Carolyn Hax Live: 'You're-lucky-I-put-up-with-you'

Jan 18, 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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Hi everybody, thanks for stopping by.

Being totally in love is overrated. Like the LW's wife, I also have never felt that intensely about my husband or do not love him as much as I've loved exes. I certainly don't get along with my husband as well as I did with one particular ex. But you know what? The few men I did love that way either lied to me, hurt me, "borrowed" money and never paid it back, stood me up, left me with wedding deposits I never got back, made promises they never kept, and were unreliable in general. All of those things? My husband has never done them. I guess I'm like the LW's wife, but I don't look at my marriage as a loss. I look at it as though the spouse I really wanted simply doesn't exist. (I think for a lot of people the temptation to take advantage of a partner's strong feelings and trust is a pull too hard to resist.) Believe me, I dated A LOT. Any man I truly felt in love with or had strong feelings for always, always did something terrible that always involved taking advantage of my feelings. I married the reliable man who isn't going to swear he'll attend my friend's wedding and then no show. Life isn't a fairy tale.

No, it isn't. 

But does your husband know this, or enough of it to know he didn't sweep you away? If he doesn't, then he's essentially paying for the crimes of your more intense loves of the past. Which is not okay.

If he does know, especially if he feels the same way himself about you--that you represent calm affection and security vs. the love of his life (whatever that means to each you)--then that's a whole other thing, and mazel tov to you both.

If anyone's thinking that what people don't know doesn't hurt them, then you need to factor in the way people respond to someone they love-love vs. just like a lot or barely tolerate. The person you love-love always gets a softer landing from a misstep. People deserve soft landings from the people who marry them, not the you're-lucky-I-put-up-with-you face.

Two years ago my wife and I took in her two younger half-siblings (5 and 8). It was an emergency situation, her mom had real problems I don’t want to get into and their dad was overwhelmed and we really had to step up for them. Now my mother-in-law is completely out of the picture but the kids’ father would like to resume full custody. I was so relieved at the news. I was glad to help when we had to but we’re still in our late 20s and I would like to get back to the carefree life we had before the children moved in. We only have a couple of years before we start trying for kids of our own. My wife, however, is very concerned and wants to delay the move and have the children simply “visit” with the father on weekends until she’s sure he can hack it as a single father. That will be a small help (to have our weekends back) but we’ll still be dealing with all of the drudgery during the week. And what really worries me is that my wife can’t fully explain exactly what will signal to her that the dad is ready. I understand her reluctance to let go but I say let the dad take full custody now and if he can’t handle it, then they can come back. None of these custody arrangements were ever made legal so he could just show up and demand his kids back anyway so who are we to deny him in the first place, right? Isn’t my plan a reasonable one for all concerned?

I'm sorry, no, it's not--and you almost lost me on the last line.

I'm with you in full sympathy throughout, for you and what you agreed to do and what you've given up. You are young. You are cleaning up someone else's mess, and it does sound as if you never really had any say. This is all huge and nothing takes away from that.

But the "let the dad take full custody now and if he can’t handle it, then they can come back" isn't "reasonable for all concerned"--it benefits no one but you. And it could even hurt you in the end, if the father gets overwhelmed and walks away. 

That's down the road, though. In the immediate future, you have two kids who have already been traumatized. The best thing for them is to ensure their stability first, and introduce changes from there. You don't just tear them out of what has been their home and safe place for two years. Instead, you do as your wife is suggesting: Send the kids to spend weekends with their dad so they all can become acclimated to each other again. The more fully you can support this, the better chance it has of working.

And when it works, that's when they can move fully back in with their dad, and you can breathe without the weight of this responsibility on your chest. 

As I touched on before, the care and patience you devote to this reintroduction process will ultimately be for your benefit as much as anyone's. That's because if anything derails it, the kids will likely be in your care indefinitely. It still might derail for any number of other reasons, but you at least can be careful not to do anything to imperil it yourself by rushing or forcing it. No matter how badly you want that air.


Hello Carolyn, I'm a 16 year old who works at a coffee shop in a small town. Lately I've been working with the same guy a lot and I've started to notice my heart beat raising before I walk into the door. He and I get along very well and have very similar ideologies. We like the same shows, games, and have similar hobbies. We always end up closing a lot later that normal lately because we talk so much. The problem is that he's 22... That's a six year age difference which I'm not so sure about. Normally I wouldn't be okay with such a thing, but for some reason I really just want to ignore our age difference. I'm really falling in love with him and I'm not so sure what to do anymore.

You were right in your "normally" assessment--don't be okay with such a thing. Or, I should say, don't act on the feelings, which themselves are okay. It's just the acting on them that is not. By getting involved with him, you could land him in a statutory hellscape that no compatible tastes in shows and games could ever justify. As the one adult in this budding attraction, he is supposed to know this and keep the necessary distance, but humans being humans means it's better if both of you are respecting the invisible guardrail between you.

Bonus old-lady observations: 1. The heart palpitations and like-mindedness on shows and ideas create one of the best feelings in the whole world. 2. The bestest-ever feelings you feel during a passing crush and when you're falling in love feel exactly the same at first, and for a long time, so you typically have no idea which one they're pointing to until you're months in and they start to either deepen or vanish so fast you can find yourself on a date with your once-overwhelming crush suddenly wondering what in dog's name you're doing there with this person. 3. If there's already a good reason not to be with someone--and you have a great one--then it's best to assume you have the passing-crush kind and choose not act on them one little bit. 4. Enjoying a crush and the happy mood and the getting-dressed-with-a-little-extra-attention is not illegal.

But, reminder, being stupid often is, often for someone else but not for you. So don't be. Please. If he's the guy for you, then he will still be right in a couple of years.

Life isn’t a fairy tale and it isn’t a romantic comedy, but today’s letter and the earlier post made me think of the scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan’s character finally breaks up with Bill Pullman’s character and tells him about her romantic interest in Tom Hanks. He replies: “I don’t want to be someone that you’re settling for. I don’t want to be someone that anyone settles for. Marriage is hard enough without bringing such low expectations into it, isn’t it?” I always thought that was classy, but I also thought he knew he was dodging a HUGE bullet.


And Bill Pullman quotes, come on. That's like getting my homework back with a smiley sticker on it.

My husband's first wife had an "I can't do this" moment, and it was over and it really hurt him. But they were both pretty decent to each other through the break-up (I'm told) and a few year's later, he married me. It's been over a decade and we're nuts about each other-- laugh at each other's jokes, forgive each other's failings, try to be kind when being honest. It can happen. You've just got to be a good person and be open, even if it means being open to the fact that it might not happen. Good luck.

Consider enlisting the support of an expert (therapist, social worker, etc) to help you navigate the reunification process. Start with their pediatrician to get references (a divorce attorney actually might be another good resource for references.) And to underscore what Carolyn said - this is not about your wife. The only issue before you is what is in the best interests of the children.

Could you post this chat to your Facebook page? Thankee ...

I do appreciate a good dope-slap. Thank you. 

I was just offered my dream job at work. It’s a great transition into an area I really want to pursue and includes a substantial pay raise. The only downside is that it requires up to 50% international travel for the first couple of years. I would be gone for one-week blocks, usually planned but some last minute. The problem is that my wife is not on-board with it. She wants to delay our plans to try for a child this year until we see “how this affects our relationship.” I feel like she’s really over-reacting and turning a positive into a negative. The plan was always for her to stay home with the baby for the first year and my job will in no way interfere with that. In fact, with the pay raise we can actually afford a nanny or other help if she needs it. In this day and age, we’ll be able to Skype every night and I can probably take a couple of weeks of paternity leave around when the baby is born. Also, we don’t know how long it will take to conceive – I could be completely done with the travel part of the job by the time that happens. I feel like she’s making me choose between her and my job even though she says that’s not her intention. Why is she doing this to me and what can I do to move forward in a way that works for both of us?

"Why is she doing this to me?" ... "Let's see what you do to our relationship" ... ?

Finger-pointing is all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. 

I was composing a longer answer in my head, but, for the sake of brevity, I'll skip to the last line. Get some couples' counseling, please, with a good therapist who can help you learn to communicate.

Your wife has concerns that she apparently is unable or unwilling to put into words, and you are processing her concerns only through their effect on you. Even if you come to some decision on this one issue that you both can accept, other issues are going to crop up--soon and in abundance, if you go ahead with having kids--and your combative, self-oriented way of dealing with each other will make conflict a mainstay of daily life in your home.

So: Stop, hire a referee, breathe, then listen to each other. Then figure things out from there.


Hi Carolyn: Now that I’m getting pretty good at setting boundaries (thank you for your help with that!), how do I stop feeling guilty about it? For example, I plan my entire week so I don’t have to leave the house on Sundays. It’s my day to spend time with my dogs, get things done around the house, or just sit around and watch old movies if that’s what I want to do. My aunt text me in a panic and asked me to come over and fix her TV last Sunday. I told her I couldn’t do it that day but could do it the next day. She agreed after some begging and guilt-tripping. But I was still questioning myself 2 hours later. Would it really have been so bad to go over there for an hour? Well, yes, because I would have had to put off my housework and dig my car out of the snow just to fix a TV (and there’s another working TV in the house). So why do I continue to feel guilty and think about it after the fact? This happens pretty much every time I say no to someone.

It's possible this will just go away with practice. When the only way you know to set boundaries is through reading and a few "aha" moments and some deliberate new steps, it means you were raised not to have them, and instead to say yes to everything because you were afraid you'd be punished for it, if only through people not liking you for saying no to them.

That's a lot of emotional training to have to undo. So be patient with yourself.

But also give some thought to what triggers these spasms of guilt. What if your aunt had just said, "Tomorrow's great--thank you so much!" Would you have felt any guilt afterward for not dropping everything on the spot to go help?

I'm guessing not. And that means you can do something to accelerate your progress toward living guilt-free: Recognize that you still feel the effects of other people's expectations. Just because they have them doesn't mean you're obligated to meet them; remind yourself of that whenever you feel them tugging at you from the other side of your boundary.

It can also help to keep an eye out for people who don't guilt-trip you, and to reserve any special leave-the-house-on-Sunday kindnesses for them. Reward the behavior you appreciate, not the behavior that dredges up lingering feelings of guilt.

Solo parenting is really hard. Especially for a week at a time. Your wife will be home alone with a kid 24/7 with zero help. My husband has occasional travel and I cannot underscore how hard and socially isolating that is. Money helps, but I would not want to bring a child into the world where I would solo parent 50% of the time for multiple years. In your case, I would absolutely wait. The best decision my husband and I made was delaying getting pregnant for a year because of work obligations. Getting/staying pregnant was harder than expected, especially when my spouse was time zones away. Then when I had complications in pregnancy is was really rough not having him around when I was on bed rest. His heavy travel period ended shortly before we had our first and I don't think my mental health would have survived me being home alone with a newborn with no one else to help.

I married my husband because I am deeply in love with him along with many other reasons. But as I have come to find out he doesn’t feel the same like the LW’s spouse and the commenter. I am his second (for sure) or maybe third choice of spouse. This has deeply hurt me and part of me regrets marrying someone who wanted and I think still wants someone else. Don’t do this to people, it is cruel, even more so when children come along. When you marry or commit to someone they should be your first choice not your second or tenth choice.

As the guy that somebody settled for, I second what CH said. Better to never get married.

Both of you, I'm sorry to hear it, and thank you for writing in--I'm sure a lot a people will sympathize, and maybe a few on the cusp of marriage themselves will think twice.

Carolyn, why do some men say things like this? "You can get the check next time." "I'll call you." Sorry I talked so much; we'll have a more evenhanded conversation next time." Then there is no next time. It occurs often enough on dates that it's making me jaded -- but it still hurts when I'm interested and therefore waiting and hoping things work out. Men say women control sex, but it's agony waiting for contact that never happens.

I'm feeling a little lizardy with this answer, but here goes:

It's not men, since women do this plenty. People in awkward spots, like first-date goodbyes and just-ran-into-you-in-the-grocery-store goodbyes--do tend to make airy promises. "Been way to long, let's have coffee sometime!" It's not great, but it's also not something people are doing -to- you, it's just something they do.

So instead of getting jaded--which implies a soft innocence scarred into something hard and protective--why not get fluent? This is, apparently, the language of the dating pool you're in. So just learn it. When someone says, "I'll call you" or refers to "next time," remind yourself, "This is Datespeak," and do not build any expectations on it.

Meantime, you can also train yourself to ignore Datespeak and learn the more honest languages people have, like eye contact and body language and effort. Always, effort. If the person wants to see you again, then he will get in touch. And if you want to see the person again, then you can get in touch. And if your effort is greeted with Datespeak vs. effort, then you can shrug and cross that person off the list as an oh-well. 

If every part of your nature resists this kind of multilingual social fluency, then I urge you shift your meeting strategy from deliberate dating to proximity. Pick places to be or group activities to enjoy that put you in the company, regularly, of people you can get to know gradually through common interests. It's more reliable anyway, based as it is on a relaxed and engrossed version of people instead of the performance version they bring to dating. So maybe do it anyway, even if you keep up the dating effort.

Either way, coach yourself to be skeptical of them and their suitability to you, vs. skeptical of how you come across to them. Similarly, forget that "men say," "women control" stuff, too--the agony of waiting means you're handing control to others and waiting for them to tell you what direction your life will or won't go from here. You control your part, they control theirs, and you both see where that takes you.

The silence is from my diving in to the comments. A lot of them today. I'll post a bunch:

Also, if you are so miserable in the trenches of childrearing that you're willing to just hit the eject button and send these kids back into an unstable situation and let the chips fall, it might be worth it to re-evaluate whether parenting is really for you.

I thought I was settling. Boy was I wrong. After a decade I know that my spouse is by far the right one for me (and vice versa), and my feelings have deepened. The prime candidates for non-settling have both turned out to be jerks. I consider myself lucky.

..."We only have a couple of years before we start trying for kids of our own. ... That will be a small help (to have our weekends back) but we’ll still be dealing with all of the drudgery during the week." you might resent the circumstances in which you became caretakers for these particular kids, but make sure you understand you're getting a trial run of what having kids *is.* take a closer look at your feelings on kids before trying for your own, please.

As a guy, there is no way to say this without sounding creepy but the relatively close age difference makes things worse for him. Old enough to know it's wrong but young enough that he's still making poor judgements and could probably justify the relationship in his head getting him into a lot of trouble. I was a student teacher when I was 21 and was propositioned a couple of times. I never acted on it but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. Looking back it's scary what could have happened. Statutory hell scape is right. Please help him stay out of trouble.

“Help if SHE needs it?” As a new mom, this made my blood boil. A baby, and any responsibilities that come along with one, belong to both of you. Perhaps your wife is blanching at what seems to be a preemptive abdication of your caring for the baby. FWIW, a week’s business travel in a hotel with no nighttime feedings and infinite shower time? Simply luxury.

Just a bystander here, but you sound pretty angry still, and I can’t help but wonder if that spills over into your relationship with your husband. It might be worth some time unpacking your feelings about these past relationships (which don’t sound all that much like “love” to me, either - excitement, infatuation, but not love - read Carolyn’s answer to the sixteen year old for further elucidation). Who knows - if you do spend some time with your feelings, you might discover you do, indeed, love your husband. But if you don’t, think about whether you’d want to be with someone who wrote about you as if you were a dependable piece of furniture.

I had my first baby five months ago, and in reading the husband's letter here, think he is INCREDIBLY unprepared for fatherhood. The fact that he thinks his wife should just handle pregnancy and a newborn completely on her own (oh how nice, he'll throw money at her to hire a nanny) without a present husband is pretty disgusting. It's not 1950, and he needs to realize that 'allowing' his wife to stay home with a baby without his support is not the gift he thinks it is. Speaking from experience, my husband had to travel Monday - Thursday while I was pregnant and shortly after we had the baby, and even though I'm an independent person, I was shocked to find how dependent I was during my pregnancy and maternity leave, simply because pregnancy and babies are physically and emotionally exhausting. His wife is completely right to have reservations, which I think she is expressing, and he's not hearing.

Your argument only makes sense if it is predicated on the idea that you were planning to be of so little help raising the kids while present that your absence won't be missed much.

If you are this eager to turn children you have raised since they were 3 and 6 years old, you should seriously consider whether or not you will be ready to be a parent in 2 years. Yes, you will undoubtedly love your own children more, but the grind of raising children day-in-day-out will be the same as it is now.

About 10-12 years ago, there was a big article in the Atlantic, a title like, "The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." I thought it was a horrible way to look at relationships. But then in my late 30s, I also wondered if I should be doing that I wanted to be married with a family. Some married friends basically agreed with the article, which didn't help. Fast forward to now. I'm still not married and don't have kids, but I'm happy (most days) and have a great life. I recently had the option to settle for a good enough guy and didn't even really consider it. Being lonely with someone is really my idea of pure torture.


Please talk to a family lawyer right away! It's crazy that you've had full custody for 2 years with no legal rights. But you really should have a talk with a lawyer about what your rights will be if you relinquish custody - even partially - to the dad and then feel it's necessary to take the kids back. Know what you're getting into now, worst case scenario stuff, and that will help you make your decision.

Correct, life is not a fairy tale. But a perfectly imperfect man or woman can make for a wonderfully loving spouse. I dated A LOT like the first post here, and I met my now-husband when I was 38 and by the time I turned 41, we had 3 kids together (there's some twins in there!) and an insanely full and chaotic life neither of us could have ever imagined. My husband is not perfect, but neither am I - but we are perfect for each other.

Just a few thoughts about the LW who's wife loved her exes more. I think people confuse feelings where their fairy tale expectations where met as "in love". I don't think of that as love. I think of it as lust. These men the woman (?) in the first comment wrote about that made her feel in love- I don't think it was real. Because they only gave her an illusion that she "loved" because it fit the fairy tale she wanted. I truly believe that a successful relationship and real love is being on the same page and open communication between you and your partner. People need to let go of the fantasy they built in their heads. Although it's nice and gives you good feelings, you will find you will fit pieces of someone in while ignoring other pieces of them until you can't. It's best to look at someone whole from the beginning.

Open communication, plus acceptance of each other's truths and frailties. Sharing your worst and still feeling loved, by someone you find attractive, and it's mutual. 

The French have a saying that someone is always kissing and the other being kissed . . . Whether my experience is typical, I can't say, but very few of any relationships I've had or witnessed were really symmetrical. Such is real life, I think.

The French also eat cheese and bread and never get fat, drink wine copiously to no ill effect, and raise their bebes sooo much better than Americans do that it's a blessing they have their natural sense of style to take comfort in or else they'd be horrified by having to share a globe with us. Or so the U.S. bestseller lists say. 

I think that line is depressing.

I am a stepparent to two boys who were 2 and 4 when I entered their lives. There were many days where I wish they would just stay with their other parent so my spouse and I could be alone together. And it is very different raising someone else's kids than your forward several years and we have a child together and I can't wait for our older kids to come home. My child (their half brother) LOVES them and they are such a help. They provide the younger kid all of the attention he needs and this gives me and my spouse such a break. Don't be so quick to get rid of your wife's siblings. They need you and may end up helping you when its all said and done.

One of the Haxvilleans posted that you're annoyed by off-topic comments on your columns. True?

Annoyed only if OT comments are not marked OT. I think it's great that there's a community, and want it to remain. That community needs to be mindful of the people there for the original purpose of the comments, of course, and not make it hard for them to follow the topic of the day. Teddy checks periodically, and I check infrequently; it seems that stuff slips through mostly by accident vs disregard, and that's fine by me. I hear complaints of cliqueyness sometimes, which I hope aren't justified; that's completely counter to the spirit of what I do.

The one thing I have requested is for the OT-filtering option to be more clearly marked because I still hear from people who don't realize it's there. I also noticed a lot of regular commenters made suggestions for improving the filter, which is great. You guys are experts in the nuances of the system and I'm grateful that you offer thoughtful ideas when asked.

What has helped me was realizing that the people in my life were used to guilt-tripping me all the time, because it worked! You are not just changing your habits, you are changing theirs. It is difficult to do, but you will be happier in the long run, and everyone, not just you will adjust! Hang in there!

As a citizen of Washington, D.C., I witness a lot of protests just going about my day. I often bristle when I see young children holding signs (no matter the cause) alongside their parents. As a new-ish parent (my kids are toddlers), I am a loss judgmental of parents than I used to be. It's a tough job. But I can't get comfortable with kids too young to have their own thoughts on an issue attending protests and rallies. Am I being too inflexible?

Huh. I like seeing kids out there, with caveats--mostly that the cause at hand is love-based vs. rage-based. Seeing twisted angry young faces is just disturbing.

But I like it as a way of showing kids how to use their voices, not as a way to teach that we believe in X cause so you do, too. There's important background teaching that has to go on at home to make sure kids are raised to find their own voices--as opposed to adopting the family line under threat of disapproval and estrangement.

My husband is a pilot and was gone for days at a time when our kids were babies. He too thought hiring help was the answer. It can give a mom a break, sure, but when the kids were sick in the middle of the night, or teething and up every couple of hours, or even during my billionth hour of playing with blocks, I wanted my husband, not hired help. He also missed out on enormous parts of the kids babyhood. Much more than he knows because if I told him it would hurt him terribly.

Aaaand that's it for today. I think I managed to post a fair representation of the comments, but you all were vocal today so I might have missed something.

Thanks as always for stopping by and making this chat better with your observations, and have a great weekend. 

I also didn't bring up the people affected by the shutdown this time because I did so extensively last week, but if anyone needs help/venting or has a good resource to post for people looking to help, I encourage you to go to my Facebook page, LINK, or to the comments under this chat to share it.

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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