Carolyn Hax Live (February 23)

Feb 23, 2018

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. This is going to be a shorter than usual session. At the end (1 pm ish), Teddy will stay on to talk about changes to the comments section.

In middle school, I once got a failing grade. My mom said that we absolutely could not tell my (paternal) grandmother, who would "flip out". I doubted I could avoid the subject for very long; after a visit where I worried constantly that Grandma would ask about my report card, I got a fateful idea. I told my parents, falsely, that Grandpa had been doing bad things to me, and Grandma saw but did nothing. I told this lie so that I wouldn't have to see them anymore, and thus they couldn't ask about my grades. Before this, I actually had a good relationship with my grandparents, but I guess I figured that would be ruined anyway, so why not tell this lie? I don't think my dad believed me, and I'm not sure if my mom really did either, but she banned them from my life just as I wanted. Needless to say, I feel terrible about this. It's now a decade later; I haven't seen my grandparents since, and my grandmother has now passed away. I really want to see my grandfather and explain what happened, but maybe I should leave him alone at this point. I guess the first step would be telling my father, who thankfully has maintained a relationship with both his father and me. I have considered killing myself and explaining all this in a suicide message, but I really don't want to cause any more hurt than I already have. For that same reason, I'm not sure if I should bring this up at all. Should I reach out to my grandfather, or not?

It is essential that you remove this weight from both your grandfather and your conscience. And absolutely do not *add* more weight by harming yourself. A lie can be retracted but death cannot.

Also never forget you made this choice when you were child. You feel the anguish of an adult now but you did not have the judgment of one then. 

If you feel he is the right and safe person to tell, then yes, do tell your father first. I urge you--beg you--to consider talking to a therapist before you do anything else. You can ask your regular doctor for a referral, or go through an employer (if it offers an EAP) or school if it has a counseling center. Many clergy members also have counseling credentials. 

And of you ever feel at immediate risk of harming yourself, dial 911.

This will be hard for all of you, but not so painful as leaving the lie intact. Check back in, please, to let me know how you're doing.

Thanks for your recent thoughts on the pros and cons of having one or more than one child. You were spot on about siblings potentially being a source of torment. I grew up in a large family, and everyone (my parents included) scapegoated me. Incredibly, this has been going on for sixty years. I have completely divorced myself from them, and my life has become immeasurably better and more peaceful. And since your response in last week's chat included a question about how people get off the fence about things, here's my handy dandy way. I quiet my mind and ask for an intuitive impression of the future if I were to say yes to the thing I'm considering. (Something always comes.) Then I clear my mind and ask for an intuitive impression of the future if I were to say no. I generally know which choice to make after I do that. It's a way to bypass the "shoulds" and the logic that so often eclipse the truth of my experience and knowing.

You're welcome, and thank you for sharing your decision process. It sounds so simple--I wonder how much people's results will vary based on ability to turn off the "noise." That in itself can be instructive, though, I imagine. It can be helpful to identify mental and emotional clutter even when that's only the first step in clearing it out.

I sent an email to you earlier today about how to forgive my brother and sister-in-law. The email described the problem. I hope you will consider it in your live discussion. Thanks.

You need to copy-paste-post it here for me to consider it. Thanks.

You were a child living with fear and shame over a bad grade, which tells me you carried a lot of weight on your shoulders. I would bet that you also had undiagnosed depression and anxiety. Go back and look at pictures of your preadolescent self and have empathy for that little girl and her extreme fear. Then call a therapist. You can get low cost therapy through social service agencies as well as what Carolyn mentioned. You did the best you knew how at the time and now you’re feeling strong enough to make it right. You deserve compassion and forgiveness. It will be okay. I admire your strength.

Thank you.

I have an excellent memory for details and while it’s a great asset in my work (I do statistical analysis for a pharmaceutical company) it seems to be a detriment in my personal life for reasons I do not understand. I can remember minor but innocuous things people said or did or what they wore many months later. Sometimes I bring this up because something in the present time relates, but when I do that people act like I’m making things up but if I show them proof with a picture or a text, then they act freaked out. I’m not reminding people they owe me money or screwed something up so I’m confused by this reaction and yet it’s happened so many times. It’s really hard for me to curtail my memory and I blurt these things out without thinking because often times it’s interesting or shows that I’m interested in them. I‘m talking about things like, “Hey, you wore that the last time we all went to the movies, is that your superhero viewing shirt?” or “Did you ever hear back from that friend of yours?” Why is this such an issue with a lot of people?

"often times it’s interesting or shows that I’m interested in them."

It can also appear to them as if you're *too* interested, because they're filtering your remarks through the experience of having typical brains that have typical disposal mechanisms for minutiae. So, for them to remember someone's shirt from weeks or moths ago, plus the context in which it was worn, they'd have to be waaaayyyyy interested in that person. Like, crushing-verging-on-stalkery-obsessed interested. So your innocent brain gymnastics trigger their alarms. It's a false alarm, but they can't know that.

So I suggest you either stop sharing so many of the things you notice, or start sharing more about your quirky retention of detail. If they know you're that way then you can all treat it more openly as your parlor-trick brain thing.

Have you read anything by or about Marilu Henner? She has a famously detailed memory--"hyperthymesia," says the GoogleWik.

Hi Carolyn - I just got off the phone with my sister, who is married and has a 9-year-old daughter. Her husband has been having an emotional affair with his high school sweetheart. My sister knows because she has been going through his phone; apparently, he sends the h.s. sweetheart text messages and emails with lots of heart and flower emojis and has said that she (the h.s. sweetheart) is his "queen." Ick. My sister has a high-pressure job. She makes more money than her husband and is fiercely independent. She has always made work a priority, sometimes at the expense of her family. She realizes this and has started to try to be more present when she's at home, realizing that her husband is probably feeling emasculated and in need of attention. She has a session scheduled with a counselor. Any other steps you can advise?

For her, no. She's apparently doing the hard work she thinks she needs to do. I expect that will eventually have to include her telling him what she knows, but this is her trail to blaze, not mine.

If it were: I'd take exception to the "emasculated" line of reasoning. Money earned is (literally?) a paper thin way to define masculinity. Plus, she is who she is. Playing a role to flatter his ego is not anyone's long term solution. I hope.

The part about attention, though, is as valid as it gets. Not being present in a relationship is lethal to it, no matter where it is you've misplaced your attention--be it on a high-powered career or baking bread from scratch all weekend for the 12 children you home-school during the week.

Or did you mean, any other steps for you? Not much there, either. Just listen to her and encourage her to be true to herself, no matter how she chooses to approach this. That's the only way it'll work.

I also have a super memory. Yes, friend I graduated high school with in 1990, I remember the gray sweatshirt with red elbow patches you wore in gym class that time when Mr. Smith the gym teacher made us run laps for being late to class. My solution: I pretend not to remember. When I see someone for the first time in two years, I don't say, "I hope that econ professor wasn't too hard on you on that project about free trade you were working on toward your master's degree." I say, "Weren't you in grad school the last time I saw you? What are you up to now?" I do tell my wife the whole truth about all the bizarre details I can remember for decades, but most other people don't know. They don't need to know. They don't want to know. I don't let them know.

I set up time to hang out with my 14 y.o. niece who is very sweet and also has been getting in trouble (skipping school, lying to family, etc.). She reminds me so much of myself at her age. I figure I can relate to her in that regard and try to share what I know now that I'm decades older. Since this hangout is coming up soon, any tips on how to make it comfortable for her to open up to me or how to start getting through to her about the path she's on? Is talking/listening to her like how I would have wanted someone to talk/listen to me at that age a good enough approach?

Worth a try, certainly. But with strong caveats: She is not you, no matter how strong the resemblance; and your knowing now what you needed to hear then doesn't mean you would have listened then.

Err on the side of listening. That way she can tell you what approach she'd welcome right now.

I have some new friends with two young children, both of whom I like a lot and who are always excited to see my husband and me (we don't have kids) when we get together with their family. Their mom (who is lovely) is from the south, as am I, and she always insists that the kids call us "Miss and Mister [First name]." This is a convention of child-adult interaction that I'm very familiar with having grown up in the south, but it's one my parents always disliked and never enforced. I also dislike this convention and so I try to interact with the kids just using my first name, but their mom inevitably corrects them. I know it's up to parents to guide how their kids interact with adults, but is it reasonable for me to say to the parents, "Hey, I'd love for the kids to just call me by my first name" or would I be overstepping?

That's okay, but phrase it in the form of a question: "Would that be okay with you?" And take no for an answer. When the kids are 18, you can ask them directly to call you what you like.

On my wedding day, my best guy friend (who was in the wedding) came up to me afterward and told me he loved me. I could tell it was very emotional and meaningful for him to say that, but since he told me this after the wedding, I assumed he just meant he was happy for us. It's years later now, we're both happily married to other people, and I'm quite curious what he meant by that. Is there harm in asking him what he meant? His answer wouldn't change anything, it would just satisfy a long-held curiosity I've had. On the other hand, best to let sleeping dogs lie, right?


I am six months pregnant with my first child. I've been fixated a bit on who to have in the delivery room with me, I think because it's one of the few elements I can control in this pregnancy. Should it just be my husband, or should I invite my mom too? In favor of my mom- we have a close relationship, she is over the moon about her first grandchild, and she is good in a crisis situation. I've seen her through my grandparents' illnesses and death. She isn't squeamish and she is a good advocate in speaking with doctors. The argument against- she tends to get so over-excited about me and my life that she inserts herself too much into my life's events. We had to have numerous talks when I was wedding planning that it wasn't a three-way marriage between me, my husband, and my mom. She found out last year that my best friend was throwing me a surprise birthday party and offered to help, then ended up planning the whole thing herself. However, there have been other milestones when she wasn't like this, so it is not cut and dry that I should expect this behavior. My mom hasn't asked about the plans yet and my husband is 100% supportive of what I decide. Is there another angle I'm missing here? Any advice would be helpful!

Husband. You're co-stars in this story, period. Others might be helpful or joyful companions along the way, even essential at times, but they're supporting players at best.

Plus, the way for people to be good with crises and doctor advocacy is for them to actually do it. For their own spouses and children. 

Does this mean no one's ever right to have their mom in there? No. Everyone should do what's right under the specific circumstances. But since you're not sure and you have overmomming in your history and you're asking me, there's your answer. Husband only. She can visit right after.

Perhaps a better question, to ask yourself - why would you want to ask him now?

Intriguing, thanks.

Decide ahead of time how to handle if she says “don’t tell my parents” because if she discloses anything that shows she’s in danger, you cannot keep her confidence. Breaking her trust will do far more damage if she thinks what you’re saying is private and you cannot keep quiet about what she says. Because she reminds you of yourself, be very careful that you’re not substituting your feelings for hers. Be careful about criticizing her parents or choosing sides. Whatever you say might be repeated as “Aunt says you’re an idiot for not letting me juggle knives.”

OP, your description of your niece as "very sweet" combined with her behaviors seems incongruous; in my experience, rebellious teenagers tend to be sullen and taciturn. Either way, there may be something deeper going on. Just for example, skipping school would make sense if she was being badly bullied. Or something else might be the culprit. Just keep your ears open. Don't be afraid to ask questions, but be ready to back off if she puts her shields up.

I do think "sweet" and boundary-pushing can coexist, btw.

If you're driving someplace together, try broaching tough topics in the car. Fewer distractions, OK to avoid eye contact, not a face-to-face confrontation. Walking together can have the same effect. It's just a very different dynamic than eyeing each other across a table.

Okay, that's it for me for today.  Thanks all for stopping by, and hope to see you here again next week.

If Teddy's here, he'll take any questions you have on the new comments system. Teddy?

Hi all -- I help Carolyn produce the chats week-to-week but, on my free time, I'm also the comments editor at The Post.

Over the past few months, we've been rolling out a new commenting system and it will expand to Carolyn's columns in the coming days. Some quick answers:

- We will move your comment history to the new system

- The off-topic button will carry over

- It's a continuing project to build the tools the community needs here

Teddy, what are the chances that the system can be modified to increase the amount of indenting on the comment levels? It's really hard to tell an initial comment from a reply.

This is a great question. We're going to revisit threading -- or, as you put it, comment levels. I know it can be hard to scan on smaller screens at the moment like tablets or mobile phones. Thanks for writing in

I don't believe you're still live now, even with that red link button! I don't hear you breathing! Take the "On the Air" sign down!

Now that I am in the driver seat, I am realizing how crunched for time you can feel while typing out answers! So, apologies for the delay. I'll play the Mission Impossible theme.

Good questions on content display. Any merging of the systems? Right now I look at comment profile both the old way and the new way. When the new way works. Worse though, is that a bunch of recent history seems to have been "lost" on either or both systems. Big gaps, anyway. Thanks!

We're working on merging right now but, could you email me at with more details about the big gaps? I can look into that.

I noticed in the new system, when viewing our comments, you have to leave the page to see replies to your comment. Can that be modified so that replies are visible on the same page, similar to how we see them with the old system?

Duly noted. I've gotten a few emails about this and will be sure to pass it along. Thanks for writing in

Teddy, do you know why the comments section seems to work on some articles and not others? It always works for my on Carolyn's articles, but on many news articles I can see the total number of comments but not the comments themselves. I have heard from other users that they have seen this too. (I am a subscriber, if that makes any difference.)

Thanks for subscribing! All you need to comment on The Post is an account with a valid email address, for those wondering. This is another case where I'd ask you email me so I can figure out the particulars: what browser are you using, etc. 

Again, it's

A lot of the Hax commenters are rather flaky about marking their posts as off-topic, so even if I hide off-topic comments I wind up scrolling through miles and miles of random chitchat before I can find people actually discussing the column. Would it be possible to give us the option to mark other people's posts as off-topic, much as we can flag them as inappropriate? That might cut down on the noise. It's not a huge deal to me, but it is annoying.

This seems dangerous in the wrong hands but do other people have thoughts? I will absolutely pass it along to the team, I just could see it being a problem if someone uses it for nefarious purposes.

I've noticed that some comments have been moderated on some stories. Is that going to be for everything or just certain articles? What's the criteria to moderate? FWIW, I'm all for more civility and fewer unnecessarily nasty and off-topic comments.

We have a team of human moderators (I moderate as well when I have time) and they review comments from all articles across the site.

That being said, we are starting to turn pre-moderation on for some articles. This means: a comment does not appear on the article until a moderator approves the post. We'll make this decision on articles dealing with sensitive subjects or in places where the comments are continuously going against the rules in place. 

To your point, it's a way to slow down the conversation and focus on civil commentary. That's our goal, civil comments about issues raised in Post reporting (or columns). 

There are a number of issues that have been repeatedly pointed out by the people posting on the CWG. Have you taken these into account, and will they be remedied?

Yes, and thanks for writing in. The team has a list and when I get reader requests for one thing or another, the list may move around to change priorities. Your feedback is really impacting what we do next. So, thanks for taking the time.

A good example of this: We didn't launch the new system to Carolyn's columns until we got the off-topic feature because it's a must-have for the community.

Does HTML not work on the new system? I seem to remember trying to italicize something and the tags just posted along with everything else instead of doing their job. Will that be rolled out in the future, or are we just out of luck?

Bold, italics and hyperlinking are very high on the list I just mentioned. You're not out of luck. The team knows the community wants the feature.

...that most stories involved dead children don't have a comments section anymore, and I want to let you know how much I appreciate that. They were always full of gruesome schadenfreude and blame, and I'm glad you're making less space for that. Thank you.

Thanks for that. We do make a conscious effort to close the comments on articles dealing with personal tragedies.

If you think we didn't make the right call, you can always email

Just an idea , maybe a "Hide thread" button that would allow individual users to quickly hide threads that they find off-topic. Might be hard to implement.

I think this is a great idea. Other online communities have pretty robust tools around collapsing threads or jumping to the next "original" comment. Thanks for writing in

Perhaps it would be better to allow us to mark something as Off Topic via editing. That way, a person could be reminded to mark if they forgot (or sometimes we realize we forget) and be able to go back and mark it using the edit feature.

This is a great middle-ground solution (thanks to the many similar suggestions). I'll pass this along to the team to brainstorm around.

Thanks, Teddy. I can't get the Mission Impossible tune out of my head now.

I'll sign-off on this note but, to everyone else who wrote in, I am saving your comments or suggestions to forward along to the entire team working on the new system.

Thanks everyone for chatting about this and please email with questions!

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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