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Carolyn Hax Live: "You're bored. End of the line on this relationship, no?" (June 10)

Jun 10, 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.

A good friend of mine from college is getting married at the end of the summer. I was really looking forward to her wedding. We were part of a big group who have all moved to different places after graduating 10 years ago. The summer we graduated a class mate of ours got married before her partner was deployed. I "DJed" the wedding using rented sound equipment and music our collective friends owned . It was at the time a lot of fun. After accepting my RSVP for this bride to be's wedding , she sent me an emailing saying they were short on cash and wanted me to do the same thing for them -(DJing) as I did for my other friends 10 years ago. I really do not want to so I wrote back that it was not really necessary now with spotify and iTunes they could just make a play list and let it run. She wrote back it would be nice to have someone to adjust volume, changes songs depending on the mood of the party, and to take requests. I do not want to do this at all and yes all my reasons are selfish. I am no longer a single 21 year old. I was looking forward to a weekend away where I could dance with my husband and mingle with old friends and enjoy my good friends wedding, stay as long as I want and leave when I want to. I was sent an invitation to attend as a guest and accepted that invitation. I do not want to be forced into now attending as unpaid party help, especially since I have to travel to attend. Is their a polite was to say no to this ..again.

Ugh.

A teenage relative would be perfect for this. Tell her that, and that you're excited for a weekend of not being "on duty" in any capacity, so as (part of) your gift to her, you will pay a local teenager of her choosing to monitor a playlist. Ask her what she thinks is fair--$50? $100?

I'm sorry, she's being quite tone deaf. (Sorry for that, too.)

 

My mom is an anxious woman and has controlling tendencies. This was hard to deal with growing up, and it's gotten harder now that I have a son - her only grandchild. We come from a long, broad line of anxious and/or depressed people. My siblings and I are all on medication; my mom's siblings are all on medication. My mother is not, but it's clear to most of us that some kind of therapy would benefit her. Is it appropriate to approach her about this? If so, any advice on how? It's to the point where I'm having trouble spending much time around her, and I'm having concerns about the impact she'll have on my son. Thanks.

There are about to be consequences to her leaving her condition untreated, so, yes, it is appropriate for you to say something, That you yourself are part of this unfortunate family tradition improves your standing to speak up, too: "Mom, I don't think I need to point out that anxiety is our family business. Your siblings, my siblings, you, me--all of us struggle with it."

From there, it will be a lot easier for you to ask if she's willing to consider therapy, and it will be easier for her to take your suggestion if you have some numbers handy for her to call.

"I ask this because I love you and want you to have a close relationship with my son." It might also help you to have a session or two to work on some strategies for dealing with Mom. No doubt that's a easy place for you to revert emotionally to childhood ways.

Good luck.

I'm getting married in a few weeks and we have a formal dress code. I talked to my cousin today and asked what she was wearing. She said she was wearing a shirt and pants. Everyone will be in suits or tuxes so I asked if she had a blazer or suit jacket, or if I could buy her one for the event. She responded that wearing a blazer would make her incredibly uncomfortable and stressed out and she couldn't do it; and that wearing a dress shirt and pants was already making her uncomfortable. I'm incredibly confused by this, it's just a blazer, and I'm not asking her to wear a dress, just to follow the dress code and offering to pay for it. Am I allowed to ask her mother to try and convince her? Or do I need to accept that this is just my cousin's odd comfort level and she cannot follow the dress code AND enjoy the wedding? My concern is that I personally would feel uncomfortable and stressed out going to an event I was underdressed for, and I'm not sure she truly is understanding the dress code.

Drop it. You tried, she resisted, one person will not ruin anything, and as a host your priority has to be the comfort of your guests vs. conformity to your theme. If you can have a blazer handy in case she does feel awkward, then that would be a kindness.

I have two friends I've known for decades. One lives near me, one across the country, but we stayed in regular touch even before e-mail. I still get a birthday present from the one across country, but that is it - no letters, e-mails, phone calls and no thank you for the Christmas/birthday gift I send her. The other routinely backs out of social gatherings because the uncle of a friend of a friend has died and she has to go to the funeral. She also rarely is in contact unless she is sending out a group e-mail to inform everyone of the death of someone's elderly mother. Frankly, I think these are no longer friends, just memories. Is there any way I can stop them from sending me birthday presents (and the reverse) without being really rude or hurtful?

On their next birthdays, skip the gifts and just send each a card. Ideally they'll adapt by not sending you gifts anymore, either, but that doesn't have to happen. You control what you send and they control what they send, so you can decide unilaterally to stop sending gifts. 

Carolyn- My fiancee has clearly developed an eating disorder since we were engaged about a year ago (wedding in a few months.) Lost probably 15 pounds, maybe more? Spoke to her about my concerns (so much weight lost and skipping meals.) She denied any eating disorder. I have called out her friends and family who compliment how she looks so thin now, because it is clearly too extreme. My family and coworkers have expressed their concern to me, so I know I'm not out-on-a-limb here. I love her so much. She is funny and generous and smart, and I don't want to lose her. I want to marry her more than anything. I need advice.

Tough development, I'm sorry. Please call the Helpline for the National Eating Disorders Association, 1-800-931-2237, and look for other information at this LINK (the hotline is not 24-hour: Monday-Thursday from 9:00 am - 9:00 pm and Friday from 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (EST)). 

Eating disorders are notoriously complicated, so don't beat yourself up if you feel like you aren't making a difference. Get the trained guidance and proceed with patience. 

Hi Carolyn, My kids are involved in a youth organization one of whose adult leaders is rude and disrespectful. Her fundamental attitude is that teens are lazy, irresponsible, and inattentive, and that nothing but nagging will get them to do anything. She doesn't listen to them, assumes the worst, and scolds them for that; if they try to explain the misunderstanding, they get a lecture about not interrupting and listening with respect (yes). When I am present, I intend to try redirecting her criticism into supportive problem-solving., but in the nature of the group, the kids do have to interact with her themselves. Any suggestions for how they can respond to her? I don't think that confronting her directly about her pattern of behavior would get anywhere, since she doesn't listen and is clearly very insecure. We are fairly new to the group, and the other adults in charge are mostly friends of hers whom I don't know. Thank you!

There are no other youth groups available? I'm all for giving kids opportunities to learn to deal with difficult people, but this is one of the leaders--which doesn't speak well of what the group has to offer.

If there's some reason this is the only viable place for your kids to acquire youth-groupy benefits, then I think the best approach is to talk them through it, or, more aptly perhaps, listen them through it. Encourage them to tell you about their bad encounters with her, and prompt them to come to their own strategies for dealing with her (as) productively (as possible). For example:

Kid: "[Some dismissive thing she did.]"

You: "I can see how angry you are about that."

Kid: "Yes, I hate it when [general description of what she did]."

You: "How did you respond to her?"

Kid: "[What kid did.]"

You: "Did that help you feel better about it?"  

etc., working your way to what Kid thinks might help next time, if s/he wasn't happy with how this last exchange worked out.

 

"How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk" is a good primer on these conversations. 

Hi Carolyn, My SIL is very trendy & only cares about what's "in". This makes it very difficult to buy her kids any birthday, christmas gifts because things that don't meet her threshold go into the giveaway pile. This comes from observation, not from her ever saying anything snide to me about my gifts to her kids (tho she makes comments about other peoples' gifts). I don't make a lot of money and feel tired of trying to guess what gift will meet her threshold. Ultimately I don't feel like buying things for her kids anymore, but I don't want to quit giving things to her children because she makes me frustrated. What do I do - keep buying with good intentions knowing I'm throwing away my money? Quit buying knowing that I need my income and her kids are well taken care of? Do I donate to a charity in their name (altho I almost guarantee this move will elicit snide comments from her)? What's the right way to handle an adult that makes it difficult for you to do something heartfelt for a child?

If the kids are old enough, ask them directly what they want for their birthdays/Christmas. If they're not, ask your sister to send you a list. I can see how that would chafe, but, as you rightly identify yourself, she's the one behaving badly, not her kids (yet). If she won't provide a list, then give gift cards so they can pick out their own things. If you're close, you can also make it your gift to take them shopping (with a pre-set spending limit), which is a nice way to spend time with the kids.

Books make a good gift in these situations, too, and not just because they're trendproof; when they get scoffed at, the scoffer becomes a person who scoffs at books, which gives you "Can you believe these people?!" points to hold you till the next gift occasion, if not beyond.

Once or twice a year, the spouse and I travel separately for a variety of reasons (work, weekend with mom, etc). The last couple of times, when spouse has returned from a trip, she's immediately gone into "stress mode" for lack of a better term. Why isn't such-and-such clean? What is this doing here? Did you just sit around the whole time I was gone? This is accompanied by passive-aggressive behavior (lots of sighing, groaning, muttering under breath, etc). I've tried to get the place cleaned up or have a meal ready in anticipation of spouse's arrival the last couple to times, but nothing really works. I also try to be forgiving, since travel is stressful at the best of times. The air is usually clear by the next day, but it ends up being quite stressful for me. We have another bit of separate travel (work-related) coming up; any ideas?

Consider talking about it now, when neither of you is currently in this stress mode: "I've noticed the past couple of times you've come home, you've been really stressed--about the condition of the house or whatever else. Is there something I can do this time to make things smoother?"

One of the things you can suggest is to be out of the house while she decompresses and settles back in. Alone time is a gift many people don't feel comfortable asking for, and not having it when needed is a common cause of sighing and under-breath muttering.

I agree with Carolyn-- though I would encourage you to also consider whether the experience provides a net benefit to your children. I was once part of a volunteer program with whose mission I sympathized greatly. Unfortunately, the experience was diminished for me by a supervisor who was disrespectful and negative, and who physically and verbally harassed volunteers. There are likely better ways for your children to contribute to and take part in their community.

I have had the conversation you suggested with depressed and anxious relative, and the reply was, "I'm not crazy." We replied, "We are not saying that you are crazy. But we are so sad that you are suffering. You don't have to." "I'm not crazy." What next? I limit visits, I limit phone calls. In return I hear "I need company. I need you. When will I see you? Where were you? What were you doing (that was not visiting me/ calling me)?" etc. etc.

"I have/had [condition here]--and I'm not crazy, either. I have/had a common condition that I was able to manage with treatment. I hate to see you turn away from the same kind of relief." And when you get the, "I need you," you say, "I am happy to [call or visit schedule you're willing to keep]." If/when that is shot down as insufficient, you say, "What you want from me is not something I am qualified to give, because I am not your doctor/therapist. I will be happy to connect you with one, if you'll let me." 

Not that this is any guarantee of anything. Someone determined not to get help, or too ill or ignorant to recognize or admit the need, will not budge. But calm repetition of your "limit statement," every time, is your best chance this person will eventually budge. Worst case, there's no budging--but you're still on your side of the line you drew. 

"No" is a complete sentence. Or, "No, my DJ days are behind me. I'm really looking forward to seeing you and everyone!"

Carolyn, I've been dating my boyfriend for almost 2 years now... and we get along well, I think -- well, we hardly ever disagree or argue or discuss anything that would be divisive. He never wants to talk politics -- I have no idea where he stands on almost any issue. I like him, but I feel like I don't know him well. Part of me is thinks that I shouldn't worry about it too much since we're in our early 20s but another part of me is... bored. Should I be concerned??

You're bored. End of the line on this relationship, no? 

I have been dating a wonderful man for 5 years and we both hope to marry soon - finances just don't allow us right now. However - kids are a huge issue all of a sudden. We both want them but his job currently keeps him gone 5/7 days a week. I've told him, that when the time comes to have kids, I need him there daily. I can't do it myself. And he will not promise me that. He says he'll be there whenever he can... But what if we get married, have kids and I'm left to raise them on my own because he's gone all week?! It's unfair and honestly a fear of mine. He says he doesn't want to "waste the next 5 years to find out I don't want to have kids." He doesn't believe in marriages without kids. He says I'm not supportive and that I need to say "we'll figure it out"... but can we?

He's a d--k. End of the line on this relationship, no? 

My husband has a bucket list which includes participating in an ironman. He's been an avid runner and triathelete for years and is always training. This hasn't affected our time together for the most part, but from time to time it does get old. We've been married for 30 years and enjoy biking and hiking together. I have no complaints there, but when his training gets more aggressive our time together goes to second place. Is it fair to ask him to compromise on what he chooses to participate in so that we can continue to share quality time together? Thanks, triathelete's wife

This is who he is, and has always been. If he were just now ramping things up and changing the terms of how you spend your married time together, then I'd say, absolutely, tell him you're unhappy with the new terms, and suggest something concrete that would help--that he compete X times a year instead of Y, for example.

That you're unhappy now with something well-established calls for a different approach. "I've been okay with this for 30 years--from time to time your training absences got old, but it's important to you and you're important to me. Lately, though, it feels different because [reason for your change of opinion/feelings]." At that point you can offer compromises that would work for you, but you could also just stop there to see how he responds to you. If you suspect he'll respond defensively or dismissively at first, you can also say upfront that you don't want an answer right away, but instead for him to think about it a bit.

Either way, I think it would be useful for you to think about why this is an issue now. That's the linchpin.

Hi, Carolyn. Two years ago, my then-girlfriend and I went ring shopping. She picked out a lovely ring, I bought it, and was waiting for a special occasion (like a romantic trip, something we did occasionally) to give it to her. Then she dumped me. I never gave her the ring and she never saw it outside the store. It was pretty devastating, but I survived. Today, I'm with a new love. We're not quite at the proposal stage yet, but will be w/in the next 6 months I think. Can I give the ring I bought for my ex (and only finished paying for this year)? Or do I have to go back into debt to buy ANOTHER beautiful ring? (Can I invoice my ex for this?) Bonus question: Can I give my current girlfriend the ring without, y'know, telling her? She knows about the ex and knows we were close to getting engaged, but she doesn't know there's an actual ring. For the record, it really is a LOVELY ring. Engagement rings can't be returned. If I sold it, I'd lose at least half of its original value.

What a great question.

Most of what you paid for was the stone(s), so, when you're ready to propose, give her the stone(s) and have her pick out or design the setting. That way it's hers in spirit and in taste, and you're not reindebted on a second symbol of artificially inflated value.

You might even be able to recoup a bit on the old setting. 

Instead of buying gifts, why don't you do something with the kids, such as take them to a movie or a water park as a gift. It's a great way to get to know them and create a memory.

OP here. Yes, the kids like the group's work and purpose. I'm a big Faber & Mazlish fan--I've even considered giving this woman a copy--and we have had conversations along the lines you suggest at home. I guess we're stuck at the coming up with strategies part.

Sometimes all you can do is pick a strategy from the following list: quit; say, "Please don't speak to me with that tone," and see where the chips fall; ignore or avoid the problem person and focus on the benefits of the youth group (or job/program/team/neighborhood/etc.). 

Hi Carolyn, A "good" friend of mine moved down the street from us with her family last fall. I put "good" in quotation marks because, although we've been friends since elementary school, the bloom has been off the rose for a while. While she can be fun and charming, she can also be snarky, judgmental and passive-aggressive. It's just tiring to deal with, and I'd rather spend time with people who just don't do that, rather than trying to "fix" this relationship. However, she lives down the darn block from us. Our husbands are friendly. Our daughters play together all the time. And we have this 20+-year history. How do you suggest I save my sanity by limiting our interactions without making things too uncomfortable, given our close proximity, or ruining things for the other family members who do get along? Thanks so much!

Why don't you kindly and plainly call her out when she lapses into meanness? "It's okay to ask me outright for ____" in response to an outbreak of passive aggression. Or, "That stings--I hope you didn't really mean it" for a sharp comment. Not to "fix" anything, but to indicate in a friendship-friendly way that these habits of hers bother you and you're not having them anymore. 

She might surprise you by coming off it. Old habits with old friends go both ways, and she might be reverting to an outdated version of herself that she's more than happy to leave behind, once you make her aware of it.

If instead she responds by calling you too sensitive or etc., then keep on the calm path. "Maybe so. I'd just rather people be kind and direct with me. It's easier."

Carolyn, I know you, like me, are a dog person, so I hope you have some advice on my neighbors who are bad dog owners. I bought a house in my hometown last fall. Shortly after I moved in a family bought a house around the corner from me. My kitchen window faces out into my backyard, and the backyard of my neighbors, who have an adorable young pitbull. Now that the weather's nice, I'm noticing this dog spends almost all its time outside tied to a tree, with no other shelter. They do leave a food/water thing, but the dog usually knocks it over, so often the dog is outside for hours with no water. The dog cries and whines, and when it rains, the poor thing huddles under a tree. The dog gets left outside when they are home and when they're not, and sometimes until late at night. It clearly needs more attention and is just so miserable. I've had dogs my entire life, and I've watched long enough to feel confident that it's not intentional abuse, but people who probably don't know how to own a dog properly. I do not know these neighbors, even to wave. I desperately want to start a conversation about responsible dog ownership, but I can't imagine it will go well. Calling the local cops seems like overreach, but I'm at a loss. In all likelihood, this is a dog who should be in a different home, but I'm not sure I'm in a position to say anything. So I ask, what would Carolyn do?

Calling the local animal control authority is not overreach. Tell them the dog is neglected, and document what you've seen--how many weeks the dog has been chained outside, how many hours per day, in what conditions. 

So depressing. Thank you for speaking up.

Hi Carolyn, I am a medical professional that sees a fairly specific population. I enjoy my job but when I am relaxing with family and friends that is just want I want to do -- relax. My parents and husband's parents at times bombard me with questions about their and other people's medical problems that I just don't want to talk about because I'm not their doctor. I have tried deflecting ("not sure, I only see X population, you should ask your doctor", etc) but they persist. It's annoying. What to do?

Make the initial statement that you're off the clock now and really need to be--you need the break from what you do all day, to be good at your job when you get back to it. Say you will be most grateful to them for respecting that.

After that, you can skip to the shorthand: "Nope, off-duty, remember? How bout those Sox?" 

 

This is for the conversational curiosity. If and when one of them has serious health problems, you will almost certainly be called on to be a, if not the, point of contact with your relative's medical team. This is where your expertise can be a real help to your family, and you can even say so as part of your "No, off-duty" boundary-setting. "Of course I'll be there for you in an emergency."

There's been a lot of discussion surrounding the Brock Turner case lately, and one thing I keep reading/hearing is "we need to teach our sons not to rape." What do people mean by this? Do they mean literally sit down with a child and tell him that it's not okay? Do they mean raise the child in such a way that rape would never be something they are capable of? I have a 10-year old son and only last year talked to him about where babies come from. What age is appropriate to discuss rape with kids? Clearly this shouldn't come out of the blue but should include a discussion of respect, boundaries, etc. but I'm at a loss as to how this should happen.

I could write up the answer that explains how I'm talking to my kids, and have been since they were little (thanks in part to some really important programs through their elementary schools, yay for these enlightened educators), or I can save myself the typing and send you here: LINK to blog post on teaching children respect for themselves, for others' bodies and for limits

It says it's for boys, but I don't see the need to distinguish.

It's about learning not to take what isn't one's to take. Doesn't just have to be sex.

A couple months ago my boyfriend moved into my apartment for a number of reasons, financially and economically it is so much better and we have been dating for 3 years now. My parents are very strict Christians and I was dreading telling them about it and our Pastor found out and went behind my back and told them. This of course only made matters worse as they did not hear it from me. They are now upset with me and have told me that I have three options, I can have him move out, I can continue "living in sin" and be put under church discipline or I can continue living with him and leave the church. I don't want to leave the church as I have grown up there but this isn't the first time the Pastor has disrespected me as an adult and I have thought about leaving the church in the past. I also know that continuing to live with him will hurt my parents and they will have such a negative view of him and I don't want that as we plan on getting married and I want my parents to like him and support us. However, as of right now I do not plan on having him move out. Is there anything I can do or say to make this situation better? Does my boyfriend need to speak with them? Do I leave the church or attempt to make it work?

The best thing you can do is stop trying to have it both (all) ways, and recognize that your choices have consequences. Then decide which choices are important to you to make, make them, and accept the costs fully.

Right now you don't sound as if you really know who you are. You're just a collection of things you want or wish would happen, and so your actions aren't coherent or aligned with any unifying principle. Start by deciding your priorities: saving money? boyfriend? church acceptance? parental approval? and then revisit your decisions through the lens of those priorities. 

You can't make people like what you do. You can only make thoughtful decisions, feel comfortable in them, and hope the people you love (eventually) respect you for who you are.

Don't start your marriage with a secret. It would be silly and transparent to give her the situation as a hypothetical, but that is one way to sound her out about it before you pull out a diamond. I would not care about the ring's origin (assuming I liked it), but I would be incredibly upset about the secret. The fact that any one else would know and she would makes her a chump.

FWIW, I agree on the "chump" part--great word--but I also think if it were just the stone, no disclosure would be necessary.

That's it for today. Thanks everyone for stopping by, thank you Teddy for making the transition from Jess such an easy one, happy weekend to all and to all a good night.

re: "I have a 10-year old son and only last year talked to him about where babies come from. " An important moment to remember that rape has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power, entitlement, privilege, and taking what the rapist incorrectly believes should rightly be theirs. You can teach kids of all ages and genders that that's not the way to behave towards fellow humans.

Something that's important is to model respect for women and girls for more than their appearance. When you run into a schoolmate of your son's, is your baseline conversation based on a compliment for looking nice? When boys make fun of someone (anyone) for being fat/ugly/weird-looking, do you call them on it? Girls and women are taught that their value is in how they look--that they are meant to entice and that boys/men are entitled to 1. enjoy them for their physical charms and 2. act unreservedly on the feelings that these charms inspire. Admire women and girls frequently and openly for their accomplishments and character--it goes a long way in teaching how they should be treated.

I think where this comes up most is in the difference between how the topic of assault is addressed to girls vs. boys - the 500 lectures I had from my parents about don't leave your drink unattended, don't walk even a block alone at night, always make sure a friend knows where you are vs. the barely even one conversation they had with my brother about it. And my parents are good people but I think there's an assumption even among the best parents that "Well, rape is a crime so obviously I don't need to explain why it's wrong." But then that means they never have a discussion about what to be on the look out for and behavior in others that's questionable. When you're son's in high school, talk to him about dangerous behavior. And it doesn't necessarily have to be about rape, but that a friend wanting to get girls drunk at a party is bad, or that he shouldn't just shrug when he sees someone getting into a bad situation and assume they have control. To bring it back to the Stanford case, teach him that it's important to be the bike riders who helped when they saw someone in trouble, and not the people who ignored it.

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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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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