genetic testing done so that she can more safely asses her risk for cancer. On paper, she does indeed have a higher-than-normal risk... her mom had breast cancer and I was treated for ovarian cancer (now in monitoring mode). I can intellectually understand her desire to know more about her own health. So here is the issue: I don't want to give this company permission to analyze and share this data with her. I have two big reasons for this resistance: 1) I have a visceral negative reaction to this rather private request in the first place - it feels like she is asking for a copy of my bank statement. 2) For several years I had to manage her stress and anxiety related to my condition. It was so intense that I proactively managed how much information I gave her, and I do think that if she found out the pathology data points it would get much worse again. She is a nurse - she knows what this stuff means. We have finally gotten to a place where we are talking about life again (rather than health) and I hate to risk losing that closeness. So - do I really have grounds to deny this request? Or am I being unreasonable? I remember reading this conversation from the other side awhile ago, which is why I'm questioning my judgment here. Many thanks!

You do have grounds to say no, you're not being unreasonable. You will have to accept the consequences to your relationship of saying no (to preserve your relationship), but if you can remain calm and patient and brief without being terse as you explain your reasoning, then you can at least be at peace with your choice and leave it to your mom, rightly, to make peace with it on her own.

I think it's fine just to say that you understand why she wants to know, but that you are not comfortable releasing this information given how difficult things were for you both during your treatment.


I'm 9 weeks pregnant. Though I'm not married, the pregnancy was planned as I'm in my thirties and feeling like I did not want to miss my opportunity to have kids. I have a good job and can provide well for a baby on my own. The Baby's father is, for all intents and purposes, my boyfriend, though he resists that label. We hang out a couple of times per week, still sleep together, and plan to move in together once the baby's born. He has expressed his intention to be involved throughout the child's life and have no reason to doubt him. I see this situation as preferable to using a sperm donor even though I don't think we will be together forever. BUT, I have to say his resistence to the boyfriend label stings at times. When he told his father I was pregnant he asked if we were seeing each other. Baby daddy said no. I told him that hurt my feelings. Does he not want to sleep with me, hang out, be all lovey dovey like we are? No, he likes all that stuff. He wants it to continue as long as I'm OK with it and he does not plan to pursue other relationships. I think I can let go of semantics here and enjoy this time with him and what we have for now. Am I being foolish?

If you're okay with someone who dabbles with being part of your life vs committing to it, then that's your choice and you're certainly old enough and independent enough to make it.

You're handing your child a dilettante where a father should be, however, and the baby will not have 30-plus years of maturity and life experience to bring to his or her understanding of this situation. So while he intends to be "involved," does he mean involved at his convenience, or involved as his child needs him to be, whatever that might entail? And, how is one of the most important people in this child's life going to treat the other most important person in his or her life? The baby will be watching, that much you know, and learning, so what will you two be teaching?

The stakes of figuring out these details are hard to express. Take your hurt feelings, and project them into emotional groundwork of who you are. That's what a parent is to a child. In whatever configuration, you want stability, warmth, and a pattern you wouldn't be afraid for your child to repeat a few decades from now--your role or his. You can't make Baby's Father be someone he isn't, but you can make sure the part you control is solid. You can also not write it off as "semantics."

Carolyn, I piped up in the April 4 chat in response to an OP who wanted advice about whether or not he wanted kids badly enough - I told you that I was about to file for divorce from my husband for (among other things) having zero engagement with our two young children. I just thought you'd be pleased to hear that...we're not getting divorced! The conversation where I told him I wanted a divorce did not go as I had planned at all. He listened very quietly, was very sad, but asked me to please reconsider. Since then, he has absolutely amazed me (and our therapist!) by fully committing both to be very engaged with our family and to making the changes he needs to make in how he relates to me. He has embarked on a process of profound change and the results have been breathtaking. At first, I was very hesitant and skeptical, but as time wears on I am nothing but pleased. I have my friend back, I have my husband back, and my kids have an engaged dad for the first time. We continue to work through conflict, but we are now approaching it as a team and with much better tools for communicating and understanding each other. Attending regular sessions with an excellent marriage therapist has helped immensely. But most of all I think this outcome was possible because we both committed to do better together at the same time. Anyway, I just thought an update with happy news might be something you'd enjoy today.

I'd enjoy this any day, thank you. Sometimes people actually need to see over the cliff to recognize the peril they're in.

Just a thought but if you are speaking of testing for the BRACA gene, you have to have a family member test positive before most doctors will test you for it. Meaning your Mom cannot have the test, but you instead to have it because you had ovarian cancer then if you test positive then Mom and other family members can and should also have. I think you are being selfish in not having this and I also feel like this issue was totally left out of the response and the question. I have a maternal aunt with breast cancer that's how I know this.

Then you go to a doctor who isn't like "most doctors" and doesn't insist, and takes the fact of the breast and ovarian cancers in the maternal line as sufficient grounds. I am not comfortable taking part in any effort to pressure someone to release medical information she doesn't want to release.

Certainly OP can talk to a genetic counselor herself, to figure out how to handle this. That arguably would be a show of good faith. However, when there's no relative available for a test, then the medical establishment makes do and decides whether to test based on family history alone. Certainly the mother's doctors can do that in this case.

I'm an avid chat reader, and my mom is a cancer genetic counselor. Ran this by her and am sending in case it's helpful to the OP: The information that she provides would be anonymous – the lab (“this company”?) could never connect it with her, but it sounds as if she doesn’t even want her mother to know. Plus, given how she is describing her ovarian cancer, it may NOT be the type associated with the genetic mutations in BRCA1/2. It would be valuable information for her genetic counselor to have, but we always also respect people’s wishes to maintain privacy. Test results will be whatever they are, regardless of whether or not she shares her info.

And this, thank you.

As always, I can't verify the "cancer genetic counselor" credentials here, except to quote Malone in "The Untouchables": "Who would claim to be that who was not?"

This probably sounds silly, but I am pushing 70 and would like to move to live near a much younger sister. My sons feel this is a rejection of them and they would like me to live near them. My sister is also my best friend, but I really love my children and grandchildren. All of them assure me that they want to be able to take care of me should health become an issue. For now, I am staying where i am...sort of centrally located, but sooner or later I am going to hurt someone's feelings. I hate that.

Go live near your sister and promise them that when health becomes an issue, you'll drop yourself back in their laps.

Or, if you have the means, keep a small place to live in both places. If you can't afford that but have some financial wiggle room, maybe you can pay to outfit one of your sons' homes with an in-law apartment, which you use for extended stays.

Whatever the case, please try to look past the guilt. Your life is yours--do consider how you (and your kids and grandkids, and sister) will handle it when health does become an issue, but make that part of a larger configuration that you find satisfying. Your kids will adjust.

I don't feel that he intends to dabble as a father. He really is a very dependable person and says that we're family now (meaning him and I) and we acknowledge that we will both be part of each other's lives forever. He wants to include me in family gatherings with his parents. He's talking about setting up the college fund and buying diapers and he's supported me through some moments of doubt that I've had. I guess my question more is, should I give up on our romantic relationship, such as it is (although it's actually pretty good, except for him not being comfortable with the label)? Would I present more stability as a parent if I settled in now to what is more likely to be longterm arrangement (amicable, loving friendship with shared purpose)?

I can't answer this without knowing why he's so resistant to the "label." If he's skittish for various concrete reasons and is working hard to get past them, then it makes sense to give him time to do that. If he's being self-indulgent and waiting for something better to come along, then you probably want to concentrate on keeping things amicable, whatever the "things" happen to be.

Either way, you have some time. As long as the child is receiving attentive care in a safe environment, he or she will be fine. Think about your own childhood; you don't even remember the first few years, right, and the stuff you do remember is patchy?

hi- I can't believe I am writing this, but here I go... My wife has morphed I to someone I hardly recognize following the birth of our 2 kids. Before kids, she was funny, easy-going, and a joy to be around. After kids, she is now consumed with severely restricting what they (and we) eat- organically only, no GMO, etc. And now she has banned tap water, flu vaccines, regular laundry detergent, sunscreen, and I could go on. Well, much of this I stand behind (yay organic strawberries), but other things I think are pretty far out and not backed by any legitimate science. I worry about the kids teeth, and their chances of getting the flu, but she will not budge- and more and more stuff becomes off limits! Her days are consumed by this new "natural" lifestyle, and she is on a one woman crusade to convince everyone that they shouldn't use dryer sheets & lawn care companies. I have noticed that our friends are avoiding us/not socializing with us like before (even though they gave kids the same age) and I don't even have to ask why. I know you will suggest counseling, but the bigger issue is that this just seems like her mothering style, and I'll have to take it or leave it. I just can't get over the fact that I miss seeing her having fun, laughing, and enjoying life. And I'm a little sad that my kids have never swam in a chlorinated pool, for instance.

Has she been screened for anxiety? (Ducking under desk.)

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have a 4 and 5 year old and we are getting divorced. In spite of this decision, we've still been living together for several months for a few different reasons, which unsurprisingly hasn’t been easy. My soon to be ex and I are both reading the book Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way and we have been doing co-parenting sessions with a therapist on and off. The kids can see that we don’t get along (although we (mostly me) have really tried to keep the peace in their presence) and that we spend a lot of time apart, but they don’t know about the pending separation and divorce. My husband has asked that the kids and I be away while he moves out to make this challenging time easier for him and the kids. So my question is, when to tell the kids? They'll be going on vacation for a large chunk of the summer and at first I just thought that we would tell them when they get back from vacation, but now I’m thinking that it will be too much of a shock because their dad will have already moved out, and they won’t have time to process the dramatic change before it happens. The alternative is to tell them together before we go away, and to continue to talk to them about what is going on throughout the summer and as the come home. What do you think?

You want to tell them when you're going to be around to help them process it. Don't tell them and send them off for the summer--they are going away, right, and you're not going with them?

Kids don't just have conversations, change their world views on the spot and carry  on from there. They turn things over in their minds, imagine scenarios, ask questions, (mis)understand the answers, go silent for hours or days or weeks, ask questions that reveal how far their imaginations have run, etc. And you're there to listen and give reassuring but truthful answers, repeat as needed.

Whether you'll be with them this summer or not, I suggest you talk to a reputable family therapist--ask your pediatrician for names--and talk about the possible scenarios. No sense in winging it when you're not sure and when so much is on the line.

One of the people in my group of friends is a man who is married. We have always hung out in the group, always with his wife around, and to me it has never been anything other than a friendship. I did once say to my friend that I would probably date him if he was single, but he wasn't, so that was never on the table. Fast forward to a recent group trip and one evening, when his wife was in bed and the rest of us had been drinking, he confessed a lot of feelings for me and kissed me. I admit that I made a mistake and did not stop the kiss as quickly as I should, and I also made the mistake of responding that I liked him too and would like to date him if he was single. I regret both those things. But then I continued that he was married, and that nothing would ever happen. Since that trip he has been sending me messages about his feelings. I have responded every time by saying that nothing would ever happen between us, and that he needs to work on his marriage and not consider me at all as any part of the equation. Most recently, he got drunk with friends, told all of them that he wants to leave his wife for me, and this made its way to his wife. She is now demanding that I stay away from her husband etc. On the one hand I do feel sorry for my role in all this, and I have no intention of going around her husband, but on the other hand I can't help but feel like I am being overly blamed because the only narrative out there is his view that I have been complicit in some sort of mutual attraction over the years. I acknowledge maybe my actions were perceived that way, I even acknowledge that it's possible I gave out signals that I didn't intend, but I am feeling bitter that the overall narrative in this group is now that I am the villain. I guess I am happy to play this role if it helps he couple focus on their marriage and fix whatever is wrong in the first place, but I could use some advice on how to think about it in my own mind so I don't feel hurt and frustrated.

You say, "the only narrative out there is his view that I have been complicit in some sort of mutual attraction over the years."

Here is how you've been complicit, your view:

1. "I did once say to my friend that I would probably date him if he was single."

2. "I ... did not stop the kiss as quickly as I should."

3. "I also ... respond[ed] that I liked him too and would like to date him if he was single."

4. "then I continued that he was married, and that nothing would ever happen."

5. "I have responded every time [to messages about his feelings]."


1. If he leaves his wife, you're in;

2. If he leaves his wife, you're in;

3. If he leaves his wife, you're in;

4. If he leaves his wife, you're in;

5. If he doesn't leave his wife, then you're still willing to communicate with him secretly, even if the messages are all about his marriage.

So, maybe none of this was your conscious intent, but your message has been clear and consistent.

The one person who is making you more of a villain than you are is the wife. Because she's invested in keeping her husband and getting rid of you, her remedy involves banishing you and trying to forgive him, when in fact (as the exchanger of vows and blurter of extramarital interest) he's way more guilty than you are.

But that's just the way these things go. You're not going to get fairness, you're going to get pragmatism, and you represent (for now) the easiest solution to the problem her husband created, with your help. Take your lumps and leave these two alone, which means you let him know you will no longer respond to his messages, then you stick to it. Let their marriage mend or fail without you.

I'm with Carolyn on this one. I have anxiety and when I had my child, I felt so consumed with the fear that I wasn't making the right choices and with the feeling that so many things were out of my control. It sounds like your wife is attempting to assuage her feelings of helplessness by trying to control as much as possible in her, and your, immediate environment. This can indeed become all-consuming, but there is hope through treatment and support from people who love her (like you). Talk to your wife. Let her know you love her and you miss seeing her enjoy life.

I think he can anticipate heavy defensiveness (thus my diving under my desk), but the way you put it is lovely and probably the best chance to avoid a bad reaction. "I miss seeing you enjoy life." That's it. Thank you.

In high school, I was very awkward and insecure. I avoided interacting with boys at all because I was afraid of rejection. Now that I am in my twenties, I have grown into myself and I feel much more confident. However, because of the social anxiety I had in high school, I feel like I am behind my peers in certain aspects of my life. Specifically, when it comes to putting myself out there and meeting new people. I have been in the same scenario several times recently: I notice an attractive gentleman looking at me and trying to catch my eye. I know what I am supposed to do to convey interest: look at him and smile. It sounds simple. Instead, I am filled with overwhelming anxiety and avoid his gaze like the plague. Then he leaves or looks away and I kick myself. To be clear, it is not that I mourn "what could have been" and think I may have missed an opportunity to meet my soul mate or anything like that, I just hate that anxiety is keeping me from doing what I want to do. A part of me is still that high school girl who felt unworthy of attention and therefore put up walls to avoid being hurt. Now that I am willing to take the risk, how do I tear down those walls?

One brick at a time.

You know you need to do this, and you're aware--either in the moment or just after--of what you need to do this. The only thing left is to take the step. Remind yourself when you're out in public, before you're in this situation, to force yourself out of your usual habits. When someone looks at you, look back ... then you can look away. Just try that, however many times you need to for it not to feel new and weird. Life is long and the world is full; you don't need to master this the first time with the first guy. If and when you get comfortable, then nudge yourself a little farther along.

All this being said, I urge you to open another front on this battle entirely. Since you're so uncomfortable negotiating these fleeting encounters, please also put yourself in a position to get to know new people through a club or activity that meets regularly. That will allow you to get used to people through a shared interest, which will in turn push you past awkward terror into a more comfortable version of you, which allows you to figure out mutual attraction based on who you are and not just how you look to someone across the room.

Let the kids have and enjoy their vacation. Tell them it's going to happen when you return and, as Carolyn said, help them process it. When it's time for dad to move out you can take them somewhere for the weekend so they don't have to witness it, and then take them to dad's new home soon after you return.

That would be ideal, yes--not to do the move-out when they're on vacation, but at some point after they return. Thanks.

Yes to an anxiety screening for your wife. This isn't a "mothering style," this is delusional thinking. If she won't go, please get some counseling for yourself. I was raised by someone whose thinking became increasingly irrational, and watching my other parent going along with the "new normal" is something that still makes me angry.

Right--the anger at the bystander parent is real and enduring, thanks.

As a pediatrician, I can say that the writer is correct that the lack of things like flu shots and sunscreen cause legitimate and demonstrable risks to these kids, and while there is much scary pseudoscience out there, the fears about these things are scientifically spurious. So, it would be hard for me to recommend to just back down here. I would also agree that the mother's behavior raises concern for some sort of psychopathology, which can have a profound and sometimes negative impact on children. If the family is still bringing these children to some kind of primary care physician (ie if that's not felt to be too 'unnatural'), that professional may be a resource to discuss some of these fears with mom and provide her with information based on good science, as well as possible referrals for mom herself. The writer may want to give the physician a heads-up about the concerns prior to the visit.

In my experience, people will use doctors to back up what they're doing when possible, and then denounce doctors when "good science" doesn't support whatever they're insisting upon. But, it's worth a try. The heads-up is crucial.

I was that girl in high school, and that woman in my 20s. I second trying to get involved in some sort of club or organized activity- the bar thing just never worked for me either. I ended meeting my now-husband through a volunteer activity. For me, it was helpful that I had this weekly routine to come back to to build on over time, rather than a one-time in the moment chance to make a connection.

It's win-win as long as you choose the activity for you instead of just for dates. That way, even if you don't meet someone special, you meet people who share your interests. If you don't even click with them much, you're still doing something you care about/enjoy doing. Thanks.

I think mom is going on vacation with them. She says "before we go away" and she says her husband wants her away too. And she said she would continue to talk to them throughout the summer if they told them beforehand.

The pronouns are weird: "They'll be going on vacation for a large chunk of the summer and at first I just thought that we would tell them when they get back from vacation," and then "before we go away," and then "as they come home"--so I was thinking maybe they're going to Grandma's. You're probably right, though, that they're going together.

Here's a hazard worth mulling:

Crap now I can't find it. Pending ...

No, no, no! Do not do it while they're away! This is setting them up, at such a young age, to fear being away from home, that something like this will happen whenever they leave. I don't know where they're going, but why isn't it possible to talk to them about it NOW?

Ok man, that last response really got to me. I know she will not take kindly to the suggestion of screening for anxiety. And my default was to ride it out and maybe she'll change back to her old self, even though her trajectory is worsening. And I will do solo counseling if needed, but I'm just so sad about this.

Of course--sad and scared and worried about your kids. But responses are flooding in, and it's pretty consistent that instilling fear of the world is a form of abuse. If you have a good pediatrician, then talk to him or her first, just you. Otherwise ask said pediatrician for names of really good mental-health caregivers. Again, just you, to start. Get right with what you want and need to do, then do.

I think everyone who ends up in a "This isn't what I agreed to!" position with childrearing hopes the ride-it-out method will work. There's nothing wrong with trying it. As you've figured out, though, you just can't stay there when things keep getting worse. Hang in there, and check back in sometime if you think of it.

Is your choice really between unsatisfying marriage and "the dating scene"? Or is your choice between a marriage that is making you unhappy and the chance to find a way of life that will suit you better? It sounds as though you are committed to the idea that you must be part of a couple, and you would rather be miserable as part of a couple than single. If this is true of you, then it is. In that case, you need to own what matters to you most and lower expectations for your marriage. Since its chief value for you is apparently to keep you from being single, you could perhaps think more that and whether that's still enough. Are you really and truly up for a sexless marriage just to avoid being single? Or could you consider the idea that being single (and possibly sexless, true) has its own benefits? If that is misreading what you wrote, perhaps you could consider what you value about your husband as an individual. What made you move *toward* him and not just away from the dating scene? What would you hate to give up if you contemplate divorce, aside from married status?

Those are all great thinking points, thanks, even if the underlying "you would rather be miserable as part of a couple than single" diagnosis isn't accurate.

This was me. As long as I let the husband continue to contact me about how he was continuing to work on his marriage with his wife (and what a great woman I was for letting him do so), I was locked into their marriage drama. When I finally realized that he didn't love me - he just loved the image of himself as a man nobly giving up the love of his life for the sake of his marriage - I enforced a no-contact rule and started healing. Yes, I felt like a jerk and was treated like one by a whole bunch of mutual "friends" - but ultimately it kept me from being roadkill from someone else's marriage car wreck.

And this.

My son had just turned 6 when my wife moved out. He was there when the movers came by -- afterward he walked around the house, then sat down in front of the empty TV cabinet (she'd taken the TV) and said "we need new appliances". (Amusing as he didn't watch much TV and didn't do the laundry, but hey). We had a great weekend shopping together to fill in the missing appliances and talking about how we wanted the "guys house" to be. This need not be traumatic!

... and this, which makes me sad but is still so on point, that if you rally, then chances are others around you will rally especially the ones counting on you.

My (grown) son still brings up the fact that we got rid of his toddler bed while he was visiting grandma. I can't imagine what the trauma of all signs of dad disappearing would've been.

Right. Adults think they are cushioning kids, kids think the world has all the power and they have none. Giving kids age-appropriate ways to take part in family transitions, even sad ones, is so important.

One more then I let Jess have her afternoon back:

And remember her too. Having anxiety or other mental illness is really miserable. She needs help as much as your kids do, and it can be terrifying to try to get it yourself. If you have a family doctor, talk to them as well to see if they can help with her care as well as moderating the obsessive tendencies that are damaging to the children.

Yes to this. She will need to help herself, too, and if she won't, then a lot of this is moot (and the kids come first), but it's important not to assume it is going in.

Thanks everyone for stopping by, for the thoughtful comments and for your patience with the exceptionally slow start today. Have a great couple of weeks and see you here July 11.

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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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