Carolyn Hax Live: Bail discreetly (Mar. 4)

Mar 04, 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.

Hi Carolyn, I work in an environment where, professionally, I'm usually the youngest in the room by at least a decade. This is my first real job and it happens to be in an organization where people stay for years and years. Professionally, I don't mind, but socially I feel like I'm constantly finding myself roped into conversations about dieting and weight. I'm in my late 20s, still flying off the coattails of my youthful fast metabolism and the good luck to have healthy habits and no medical history adding complications. Growing up, my mom was very conscientious about never making weight an issue at home - never commenting on our weight or her own in front of us - and cooked healthy meals all the time. Now, I find it uncomfortable to join these (mostly, but not all) women in their lamentations about restrictive diets, their exercise regimens, or how they can't eat that dessert, in part because it's something I don't naturally discuss at home, but also because I feel good about myself. Do I owe anything besides a superficial "oh, that sounds neat" or "maybe you would like walks if you hate sweating"?

I'm sorry, that sound really boring. As someone whose metabolism died last year and doesn't feel good about herself accordingly, I hope you'll take my word for it that your great maternal and metabolic luck aren't the only reasons it's unfortunate you keep getting roped into this topic. For one thing, and roping-in on a single topic is a drag--plus, food and weight have a way of becoming more problematic the more you dwell on them.

That's the sympathy. Now here's the unsympathetic sounding advice: Stick to the superficial "oh, that sounds neat" and treat the broader bigger larger underlying issue like it's radioactive. You're there to do a job, not make friends. So, stay in these conversations as much as you need to in order to get by professionally, and keep your personal relationship with dessert to yourself.

Whether you stay there for years and years, too, or move on at some point, the context will eventually change--and, presumably, your cohort will start looking more like you.

Dear Carolyn, Love the chats and columns. Thanks. I'll get right into it. My FIL is aging and his driving ability nosedived quickly. We tried to get him to stop driving for some time, but his pride stood in the way. Last week he blew right through a newly constructed red light and hit another driver. The driver of the other car was 25 weeks pregnant. Although the ultrasounds and medical tests show no damage to the woman or her child, there is no way to really know until the birth. My husband and I are sick with worry that my FIL may have caused damage to this poor baby. My FIL thinks that we are all overreacting and that the baby will be fine. This innocent woman and her baby's life are at risk, and a less important concern that there are two totaled vehicles. My FIL brushes all this off as a simple mistake and will occasionally blame the new stoplight instead of his own negligence. I am trying very hard to be understanding of my FIL's decline and be there for the family, especially my husband. However, my FIL's attitude about this makes me sick. No empathy, no apology, no concern for these people at all. How can I support my husband and be there for my FIL when I feel this way towards my FIL? I am also feeling incredibly guilty that we couldn't do more to get him off the road earlier, and prevented this whole accident.

To heck with support. Call the local police (the station that handled the accident) and say you have cause to believe the accident was related to a decline in his driving ability. Ask whether the police can work with the DMV to force your FIL to re-take his driving test. If not, then ask what other recourse your family has to get him off the road.

I am sympathetic to the losses related to aging, most acutely the loss of independence, but I have no sympathy, zero, nada, bupkis, for someone so cavalier about other people's lives. I'm sorry you're in the middle of this. Now please use that misfortune as a chance to get a dangerous driver off the road. 

When my fiancé and I got engaged, it became apparent that he wanted a large wedding with all his friends and family, and I wanted to elope. I agreed to have the large wedding because it was so important to him (the words 'devastating my family' were used quite a bit) on the condition that he would handle at least 90% of the tasks involved. I have a very demanding job working 60 hour weeks, and I just don't have the time. It's now 3 months to the wedding, and he has barely done anything. The invites are supposed to go out in a less than a week (it's a destination wedding) and he hasn't even started stuffing or addressing the envelopes, despite the fact that I've reminded him several times. Now I'm feeling resentful and stressed, because it looks like in the end I'm going to have to do everything. And before you say 'TALK TO HIM' I have, several times. This results in him googling wedding bands for 10 minutes, and nothing more. What should I do now? I feel like issuing an awful ultimatum 'Finish the invites by the deadline given, or eloping is the only option'. But then what does it say about our relationship that he's pushed me to that point?

It says something very important that you need to listen to! Now now now, not after you're married, by whatever means you get it done.

Look at what you just spelled out: He emotionally blackmailed you into the foofy wedding--"devastating to my family," seriously?--and now is playing deadline chicken to get you to do all the work.

What are the chances that BS behavior stops here? And won't instead mutate into a way for him to whine you into buying a bigger house and then blow off packing for the move. Or to take on a business venture and no-show the hard work after the money you earned in those 60-hour weeks is already sunk into it. Or guilt you into spending holidays with his family only to skulk off and watch football while you get pressured by his mom to help cook.

Even if you can't see any of these happening for one reason or the other, you also can't, for your own sanity's sake, ignore a flashing highway sign telling you that he isn't good to his word. It's a character issue, not an invitation issue. Call him on it and take on the consequences. They'll hurt less now than when you're more deeply invested.

I'm not sure why the LW needs to be superficial about the conversation. I work around women who are at least 10-12 years older than me, and found a way to be honest, myself and part of the conversation. Express your thankfulness right now that you don't have to worry about metabolism issues, but acknowledge that one day you might. Ask others when they noticed that they had to start limiting themselves. That way you are engaging in a substantive conversation without being superficial.

It doesn't have to be weight and dieting. You may find yourself in an office culture where babies/daycare/toilet training/other kid topics are as prevalent as weight and dieting in this one, and you may be the one (or one of a few) who have no kids. You may find yourself in a cohort of getting-marrieds when you aren't even dating. Look for some other things you can bond with your co-workers over for the necessary (and sometimes even desirable) office socializing, and find a few polite ways to ease yourself out of the conversations that get too focused on the the current preoccupation of whatever cohort you find yourself in. Whether you stay at this job or not, you'll find yourself in these situations again over the years.

Carolyn, Loved your column on the friend with depression. As that friend with depression, you described what I'm experiencing perfectly. My question is - as I'm now coming through to the other side- what do I do with such a friend. I've tried to explain to her that my depression isn't about her and she is still mad at me. Is this a sign that this isn't a real friendship?

Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you're feeling better.

Your friend's anger could indicate a couple of things--that it's not a real friendship, that she lacks an open mind, that she simply hasn't thought to or had occasion to read the kind of literary or clinical description of depression that brings many to their "aha" moment.

Since the last one is most accessible to your influence, I suggest you make a gift of a really good explainer. The one I suggested in that column, "Hyperbole and a Half," would still be my recommendation, but if you have one that has resonated with you ("Unholy Ghost" and "Darkness Visible" are two that often come up, and I'll post other recommendations if I receive them), then by all means use that. If she can read a well-written account of depression paralysis and still see fit to blame you, then, well, I'm sorry for your loss of a friend.

I have been married for nearly eight years and in that time I've worn my engagement ring and wedding band every day. Early this week, my engagement ring caught on something and one of the prongs was bent pretty badly. Until I can get it fixed, I'm not wearing it for fear of losing the diamond. I've just been wearing my plain wedding band and I'm finding that I actually quite like not wearing my engagement ring. I've always managed to catch it on something or snag delicate scarves or sweaters with it. It's a beautiful ring and I love that my husband picked it out for me, which is the reason I am hesitant to not wear it. I know it would hurt his feelings very much for me to say I don't want to wear something he bought for the sole purpose of wearing it every day. We can't afford to have the ring reset to a flatter setting that won't catch on things. Is there a way to tell him that I like going without the ring without making him feel like I'm rejecting this very meaningful gift he gave me?

Tell him you're not going to get it fixed, but rather start saving to have it reset; the snag that damaged the ring could easily happen again, and next time you might not be so lucky to both recover the diamond and avoid a severely injured hand. 

The single most effective thing you can do right now is do no wedding work whatsoever. If he also does nothing, the big wedding won't happen, and then you two can either elope or not depending on what you decide this means for the relationship. Either way, it's informative for both of you.

Dear Carolyn, I offered to throw my longtime friend "Shelby" a bachelorette party and put out feelers among the list of ten-ish people she wanted to invite, only to get almost no traction or interest from any of them. With only a couple of exceptions, everyone responded along the lines of "Shelby and I aren't really in touch anymore and I'm pleasantly surprised she invited me, but I can't get out of town that weekend." The two friends who did agree to participate are willing to join in when they can, but didn't commit to being there for most of what I had planned. So, other than me, Shelby doesn't have any friends...or at least the friends she thought she had are not invested enough to make themselves available. What should I do? How do I communicate this so it doesn't really hurt her feelings, and is there some alternative to a traditional bachelorette party that might only involve a couple people? If I were her, I'd find a night out with just me to be a disappointing consolation prize.

Tell her there were no weekends that worked with the 10 or so people she wanted to invite. Apologize for not being able to make it work, and ask her whether there's a Plan B she'd prefer or if she'd like some time to think about it.

Those "couple of exceptions" plus you plus Shelby might make for a really nice, much less ambitious ... something. That's a place to start, if she asks you for ideas.

Also, Shelby might have her own issues with keeping in touch, but I think it's fair to say in general that if this doesn't already happen pretty often, it's going to as long as the trend of having multiple wedding events vs. the old-school two (rehearsal dinner, wedding)--or a wedding week vs. weekend--continues amid a countervailing trend of everyone being some combination of overbooked, overworked, overextended, undervacationed or broke.

Now that my daughter is 1, I went to see a therapist for help. She diagnosed me with post partum depression. Honestly, it's a HUGE relief. Three years ago I got the same diagnosis (my son is 4 now). Back then (and now) I was treated with cognitive therapy AND anti depressants. Back then (and I hope that now, too) I was happy and "on my own" after 8 months. Everything good, right? Except that my mother is a therpaist and is HIGHLY AGAINST meds. When I mentioned I was going back to therapy she emailed (all in caps) stating that my "case" is not for meds and other statements of that tone. I replied saying that I was not going to read or hear anything else about my personal treatments or choices of therapy from her, only from my therapist. I haven't heard from her again, which is rare. It's been a few days and I want to reach out and ask "hey, we can talk about other things" but I don't feel like it. Should I ask my sister? My mom lives abroad and, yes, she is an expert in her field.

Your job now is to take care of yourself and, in doing so, your children. It is not your job to listen to, indulge, or make peace overtures toward your mom. 

Besides, even experts in their field disagree. 

I'm sorry your mom has chosen this as her hill to die on. I have little doubt that if any other patients asked her to treat them from overseas without so much as a telephone conversation about their history and symptoms, she would refuse on principle.

If you can and want to, forgive her this blind spot--whatever helps you to focus on your work ahead with your therapist. If you find that's harder now with your mom's reaction rattling around in your head, then one way to manage that is by seeking a second opinion. For your own peace of mind.

Amniotic fluid is an amazingly protective substance. If the mother-to-be isn't hurt and the medical tests showed no damage, chances are very, very good that the baby will indeed be fine. That doesn't excuse your FIL but I hope you will sleep better and forgive yourself for not preventing the accident that you did not, after all, cause.

I also find and am upset by the way a lot of women feel obligated to talk about their bodies in derogatory ways. It's almost as though they feel they should beat someone else to the punch. It's always happening at work and it seems you can't go to the bathroom without hearing a woman put herself down in terms of weight, attractiveness, breast size etc. I usually say "oh I hate the way women feel like they need to do that. I think you look great!" Because I'm older a lot of women listen and laugh and say "yeah you're right, me too!" Sometimes when the issue is framed that way it lets up a lot or even stops at least publicly.

Something neither you nor the mother mentioned: someone who is going to college and working 30 hours a week doesn't have time to make 6 hour round trips on a regular basis to visit grandma. And considering the cost of med school granddaughter probably made the wise economic decision unless grandma was willing to foot the bill for med school which at the minimum (state schools) costs $100,000 just for tuition.

Thanks for the note. The original letter actually went into the time issue in depth and I chose not to run it for space and streamlining reasons: The father was expecting her to take personal days from work to make these trips, and she actually was doing so on some occasions just to appease him. There's more, too, but you get the idea.

There are very, very few people I go an a bachelorette weekend for. You're asking people to spend money, travel somewhere they may not want to go with people they may not know (yes, they know Shelby, but do they know each other?) and maybe use vacation time. But I would go to a spa afternoon or dinner or bar crawl in my city for anyone (maybe not ALL of those things, but one or two). If everyone is local can you change the plans to one day or night?

Make that one or one. Yes, thank you. And if they're not local then let the wedding be the thing that gets friends to travel. That in itself is significant.

Carolyn: I am what can only be described as an extreme introvert. I am not shy. I relate to people very well, and in fact have a job which I love(!) that requires me to do so on a daily basis. My problem? I have a dear friend who is getting married shortly. I have every intention of going to the actual ceremony (my favorite part), and the dinner after, to show my love and support for the couple. But I am dreading the reception afterward! The group of friends that I am going with are all extreme extroverts, and will be drinking and partying all night. I do not drink, and also have the added issue of being unable to hear or follow conversations in places with a lot of background noise. All recipe for a disastrous evening, with me feeling anxious, and isolated. How can I get through this? Or at what point would it be OK for me to make a quiet exit? What explanation do I give? I have known these friends for almost 30 years, and while I love them all, they still don't seem to understand me and my need for a lot of "down" time, to be able to "recharge". Please help! No Party Animal

Once the dinner breaks apart into a mingling-type party, you can bail discreetly. 


Hi Carolyn. My husband and I have been together for over a decade and we have two sweet, young children. After months of a nagging feeling and of begging my husband to tell me the truth, he finally admitted this weekend that he has been seeing prostitutes and massage parlors for the past seven years. I found out about one incident seven years ago when it started, but I forgave him and he convinced me in his actions and love that he wasn't doing it anymore. Everything was "fine" until a year ago. The past year has been a sad, miserable time between us after I realized he was emotionally retreating out of shame and guilt. I know I do not want to live in the dark cloud of doubt in the future - the quiet tension has taken a toll on us and our children. The kids and I have lots of joy alone together, and joy alone with their father, but less joy when we are together as a foursome due to our tension. They deserve to have happy and emotionally-present parents and I believe it will be as co-parents who respect and love each other as friends.  He can get therapy to heal his addiction, but it won't be with me by his side as his wife. It will be me by his side as his friend and the mother of his children. We are both relieved to have the truth out and he says he will do anything I want for the future. He says he understands my feelings and vision of our future and wants to do anything it takes to support our family. We had a great past few days of being together - for real - with the kids. I don't even know what my question is. I just wanted to seek your guidance as we take baby-steps into a hopefully peaceful future. Am I being naive again? He and I have both seen separate psychiatrists/therapists for the first time this week, and we will continue for as long as it takes, which is a wonderful feeling of support and guidance. We plan to live together in our house until if/when we see that will not work. We are seeking guidance from our kids' preschool and pediatrician for co-parenting guidance. Ironically and blessedly, he and I are really good at communicating, except for this one huge secret. My next question is - what do we tell our families and friends, etc? Especially my parents who are both physically close to us (in the neighborhood) and emotionally close to us - my husband and parents love each other as father/mother/son. We are always together and will see each other for dinner Friday night. The only time 2 times this week I have broken down are thinking of my kids reflecting back on their family history and knowing this is a part of it and thinking of how this will impact my husband's relationship with my parents. He comes from a "good family" but his parents essentially neglected him throughout his life to party and deal with their own issues (a cause of his addictions?), so he is really close to my parents. Maybe I am still numb.

You sound like you are doing a remarkable job of handling a terrible situation. Not being able (yet? ever? that's for later) to talk about it to anyone but your husband and professional helpers means you don't have a good source of validation, so I hope this is one small thing I can do for you. Everything you have done here = rock star.

From here, please give yourself permission not to know what to do next until you actually know. Meaning, when you come across a question like, "What do we tell our family and friends?," give yourself permission to answer, "I don't know." And permission not to do anything about it until something occurs to you that makes sense.

You just got this news. You are going to have to process a whole lot of new information, feelings, consequences and their attendant emotional aftershocks. The more you can free yourself to see where this all goes, I expect, the better you'll feel about it when you get there. Pushing yourself to come up with answers you aren't ready to give will only add an element of pressure to a situation that doesn't need it.

If you get into situations where you're asked directly--say, your parents notice something--also know you're free to say, "I'm not ready to answer that yet."

And, when you are ready to choose a definite path for yourself and your marriage, you also don't have to hew to anyone's idea of the right thing to do. There are those who are going to say you have to tell the truth because secrets corrode, and other who say you have to keep this private because it's too scandalous to admit outside the family; there will be those who believe you must leave because prostitutes, and those who think you have to stay because marriage/children--and *none of them is you.* It's your family and these are your feelings and it's your past, present and future. See where your strength carries you.  

My fiance moved cross country with me a year ago for my job. I absolutely hate it. I don't like where we live or what I'm doing, and I regularly think about leaving it all behind. I've voiced my concerns, that the stress of my job has turned about to be too much for me and I fantasize about leaving, but my fiance doesn't seem to understand this is serious. I'll be crying after another terrible day and he'll ask if I'm alright, when I say no he is just silent. Quitting doesn't feel like an option, because I'm the sole breadwinner at the moment. My main concern is how can I commit to a lifetime with someone who acts like this when a problem arises? I have a history of dealing with mental illness and it's called into question whether he is a good fit for me in the long haul. What's going to happen when I experience another bout of depression? Is he just going to watch me fall apart in silence? Everyday I'm closer to leaving him a Dear John letter and finding myself a new life elsewhere.

Before you do, please at least try to teach him what you need or want from him. Not everyone comes with a set of instructions on this installed; maybe he has never been close to someone with a mental health struggle or (more likely, since it's pretty common) he grew up in an environment where such things weren't dealt with or even discussed. 

He committed to you, he moved for you--he sure sounds invested in you. It probably bothers him that he can't help you or doesn't know how to. Please think about what kind of responses you're hoping for and why, then explain that to him. Smooth the way by saying you were upset about his silence, until you realized he might just not know what to say.

How receptive he is to your saying this will tell you a lot, too. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn, Recently I was at a party hosted by my boyfriend's mother. We've been dating for about 6 months but have been friends for a decade. She drunkenly confronted me at the party saying that she is dissatisfied with the speed in which our relationship is progressing (too fast) and she doesn't like the impact that it can have on her grandchild (boyfriend has a child). While I completely sympathize with what she is saying, we are by no means going too fast (we are in a long-distance relationship and only see each other once a week, if we're lucky) and we are intentionally taking our time because we want his child to be comfortable with us as well as for us to be ready for the next step (he has shared custody with the mother so I would have to move in with him, not vice versa). While I spend time with his child and we've formed a bond, we make it very clear that the child has a mother and I'm daddy's friend. Since we've been friends well-before this child arrived, it goes without saying that he's known me his whole life so I am not a new person being introduced to the mix. A bond has existed for years. I did advise his mother politely that considering we live hours from each other and I only see her grandchild maybe once a month, it's not really shoving the relationship down the child's throat, and as we've been dating for six months and don't plan on living together anytime in the very near future, it's not moving too fast. I also told my boyfriend of what she said and he was upset that she would corner me and have this conversation with me and not with him. If this conversation were to arise in the future, what should I say? I obviously don't want to start issues or have her dislike me but conversely I feel compelled to stand my ground. Thanks!

"She drunkenly confronted me": Please take this as four-word license to ignore this and all future beer pressure. Seriously. If she has something to say, then she can say it sober either to you or her son. Ideally the latter, obviously. 

If you're an *"in vino veritas"* subscriber, allow me to suggest a slight edit. What I think people free in themselves with alcohol isn't so much the truth as a willingness to seek feedback and feelings they deny themselves when they're more under control. So you have the flirt seeking sexual attention, the fight-picker seeking confrontation, the conversation-dominator seeking the spotlight, the one who just finds a dark corner to get out of feeling anything. His mother might just need to feel like she's in control--hardly an exotic beast to let loose.

Maybe the wedding party needs volunteers (take presents to a car, help elders to their cars, watch some kids) so that attendee can help out and feel part of things before ducking out.

Find your own transportation. Tell the group, "I'll meet you there."

I agree with your advice to let Shelby know that her friends are booked, but maybe the friend could come back to Shelby with a Plan B or two in her back pocket, instead of expecting Shelby to come up with it? This would take some of the awkwardness out of it, and take one more wedding task off of Shelby's shoulders. She could suggest things like a spa day or wine tasting afternoon or other "non-traditional" activities that might actually suit a small group better. Also, maybe she is expecting too much participation from the invitees? I know I've been turned off by invites to bachelorette parties where there are 5 back-to-back events scheduled down to the minute and 3 of them require plunking down a bunch of cash. She could reengineer the party expectations and try a more low-key version on alternate dates where others might be available. In addition, it sounds like a lot of the invitees were out-of-towners -- maybe logistics is preventing some of them from committing? Just some thoughts.

"it seems you can't go to the bathroom without hearing a woman put herself down in terms of weight, attractiveness, breast size etc." Guy here. That's really interesting, and sad. Come join us in the near-silent men's room . . . I guess that's not workable.

But it's one of the sweeter invitations I've seen, somehow. Thanks.

Is this how he has responded every time or has he tried other responses and they've not helped? You say quitting doesn't seem like and option, but is that true? It's very difficult to see someone you love be stressed and anxious for months on end and not be able to do anything about it. There comes a point where you feel like sympathy won't do anything long-term to help the situation but any discussion about changing the situation gets shut down. This might not be you of course, but it's a well-worn pattern.

Right, thanks--it's even possible he had this problem with someone else and was "trained" out of offering suggestions by getting shut down all the time.

Other possibilities, too, of course ... which is why the, "This is what helps," conversation is so important. That and because they're both dependent on this stressful job, so the next steps toward fixing it need to be Topic A. 

Making a big career decision in the middle of depression is not a good idea, but the OP is crying out for someone/some way to address her feelings about her job. Her fiance's support or lack thereof is a diversion; the OP is turning on the fiance because she feels trapped in her job. Is she getting treatment? In her previous bouts with depression, did she also have "big decisions" to make? How big were those decisions after the depression lifted?

My husband and I already did that, but thanks for the very good advice. My problem now is mostly dealing with a man who I have lost a lot of respect for. As he continues to decline, my husband and I will be instrumental in his care. I need to find a way to care for him even though I feel this way for him. I also need to find a way to support my husband better, since right now I'm not very supportive to him. I don't want to see my FIL much, which is unrealistic.

I do hope you pursue other ways of getting him off the road. His doctor is another authority to try.

As for finding a way to stay involved despite not wanting to be, two suggestions: You love and respect your husband still, it seems, and so you can put up with your FIL solely as an act of love for your husband.

And, second, you can frame this all not as a series of choices your FIL is making, but instead a series of symptoms of his decline. A stretch, maybe, but when the mind is a casualty of age, the personality often is, too. Maybe a conversation with a geriatric social worker would help--they see this and issues like it in families every day. 

He may not be intentionally trying to back his fiancee into rescuing him, he may be feeling overwhelmed by what he has bitten off, and is dealing poorly with it. I would absolutely have done that if I'd been on my own with throwing a wedding. If the chatter doesn't want to marry someone who does that, that's fine, but I don't think he's necessarily being intentionally manipulative. Also, how many invitations are they sending to this destination wedding? I think you could address 100 invitations in one long evening, and he's got quite a bit more than that. He may have a "just in time" style, and he'll get it done. She might want to wait until he's actually missed the deadline to get ticked at him for it.

I'm going back to this because I agree, thanks, that "he may be feeling overwhelmed by what he has bitten off, and is dealing poorly with it," vs. doing anything on purpose, and I think that's an important thing to clarify.

But even if his poor coping skills are unintentional, they still are of huge consequence to a life partner. Plus, the fact that OP has spoken up about it only to be ignored means the "unintentional" argument is getting harder to make. 

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and type to 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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