Carolyn Hax Live: "Make the pie."

Nov 17, 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. Reminder, there won't be a chat next week. 

Also, mark your calendars with bronzed reindeer poop: The Hoot will slam its sleigh onto your device of choice on Friday Dec. 8. Contribute early--your story has a better chance of being published if it's in the queue at least a day early.

Oops, 5 min delay--got a call I have to take.

Sorry! Still on ...


My boss loves me and has really helped with my career. One little issue: she can't say my name correctly. Its a common name but she butchers it (think pronouncing Nina like Ny-nah instead of Nee-nah). She has heard me and others pronounce my name Nee-nah hundreds of times, but she still says Ny-nah. Sometimes, she'll get the link and say Nee-nah once but then goes back to Ny-nah. I wouldn't care except it is becoming embarrassing when she is in meetings talking about all the great things Ny-nah does and people look at me with a quizzical look. I feel like it looks bad on me that I haven't corrected her. But, she clearly hears people say Nee-nah and still says Ny-nah. For the record, she also says Moto-sicle instead of Motorcycle even though every other person in the USA says Motorcycle. What do I do??

I think this reflects on her, not you, and therefore you can let it ride.

As annoying as it is.

For what it's worth, I've found people here and there who struggle with pronunciations, be it of one particular name that just stumps them or of a bunch of different things, and it's common enough that it's clearly just a brain-tongue-connection thing, and therefore a nonissue if you can find a way to let it be.

It's that special time of year where we can all tell strangers on the internet how bat-poop crazy our friends and families can be! When can I fire up the goat carols?

The goats are gargling as we type.

Is it really true that "once a cheater always a cheater" even when the cheater didn't cheat on you? A few years ago, I left my husband after I found out he was a serial cheater. We are now divorced. I have met someone new, we have been seeing each other a while, and he seems like a great guy. However, he is also divorced, and it's because he cheated on his ex wife. He was very honest with me about this. He did not attempt to lie about or hide it. Instead of making up an excuse for what he did like "She didn't do the dishes when I asked, and if she really loved me she would have, so she deserved it" (which was literally one of the reasons my ex husband gave for why he cheated), he told me he had "made a mistake" and that he regretted it. Our relationship is otherwise fantastic and I don't want to miss out on what could be something great just because of my own hang-ups. But in the back of my mind I can't help but think "He did it to her, what's to stop him from doing it to me?"

 Q: "He did it to her, what's to stop him from doing it to me?"

Not-unreasonable A: "Paying heavy enough emotional consequences that he'll never do it again."

But that's just about him, and therefore somewhat remote.  It'll be more persuasive if the understanding comes from within.

You're an adult person, and so you without a doubt have done at least one terrible thing in your life. Right? Chances are you can summon it pretty quickly now that I've mentioned it.

Okay. Have you done this terrible thing more than once? Have you done it more than once because the mere fact of your having had it in you to do it once means you'll never stop yourself from doing it again?

For some reason, the question I get asked over and over again is whether someone who is once a cheater is always a cheater--I'm not asked to parse "Once a backstabber always a backstabber," "Once a fibber always a fibber," "Once an opportunist always an opportunist," "Once a person who cuts out early on Friday always a person who cuts out early on Friday."

Might be interesting, but never happens.

People grow and change and learn--or, they don't. Whether this guy you're interested in is from Group A or Group B is something you have to figure out for yourself, using his words and deeds and using your judgment. It's not a perfect system and some people get hurt. But, blanket judgments aren't the remedy for the system's imperfections.



All this being said, you're someone who got burned by a serious cheater.

So, once burned always burned? It's a valid question, even though the same Group A/B possibilities exist for you. What you need to think about, carefully, is whether your patterns (your emotional comfort zone, your taste in men, your blind spots) lead you to someone who has the characteristics that feed into serial, unrepentant infidelity: manipulative, dishonest, narcissistic, charismatic. If you (still) have a weakness for those, then it's reasonable to be slower to trust--yourself, primarily. If that's the case here, then good therapy can help. 

If the experience with your unfaithful ex was just the one time you've been in that situation, then feel free disregard the preceding paragraph. 

Well, everyone is free to disregard all of my paragraphs. But you know what I mean.

Dear Carolyn, My husband's family is really academic, most are in school until their late 20's at least. My husband has a bachelor's degree and I have some college but never finished. His family has always been welcoming and they aren't snobby or anything, with the exception of Thanksgiving. My in-law's host and make a great meal. My husband's siblings are never asked to contribute because they are in finals and "don't have the time or money" to bring something. We are always asked to bring a dessert or something. My husband thinks I'm overreacting and doesn't care but for some reason this really bugs me. How do I let it go? Or is it worth it to bring it up?

Oh goodness no. Please don't.

There are only two possibilities here. One is that the face-value explanation is correct: The sibs are all broke and slammed with finals and you two are not broke and not slammed, so you are the only ones in a position to help. (You will find out, by the way, if and when the now-students finish their programs and are asked to bring pie. Or not.)

The second is that your gut instinct is correct: that you're being treated as an academically second-class citizen.

If the latter is true, then in theory it's not defensible, but in practice it's playing out as enjoying 365 days of welcoming and unsnobby people for the cost of a pie. 

It's normal, even fine for our insecurities to raise their voices and drown out the more rational ones in our heads. We all just need to make sure we don't slip and actually say these things out loud.

Hi Carolyn, My dad died 5 months ago, taking a sudden downturn after living with slow-growing lymphoma for several years. I said goodbye to him on Father's Day. The grief hits in waves and is getting harder as we approach the first holiday season without him. My 4-year-old son is very empathetic and notices when I'm feeling down. He often asks, "are you sad about Grandpa now?" and will sometimes cry with me. I try to end those times talking about how Grandpa's gone but will always be with us in our hearts, and to share stories about the short time my son got to spend with him. (We live in another state and only saw my parents a few times a year.) I go back and forth about how much I should show my grief to my son. I couldn't hide it all if I tried and I want him to know grief is normal and manageable, but I don't want him to be overwhelmed by it. I especially don't want it to ruin his joy as we move into holidays. Any suggestions or thoughts about how to handle all of this?

Death is part of life, and grief is part of death, and waves are part of grief. Unless you're unable to function, or unable to feel and express joy between the waves of sadness, I'm inclined to advise nothing except that you keep doing what you're doing: healing before his eyes.

If you are stuck, then I recommend grief counseling--or if it's not just a matter of tearing up at little reminders and then recovering, but instead big cries that interrupt all family business indefinitely. Then it would make sense for you to move some of the process out of his view and into grief support of some kind.

In general, I balk at the idea that the only proper Holiday Joy for Children (TM) is a pristine commercio-emotional production owed to them by parents. Lead with your heart and trust him to draw warmth from what's real.

And forget a lot of it, too, because 4.

I'm sorry about your dad.


Hi Carolyn- Over the summer, my dad cancelled participating in the family beach trip when I asked him not to bring his new love interest. At the time, my spouse's parents were coming, they have been married almost forty years, and I knew it would make them uncomfortable. Additionally, I wasn't comfortable envisioning explaining why it was OK for him to bring a girlfriend (I think, I'm not sure, I have only met her once) to my 18 y.o. daughter and her friend accompanying us on the trip. I would have been happy if they had gotten a hotel room that overlapped with our stay at the beach and met up with us when they wanted. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, but instead his response was to insult me and skip my daughter's high school graduation. I haven't talked to him since June, and I miss him, but I am disappointed he made the choice regarding the graduation. I have thought about writing him a letter since he lashes out over email, but I don't think I have done anything "wrong". Still, I miss him. No idea how to proceed with him from here. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

Wow. He's handling it terribly, so terribly that it almost retroactively justifies your choice to exclude his love interest.


I think excluding an adult relative's companion because ... it would bum out your in-laws? Really? Are they 6 years old? was a terrible choice. Your daughter isn't 6, either. "Grandpa's bringing his friend, Fifi. I don't know her well, obviously, but that means she's probably going to feel awkward at first. Let's be sure to make her feel welcome." That's all the "explaining" you needed to "envision."

You had a chance to set an example of grace, for all involved, and you noped it. Please, next time such a chance comes up, ask yourself what you really stand to lose by saying yes. 

How to proceed with dad? Apologize for being unfriendly.

Make the pie. Make it with a loving heart, freely and voluntarily. For all you know the Academics in the family Can't Cook.

This applies to the prior answer, too ^^.  


And I see not just a pie, but also, with your help, the birth of a haxchatism.


Make the pie.

I find it very hard to believe that if these in-laws really do think of the LW as inferior, this would be the only way or time it manifests. Maybe they just think she makes good pie.

Trojan horse pie. (Dessert special at the Ivory Tower Cafe.)


Carolyn, My husband and I have never come up against a critical, uncompromise-able situation where we differed in opinion until now. We recently lost an unborn child (our first) due to genetic defects. Moving forward, IVF with pre-implantation genetic screening is an option to make sure our next child is completely healthy, even though we were able to conceive naturally the first time. However, starting to think about this option, I am not sure I'm comfortable with it from an emotional/spiritual perspective. Neither of us is particularly religious, but after this loss I would feel bad about the discarded embryos, and devastated if the healthy one didn’t implant successfully (which only happens about 45% of the time). My husband thinks my vague discomfort is illogical. The issue feels sort of urgent since he is pushing for us to lay away money in our FSA during insurance open season. But I don’t think we could afford it (not covered by insurance) even with the maximum layaway. It's too soon to start thinking about this... I'm scared to try again, and not ready to move on yet.

You're still recovering from both a physical and emotional loss; "recent" means your body is likely still affected by hormonal changes, and of course you're grieving. That's a really hard time to produce a time-pressured, "logical" decision.

Your husband himself might not be as coldly rational as he thinks. Taking concrete steps like setting aside money might be his way of managing his own grief, since controlling the things we can control is a common, often productive answer to the helpless feelings that death can stir up.

There is a compromise here, though. Skip this year's FSA election and resolve to think about this over the next year. If it weren't for the money, presumably, your husband wouldn't be pushing for you to make up your mind about such a complex medical and ethical decision--right? So take the money out of it knowing the same option will be available to you a year from now. 

In the year you give yourselves to think and talk and research this decision, you can also be saving for it. It'll be after-tax dollars, sure, but you'd need those anyway, right? Either to pay procedure costs in excess of the FSA maximum, or just cover the typical expenses for childrearing however you choose to create your family.

Yes. An acquaintance always thought she was being snubbed because she wasn’t asked to bring anything except frozen dinner rolls. Turns out her MIL figured she was really busy with work, and was trying to keep from imposing extra stuff on her. Don’t take offense if there’s no need.

And sometimes even if there is need. 

Leave the offense, take the pie.

My husband died suddenly three months ago. We had never discussed funeral plans but he was not religious and disliked the religion he was raised in so I insisted on a non-religious funeral because I thought that would best reflect his wishes. His very religious parents were upset with me for that and have been cold to me since then. I would like to have a relationship with them but am unsure what to do. It actually just occurred to me today that I have no Thanksgiving plans because we always spent it at their house and they haven't invited me this year, I guess because they're upset about the funeral. Was I wrong not to let my husband's parents bury their son the way they wanted? Should I apologize? Should I reach out but not apologize? I would appreciate your input.

Maybe they're upset about the funeral, yes.

I'm inclined to believe, though, they're just angry at the universe and you're much easier to punch.

I can't say whether you did the right thing. If it were my funeral, I'd be grateful to you (beaming down from my little cloud or up from my handcart) for the effort you put into your choices to honor the real me. That takes guts, especially when you're doing so for a hostile audience and dealing with your own grief throughout. If you had instead bowed to the audience pressure and chosen the funeral they wanted, then I'd forgive you. Either one was a heartfelt choice.

Please try to plan something restorative for Thanksgiving, be it a day of fleece and streaming or some close friends who won't make you pay if you're not at your best.

As for your in-laws, be as gentle and forgiving and patient as you wish they were being with you. At arm's length though it may be.

A colleague of mine has a similar problem with names. We have a colleague whose name is missing the typical consonant (as in Ronal instead of Ronald). Another that is spelled with a consonant that is pronounced atypically (spelled with an "f", but pronounced like a "v"). I've given up on correcting the pronunciation. It's just a verbal tic and nothing to get worked up over.

I cheated once when I was 20, a terrible decision that ended a good relationship. I'm now 67 and haven't cheated since and quite confident at this point I never will. So I feel confident saying that once a cheater does not mean always a cheater.

When I was 8 years old my mom left my dad and me and married another man. That man didn't want me around and so I only saw my mom three times between ages 8 and 18. I also very rarely saw aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom's side of the family. Now that I'm an adult I'm beginning to develop relationships with my relatives on my mom's side, but it's difficult because they seem so insistent in me forgiving my mom. For instance, I mentioned to my aunt that it was difficult not having my mom around, and she said, "You should be happy that your mom found a man who made her happy." Do you think it's worth me pursuing relationships with my mom's side of the family? Or is it pointless when they act like my mom abandoning me at age 8 was a perfectly acceptable thing to do?

I'm sorry, that's just mind blowing. You were 8! 

The mama bear in me wants to tell you, no, it's not worth pursuing relationships with people this bloody myopic.

However, pointing out the absurdity of what they're suggesting is worth a shot. "I want to be sure I have this right. I hear you say that I should be happy my mom traded me, at 8 years old, for a man. Is that what you meant?" Go into anthropologist mode, because you want this data.

Anyone who gets your point is unlikely to try to sell you that reasoning again.

For those who stick to their argument, you can respond with what you believe and why. "I can see forgiving her, but to be happy she hurt me? No serious person would suggest that."

Or, go all Bryce Harperish on their butts. "That's a clown suggestion, bro."

Remember too: Your mom's family is most likely carrying a lot of guilt around about this. Your mom is the one who left you, yes, but in doing so she forced all of her family to respond to her in some way--to deplore her actions, to distance themselves from her, to stay in touch with you on their own ... or to welcome the new guy in all of his you-rejecting horror and act as if nothing was amiss. If they chose the last one, then you can expect they'll spend a lot of their time with you trying to justify their own moral lapses--and what's the weapon of choice for such people? "Should." Applied liberally to everyone but themselves.

Proceed with them as you see fit, but don't expect them to look out for you--unless and until they actually do.


I have an unusual name that is frequently mistaken for a common one. In high school I had the same math teacher for two and a half years, including my senior year. He wrote me a glowing college recommendation, but referred to me throughout by the common name that wasn't mine. It was the only time I've cared, because I thought the admissions folks might question how genuine his rec was. Fortunately he showed it to me ahead of time (not standard practice) and we fixed it. He was glad I spoke up. So, basically, if there is a real reason why your boss's mispronunciation could harm you, have a gentle talk with her and make it about that reason. Otherwise, no reason to let it bother you.

...I see Lifetime Movie for Women (TM) potential there...

One option is to make a terrible pie, so you won't get asked to do so anymore.

Terrible pie is not an option.

I am now in existential crisis. 

The main takeaway I'm getting from today's chat is that pie is always the answer.

All better now, thanks.

I have no idea is this will be helpful, but I know as a biologist by training having the science behind medical stuff is always comforting to me. For what its worth regarding the unused embryos/unsuccessful implantation, up to 50% of naturally fertilized eggs do not implant either

That's not what Monty Python taught me. 

But that does put things in useful perspective, thanks.

Moreso than you know - your name has been showing up as producer Teddy Amenabar on my browser for the whole chat.

Brilliant! Couldn't have planned it better.

I did know there was a problem, but thought it had been fixed. 


Teddy, Carolyn, Carolyn, Teddy ... I'm Teddy AND Carolyn!

The Faye Dunaway moment I never dreamed I'd have.

If there were a "Hax, It's Time to Go" song, the orchestra would be playing it as I type louder and louder in a vain attempt to be heard.

So, yeah.

Bye, thank you extra since this is the thanking season, and since there's no me without you guys. 

Have a great holiday or at least one that's bad only in ways that make good stories, and type to you here Dec. 1.


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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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