Carolyn Hax Live: '#FreeBob'

Feb 22, 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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Starting 30 minutes late.

Hi all - Chat producer here. The chat is starting at 12:30 p.m. ET today. Please keep sending in questions.

Hello, everybody. Pardon the time change; something suddenly came up.

I really want to leave work today - as in now. Do I have your blessing to go home, set up my new printer, pack a box for consignment, and cook chicken breasts? I promise I'll read the transcript later.

Sounds like a plan.

It struck me that this is a question from a newlywed. This seems like it might be a product of moving from dating/boyfriend/girlfriend to married. Now it is really the two of you on one team, in perpetuity and it is a subtle change of perspective. You both have to make your space your own, together. No more "asking what I can do to help." You are not a guest.

Exactly. The following showed up in my inbox this morning. It's rare when I feel such rage that I have to walk it off, but I had to walk this off:

"This wife should be thankful for the husband’s offer to help.  Lists, not necessary.  My guess is the husband over time will see the things he usually helps with and do them.  This wife needs to cool it."

To continue Quote Week: "I think you had two '50's and moved right in to the '70's."



My childhood best friend was recently diagnosed with ALS. We are early 40s and she lives in Europe. I'll be traveling to visit her this summer as soon as I can travel after having a baby soon. How can I support her? Right now, we're facetiming and I'm offering her a place where she can be normal - we can talk about the ALS or we can complain about normal stuff. She has a supportive wife, who I'd also like to reach out to offer support, but I also feel like my first loyalty is to my friend of 30+ years.

I am so very sorry. Terrible news.

But, good news, your instincts seem pitch-perfect. To me at least. Stay in touch as you can, yes, get there when you can, yes, be the place she can be normal. It's all exactly what my mom taught me to do for her when she was sick.

The support you give your friend will help her wife by association. Everything you do takes a way something she has to do, and she will have to do a lot, so every break helps. Also make sure you stay in touch with her separately to see what she needs. The ALS Association is an excellent resource, even just as a source of information, since they're too far away to benefit from the direct patient support. 

My fiance and I are getting married in a few months. Everything is great, but we're trying to navigate a tricky situation with "Bob," one of my groomsmen-to-be. We've asked the bridal party to do the standard pre-wedding activities, namely to come into town the day before the wedding to attend the rehearsal/rehearsal dinner. This was mentioned when we invited each of our friends to be in the wedding party. However, after I sent around the actual schedule last week, Bob replied that he can't make it for rehearsal day, and will just come into town for the wedding. Normally I'd be okay with this, but ... Bob has a bit of a history with weddings. When serving as a groomsman for another friend, he was late and literally walked into the church and up to his spot next to the alter halfway through the wedding service. The other time he was a groomsman in our group of friends, he RSVP'd to the rehearsal/dinner, but then didn't show up until the end of dinner. So, on one hand fiance and I are grateful that Bob is giving us advance notice of his inability to fully participate, but we also view him as somewhat of a wildcard and are not sure we can trust him to be at the wedding on time, either. Fiance (rightfully!) wants no Bob drama on wedding day, and has suggested downgrading him to an usher or some other symbolic role that has no critical responsibilities. I'm actually okay with this, but I'm not exactly sure how to politely rescind a groomsman invitation. Help?

If you really want "no Bob drama on wedding day," then don't do anything at all. To demote him is to invite drama, no? All those pronouncements and assumptions and feelings. 

You say Bob "was late and literally walked into the church and up to his spot next to the altar halfway through the wedding service." Okay. That would be really dramatic ... if anyone reacted to it. If you all just ignored him and carried on with the service, then it would be good for little more than a few WT[H]? moments in the pews. And some stories later.

The rehearsal dinner no-show is even easier. You have the dinner. Bob misses it. You don't wonder where Bob is because this is what Bob does. 

This is possible because a groomsman *has* no critical responsibilities. (Not unless you assign them, which you won't, because duh.) You will be just as married if he shows up, doesn't show up, shows up mid-ceremony and walks right up to the altar as if that weren't even a little bit weird. 

You two included him in your wedding party, so you obviously care about Bob. So, assume Bob will Bob, and cross it off your list of things to worry about.

My boyfriend and I have been together for about a year and a half and are starting to make longer term plans for the future. For example, we are seriously considering signing a two-year lease (it makes a lot of financial sense where we want to live) and are thinking about getting engaged. But, we have never gotten into a fight or anything approaching a fight? Is that a red flag? Does that mean we are avoiding our problems and they could explode into a mega argument in the future? Or are we just good at conflict resolution? I'm definitely past the "honeymoon" stage with him, and know he's not perfect (because nobody is), but nothing he does really seems to bother me to the point where I'd start a major argument with him. I will note things have moved much faster with him than my previous relationships, and this has also been my longest enduring relationship. My prior relationships usually ended after around four months. We discussed a lot of big picture things early on (on the first date), including kids, lifestyles, where to live, how to travel, etc. But this no fighting thing has me concerned that I have a massive blindspot. My parents have been married for 35 years and have always fought constantly. My grandparents were married for 60 years and used to get in huge shouting matches, usually resulting in one of them storming off.

Disagreeing is normal and reconciling differences is necessary.

Fighting is what people do when they have no grasp of or skills at ^^, or when they do but they suffer a momentary loss of emotional control.

My parents have been married for 35 years and have always fought constantly.

This was a troubled marriage of people who did not know how to communicate their needs respectfully and how to meet those needs peacefully. I'm sorry.

My grandparents were married for 60 years and used to get in huge shouting matches, usually resulting in one of them storming off.

This was a troubled marriage of people who did not know how to communicate their needs respectfully and how to meet those needs peacefully. I'm sorry your parent grew up in that environment and absorbed that as normal.

So, no, there is no red flag just because you enjoy an absence of open conflict.

Now, obviously, if the only way a couple avoids fighting is to leave every need, want, contrary opinion or bad feeling unexpressed, then it's a red-flag cabaret. And it's always tricky just to say X form of tranquility is good, and Y form is bad--because if you're not looking for the right things, then you can easily mistake one for the other.

Example: "kids, lifestyles, where to live, how to travel, etc." You can agree on all of these things and be seriously emotionally incompatible, which means you could be happily not fighting about all of this stuff and still be stockpiling unresolved conflict.

You say, "nothing he does really seems to bother me to the point where I'd start a major argument with him," and that gives me pause. It's not about being okay-being okay-being okay-boom, starting a major argument. You don't just be off argument duty, and then "start."

Establishing a low-conflict relationship is an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process of emotional and literal honesty. If nothing bothers you, then you just keep doing what you're doing. If something he says, does, likes, etc. does bother you, then you say so. Anything, such as, "Hey, I was watching that--please turn it back on," or, "What's with the comments about people's weight?," or, "I know you want to talk about what happened, but it would help me to have an hour just to collect my thoughts first." 

Not angry, not yelling--just stating your position. 


Then, you look to the responses to see if your respectful statement of self (that's really what all of these small things amount to) is accepted and reciprocated by your partner. If he says, oops, sorry, and turns the channel back, then, yay. You know he's respectful and just slipped up. If he starts a conversation about weight and cruelty and bias, and is open to examining his reflexive responses, then, that's the sign of a thoughtful human, one who acts vs reacts. If he can respect your space, also a great sign.

You of course need to do all of these things of him: Listen to what he says, respect his needs, and act vs. react. The biggest gift couples can give each other is not yelling them out of their honesty. Snapping encourages withholding encourages staying in relationships that are a bad fit.

If you succeed, mutually, at all of these points, then that still doesn't mean you're right for each other. It just means you're both emotionally mature. 

But that emotional maturity will allow you both to be open about who you are, inside and out, which is how you can learn--the only way to learn, really--whether you have a good thing with someone. Whether your tranquility is one of acceptance.

In all seriousness, see "Gleason", a documentary about Steve Gleason who's been living with ALS for several years. Especially if you're not a football fan, it will teach you a lot about how real people live with the disease.

Gen X, baby. 

I'm sorry, but I think you missed the mark on this response by asking the couple to take on a wild card on a day with so many other logistics, just because that's how he 'is'. Bob saying he can't make it to the rehearsal is the right opportunity to say, 'we really need groomsmen to rehearse, so no hard feelings if you can't serve, but we'd love to have you participate on the day of if you'd like to be an usher'. Bob may even hate being a groomsman, and is wondering why people keep asking him to do it, and hoping someone would relieve him of his duties.

1. But they don't really "need" him to rehearse, unless it's a flash mob;

2. If Bob can't speak for himself, then it's not others' responsibility to speak for him. 

The foundation of my answer is that any one groomsman's (or bridesmaid's) presence or absence, logistically, Just Doesn't Matter, and I'll surrender that opinion when you pry it out of my dead, tendinitis-curled hands.

That sounds pretty ambitious for a hooky afternoon. My list would start with a nap.

See, I see naps as ambitious. I am DW, DW is me. 

Since going away to college, I’ve realized that the way I was raised wasn’t normal. In my house we often had nothing to eat, were ignored by my parents and lived in a messy chaotic home. My dad works long days, and my mom has a long commute so they’re both gone about 12 hours a day. They make pretty decent money but they spend most of it on their phones, cigarettes, and booze. They both might be functional alcoholics. I’m not sure. I’m back in school but my 13 yo brother and 12 yo sister are stuck in that situation. When I’m home, like over Christmas break, I was able to ensure they had good food to eat and also got some attention from me. When I tried to talk to my parents about this they got angry and told me that between bills, work, commuting, yardwork – they keep the outside of the house up enough not to get fined - life is hard and they need their distractions. But there's no reason for my sister and brother to have to make a box of cereal stretch for a week of breakfasts and lunches for both of them and then try to show up at a friend’s house at dinnertime hoping they’ll get fed. I don’t want to risk my brother and sister ending up in a foster home where they’ll probably be worse off but I hate knowing how neglected they are. What can I do? Should I report my own parents?

Oh, I'm sorry--this is so much for you to have gone through, much less take on now on your sibs' behalf.

You do need to intervene. But there are ways to do it that shift the responsibility to the people who are old enough, trained enough and equipped enough to handle it.

As much as it pains me to say this--they already have so much responsibility, and are so woefully underpaid to do it--the faculty and administrators at their school are in the best position to help your sibs. Call them. Call the principal, explain what's going on. I understand your fear of "a foster home where they’ll probably be worse off" (and schools are mandated reporters) but the whole point of child-protective services is to make sure children get proper care. They're not going to address a bad situation by putting them into one that's worse. The emphasis is on keeping children in their homes with their parents and making that arrangement work, and turning to foster care only when the home is deemed unsafe.

I expect this will sound naive to some, since of course any intervention runs the risk of making a bad situation worse. But that's not a good enough reason to let the neglect go unaddressed, and it's not a good enough reason for you to take this on singlehandedly.

If you're too hesitant about the consequences to make the call, call Childhelp instead, 1-800-4-A-CHILD. It's a nonprofit and it's staffed with people who can advise you, anonymously.

Take care, and yay for you for seeing this and caring so much for your sibs. They're lucky to have you.

Give Bob a break. It sounds like he's been asked to be a groomsman in multiple weddings, isn't good at it, and doesn't know how to say no. I have a friend who hasn't talked to me since her wedding because I couldn't "come into town" (ie take one of my limited vacation days at a new job) for her rehearsal dinner. Please let your friends be your friends whether they can make all the "standard pre-wedding activities" (standard according to who?)


Carolyn, I am back for a second time. I aim the guy who earlier this year was left by the girlfriend that compared me to her ex married boyfriend. Single life is not all that great either. I have met many nice women, so far they have all been turned off by my reluctance to explain why I am still single at the age of 30. They do not want to accept the answer "I have not found the right one yet" The reason I avoid going into detail is because that is how I found out about my ex and her dating a married man. She asked me early on about my relationship past and I told her then she straight out told me about her dating history. I was fine with it until the comparisons started being made. I would rather not know about the past of my future partner so I do not really want to divulge mine. Am I being paranoid? Just call me once burned twice shy

Please don't partner up with anyone until you can live comfortably with uncomfortable truths. Really. Life is messy.

I also strongly urge you not to date people who think you have to explain "why I am still single," at any age. Because, duh. You're single because you're not married to anyone. The very question presumes everyone wants to be married and being otherwise is something that needs to be fixed.

Even when the "why" is relevant, it's still part of a bigger picture that you both need to show to and understand about each other in due time. And if someone just blurts out "Why are you single" without thinking about it, in an attempt to make  conversation, okay--but then don't challenge a non-answer. Right? Move on. Ask a better question.

Now that I've digressed, I want to make sure my original point doesn't get lost: If the only way you can feel comfortable with someone is for both of you to hide who you really are, then you are not ready to be close to anyone. Not even close ... to being close.

And that's okay! There's no shame in taking whatever time you need to get yourself stronger inside. When you can trust yourself to handle whatever people throw at you--that's when you're ready to be an equal partner to intimacy.

It is, by the way, when single life feels great--because it's your show and you're listening to and responding effectively to your own wants and needs. That comfort with life on your own terms is what will motivate you to hold out for someone who really fits you well, and give you the courage to say no to and not settle for someone who seems to require one compromise after another. 

It's worth working and waiting for. Good luck.



It'll be impossible to make up for the emotional neglect, but the big sibling could also use a service like Amazon or Instacart to ensure there's some food being delivered to the kids once a week. If they set it up with a simple recurring order, perhaps the parents would be OK with a $50 / week charge that contained easy to cook staples and healthy snacks that don't require the parents to go to the store, cook, or do anything other than provide their credit card once to set up the order.

Oh, dear, I can't stop thinking about this. I agree with starting with the sibs' school's counseling office / administration. Might the older sib find resources and guidance at college? It sounds like concern about the situation is a real burden on the student, who needs to be able to focus on succeeding in school. I'm so sorry.

Instead of all this sturm und drang over whether Bob is going to ruin everything, why doesn't the OP just say, Bob we love you and want you to be there for as much as you can, but also, if you show up halfway through the ceremony, just take a seat in the back?

Sturm and Drang can slide down the pew to make room.

" it will teach you a lot about how real people live with the disease." No, it will show you how someone with a tremendous amount of resources lives with ALS. Unfortunately, most average people don't have access to the level of care that he has. Although maybe it's different in Europe.

I haven't seen it--I will have to check it out. Thank you for flagging this possibility.

This is one of the reasons I recommended the ALS Association. They lend equipment to those who can't afford it, which is a huge quality of life issue. 

The sibling should reach out to the school to get the siblings enrolled in a school feeding program. That may give the kids a breakfast and lunch 5 days per week. May require parents to sign off but worth a try.

Yes, thank you--I meant to say something about the free breakfast option at many schools, but got distracted.

Fighting is not a necessary part of marriage! I don't remember my parents ever fighting. My husband and I have been married for 35 years without a fight. Disagreements, yes; discussions, sometimes heated discussions, yes; but name-calling, shouting, insults, yelling, never.

Your college probably has counseling services available to students. Please make good use of those services. You're doing a wonderful thing by trying to take care of your siblings but you also need to take care of yourself.

I should caution, SO many of those counseling services are overwhelmed--but go anyway and get on someone's calendar. 

It may ease Big Sister's mind to know that Child Protective Services always attempts to place neglected children with relatives before sending them to the homes of unrelated foster parents. Her younger siblings may end up with grandparents or an aunt and uncle.

My wife and I didn’t fight at all... until our sons were born (twins). Then we had to learn how to work together when there is something that is critically important on which we disagree. It is possible, but takes hard work (and i particularly had to unlearn a few bad habits). We’re still married and the boys just became teenagers.

And good luck with that, my friend [manic laughter].

Sorry. Mine just turned 16.

Carolyn - you type faster than I can read. How much coffee do you drink before the chat?

It has taken [counts on fingers] almost 21 years, but someone actually, finally thinks I'm fast at this. Bless you and all you hold dear.

My stepson is turning 10 next month and instead of a party, he has asked to go on a family trip to this super fun close-ish destination with minigolf and racecars. In a perfect world, we would all go -- his mom and his dad and me and our 5- and 3-year-old boys (who would LOVE this place). But my husband's ex is footing the bill (for her son), and she hates my guts and says that my presence gives her anxiety. We tried family therapy -- she could not be in the same room with me, even in the presence of multiple professionals, without totally shutting down. (She still sees a therapist and so do we, but not together.) She resents me deeply and resents my children, though she is kind to them, and it is clear that our presence would ruin the birthday trip for her, and by extension maybe for my stepson. However, I don't want my kids to miss the trip, and I don't like the idea of being missing from my stepson's later memories of the celebration. As it stands, I think it's expected that by default I would not go, but I'm not sure what's right to do here. Thoughts?

Would you be willing to email me with a little more background, and I'll take this up next week?

Mainly: Is her anger at you rational, or irrational? Grounded in actual wrongs, or only ones she perceived? By you, by her ex?

Obviously that doesn't make her refusal to accept your presence okay; grownups who hate each other need to find a way to go to a kid's birthday party because it's better for the kids that way.

But, since we're already at a less-than-best-case scenario, I think this background could swing which bad choice is the best bad choice.

Or not--I still need to think about it. Thanks.

My husband and I have been married for 2 years. Because I had a partial scholarship and worked through college, I don’t have a lot of student loans. My husband’s parents paid for his first BA but refused to pay for his second when he changed careers so he has a lot of debt. I pay 80% of the bills because I make more money and so he can pay his student debt down but other than the joint bill paying account, we keep our money separate. He’s become extremely resentful of the fact that I have a lot more “fun money” than he does even though I do things to save where I can like pack my lunch and bring coffee from home. He says he didn’t get two degrees to brown bag it and drink coffee out of thermos. He wants us to put all our money into one account and just pay all of the bills, including his loans, from that and then split what's left over. I’m resisting because it just doesn’t seem fair to me. He says it shows I don’t consider our marriage to be a partnership. Is he right? Am I being greedy and petty?

I'm with your husband, with major caveats. Your insistence on splitting the finances and leaving him cash-strapped by his loans is not marriage, it's cohabiting.

I'm not going to call you "greedy and petty," though, unless you say you are. You also might have chosen this path in response to distrust. Do you think he's irresponsible, and that's why you're protecting what you see as yours? 

That's not good, either---but it does demand a different response.

You need to figure out why you don't see and won't treat your husband as your full partner. If you're just ("just") greedy/petty, then you need to apologize copiously, pool your resources and come up with a plan that allows for bills, debt repayment, savings and fair spending money. This can include some money in separate accounts--but the idea is for joint financial health, vs. "I;m fine and it's your fault you're still flailing."

If you're distrustful, then you need to dig into that without flinching and see why you're holding yourself back from a full commitment. I can't say "I didn’t get two degrees to brown bag it" is a good look for him, or anyone. As long as you're both brown-bagging it, then he has nothing to complain about except his own financial choice to assume so much debt. So there's a possibility you've sensed his entitlement and you are holding back accordingly.

So, short version: You sound as if you're half in this marriage. Please find out why you're not all in, and deal with that first.

(Obv. I'm not a lawyer so I won't pretend to know what the law would say belongs to whom. This is just about the decision-making.)


You printed my letter on Dec 29. I wrote to say that my wife wants to know why I'm angry at her when I'm not ~ I'm just distracted or frustrated or something ~ but she won't take "I'm not" for an answer. I read your answer and perused the article comments and I wanted to thank you and the 'nuts. Instead of "I'm not mad" I now try to explain what I am. Example: she said her mother and sisters want to stay for a day or two and I was quiet. She said "you're mad. I shouldn't have said yes." I said "no, I'm puzzled. I can't figure out where they're all going to stay" and an "am not / are too" moment turned into a discussion. I sometimes forget, but I'm trying to make this a habit! Since I started doing this, we have more discussions and, I think, fewer episodes of "you're mad" but time will tell. BTW, at least one commenter suggested I have "resting mad face" which made my day.

Great stuff, thanks.

Hi Carolyn! I'm going on a short trip with a friend this weekend. We've never traveled together before but I can already tell our vacation styles don't mesh. She's sending me lists of things to do that I have no interest in. We won't have time to do all of these things and I have a feeling that the one thing I'd like to do will get pushed out. Any advice for how to get through the weekend? Should I go with the flow and remind myself that I can do whatever I want on my solo trip next month? She is very persistent about traveling together and I expect her to start again as soon as we get back. Assuming this trip goes as I expect it to (I hope I'm wrong!), how do I break it to her gently that we won't be traveling together again?

I don't see any sign here that you've spoken up on your own behalf.

"Thanks for the lists. There's really only one thing I care about doing, and that's X. I'm happy to do that solo if it doesn't interest you.

"As for the rest of your suggestions, I'll say upfront that I don't like a busy schedule when I'm on vacation. I won't hold you back, of course! But if you want company, then maybe pick the top 2 things you want to do and I'll go along."

This is how you can be "wrong!" about how your trip goes--by stating plainly and without judgment what your preferences, expectations and limits are, and stick to them as if it's your prerogative to, because it is. It's not mean or stubborn either. Her persistence is not your destiny unless you choose to erase yourself.

Yikes, I was supposed to quit at 2:30. 

So, bye! See you next week. 

And thank you!

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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