Carolyn Hax Live: 'The butternut squash cares!'

Nov 16, 2018

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax will be online to take your comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody. Sorry the link for questions went up so late. I didn't notice it was missing till I signed on to read questions this morning. 

Just a quick note - I really appreciated you answering my question last week! I'd separately told my husband, after our first discussion, that I wanted him to just think about what he was willing to do and if there were any alternatives. I wanted to have options ready but honestly I get a little tired of always being the problem-solver, so I wanted to see how it would play out. We talked Tuesday and after I reassured him of a few things (we didn't have to stay overnight, nobody would care if he didn't eat the butternut squash) he agreed to go, so problem has been solved. I think he realized how many times I've agreed to things that weren't my first choice, either.

The butternut squash cares!

Glad it worked out. As departure time approaches, expect the crabbiness of the change-resistant, and roll with it the best you can.


Like that New Yorker cartoon about a guy making plans with a friend, I find myself in a recurring pickle. A longtime friend lives with a man who makes my skin crawl for many reasons (financial vampire on her, drinks too much, always in a sour mood, always fighting with her family, but most of all, it's hard to watch her bend over backwards to "make" him happy when he does zippo for her). Every few months, she will want me and my husband to meet them halfway between our cities for lunch or go to their apt. for a home-cooked meal and stay overnight. I know I can't change her choice in men or make her go to therapy to discern why she chose this guy, but I'm running out of excuses for why we can never get together. Also not sure what to say when she says none of our mutual friends ever visits (they feel as we do about her beau). I try to see her solo for brunch once a month to make sure she's okay, but otherwise, I dread having the "couples date" convo when it crops up. Advice from you or the 'nuts who've been there?

I'm going to throw a different question to the crowd: Is there any reason not to say to her, at this point, next time she complains that none of your mutual friends ever visits: "I can't speak for anyone else, but I have my own reason. Would you like to hear it?" 

And then if she says yes, to say that you are not comfortable with X, with X representing the least subjective of the complaints you have about her boyfriend.

For example, "He makes my skin crawl" is about as subjective as it gets, but, "He has at least six drinks at a clip and then gets belligerent," is a matter of fact. Stick to facts so she doesn't have room to rationalize it into your problem (even though she might still try to--nature of the denial beast).

Make sure you include assurances of your commitment to your friendship and your openness to another interpretation of what you've witnessed.


Hey Carolyn, My sister is going through an amicable divorce. She moved out but it’s not final yet. I ran into my brother-in-law’s brother. I know my sister isn’t planning on celebrating with her ex or his family even though we usually did in the past. I blurted out that I hope he has a good holiday and I’ll miss seeing him. It was obvious he knew nothing about the divorce. I left the conversation and he called his brother who called my sister. My brother-in-law is mad at me for telling this news. My brother-in-law wants an apology and I think I should give it to keep things amicable during their split. How do you say you are sorry for something that you don’t really think is your fault but you regret doing anyway?

"I'm sorry, I had no idea I was putting you in an awkward spot."

But, seriously dude?

Everybody talks about political arguments over Thanksgiving dinner, which fortunately aren't a thing with my family. But I've been thinking lately - I literally cannot imagine any circumstance in which I would ever change my mind about any issue. I'm happy to hear people explain their beliefs, but on every issue I am so confident in my beliefs, and the opposing view is just so foreign to me, so irrational, that I honestly don't see how I could ever change my outlook. Is that normal, or am I closed-minded?

(b) Closed-minded. Definition of.

You are confident in your beliefs, yes, because they are right -for you.- To have no conception of how other beliefs could be right for someone else is to fail to understand that other people can have an emotional makeup, cultural history, and/or set of life experiences that differ from yours, and that's just ... well, so foreign to me. I hope you take this as motivation to start talking to and reading about people whose lives are dramatically different from yours, specifically to see how their experiences brought them to position you disagree with. You don't have to change your position; all you're going for is, "I disagree, but I see how you got there." Baby steps. Please.


Not a question, just a shout-out to others who may be dreading spending time with their families this are not alone. Sometimes it feels like everyone else gets the Hallmark Holiday Special, but that just isn't true.

This is great, but I can't help thinking--the real risk faced by people who join this chat is the feeling that everyone else gets the Exploding Turkey of Drunken Dysfunction Special. 

So here's a counter shout-out to those who tuck into a reasonably edible bird with reasonably reasonable relatives and friends. You matter, too!

I am so hurt about the attitude of my sister-in-law, “Sue” right now and I don’t know what to do. Her husband, my older brother, died a little over a year ago and now it seems like she wants nothing to do with us. My husband, son, and I always stayed with them for Christmas (they live in our old hometown) and we would rent a beach house together for a summer visit. Also included in the Christmas Day celebration was a family who are longtime friends of Sue. This tradition lasted for their entire marriage – over 20 years. We went to my husband’s family for Christmas last year as Sue very understandably did not host anyone. She also didn’t come to the shore with us this summer, making excuses about work. When I called her last week about firming up Christmas plans she said that she just doesn’t feel like doing the big Christmas “thing” anymore. I suggested we visit anyway but take her out to dinner – she declined. I was disappointed but accepting. I guess Sue wasn’t counting on social media letting us in on the truth. From posts her friends made this week it’s clear that Sue will be hosting the usual dinner for her friends on Christmas Day and the only “tradition” she is letting go of is including us! If there had ever been animosity between us I could understand her cutting us out but we’ve never had anything but good friendship between us all. Should I have a confront her about why she’s acting this way? We are a very small family and losing Sue is like losing even more of my late brother than I already have.

I am so sorry. I think you're right to equate it to a kind of grief, because you essentially have lost another family member who was dear to you.

I don't think confronting her is the way to go, though, nor is it ... practical, let's say, to look at this as an "attitude." 

What you just learned is that Sue does not share your idea of these Christmas and beach traditions. That's it. I can think of two or three possible explanations for her replacing these rituals with others, and none of them is good news but all (to my objective eye) are understandable in their way.

1. Your brother loved you dearly, while she was a good sport for 20 years. Not that she didn't like you, just that your brother was the driving force in your togetherness. That is so common.

2. She and your brother had a decently happy marriage but there was a typical level of strain built into it, too, and now a year later, as she is working hard to find her way on her own, connections to the past are too difficult for her to negotiate.

3. Your brother was the love of her life, and seeing you is too painful a reminder for her still. 

Here's the thing: You don't need to know which of these is accurate, or whether it's something else entirely. What matters is that your joy with these past traditions is just as real as it always was and it will always be yours, held close alongside your love for your brother. That it isn't carrying forward is best treated as a byproduct of change more than anything else. It's not just a choice between "animosity" and "same as it ever was." 

Again, I am sorry for your losses. I hope when the hardest of your feelings (and the holidays) pass, you see fit to write Sue a note to say you're glad she has found new traditions, but you also miss her and hope she doesn't mind if you stay in occasional touch. Then see how she responds. 

Dear Carolyn, My husband's sister is only 4/2 years older than we are (we're all in our 30s), but she's been married and been a parent for much longer and so there's this unbreakable dynamic of big sister/little brother (and sister-in-law). Before we had our baby, it was always "You'll understand when you have kids!" Then we had the baby and I started trying to relate to her as a fellow mom, and her tune has changed to "Just wait till you have multiple kids!" (She has three and we're probably stopping at two, so I'll never catch up.) I don't really want a "big sister"--I want a peer. She has endless suggestions for me when I need help, but she doesn't seem to place any value in my input (even if it's about something non-kid-related). It stings a bit. Do I have to just accept that she's used to treating her younger brother as subordinate, and me too by extension? I wish I could push her out of that comfort zone.

Can this be Just Say It Day?:

"You were a new parent once yourself, so I'm sure you get it: Sometimes I don't want suggestions, but to be treated as a peer. It's a real source of frustration for me."

If you can say this to her in response to someone else's patronizing suggestion that she just happens to witness, vs. her patronizing suggestion, then that would be a situational jackpot and you should immediately go out and buy yourself a scratch-off.


I've been with my boyfriend for over 2 years, and we've started talking about getting engaged. The only issue is that I know he'll use a family ring as the engagement ring, which I think is great, but...I have no idea what this ring looks like. Is there a way to ask if I could see it without sounding like an awful person? And what if I don't like it?

The only issue I see is seeing this as an issue.

Full disclosure, I think engagement rings as an institution have outlived their purpose. I mean, think about it. What are you getting him?

Plus, if you're a good match and if you're mature enough to be together, then you'll be able to navigate this in a way that feels honest to you--be it to love the ring for what it means without regard for how it looks, or to be honest about the fact that you don't love the ring. It's the great fakeout of life partnership, really--that any of this stuff actually matters. The only thing that matters is your comfort with each other. *Only.*

So, ah, congrats!

Earlier this year I moved back to where I grew up and reconnected with some old friends. My best friend from high school was especially excited to see me again and we started seeing a lot of each other but she quickly made things hard for me. She’s really critical of my lifestyle – I like to job hop and date around while she’s married with a 5 yo and has a steady job as a medical assistant. I laughed it off at first but her put downs got meaner and meaner and I finally lost it and told her off. I said that her need to criticize my life meant she was defensive about hers and that meant deep down she was insecure and unhappy. Everyone who was telling me I shouldn’t put up with her behavior is now telling me I went overboard since she seems devastated. I want to say to her that she sure can dish it out but not take it but our families are really close and there’s a lot of connections family-wise between us (small town – you know how it is). My mom has asked me to apologize at least for how I said it if not what I said but I’m not sure what I said was so bad. Where’s the line between standing up for yourself and being mean? I’m thinking the easiest thing would be just to pull up stakes and move again but I really like the job I have right now and I’m not quite ready to quit. And I hate moving in the winter anyway. What should I do?

The best "should" I've got is to stop living as if you're on reality TV.

 I laughed it off at first but her put downs got meaner and meaner and I finally lost it and told her off.

There's an entire middle phase missing in this progression:

1. Laugh it off;

2. notice it's not funny to you anymore and it's starting to bother you for real;

3. say out loud to your friend, "I laughed it off at first, but it seems now that a lot of what you say is genuinely critical of my lifestyle. If you mean it as a joke, then please stop, because it's not funny to me. If you actually mean it, then I'd rather you say so once and for all than keep up with all the little cuts"; 

4. notice she still won't drop it;

5. say, "I asked nicely, but you're still criticizing the way I live my life. I'm starting to think it's more about you than it is about me. Either way, I won't be your punching bag anymore." 

6. End friendship. 


I said that her need to criticize my life meant she was defensive about hers and that meant deep down she was insecure and unhappy.

You not only went straight from 1 to 5 (by your account), but also took 5 to the jugular.

Everyone who was telling me I shouldn’t put up with her behavior is now telling me I went overboard since she seems devastated. I want to say to her that she sure can dish it out but not take it

This isn't high school, either. Stop running things by the Panel of Friends and stop living by catch phrase. Are your feelings hurt? Then tell her she hurt your feelings. Vulnerability and honesty are your friends first, before anyone else can be. 

I drive my son to school, but beforehand, we drop his sister at their dad's, where she catches the bus. We were running late one day, and my son did not want to take the time to go in, hug his dad, and say good morning to him. He felt stressed about getting to school on time. However, he forced himself to go in and do it, because otherwise, his dad gets upset. Sounds perfectly innocent, right? A good son. But, in general, their dad tends to prioritize his own needs above all else (even if those needs are that he gets a little visit with a hug and hello when a child is trying not to be late to school). How do I teach my children that their needs are important as well, even if their dad's needs are not being met? (I can only imagine the roasting I'll be getting in the comments section; however, this trait does tend to extend to other aspects of his life with the kids.).

Roasting for what? Raising a question with valid implication for your child's long-term emotional health?

The first thing I hope you do, soon and without flinching, is to explain to your son that it's not his job to keep other people from getting upset. Not his father, not you, not his teachers, not his friends. Each of us is responsible for our own feelings, and our own choices. His job (everyone's job) is to know the rules and expectations, to know the consequences of meeting them vs. not meeting them, and to make choices accordingly.

So, to apply it to your situation: It's not your son's job to manage his father's feelings. Your son's job is to know what his father's preferences and expectations are; to know the consequences of meeting them (possibly being late) vs. not meeting them (upsetting his dad); and to make his choice accordingly.

This process of awareness and decision-making will make your son the driver of his own life, vs. his dad's puppet, *even if he decides to risk being late by going inside to hug his dad.*  This is how you equip him to know his own mind and own his own choices, which is how you equip him to deal with people, period--not just the controlling or difficult ones, though it is with them that healthy practices are the most handy. 

If you're wobbly on this stuff yourself, then good counseling could shore you up. It's also covered concisely in "Lifeskills for Adult Children" by Woititz/Garner.


My parents are dating again and I just don’t think I can take it. They divorced the first time when I was about 9, got back together and remarried when I was 12 and then divorced a little over 3 years later. That divorce seemed much bitterer than the first one but maybe that’s to be expected. They dated again when I was in college but thankfully broke up before remarrying for the second time. Now they’re dating again and I want to tell them STOP! – this doesn’t work out for you. Learn from the past. I know people might say this isn’t my business but the time after their break-ups is horrible for me. They’re both miserable, depressed and angry, and I have to hear it and live with the aftermath for a long time. I don't want to sound like a groomzilla but I'm getting married next year and their inevitable breakup is going to make the wedding tense and unpleasant. My fiancee says we should hope for the best but she hasn't lived through the past like I have. Can I say something to them – at least try to make them see reason?

Wow. You have to respect their commitment to dysfunction, which apparently has outlasted not only both of their marriages, but most marriages, period.

If you're in no mood to find humor in this, then, my sincere apologies.

Sanity has one clear point of entry here: " I have to hear it and live with the aftermath for a long time."

You actually don't.

I mean, you are technically living with the aftermath if you have nothing to do with either of them during the fallout period and if they miss your wedding, but that sounds a lot less aftermathy than actually hearing about it while they sort it out or having them make your wedding day about themselves. 

So I suggest you tell them both: "I obviously can't make you two stop this ridiculous dysfunctional dance. But I can make it clear to you that I won't be available to listen to you during the miserable, depressed and angry phase when it goes off the rails. Not again."

Then, don't be available to listen. If they break up near to your wedding date, then rescind their invitations. It really is okay to take precautions now based on what you've learned from your experiences with them.

I also suggest talking to a good family therapist if you have any concerns about how or whether you should do this. Or just to establish a good resource for when you need a reality check.

Congrats on your engagement and good luck. 



This. Forever. Learn to embrace it.


Totally agree that the "institution" has outlived its usefulness. And don't get me started on the engagement photo shoot, where the bride-to-be places her hand prominently on her fiance's chest, so that the bling is the real focus of the shot. It's the thought that counts, though. Interesting that the girlfriend knows he'll use a family ring; can the girlfriend ask about it? Maybe it's fabulous!

My parents separated in January and started divorce proceedings immediately. My father told nobody in his family. His mother continued to call "their" house, and my mother would just say he was at work. Finally, she called on Mother's Day, and my exasperated mother just laid it out. "He moved out in January, MIL. We're getting divorced." Seriously, people - own your own s(p)it!

Your son didn't want to go in. Why did he? His dad hadn't come out of the house, it doesn't sound like, so who was compelling him?

Teaching children to say no is the book “Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus” Very useful for kids who may have been raised to never say no.

The brother-in-law wants an apology? For what? His soon-to-be-ex-wife told her brother she was getting a divorce. It was already "out there" as public information. At some point the brother-in-law's brother inevitably was going to find out, one way or another. Keeping it a secret was the brother-in-law's issue.

Exactly and totally.

But the sib just wants to avoid complicating things for the sister by letting this thing blow up. Thus my non-apology apology, which puts the issue away without any admission of guilt. 

No, don't "tell her she hurt your feelings." Apologize for your cruel and over-the-top attack on her.

I meant next time when in a situation when feelings get hurt, to prevent the whole lash-out fest in the first place. Both of them. They're attacking instead of dealing with their own vulnerable feelings. It's not even high school, it's a middle-school tactic to attack when you feel down.

Yikes, I have to go. Thanks everyone, happy weekend, TG and next weekend, and see you Nov. 30. Hoot will be Dec. 7. (Teddy, is the link up yet?)

Since when did apologizing for hurting someone's feelings become a "non-apology." I can be genuinely sorry that I hurt someone's feelings, but not sorry about the actual thing I said. (For a good example, see the boundary-setting question. I can be sorry that dad's feelings were hurt when I didn't hug him, but I can be not sorry that I did not hug him because I didn't want to be late). I understand that this type of non-apology is an issue in the public sphere when a person says a racist /sexist thing (or worse, is caught harassing someone), and instead of saying "I said a racist thing and I am sorry," the person says "I am sorry if anyone was offended." But in everyday life, I think there is value in apologizing for hurting someone's feelings, even if the action that caused hurt feelings is not apology-worthy. Am I missing something here?

This wasn't the feeling issue; this was the "I had no idea you didn't tell your own brother you were getting a divorce" issue. Hurting someone's feelings always gets a genuine note of remorse.

Hi everyone -- I'll make the location for the Hoot by the end of the day today and link it here. You can also find it by searching Carolyn Hax on The Post. Thanks for joining!

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