Carolyn Hax Live: 'Hot Young Breakup Squad'

Jan 04, 2019

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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Hello! Happy 2019. Or at least notably improved 2019, in areas within our ability to improve.

(My New Year's celebrations are lit.) 

Hi Carolyn - My boyfriend of 6 months has a best friend, "John", who now lives in another country (which has notorious gender inequality and poverty). We're all in our early 30s. My boyfriend was always at John's beck and call, and I sense that John resents my appearance on the scene. John has contacted my boyfriend to ask if he can host two of John's female friends for a week while they visit our city. They are single and in their early 20s. I get the very strong impression that it is a set-up and John is trying to break us up. I feel like I'm being controlling, but I have told my boyfriend that I do not want these women to stay with him. He feels torn (and I think he would have otherwise agreed), but told John that the women couldn't stay with him. John has now cut him off completely and my boyfriend blames me for breaking up their friendship. My feeling is, even if I was out of line, if it were truly just about the hosting, that would be no reason to break off a friendship. I would appreciate your perspective on this. Thank you.

I'm not sure you will appreciate my perspective.

Mainly, I'm thinking it's good you've put in only 6 months on this loser bet.

Your boyfriend blames you for breaking up their friendship? And you're all in your 30s?

He couldn't own his own decision, or make a different one if he didn't believe in the one you asked him to make?

John cut off a "best" friendship completely over this crap show?

You find it credible that a man in his 30s would sent a hot young breakup squad to his "best" friend's home?

You find it credible enough that this gambit would actually work that you would feel compelled to bar the door to it?

There's no answer here, there's just a do-over. These two men are acting like children. You are, if not on their emotional level yourself, putting up with a man who has chosen to act like a child. Please just start over. Choose carefully, trust justifiably, live confidently and drama free.

 

 

 

Carolyn My adult son has been married and divorced twice. He has two children from his second marriage. He is now living with, but not married, to another woman and they have just shared the news that they are expecting a baby. I am worried and heart broken and wondering what went wrong here in his upbringing. He recently told his two kids about the baby and they were nonplussed. He seems to be expecting us to be happy for him. It is hard. I have some other kids who are doing fine and are encouraging me to say something to him about how we are all feeling. I am hesitant to do that as he has cut me off in the past when I have upset him. Any ideas?

What is this "something" you're supposed to say? "Please don't screw this one up, too"?

Be warm, be welcoming, be there for the kids in whatever way you possibly can. What the two kids and the baby-to-be are likely to need most is stability, and you and the rest of their extended family can provide that. And love. 

Judging their dad undermines stability, so resist the temptation to butt in. Please.

Maybe he is in fact going to screw this one up, too, because whatever led to the first two breakups remains unaddressed. But it's hard to see how a chilly reception from his family of origin is going to be the catalyst for his doing the hard emotional work when two divorces haven't woken him up yet. 

It is easy to see, though, how a chilly reception would persuade him to keep you all at arm's length.

Plus, you can't rule out the possibility that he's finding his way to stability. The queue over the years has brimmed with testimonials from people who made a mess of their emotional lives early on and eventually figured things out. The line between loving people nonjudgmentally and enabling them may seem fine, but your son is an adult making decisions that he's entitled to make and that are, if sometimes misguided, all attempts at living well. Answer love with love and hope for the best.

 

How should I respond to a long-time friend who repeatedly points out that my 10-year-old isn’t growing as tall or appears as developed as her peers? She phrases them as pointed observations not curious questions. Our child gets a physical exam every year and is well within the range of normal according to her doctor. I’ve said as much but that only seems to make my friend double down on her observations (FWIW, she has no kids or nieces/nephews of her own). The comments are directed to me, not my child. I’d like to shut them down for good. Any advice?

Stop responding to the observations and start responding to the fact of the observations:

"You've made a lot of comments lately about Child's size. May I ask why?"

Then respond to her response. If it's just that she's concerned, then say you appreciate her candor and her concern is noted, but her repeated remarks aren't helpful to you. You have doctors monitoring her growth and you would prefer to leave it at that.

If she has some other reason--say, a young relative with a development delay she thinks might be similar or hard experience from her own childhood--then at least you'll know her comments are more about her than about your child. You can still say the repetition of these observations isn't helpful, but noting the personal connection will make it more compassionate and likely more resonant.

Either way, once you've drawn the "this isn't helpful" line, enforce it thereafter with, "I've addressed this already," then change the subject.

 

Is there any way to deal with someone who feels that you politely excusing yourself from a conversation or social gathering (because the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, because you're tired, because you need to introvert) is unspeakably rude? I'm guessing nope?

Depends. The intimacy of the relationship makes a difference to how you manage.

But in general, my advice is to just do what you need to do and politely rebuff corrections that cross personal boundaries. Not just here, but everywhere.

How do I learn not be resentful when someone continually puts me in a bad spot? My mother has the life philosophy of "I'm going to do what I want, when I want. That's the only way to live life". That means she has no regard for consequences or the position she puts other people in. She was unstable when I was a kid because of this. We were often homeless or crashing with her friends. Now that she is older and I'm in my 30's it bothers me in new ways. She spends ALL her money and then doesn't have enough for medication, food, living. Someday I'm afraid she's going to have to live with me because of this. She has a medical condition where she has to watch what she eats. She eats exactly what she shouldn't eat and then ends up in the emergency room about 4 times a year because of this. I have to go and take care of it, take her home, etc. I have a job where I can't just keep taking off! I have no sympathy for any of her plights anymore. I know that sounds harsh. 90% of them are of her own doing. Yet she has no one else. I've cut down what I do for her. I try to do just the minimum to make sure her needs are met. But I'm still so resentful that she does this to me! She thinks she's just living her life while I think we should all try our hardest not be burdens on other people. Two different life philosophies which leaves me full of resentment.

Oh my.

A "life philosophy of 'I'm going to do what I want, when I want. That's the only way to live life'" that exposes one's children to homelessness is not simply a matter of life philosophy; that's more in the realm of emotional neglect and/or abuse. 

And your feeling responsible for your mother when she was so irresponsible with you, and continues to be irresponsible with herself? That, again, is not just about life philosophy or days off at work or other logisitics. That's part of the enduring emotional legacy of your unstable childhood. 

Please let yourself off the hook of having to figure out all of this on your own, and get some good help from a good therapist, someone with the credentials and experience working with complex family systems.

Ask yourself, too: What would she have to do if you weren't available to bail her out? If you lived inaccessibly overseas, or were in crisis yourself, or hadn't been born? The fallacy of indispensibility snares a lot of us, not just the ones with tough parental legacies like yours.

Please see it for what it is and release it. This isn't to say you just cut your mom off ever after--though you might come to see that as your best option, after you've weighed them all carefully. I'm just saying that anything you do because you believe you have no choice is fertile soil for resentment. You do have choices, and your mom isn't making them for you, and no one is a burden to you whom you don't allow to be so. She's presenting you with a menu of unappealing choices, yes, for sure--but they're still choices. 

Please see that, and start making those choices from a position of action vs. reaction, with or without the professional help.

My wife and I separated a few months ago. I had felt lonely and unsatisfied in our marriage and consequently developed feelings for another woman. My wife found out, I moved out, and I moved on with my affair partner. It was the worst mistake of my life. Once the newness of the relationship wore off, we fought constantly and ended up breaking up. Now I'm realizing how stupid and selfish I've been. I had felt lonely and trapped in our marriage because my wife was spending all her time taking care of our kids, and I had grown to resent her for it. But I wasn't helpful, I wasn't present, and I regret not communicating with her. My selfishness lead to the breakdown of my marriage and I am truly sorry. So far we're just separated, not divorcing, but she refuses to talk to me. I tried calling, emailing, texting, showing up at her work, getting in touch with her friends, but I'm hitting a wall. The holidays have come and gone and I haven't seen the kids because she refuses to talk to me. I just want to tell her I'm sorry. What's the best way to proceed?

Showing up at her *work*? Oh my no.

The best way to proceed is to get yourself well. You've had an epiphany, that's excellent, and it seems genuine--but that doesn't mean your wife has any reason to think it's anything other than a matter of your affair fizzling and your wanting to get back to a warm bed again. And your efforts to talk to her have crossed some serious boundaries, not just dragging your problems into her workplace, but putting friends in a terrible position. 

So stop. Stop pressuring her to talk to you, immediately. Baseline respect for her means you give her room to be furious at you and completely uninterested in hearing what you have to say.

A more sophisticated respect for her--and, more important, more productive respect for yourself--means you stop trying to fix your marriage and instead get help for the thing that broke it. When you felt lonely and trapped, you didn't say to her, apparently, "I feel lonely and trapped." You didn't invest yourself in your kids, you dumped it all on her. When your unhappiness metastasized into anger, you didn't say, "I'm angry." Instead you sought relief through pleasure. 

This doesn't make you a monster--you're human. But you're a human in need of some good old-fashioned growing up, a lot of it. And some remedial emotional work. So get it, please. Good therapy, spiritual guidance if that's your thing, and a good hard stare-down with your frailties.

I've found this useful myself: Look back, dredge up some times you were rock-solid sure you were done wrong by this or that or whoever, and look at these incidents with new eyes. Were you really so blameless? Isn't it possible you just defaulted to thinking you were right about something, because it was you and you meant well, of course!, but really you were a good part of if not the whole reason things went wrong. Challenging yourself like this is like antiseptic on a cut--sharply painful, strangely satisfying and crucial to proper healing. Get to it.

As for seeing the kids, I hope it doesn't come to this, but you may need intervention there. Look up local *mediation* resources. You screwed up as a spouse but you have a right to see your kids. Again--mediation. No gases on fires where you can avoid it.

Regarding game playing - can you say what game the LW was playing? I'm wondering if I do the same and if so, I'd like to stop. Also, reason but not excuse. Can you expound on the difference? I don't understand what people mean when they say it's a reason but not an excuse. Thanks.

For those following along at home: LINK

The "game" was LW's coy request for reasons not to do something she quite clearly wanted to do. My anti-game suggestion was to make a decision for herself and own it.  

The reason-not-an-excuse distinction: Let's use the prior Q and A as an example. The reason this spouse cheated was marital unhappiness--which explains it, clearly. But it doesn't make cheating the right thing to do, right? So, it's explanation vs. justification.

Or, made-up example: I stole $20 from my friend because I was jealous and angry that she always has spending money and I don't, and I gave into my emotions instead of exercising impulse control--reason. Stealing is wrong--no excuse.

Good?

 

 

My sister is getting a divorce. They're still living together and trying to be civil and remain friends, because they were friends for a long time before ever getting together. I'm glad about that, because I really like him. But she keeps talking badly about him to me in texts/emails. I'm tired of it because I know her and I know she is worse than him about most of the things she complains about. I've been trying to keep my mouth shut, but it's not easy. Is there any way for me to gently remind her that if she truly wants to "do this the right way" and remain friends, like she says, maybe she should call a truce with him and at least try to work on the friends thing? She's getting the divorce she asked for, so continuing to whine about his "faults" is not helpful to anybody.

Are you sure about all this? I see wiggle room on two counts: 1. Maybe she's saying things to you on the side and keeping it together in the home. 2. Maybe he is worse than she is on some of the things she's complaining about. What goes on inside a marriage is truly only known by the two people in it. 

If you want to get into a more nuanced conversation about shared responsibility for the unraveling and the potentially corrosive effects of "venting" (it certainly can make things worse, not better, yes), then please do all of you a favor and save it for a face-to-face meeting, and *follow her lead there.* Don't introduce it on your own. I don't know your sister or your relationship, but I feel pretty good about saying that the last thing a divorcing person who still lives with her about-to-be-ex wants to hear from her sibling support network is that she's doing it wrong. 

If she doesn't lead you there, then just avoid responding specifically to her criticisms of him and just treat it all as her working through stuff she needs to work through. "That sounds tough, I'm sorry. Anything I can do?" 

My sister is religious and believes that her religion follows the true word of God. Her 3rd son (age 30+) and his girlfriend live together and have a 1.5-year old baby girl. They've asked to move in with mom & dad (large home) to save money to buy a place to live (SoCal, real estate is expen$ive). My sister requires them to marry (any legal marriage is fine, a religious event is not required) before moving in with the parents. I would not make that a requirement and it isn't my business. I see this as controlling, boundary busting and a wrong reason to wed. It's her house, her religion, her prerogative. But not without a price. Can you help me word the cost of control? This is not a screen to keep out irresponsibe adult family members on her part.

No, I can't, or won't, because you had it right yourself: It isn't your business. 

If there's a cost to your sister's form of control, then she will pay it. She's an adult.

Your also-adult nephew can choose to meet your sister's terms or seek other housing. 

And they can both ask for your help or opinion should they want it. 

The Perfect Band Name.

Especially if members are neither hot nor young.

My ex's mom openly admitted to me that her son is a selfish loser who treated me poorly. (He is, and he did.) But the sweetest thing she said was that she loved him anyway. She tried to figure out where she went wrong with him (because her other child never mistreated an SO this degree), but she also recognizes he's an adult now who screws up a lot, and she loves him just the same. (She refused to pay what he owes me though, which makes sense.) She'd never tell her son that he's a selfish loser, but her acknowledging it to me made me feel so much relief in that our breakup wasn't my fault. That's the important part: to love your son just the same as if he's been divorced three times or married for 60 years.

To the person who feels responsible for his/her mom, please do try to get some actual physical distance from her so she can't guilt trip you, overtly or not, into behaving as she wants you to. My father was like this, so I moved out at 17 and never lived within 1000 miles of him after that. It really helps. I can still do some things from afar, but I'm not on the same emotional cycle as my sibling. And honestly the more we've cut him off, the more he's figured things out on his own. His suffering is his own, the consequences of his self sabotage is not my fault, and quite frankly i could never save him from himself. Save yourself. Boundaries are really a matter of survival with family members like this.

Damn. Nicely done.

 

I take one for the team -- send the hot young breakup squad my way. It will be emotionally draining to be used in such a way, but if it helps out my fellow travelers in life, I will make the sacrifice.

Tears. I salute your courage. 

...and everyone thinks my boyfriend is SO AMAZING (he really is) that I should be willing have another child with him because it would be SO AMAZING this time around. How do I know if I'm right that I really can't do it again (kiddo is 9 and I'm exhausted from single parenting far from a family support network), and regardless of how you answer that, how do I get people to stop telling me what to do? I love my boyfriend - he really is the most amazing human - but I'm so tired of motherhood and don't find it rewarding.

How about: "Would you please stop telling me what to do?"

I hope you also have some nonjudgmental friends to talk to about parenthood, who don't shut you down when you need to talk through stuff. The judging can be brutal when people admit they're not thrilled to have kids.

And I hope one of them is your BF, because that would not only be Top 3 on the list of reasons to consider him amazing, but also it's obviously essential that he knows where you stand on kids.

 

Dear Carolyn: My soon-to-be ex-husband just moved back to South Florida, our hometown, leaving me and our 3-year-old living alone (very, very alone) 850 miles away. We initially moved here for his career, if it matters. I loathe SoFla. Loathe. But every single member of our respective families lives there. Meanwhile, I love my rural cabin home, my interesting albeit low-paying job, my access to hiking trails, all 4 seasons, etc. I feel like I can breathe. I worry that my isolated dream life denies my son a potentially wonderful childhood surrounded by cousins and cultural opportunities simply unavailable here. It also keeps him from his father, who may or may not remain involved either way. On the other hand, he loves the wilderness too and will have experiences here his cousins can only dream of. How do I decide which path to take?  Should I Stay or Should I Go

Why can't he live with you in the trees for the school year and spend summers and longer vacations with Dad and the extended family? I realize the weather situation is less than ideal that way, but that's little stuff when it works out emotionally.

Hi Carolyn, My questions normally don't get through but here it is. I am a thirty year old, recently married (a year and a half) woman and I just really need an outside opinion. My husband and I did not hastily get married, we went to premarital counseling and have been together six years but I am beginning to feel like the wool was pulled over my eyes this entire time. I have been slowing uncovering financial issues over the past few months (i.e unpaid rent and car notes, credit card charges, extra equipment and lines added on phone lines in my name) that either directly affect my finances or at the very least leave me with unanswered questions. My husband is not being cooperative in explaining this and I teeter between feeling like a complete idiot ( My career is in finance) for allowing him to handle our finances and just completely overwhelmed and hurt. I have started the process of removing his access to my accounts but how do I know if this is something to walk away from and where do I start to pick up the pieces? This is not how I imagined starting 2019.

Of course not. No one likes to be faked out.

But being faked out is not a reflection of your personal failings--it's just about his. So stop inviting shame in as another party to this already crowded problem. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Plus, a career in finance hardly inoculates you against fraud, especially when the fraud here appears to have been largely emotional. He's a mess and can't be trusted, he presented himself as together and trustworthy, and he did so effectively enough to fool you. Again--shame on him.

You're removing his access to your accounts, great--that makes the problem even less crowded.

If there are any other factors you can address or remove in this process, that's what you do next. Lock down what you need to lock down, talk to an attorney if you haven't already, etc.

What that leaves you is the crux of the problem: Your husband lied to you and caused you harm, and is not cooperating with you as you try to deal with this. Is there any question, really, about whether to walk away? The only reason to stay is when there's something to stay for, something greater than what he has taken away.

I'm unclear on what the best friend's country's "gender inequality and poverty" has to do with the situation. Can anyone clue me in?

I noticed that, too, and suspected it had something to do with a culturally ingrained likelihood these visiting young women would be subservient to a man, and I was already so grossed out by the whole thing that I hit an error screen in my head. So I punted.

And it's my chat, so I can mix metaphors when I want to.

"I don't know what you want me to do about that," also works. I've said this repeatedly to certain family members who openly complain about an ugly facial feature I have.

It's a great answer, but--seriously? The ugly features are those certain family members. 

A controlling girlfriend has succeeded in cutting her boyfriend off from his best friend, and has convinced you to condemn the boyfriend as immature? Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.

Nice interpretation if you can twist it, I suppose.

Plus I advised her to dump him.

Time to go. Thanks everybody for stopping by, 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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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