Carolyn Hax Live: Ignorant of fry equity (Jan. 8)

Jan 08, 2016

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, happy Friday.

The writer in the column today seemed to be of the mindset that whatever s/he says is normal & and acceptable behavior and everyone else is too sensitive. We all need to be aware of words, tone and their effects. Call it 'political correctness ' if you must, but I call it civility .

Well, not "everyone else"--just this one person. It's certainly possible the LW is at fault, yes, but the scant information we have also leaves room for the relative to be, or both of them, or neither of them.

I'm with you on civility, though. And with Toles on the war on "political correctness": LINK.

Carolyn, I wanted to add my two cents to yesterday's column about making friends as an adult with some advice that I don't think I've seen you mention before. I moved to a new state for a job shortly after college and assumed I would easily make friends. Turns out this isn't a problem unique to introverts, because this extrovert spent a miserable three years in that city with very few friends. And I did every put-yourself-out-there thing I could (kickball teams! political campaigns! MeetUp groups! volunteering!). But what I hadn't realized when I took the job was that I was moving to a city where most of the young people were settling down. The friends I did make were a few steps ahead of me in life (all were married or engaged, most owned homes) and it was hard to become close with them when we were so different. The step I ended up taking was extreme, but worth it: I packed up and moved. I hated that all my efforts were still resulting in spending entire weekends without even speaking to anyone and I knew I was on my way to becoming depressed. I was able to find a great job opportunity in another city and once I moved it was like someone turned on my friendship light switch. I'm so much happier now and so grateful that I took this step. I realize that it's a solution that is not available to everyone, but if you have the opportunity and have really given as much effort as you can to a place, then take it. Sometimes your attitude can be a barrier to making friends, but sometimes it's a bad match of person and place.

Hear, hear. I was just recalling with someone my own very similar experience. Same me, same outreach efforts, roughly same stage of life, but one neighborhood yielded exactly 1 invitation in 18 months (to a neighborhood-wide party at that) and another brought a half-dozen neighbors to our door to introduce themselves within the first 18 hours. The move cost us dearly but was worth it; some places just suck. 

Though yours is probably the better way to say it. 

Hi Carolyn. I've been reading your column since I was in high school and now, as a 30-year-old, I need your help. I have good, loving parents and we live in the same town. I've moved away for brief periods before - to go to school, to work on farms, to live in the big city for a while - but this is a comfortable, affordable place that I always come back to. I'm ready to move again, but this time to do so more deliberately. (I'm applying for a grad school program in a new, big city, so I'd be going there with a purpose.) I feel like I've always come back to this town with my tail between my legs, like I'm more comfortable not only being around my parents but also being a big fish in a small pond. The thing I'm struggling with the most is leaving my parents. I don't understand this, because they're not guilt-trippers. They've always been of the mind that I can (and should) do exactly what I want to do in this world. They're supportive, thoughtful, and open-minded. But I feel so unbearably sad to leave them, and I think it's all self-inflicted. They've never asked me not to move, they've never implied they needed me around, and they both have very full lives. I think I inherited a pretty intense fear of death from my dad, and maybe I should chalk this up to that; I feel overwhelmingly sensitive to only having a certain amount of time with them. I can't tell if I'm using them as an excuse, or if this has been years of weird family dynamics in the making, or what the hell is going on. I want permission to move away, I want them to know that I'd have two lives and live in two places if I could, and I think that more than anything I just want someone to tell me what to do. Online only, please.

I'm going to mull this a bit more, but the question I couldn't shake throughout is this: Why do you need to leave? There's nothing wrong with being happy somewhere, even if it's the little pond you grew up in, as long as you are in fact comfortable vs. bored.

Since you seem to have the flexibility, would it be wrong to treat your hometown as home base as you keep leaving and coming back--but as a planned strategy from now on? It seems as if you've treated past departures as attempts to achieve escape velocity, but maybe the problem is only in the way you've framed them. Regard them as chances to stay fresh and see more of the world, and maybe it will feel good to come home they're through. Say, after grad school. 

Dear Carolyn: My sister and brother-in-law received a lot of money from an inheritance about 5 years ago. They never said how much, but it's pretty obvious they have no debt, new cars, and their kids have fat college funds. They also set up a scholarship fund at their alma mater, located close to our hometown where we all still live. About 10 years ago, my husband and I adopted an African-American boy from foster care. My sister has always been wonderful with my son. But I've noticed that all the candidates selected for her scholarship fund are white. I asked her about this over Christmas, and she said that they have a "blind" screening first that removes data like race, gender, and age and reviews just merit. They pick the scholarship winner that way. I feel that my sister, as somebody who has the ability to positively impact the lives of students of color, like her nephew, should be doing more. I told her this. She asked me "are you really criticizing the way I give away money?" I said yes, and we got into a big argument. We have not spoken since. I miss her, and I want to repair this relationship, but I refuse to apologize for what I actually said. She is literally giving help to the people who need it the least, and that is unconscionable. I've been sending her a lot of data on the disparity between races, but she hasn't responded to anything. What do I do to get through to her and get my sister back?

You posed this as an "and" situation, but it's always, always an "or": You get to pick your message OR your relationship with the person you wish would receive it--and even then, you can pick only what you want to prioritize in your efforts. You can't pick an outcome.

To proceed as if you can have both is to demonstrate a basic failure to understand boundaries. You can't make someone agree with you, not even when you're 100 percent sure you're right. You can't make people like you under the best of circumstances, and you certainly can't make them like you while you're actively badgering them on what you perceive to be their failures of conscience.

You control your behavior, that's it. So, you can choose to keep badgering someone, because you think your message is more important than anything else. Or, you can choose to drop the message and be conciliatory to your sister because the relationship is more important than anything else. 

I suppose you can choose to keep trying to have both, but I don't like your chances of berating her back into the fold.

I haven't addressed your black-white issue because it's actually beside the point. Certainly as a sibling you had standing to voice your concerns (though I would have suggested far less strident phrasing), but it was always her money to spend as she saw fit.


Hi Carolyn - longtime lurker, first-time questioner. My mom is getting remarried soon (she's divorced from my dad, future stepdad is a widower). We all really like Stepdad and are happy for them. My brother recently asked Mom offhandedly if they were doing a prenup, and she surprised him by saying they were and that it would keep their finances totally separate, including any inheritance. My brother is concerned that this puts me and him on the hook to care for Mom if anything happens to Stepdad down the road, and he wants us to have a serious talk with her about the implications of this. Mom and Stepdad both work and have some retirement savings (they're in their early 60s), although Stepdad is definitely wealthier than Mom. I understand Stepdad wanting to leave everything to his kids, but also understand Brother's concern. I guess I'm torn because Brother is SUPER worked up about this and thinks Mom is getting screwed, whereas I feel pretty agnostic about the whole thing. Am I missing something here? Is this prenup a red flag? or is Brother overreacting? How should I approach with both of them?


As the one who is calmer about it, you are arguably in a better position to talk to your mom--just to make sure she won't be out in the street if he predeceases her. She was direct about the prenup, so it sounds as if you can just ask. 

This still leaves room for two difficult outcomes--1. that your mom hasn't made such provisions; and 2. that your brother is too worked up to take your or your mom's word for it if the couple did in fact make provisions for her care in the prenup.

In case of the former, you can ask her if she's comfortable with your making some inquiries about this with some estate planners, to see if there's a way to tweak the prenup to protect her without having significant impact on the inheritance plans. In the case of the latter, you can only do the legwork you deem appropriate. His emotions are his responsibility. 

My son is 2 1/2 years old and my husband wants to take him on vacation with his parents to Florida (we live in the Midwest). I am invited but I cannot get the time off from work and we have a 6 month old as well. I don't really want my son's first vacation (and plane trip) to be without me -- plus, I don't feel ready for him to be that far away from me (I trust my husband and in-laws, but neither has been the primary caregiver for my son since he was born). My husband rarely gets time off work, but has the time to go to Florida and really wants to take him. My husbamd always defers to what I say when it comes to the kids, but he sounded really disappointed that I said I didn't want him to take our son (and gave the reasoning I mentioned). Am I being unreasonable by saying no?

I wouldn't call it unreasonable. Of course you want to be there for the "firsts."  

It's hard to send your baby off on a plane without you, too, though that's less reasonable, because sending him off in a car is statistically a bigger risk. 

But I would call your decision unfair: You're taking something valuable and material away from your husband and child, just to preserve something conceptual for you. This is a huge opportunity for your boy to get closer to his daddy. Sounds like both of them could really use it, too. If your husband hasn't learned to care for his son solo after 2 1/2 years, when exactly is going to be the right time?

A "yes" would be a loving and selfless thing to give them both. Deep breath, step back, yield the controls. He has as much a right to them as you do.

Thanks for your response. You're so right about escape velocity. I can't believe I left out the detail of why I want to leave: I feel bored and unstimulated here. The town is pretty dead, and the most exciting thing we do is drink too much, too often. I feel not quite understood by my friends, and I can't shake the feeling that my friend-tribe is elsewhere. I just hate the thought of being away from my parents.

Okay then ... how far do you have to go to hit something interesting? Being a 2-hour drive away from them, one-way, is still a day trip if you need it to be.

Picking between my sister and my views on racial disparity is like Sophie's Choice. They both matter to me greatly; I have no clue how to go about weighin them and deciding which one to uphold.

Well, you could dedicate yourself to racial disparity issues with your own time and money, and let your sister just be your sister.


For what it's worth, I work in scholarship administration and our University does not even allow people to specify race or ethnicity in their scholarship preferences. Scholarships can specify need or merit, but they may not specify gender, race, marital status, etc.

I would put it this way - when your default reaction to someone's distress is to claim they are "too sensitive," it is at least worth giving passing consideration to the idea that you may be "too insensitive."

Absolutely. And if you refuse even to consider it, then you are.


It is also worth considering that you're just two people who don't mix well. Not because one of you is a big-emoting yeller from eight generations of big-emoting yellers and the other flinches when a car door slams three houses away, but because both of you want the other to be more like you.

Hi Carolyn, I thought a former friend and I were doing the slow fade thing. We haven't been close in years and it seemed to me that we both felt our friendship had run its course and were letting the friendship die a natural death. However, every 6 months or so I will get an email from her with "Let's do lunch next week." I'm cool with that since she's not a bad person and I can do lunch a couple times a year. Here's the thing: when I reply back with the days I'm free, she will reply with "Great. I'll get back to you." But she never does. I don't follow-up and a few months later we're back to "Let's do lunch next week." What am I missing here? I hadn't sensed any confusion or hurt from her so I thought our fade out was mutual but she wants to see me and then ignores me. Why would someone reach out to me and then give me the "I'll give back to you" line and what should I do?

I could throw out some guesses as to why and type out a reasonable what, but, idunno. Seems like something small enough to ignore, and even quirky enough to look forward to. 

You also could start answering, "Sure, what days are you free?" That way you find out whether she's serious before you exert even the slightest effort.


Ok, so my SIL had a parent admitted to a hospital, and her and my brother had to go there and needed someone to watch the three kids. My partner and I volunteered. We are childless. We are also really gullible and maybe think we are more capable than we really are. We decided last night to take them all out to dinner, just so someone else had to deal with the carnage afterwards. They are great kids, a ton of fun, but they are 3 years old twins and a five year old sister. Things were loud. There were cries and lamentations and laughter. And screaming. This wasn't Chez Ritz or anything, but I saw a look of angst on a younger man's face that easily could have been me 20 years ago, and really I was doing the best I could but they gave one kid more fries than the other and it went downhill from there. I would like to apologize for all the eye rolls and harrumphing I did in my youth towards people with children. And maybe apologize to that young man, and even his poor girlfriend who will probably have to leap higher hurdles to convince this man to procreate. Chaos. I do not know how to deal with chaos except to leave a huge tip and be glad nobody died in the consuming of this meal. How do people do this and stay sane?

Standing, clapping. That's awesome.

1. People don't stay entirely sane. 2. They issue a lot of retroactive apologies for their youthful eye-rolling, if they're honest with themselves. 3. They avoid even Chez Okay and go to House of Mayhem (but still leave big tips). 4. They have their kids one (usually) at a time starting on their 0th birthdays and venture out of their houses carefully on outings of gradually increasing ambition; they don't start with two toddlers and a know-it-all-year-old at a place ignorant of fry equity that others choose for a date night.

It's okay. You did a good thing. 

Hi Carolyn. I have a husband that loves me, a wonderful stepson who just got accepted by his dream college, a beautiful home, nice car, good career – all the “right” things that I really am grateful for, but I still feel some sort of discontent – like, “is that all there is?” I go to work, come home, make dinner and by the time that is all done, wind up sitting on the couch watching TV – just to face the same thing all over again the next day. Yes, a few days a week I get to the gym before heading home or run an errand or two after dinner, or once or twice a month meet up with friends for a girls night out, but nothing feels truly fulfilling. And I feel like an entitled brat for feeling that way. After all, I know there are many, many people who dream of this life – love, stability, and all material needs always met. But, I feel like I’m always wishing away the weekdays, to get to the weekend – maybe do something fun (movie, dinner out, etc. – sometimes just me and hubby, sometimes with friends) after food shopping, cleaning etc. just to have it all start again. That saying “life is short. . .” is always in the back of my mind, making me ask myself what great things I should be out there experiencing, doing, seeing. I’ve done a decent amount of traveling and seen some amazing places in this world and yes I’d like to do and see more, but that’s not in the cards for right now (*see above – kid going off to college). So, is this just a rut, mid-life crisis, or something bigger? I keep thinking it must be that my perspective is “off”, that I need to really learn to appreciate and be truly happy about all the wonderful things I do have in my life, but that nagging question keeps coming back – is this all there is? Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated - really!

There are people who dream of a life like yours, yes--the ones who don't have it. You do. So what do the people who have it dream about? More stuff? Seeing and doing amazing things? These sound amazing and all, but what about doing amazing things -for- someone who could really use them? "Making a difference" sounds a lot better than "living out my days," doesn't it? 

Sounds like time to ask yourself what your new purpose is for this next stage of life. You have a loving home, a good career, your health, material comfort, and apparently some time on your hands now that the stepson is launched (congratulations, that's no small thing). Imagine the good you can do for ... somebody. Or something. 

Think of it as a puzzle, and devote some of your couch time to solving it. 

I have three kids under three (two of them are twins), all of whom just skidded into their cribs for naps after a rough morning. This made me cry - although, to be honest, I probably wasn't too far from tears to begin with. But on behalf of parents everywhere, thank you, and I accept your apology.

Any advice on gently breaking to a grandparent that they aren't going to be allowed alone with their new grandchild? Said grandparent is already thinking about baby sitting, and day trips and week long visits. We value their presence and want them to be involved with the child, and still love them, we just have seen a series of very questionable judgements with the other grand kids combined with knowledge of how my spouse was raised, that make us just not want them alone with the child. So we want to draw this line but maintain the relationship.

It sounds as if the visits won't be an issue for a while yet--if that's true, it's really okay to kick this can down the road. Who knows what will happen between now and when the grandparent wants to take the child on a day trip next Sunday vs an imagined someday.

When you do get to that point, that's when you start the process by deflecting when you can, and declining when you have to, each offer as it is made. When it comes time for the bigger, "I'm sorry, this isn't going to happen," it will need to come from your husband.

Sorry, not husband--spouse. Had someone different in mind.

She's a procrastinator. Nothing personal, she just doesn't get around to things. I know this syndrome well, alas, and have had friends move away before I got my act together to get together. If you do get together, bring your calendar and agree on a next date, regardless of how far away it is.

I live a plane flight away from my family, and I only get a week and a half of vacation a year. Over the holidays, I get a constant stream of people telling me how they missed me at [whatever event] and that I should come visit more. I know that individually they mean well, but I'm not happy with the situation, either, and the cumulative effect is just to rub it in. I keep replying to stuff like this that I have very little vacation and that I'd be happy to host them if they came up to visit me, but so far, only one person has even tried to take me up on my offer. (It's not like there are kids involved-- everyone either works like me or is retired but in good health). It's making me dread these visits. What do I do?

A couple of things--main one, though, is to stop taking the "We missed you at [whatever event]" remarks to heart.

You've made your life choices and they took you an airplane's distance from your family, and presumably staying there is also to some degree a choice, yes? I realize I'm assuming a bit here, but unless you've been searching for months/years for a job closer to them, and you lack the means even to quit and drive home and stay with family till you find new work,  I think it's fair to say your limited vacation days are only part of the picture that keeps you away.

So if that's accurate, then their "we missed you!" ... while not actually flying to see you is a lot like your saying "I have very little vacation" ... and not actually moving closer to your family. It's a dance they initiate and you participate in for your own part, vs a set of  emotional thumbscrews they slap on you every holiday.

Actually, that's most of my answer.

The other things I was going to suggest are much more logistical, like choosing to travel for these events occasionally instead of the holidays, to mix things up a bit, and/or inviting specific relatives to come visit you for a specific time: "There's a [whatever event] here on [date] and I thought you might enjoy it--why don't you come stay with me and we'll go?" 

Hello! I've always had a good relationship with my SIL (husband's sis), but a few months ago when she came for a visit, she abruptly left when she found out my daughter and I had flown across the country over the summer to see my brother and we didn't visit her adult daughter who lives nearby. My daughter told her we had visited. My SIL incorrectly assumed I had asked my daughter to not tell her and it accidentally slipped out (untrue). She decided she was not welcome in our home and left after arriving about 2 hours prior. When I got home from work, I learned what happened. I texted her to let her know I had not asked my daughter to lie, that it was a short trip to see my brother and I had just wanted to spend time with him as it was the first time I had seen him since my father's funeral. I haven't heard from her since. My husband's input is: I told you you should have visited my niece when you were there. Was I obligated to visit her? Do I owe my SIL an apology? For the record, my daughter did visit with my niece and my SIL just a few weeks after the "incident" at a family gathering (I was unable to attend due to my job).

This brings us back to the scholarship answer, really. You didn't think you were obligated to see your niece, and you're entitled to that opinion just as you were entitled to spend your trip as you pleased.

Your SIL strongly disagreed, and thinks her view of how you should have spent your time is paramount.

You can either choose your message here as your priority ("No harm intended, I just had a specific purpose for this trip"), or you can choose the relationship with your sister-in-law ("I'm sorry--I should have called her at least, I wasn't thinking").

One difference is that you're not presuming, your SIL is, but they're similar instances of having to pick one priority because you can't have both.

The Atlantic did a cover story on this issue last year. There seems to be somewhat of a biological influence to the question the OP is asking. And yes, says the research, it does get better. 

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks everyone for stopping by, and type to you here ... oh wait. Not next week--it's hockey tournament time so I have to be off next Friday. See you the 22d. Have a great weekend.

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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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