Carolyn Hax Live: "Hitch up your armor"

Apr 13, 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 all, happy Friday.

My husband "Ken" and I have been married 5 years, together 9 years. Ken is an amazing person, he's upbeat, handsome, charming, and thoughtful. The problem is he just can't seem to stick to any kind of business/job. He has a master’s degree in a technical field which pays really well and his education cost his parents a fortune but he hated it so much that he lasted less than a year in that field. Since we've been together he has participated in or started 7 different business ventures. The problem is that he gets super enthusiastic about a "new" thing, spends a lot of time and money doing the fun and exciting part but loses interest when the tough, boring, mundane reality of running a business hits. This means I've had to work lots of overtime just to keep us solvent, we can never save or get ahead, and can’t even think about having children. When I talk to him about finding something steady, he tells me that he’s still looking for his passion but when he finds it, things will take off faster than I can imagine. What can I do here? I guess I could accept the status quo and stay with him and love Ken for who he is, or admit that love isn't enough to sustain a relationship over the long haul and divorce him. But since I do love him, but want a stable life, I’m looking for advice that finds a middle ground.

Certainly as I was reading this my little voice was whispering "ADHD! ADHD!" but neither I nor my little voice is a mental health professional, so take its whisperings for what they're worth.

If you think there's something to that, then urge him to get screened. 

That's the here's-what-you-can-do portion of the answer. 

There isn't much to it because, by your description, there's zero buy-in from Ken that there's anything wrong with the way he's working and (not) earning and how you're living together as a couple. He's a-okay with it. Right? Is that fair? (more)

 

And there's no magic fix for someone who watches a spouse work "lots of overtime" just to keep their household afloat and is fine with that despite having no clear destination of his own yet. You're not carrying the weight while he, say, grinds it out in law school or follows through on a carefully considered and deeply-invested-in business plan or pursues one concentrated shot at making an art or music career pay. You're working while he's "looking for his passion." (Did you get to look for yours, by the way? Does your work already fit that description?)

So, yeah. You either decide he's a househusband and then decide whether there's a happily ever after for you in that, and if there is, then you change the structure of your life to make it work better on one income--certainly partners are more than their paychecks, or else what happens when one is ill or injured or laid off or home with kids or just really great at and satisfied by running a home? Or you say no, this is not an arrangement you're going to remain in because the bad feelings it generates--from the physical fatigue of extra work to the mental fatigue of being broke to the chafe of his draining you to indulge himself--outweigh the good.

 

That took me sooo much longer than i intended. My apologies for the delay.

I just recently found out I'm pregnant again with our surprise baby. My first child will be about 20 months old when this child hopefully arrives, so we had a baby shower not that long ago. My mother mentioned she thinks it would be nice to have a baby shower to celebrate this baby as well and all babies deserve a celebration, but the idea just makes me uncomfortable. It's considered tacky, right? Are there non-tacky alternatives? Perhaps I could suggest a small lunch with close friends and some family instead? Or, invite people over after the baby is born to visit and celebrate him/her then?

Why not just say no thanks? If your mom isn't forcing the issue, then there's no need to tie yourself up in knots ... and if she is forcing it, then that's all the more reason to hold the line.

As I've said in the past, sometimes people just want to be included, so in that case your "small lunch with close friends and some family" would be fine, though people will probably see it as a shower and bring gifts whether you call it a shower or not. You could make it a bring-your-favorite-children's-book shower, which would cost your guests very little, stir up some of their happy memories, build a library for both of your children, and maybe even help stock a library or school or homeless shelter through donations (ask around--such institutions either need books or they really really don't). 

Whatever you do, there will be some people who think it's tacky and some who think it's great and whatever. That's a double-whateverer, if you're counting at home.

Treat this as a chance to do or not do whatever you want and devote zero worry and stress to it. Congratulations! 

Just here to say that (yes, it could be ADHD) you are now your husband's mother. It's a miserable, miserable way to live. Please, don't go 20 years with him before reaching your breaking point like I did. You can't have children with someone who can't carry their share of the load (for example: you can't do overtime when you have a baby). It's much worse to be taking care of an adult baby when you've got a living, breathing, justifiably-needy actual baby who needs you.

We do folks such a disservice by propagating the myth that their vocation must be a passion to be rewarding and worthwhile. Maybe your vocation funds your passion. Or, maybe there is great satisfaction in excelling at a job, despite it not being a passion, and providing for your family and not burdening your partner.

I have a beautiful, spacious apartment in a city in which they can be a little hard to come by. My favorite part of my apartment is my generous balcony, where I have plants and a comfortable chair for reading. To my shock and surprise, my ex-husband, “Chris” recently moved in next door and is now my neighbor. We divorced 7 years ago and haven’t seen each other or spoken since. For reasons I don’t want to get into, it was a bitter divorce and I’m not happy to have him popping over the divider to say hi every time I’m outside as well as trying to invite himself over for a glass of wine several times. I still have the same dog as when we were married and I hear Chris talking to him when he’s on the balcony without me. I’ve been coldly polite but he’s not getting the hint! It’s so strange that he moved next door completely by accident in a reasonably big city so I wonder if he’s up to something though I don’t know what that would be. The divorce was completely his doing so I know he hasn’t been pining after me all these years. My boyfriend says I’m being paranoid and giving him too much power over me and while I know he’s right, I can’t help being a little freaked out. Should I talk to Chris and tell him to leave me and my dog alone? Won’t I come off as crazy if I do that? I really don’t want to look for a new place and on the face of it all, he hasn’t done anything besides being overly familiar and friendly but the whole situation is weird and unsettling. Any advice for me?

Yikes.

Yes, tell Chris you'd like to be left in peace. You're glad things are civil between you two but your past is comfortably in your past and  you don't want it popping over the divider.

You don't say whether this is an apartment you own or rent; if it's the latter, it might we worth asking the management if there's a similar unit in the building (same size and balcony) and, if so, asking to be notified if it becomes vacant. 

Good morning! My husband's grandfather "John" is 92 years old. He's sharp as a tack but recently been more debilitated with health issues. Specifically, one of the retina's in his eye detached and he recently learned he's too much of a risk for repair. So essentially he has vision in only one eye. He lives in Florida with his 75 year old partner while the whole extended family lives in various East Coast cities. John and his partner moved about 6 months ago, but it was only when my MIL visited that the family became aware that it was much less assisted-living than they were told. John still needs to drive regularly. I've been freaking out at the idea of John driving. But John and his daughter, my MIL, are extremely headstrong and resistant to ideas that aren't their own. I've explained to my husband how dangerous him driving is. He's concerned too and said his mother and her siblings "in a month or two" will be probably visiting him to assess the situation. I don't know how to broach this with my intimidating MIL but I think time is of the essence. Do you have any suggestions?

Yes. To start, stop using "need." He does not "need" to drive. He needs transportation, yes, but it's going to have to be in some form besides his operating a motor vehicle.

I'm going to take a moment to rant here: Car dependency has to be one of the dumbest things our society's planners and decision-makers ever foisted upon us. I really feel for John and all the other people who for whatever reason keep driving when it's not safe for them to. To surrender a license is to give up a huge portion of one's independence and it's terrible.

But. That doesn't make it okay for anyone with a vision problem--or just reflexes naturally slowed by nine decades of use--to push tons of metal around in ways that put the rest of us at risk. His ache to be autonomous does not trump anyone's ache to survive a walk down the street.

So. If you know John's doctor's name, you can put in a call. (Doc can't talk to you, but you can notify doc.) You can alert the DMV in his area that he's an unsafe driver. 

If that pains you, then you and your husband need to hitch up your armor and get in there to talk to John and your scary MIL. Not in two months--now.

 

My brother wants to know what I think about his girlfriend, I assume because he’s thinking of marrying her. The problem is I don’t like her. It isn’t an actionable dislike - she isn’t controlling, criminal, or abusive - but I find her boring and, worse, a boredom missionary. She has no hobbies, she doesn’t watch any TV shows, she thinks fandom for anything is stupid, and doesn’t have a team (in any sport!) that she supports. If I am doing something with my brother our plans to do a panic room, go see a fun, dumb movie, or eat at the weird new fusion place are all ‘a bit silly’. Instead she just wants to do dinner at someplace deemed nice and an indie movie about sad people being sad (which if that was her thing, but she never seems to enjoy it, or anything). She doesn’t even like animals! I have dodged my brother’s question for now, but he is pushing. The best thing I can think to say about her is that she is unobjectionable and has lovely hair (tried to talk to her about that, she just washes it, “that is a bit of a silly question”). I can do the old ‘she makes you happy’ dodge, but pretty sure my brother is going to see through that. Plus do I owe to him to point out that he (might) be planning to marry a woman who obviously loves him but doesn’t share an interest in anything he enjoys and probably won’t want to do any of the big adventure stuff holidays he has always had planned? Or even get the Great Dane he has wanted since our childhood dog died. on the other hand, maybe he doesn’t want to do that stuff anymore. He has picked her, maybe a life of gentle boredom is what adult bro is all about? I just don’t know. I think if she didn’t do this...passive roadblock...of disapproval about things she considers silly (like all fun stuff!) I could appreciate her other qualities more. As it is, she just exists as this big buzz kill in my head and it is hard to come up with anything nice to say. What do you think i should do?

He's asking and asking, so answer him! Just don't make too much of it because you're providing only one opinion, and it might not even be relevant for him.

By not making too much of it, I mean keep it light and quick: "She's way too much of a grownup for me--but you know I'm all about dumb movies and weird food." Then turn it to him: "Does she make you happy? That's what matters. If she's right for you, then I'll just have to wear her down." 

Something about your letter tells me you'll get the tone of this right. And let me be the first to thank you for "boredom missionary."

Yikes, Carolyn! No. She should not have to even give a thought to moving to another apartment. How about at least trying something much simpler( if asking him to leave her and the dog in peace isn't enough), like putting up some sort of barrier or screen at that end of the balcony. Perhaps even several pots containing very tall plants.

I don't believe in "should." Try less drastic steps first, of course, which is why I advised talking to him--but if the problem persists, then the problem decides what's appropriate. 

Wow, Carolyn, not going to call out the attacks on people who like indie movies, quiet restaurants, and don't follow sports? (Which is, like, a lot of people.) You don't share interests with her, that's fine. Going on a tirade about how much you hate her because she enjoys different things than you is obnoxious and rude.

I love quiet restaurants and indie movies about sad people being sad and I'd rather sit in traffic than eat weird fusion or go to a panic room, and I thought the letter was hilarious. It's not our interests that make us interesting, it's our willingness to laugh at ourselves. IMO.  

"It doesn't matter if I like her or what I think. I'm not the one who is with her. The only person whose opinion matters is yours so why do you keep asking me?" You might get an interesting answer. People in happy relationships don't care about what others think.

It seems clear the DH does'nt see the problem, and that's your issue right there. But in case he does see a problem, and wants to be a contributor/regular wage earner, I wonder what he has done to find his passion? Could he work with a career coach? I ask because there are people who like the new and buzzy, and don't like the rote and routine. On the Myers Briggs, I'm an ENTP, and I love start ups, and thinking up new projects, and new new new, but absolutely hate the routine once the new venture gets going. I want to be on to the next thing. I was on a message board recently where people talked about what types of jobs work for ENT/FP people - creative directors, advertising, client work, sales. I work in proposal writing, which means a new proposal comes across my desk every week. I imagine I'd also like work that is more hands on and always changing - I enjoyed restaurant work in the past, construction (like flipping houses). Even in corporate work there are types of jobs that work better for my personality. I have a friend like me who works in a technical field, but has found her niche doing special assignments. She'd be terrible at looking in-depth at any one issues, but a special assessment on a 90 day turnaround is right up her alley. So there are great (even well-paid) jobs out there for people who need the buzz of something new.

I like the different angle, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, wondered if you had any advise about better communication with our (almost) 16-year-old son. He's always been taciturn - now he barely speaks to me. So our interactions have degenerated into me nagging him about his grades, chores and activities. He doesn't appear to be depressed - I've asked (probably not the best approach) - and he just laughs. He is the only child in the house; his much older brother was also challenging but with different issues. Your thoughts are appreciated.

How much parenting (hate that as a verb btw) do you still really have to do at this point? Does he really need the nagging on grades and chores and etc.? Can most of it be accomplished through natural consequences and reasonable parental limits, and occasional schedule confirmations?

I ask because the best thing you can do for your communication is to be a person who likes him as a person. Parents get so used to being the boss and the teacher and the disciplinarian and the banker and the manners-minder that sometimes just enjoying your kid gets pushed off the schedule. 

It can be hard to get this back if you're essentially years from the last time you had a shared activity beyond day-to-day life, but chances are there's some old ember you can fan a bit. Or you can introduce a new one, if you can resist pushing. Just cooking together side-by-side or hiking together without talking can, over time, loosen up bits of conversation. The specific of what you choose aren't important, except that it needs to be near his wheelhouse and it needs to be something you can credibly do. Being in motion, concentrating on something else, not being face-to-face--these are ideal conditions for people to let their guards down. Again--you have to resist the urge to push for conversation. Accepting silence is key.

 

I find your advice entertaining and often spot on but regarding the "husband who can't commit to a career.." you seem to lapse into age old matrimonial stereotypes. Why can't the wife be the breadwinner and provide the household stability she craves? If the roles were reversed I'm sure we'd hear about how the husband needs to be more supportive of wife's need to explore, experience her options, pursue dreams, etc. Regardless, your advice dismissing husband as suffering from ADD (surely a "normal" husband would get a job and support his wife ,right?) does reflect the double standard - while most men will accept a stay at home wife or partner who dabbles in various endeavors it is the rare woman who will accept the same. Thoughts on this double standard?

Why can't the wife be the breadwinner and provide the household stability she craves? 

 

I wrote: "You either decide he's a househusband and then decide whether there's a happily ever after for you in that, and if there is, then you change the structure of your life to make it work better on one income."

 

I can't figure out what more you want of me here.

I have been married to my husband for over 30 years. We have a 30 year old son who is not the biological offspring of my husband. My husband has been aware of this since before my son’s birth. When my son finished college ten years ago, my husband and I told him this. We advised that we were willing to answer any questions and that if he was interested, his biological father was willing to meet him, or answer questions, etc. At that time, my son was upset and has never mentioned it again. It’s been 10 years now, and I am wondering is this normal? Do I have any other responsibilities?

No, you have no other responsibilities. 

Is it normal? Certainly seems within the range--some people just don't want to talk about stuff. There's a tendency I think to pathologize this, but as long as a person is functioning well on the sleeping-dog plan, I don't see any reason anyone should mess with that. He knows, so, it's up to him now.

I’m loving the new style! Would be interested in his process but just telling him he has an admirer is enough

Thanks for that. I'll let him know you're here.

My advice is to really think about all the ways you've interacted with your child. Really think. The good, bad, and ugly. It's all there in varying degrees. At that age, I cut off all contact with my parents as much as I could. If they weren't constantly correcting me and treating me like their walking report card, they were banning me from friends I'd chosen, forcing me to break to with a kid from a family they didn't approve of, promising not to freak out and then freaking out, calling my friends' parents to complain constantly, and letting me know how ashamed they were of me. My mom was That Mom. I'm not saying you're this bad; I'm saying a lot of self-reflection is in order.

Thanks. I was sidling up to this but I'm glad you said it. Constant corrections are poisonous in almost any context, but they are especially so with a child who is near to fully raised. There comes a point when you have to trust you did your job, and it's a gift to your kid to start doing that incrementally from when they're very young--i.e., let them leave the house as toddlers in the terrible outfits they pick out. -That- early. So that by the time they're 16 and aching to get away from you and your rules, you're comfortable letting go in a way appropriate to the age.

Carolyn, I've recently gotten a bad diagnosis. My doctors and husband are taking great care of me, but I have not shared this news with my adult children or my elderly mom. It grieves me that I am going to cause emotional upheaval. The fear they will feel is the main thing I wish I could avoid. Please give some advice on what to say to my loved ones. I think I'll be okay in the long run; I'm going to do everything I can to get well. Thanks for your input.

I'm sorry about your news.

You know your family's emotional wiring and I don't, but, going just on what I've experienced, I think the best approach is just to say what you know: You were diagnosed with X, your doctors and husband are being great, you're going to do everything you can to get well, you think you'll be okay in the long run.

Sure, it'll be scary for the people who love you. It is not possible, though, to have a lifetime of complete insulation from fear and pain. So, allow them the next best thing: a chance to be involved, and to make any changes to their lives that they feel are warranted in light of this development. Let them all be in this with you together.

 

I feel that needs a footnote, since not everyone turns out to be strong enough to handle the "together" part; sometimes the response to bad news is to run from it. In that case, my advice is forgiveness: "Okay, this person can't face it--but my job is still to do what I can to get well, so I will carry on with that and let the person know the door is open if and when s/he is ready."

Count me as an ordinarily outgoing person who would clam up completely around my mom. The reason? Whenever I told her anything about my day, she would pounce and ask a ton of followup questions, and start picking apart everything I told her. ("Oh, well, the reason that teacher did X is because of Y, and you should have done Z." There was a LOT of information about what I should have done.) It was absolutely smothering, and I didn't ever feel free to just talk. So I didn't. And as an adult, I don't talk to her at all.

Be a loving presence holding space. You son might be seeming to push you away but he still wants to know you're there.

Time to go. I hope I've made up for that awful blank space I opened with today. Apologies again for that.

Have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by, see you here next week.

I have a very introverted child. It was like playing 20 questions to get any information out of her. Add to it the fact she is an only child - her dad and I were all over her like a tent. The summer between her sophomore and junior years in high school our house burned down to the ground while she was away. Needless to say, the next year was rough for all of us - but the blessing in disguise was that her dad and I had a TON of other stuff to focus on besides her. Certainly we were in tune with what was going on with her, but eventually we just had to trust that we had been good parents up until that point. By the time her senior year came around, I was less focused on the minutia of school assignments, chores, and the like and, surprise, she blossomed and she continues to do so in college. The point - let off the brakes a bit - check in periodically, but trust that he can manage his own stuff.

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