Carolyn Hax Live: Pragmatism is seriously romantic (Oct. 23)

Oct 23, 2015

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody.

Did you hear back from the Mom from last week? She and her son have been in my thoughts.

Mine, too. Hang on ...

Hi Carolyn, Thank you for including my letter in your discussion. As I had written it for a previous discussion, and was written even prior to that (forgot about the Wedding Hoot), it has now been several weeks since I put it all on paper (so to speak). Just writing the letter in itself proved to me that I needed help, especially as I looked at my happy boy playing next to me. I went to my OB/Gyn who didn't definitively diagnose me with postpartum depression but did set me up with a psychiatrist, and talking to him (along with the med he prescribed), has helped me already. I also talked to my husband and told him that I need help at night. Not all the time, but sometimes, especially when I am feeling that angry. I don't know why I think that being a (mostly) stay at home mom means I need to do everything at night, and my husband can sleep. Yes, he has a demanding job but not getting more than 3 hours of sleep at a time for months on end is practically torture. I can be a bit of martyr sometimes, and I honestly don't think he had any idea how bad it was for me. I also spoke with my child's pediatrician and she is working with me on his sleeping habits. In just a few weeks, he has drastically dropped the number of times he is waking at night, and that, coupled with my husband taking some shifts, has made me feel immensely better. I am still a work in progress but there haven't been any more episodes, or even any close calls. I am still worried for future kids, but I think that starting off on the right foot with them- getting help from my husband/family, having a therapist etc.- will prevent any problems. Thank you again.

Thank you, too, for getting help, and for updating us. I was worried.

Hi Carolyn, How much time apart should a couple who live together have per week? I'm trying to gauge the healthy amount of togetherness and quality time as opposed to time apart with friends, family, and weekend overnights away from each other. Thank you!

Some people don't need any, and some can barely live with another person. There's no "should" here.

At least, there isn't one with respect to an amount of time. As for listening to each other's needs, respecting them and (this is huge) not taking them personally, there's a towering "should." You *should* be honest about what you need, you *should* encourage your partner to do the same, and you *should* make an effort to find an amount of togetherness that feels right to you both--which includes being willing to yield a bit instead of pushing just for what you want, and being able to recognize when yielding has become caving and to say enough is enough.

And if you can't get to this point for what ever reason, you *should* think carefully about whether you and your partner are truly compatible.


I recently confided in a good friend of mine some personal news, and told her not to tell anyone. I didn't think trusting her was a problem, as she has confided in me numerous times in the past and I have kept her personal stories to myself. But, within a few days, she had told two other friends about my news. Although she apologized profusely for telling the two other people, I was still angry. I told her that I should never have confided to anyone in the first place. She responded by saying that I was right and I shouldn't have confided in anyone, as even well meaning folks like her can say things they don't mean to. Although that is technically true, I feel like she's trying to justify her behavior. Am I over reacting to this? And how do I move forward from what I see as a betrayal in trust (even if she says she didn't do it on purpose)?

I'm going to dissect this, but before I do I want to make it clear upfront that your friend screwed up. She should have either honored your request to keep your secret or she should have said upfront that she couldn't promise anything because she's bad a keeping secrets.

That said, here are a couple of places where you can change your approach next time you want to speak to someone in confidence:

"I didn't think trusting her was a problem, as she has confided in me numerous times in the past and I have kept her personal stories to myself." This isn't proof that you can trust a friend; it's proof that you (and they) can trust YOU. Before you spill, make sure the logic of your decision holds up. Can you think of a friend who doesn't start conversations with this framework, "Hey, did you hear about ____? The way I heard it, she _____"? If so, that's someone who could someday serve as your secret vault. 

"She responded by saying that I was right and I shouldn't have confided in anyone, as even well meaning folks like her can say things they don't mean to." She's right that if you really can't live with the idea that your news will leak, then you shouldn't tell anybody. And, you are right that her saying this to you right after she blabbed your secret is too self-serving to earn her full credit for being right. Except ...

"I told her that I should never have confided to anyone in the first place": ... you did hand her the line yourself. While she's still on the hook for weaseling out of taking full responsibility, it's not as if she thought, hmm, how can I get out of the blame here, and whomped up that excuse. She apologized profusely, and then *agreed with you*  that if you want something to remain secret, then keep the secret yourself. Right? I'm sure you've heard the line, how can you expect me to keep a secret when you couldn't keep it yourself?--and it's not unfair to mention it here.

That, by the way, is how you move on, by reminding yourself that you didn't hold it in either (again--she still should have honored your request, see above), and that if you ever do need to confide in a friend, pick a different one.




For two years, we’ve had family friends with children the same age (now 5 and 7). Last month, my 5yo son hit my friend’s daughter in the schoolyard. He and I both apologized. Then, days later, my friend met with me to tell me that my son has serious issues and I should take parenting classes. My son is certainly not perfect, but he is typically developing and generally gets along well with others. In fact, despite this episode, her daughter still comes up to him constantly wanting to play. As we are neighbors and our kids are all in the same classes, we are still friendly and chatty when we run into each other. It's stressful for me, but it's better than trying to avoid her. But now my actual question: We host an annual Halloween party. They usually come. I don’t want them there because I don’t want her around my kid, and I won’t be able to relax, since she is clearly judging me. But they live around the corner and we have mutual friends. Do I need to not have a party if I don’t want her to come?

I have to ask this, and, remember, I don't know you or your son, so it's not as if -I'm- judging:

Is there any chance your friend has a point? I realize one hitting incident does not a problem child make, but, at the same time, neither his apologizing for the hit nor the daughter's going back to being friendly with him is proof that your son doesn't have serious issues. If nothing else, it's worth some thought about why this friend would take the extraordinary (and difficult) step of saying this to you. 

Her saying it, of course, also isn't proof she's right, but in the interest of getting past this, it's important to weigh all the elements carefully, even when it hurts to.

Since your son is in school, I suggest talking to his teacher. Something along the lines of, "I had an odd run-in with a friend about my son, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't lying to myself. How is his behavior in the classroom?"

If there's no there there, then you need to deal with the friend accordingly, since going your separate ways isn't practical. I suggest an air-clearing conversation. Tell her you've thought a lot about what she said, you even asked people who regularly care for your son, and you have no reason to believe he's not developmentally right where he should be. Say you're feeling judged, and ask her if there's something else going on here. Maybe you and she have kids with radically different temperaments? And radically different expectations stemming from that? Try to find someplace to agree. Good luck.

My husband and I have lived together since 2010, and here's a standard (that's also a run-on sentence): if we have no new information to tell each other about, and dinner is an exercise in numb boredom, then we've spent far too much time up in each other's business, and we need to detach and have some solo adventures so we have things to talk about.

Ha. I love this, thanks.

I've never understood this caveat. Does intent matter when dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions? Besides truly knowing someone else's intent, especially when she's trying to defend herself, is impossible anyway.

Ooh. I disagree. I think intent is huge. Maybe it doesn't affect the consequences, per se, but it's everything when it comes to how you look at that friend in the future, both in fondness and trust.

And while I agree that it's impossible to know anyone's intent but our own, it is possible to have a reasonable grasp of someone's integrity--we generate evidence in almost everything we do--so if you really think the person would lie in self-defense, then that's not much of a friend or friendship. 

I am the OP from today and I just wanted to say thank you for responding my letter and give an update. His mom died about a month ago and in the meantime our relationship has improved a lot. I did what your letter advised, I was there for him and supportive of him regardless of what we defined what "us" was. Thinking back now, my reasons for wanting to leave the relationship had to do with the situation we were in. His mom had been sick for over a year and I had been his only support for all of that time. I was just so drained and just wanted a break. After his mom died, a huge burden was lifted off of him, and in turn, that was lifted off of me (and he's started getting support from friends, family, and therapists, so I'm not just his only support now). It also didn't help that everything that we did revolved around the care of his mother. We started doing couple things again. We've been able to reconnect now that the burden has been lifted and I'm realizing why I had fallen in love with him in the first place. We're learning how to support each other in a crisis. We've learned that it is very important to be there for each other, but it is also equally (and sometimes even more) important that you take the time to forget about whatever the crisis is and just be a couple. He had gotten so stressed with his mom, and I was so stressed in supporting for him constantly that we just sort of forgot how to do that. I think that if we had made that a priority, he and I would not have felt so stressed as we did. Any other suggestions for if one partner is in a crisis like the one we've just gone through? Hopefully we won't have another one of the same size, or at least we'll be a little bit more prepared for the next one.

Hi, and thanks so much for this. I'm sorry to hear about his mom, but also glad you've come to a realistically happy non-ending with your relationship, my favorite kind.

Pragmatism is seriously romantic, once you acquire the taste for it.

As for your question, nothing comes to mind to add to what you've figured out about being in crisis. However, I think a lot of what we do when -not- in crisis can be very helpful during stressful times. When things are going well, that's a great time to figure out what works for you in taking care of yourself. Do you function better with a plan, or with a lot of room for spontaneity? Do you feel better when you exercise hard every day, with fitness as a goal, or are you happier just being active in your leisure time, maybe dancing or hiking? What calms you when you're wound up--a walk, a hot bath, yoga, a pet, a book, a laugh, an abrupt change of scenery? Do you need a certain amount of alone time, do you have projects/hobbies/causes that restore you? Are there people who just get on your last nerve, and if so, have you figured out why--and figured out how to keep them from dragging you down?

I could keep going, but basically all are smaller contributors to your larger state of mind. Use your happier times to learn how to be your own mechanic, and that'll pay off when things get tough and you need to keep yourself running.

I'll field other suggestions, too, if people have some they'd like to submit.

I agree it varies for each person/couple, but I want to share what works for me & my husband. After we got engaged, we made an agreement that we would leave each other alone once a week - He'd have an activity or class, say, on Monday nights, and I'd have mine on Saturday afternoons. It works great, gives us "me" time, and we're not in each other's hair all the time.

There's also a difference between 'being together' and 'doing something together' - and each person's tolerance/appreciation for those two modes can be different. I can read a book while my girlfriend watches TV, sitting side by side on the couch, and we have a very slow conversation over a couple of hours. But that's not for everyone, and it's not fun all the time.

One thing to keep in mind is that this will most likely change throughout the course of your relationship. For us, we aimed for no more than 1 social night completely apart a week when first married, but often we would get home late 5-6 nights a week due to gym/happy hour/social time. When I got pregnant, I encouraged my husband to go out with friends much more because I was no longer able to drink (or stay awake past 9). It became a twice a week thing where he'd come home after my bedtime. When the kid got here, he only went out with friends once a month. Our alone time now happens in much smaller chunks.

Should I be concerned if I've been dating someone for a while--about 7 months--and I find that I don't really care very much about spending Thanksgiving together? We are finding it hard to coordinate the logistics for being together on Thanksgiving, and he seems to be hinting that he'd like me to prioritize being with him, even though that probably means neither of us would get to see our out-of-town families. It's a big-deal holiday for me, generally with lots of family time, and I find that I really don't want to forgo that just to say we spent the holiday together. I'm worried that at this point in our relationship, I SHOULD be feeling that "I don't care where we spend the holiday, as long as we're together" feeling, but instead I'm feeling something that's more like resentment because he wants me to choose...

Then choose--family. That's what you want. Even if the choice you want is unpopular, the way to happiness isn't through pretending to want what you think you're supposed to want. If you SHOULD want something else, then let the people who believe that apply it to their own relationships.

"I get the sense you'd like me to choose Thanksgiving here with you over my family's celebration. I'm not ready to do that, though--this time with my family is a big deal to me. "

Either it works or it doesn't. Either you and he work, or you don't.

As for whether you "should ... be concerned," you'll find out soon enough. Maybe you won't miss him at all while you're gone, and feel relieved to feel like yourself again without having even noticed that you weren't; then you'll know this all was a sign you weren't as invested as he. Maybe you'll miss him and think the whole time, "I wish X were here, he'd love this"; then you'll know this wasn't a sign of anything except the importance of being yourself. Maybe you won't even make it to the end of November together because he can't let go enough to accept your honest answer. Don't be afraid to let it play out.

Here's some thought (from a father of three): Because at least 50% of the parents I meet are asshats who think their kids poop gold and every other kid is one step away from CPS.


I think you're underestimating.

But, 99.98 percent of them say it behind the backs of the parents they're itching to report. The face-to-face "I'm worried about you" is not their classic MO.

When defending our actions as kids, we would say, "but I didn't mean to!" My dad would reply, "Yes, but you didn't mean not to." I'm reminded of these words in so many instances of my life, and to the OP/LW whose friend spilled the beans. Meaning not to is a more disciplined approach, and usually more meaningful.

Great stuff, Dad.

I used to be able to access the Comments section of Carolyn's (and other) columns at the Post, but have been unable to for the past several weeks. Now I can't even view them, let alone leave a comment. Sometimes I get the error message "Unable to retrieve Canvas config from the storage". Yet I can still log in to the Post website itself, view unlimited numbers of articles, and (as you can see) still submit questions to the online chats (Carolyn's and others). Is there a tech person at the Post I could write to in hopes of solving this problem? Thanks.

You can try the FAQs for technical issues. And if that doesn't have the answer, there's a button at the bottom to submit a support ticket.

We often judge other people by their ACTIONS, not taking intent into account; but we usually judge ourselves by out INTENT. This is a big double standard, basically giving ourselves a huge benefit of the doubt. It is true we can never be certain of someone else's intent, but, in general and absent evidence to the contrary, it is really helpful for relationships when we assume positive intent.

Thread-tie alert, since we think -we- poop gold, too. Thanks.

Hi Carolyn, Longtime reader here! I was surprised that you sidestepped the actual pressing issue of the party, since Halloween is almost here. I would tell her to go ahead and invite the friend, as judging her for (potentially) judging you just starts a negative cycle. Perhaps things will go alright? In the meantime, do try to schedule this conversation, but it may happen before Halloween or after. INVITE THE FRIEND. Some things do blow over--if given the chance. Try to turn a new leaf as you wait to talk with her.

I'm not surprised--I blow past things all the time when I'm live. (This blazing speed of mine does come at a price.)

I agree the friend and her family should be invited to the party to prevent further escalation. Thanks.


Hi Carolyn, I'm on a break with the guy I've been seeing for a few years. Do you have any tips on how to make the best use of this time? I'm just trying to go back to what I would do if he weren't around and do things for myself that I haven't, either because I didn't have enough time or because I've let the stresses of life push them aside. Is there anything I should be asking myself about what I want or who I am that would be useful? I'm feeling a little lost, not without him in the picture, but just because I am afraid I'm doing this wrong or missing something. Thanks.

Not thinking too much sounds about right, actually. Live, get into a rhythm, don't worry about chasing down all the answers. They'll either find you when you're ready for them or the questions will become moot. Or the guy will come around looking to see what you've decided, in which case you can say you need a little more time--only a little, to be fair--and then do the purposeful accounting of how you feel.

I have a son who is gay. That is not an issue -- I am comfortable with his orientation and always have been. My concern is that when talking about him and/or his partner in casual conversation, I feel like I am outing them without their permission. For example, if I happen to mention to colleagues that I had dinner with my son and his boyfriend, I feel like I am announcing that they are gay to people with whom they might rather not share personal information. I am from a generation where anything other than heterosexuality was less accepted than it is by younger generations today, so this may just be a big deal to me. I asked my son's boyfriend about how he felt about this issue and he said he has learned that life is going to be a series of coming outs. Does that mean it is okay to reveal someone else's orientation in casual conversation about daily events?

You can't out someone who is out. 

Why did you ask the boyfriend but not your son?

The BF's answer is clear, to use the correct nouns/pronouns. Your son probably would feel the same way but we can't know till you ask.

If you were to ask me, I'd say that hiding via verbal gymnastics, when it would be more natural just to use the correct nouns/pronouns, would indicate there's something shameful about being gay. Just say you had dinner with your son and his BF because that's what you did. End of issue.

it's called the Fundamental Attribution Error and it is golden. A life saver when you can recognize it in others and yourself.

And comedic gold when seen in the right light.

Or is that theme abuse.

Thanks for taking my question! About 7 years ago, my then-boyfriend and I mutually ended our relationship. We dated for several years and I was his first serious girlfriend. He said at the time that he wasn't sure about committing to forever because it was his first relationship. I told myself that I had to "set him free" and that the relationship couldn't survive unless he had the experience of other relationships. But I always kindled the hope that we would get back together. We remained on good terms, dated other people, and then stopped communicating for a couple of years (at my reqest). During that time, I dated a number people, several quite seriously, but never felt as strongly about them. I recently had dinner with my ex for the first time in many years, during which I learned that he has a serious girlfriend, and also that my feelings are still there. He clearly cares for me and would now like to stay in touch. I am trying to be selflessly happy for him because I love him and want him to be happy. Is it wrong for me to keep in touch with him when I still have feelings? And is it a bad idea for my own healing to keep in touch? For what it's worth, I want children and am in my mid-30's.

Sounds as if staying in touch would be torture, as well as an obstacle to finding better companionship. 

Anyone have a story of this working out--of loving someone who wasn't ever going to be a life partner, and of falling in love with someone else while staying friends with the Unrequited One? 

You should assume that all breaks are permanent ones until told otherwise. Conduct yourself accordingly because it beats putting your fate in the hands of someone else. For example, right now, I'm on a break that started in 2007, and in that time, I met and married my husband, moved, got a cat, and bought a house.

The commentariat is on a roll today.

Please just say your son and his boyfriend--it will keep the rest of us from putting our feet in our mouths! I recently was at Parent's Weekend and my daughter mentioned her friend had 2 moms. That saved me from trying to figure out if one was the mom and one was a friend or aunt when I met them--they are both mom. Done, no confusion.

There's also the possibility that your relationship is just fine even though you'd rather spend it with your family than him (especially only seven months in). I come from a close family with lots of traditions; my husband always split his holidays between his divorced parents. It's always been harder for me to go to his holidays than for him to come to mine. Heck, I remember reading in one of these chats a while ago about a married couple who still didn't spend holidays together because it was their chance to be with their families of origin. Whatever works.

My partner of 15 years (wife for 3) and I spend most of our time together. It works for us because, it is both what we want. When we are at dinner, sometimes we realize there is nothing to talk about, but silence doesn't bother us. I sometimes ask if we should be having 'deep' conversations or something, which usually sparks a conversation.

I'm grown and married with 2 kids. I went through a lot to figure out why I can't have a good relationship with my parents, and probably have never had one. It's clear to me now that they are trying to have a relationship with their kid, not their adult child. They get angry and afraid when I express any kind of emotion; they want me to be happy all the time. They are afraid of everything in my life--my commute, my neighbors, my lack of anything they think I should own. They take no interest in my job or friends or hobbies, but keep asking about my childhood friends, and childhood interests. They tell me to eat and sleep and backseat drive about my house and kids. If the pictures in their home are any indication, time stopped when I was about 9 years old. Puberty, high school, college--all dealt with on my own, with no help or input from them, save warnings of what could go wrong and lots of fretting and guilt-tripping. So, in the past 10 years, I haven't seen them much. I've had 3 knock-down fights with them during that time. I've expressed my frustration and hurt at not being seen as an adult, and wanting a different kind of relationship with them. They say they're very hurt by my words and just want us all to get along. They wait for a while and then resume phone calls like nothing ever happened. It's clear they don't take feedback. I know this needs to change, but they won't. I am their only child; my kids are their only grandkids. (They display all the same kinds of behaviors toward my children, so I referee and limit their time together.) If they were abusive, I would just cut them off, but I'm only just miserable, up against their alternate reality of who I am. How can I stop expecting something so, well, normal to be expected? How do I have parents in my life who only know how to see 4th-grade-me?

What if, instead of approaching them as the parents who need to see you're an adult now, you treated them as if you're the adult in charge and they're the children? Flip it around completely. They are acting that way, if you think about it--they're playing house, circa 25 years ago, as opposed to occupying and reckoning with reality. Reversing the way you view them would change your expectations, which in turn is the surest way I've found to make it easier to deal with difficult people. 

Before I go, here's what I have so far on unrequited love:

FWIW, I stayed hopelessly in love with my best friend for the better part of ten years, even though I knew it was never going to happen. Met and fell in love with my husband during that time (towards the end); she and I are still best friends to this day. That said, it was the most brutally painful, torturous, emotional thing I've ever done to myself, and given the chance I would go back and smack my younger self across the head. My advice would be, yes, you can stay friends with someone you're in love with, but you need to put the work into killing those flames sooner, rather than later. Do it for real, and don't keep nursing the hope. It's self-destructive to the max.

No, doesn't work. I would tell him that you still have "feelings" and then walk away. Best for you, best for him to know why you're not staying in touch.

I dated someone in a very similar scenario, though we stayed friends and hung out throughout. Right before I was about to move to a different city, I took him out for dinner and explained that I thought breaking up had been in a mistake, and that I wanted him to be happy with his girlfriend, so I couldn't keep in touch anymore. Two months later he called me and said he broke up with his girlfriend because he also had had a nagging feeling that breaking up had been a mistake. We've been married for ten years and have three beautiful kids! I support being honest, and then establishing boundaries and distance... but don't disappear completely.

"Anyone have a story of this working out--of loving someone who wasn't ever going to be a life partner, and of falling in love with someone else while staying friends with the Unrequited One? " No. It is a special kind of hell trying to be just friends with someone you are in love with. I think she should cut the cord, but tell him why she's doing it. FWIW, I cut the cord with mine about seven years ago. I am now in a long-term, loving relationship with a great man. I ran into the unrequited love a month or so ago. It was still a stab in the heart. I can't imagine going through that constantly again.

Hi, my husband and I met in college. We dated shortly afterwards, but broke up when he moved across the country. I figured that he was too good of a person to lose, so I kept him in my life as a friend. We both moved on, got married, had children, kept in touch. Even though we were okay with our life choices, when our mutual marriages fell apart at near the same time, we discovered that those feelings that we had for each other never really went away and picked up right where we left off. For having not acted on our feelings sooner, it's now "messier". There are kids and exes from the previous marriages involved....some more hateful dialog that goes with being part of a blended family....split custody schedules to juggle....etc, etc. Sometimes we wished we had saved oursleves 10 years of torture and just gotten together sooner. But we both also realize that we were not ready for each other then. That we needed our respective "first" marriages to figure out what we really needed in a partner; we would have taken each other for granted. I am much happier now and truely with the love of my life. Sometimes, the love of a lifetime is worth waiting for, just to make certain it's right. My advise to your poster is for her to tell him that being friends with him is too hard. That she still has feelings for him and would like to give it a go. But if he still cannot commit to that after all this time, then he should set HER free, by firmly closing that door.

I used to be very, very deeply in love with a good friend I met freshman year of college. We were never romantically involved - he was in a relationship when we met, and even after it ended nothing happened. He's happily married now. For me, maintaining the friendship was very painful for the longest time - until he said something about how I was the sort of woman he would have dated "before I knew I was worthy of someone as amazing as (wife)". Instead of hurting me, that comment actually broke the spell. I never had a snowball's chance in Hades of being his idea of good enough, and that meant, had we gotten together, he wouldn't have been anywhere close to good enough for me. We're still friends, even though we now live 3000 miles away. He still occasionally says some boneheaded, unintentionally insulting things. I laugh them off.

I admire your steel.

Thank you for your response. I asked my son's boyfriend because he was around to ask -- he lives with me since his parents disowned him when he came out. My son was living here too, but moved out of town for a period of time for job-related reasons. I will ask him too. I think the whole issue is irrelevant to them overall. I do discuss them naturally with people, but sometimes notice a bit of a twitch from people my age as they process what I am saying. This may just be my issue as you said.

Actually, people's twitches are their issue(s).

I don't think you even need to ask your son--his BF is living in your home, for golden poop's sake. Just talk about this subject as routinely as you would ... whatever it is you routinely talk about.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, happy weekend, see you here next week.

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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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