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Carolyn Hax Live: "Google 'fundamental attribution error.' " (May 19)

May 19, 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 everybody, and happy anniversary to me--as Facebook's algorithm was kind enough to point out yesterday, I've been at this for 20 years. Otherwise I wouldn't have noticed.

Anyway, March 19, 1997 was the date of my first column. (Chats are about a year younger.) 

Can I just point out that it is awesome that your kids like each other enough to want to hang out together as adults? Isn't that what we hope for for our kids, especially in a blended family? If you want them to hang out "after you're dead", then let them set the tradition now, and appreciate it.

Yes, I agree. To me that's another indication of the disordered thinking in this family. Any bond between the kids is seen as weakening the influence of, and therefore an existential threat to, He Who Must Be Central to All.

Dear Carolyn, Sadly, I lost a wanted pregnancy a few days ago about 8 weeks. Against my wishes, my husband had already told many of his friends and relatives about the pregnancy despite my objections and wanting to wait till the second trimester. (He did not know "waiting till the second trimester" was a thing until I explained it to him. In fact, he thought the reason we learn about so many pregnancies in the early second trimester is that that's when most women realize they're pregnant. Eye roll.) At the time, I told him that I really, really didn't want to share the news prematurely, but that if he couldn't contain himself then he could, as long as he understood the risk he was undertaking. Now, he has several people he needs to notify that I'm not pregnant anymore (otherwise they will definitely ask, which will be very upsetting to me over the coming weeks and months when I see them). But he wants to tell them "together," which is so unfair that I don't even know how to respond. I don't know how to insist that he do it himself without making it sound like I'm saying "I told you so." If you have a good suggestion, I would love to hear it, but otherwise can I just throw out a PSA to all those well-intentioned husbands out there who should just listen to their wives on this one?

I am so sorry for your loss.

I'm also sorry your husband's stubbornness is adding emotional weight when you're already carrying so much.

I don't think you need any special phrasing, nor do you need to worry about any "I told you so" implications. Just be calm, firm and factual: "No, I will not tell these friends with you. Anyone you told about the pregnancy, you can now tell about the miscarriage." 

Also, if he refuses to clean up his own mess--and even if he does do it, but only because you insist--please don't give in to the temptation to punt this as "otherwise just a PSA." There's a serious issue embedded in your back-and-forth here. I'm leaning toward calling it a communication problem, but only because I don't have an umbrella term that feels right for his childlike cluelessness plus impulse-control problem plus your ... resignation? in light of his ... disrespect for your wishes?

Lots of dots and ??s there, which I'm not proud of, but I struggle to get a handle on whether you're dealing with a husband who has Tigger qualities or something darker. Basically, is he unwittingly reckless or knowingly dismissive? How much deliberate choice is involved? I could see taking this to a good couples' counselor--when, of course, you feel ready. You obviously have other, more immediate things to process right now. Take care.


I know this isn't a wedding hootenanny chat, but...I'm getting married very soon, and my future in-laws are all in the wedding. For various reasons, the primary one being that there are some cultural differences and they do things differently than I do, they have all preemptively refused to do the few things I've asked them to do (be at a certain place at a certain time, wearing venue-appropriate clothing). I talked this over with my fiancé and told him I accept that they want to be themselves and do things their own way, and that I'm okay with it. He got very upset about the fact that they aren't respecting my wishes, and intervened on my behalf (I think this involved a yelling fight with at least one relative, though I wasn't there). I now sense that the future in-laws are all upset with me (they think I sicked my fiancé on them, which I didn't), and I'm not sure how to proceed from here! How do I do damage control that doesn't undermine my fiancé, who was just trying to support me?

There comes a point when trying to fix something starts to make it worse, and your fiance unfortunately reached that point when he challenged his family.

I suggest you say nothing further about this, in your defense or your fiance's or anything else. Instead, be nothing but warm and welcoming to his family hereafter, and consider tweaking or outright eliminating items on the wedding agenda that expose these cultural differences. I don't know if this last one is even possible, but have a look. It's hard to think of a specific wedding event that's worth having if the place/timing/clothes are going to present such a problem. (Please feel free to correct me on this, anyone, if you have a specific example that says otherwise.)

At least, this is true of the specific wedding issue. Your fiance might have also been trying to fix something with his family in a larger sense--marrying someone outside their/his culture could even be part of that. If true, the outcome of this part of the story probably won't be known for some time. It's also something I suggest you leave to him to navigate, although it would be appropriate and even useful to prompt him to talk/think about the possibility that this wedding issue is just a proxy for a bigger battle he's trying to fight with them. It's possible he himself hasn't entirely seen it for what it is.

Hello Carolyn I'm wondering the best way to confront my father about his behavior in respect to women, particularly his wives. However, some background may be appropriate. I'm the 25 year old eldest child of my father's now 5 children. My sister and I were conceived with my mother, who left him some 20 years ago. My mother has been really great about not bad talking him (they both have actually), so I'm unclear on everything that went down, though I know his actions precipitated it. I avoid learning more because I don't need reasons to be mad at my dad. He remarried about 15 years and had a son, my 13 year old half-brother who I love and know well. The drama really started in 2015, when it was revealed to my stepmother and the rest of the family that my father had a child with a mistress that was 4 years old, but had been kept hidden from all of us. This was obviously devastating to my stepmother, but she was extremely mature and went so far as to allow the child (but not the mistress) to visit and spend time with his sibling. A year later, my father gets the courage up to reveal he has a 1 year old WITH THE SAME MISTRESS, meaning he knew about the kid when he revealed the first love-child, but held off until he had no choice but to reveal the second. This was too much, and now my father and stepmother are careening towards divorce. My stepmother his an intelligent and successful women whom I greatly respect, and she deserves better. My father is financially successful and his extended family relies on him heavily. Being financially independent and his eldest son, I may be the only person with the power to truly criticize and stand up to him without fear of reprisal. My worry is that given his circumstances, he will simply find another woman (as powerful men often do) and do the same things again. Given this decades long pattern of behavior, I feel compelled to try and prevent it happening to someone else. My question is, how do I try and push a man, who could so easily do it again, from subjecting another woman to such behavior? I know I can make him seriously listen to me, the question is how do I use that power to help him change?

These are two completely different things: "I feel compelled to try and prevent it happening to someone else," and, "how do I use that power to help him change?"

You can help prevent this, if you so choose and if you're aware of what your father is up to socially, by conveying the caveat emptor message to any woman he dates. It could be seen as a boundary violation depending on how far you go to deliver this message, but, certainly if your father introduces you to someone and you're talking to her, you can ask if she has met all five of his kids and their three mothers. Nothing says you can't make pleasant conversation.

But the second thing you say you want to do is "help him change," and that sets off the alarms. Has he said he wants to change? Has he asked you for your help? Has he given any indication that he's (a) making bad choices that (b) he somehow can't control?

There is plenty you can do and that you have standing to do, so please stick to that. Given the opportunity you can, as I said, be honest with any women he goes on to date. You can also say to your dad that you're embarrassed/disgusted/[your word here] by the way he treats people. You can tell your stepmother she has your support, and you can make sure you play a steady role in your half-brother's life. You can, if you want, make an effort to get to know the other two half-siblings--entirely up to you, of course. 

You can also just stay your course and have little to do with your father anymore based on his lousy behavior.

Again--there are a lot of productive, healthy choices you can make here. Jumping in to try to fix your father isn't one of them.




What's a good way to handle a conversation where someone gives you a compliment but then uses the situation to put themselves down? For instance, let's say you've run a marathon and it comes up in conversation and someone says, "Wow, that's awesome. I will never do that because I'm too lazy." Or let's say you create something and someone says, "I love what you've done. I could never do that because I never have good ideas." This is happening to me a lot and I get flustered and don't know what to say.

It is kind of awkward, I agree, and one thing to consider is that being flustered is its own kind of response. Meaning, if this someone sees that you're uncomfortable, then that can act as a natural deterrent to their talking that way again.

If you want a way out of the stammering for its won sake, then, two suggestions. First, you can say, "Hey, don't talk about my friend that way." It may take a beat for them to get what you're saying, it makes your point and keeps you from having to respond on the specifics.

Second, you can respond on the specifics in a way that's both general and accurate: "I used to talk myself out of stuff, too."


The trick, of course, is being able to grab onto something like this mentally while flustered. If I spend any more years working alone in a home office, I might lose that capability myself.

I've been having trouble with the last couple of chats: the page freezes and I can't scroll. Refreshing doesn't help nor does switched devices. Any ideas?

Hey -- Producer here. When you get a chance, could you take a screenshot and send this to 

Do you have any ad blocker software or other browser extensions? (Asking for the larger audience because I know a few others have run into this)

Why would it be hard to show up on time? Isn't it rude not to? And what kind of venue do they refuse to dress appropriately for? A mud wrestling match? Nude beach?

Fun for handicapping purposes, but for someone planning a wedding and navigating family, it's best not to think beyond, "Okay, they won't be at Place by Time wearing Dress Code."

My wife and I had differing views about when to talk about her pregnancy. I did talk with a few friends about it, but we held off telling family until about 12 weeks. We learned several weeks later that development had stopped and we would be losing the baby. It was a very difficult time. I agree that it is the husband's responsibility to handle consequences, but it is not a mess. I found having people know to be a comfort, particularly being given some space when grieving. I hope that the OP and her husband can move through this together.

Thank you for sharing your experience, and I'm sorry that you have such a sad one to share.

I can't recall how plainly I've said this over the years (I suspect very plainly in the past, though not so much lately), but I am not a fan of the embargo-till-12-weeks approach, which I think is arbitrary and too often cited and enforced without careful consideration. My advice instead is not to hold back pregnancy news from people you would also tell if something went wrong. Better to trust yourselves and your support network than, again, live in service of an arbitrary line.

A thoughtful sharing of information like that would not be a mess, I agree. 

But what the OP described was not a thoughtful act of sharing on the husband's part, it was emotional and verbal incontinence. Even that could have avoided being a mess--*if* he had agreed to go back to people he'd given the good news and update them on the bad news. But he didn't. 

So a key source of comfort isn't--yet--available to this couple.

If the husband takes ownership of his spreading the news before his wife was comfortable with it, and thereby largely shields her from the consequences of his actions, then, yes, I agree the support of their people can really help them through this. Assuming their people come through.

Thanks Carolyn. I appreciate you splitting the problem into two distinct ones; that makes a lot of sense. I'll definitely take your advice and gently make any women he engages with in the future generally aware of what has happened in the past (have you met the 5 kids by 3 different women seems a good way). As for changing him, I do know he wants to change because he told me so directly when we had the conversation making me aware of the most recent half-sibling. He went to marriage counseling, but only in an attempt to win back my stepmother, which didn't work. When he realized that it, he stopped immediately. Additionally, when he originally revealed his infidelities he offered rationalizations that his marriage had been rocky when the first love child was conceived ("living together, but worlds apart" is a paraphrasing). In addition to doing the same thing again a couple years later, I know him well enough to doubt he won't do the same thing again under similar circumstances. He has been a good father, so I have no intention of cutting him out, but he's only in his 40's and still has much life left in which to change. Neither him nor I have a particular liking to therapy/counseling as a solution. Any ideas on what I could do or push him to do to help him realize the goal of changing? - Eldest Son

This helps, thanks. 

All of the following: 

"I do know he wants to change because he told me so directly when we had the conversation making me aware of the most recent half-sibling. He went to marriage counseling, but only in an attempt to win back my stepmother, which didn't work. When he realized that it, he stopped immediately. Additionally, when he originally revealed his infidelities he offered rationalizations that his marriage had been rocky when the first love child was conceived ('living together, but worlds apart' is a paraphrasing)."

... points to a way you can help, with a strong caveat: *Do not take him on as your project.* He is his own project, full stop. 

What you are in a position to do is point out the BS in his actions and defenses. If he really wants to change, then he needs to own what he does fully. That means going to counseling to get better vs.  just to get his woman back. That means saying he cheated because he lacked the courage and maturity to deal with his failing marriage in a more honest and productive way, vs. using the estrangement as a cheap rationalization.

As for not getting sucked in, please note: How you feel about therapy has nothing to do with anything your father decides about cleaning up his act. You are you, he is he. If you don't see the clear border there, then, um, please rethink the aversion to therapy? Or have yourself a quick read: "Lifeskills for Adult Children" by Woititz/Garner.

Furthermore--if a skilled pro can help your father recognize that he is making a child's decisions with a man's body, then please don't stand in the way, for reasons philosophical or otherwise.

My wife and I initially made a big deal about no young kids at our wedding. We caved when relatives pushed back. At the wedding the young child in question told us in front of his mom that he was bored out of his mind. Mom was fairly mortified. Anyway, we had a blast at our wedding (which included some inappropriately dressed guests) and it will forever be one of the best days of my life. Point being: I'm glad we backed down and I'm guessing our relatives wish they had backed down, too.

I'm so sorry for you loss. One of my friends recently shared she was 4 weeks pregnant - I think she was so giddy with excitement she had to tell someone. And a couple weeks later, I got a text message that the doctors had told her she had lost the baby. I sent lots of sympathy back, asked if she wanted a call (nope) or visit (also nope), but it isn't hard to let people know. No one is going to begrudge your husband a quick text to inform people you've lost your pregnancy. There is absolutely no reason that your husband cannot take care of this. (And if he refuses, look at Carolyn's suggestions. He's already being super selfish.)

Hi Carolyn: I've had a crush on my brother's friend for years. I invited him to the birthday party I threw for my brother, and I also invited my best friend. Bestie had never met Crush before, but she knew of my crush. They spent the evening together, flirting and getting more touchy-feely the more they drank. She was grinding on him by the end of the night. Bestie is married with kids but has a desperate need for male attention and has cheated several times. Putting a man in front of her is like putting a drink in front of an alcoholic. Toward the end of the party when I finally got Bestie alone, I reminded her of my crush and asked her to stop flirting. She apologized and that was that. But the next day I saw that they are now friends on Facebook and I feel that she might still be overstepping. Now I'm wondering if I can trust her. Could they be talking behind my back? Would she do this with someone I was dating or even married to? And it isn't the first time this has happened. I can't stop her from doing these things (and probably don't even have the right to tell her not to flirt with my crush) so I'm wondering if I should take a step back from this friendship. FWIW, we've been friends since childhood and she's been a great friend otherwise. Do you have any advice?

I think you're onto a lot more than you realize with the drink-in-front-of-an-alcoholic analogy.

Not just with men, either, but with alcohol literally as well.

She grabs at male attention even when she knows it hurts her best friend, not to mention, presumably, her husband and kids. That's the stuff addicts do--prioritize the satisfaction of their physical and emotional cravings above the consequences to themselves and others.

And her drinking lowered and lowered her inhibitions until she was drunk (right?) and grinding some guy who wasn't her husband and who mattered to someone she was supposed to care about. 

This means, of course, that you can't trust her. That's the easy part. She has shown you that her cravings come first and you and everyone else are secondary. I guess in a way that's a kind of trust: You can trust her not to have your back when a man and/or cocktails are involved.

Whether you choose to distance yourself from her over this, or whether you choose to see her as still your friend in her flawed and compromised and compartmentalized way, that's up to you. But I urge you to say your piece about her behaving like an addict. Her attention fix has been, was last night, and apparently still is, all she ultimately can care about when a temptation is present. Ask her if she can see that.

Ask yourself how much you shield her from the consequences of that, too. Codependency also isn't just about substance abuse.

Please, finally, let go of the idea of this guy. Imagine a stranger in the role of your friend and you'll see why. I'm sorry.

Carolyn, I am planning to ask my girlfriend's father for permission to marry his daughter. My question is how early is this commonly done before proposing, and if possible, should it always be in person? I only ask because it's May and I'm not planning on asking until August. However, the parents live a considerable distance away and we are planning on visiting her family in early June. Do I wait until it's closer and do it by phone, or, take the opportunity to do it in person? I guess my only concern is keeping the secret for that long. I'm fairly sure the father will, but while her mother is great, she may have more difficulty keeping it quiet (I'm assuming he'll tell her)--maybe I should just trust her father to keep it a secret from her mother if he thinks she'll let the cat out of the bag? Thoughts?

Do you think your girlfriend wants you to ask her father for permission to marry her? Something that many women, this one included, see as a profoundly offensive paternalistic holdover from a time when women didn't make their own decisions about their own lives like any other fully realized adult human beings?

If your girlfriend is "traditional" this way, then, I'm happy you found each other. Ask her dad when you see him and say when you plan to propose so he knows to keep a lid on it, though I recommend proposing immediately afterward and not waiting till August, because keeping secrets from people you're supposed to be in an intimate relationship with is incredibly counterproductive. Especially when the secrets are about them.

Can I also make a stand against the term "half sister/brother"? I loathe that terminology. I know it describes the actual blood percentage, but the only time I have ever heard it used is when someone wants to be dismissive of a sibling bond. (Can you tell I've heard, 'She's just your *half* sister' lots?) Blergh.

I agree--you'll see I took it out of my answer in today's column, where is was clearly used in the question: LINK. This was a conscious choice.

I left it in my answer in the chat today as a shortcut to identifying the parties involved (might not have been necessary, but another chat shortcut is not to take the extra time to parse it all). Unless there's a need to distinguish who is related to whom and how, as a matter of background information, I think brother, sister and sibling are appropriate. Thanks for pointing this out.

Before I proposed, I sat down to have a chat with her father -- but it was more of an "I wanted to let you know that I love your daughter an awful lot, and within the next couple of weeks I'll be asking her to be my wife." By that point in the relationship I knew she really wouldn't appreciate the "property" overtones... but she'd appreciate me and her dad having a pleasant conversation and being on the same page. Here's hoping submitter is at that same point, one way or the other. Felicitations & good luck!

Hi, Carolyn, Based on all the questions you see, is there any one nugget of advice you would give to EVERYONE to be more happy and to find there own inner solutions to problems?

Be honest with yourself about who you are--good and bad in balance. You'll make better decisions, and you'll be more mindful of having one set of standards by which you judge both yourself and others. (For further reading, Google "fundamental attribution error.") 


I might answer that differently on any given day, but that's today's.

I get your anger at the op's traditional behavior but you think this way about surprise birthday party? So no planning ahead because it's keeping a secret? please...

You got me. Because cake and the course of one's life are genuinely equivalent. 

How about asking for his (and her mom's???) blessing. Or support. But the idea of permission is antiquated and offensive.

When my dad went through his most recent divorce to a truly wonderful woman who I love dearly, I knew he mistreated her emotionally and was cavalier with her feelings. But that didn't erase the 36 years he had been a good dad to me. When I felt like she was trying to engage me in negative talk about my father, I told her that a man could be a bad husband but a good father. That seemed to resonate with her. I don't think applies in all circumstances-- if he were being emotionally or physically abusive that would reveal a character flaw that would be hard to look past. Would I want to marry a man like my dad? No. Would I want him as my dad, warts and all? Absolutely.

So we're the parents. Our now SIL of daughter #2 didn't ask permission but instead did come over and say he loved her and hoped we would be happy that they wanted to get married. And we are delighted!

The comment on that question makes it even more with the nope. I am not chattel. I am a person. And if you want to ask anyone for person - ask my mother, she's the one in charge anyway :)

Don't do it. Even my super conservative father rolled his eyes when my future BIL asked and replied "You'll have to ask her"

I know I'm posting a lot of these, but they're short and punchy and, I think, potentially useful.

I have to wonder how those having a chat with the future FIL would feel about their girlfriends having the same chat with their (the guy's father). Or mother. You know, having a pleasant conversation and being on the same page.

Aw, the more people explain this, the worse it sounds. So a more evolved way of handling this is kindly informing the father, eh? May I ask, in that case why exclude the mother? (Of course, if we're going down that road, why exclude the girlfriend from this whole conspiracy-I-mean-discussion?) Yes, I've heard of asking for a parent's/parents' blessing, as an alternative. If done without the prior approval of the girlfriend, though, all these approaches grate on me. My personal view, of course.

Plus it's blowing up the queue, and I want to honor that.

Holy crap - way to rain on the (sweet, traditional) guy's parade!

... which is why it's so important to get to know what your romantic partner's beliefs are before you commit.

Our now SIL asked whether my husband wanted him to ask his permission. My husband said, "I have no permission to give."

I think/hope that covers it. 


And that's it for today. Thanks everybody for stopping by, have a great weekend and see you 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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