Carolyn Hax Live : 'Jarndyce v. Jarndyce'

Aug 24, 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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Programming note: The chat will start at noon, not at 10 a.m. Apologies for the confusion.

Hi everybody, happy Friday. 

Back on July 13th, you told me not to act as a buffer between my friends and my boyfriend. So we just returned from the trip, where he got into a drunken screaming match with the host - my old friend. As you wrote back then, "So if this is the right guy for you, then he will be the right guy in unvarnished form with your friends--or he will cost you these friends and be worth losing your friends for. Or he's not worth losing friends for and you break up. Those are your healthy choices." He's not worth losing friends over. I need to thank you for pointing out this is a health choice to break up. Right now the pain seems insurmountable. And I feel guilty for causing him pain. But I'm repeating over and over and over "this is a healthy choice."

How are *you* causing *him* pain? This is pain he himself caused--a consequence of his excessive drinking and poor anger management (and that's the short list). 

I am so happy to hear that you were able to make this decision based on his behavior. I am still concerned, though, about that guilt--you've made a healthy choice, but what's even more important is the underlying good health. Your emotional strength and clarity are what will point you to good choices from now on. There will always be a role for honest bystanders, sure, who can point out what you might be too close to see--all of us have our blind spots and biases--but the final call will always be yours, and you want it to be a good one.

It's normal for a breaker-upper to feel some guilt at turning a person away, because it's just painful to reject someone. But when you've taken that step in response to behavior as bad as his, I'm thinking the healthy range for that guilt is between a flicker and a twinge. Pain of missing someone, sure, but pain of *responsibility* for that? No.

So it might be time for a few sessions of individual therapy with someone good, who can help you explore the mechanics of boundaries. The primer I recommend my suffice, too: "Lifeskills for Adult Children " by Woititz/Garner.

I work in an extremely demanding job that has always expected late nights, overtime, uncompensated work at the weekends, and basically a commitment to be one of the most important things in your life. It's a charity organisation that I deeply agree with and I have always made that commitment happily. A new hire started at the firm recently and they don't. It drives me to distraction to see them swan out of the office at half five, that they never answer emails in the morning or until they arrive in work, and that they rarely work through lunch. On occasion when we have an emergency project on short notice they chip in with the rest of us, but not often. They admit that they don't understand our commitment to the job, and say that it's different in Europe (where they originally from) where they 'work to live'. It would be annoying if they did it and were failing, but they aren't. They are consistently praised by our boss for their work and are actually in line for a promotion. Are they just so efficient they get done in working hours what it takes me sleepness nights to do? Or have I just been pointlessly running in this hamster wheel expecting someone to see how much I love my job?

Is that really why you're doing it--"expecting someone to see how much I love my job"? I.e., putting all your power in your superiors' hands?

Because if it is, then please see your new colleague as a living flick to the forehead. And a role model. Maybe start with waiting till you get into the office in the morning to start work for the day. Then move on to picking a departure time and sticking to it. If you typically leave at 8 pm, start with 7 pm. Etc. Watch for consequences, adjust schedule accordingly, repeat. 

In those first few hours you free up, read up on research about human productivity, especially in desk jobs. The Swan might actually be working better in the fewer hours than you are in the many.

Also, here's a change that won't hurt a bit: Tweak your vocabulary. This colleague doesn't "swan out of the office"; this colleague leaves work. 


My aunt recently died. She was a wealthy woman with no children, and she always told my sister and me, "I'm taking care of you in my will." She never specified a dollar amount and we never asked, but we were both assuming that meant a lot of money, at least enough to buy a house. As it turned out, she left each of us enough to buy a used car, and left the vast majority of her estate to a charitable organization she supported. My problem is my sister, who is absolutely furious with our aunt and has done nothing but complain about her since the reading of the will. My attitude is, it was my aunt's money to do with as she chose. But my sister just won't let it go. Is there a nice way I can tell my sister she's being an entitled brat? Our aunt didn't have to leave us anything, and I think my sister should stop complaining. How do I get her to see it that way?

Is there a nice way I can tell my sister she's being an entitled brat? 



She doesn't need an opinion from you so much as you need to adjust your response to her. In doing so, speak only of and for yourself: "I thought there would be more, too. I just don't share your rage about it. I am also through talking about it, because it won't change anything."

Then don't participate anymore in these conversations. 

Hi Carolyn, My girlfriend and I have been together going on 7 years now. We're generally happy and enjoy spending our free time together. We live separately from one another (can walk there on a good day). A few of my friends have wondered why a) we don't live together and b) when are we going to get married. Frankly, I have no interest in living with my girlfriend. We are different enough in enough significant ways that I wonder if we could ever get past. Examples include, she loves having dinner parties for 8 or more very often. That is my idea of hell on earth. I like watching the TV. She doesn't own a TV and thinks its pablum for the masses. It's not all bad- when she's at my place she enjoys watching sports with me. We watch international films together on cable. We garden at my place together. When I'm at her place I enjoy the woods, deer and birds in her backyard as well as cooking together. But are these things reason to live or not live together? Could a marriage work with such very different wants and needs? Thanks.

As long as you're both transparent with each other and have discussed the futures you envision, any kind of arrangement can work. 

The reasons you list are excellent ones not to live together. They're also obstacles that countless couples have found ways to work around. Your life, your call. Again, if she's okay with it, then you can happily-ever-after yourselves from two separate homes. Why not. 

Forcing yourselves into roles because your friends (or any people not you) think you need to occupy them? That is a path to misery. So is silently assuming one thing about your relationship while your partner silently assumes something different. 

Also be mindful of where you want to be eventually, vs. just for now. Any choice you make will close off other choices. That's fine, we all have to live with those laws of physics, but when you *default* your way into a bunch of choices as if you have all the time in the world, you can open yourself up to all kinds of regrets later on. Far better to make your choices--and close other doors accordingly--with purpose, as thoughtfully as you can without overthinking.

I don’t know what’s going on with my wife, “Angie” or what I should do about it. We’ve been married for little over a year and I was always so glad that she loves my five-year-old daughter, “Lorie” and that they get along great. Over the past few months things have turned weird. Angie has started to obsess over the fact that she and I should have full custody of Lorie. She’s been saying that Lorie’s mom, “Karen” is unfit, which is not at all true. Until I met Angie, I only saw my daughter every other weekend. Karen and I had major problems but she’s a wonderful mom and can take most of the credit that Lorie is a great kid. Angie stalks Karen’s social media and if she posts a picture of herself at a bar or with a guy, Angie says that’s it’s proof that she is a… well, it’s an unprintable word, and that we need to get Lorie away from her. I told her no way, but yesterday she told me we had an appointment with our lawyer and showed me the file she amassed. It has things like that fact that Karen sometimes works over 40 hours a week, that Lorie used the word damn once, that Lorie sometimes has fast food for dinner with Karen, and so on. I almost feel like my wife has lost her mind. I canceled the appointment and she screamed at me that I don’t love my daughter. What in the world is going on with her? I wonder if she’s agitated about our timeline for having children of our own but we both agreed to wait two more years to start trying and Angie is only 26, she has plenty of time.

Yikes. Let me say upfront in my most panicky voice that your have-kids timeline needs to be changed to never, for as long as these clear symptoms exist of Angie's unraveling. Seriously: either abstinence, or you control the contraception. No exceptions.

Next, it's time for professional help. You make an appointment with a reputable mental-health care provider to start, for you. Go, spell out what is happening, and ask what to do next. Do not mess around with "things have turned weird" and "feel like my wife has lost her mind." Trust your sense that something is really wrong.

Your wife can do all kinds of damage here as-is, and it sounds as if her behavior is spiraling. Take serious action asap.

Dear Carolyn, I just read your first question and answer. It’s interesting. My son and his wife have thoroughly and consistently rejected our reauests to visit them in Washington, DC, where they live, and done so without a single expression of regret. “Oh, gosh! What bad luck! We have plans for that weekend!” Nothing like that. We were only aloowed 2 guests out of 120 for their wedding. Despite the fact that it took place in my husband’s home state, where he has family and friends. And now there’s a grandchild involved. I asked to visit, even before rhe child was born, and was told “We’ll be getting ready to go back to work that weekend and probably won’t have much time for you.” That was it. A bald statement. Then they headed off to California to spend 2 weeks with our DIL’s family. We have been quite generous financially. We pay for their airfare to see us in Europe in the summer. We pay against their mortgage principal. We pay for them to come see us when it is “our” turn for holidays. And so on. I feel like an ATM machine. I am ready to close the book, not turn the page. Unfortunately, no one else, not my husband, not his brother and sister, will let me move on. How and when can I get free of this mess?

What is the "mess"? That you pay so much for so little? That they will accept your money but not your affection?

These are valid things to find frustrating, yes. And, reading between the lines, you seem to think the DIL's family is DIL-approved while you're not, and that it's the DIL calling the shots and your son can't or won't stand up to her? Maybe that's reading too much, but it's certainly common.

Of course, same facts, it's also possible they are on the same terms with her parents: They'll travel to California/Europe to see family but don't welcome family visits to their home in D.C.

Maybe you're a bad guest. Maybe they don't like houseguests period. Maybe their house is a sty.

Anyway, much room for speculation, so I'll move on.

Here's what you know: You live far away from your son and DIL and now grandchild, and you see them every summer and on alternate holidays. That actually sounds pretty nice, if inadequate. So why not just keep paying those fares* and enjoy what you have? 

Or, rephrased: Why let resentment of what you don't have poison the things you do have? 

Again, maybe I'm misreading it, but I can see an argument for thanking your husband and brother- and sister-in-law for standing between your own foot and your proverbial gun.

It's possible your releasing this resentment will be the single most powerful act toward bringing your son closer. I don't say this so you'll expect it, just so you'll grasp it.


*Paying the principle, I'll leave alone, because the details could swing the whole thing.



Please, please, please don't have children until your wife's mental health issues have been properly treated. My parents decided to have me because my mom was depressed and they thought having a child would make her happy and end her depression. When my father told me that when I was in my 20s, it explained so much about my childhood, and not in a good way.

Trust me, your bosses know what you contribute to the organization. As a boss, I have people that I know will come in early and stay late when I need them to. I have people that I know will excel at any task I give them and meet deadlines. Sometimes these people are the same person, sometimes they are not. The bottom line is that most bosses don't care how late you stay or how early you leave if the work they want done is getting done. In some cases they might assume you're struggling if you're always there late and in some cases they might take advantage. "I COULD wait until Monday to have this done but I'd rather have it on my desk Monday morning and I know Sue will stay late Friday."

There are lots of ways to be a happy couple. My in-laws have been divorced for over 20 years, live separately but are still very much a couple. My best friend and her husband didn't get along well living under the same roof so they've separated. They're free to date others but remain married and still date each other a little bit. We have a family friend who has been dating the same guy since high school. The couple has never lived together but they've been together over 50 years.

to answer one of your questions, yes, your new colleague may be that much more efficient than you are. I had a coworker who left work at 5 pm every day in one demanding job and it was disheartening knowing I'd be there five more hours, but he was very efficient and I was dealing with undiagnosed, severe ADD. Or maybe you're there all night to make an impression on your bosses, in which case, they clearly prefer efficiency to face time so just stop.

I once stayed with someone that I was well rid of for far too long because I knew that a breakup of our shared housing would probably leave him homeless. I was right. He couch surfed for a while, telling all his benefactors what a jerk I was to kick him out "onto the street." It took years to see that I was not responsible for his poor life choices, lack of education and drug use. I wasn't required to house him or support him. The friends who judged me harshly changed their minds after he moved in with them and "forgot" rent was due. I are not the Bureau of User Support. Nobody should be.

The BUS. Excellent.

Dear Carolyn, My kids are in elementary school and they bring lunch most days. Most kids at their school bring their lunch, although it lunch is offered. My wife usually packs their lunch with their help and we have a lunchbox that divides things basically into snacks, a spot for fruit, vegetables, etc. The issue I have is that my wife follows a bunch of Instagram accounts on getting creative with these lunches, using cookie cutters to cut out sandwiches, not repeating items in the lunchbox, themes. She involves the kids by allowing them to pick certain parts of it. This is a hit or miss. Sometimes it simplifies it, sometimes they engage in a 10 minute conversation about having an orange or grapes in their lunch. We also fix them breakfast and dinner every day, obviously, and we make it as balanced as we can. I think the energy my wife puts into these lunchboxes is a time waste. I don’t see what the problem is with just giving them a sandwich and a piece of fruit, or even just having them buy hot lunch. Last year my wife said I didn’t have to do anything with lunch, but at the end of the day, I am still listening to her pack the lunch, washing the lunchbox, etc. we all live in the same house, it’s hard to clearly delineate this stuff. I think this is part of a larger pattern where she makes the simple complicated and I just really don’t want to be around it, even if I’m just observing. Where do we go from here?

"We" being you. 

This is who your wife is. Or, of course, a manifestation thereof. And she's entitled to it. Maybe it's not the most efficient way to operate, and maybe a parenting expert would look at the blurred authority lines that create a lunchbox-fruit equivalent of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and need to self-medicate, but simplification isn't the only worthy goal here, not even in the morning get-to-school crush.

You don't know--nor does she, nor does any of us--what parental quirks will drive your kids nuts or screw them up or age into their loving nostalgia. All you can do is ask: "Is there risk of significant harm in the way she does things?" And answer it to the best of your ability and knowledge. And then, whenever the answer is no, use that as your motivation to find something to love about her ways. She's all-in with your kids! And patient like some of us (ahem) can only dream about. That's got to have benefits for all of you, if you take a moment to look for them.

And when it's your day to pack lunches, you can do sandwich-fruit-seeya. Kids are used to their parents' differences.

I honestly believed EVERYONE when they warned me how difficult it is and how much hard work law school is, but somehow the severity of it didn't really "come alive" until now that I'm already in it. I'm FREAKING OUT. Any advice??

Everyone who warned you was right, now you know, and presumably most if not all of everyone-who-warned-you got through it. Right? So barring the unforeseen, you will get through it, too.

See this not as your unique terror for which you are ill-equipped, but instead as your turn through a tough obstacle course through which others have passed and through which you were deemed qualified to pass. Widen your view.

And, remember the strategy for getting through anything difficult: break it down into small pieces and work at it steadily.

Dear Carolyn, You often advise a decision-making strategy that goes something like this: Pretend you've already decided, then live with the decision and see how you feel about it. I'm trying to do that now with a looming decision about whether to stay with my partner of 4 years. I am deeply in love with him and can't imagine being with anyone else, but I very much want kids and he does not, and will not change his mind. (He had a vasectomy before we met.) For him, not wanting kids is a deep-seated philosophical stance that defines a lot of his life choices, and I will never feel that way about it. Staying with him means no kids. I'm 28 now and don't feel that the decision must be made right this minute, but every day that I don't decide is basically one step toward a future in which I have decided through inaction. I try to imagine I've chosen already and live with it, but at my age most of my friends are still mostly childless, so it is hard to really imagine what the consequences would look like. So, please help! How do I decide (before the decision is really "due") whether I am willing to remain committed to someone who does not want kids--when in theory I do?

Yeah, it's hard (excruciating?) when you're comparing a known with an unknown, which is why we need strategies to begin with. There was another one in the column just this week, courtesy of a reader--accepting that any decision will bring regret, so the right one is the one you anticipate will bring -less- regret.

Another thing to consider: Are you still with your partner because you think leaving will bring lifelong regret, or because the thought of the immediate aftermath of leaving is too painful for you to face? The former is a valid point in favor of staying, i.e., of giving up parenthood. The latter is not. 

One argument for staying is that the relationship might run its course and spare you the premature-departure agony. One argument for leaving is that the nagging question of whether to leave has already compromised it enough for it not to be the loving and secure play for you that it once was.

There are lots of angles to take. Including the tried and true, if you have to ask yourself if you should stay, then it's probably time to leave.

My husband is a great father to our 6- and 4-year-old daughters, but he is a dud with children much younger than 4. I did nearly all the baby and toddler stuff by myself because he was too tired, too overwhelmed, too scared to break them, and so on. He wants a third baby (he does not say so, but he wants a boy) and while I'm sure I would love another baby, I don't want to do all the work alone again. When I say that to him, he promises to be more involved next time around, but I don't know whether I believe him and I don't know whether he really knows how (or understands how far off the mark he was the last two times). How can I determine (without actually having the baby and watching him fail) whether he can be a better baby dad and not leave me in the lurch?

The only way having another baby would make any sense for you is the following:

1. You want another baby yourself;

2. You assume you will be left in the lurch on all of the baby care, you plan on doing all of the work alone again, and you enjoy the pleasant surprise of not having to do it if and when he makes good on his promise;

3. You are ready to possibly have a boy and then watch him actually care for said boy in a way he never did for his girls.

It's one part not setting either of you up to fail, and one part knowing where your buttons are, both toward the goal of not allowing resentment to seep in.

I was just planning to leave today like a regular old worker bee, but I'm going to try swanning out. It sounds much more glamorous and appropriate for a beautiful Friday! Quick question though: must I have my sunglasses on IN the building to properly swan? I'm a newbie!

I agree, and will swan out of this chat. Thank you, happy weekend, TTFN! (That's swanny, right?)

Is the chat starting now or is the time a mistake and it actually starts at 12?

Apologies, this is my fault. I forgot to change the time from last week.

Ooh, I was supposed to post this.

Law school (like any number of similar experiences) is especially frightening at the outset because everything about it is new to you (and nearly everyone else in your class). The good news is that even while you're floundering and freaking out now, you are developing familiarities that are going to make second semester much easier.

As a law librarian, I would like to add seek help from the reference librarians when you need research assistance. Law school involves a lot of research, much of which can be overwhelming to newbies. We know which resources are going to be useful for your topic, and we love providing assistance.

Librarians: cerebral first responders. A round of applause for all of you.

Spend a week doing exactly what your co-worker does: Work only normal business hours with no late nights, and turn off your phone and don't check your email when you're not at work. See what happens. Maybe you'll find that you're a better, more focused worker when you're able to completely turn off away from work. Or maybe you'll find that you love your job so much that you hate to be away from it, in which case you'll be better positioned to accept the fact that you're lucky to have this job and shouldn't be resentful of a person who hasn't been lucky enough to find such passion in working there.

I married that guy -- the one I adored who was delightful alone with me and who also tended to rub my friends the wrong way. We had kids. He was a verbally abusive father who reserved the right to be "honest" with his cruelty and flew into rages when that honesty was directed at him. I never knew what would set him off. Our divorce was a nightmare and my kids are still in therapy. I'm just glad to be away from him. I spent years running interference between him and the world; people who find themselves in that dynamic with a partner should think long and hard about whether they want to do that for decades while your spouse's behavior gets worse and your friends drift away.

Some of the best advice I received when I was thinking about law school is to treat it like a 9 to 5 job. Put all your effort into 40 hours per week of studying -- a solid 40 hours, and schedule downtime and fun things too. Exams (and the bar exam) will probably require longer hours, but that is temporary. And don't let the competition and peer pressure make you work harder or longer than you need to. You'll pick up how you learn pretty quickly if you don't know already.

Hi, Last year I wrote to you because my two siblings and I were struggling with including Mother's SO in our plan to take her on a special trip for a "big" birthday. She raised us by herself and now that we live in different time zones/countries, it is exceedingly rare for everyone to get together (kids, jobs, money) at the same time. You suggested we needed to include her SO because, well, SO is an important part of her life. Imagine our collective surprise when Mother's Christmas card included a picture of her wedding! She did not announce nor invite any of us because she didn't want to create a fuss, she just wanted to make it official on, wait for it, her birthday last year. Siblings went back to the drawing board, and now each of us spent/will spend our own birthday with Mother and new step-father. It worked out fine in the end, not how I would have planned, but she gets to celebrate her X0th birthday year, instead of just a day. Thanks for giving me some clarity last year.

Big twist at the end! You're welcome, and thanks for checking back in.

OH and I'm off next Friday for the long weekend. I hope the schedule returns to its normal predictability as we get into fall.

Talk about swannus interruptus ... but now I resume swanning. Might even flounce. Ciao!

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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