Carolyn Hax Live: 'After the Love Buzz'

May 04, 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, happy Friday.

I was estranged from my father, who sexually abused me. My sister visited him and did some respite care when he got dementia. She resented that I wasn't helping, although I offered financial aid, which she did not accept. I stopped seeing him long before he became ill, but she was nasty about my "cleverness" in avoiding my "responsibilities." I figured I'd been cut out of the will long ago, but just got a letter from a lawyer saying I'm due part of his estate. I'm not sure how much it will be--more than a couple hundred; less than six figures. I'm happy to take the money--I've spent more money than I'll be getting on therapy--but do I owe her something to make up for the work she did? The will did recognize that work: she is getting double the amounts of the other legatees.

I am so sorry for what he put you through.

Was your sister also sexually abused?

Given the reason for your estrangement, I don't think you owe anyone anything for your decision to maintain your distance. 

Whether your sister is an abuse survivor herself is the linchpin of any opinion on her behavior here. There are nuances, too: Was she affected and open about it? Was she affected but hasn't said so openly? Was she unaffected but supportive of you? Was she unaffected and unsupportive of you? Does she even know you were abused? Does she now that abuse is the reason you kept your distance?

I'm comfortable answering about your decisions relating to your father. There's too much important stuff missing, though, for me to have much advice on the relationship between you and your sister.

About 5 years ago I graduated college and broke up with my girlfriend, “Penny”. There was nothing wrong between us, in fact things were really good but we’d been dating since high school and I felt restless and needed to be on my own for a while. The break was everything I’d hoped for, I was able to date around and see what was it was like being alone too. Penny and I have kept in touch through friends and now that we’re both single again, I am ready to get back together since I know now that she’s the one for me. I was excited when she agreed to meet with me but when I suggested dating again, she said even though we still have that strong connection between us, she doesn’t think she could trust me not to hurt her again. I was surprised since I never did anything to hurt her and feel that the time apart did us both a lot of good. Did I actually do anything wrong? I was always honest and open with Penny about my intentions. How can I convince her that I broke up with her for good reasons and to give us a chance?

You can't. I suggest you don't even try. 

Instead, I recommend presenting a universal truth that allows you to agree with her:

"You're right. You can't trust me not to hurt you again. I also can't trust you not to hurt me. And neither of us can count on anyone else to go through life without hurting us, either. To care about someone is to risk getting hurt somehow.

"All I can say to assure you is that I will never take your feelings lightly. I didn't then and I don't now and I don't plan to, ever.*

"I won't pressure you to change your mind. I hope, though, that you'll think about it and give us a chance to try this again as older and wiser people."

But, you know--how you'd say it.

*And yes, this part isn't universal, but this is one thing you can reasonably offer her, as long as it's the truth.

 

Hi Carolyn: I wrote the letter (link to the letter) about my married friend stealing my crush. I ghosted this friend, more or less, and haven’t spoken to her for nearly a year. She never reached out to ask why I had disappeared so I assumed she knew why. Now that time has passed and things have settled, I’ve been thinking about reaching out to her. I’m not sure I want to jump back into a friendship though, so I’m not sure what my motivation is. Maybe I feel guilty. And maybe I did myself a disservice by not saying my piece, so maybe I just want to clear the air, and I suppose it would be nice to at least be on speaking terms. Assuming she replies. Do you have any insight? And if I do reach out to her, what should I say? (For those wondering about the crush, I didn’t pursue it.)

I don't see why you'd contact her without sorting out your motives first. She could, for example, take it as an overture of friendship, and if you're still fuzzy on it all you might accept her acceptance of an overture ... and then decide--three weeks of renewed friendship later--that, nope, you just wanted to say your piece and you want to go back to being estranged.

Not ideal.

So figure out what you want and why. And really really think on the why, because your now-ex-friend sounded like a pan-destructive mess.

What do you do when one person in relationship has a higher tolerance for mess than the other? I do much more housework than my husband -- it's maybe 70/30. When I complain, he says he doesn't mind grimy bathtubs or piled-up paper, and since I'm the one who does mind, then I should also be the one to do the cleaning. He says it's unfair for me to unilaterally set house standards and then force him to live up to them: the solution could just as easily be for me to do less, not for him to do more. If it matters: I'm not asking for a daily baseboard scrubbing, just a weekly vacuum, bathroom cleaning, and laundry.

Hire a cleaning service for the weekly vacuum and bathroom cleaning, and split the remaining jobs 50-50, or as close to it as you can get. Do this even if you have to cut other expenses to be able to afford it. There's often something in the phone/media/takeout budget that can go.

To prevent his ditching his 50, make sure it consists of things he needs or cares about. Food, clean clothes, etc. If he skips laundry and says he doesn't mind re-wearing underwear, then escalate from housekeeper to attorney. Good luck!

I am currently separated, and have met someone who I fell for really quickly. I don't know how to figure out whether I was just so lonely and this is just a rebound, or whether it's for real. We're going slowly, and we're both being very open and honest, but it's still a worry.

Sometimes a new relationship is a chance to feel good again after a long time of feeling bad. That's a rebound. 

Sometimes a new relationship is the happy culmination of all the things you learned and all the ways you changed from your bad relationship. That's a keeper. 

You're doing the right thing by moving slowly and being open and honest. Time is the best way to tell a rebound from a keeper.

That, and listening to your doubts. Are there things you're seeing that you know would normally bother you but that don't bother now for some reason? Are they superficial things or close-to-the-core-of-who-you-are things? Happy infatuation chemicals are persuasive but they don't really hide anything. Instead they tend to make the stuff in plain sight into something more palatable than it really is--or, than it will be after the love buzz wears off.

 

While it's not unheard of for the The Post forgets to include Nick's cartoon in the print edition today is the first time they forgot to run the ~entire column~ !!! Does this mean they will be running two columns tomorrow?

Apparently, yes. 

That should be done weekly?? I just live my life not looking down.

Right, until the cobwebs start and you can't look up anymore. That's vacuuming day.

It might help to acknowledge you did do something to hurt her - you broke up with her. It sounds like you did so because you wanted to, and that was your prerogative, but it doesn't sound like that's what she wanted to do. Being open and honest at the time was a good step, but that doesn't mean she didn't have reason to be hurt. You broke up with her! When things were going fine! It could very well have been the right thing for you to do at the time, but that does not mean she was not hurt in the process.

How do you handle other people’s disappointment over not following unsolicited advice? My sister and her husband tend to give advice and recommendations, which is mostly harmless now. We’re complete opposites, so what they might want to do or eat on vacation is often the opposite of our interest. But it feels like it hurts their feelings or that we’re doing it wrong when we do things our way. While it makes me feel guilty, it’s easy enough to ignore now, but we’re trying to get pregnant and I’m already dreading the deluge of “helpfulness” that I’m sure will come our way. They are fabulous, loving parents to two smart, adorable kids. I’m sure that they will have lots of helpful tidbits to share, but I also know that our personalities are very different and some things that work well for them would cause me to break out in hives (and vice versa). When it comes to raising kids, some things seem universal, some are deeply personal, and I’m sure that in five years I’ll probably die laughing over some of the ideas I have now. So I guess what I’m asking, is how do I manage the unsolicited advice that will come my way from family, friends, and strangers in the grocery store? I’m sure some will be helpful, but I’m also sure a lot will not.

Well, wait. This is two different questions:

1. If we have children, how do I manage the unsolicited advice that will come my way from family, friends, and strangers in the grocery store? 

2. My sister and her husband tend to give unsolicited advice, and it feels like it hurts their feelings when we do things our way. How do I manage that?

The answer to 1. is straightforward: Develop a prefabricated response and use it liberally. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." "Hm, interesting."

The answer to 2. sounds overdue: a conversation about the unasked for advice and suggestions. Certainly a relationship can withstand the occasional, "Have you tried X?," since it's hard to imagine anyone can't learn something occasionally, and a world where we all have to tiptoe around each other consciously not sharing potentially useful knowledge sounds miserable. But when the knowledge pipeline tilts from an even exchange to a constant flow in your face, as it apparently has with your sister and BIL, and they're standing over you waiting for you to be grateful for it, then the thing needs to be talked about. Kindly, calmly, frankly.

If you don't get anywhere with respectful conversation, then you use answer 1. on this couple. But that's a move to keep them politely at arm's length, thus not ideal, so best kept as a Plan B, not A.

Hi, Carolyn! My husband's step-father is very similar to yesterday's column (over the hyphenated baby name). He wants to control us based on what he thinks is best for my boys. I'm a very independent person and have had many confrontations with this man. My husband finally had his falling out with him last Jun with him, but we both have heavy hearts on our relationship with my MIL. She is definitely being controlled by this man and is not able to see how toxic he is (read: borderline narcissist). We don't want to sever the relationship with my MIL, but she can't seem to understand why things aren't back to normal and can't seem to separate from him either. My boys love their grandfather, but we have had way too many issues with him to want him back into our life. Boundaries don't work. Do we have to sever our relationship with MIL too??

That's up to her. Your choice is between two package deals: 1. sever the tie with FIL and accept the consequences; or maintain the tie with FIL and accept the consequences. 

If your MIL decides to be part of the consequences of severing, if only by not standing up to FIL, then, yes, no more MIL.

If you haven't made clear to her that you want her in your lives now more than ever and will go out of your way to make that happen, then of course do that, but that's really the limit of your reach.

"Boundaries don't work" is something I'd like to explore further, if you have more details to add. I think what you're really saying is that no boundary lower than estrangement has been sufficient to deter your FIL's attempts to control your kids--because estrangement itself is a boundary--but I don't want to put words in your mouth/fingertips.

Here's the original column, since the "yesterday" refers to April 25: LINK

My husband has always liked our apartment (the bachelor pad he was already living in when we got married), but I've never been a fan. The rent was cheap, though, so I agreed to live there for a few years until we saved up a downpayment for a house. It's now been a decade. We are still living in the apartment. He finds something wrong with every house that we have toured -- and there have been dozens. He'll say the street is too busy (even if it's a quieter street than the one we live on). Or the house is too small (even if it's bigger than our current place). To his credit, I don't think he's deliberately sabotaging our housing search, but he's generally resistant to change, and also he's lived in our current apartment for so long that he's blind to its numerous faults. Meanwhile, I'm resentful as hell. I've put up with a place I didn't like for a decade. Why can't it be his turn to overlook a few faults? Do you have any advice?

Have you said any of this to him? If he's still raising specific objections to the houses you tour and has not addressed the larger issue of his intransigence/your resentment, then you have not had an honest reckoning.

And if you have tried for an honest reckoning but he won't join you there, then I suggest at least a session or two with a good marriage counselor to help you talk this out.

 

I love someone. I admire them and know they are good and kind. I want them in my life, but moving forward with the relationship will make my life harder, not easier; and make me less happy, not more. This person has responsibilities that I would have to share, but I worry they will make me unhappy. I used to be terribly depressed, and I worked so hard to be happy and now I'm terrified of messing that up. Part of me thinks I should leave, so that they can find someone who would share their burdens happily. But the thought of not being in their life, of breaking their heart, breaks mine. What do I do?

Does the relationship have to progress to marriage? Would both of you be open to your staying right where you (apparently) are, close and intimate but not formally merged?

Well-traveled paths aren't right for everyone.

Hello- My husband and I (married for a year) are at a cross roads trying to decide between staying in our current city, near his family and where we have established friends. Or moving back to where I am from originally. We would be closer to my parents and in a hopefully (better job market). We are both pretty torn by the decision. My siblings and friends no longer live in that city so we would be starting over in many ways. There will always be reasons to stay here and always reasons to leave. Any advice on how to make the decision and when to know it is right? Sometimes I feel if we don't move now we never will even though I know that's not necessarily true but each year we are more ingrained in our lives here. I have applied some of your advice you gave about making the decision and living with that decision for a while to see how it feels but I still feel so torn. Any advice you have is appreciated.

So, by my count, the only reason to move is the better job market. (You'd gain proximity to your parents, yes, but lose proximity to his family, so there's no net gain.)

Is the chance of a better job worth it? 

I can see that going either way, depending on the quality of life difference that better jobs would bring. But it also seems relatively easy to test out: If you are struggling financially, to the point it's wearing on you, then apply for jobs in your parents' city. Give yourselves an actual point of comparison.

And if you're not really struggling, then what is the pull of a better job market? It often comes with a higher cost of living anyway. 

By the way, don't be so quick to backpedal on this: "Sometimes I feel if we don't move now we never will." There's a lot of truth to it. The longer you stay, the more connections you're likely to form, and the harder it becomes to leave. Ask anyone who planned to move "soon" and now has, say, responsibility for an ailing nearby relative or a kid who just started high school.

Every year, I get my hopes up over the stinkin' Caps. Tell me it's going to be different this time. Please?

No. I'm enjoying it much more this year without hopes. Hopes are insidious things and I'm glad, yes, glad mine are nothing more than cold ashes in the backyard of my soul. 

My husband enjoys playing music in our home. He recently installed speakers through the house and in our yard as well. Now we have music on ALL the time, at levels that prohibit conversation. I have moderate hearing loss in one ear as well, so the kids and I are constantly shouting at one another to be heard over the music. And in the yard I just want to hear birds and breezes, not blaring music. My husband gets annoyed when I ask him to turn it down/off and the music goes down momentarily and then right back up. Is there a way we can coexist peacefully? He tried wearing headphones but it felt like he was living apart from us.

Shifts. That's how I see you two coexisting peacefully. You get x hours of morning quiet before he turns on his music, and then you get another X hours of relief after that, and you find a volume over which you don't have to shout.

If he won't come to an agreement with you on a number of hours per day with music and a number of hours without, and an agreed-upon-by-all-family-members maximum volume when everyone is home, and the veto power every family member has in event of, say, homework or headache, then this is not about music or speakers, it's about your husband's hostility.

That's what it is when one person won't compromise for the sake of others' comfort, or sees compromise--or respect for hearing loss, for fox's sake--as a nuisance. 

I hope seeing this spelled out is sufficient to move him to compromise, because hostility to a partner is the toughest relationship problem there is.

 

Need an answer because we're leaving this weekend. Going to see partner's family including her 25 yo child who has acted like a sullen brat since we married 10 years ago. As in has not spoken to me or acknowledged me in any way and treated partner poorly as well. Generally I let partner go to family things without me but this is a must appear milestone event for family matriarch. I am afraid I am going to lose it when I see them and tell them exactly what I think. Other than no alcohol and staying on the other side of the room, any suggestions?

Disengage. Disengage from this adult child if possible, but, more important, disengage from your ego.

You accomplish nothing if you "tell them exactly what I think." There's no victory in a perfect takedown or put-down or call-out. There's just an announcement, "Okay, you got to me. I think you're a sullen brat." And who gains from that? 

This "brat," terrible word, at an age south of 15 saw his/her parents turn against each other somehow, and if the child was old enough to understand it as it was happening, then it was a very big deal at a formative time. And, when the child at 15 handled the arrival of a new stepparent really badly, apparently the parent and stepparent didn't or weren't able to read that as pain and address it accordingly.

So now it has ossified into fixed hard feelings on all sides, yes? And sure, 25 is old enough to start owning bad behavior, but the *foundation* of that bad behavior was laid by people who were supposed to have the child's back.

There's only one softener for this. Forgiveness. Ideally from all sides, but the best source is actually you, because you were an adult to this child's 15 when things were set in motion. And because parent and child have a natural pathway for forgiveness to travel, if either is so inclined, but coming from you it's unexpected and therefore potentially has more power. 

If you're not convinced, then I suggest you try it in small steps. 1. "This is not about me." Because it's not--this was always rooted in the family of origin. 2. "But I can be a positive force instead of a negative one." Because you can: 3. You can say hello, you can smile, you can ask polite questions, you can *choose not to react* when any of these is ignored or rejected. You can play the long game. 4. You can say to your partner: "Your kid has treated both of us poorly, but there's no denying we were the adults when this started. Maybe it's time to look at this differently."

Even if it doesn't work, there are the usual high-road-taking benefits just waiting for you to claim them. 

 

Whatever system he installed should have come with the option of turning the music off on a room-by-room basis. If he didn't start with that, insist that he retrofit so that each room can be independently controlled.

Definitely--it's a game changer. Per-room volume controls especially. Thanks.

Carolyn, I have probably read every one of your columns and that statement about the Caps may be the grimmest statement I’ve ever seen.

Grimmer than this?:

"Wake up every morning accepting that bad things might happen, and go to bed accepting that someone might die the next day .... While you're at it, also accept that it's better to have death and bad things than not." (8.10.2003)

 

At least with the Caps thing, I got to warm myself with a nice bonfire, and every year I enjoy two rounds of playoff hockey.

 

 

 

I agree with you that a middle schooler shouldn't come and go as she pleases but... Taking public transportation and Ubers aren't big deals at that age. Middle schoolers SHOULD know how to get around or else that's how you end up with college students who don't know how to use the subway. Did you know that in 1979 one of the requirements for entering first grade was being able to navigate alone (4-8 blocks) in the neighborhood? Today, someone would call 911 even though the world is safer. Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to go back to the good old days at all because they weren't good for everyone. But by the time a child reaches middle school, she should be able to get around on her own, use appliances, be home alone for short periods of time, etc. I know not allowing a middle schooler to use a bus is a long way from having your 30 year old child living in your basement with no job, but the former is certainly a first step to achieving the latter.

Yeah, I didn't address that, so I'm glad you did--but I'm on the record over the years as strongly in favor of  granting kids age-appropriate independence. I also think we as a society have been fear-mongered into a much too conservative notion of what is age appropriate. 

My answer in this column was based almost wholly on the stray adults in the house with no invested adult keeping track. A sleeping child is just too vulnerable; a reliable adult has to be minding the door.

All my husband said last night was "44 years....44 years. .."

For the record, I was not upset last night. Good game.

Hi Carolyn, At what point do you know it's time to end a marriage? I've been married for almost 5 years, and found out almost a year ago that my spouse had cheated. We have a young child, and I'll be honest - I initially stayed because of our kid. We're in counseling, and we're both doing everything that counselor says, and spouse is doing everything I ask, sometimes without me asking, and trying to meet my needs. We're both working on ourselves too. But my heart is not in it. I think my heart was in it at the beginning, but now that the shock has worn off, I'm just feeling blah about the whole thing. Is this part of the process? Our counselor says that it is, and we can try to get through it, but I wake up every day wishing I was waking up alone. I'm not even angry; I just don't like the person I'm waking up next to. I feel like I'm wasting my time. I talk to the counselor about all of this, and she tried to be upbeat about getting past it, but it hasn't been getting better.

At this point I would be asking the therapist what the basis is for the prediction of getting past it. If it is indeed part of a process, what are the stages s/he has seen? And what is the emotional pathway that takes a person from anger to "I just don't like the person" to feeling love? I wont' say "again," because there's no going back, there's only forward, which will be new regardless of what it is.

If you don't hear anything you find promising and if this period of blah dislike is lasting for months without relief, then it would make sense to move to a trial separation. Especially with a child, it's important to move as gradually as you can, and separation is a key step between uninterrupted-months-of-stalled-therapy-and-waking-up-unhappy and ending a marriage. Just talk to a lawyer before you do anything. Small missteps can have huge consequences.

I wouldn't nitpick at individual things the LW pointed out: It's the totality of the circumstances.

Same thing happened to me, realtors showed us a million houses and hubs wouldn’t budge. That was home to him. It took a dangerous situation in the neighborhood to move him. He now wishes we had built equity earlier but he confessed that because his family moved all the time he wanted to stay in one place. If we’d explored it sooner it might have been different

Is that when your Mom died? Tearing up, here.

That's what I was able to write because my mom died (May 2002). I republished it in December when I was on vacation: LINK

I suggest you step back here. You are making a lot of assumptions about Penny: You never did anything to hurt her. The time apart did you both a lot of good. Your 'good reasons' for breaking up with her are no more valid or good than her reasons for remaining broken up.

Today's questions really make me wonder (clean house or not, Music or not). Are these things a big surprise all of a sudden? No clues previously?

I think it helps to think of time as a third party to every relationship.

A + B = something plain to see

A + B + time = something that's very hard to anticipate

There's another answer today that addresses this issue, too, in the context of rebound relationships: LINK. "Happy infatuation chemicals are persuasive but they don't really hide anything. Instead they tend to make the stuff in plain sight into something more palatable than it really is--or, than it will be after the love buzz wears off." So, you think you can deal with the silent house of a noise-sensitive mate or the extra hassle of picking up after a messy partner, or you're the messy partner and you work a little extra hard to be neater, because you're in love and the good things so plainly outweigh the bad, until one day they don't anymore. And then your best chance at happiness isn't in your baseline compatibility or attraction anymore, but instead in your mutual willingness to invest in each other's happiness--in ways that don't deplete your own. It's an adventure.

You might also want to try a different therapist. From the way you describe it, it sounds like she is negating how you feel, by repackaging your feelings as "part of the process."

Also, maybe she is inarticulately trying to tell you she's not interested in getting back together and feels that she needs an excuse. Why do you really want to get back together with her? Is it because you haven't met anyone else yet? Broaden your horizons further (you say you've been doing this). Stop looking in the rearview mirror and you may find a broader more suitable person for you in your present or future.

You are completely dismissing Penny's experience of your break-up. She is right not to trust you.

Lots of strong Penny opinions.

 

And, lots of overrun today--oh my look at the time. 

That's it for today. Thanks all, thanks Teddy, have a great weekend & type to you here next week. 

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