Carolyn Hax Live: 'When you slip, apologize...your reflexes betray you sometimes'

Jul 27, 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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It's 12:34

It wasn't when I checked in earlier--wires got crossed on the producing end--but now it's up. Sorry about that. 

I will do an abbreviated chat now and we'll move the questions to next week.


In this "strange train we call life" (love that phrases on your site), friends who pretty much grew up/married decades ago find some of the modern practices to be...well, very interesting. Are we just too out of touch when it comes questioning destination events to propose and expectations that parents are to pay for certain pre-wedding parties but not have much of a say. Registries are announced on invitations and gifts aren't supposed to be wrapped....just bring them. Any thoughts on broaching this generational disconnect? Are we from too conservative a generation? Or have the times shifted to a grin and get over it mode?

I think the more you can roll with it and the less you harrumph your way through it, the better. When necessary and when it involves your time and money, just say no. Applying this 1-2 strategy to your examples:

-destination events to propose? Not your business so not yours to question. (Or approve of, for that matter.)

-expectations that parents are to pay for certain pre-wedding parties? If you don't want to, then don't. If you don't mind the money but it's the event that bugs you, give a no-strings gift of $ that feels appropriate.

-Registries are announced on invitations: How convenient. Otherwise not your business.

-gifts aren't supposed to be wrapped....just bring them: Okay then--save a tree.

Grinning and getting over it, by the way, seems like a fine approach to other people's stuff. 

Hi Carolyn, Last month I went on a week long trip abroad, with a friend of mine, we are 27. On the trip I saw a different side of her, she was mean and at the very least insensitive and I can't figure out why she acted this way towards me when I hadn't seen this from her before. She commented on my hair being a mess, how I eat the same food everyday, when she looked at a picture she commented how she didn't realize how much taller she is than me, she complained there were flies at night and I agreed then told me well maybe you should shower at night (I shower every day). I could list more but you probably get the point. Am I being overly sensitive and just need to let it go because you can't change people or is there a good way to confront her?

The idea of "confronting" people is climbing rapidly up my list of ideas that make me flinch.

It's so confrontational.

Not that you're without cause for concern. She sounds like she was low-level nasty in the hardest way to manage, meaning, there probably was an innocent interpretation available for everything she said but in aggregate you felt torn down.

But the way I'd recommend handling that is in the very moment you realize it: "Wait--did you just imply I attract flies because I don't bathe?" Even if it's a half-hour after she said it, it's still the perfect time to find out what's really going on. That's because taking it incident by incident, within recent memory, is the purest form of just asking what's going on. You say what you heard, and ask if that's what she meant.

Now, after the fact, you're looking at a situation where the comments are taken in aggregate and the exact words are already subject to the vagaries of memory. It's not impossible, it's just not as effective.

If you want to remain friends with this person (a reasonable "if") and if you're still bugged by some of the things she said, then I suggest picking out a couple that rankled the most and mentioning them: "I find myself still thinking about a couple of things you said to me on our trip. [Example 1] is one of them, and also [Example 2]. I heard them as [your interpretation here]. Is that really what you meant?"

For what it's worth, some bestest-ever friends should never ever ever travel together. The ability to do that involves a special kind of compatibility. You can be friends without it; you just can't travel well without it. True for couples too.

I would like to understand how people make new friends when they are in their mid 50's. Where are they going or what activities are they doing to keep a friends? What's the secret I have not learned to make and keep interesting friends? I believe I am flexible, adventurist, a good listener, creative, outgoing and fun. I am interested in their lives. I want to know Why they chose the field they are in? Why they live in this area? What are their hobbies? Are politics important to them? What types of food do they like? I do not ask all these questions at once but over time to show interest in their lives. At the gym people seem to be with people they know or working out by themselves. On group hikes I have found people are with people they already know and do not seem to be interesting in adding to their circle of friends. I hope you have some suggestions or the commenters (in the Washington Post) have some insight and suggestions. Thank you! 

The older I get and the more relocations I have behind me, the more I believe habit is the key ingredient. Go to the same things in the same general time window and stick with it. Obviously you need to choose the right things--if it's place where everyone's using earbuds, then you'll never break through. But if you choose conversation-friendly group activities that meet daily/weekly/whatever and involve some kind of shared work and values, and then be patient,* then you're giving yourself the best chance you've got. There's a reason work and school are where so many people make their friends: You're there day in, day out, over months and months and years, with a shared purpose.

I won't pretend it's not difficult. And, sometimes it just doesn't work--I don't know if some places are just unfriendly or there are times when the stars don't align right. But it takes commitment and reminders to self that just about everyone finds this tough.


*Years. Seriously.

Is it possible that anxiety is contagious? My husband has recently become very anxious, specifically about fire danger. Yes, we live in a fire-prone area and there have been several big fires in the past few years. But our house in 100 years old and has survived in this environment for that long. He refuses to consider that he should address his anxiety rather than making a plan to move away. I don't want to move! Our friends and family are here. But the difficult part for me is that being around his anxiety seems to be making me anxious. I find it very difficult to feel calm and happy when he is keyed up and super tense. Can anxiety be contagious?

Moods of all kinds are contagious, for sure. There's science on this. LINK

There's also science to support the abandonment of 100-year precedent as your sole insurance policy against bad things happening. Your house has survived, yes, but has it done so in *this* environment? We're seeing some freaky stuff out there. 

You don't want to move--okay, that's valid. But your husband's concern that you're at an unprecedented fire risk might also be valid. So instead of each of you trying to sway the other toward your own extreme views, why not find a middle? One where you admit that climate trends might support your preparing yourselves for an emergency in a way you never needed to in the past, and where he admits that moving might not be necessary at this point if you and he can have rational, fact-based emergency plans in place. 

I think it would be fine to tell the adult daughter why the marriage ended. Husband said he did not love wife anymore, did not want to go to her family events, etc. I wouldn't get into nitty gritty, but if she is an adult and is pressuring her other parent, I think it is fair to be open about it since she is an adult without saying anything negative about the husband, just factual.

Exactly. I think too often falling out of love is treated as a bad thing one person has done to another, when it's often an unfortunate thing that has happened. Yes, couples owe it to each other to keep making an effort, but sometimes to work of reconciling/bypassing/absorbing incompatibilities will eventually deplete the supply of love.



I have a genderqueer tutor who comes over once a week to teach me American Sign Language. I really like this person. At our first session, they made it clear that they prefer the "they" or "he" pronouns and do not use the "she" pronouns. Pretty straight forward. However, I am having so much trouble with this. Not in principle, but in practice. My brain is interpreting their features as feminine (they were born female) and when I refer to them with others, I hear "she" popping out occasionally even though I am consciously trying to use "they". I hate that I do this. I know it is incredibly disrespectful. How do I train myself to use the correct pronouns when my subconscious is betraying me?

When you slip, apologize and say you mean no disrespect--your reflexes betray you sometimes.

I can't seem to get out of this pit of negativity about myself. I only hear the negatives people say about me (IE - had a huge presentation at work, got several genuine complements, and all I heard was one person's very mild criticism that I brushed too close to an issue our office does not discuss/handle). I constantly feel the need to apologize for anything and everything, even if it's just that someone got upset at a situation, not at me. Even when my DH says something just to be ridiculous or silly (he's a bit of a comedian), I feel like it was my "fault" and did something wrong, so I'll start apologizing for his silly, made-up situation. He tries to help but refuses to acknowledge that I think I'm a crappy person, which can frustrate me because it seems like he isn't realizing that "I suck at everything and I'm worthless" which frustrates him which I then apologize for ... and the cycle continues. (He is wonderfully supportive and provides me a lot of help, even when I don't hear him saying it). Anyways, my question - what are some strategies (other than "just think positively!") to work on myself and bringing myself out of this pit?

No strategies, just a suggestion--please treat this as a mental health issue and not just another way in a long line of ways you see yourself as letting yourself down. Truly. That negative inner voice isn't just the result of your not figuring out the exact right way to "work on myself," or of not working hard enough at it. What you describe is what our brains do to us when they're out of balance and need out attention--no different from the way our backs hurt when we strain them.

So make an appointment to get a full screening, for anxiety and depression to start. It can be difficult to get appointments with good mental health providers (or a complete nonissue, depending on where you live and who you know), so if you can't connect with someone right away, make an appointment with your general practitioner and say you're struggling with negative thoughts. 

A "huge presentation," btw, suggests you have an employer of the type that offers an Employee Assistance Program. If so, that's the fastest path to care.

Hi Carolyn - I love your chats and hope you can give me a little perspective. One of my kids is facing a life-threatening illness and surgery and if (a big if) everything goes perfectly their recovery is going to be months long and arduous and the underlying health issues will be life long. I am having trouble with my friends avoiding asking me about it. I see people who are in full awareness of the situation and they brightly ask how my summer is going. Why do people do this? It's not as though my mind can be kept off of it. I try to be generous around other people's awkwardness, but as crucial dates approach, I actually need the people in my life to not pretend nothing is happening. Am I hoping for too much?

I'm sorry about your situation--it must be terrifying and all-consuming. 

I don't want to say you're hoping for too much, but not because what you're asking for is reasonable. (It is, by the way.) The whole issue of too much/too little/just right and even of hope in general is just too slippery to be anything but a distraction for you.

Instead, I suggest you become all business about this: 1. What do you need? 2. In what form would you like to receive it? 3. Whom can you ask for it explicitly? 

It's possible you can stop there. If your friend X--maybe not even your best friend, but the best for the job--is levelheaded and a good listener, then you can tell X what you need. If you need more than X can give you, then ask X to be your spokesfriend with other friends as you enter this difficult time. 

If X says no, then props for honesty and move on to your friend Y. Or talk to X and Y together, or include Z too.

See what I mean, though? Put the effort into this one push, where you articulate your position and choose your people. 

After that, I still would caution against hope, and advise sticking to business. "I'm dealing with ____ and wondering if you could help me with _____." People are sooo much better when they know what to do.

And when the s--- fairy finally leaves you alone and moves on to someone else, which it will someday, you can be helpful in the same ways to them.

Join an amateur performing arts group. Best way to create intimacy is to be vulnerable with people. Nothing makes you more vulnerable than singing or dancing or acting in public. No talent in that direction? Be backstage. A slightly less direct experience, but there are still a lot of people depending on you to put on their eyeliner, or hand them a prop, or set up the microphone. You still have to reach out outside the group's activities, but then people already know you are mutually interested in what may be the oddest corner of your lives. Why not the rest? And there is always a decent chance they might want to see a play or other performance with you.

I'd like to underscore Carolyn's point about habit/repeat appearances. We relocated 2 years ago. After trying everything we could think of to meet and keep friends, our best results came from the group we saw every Saturday morning at the dog park. That repetition just makes for a better opening and better recollection on their part. If you think of all the people you meet on a given day, you're more likely to think about inviting the ones you've already met to do something. Make sense?

We retired in our 60s three years ago to an area where we knew very few people. We now have lots of friends via the dog park and (for me) playing duplicate bridge regularly and taking a writing class. Carolyn's right; it's all down to regular no-pressure contact.

Don’t try too hard with people. Overeagerness is often a turn off and can come across as needy.

Carolyn, What do you think today's LW should tell her daughter about what her dad did to set the divorce in motion? Thanks muchly for today's chat.

"Your father told me he didn't love me anymore, so there was no marriage for me to stay in. I can't speak for him, but I'm guessing it's not how either of us thought this would go."

Etiquette has never, not ever, been static, and yet every generation thinks their forms of etiquette have existed since time immemorial. Your great-grandparents would have been appalled beyond words by your children not opening their wedding gifts at the ceremony and showing them off with fervent public thanks. Your early 19th century ancestors would wonder what an engagement ring is.

I heart this with all my heart. Thank you.

I'm in my mid-30s, and a lot of my friends already have households and all the associated trappings (china, silverware, linens) that are traditionally associated with wedding gifts. I, personally, am not a huge fan of donations to honeymoons & destination events , but I'm slowly getting over it. If someone wants to use gift money on a great event that they'll remember fondly for years, instead of a third set of china, that's a sensible & legitimate choice.

Hi, Our transgender teenage son will be applying to colleges in the fall and has started working on his college essay. His father and I feel he should use this opportunity to write about his transition to help highlight his unique perspective, maturity, and the challenges he has faced. So far, he is against this. His goal for transitioning is to blend in - he doesn't want to be a "trans guy", he just wants to be a "guy". We understand that, but feel like if something can be used against you, it is better to embrace it and use it to your advantage when you can. Normally, we are hands off when it comes to his academics, but he wants to get in to competitive programs and we feel like this is the edge he needs. Are we overstepping? To Push or Not to Push

Let your son tell his own story his own way. What a gift. More valuable in the long run, I'm guessing, than admission to Impress U.

Hi Carolyn, I have been asked to help plan (and, I believe, pay for) a baby shower for my daughter who is expecting her first child at the end of the year. She has a guest list of almost 60 people - aack. I assume that I'll have to rent a dining room in a restaurant and provide a meal and drinks for all of these people but boy, my heart just is not into it! Do I suck it up and go along so I don't disappoint her? She's one of the last of a group of friends to have a child so the precedent on this type of function is well established. Why can't I get excited? I can afford it if I am careful.

"(and, I believe, pay for)"

Talk? Please?

And set limits that are comfortable for you. The "precedent on this type of function" is pure bunktion.

The sister who [foolishly, sorry] posted her brother's age on social media when he was in round 3 of the job very likely did cost him the job. I've been on the inside of job searches and round three is definitely when people start poking around social media, and you would be astonished at some of the not-relevant things that come up when a committee is making decisions. I feel like you and the sister are missing the anguish and economic nightmare joblessness in your 50s creates, and I think if the sister looked at what he's going through, and how close he got to a job, she might feel worse than she does and be more understanding about how his hostility might be an expression of severe distress. I have a hunch that once he is employed again, he will be able to put this in perspective. But joblessness in your 50s is really, really scary.

Funny, I pictured it as a brother writing the letter. 

And, nope. IF the real age cost him a job, then the job-hunter's social media settings are first in line for blame ... well, wait, no. The potential employer's ageism is culprit 1, the brother's unfamiliarity/carelessness with privacy settings is culprit 2. Plus, resumes tell an age story when they're truthful. 

People in their 50s are my cohort, remember. The anguish and nightmare are truths I've seen up close. Joblessness in one's 50s is really, really scary.

It is not, however, license to freeze out someone who made an innocent gesture of celebration. 


Ya shoulda ran when you had the chance!

AUGH NO NO NO NO NO. I know you are trying to help your son but, seriously, this is not your journey to butt into! If he doesn't want to out himself, he does not have to. He is not defined by his trans-ness, and it's hugely overstepping for you to try and force him to make any particular choice about how he wants to be seen and by whom. As a member of the LGBT+ community please take my word for it that continuing to push here is the opposite of being supportive and likely to alienate you from him.

Where is it written that we must never disappoint the people we love? Talk to your daughter and set limits, as Carolyn says, and recognize that if your daughter is disappointed, she's an adult and can find a way to deal with it, as we must all deal with disappointments. In the long term, not having the Baby Shower Of Her Dreams is pretty small potatoes.


And scene. 


Thanks for stopping by the chat-not-chat-yes-chat, have a great weekend and 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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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