Carolyn Hax Live: The Cognitive Dissonance Cabaret (June 17)

Jun 17, 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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Hello everybody!

So how bout that mom in today's column? LINK

Imagine wasting your one shot at life with that. Imagine that as the mark you leave.

Hi, Carolyn. I was dating a woman for several months. She's so great in person: kind, smart, great outlook on life, fun, etc. I had some personal trouble, and she lovingly gave me the space to deal with it as I needed. In other words, we broke up. It wasn't a typical break up, though. It was with the understanding that we might get back together if I could be ready, but I didn't want her waiting around for that if I couldn't be ready. The way she's treated me throughout our relationship and our break up has been so supportive and made me feel safe and loved and everything else. But since the break up, I've noticed that on social media seems like a different person. She humblebrags a ton, complains a lot about a specific coworker, refers to other women as "basic britches," etc. It's hard for me to reconcile her social-media persona with the person I got to know and now miss. I really like the in-person version. I would like to reach out to her to talk about getting back together, but I'm worried that the online stuff might be a red flag. One of the great things about her was that she was always open to talking about anything. But this feels pretty judgmental on my part (it is), and I have no idea how I could start a conversation about it without sounding like "I'd like to date you but only if you behave exactly as I think you should." Should I just let her go? Talk to her about it? Or what? If I can talk to her about it, how could I start that conversation?

I have to think about this.

On the one hand, I think of the fact that you know her in person and she was "so supportive and made me feel safe and loved." These are hard to fake.

On the other hand, for this other persona to appear on social media, it has to be in her somewhere.

This isn't the hard part, though. The hard part is that the obvious answer is to talk to her about it in person--and yet it's talking that she's good at, so you might come away with a false assurance that she isn't how she appears online. That is an argument for recognizing this peek at her humble-bragging-complainer side as a gift, and letting the breakup stand.

Since that means walking away from her with your question unanswered, though, and since that's something we humans generally aren't good at doing, I'm leaning toward the idea of just talking to her about it anyway. If it helps, I'm not worried as you are that  you're just saying, " "I'd like to date you but only if you behave exactly as I think you should." What you're really saying is that you noticed something odd about her social media presence--that it's so different from the person you got to know face-to-face. Why not say that, then leave it there and see what she does with it?


I recently read and enjoyed one of the books that you regularly recommend, The Gift of Fear, which leads me to wonder if you have any recommendations for my situation: I am in therapy trying to undo some of the damage caused by my extroverted (though otherwise loving) mother. Growing up, I was regularly shamed for certain introverted qualities that she just didn't understand (I was more hesitant to try new things, I had less friends than her, I was shyer than her, I was more quiet than her). I grew up thinking I should be more like her (and thus less like me), which led to years of feeling inadequate and responding sensitively to any criticism. Do you have any books you can recommend to help me through this process?

I don't usually do this, but I'm recommending a book I haven't yet read myself: "Quiet" by Susan Cain. Judging from the chatter around it, it's the introvert's glass slipper.

Introvert chatter = online posts, naturally.

BTW, I humbly suggest that you're giving your mother more of pass than she deserves. "Regularly shamed" a mere sentence after  "otherwise loving"? That's now the script for the cognitive-dissonance cabaret going on in my head.


HI Carolyn, Up until this week I was able to access each of your daily columns by clicking on the link you post on Facebook. Starting this week I have been hitting the pay wall for each article and have been unable to access them. Has there been a change with this? Thank you so much!

Yes, there has been a change. Here's what I posted on my page June 10:


Hi everybody. The Post has changed the paywall rules and now Facebook referrals do count toward the monthly limit. Thank you in advance for your patience with their efforts to pay me and others on staff.

Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have been dating for 2 years. He's a wonderful man, but I still have a lot of doubts about whether he's the person I want to be with for the rest of my life. We're both willing to work on the problems in the relationship, but obviously we're not going to become entirely different people! How do I know whether it makes sense to keep working on it, or when it's time to throw in the towel? (Relevant factor: we're both in our mid-thirties and want kids) -To Work or Not to Work?

Would you stay with him if you weren't worried about your fertility expiration date?

Hard to project, I know, but if there's an easy answer then you can skip past some of the more complicated ones.

Hi Carolyn, Appreciate your thoughts on this as an advice columnist and also maybe from your own experience... I'm expecting my second child this summer, and found out a few months ago it would be a boy--our second. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get over my disappointment about not having a daughter. (I think we'll stop at two kids.) I love being the mom of our current little guy, and am genuinely excited to have another boy--but I can't get over the feeling of loss, somehow, at never having a daughter and all that relationship entails. Yes, I know every kid is an individual, and there's no guarantee I'd even have a good relationship with my daughter--but y'know, still. A good friend of mine just announced she's pregnant with a girl, and I just regressed to the same place. Any thoughts on how to get over this?

Please know, and take comfort in the fact, that this whole issue is taking place in your imagination. That you're having a boy is real, sure, but virtually everything else about it is mental and emotional fiction. What you think life with a girl would entail is imagined. What you think life with boys will entail (subdivided into life with the older boy and the younger boy, since they will be fully realized and differentiated people)  is imagined. What you think you will feel 10 years from now, or 20, or 30, about your kids or about yourself or about your relationship with them or about theirs with each other? Imagined, imagined, imagined. 

So my advice is, live in the moment, this moment, your moment. That is by far and without meaningful rival The Best Position to put yourself in to discover and delight in who your children turn out to be, whoever they turn out to be.

I have been dating a nice guy for a little over a month. He is sweet, takes me out to dinner/movies and is affectionate. The one problem I have with him is that he seems to have a negative outlook on marriage and kids. Whenever, I bring up my friends with kids and families, he laments about how they are probably miserable behind closed doors. I find this outlook for a guy in his mid-thirties possibly a red flag since I do consider marriage important. Is this a deal breaker or nothing to worry about since we are early in the relationship?

Have you said to him outright, "You keep saying things like that, so I assume there's a backstory. Care to share?"

It's just as important, by the way, for you to know and be willing to share the backstory to your high regard for marriage. It's who you are, after all. The mother of all deal-breakers is if the interest in getting to know each other and choose wisely isn't mutual.

A friend of mine has a sweet and innocent persona, but frequently makes racist comments that I and others find off-putting. For example, he disparagingly called a mutual acquaintance a "whitified Indian" (whatever that's supposed to mean) and somewhat proudly, smugly states that he cannot tell apart African Americans or South Asians. I think he comes from a background in which he was sheltered from the realities of our diverse, multiracial and multiethnic world, but there is no justifiable excuse for his uncivilized, ignorant commentary. How do we approach him about this issue before he makes one of these comments in a very wrong context?

I don't understand the idea of an approach or context, and won't get started on the new act just added to the cognitive dissonance cabaret ("friend of mine" + "sweet ... persona" + "proudly, smugly" racist = [i need a slack-jaw emoji]).

When your friend says something ignorant and/or uncivilized, just say something on the spot. Such as, to borrow your excellent concept, "What does that even mean?" 

That's really all you need to do. No strategy meetings necessary.

Carolyn - my 80 yr old father has to go to court for beating up my mother (they are divorced). He's not worried because he doesn't think he did anything out of line. He has serious mental issues (which he denies). He's an alcoholic and has been an abusive husband and father. He really can't live alone anymore and if he doesn't go to jail (I'm assuming unlikely because of his age), something will need to be done. He wants my help, both with the court issue and helping him decide what to do about his living condition. Every time I'm near him, I lose my temper because he just doesn't see that he's ever done anything wrong. What do I owe this man, who is my father, but is also sick and not a very nice person?

Goodness. Before you tackle the "What do I owe him?" question, please throw in that same inbox the questions, "What do I owe my mother," "What do I owe myself," and "What do I owe society?" Because his are hardly the only interests here. 

Then, give yourself the loving gift of engaging professional help with this whole process, starting with a really good geriatric social worker, one ideally with experience handling issues serious enough to have wound up in court. The court itself might be a source for referrals, and if not then contact the local council on aging. Repeat to yourself as needed: "This is over my head." because it is *for each issue involved*--the violence, alcoholism, mental incompetence and legal jeopardy--much less for all of them combined.

You have leverage, by the way: He needs you. That means you stand a better chance now than you ever have of his agreeing to your preferred solution, even if that solution is merely competent containment of his sickness and unkindness. 

I left the last issue, your own emotional fallout from a lifetime of association with your father, for the end because it's one I hope you'll regard and tend to separately. Your healing is paramount; please see that clearly enough to give yourself what you need. Take care.

Hi Carolyn, I know this isn't on of your usual chat topics, but I'm hoping you might have some advice nonetheless. I am taking a solo road trip with my dog through the southeast in July. She is a great traveler and has been on long car rides before, but this will be the first time I will be road tripping with her by myself and during a time when outside temperatures hover around the surface of the sun. My concern is when I will have to run into a rest area to use the restroom. Obviously, that wouldn't take but a few minutes, but I know how quickly cars can get hot and my dog is of a breed that has a more difficult time cooling down anyway. Ideally, I'd be traveling with someone else who could watch her and keep her cool while I went in the rest area, but that is not possible. Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation? Thank you!

This is a great question, and of course it made me think of the dog listening to Steely Dan.




My brother is 33 and still lives at home with our parents. He's very smart and has a law degree but he has not worked in many years. Our parents are elderly and depend on him to drive them to work and do grocery shopping. Everyone involved (including my brother) knows he needs therapy to work through his depression but my brother won't do it. He tried to approach a therapist once and was told she was full and not taking anymore clients. My brother took that as yet another rejection in his life and can't get the courage to approach another therapist. My parents would like to retire and move near their granddaughter but can't because of my brother. They fear if they left he would commit suicide. How can we convince him to get the help he needs?

Try finding another therapist for him and making the appointment, even going with him. Apparently he knows that's what he needs to do but the barrier to entry is too high for him in his current emotional state. So, help him over the barrier. The homework of finding someone nearby is something you can do by phone, online and/or via email, i.e., even if you live far away.

Once you have found someone and scheduled an appointment, then your grandparents can take over to make sure he gets there, since he is capable of getting them where they need to go-- or you can plan a brief visit to make sure he shows up for his appointment. Once he is established (has a therapist, knows where it is and where to park and how long it takes to get there, etc.) then the barrier may well be low enough for him to clear without an escort. He just needs support for getting there enough times for a treatment to take hold, assuming it does.

Good afternoon! I need help navigating the newfound uncertainty of my future. I have two small children recently diagnosed with a progressive, eventually fatal disease. Not only are we reeling from the terribleness of all that, but all of our hopes for the future are gone. We'll never be able to retire with the medical assistance our babies require. (We're older parents.) How to I cope!! I'm having trouble accepting the reality of my new life and I need to be strong for my family.

I am so, so sorry about your babies. 

Your story instantly brought to mind Emily Rapp, a writer and the mother of a child with Tay-Sachs disease. She wrote a memoir about her experience, "The Still Point of the Turning World," and also was on Terry Gross: LINK. She offers beautiful, useful and life affirming insights, though of course you're coming to them from a position so close to your real life that it might be overwhelming.

You don't name the diagnosis, but there's likely an association and caregiving network specific to the disease that has stricken your children. If so, please call right away if you haven't already. There's no substitute for people who know exactly what you're facing. If there's no such group in your area, then talk to your doctor about groups with the more general mission of supporting families.

I realize your feelings are a mix of shock and grief over your children and fear of your precarious finances, but I suggest you work now on finding an emotional outlet that will help stabilize you, and then you can tackle whatever logistical issues you're facing. Almost no one can take on an entire future in one step, much less while reeling emotionally. Let yourself take the smaller, more immediate steps to get through this.


Dear Carolyn, My ex-husband passed away suddenly. We've been divorced for 20 years but he is the father of my children and I know his family, I attended services and tried to be there for my kids and his mothed. I was surprised when I received a check in the mail from his life insurance company. Evidently he never changed the policy to make his second wife the beneficiary. I want to split the money in thirds and give a third to each of our kids and keep a third for myself. My kids could pay off their student loans with it, which I'm sure will be a relief to them. His second wife has been contacting me a lot with pleas and demands to give her the money or at least part of it. I'm sure she was expecting this money but I don't feel compelled to give her any; and legally I don't have to. Ethically, should I give her a token amount? Or the whole thing?

If you were the second wife, what would you want? 

I hope you can write back--I'll wait to share my thoughts till I hear yours.

Hi Carolyn, A year ago my boyfriend moved across the country for job/needed change of scenery. While he made that decision unilaterally, we agreed that we'd do long-distance for awhile until I could join him if things continued to work. Well, the time is nowish, and I just get so upset thinking of leaving my fantastic, supportive community and the job I love, even if the former is temporary (plan is to move back in a couple more years). So I say, "ok, maybe I shouldn't." But then I think of losing my relationship with my boyfriend, and I can't fathom that either. I've been going around in circles like this for months, making and remaking the decision to move, trying to come up with outside-the-box solutions, waiting for something to change to make the decision easier, and I'm just stuck. The mental anguish of spinning gears could power a small city at this point. Any different angles/thoughts you could provide? (There's more details here, which I'm happy to give, but trying to be brief.)

Moving is hard. Staying is easy. (Logistically speaking, at least.) And this is true whether you're doing or undoing: Move, and it's a hassle-emptying your home, packing your stuff, leaving your income source and finding another, leaving friends, making new ones. Etc.. Change your mind about moving and you either have to force yourself to think smiley-face thoughts about a place you don't want to be while you work to make it all work, or you have to redo your move, maybe leave a job you just started, find another job back in the town you just left, find new housing.

Now compare these with staying put: no lifting, selling, moving, applying, interviewing, or security deposits--and if you decide staying was a terrible idea, then you just move.

So the only decision that makes sense for a person who is truly torn, as you suggest you are, is to stay. Give yourself a time limit if that makes you feel better--say, decide that you're not going to think about moving for another six months, mark the calendar and everything--then live fully during that time without the burden of an unmade decision. 

Then in six months see if you can think any more clearly about it.

I'm also wondering, though--can you arrange a temporary move? It's really career-dependent, I know, but some employers will allow sabbaticals, temp transfers to a different office, a semester so you can go to grad school (then you pick a program where your BF lives), etc, so you can keep all your roots in place and just live away from them for a defined period of time. Then when time's up, you move back home, and he joins you as planned at the end of the "couple more years." Assuming your stint in his town doesn't change the math.

Is your car air conditioned? When I drove across country with my dog and cat I left the engine running and a/c turned up. Locked the doors from the outside with my spare key and ran into the restroom. Worked out fine.

Can you plan your rest stops, for the most part, for places that will allow you to bring your dog in with you? (Call around and check with the most common gas stations, for example, and ask about their policies - I'm betting there's a fair few who would rather you bring your dog in with you if it's well behaved then leave it in your car).

My adult niece (about 40 years old) posted to a social media site (not Facebook) a very nasty comment about me because of my stance that women and girls should NOT be judged on their looks. This stance was never communicated to her specifically in any way. It is just something I occasionally reference. She said the following to describe me: "She's totally nuts. She's got a ton of money, no kids and clearly no joy in her life, either. " . How do I get over the hurt of her comment since I have no idea from where the hate originated?

It sounds like this is the tip of the storyberg here, but, just going on what you've given me, I suggest letting her know by commenting on her original nasty post so she knows you know what she wrote. Write, utterly without inflection, "I'm sorry to hear you feel this way," that's it, then sever your relationship with her.

Whatever you may or may not have done, said, demonstrated or believed to put this thought in her mind, the fact that she expressed it this way and in a public forum is completely on her. The hate is her damage, not yours. And the onus is on her to rebuild a relationship with you if that's what she wants. Unless and until that happens, please devote your time and concern to people who welcome you in their lives.


Found one! Plus a few others you might find useful. Heh. Heh.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody for stopping by, and for your patience as I worked on some difficult questions. 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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