Carolyn Hax Live (September 29)

Sep 29, 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. 

Hi, I'm sure you know the link to Carolyn's columns is broken. Any idea when it will be fixed? Or how we can access recent columns? Sincerely, longtime Hax fan going through withdrawal

Hi all -- Chat producer here. First, I know how useful the article page is to read over past columns or to catch-up on a past chat you missed. Sorry for the outage.

I made sure the right people are aware and they're working on a fix.

Sorry about the various technical difficulties recently. We've had such a long stretch without any that I almost forgot how annoying they are.

Last week's question from a woman whose husband had been gone on travel for weeks (and she didn't miss him at all) hit home. Hard. Realllly hard. I'm in the same boat, only add that my husband is a highly-functional alcoholic + refuses to go to counseling (a waste of time and money, according to him). Does your answer change? It's not resent or contempt — I just don't care anymore.

Serious problem + his refusal to change + your loss of motivation to keep trying = trial separation, at least. Talk to an attorney first, on your own, to get your financial and legal ducks in proper formation. I also suggest you talk to a good family therapist (again, on your own) who specializes in families affected by alcoholism. It has its patterns and predictability, so let that work for you for a change. Take care.

I dunno how I feel about the non gift giver. I have heard people show love to someone the same way they *hope* people will show love to them. I'm also not saying just because you give a gift you should expect to receive one. But my parent has stopped giving gifts -- with a repeated ridiculous declaration of it for years -- and I find it anti social. I find it uncaring and insensitive and hostile quite frankly. I'm not sure what my question is but to give me a gift -- their child -- every once in a while would mean the world to me. "Here, I saw this, thought of you and want you to have it." What's the problem with that?

On the surface, nothing at all. 

But one layer down, it looks remarkably similar on both sides: Your "Why don't you just buy me a token something because I measure love that way, and you know that's important to me?" bears a strong resemblance to the non-gift-giver's, "Why don't you just give up on expecting gifts because I measure love in other ways, and you know that's important to me?"

Ideally two people will each defer to love a little, and also hold their ground a little, in the interest of being generous to others without giving away their entire sense of self.

To get there, though, both have to want to be flexible for the greater good. 

A value I feel the need to promote on an almost daily basis lately.

Anyway, that can be where you start--talk to your parent about finding something to replace the exchange of gifts, because the ritual (if not any gift unto itself) was important to you.

I’m trying not to be hurt by my future daughter-in-law’s attitude towards the wedding she’s planning with my son, “Paul” but it’s proving difficult. “Mara” is a young widow and had a big wedding with her late husband. I can understand not wanting to do that all again but this is Paul’s first and hopefully only wedding. Paul is our only child so this is the only wedding our family will have. Every day I hear more details about the wedding and it sounds so depressing. Mara’s wearing a green, tea-length dress, no veil, casual flowers, Paul will wear a suit, there will be no groomsman or bridesmaids, the reception is at restaurant with only recorded music and so on. Paul is a romantic and had always looked forward to a big wedding and elaborate reception but now says he’s deferring to Mara’s wishes since she doesn’t want to look tacky. Money is definitely not an issue here, not on either side. We’d happily foot the entire bill for a big wedding if she’d let us. It seems to me Mara is more worried about outmoded rules and what people will think than what will make her future husband and his family happy. Should I talk to her about this or continue to bite my tongue?

Keep biting! Egads.

Because this is none! of! your! business!


But I'll elaborate anyway in hopes it helps you reorient your thinking into something less bitter.

This is "not the wedding he really wants," perhaps, but Mara is the partner he wants, so this is how the wedding goes. His priority is clear: He'd rather share his life with Mara after a small wedding than anyone else after an elaborate one.

And yes, of course, each half of a couple gets equal say in wedding plans under normal circumstances, but we're not talking about skipping sushi tonight because Mara just had it yesterday; we're talking about accounting for life-altering trauma.

If you take your son's explanation at face value, then you're free to think it's just about appearances, and of course I'm typically all in favor of taking people at their word. But it's not Mara's word, it's your son's, and don't you think the mere fact of burying one's husband at a young age would more than suffice to explain why Mara would want this wedding to leave a markedly different imprint from her last one? 

Even if her reasoning weren't as sympathetic as death, what's not to understand about someone who prefers to plan her day somewhere that ghosts aren't likely to find?

There's also the fact that if you choose the right lens, a green tea-length dress and casual flowers and two people who love each other look about as romantic as love gets.

Again--I offer all these merely as mind-reorientation tools. The fundamental fact here remains that it's not your wedding. That means your job is to show up in time and smile big, unless the couple invites you to contribute more.


My husband and I aren't perfect, but this one we have figured out. My love language is gifts. He scores a zero on gifts. His love language is quality time. So for special occasions, I give him a list of things I want, and he chooses something for me. For my gifts to him, I plan special dates or getaways. So instead of it being a battle, we are able to give and receive love the way we each need. It requires an understanding of each other and a willingness to compromise, though. I had to give up on the idea that my husband would ever surprise me with some big, romantic gift he found by himself. And he, who is super practical and doesn't like to spend money, has learned to yield a bit for special occasions.

I have two beautiful kids. A 6 year old boy with my ex-wife, and a 14 month old girl with my wife. They're the best. Problem is, I'm kind of in a pickle when it comes to posting pictures of them online. My ex-wife is very public with pictures of our son. We've always posted them. My wife now doesn't want any pictures at all of our daughter on social media. If she talks about her at all online (think facebook posts) she doesn't even refer to her by her actual name. Instead she uses nicknames or refers to her as our daughter. I respect that and don't place any photos of her at all on the internet. I've even asked friends and family to remove any I have ever found of her online. Everyone has been very apologetic and gracious about it, but I've been met with the question of why I won't when there are so many pictures of my son on social media. My only response is, different wife and mother, different ideas of privacy. Truth is, I'd love to share pictures of my daughter. My wife knows this, but says that we are giving our daughter the gift of privacy, and in the future of being able to craft her own online identity. I understand this, but some of my friends, (all who post their kids online as well) think it's overboard. What do you think?

I think "some of my friends" need to butt the fox out. Seriously.

Forget the issue of posting kid pix online--though, for the record, my sympathies are with* those "giving our daughter the gift of privacy, and in the future of being able to craft her own online identity."

You're also a parent and spouse who has found a respectful way to navigate the needs and habits of your children's two very different mothers. Anyone who would egg you on, or just apply thoughtless jokey peer-pressure, to mess with this delicate balance is not acting like much of a friend.

Your "only response" is the right one, so, stick to it. Feel free to shut down anyone who pushes it with, "It works for us, thanks," though it's hard to know why people not in your immediate family would care so much.


*I also don't judge those who choose otherwise. Parent's prerogative.

I was deeply hurt by my brother. I told him, he took responsibility and apologized. Sounds simple. But where do I put the hurt? How do I let go and move on? Why does it feel so scary to let go?

What about the apology fell short, or what did it leave unaddressed? 

That's usually why the hurt outlasts the apology.

Thank you Carolyn! It seems so often that we focus on the wedding that we forget it's all about the marriage. Or, as my favorite T-shirt reads: I spent $20,000 on my wedding and all I have to show for it is this lousy husband.

AHH why didn't I think of that! I want one. 

My best friend of decades started yelling "Dye your hair! It's embarrassing to be seen with you!" the last time I saw her. What makes her think my value as a friend is whether I'm the wrong color accessory or not? Haven't seen or spoken to her since.

It makes no sense to me whatsoever, to the extent that I can't find any way to put myself in the position of someone who would say that. There is some satisfying symmetry, though, to the (apparent) end of this friendship: You'd both now be embarrassed to be seen with each other.

I knew someone who developed a habit of remarking on the weight of every single person in his/her line of sight. Plenty of people grow warmer and more compassionate as they age, or more focused on a particular interest, or more liberated when throwing off outgrown personas, so it makes sense, I guess, that others would change in less likable ways.

My kiddo started Kindergarten this year. School attendance these days goes hand in hand with fundraising solicitations, I know that, but it's pretty intense. My question is about the etiquette of RSVP'ing to some of the events. The RSVP cards enclosed in these invitation offer options like 1)Sponsor a table and give us ALL your money 2) buy two tickets and give us LOTS of your money 3) Okay, you can't attend but you're enclosing a check for $____. There is literally no option for, "Nope, not coming, nor am I contributing anything to the Bi-Annual Petunia Replenishment Fund." So, I know it's incredibly rude not to RSVP, but it seems even more uncivil to check Option 3 and write a big fat zero on that blank line, right? What do you think?

I think if there's no blank to fill in that says you're neither coming nor donating, then the "RSVP card" is really a donation card, and you're therefore off the hook for turning it in.


Go on, yell at me. 

A happy medium we've found with far-flung family is to have a shared iCloud album of photos of our kids. It's not public anywhere and is invite-only. It's a nice way to keep in touch without feeling like we're also blasting the kids online everywhere.

Carolyn, like other people who provide services to others in trouble, do you ever feel "burned out"? If you don't , congratulations but what do you advise to keep it at bay?

Sure, I'm susceptible. 

I do a few things: I take the vacation time I'm given. (Not all of it yet, but I've gotten much better.) I also try to space it out over the year so I don't get too worn. I make sure that when I quit for the day, I really quit--no nighttime email surfing, for example, unless it's a specific circumstance that will soon pass, like digging out after a week off. I set goals for the day and end my day when I reach them. That means sometimes I'm still plugging away after typical business hours, but it also means that sometimes I'm done early and have a few hours of afternoon to myself. 

I keep a few things in mind as I read of people's painful situations: 1. Things resolve or pass, often without our having to do anything. 2. Pain is inevitable. I may read about yours and feel some of it in sympathy, but I've had my agonies as well, and it was okay that you didn't feel mine with me--or at least were able to sympathize but then forget about it a few minutes later and get on with something joyous or even just ordinary your life. None of us can afford to live and die by others' suffering, nor are we built for it. At least most of us aren't. One way to be respectful of those in trouble is to appreciate when you're not one of them. As I hope they will do with renewed fervor when the order of their world is restored.

3. Where things do linger, it's good to look into the reasons for that a bit, even if it means just to do some paying forward of kindness locally. 

I also recognize and feel grateful every day for my enormous privilege--in who I am, where I was born, how I was educated, who I have in my life, what I do for a living, and even how I control my workload. The ability to remain at arm's length from the troubles I work with is a form of privilege, too. I think of first responders and military and medical personnel and social workers often, and what they see. My pain exposure is orders of magnitude ... softer.

Thanks for asking. Political chaos and the striking sequence of disasters we've just witnessed makes emotional burnout widely relevant, not just to those in trouble-oriented professions.

That's not an invitation, it's an order form. Recycle forthwith.

Sometimes what has to be let go is the fear of the future, the thought that someday, there might be another hurt (whether similar or not) caused by that same brother. Letting go, in this instance, might just be a matter of trusting that it will never happen again.

Yes, well said, thank you. 

Since you can't necessarily trust anyone else to do something for you, it can also help to trust *yourself*--to handle if it does happen again.

Hi Caroline, About a year and a half ago I made some pretty significant lifestyle changes towards becoming healthier and losing weight. In addition to taking up hot yoga, I cut out soda, and made some pretty major dietary changes. While I will still occasionally indulge in a dessert or satisfy a craving for pizza, I typically decline such foods and even invitations to meals out at restaurants where I can't find anything within my calorie allotment, by suggesting somewhere I know I can eat or that I will meet up with them after for a drink instead. At the beginning of my weight loss journey, my friends and family were very receptive to me declining certain foods and invitations and would even make comments that they wish they were doing the same, but now that I've lost 50 pounds (woo!) I've noticed people are becoming less understanding. I may not be as obviously overweight as I once was, but I still have about 20 pounds to go that I haven't been able to make any progress on in months because I keep getting guilt-tripped that I can "afford the calories" and "one meal won't set me back" (which is true, but when you have 3-4 splurges in a week it does!). While I appreciate that they might think I look great with all of the progress I've made so far, I still have a ways to go and declining things (like a slice of birthday cake) isn't as accepted as it was 50 pounds ago... Any tips for how to convey that although I'm not as "visibly unhealthy" as I once was, I'm still working towards goals I would like to achieve and their support and understanding would be appreciated.

Ahhh, the underminers. Predictable as sunset, but not as pretty.

Your best allies in the face of difficult people are a few quick pre-formed phrases that you use in these situations. "No, thank you," is an ace, especially on a loop:

They: Cake?

You: "No, thank you."

They: Oh cmon, a little won't hurt."

You: "No, thank you."

They: "You're no fun!!"

You: "No, thank you."

You could also use some basic truth: "You're not helping," or, "'No' is not code for 'Yes.'"

Or you could leave. It's big, but definitive.

Or you could explain, once, to people you care about enough to give a longer answer, that this isn't some quest for a goal that has a beginning or an end; you've changed your life. So, you like your new life better than you like [food you no longer eat]. "So, stop."

Important to ignore follow-ups with all of these, because hereafter you do not entertain conversation about your food choices, because that's your prerogative and doing otherwise is not good for you.



Hi. My parents are in Puerto Rico. My mom works in disaster relief and while she should have been in Houston with Harvey victims, she is now home in a destroyed island helping others. I am helping as I can, sending items to high school friends who contact me, asking Congress for more help and constantly following the news. I feel like I am a split person - about to burst into tears at any moment and trying to do my best at a high stress job, where it's crazy busy. How do I make sure I don't go insane and am there for my 6 year old daughter? Tips?

I'm sorry you're being pulled in so many ways.

You can only do what you can do--it sounds dopey but it's grounding, if you let it be. You can't do anything about your mom, you can only admire and love her and be grateful the world has someone like her working for it. Release. Your parents are where they belong and want to be.

When people ask you to send items, send the $. Uses less of your bandwidth and arguably has more impact.

You are crazy busy at your job--so, you are needed there! Tell yourself that others are in a better position than you are to handle these other things, and put your energy where it will be most useful. 

You have a 6-year-old daughter for whom you are the earth under her feet. It's okay to come home from work and be just that. The news doesn't need you to follow it.

It'll still be there when your work slows down, or your child gets older, or you're at a crossroads in your life, or whatever else would dictate opening yourself to the wider world. You don't have the capacity for that right now, so leave it to the portion of the 7 billion other earthlings who do have the capacity.

My daughter was engaged to a young man who wanted a big wedding. They both saved to pay for it, but in practice the burden of organizing and paying deposits fell on my daughter, with the expectation that later they would either join the finances or he would reimburse her. Well, two months before the wedding he ran off with a pregnant girlfriend. My daughter is overwhelmed by the emotional fallout and the financial obligations. I volunteered to notify the guests about the cancellation. Some guests, especially on our side of the family, complained about their own non-refundable plane tickets and demanded that we reimburse them. What is our obligation to these people? We are not in dire financial straights, but neither are they, and I feel that all financial support I can muster should be going to my daughter. Emotionally, I am appalled that so many relatives and friends saw it fit to complain and demand more from us with only perfunctory words of support for my daughter ("I am sorry about your engagement, but can I have a few hundred dollars to cover my plane cancellation and my new dress?"). I cannot see this situation as anything other them showing their true colors, and I don't want to have any relationship with them anymore.

Wow. I can't see it as anything else either. 

So, yeah, you don't need me--you've got this. You have seen their true colors and you are free not to have any relationship with them anymore.

If you'd like, you can give them the runaway fiance's number to see about reimbursement.


I promised my 9 year old I wouldn't pepper her with questions about school. She was totally relieved, and hates being questioned. I have to confess, I hoped that she would volunteer more if I didn't ask, but nope. She's not saying much, but generally seems ok. My issue is that because she's had problems with being bullied in the past, and is generally super awkward socially, it is so hard to bite my tongue. After a few days of keeping my promise I said, "Aren't you going to tell me anything of your own free will?" Her answer, "If I do, won't you just start asking me questions about whatever I say." Good point. Part of me thinks 9 is too young for me to step back, part of me worries about her skills, but part of me also thinks that stepping in an insisting on answers isn't really a good idea, because it's not like more information will give me a route to help her out anyway. I'm guessing you'll say butt out, but when you're kid is super awkward and tends to irritate people, what can you do to help?

I might have said to butt out, but your anticipating that sent me down a different road--one your daughter waved you toward herself.

 "If I do, won't you just start asking me questions about whatever I say?" You said it was a good point, which it no doubt was, but it was also a crystal clear set of instructions for how to help your daughter.

You can respond: "Good point. I'm learning from you, though, and I understand that you're not comfortable with my way of doing things. What if I let you just tell me things of your own free will, and I promise not to ask you follow-up questions?"

It's not only a way for you to get some peek at her life at school, but also a way for her to practice, on you, a relationship where you both make adjustments out of respect for each other's natures.


Unsolicited, with apologies: I hope you've also looked into some more formal social-skills interventions. If not, then the counselor at her school is the place to start for referrals.

I was a pediatric hospice nurse for a very long time. I learned very quickly the difference between my pain and the pain of my patients and families. Once you realize that you have no right to another person's pain, it's much easier to work with it, soothe if you can, and just be there. I have cancer myself now, and learning to be a caregiver also teaches you how to accept care.

So helpful, thank you, and sorry you wound up on the accepting side. 

Just wondering if ever in recorded history since the invention of the automobile, has there been a documented case where a wife got her husband to (calmly, cheerfully, willingly) slow down somewhat (say, 5 to 7 mph) in order to relieve her discomfort over speeding and tailgating? Asking for a friend.





The tailgating is bad news--that's driving either mindlessly or angry, and his refusing to stop when you point it out = angry. I hope you're able to address the anger in a larger sense; approaching it when you're both calm and not going 80 is your best bet.

I wore a black and cream tea length dress, my husband a nice suit, had casual flowers, got married in a public garden, no attendants on either side, and had the reception for 30 people at a restaurant with music playing over the house speakers (we didn't even curate the playlist) and no dance floor. We had an AMAZING day and our guests still occasionally mention how lovely our wedding was. It was a first wedding for both of us and this is exactly what we both wanted. We certainly compromised on plenty of things, but it was far from depressing. We go back and eat at that restaurant at least once a year and can stand in the exact spot we got married anytime. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's not right for you son. Don't let your unmet expectations cause you to miss out on happiness during this milestone in your sons life. You are laying the groundwork for how the new couple interacts with you going forward.

My sympathies to the bride. And perhaps it should be suggested to the complainers that since they have those tickets that they use them and come to offer THEIR sympathetic support to your daughter, who has just had the rug pulled out from under her.

This would be ingenious, except that it means inviting people to visit who just revealed themselves to be butthats. 

I guess if it would involve a complete transformation of perspective--"Huh! I was just asking a horrifically jilted bride for my money back, when in fact my first impulse ought to have been an ounce or two of compassion"--then their showing up to console the bride might work. 

Short answer: You're still mad. It's in you, and it may not matter what he does. These are your feelings, and by their very nature, they aren't rational.

Do not tell me this is in a public school! This has to be a private kindergarten, right? My 4½-year-old starts in our wonderful public school district next year, and I would find such solicitations highly inappropriate (because classist.) If you chose a private rich-people kindergarten, well, then you made your bed.



We were asked for donations plenty by both public and private schools.

And sometimes people who are not rich choose private schools because the program at the public one(s) in their district are a bad fit for their kids, and they get financial aid and/or scrape hard for the money, or (typically) both, to serve their kids' needs better.

Let's not buy into the class-war BS we're having shoved down our throats by our "leaders," and that you in the same breath just denounced.

Hi Carolyn- My dad was recently diagnosed with Progressive Bulbar Palsy, a condition in the ALS family (or close to it). It is devastating, of course. I have been trying to partially cope by finding practical things to figure out or help my dad with, like finding recipes for liquid foods, etc. The internet is not helpful and provides mostly descriptions of a very depressing prognosis, not practical things that can help. The local ALS support group here (in the NoVA area) appears to be defunct, so I'm hoping you might have other suggestions for me, if you still have connections to these groups. Thanks, in advance, for any help!

That's exactly what my mother had, so I know the prognosis all too well.

The ALS support org we counted on for Mom is active in the D.C. area: LINK HERE to the ALS Association of DC/MD/VA. Their patient care rep is the place to start, if memory serves.

I can help you with one of the smaller questions, at least: Look for recipes for pureed soups. The ones without any kind of grit to them (black beans--gritty, butternut squash, cheese--smooth) were ideal, and my mom also couldn't manage ones with flavors that were too strong--ginger, for example, was too much, but garlic well-roasted was okay. 

My mother was also relieved beyond measure when she had a feeding tube inserted. She put it off, clinging to a sense of normalcy no doubt, but eating had terrified her for a while so this lifted the weight. She probably wished she'd done it sooner.

If anyone else has suggestions, please speak up in the comments?

Take care.



“Don't let your unmet expectations cause you to miss out on happiness,” from the poster with the perfect small wedding = brilliant advice, applicable to many situations, both within and outside our control. Suitable for framing!


Okay, that's it for today ... 2:30, guess I was feeling chatty.

Thanks all, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week.

This is a conflict we've had for years with my father (former Navy pilot, still thinks he has the fighter-jet reflexes) 2 phrases my mother has used that seem to have helped: "You may be right, but you'll be dead right", and "You can chose to put yourself at risk by driving this way, but our children and I didn't make that choice"

Yes,! My kids go to public school and I volunteer with the PTO. Every year we are always asking families to donate whatever they feel comfortable with so that the PTO can fund field trips, buses, enrichment activities (like chorus, so everyone can participate without a fee), balls for the basketball court, on and on. You'd be surprised what is not in the budget of a public school that the PTO raises money for. And I'm a much bigger fan of giving a straight donation than buying extremely expensive wrapping paper or popcorn! But if it's not in your budget that's fine too. (And I agree, it's not an RSVP, it's a donation request form).

You have no idea. Even if you're not pressured for donations like that, be prepared to deal with all the wrapping paper/cookie dough/chocolate/pizza kit fundraising the school is going to want you (and your friends and neighbors) to participate in. That's the reality of public schools these days. I remember back when I would have thought "Joe Corbi" was probably some actor.

Just want to say, without in the least minimizing concerns I know nothing about, that that was one sharp, savvy response from your daughter. You both sound like people I’d like to know better.

Oooohhhh man I was your 9 YO. You've been teaching her that her inner life is your property. If she's an introvert, that's basically torture from her perspective--regardless of your meaning well/needing to know some information. Back off--it's been 3 days! Kudos to you for trying to create a new emotional environment, but let her learn to trust the new situation--it takes time! FWIW, being told (directly or indirectly) that I was awkward did me no favors. You know what? Kids are awkward. I maybe was more so but I figured it out. Maybe it made for some weird situations in HS and college but I had it worked out by the time I was in the work force.

I would almost certainly be unable to resist checking option 3, filling in "0" as my donation amount, and then actually enclosing a check for zero dollars. This is why it's probably good that I don't have kids.

I dunno, sounds like your attitude is perfect. Though I respect your choice, of course. 

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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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