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Carolyn Hax Live: "All together, wow." (February 24)

Feb 24, 2017

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 all, happy Friday.

So, are your chats permanently at 11 EST now, or is this a temporary thing?

Hey -- Chat producer here. That's my fault. The chat will be from noon till 2 p.m. Sorry about that!

Well, noon till _____.

Hello Carolyn, I had a crush on a woman several years ago. She and I grew close when she was having some difficult times, but when things came back together for her, I got essentially ghosted. At that time, I put myself into counseling for about a year, in an effort to get over the crush and to avoid doing anything reckless that would hurt my marriage. I also tried a few times to get back into her life as a friend, but for my troubles remained a nodding acquaintance. Fast forward three years, and now she is interacting more with my wife and I again. It is likely that this will continue. My problem is that, out of disappointment over the unrequited crush and being generally frozen out of her life, I am occasionally making snarky comments about her and avoiding her, which is rude and not the kind of person I want to be. My question is, how can I help myself take the high road in my dealings with her, as my head tells me would be the good and right thing to do? Please sign me "Fairfax"

The snark is rude, but the avoidance is smart. This is not a good person for you to be around--you can't keep yourself in balance. Please find polite ways to keep her at a distance and consider another round of counseling to help you make actual peace with the idea of her. The first round appears to have been compromised badly when you were actively trying to get back in her life throughout.

How do you shut up a perpetual joker? Someone who loves the sound of his own voice and won't shut up for a second or say a single sincere thing as long as he has a rapt audience? Or is it on me, the annoyed person, to just minimize my exposure to this tough-to-swallow person?

Pretty much. Even if it were universally agreed that his perpetual joking was unwelcome, it's still not on you or anyone else to "shut" him "up." You can register displeasure, you can opt not to invite him, you can leave, you can call the usher if he does it in a theater. That's about it. 

You mentioned in today's column that some couples are OK with outside flirting and some are not. My question is, how do you decide how far it's OK to go? Do you just ask your spouse, "How much flirting am I allowed to do?" Or do you feel it out with trial and error, which risks someone's feelings getting hurt? Or what?

I think it's a bigger understanding on a bigger scale. It's not ... okay, i can flirt to here, but not past here. It's: What is your view of sexuality, or commitment, of intimacy, of the notion of having a private self independent of all others. Some people are so uncomfortable with the idea of their partners as sexual beings independent of their relationship with them that they can't even stomach the idea of past partners. Like, obsessing and being haunted by unwelcome mental images. Some are at the other end of the spectrum and want to share their partners with other people. In between are varying degrees of comfort with emotional, sexual and general autonomy of the individuals within a couple. It's one of those areas where it takes time to get to know yourself, much less another person. 

My mother frequently asks men to defer to her in situations where I feel that her requests are ridiculous. For instance, at the grocery store, if the person in front of her in line is a man, she will always say, "Excuse me, will you please be a gentleman and let me go ahead of you? Ladies first." If the man says no she will usually glare at him but not say anything else. I think putting men on the spot simply because of their gender is rude and have told her so, but she brushes me off. Do you think I should say anything more to her? Refuse to go places with her if she's going to do that? Or just ignore it?

I think you should do what you think is right.

Since you don't think it's right for your mom to do this (I'd be horrified too, fwiw), then it is important for you not to benefit from it personally. So, you leave the grocery store when she jumps the line, for example, or take your things to a different line. Calmly, politely say why. 

Don't "say anything more to her" though about doing this; you had your chance to say something and she brushed you off. Now any measures you take are about distancing yourself from her tactics vs. trying to change them.

Dear Carolyn, My husband and I find ourselves hosting our children and grandchildren at every holiday and family get together. This includes providing a guest room for our son and his family, as well as my brother, all of whom live out of state. We have 2 guest rooms, and are happy to have them. While it is physically difficult for an elderly couple to have frequent house guests, we try our best to provide for everyone. Recently we had a family dinner, but only had room for one guest, my brother, since our other guest room was occupied. We asked my son and his family to find another place to stay (such as local family and friends). They chose to attend the dinner and return home on the same day. At the event, they were very cool toward us, so we knew they were miffed. Two weeks later, my son called and complained that they had been treated unfairly. He maintained that they could have crashed on a sofa or somewhere else. He went on at length with these complaints, which in the end brought me to tears. I am of the mind to let it go until it happens again, and then call my son on his ungrateful behavior. After all, this is the first time in his 7 year marriage that he was asked to stay elsewhere. My husband wants to call him and have it out. I think this would add another chip to their already heavy shoulders. Your thoughts? Exhausted Granny

Your son is acting like an ingrate, I'm sorry.

It sounds as if it's time for you to set limits on your hosting for your own health and well-being. Decide what you're willing to do (one guest/family at a time, alternating? retiring the guest rooms completely? delegating specific chores?), then let your kids know of your new plans. Don't apologize for it, don't back down, just say this is what you feel is necessary and you plan to apply it across the board. That's important--having different rules for different guests is a recipe for hard feelings.)

As for your son, I do think it's appropriate for your husband to follow up. The fair thing would be to start by offering your son a chance to reconsider his words on this subject.

If he doesn't back down, then your husband can point out calmly that expecting accommodations beyond what his hosts felt able to provide is not something you raised him to do.  

I should have included this before the last paragraph: Also give him a chance to say what's really bothering him, because not being offered a couch is not something that seems worthy or haranguing one's mother to the point of tears--which is, frankly, shameful behavior. So make this point and ask him, what's the real issue?

I know you got a lot of responses from Sunday's column, but I wanted to post that I was that kid, who was good at nothing, with that Mom who didn't change her ways. But I have a success story! My parents also didn't know what to do with me because I was the only kid of theirs that didn't excel in anything. (Pick an activity and I would come in dead last!) Plus it didn't help that the majority of my classmates had talent too. I was an outlier at home and school. For a long time, that sucked. But I finally found my way in college, grad school, and the work world! I landed a high profile dream internship and a couple of amazing jobs so much so my hometown paper did a couple of profiles on me. I'm so glad I never peaked in high school. Ironically because my parents withdrew and focused their attention on the children who got results, I was able to find my own way and succeed. I did it despite them. Not having their watchful, critical eye anymore allowed me to find myself and figure out what my talents were. I was more likely to try things because I knew I wouldn't face their criticism. I realize my story is the antithesis of what parenting is supposed to be and no expert would dare promote it, but I wouldn't have the end result be anything else.

Love the story, thank you.

Is it the antithesis, though? To my mind there's so much literature out there now urging parents to Back the Erf Off their kids. You make excellent anecdotal support for that school of thought.

There's another nugget wedged in here that's really useful, and that's the idea of "peaking." I've seen so often--especially in the grade-school and youth-sports environments that make up so much of kids' lives--that the early bloomers get a huge amount of attention and resources. But, people have their own timelines for maturing to their full strength, and it's short-sighted to overlook those who just haven't finished growing into the people they're going to be.

I have some questions on a variation of today's column about building trust again. Background: I've been married to my husband for 12 years -- together for 20. We have a three year-old. Last November, he asked for a separation. I knew our marriage had been doing badly since our kid was born -- exacerbating existing problems -- so the request was both not a surprise at all and a shock. He agreed to stay in the house until after the holidays and we took care of some financial arrangements, so didn't move out until we tied those up. He's still in the house now. Then, two weeks ago, I found out that he has been sleeping with another woman for the last two years and was planning to move in with her immediately after leaving me. And she wasn't the first -- he apparently never bothered stopping sleeping with other women for the duration of our marriage (if not longer), including using prostitutes. Most worryingly, he has an entire secret life filled with sexual activity that looks compulsive and addictive, with red flags such as: missing work for sexting and sex; sexting in the presence of our daughter (which he sees no trouble with) and other people including at work; he misses events with his daughter to have sex; and possibly having sex at work (he's a fed, so that's a big problem). He's introduced our daughter to at least one of the women he's slept with, spending extended time with this woman and introducing her as "daddy's girlfriend." If we didn't have a kid, I'd be out the door and probably set his car on fire on my way out. But we do, and I'm going to have to work with him to co-parent our daughter for the rest of our lives. But I can't trust a thing he says. He denies things I know he's done, and denies he has a problem. I can't trust his boundaries. But I don't want to deprive my daughter of her father. And even if he does have an epiphany and get therapy and we move to joint custody (I'm currently asking for sole in light of his apparent addiction until he gets treatment), how can I ever trust him enough to work together on parenting? How can this even work? What can I do?

I'm sorry for the pile of awful you're having to work through right now.

Your situation sounds like a great case for dealing with one thing at a time. Work on getting that sole custody. (To that end, make sure your team is top-notch--attorney, investigator, family therapist.) Then, work on creating a stable and loving home for your daughter, which is where therapy for you comes in, possibly for your daughter, too.

Then wait to see what he does about his issues, if anything. Then decide whether that has any bearing on how you manage the way you raise your daughter. Keep in mind that if he behaves in such a way that it's not healthy for your daughter to spend time with him, then you aren't "depriv[ing] my daughter of her father," *he* is. Be as forgiving of him as you can be because he's her father, of course, but above all be the parent your daughter needs.

And breathe, breathe, breathe.

I grew up as the son of a single mom. She was a free-spirit so I had an interesting, but unusual childhood. For instance, I don’t remember living any place longer than 3 years, and we lived everywhere from a house shared with 3 other single moms to a tent. When my mom told me she had terminal cancer, she finally admitted that she knew my father’s full name and address – something she had denied all my life. Long story short – after her death I looked him up and now am trying to establish a relationship with him. It’s been hard for all of us. He’s been married for over 30 years so obviously I was the product of an affair, which is embarrassing and complicates things right off the bat. It also means I have a stepmom and 3 half-siblings: 2 older brothers and a younger sister. I was blown away by how good they all (even my step mom) have been to me but trying to become part of this family is difficult and over-whelming. My dad and older brothers couldn’t be more different from me – they’re loud, talkative, and successful (all involved in the family business). My younger sister is nice but distant and obviously doesn’t feel like she needs another older brother. Believe it or not, my step-mom is the one I connect with the best. My dad is trying really hard, I can see that - he’s given me a job and plans to pay for my college next year but some days I still feel like running back to the kind of drifter life I knew before. I can see that I’m never going to fit in here and maybe it’s better to get out now rather than years later when my bugging out might hurt these people. Should I try to stick it out? It’s been 6 months and I still feel like the strange kid on the fringes of the “real family.”

So, you're 17? 18? In your 20s but late to the college thing?

This a lot--A LOT--for a young adult to take in. You've lost a mom; you've gained a family of strangers. Your mom's resistance to baggage was it's own kind of baggage; in the new family, you're the father's baggage made flesh. You're processing a lifelong lie. And, you're trying to make a top-to-bottom change in your lifestyle, from a loose one to something more traditional in its expectations.

Any one of these is a disorienting change. All together, wow.

So please accept this round of applause for your clear thinking, self-awareness and your compassionate attention to what your new family needs and is offering to you.

What might help you most right now is not to think of this as a strict either-or choice, between being "in" this family and being "out" in your old drifter life. Be patient, stay where you are, give yourself and these new family members time not just to adjust to the new normal, but to figure out what the new normal can look like. Work your way toward college as your next home base--shouldering whatever expenses you can through grants and scholarships and loans--travel or drift within the bounds of your breaks, and see your father's home as your home in the way adult children do when they have lives of their own.

When there, be sure interact as a grown child does, too, where you give as well as take. Good luck.

 

Dear Carolyn, Is there a way to help someone else build his social circle? My partner and I are both in our thirties with 9-to-5 jobs, no kids, and a fair amount of free time. We do spend quite a bit of time together and go on regular dates, etc. I guess you would say I am a "joiner" and am involved in things that occupy the rest of my free time. My partner does not, and recently has begun complaining that he feels lonely on days when I am away from home for a few hours in the evening. I'm really not sure what to do about this, because I don't think I can be happy in a relationship where I forgo my hobbies and time with other friends in order to keep him constant company. Where appropriate, I invite him to join me, but (1) I can't always do that (ladies' happy hour, for instance, and hobbies he's not interested in), and (2) he often declines and counterproposes doing something at home (often the same thing we will have done a few other nights that week - play board games and watch tv together). He has a handful of people he calls close friends, but he does not make a meaningful effort to spend time with them and defaults to wanting me to do everything/go everywhere with him. I have suggested more than once that he call up a fellow board game lover for nights when he wants to stay in and play, but he won't do it. What next? I don't want to think this is a relationship killer.

Sounds as if you need the, "This is the way I am," conversation, where you spell out that you're a joiner, like being a joiner, and don't intend to stop being a joiner; that you're happy to include him where appropriate but it won't always be, nor do you see that as a solution for his loneliness; that you understand he is lonely and will support him in his effort to find more companionship but you won't agree to be the sole source of that companionship. Because you like having a mix of time with him and time on your own stuff.

Merely suggesting that he call this or that board game enthusiast is a patch, not a repair.

He then gets to decide whether he's willing to accept you and your relationship on those terms, or if he wants something different--and if he wants something different, then it'll need to be with someone else.

One caveat. Chances are he will want you stay with you *and* have things on his terms, because that's pretty much what everyone wants and wishful thinking is powerful stuff, so he might agree to your terms but keep complaining about them. In that case (assuming you don't want to stay if the status quo persists) you'll need to be the one to pull the plug. 

Hi Carolyn, My family is extremely lucky- enough to eat, a safe place to live, health, loving extended family... I have two small children, and I want them to understand just how lucky we are and that we should be grateful and also give back. I'm sure you've shared ideas before, but can you (and the nuts) share ideas for how to encourage small kids (2 and 4) to be appreciative of life's gifts and ideas for ways we can give back to our community as a family (not a money donation, but some sort of volunteering that we can all participate in, maybe?). I often tell my family how lucky I feel, and I try to explain why, but I'm not always sure I am doing it in an age-appropriate way that helps the kiddos understand it in whatever way they can at this stage. Thanks!

This is another area of exploding growth in the literature of childrearing--fostering empathy and gratitude. 

I've been gathering a bunch of links, thus the silence, but I'm still going so I'll post this as a "hang on a sec" while I finish.

Before I get to the material, I can say that the most important things are not so much age appropriate as ageless: modeling empathy yourself; saying what you think and then asking what they think; show your feelings and don't penalize them (or others) for showing theirs; say what you're grateful for and ask what they're grateful for; admit your failures as sources of strength and encourage that frame of mind with them.

Okay, the resources:

Two "On Parenting" columns on the topic, with sources cited that you can read further: LINK and LINK.

Two of my columns on the topic, with sources cited for further reading: LINK and LINK.

And a site on Nonviolent Communication, which is rooted in acknowledgment of and respect for common needs (as opposed to oppressive me me me-ism): LINK

Finally, a book: "The Opposite of Spoiled" by Ron Lieber, which I have on my desk thanks to a fellow parent who swears by it.

 

Hi Carolyn, My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly two years. We have taken a couple domestic vacations together, but I've always wanted us to be able to explore certain parts of Europe together. Some longtime friends of his are planning a group trip to Paris, a city I've always wanted to visit, to happen this summer. I flat-out can't afford it this year, or even get close. My boyfriend wants to go, and has asked me how I would feel if he went (it would be about a week). Part of me wants him to have this thrilling social experience. But a bigger part of me feels hurt that he would go without me, hurt that he hasn't even floated the idea of helping me to pay to come along (though I definitely wouldn't expect him to cover me completely)...and kind of hurt that he envisions being able to have a good time doing something I'm unable to do right now. Am I way, way off? I'm trying not to express any of the above, but am feeling very upset about it on a daily basis now.

" I'm trying not to express any of the above"

Why would you -try- not to communicate? And wait anxiously for him to read your mind and get upset with him for failing to?

Please, out with it, all. Admit you're torn, hurt, envious, mixed up because Paris is such a loaded thing for you, all of it. In doing so be calm, be able to handle bad news if that's what he has for you, be clear in stating that you want him to respect you enough to be honest with you and that you will return that respect by not freaking out. Then don't freak out. (Did I say that in enough ways?)

If he wants you to join him on this trip, then he needs to work with you on finding a way to pay for it. If he wants this time with friends, then he needs to say so. He can love you and still want to focus on (and enjoy the heck out of) "longtime friends," by the way--something you probably know intellectually but can't quite feel at the moment. Please make sure that pressuring him to skip this trip is not on your list of options. See it either as his going solo or your going along; that's what you and he need to*talk openly about* and decide.

Sometimes, it is difficult for adult children to see the changes in their parents as they grow older. Mom and dad are always seen as the strong vibrant people that raised them. Have a talk that includes - We love having the company, but a full house is a lot of work and we're getting older and can't handle all the extras like we used to.

It's unfortunate that we can't follow your column without subscribing to the Washington Post. I hit my limit of free articles today by following the link in the email and the Facebook link. Dang. Not going to be subscribing as I live in Western Canada.

Well, you'll reset in four days at least--yay February.

There are often crazy discounts and promotions for subscribing. Subscribe to a newsletter or two, if you're interested, and you'll start receiving them. 

In fact, Teddy is checking with customer service right now, because Teddy's a mensch.

The fact he isn't offering to pay or finding a way to help her is shocking to me. If it were someone I loved and knew this person wanted to go so bad, I'd find a way to make it happen.

I'm divorced, and have a great new partner. I'm tied down a bit at the moment with kids and he travels a bit to Europe to see his family and I can't accompany him. I found it incredibly freeing to just admit to him that I'm somewhat resentful of his trips, although I'm happy he's going and want him to have a good time. You know what? I feel about a million times better after it, and so does he, because he feels a bit guilty. Sometimes I'm a bit mad that my life is crazy when he is gone, and I'm irrationally angry at him. You know what? I tell him I'm irrationally angry at him for going to Europe (and know it isn't fair). The conversation invariably goes about a million times better than when I would try and suppress the anger and just make snarky comments. Calm honesty is way better than resentful suppression of feelings.

Amy good online parenting classes? I want to take one with husband but the idea of getting a sitter for it is daunting. Our baby is 8 months and I'm wondering what's next. Discipline is coming, I want to do it in a way that works with my son's abilities.

Yes! PEP classes (Parent Encouragement Program) LINK were recommended to me years ago by a therapist as a good option for D.C.-area parents, and they've just begun making their offerings available online.

 

The DC Diaper Bank is a great place for families to volunteer - family friendly and even young children can help sort diapers by size. http://www.dcdiaperbank.org/ Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN) needs all sorts of volunteers. Our family volunteers in the bagged lunch program, making bag lunches to be delivered. Again, even small children can help fill the bag lunches (http://www.a-span.org/).

Good stuff, thanks--and I'm sure there are analogous programs elsewhere.

I hope the OP does speak to her son about limits. My parents have four adult children, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Most of us would converge on my parents' one-story rancher for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Finally my parents told us how hosting was becoming difficult for them as they grew older. We responded by becoming more diligent to clean up after ourselves, bring items, etc. We want to share time and good moments together but not wear out our parents.

I'm the strange kid on the fringes. Thanks for your kind words and advice. I have a hard time asking for help but you've given me a lot to think about.

So glad to hear it, and thanks for writing back. Others have written in with support--I'll post a few if I can find them quickly.

I'm not a veteran of exactly the same situation, but as an adoptee now in contact with my birth family who was raised by an adopted family that was very different than me - don't beat yourself up about being different of not quite fitting in. You may never quite fit in and still have an okay relationship with the new family. Or not. Take it day by day and ask yourself if knowing and interacting with them makes you feel better in the long term. You can't redo the past and have the family relationship you missed growing up; you can only judge yourself and them by how everything is going forward.

My heart hurts. I was in a similar situation - I have a bipolar mother and little structure growing up. When I got to college, I just could not acclimate to people with more traditional lives. This made it very difficult to negotiate relationships, and my first marriage was a disaster. In my 30s, I started to open myself up to people who are different - maybe more traditional, but I plowed through the general social discomfort. I still have a little of my wild side, and most of my friends appreciate it.

I just wanted to commend you for being YOU! You are doing great in this situation! Hang in there! Focus on school and the future. Discover your new family. They have to get with the program too. Keep moving forward one day at a time. Baby steps.

Clear your cookies!

That's awfully personal.

Please get yourself tested for STIs ASAP. Today, if you have the time. If you have anything, talk with your doctor about the duration of the disease and if it may have impacted your daughter in utero as well.

WOW! Seriously!!?? That comes off as incredibly selfish. A trip to Paris is A LOT of money, and just deciding that you get to spend the BFs money because you want to? I have no other word but WOW. And what would "help her find a way to pay for it" mean? Are there grant programs out there for people who really want to go to Paris with their BF? Sorry for the snark, but you got to call BS when you see it.

Okay, that's it for support comments and other stray comments that covered things I didn't ...

and now I'm going to blast out a bunch of subscription-type stuff, so anyone not interested can safely quit here. Thanks all, have a great weekend and type to you here next Friday. Noon.

Look for a paper that has an agreement with the Post. The Post has a list of partners somewhere on the site. I paid $10 for my current access by getting a digital subscription to a local paper I don't even read. Before that I had a free digital subscription from a different paper. And before that I had paid $39 to the post on a deal they had a couple of years ago.

Sometimes you get lucky and stumble upon a really good promotion, like access for 4 weeks for $0.99. You could try that. Stop. Then start it up again a month later. (Nothing like working the system, huh?) ;-)

To the person who wants free access to this column: before the internet, did you steal papers out of the box on the corner? Just like the old days, you pay for news now and information now, least it disappear altogether. Support the press! Get a damn subscription!

You may not know that the POST offers free subscribers to people who have a .mil or .edu address. Also, do you have a public library card? Go to your public library's site and log on with it. They may subscribe to the POST (and a lot of other periodicals) and you can access the electronic editions through their portal.

Psst... your browser's privacy mode is a lifesaver.

Shh!

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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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