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Carolyn Hax Live: "I'm a little verklempt."

Mar 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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Hello everybody, happy Friday.

Dear Carolyn, My wife and I got married two years ago. Even though we had been together for a long time, I was extremely reluctant to take the plunge. She’s smart and kind and beautiful, but I’ve just never felt “it” for her. About three years ago, I began an affair with my old ex from university. It caught me in a cycle of desire, guilt and rationalization which continued through my wedding. Now that we’ve been “just friends” for a while, she is beginning to fade out of my life, but I still think about her incessantly and have a constant heartache in the (admittedly relatively short) periods when I don't hear from her. I have not told my wife about her, but I’m sure she has known that something’s been going on. My wife is beginning to talk about having kids, but I feel that would be wrong while the Other Woman is still in the picture. Still, every time I try to push her away, I keep thinking that I’m making a terrible mistake and that she’s the one I should be with. How will I ever know? In doubt

" having kids ... would be wrong while the Other Woman is still in the picture"?

No, having kids would be wrong because you never felt "it" for your wife. Marrying her was wrong. 

Cheating on her was wrong, too, but that seems to be the one wrong you're aware(ish) of. Still, the bigger wrong was marrying your wife after every cell in your body gave you the message that this wasn't the right woman for you, up to and including the affair with the woman who was at least closer to being right for you, and you still refused to receive that message.

I can't speak for your wife, but if I were in this marriage, I would want the truth so that I could get out ASAP and get on with the business of building a new life on terms that are not secretly undermining me. Threat to life and limb aside, I can't think of anything worse than living with someone who doesn't really want me there.

That better new life includes living alone, living with roommates who like me, or finding a partner who actually loves me. All would be a vast improvement over what you're giving your wife.

Our wedding is a week from tomorrow. Last week, I figured out my sister was pregnant. After our mutual excitement calmed, she became upset because I'd ruined my "surprise". Apparently, at our wedding, her "gift" to my new husband and I will be to to announce that she is expecting during her toast as Matron of Honor. Honestly, this kind of puts a bad taste in my mouth. It's the first baby of our generation on my side of the family, so it'll be a big deal to everyone and absolutely huge for our parents who have been dying to become grandparents. They don't know yet and will lose their minds. She has a history of making herself the center of attention but promised a while back that her toast would be simple heartfelt wishes. She'll only be 8 weeks at the wedding, so it's not as if she's showing. I only figured it out after she spilled her "gin and tonic" that was missing that gin. My fiance and I are thrilled for the news, just not really happy about how she wants to deliver it. She's so excited to surprise everyone, but I don't feel like a wedding toast is an appropriate time for this announcement. I'd much rather she just tell people and let the news spread organically at the wedding, or if she really wanted to make an announcement, do it at the Sunday brunch. Are we in the wrong here?

No, technically not, because every single bit of what you described here supports the conclusion that your sister found in her pregnancy a way to make your wedding about her. Poor child.

But this is one of those cases where being right and 3 bucks will buy you a latte. You made a known attention-seeker your matron of honor. If she weren't pregnant, then she'd have picked a public fight with you or cried or made the "simple heartfelt wishes" entirely about herself.

The path of least resistance--i.e. drama, i.e. satisfaction of her need for attention--is to recognize that she will not take a hiatus from being herself next weekend. Attempting to stand in her way will only make the distraction one person bigger.

Let her toast to her own news, embarrassingly; let everyone complicit in her self-absorption (hello, your parents) miss the significance of that because they were never getting it anyway; and let those not complicit see her for who she is. She can upstage you at you wedding only if you care about holding the stage.

 

Dear Carolyn, I'm getting married in a year to a wonderful man. In the past few weeks we've found ourselves in an odd position. My father is an attorney and my in-law's recently approached us with information about a professional sanctions my father was given about 8 years ago. His bar license wasn't pulled or even suspended, he just had to pay a fine and attend a class. My in-laws clearly got this information by googling my parents, which is a little odd but ultimately not a huge deal. What's difficult is that my in-laws seem to think my father is a shady character involved in huge fraud, they insinuated he is a white collar crime crook. From what I read online, this situation isn't even close to that. But my in-law's keep saying stuff like "when there's smoke there's fire." My in-laws told my fiancé that he need to be informed of this before we get married. My fiancé doesn't really care about this issue, much to his parents surprise. This has only ramped up their discussion of it. How can I explain to them this issue is no longer up for discussion?

Whether an issue is "up for discussion" is not something you explain. You simply discuss it or you don't. 

So, next time it comes up, you state that you have nothing more to say on this topic, and then change the subject. If they go back to it, then you leave the conversation/room. If you can't leave (moving vehicle, say), then you go silent until there's a new topic. That's it. It's a matter of enforcement, not phrasing.

Hi Carolyn, this is about my daughter-in-law. She’s always been quiet and polite and acts like she needs a lot of alone time. I assumed she was introverted or shy and didn’t hold it against her. A few weeks ago, I met a classmate of hers and that person described her as talkative and outgoing with an active social life. Ever since then, I’ve felt resentful of how standoffish she is with me and my husband. I told her that I’d met her friend and her friend had described her as very talkative, and she said politely and emotionlessly, “yes, they’re a fun group”. My husband said she’s two-faced and not worth the trouble but I want her to open up to me. I know I shouldn’t feel so angry, but I feel like she pretended to be shy to avoid me. Is there any way I can tell her that I want her to feel free to talk to me like she would a friend?

Wow. You've ascribed such terrible motives to her--when there are several other explanations available--that you've inadvertently made a strong argument for why she's quiet around you.

She doesn't trust you! She does trust her friends. That's not "two-faced," that's sentient. She's reading the room and choosing to hold herself back to avoid being judged.

Now, if true, the irony here is obvious, because by being reticent she has invited the very judgment that I'm saying she tried to avoid. But that doesn't necessarily make it her fault that she's being judged. It would be your fault if you're creating the judgmental environment.

Plenty of people can be both "introverted or shy" and "talkative and outgoing." They are not contradictions, nor are they necessarily opposites. A person can easily be talkative and outgoing *when she's feeling relaxed and confident,* and quiet at other times. That's not two different personalities; that's just one personality with a well-used "pause" button.

If that's true of your DIL, then the way to "tell" her she's free to talk to you like she would a friend is to be warmly and consistently accepting.

Not just of her, either. You can be lovely to people and still scare them silent if you're nice to them while saying horrible things about other people who aren't in the room--which can mean ripping Auntie Whoever to shreds (unless Auntie Whoever has indeed done something terrible), or ripping some group you target for your scorn, like a faith or nationality or political. If you have even an apolitical "those darn [large group of people]" construct that you regularly form in your mind, then it is likely coming out in your speech, and that flags you as an unsafe place to let one's guard down, except to those who hold your exact views.

Upshot? Drop the defensiveness, be genuine and kind, then be patient.

 

I think one comment to your sister wouldn't be amiss. "We'd prefer it if you didn't announce your pregnancy during your wedding toast; it seems tacky." Then let it go and she can be tacky or not as she wishes. But right now, your lack of comment may be taken as encouragement and "they wanted us to say it" will be what she tells every well wisher at your wedding.

Last week, you ran a letter from a mother who had relocated to be near her two daughters, but didn't like the "lesbian friend" of one of the daughters. You correctly called her out for not acknowledging that the friend was actually the daughter's girlfriend, and agreed that it was her right not to include the friend/girlfriend in a family vacation. The mother runs the risk of alienating her daughter completely if she doesn't accept the girlfriend in the same way that she would the daughter's hypothetical boyfriend. She also complained about not liking the girlfriend's personality, but she needs to consider how much of her hostility to the girlfriend contributed to the issues attributed to the girlfriend's personality. My spouse of more than 20 years has been pushed away by various members of my extended family, due largely to differences in communications styles and a willingness on my spouse's part to explore openly the bases for antisocial behavior. My parents, siblings and siblings-in-law much prefer indirection, sulking and holding grudges, things that I have worked hard to eliminate from my life. The rejection of my spouse has caused significant problems for me in terms of scheduling and attending family events, deciding who to invite to what, and how to include our child in events on my family's side. It is appalling to me that someone would set out to exclude or reject a family member's partner for any reason pretty much short of criminal activity, and I have been seething about that letter writer since reading it last week.

Excellent point, yes--the lousy reception the girlfriend received could be a, if not the, main source of the unpleasant "personality" the LW described.

Indulge me please on a technical point:

I "agreed," yes, but I also said, "[Y]ou must include her as you would a girlfriend you liked. Or a boyfriend you didn’t. Your other daughter is right.

"You could also exclude the girlfriend as you would anyone your daughter hasn’t fully committed to, but even if that’s your established precedent, expect her to see it for the flimsy excuse it is."

Since I got yelled at for that part of my answer by a segment of my readership, I wanted to get credit for it, too ...

 


 

 

 

... and speaking of that, and seething. I actually received this email in response to that column: "not only do u support lgbt folk but now you're telling parents that they have no say in raising their kids. Ass!"

As if supporting "lgbt folk" were a big fat duh in the annals of inexcusable things to do.

That people with such toxic views feel emboldened seems beyond dispute at this point. What I wonder is how to dis-embolden. Air it like this, to enable public disinfectant? Respond to it? Leave it unacknowledged to rot in its own ugliness?

Could you say to your sister, "I'd prefer it if you didn't make the announcement. After all, how would you feel I made a giant announcement at your baby shower?" Maybe that could get the sister to realize this is not her moment.

Why not just tell (a version of) the truth? Sis, your pregnancy announcement is a big deal and my wedding is a big deal. Let's not dilute them by combining the two. Let's figure out an event where you can shine with your news without people being distracted by me and vice versa.

if there's a rehearsal dinner before - encourage using that as close family will be there

I could be the shy daughter-in-law. I just started a new job and everyone keeps remarking on how quiet I am. Little do they know at my last job, I was organizing happy hours and bracket pools! It just takes me a while to warm up. But something that could definitely keep that from happening is if I'm in the company of people who seem harsh and judgmental. A father-in-law who's quick to call someone "two-faced and not worth the trouble" definitely falls into that category. Sheesh! You're talking about your son's wife. A little generosity of spirit maybe??

My smart, successful, and never-been-married 41 year old daughter has recently become engaged to a twice-divorced man who she has nothing in common with except a desire to not be alone any more. I am worried she is his "retirement plan" as he can't wait to retire early from his job and live the expat lifestyle with her overseas. They have only known each other for a year and six months of that have been long distance. My daughter complains he won't stop seeing his "ex-girlfriend/best friend" who lives in the same apartment complex as him (on a different continent) and it is making her insecure. How do I support my daughter? They have a 13 year age gap and I just want her to slow down and think carefully about what she is getting herself into. Wanting to "check the marriage box" off your to-do list is not a reason to rush into this.

You say: "I love you and worry about your safety."

She will hear: "My mother thinks I can't take care of myself."

You say: "You barely know this man and are rushing into marriage for the sake of it."

She will hear: "My mother thinks 'single and 41' = desperate and pathetic."

You say: "He can't wait to use you to retire early."

She will hear: "My own mother thinks a man can't like me for anything but my money."

You say: "He's obviously is still seeing his ex, right under your nose."

She will hear: "My mother thinks I'm an idiot."

You have a message problem, one that stems from the even bigger problem of trying to be a parent to someone who is 20 years into being an adult. 

You don't have to be silent, but, if you want to avoid alienating your daughter (in most cases, straight to the altar of the person you're trying to red-flag), you do have to be mindful of your daughter's strength and autonomy.

That limits you to reflecting what *she's* saying--which actually isn't the worst thing. "If I'm hearing you correctly, you sound unsure. That's okay--it's normal. You're a strong and capable person, and you'll figure this out."

Isn't that what would you want your mom to say, if you were in this spot? A, "Hey, you've got this"? With a side of, "... but I'm here if you need me"?

My daughter's friend "Jenny" told her in their 5th grade classroom that if she didn't get onto an academic team at school, her mom would pour hot tea on her (this was in the context of them learning that my daughter did get onto the team, and Jenny was an alternate). "She says her mom doesn't spank her, she just pours hot tea on her." I was taken aback but tried to delve into this in a calm way. I asked if Jenny has said other things about her mom; my daughter said no, just that she's strict. I also learned that Jenny was not acting upset when she said this, just conversational. So, on the one hand, it's just 5th grade hearsay, and I think all kinds of wacky stuff gets said/misunderstood at that age. On the other hand, I can't help but feel horrified at the possibility there is truth to this. I can't decide what to do. Right now the only options I can think of are to say something to the school counselor (who, unfortunately, in my experience, is not great at her job), or do nothing other than support my daughter and encourage her to keep me posted if anything further gets said along these lines. Other ideas? My inclination is to do only the latter, but I'm struggling with that, because it's the easier choice and I hope I'm not leaning that way for that reason. FWIW, I have only met Jenny very briefly and have never met her parents (and don't expect our paths to cross organically), and per my daughter Jenny is moving out of the country this summer, to her mother's country of origin.

Tell the school's principal. The principal can then put all the staff on notice to look for evidence of abuse, which, if found, can then be reported to authorities (because it would have to be at that point).

Do also support your daughter and encourage her to keep you posted.

the new avatar?

It's the cartoon of Dorian Gray. 

Wait--I'm deteriorating and my image is getting younger.

Um. It's a new avatar.

Yes! Make her announcement for her at your rehearsal dinner and tell her how happy you are for her. Then she can find some other reason to be the center of attention at your reception and you will have gotten your revenge in beforehand. It all works out great!

Cosmetically supportive and celebratory, but devious to its very core. I'm a little verklempt.

After talking myself out of it for many years, I recently met with a therapist a few times. Unfortunately, I picked someone who spent our sessions talking about her own life. When we occasionally got back to me, she picked the topics rather than making any effort to find out what I wanted to focus on. Because of her chattiness, my sessions started late and ran long. As someone who struggles to speak up when I'm uncomfortable thanks to a great deal of emotional invalidation in my past, this was an unpleasant experience. Though I'm dreading the process, I know I need to find a different professional. Would it be weird to interview future therapists before making an appointment to get a better sense of their demeanor and methods? Or do you have any other tips for finding a decent one?

Yes, interview the therapists first.  Or treat the first appointment as an interview with no guarantee of a second one. If you have a job that offers an EAP, the first few appointments are covered and you can use them as a sample to help you gauge what you want out of any longer-term treatment.

This might be more than your current emotional state will allow--and that's absolutely okay--but you can also ask your current therapist to recommend another therapist. "This isn't a good fit," is all you need to say. Conveying this by email or voice mail would be fine. If you're seeing the mismatch, then the therapist might be seeing it, too, and also have an idea who would suit you better.

Good for you for getting the process started. It's not easy.

This gets my vote.

Thanks. That's generally what I have done, but it feels inadequate. Like I'm conceding the point.

I'm reminded of Lindy West and her decision to confront one of her more hateful trolls. LINK and LINK 

Yikes, I have to go. 

Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you here next Friday.

In This Chat
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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