Carolyn Hax Live: 'An all-inclusive resort called Haxland'

Mar 01, 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.

Note: The chat this week will start one hour earlier at 11 a.m. ET.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday. 

Thanks for stopping by early today. I will be on only an hour or so, and also will be off next Friday, all to accommodate kids' spring break.

Hi Carolyn, I'm the stepmom from a question you posted late in last week's chat. After some soul-searching, I'm adding more information here and by email as requested. My husband was still married to his wife when he and I fell in love. One of the many challenges to their marriage was secondary infertility. They wanted more children together but were having trouble having one. I got pregnant shortly after he left her and in a way she will always believe I lured him away with a working uterus, though that is not true (our first child was not planned). I know people who have dealt with infertility and I understand the feelings of inferiority and brokenness. I have been patient and always kind to keep the children feeling comfortable in our blended environment. I love my stepson to pieces and do not want to miss out on one of his milestone birthdays, but I am open to insight (just no evisceration please). Thanks!

Just the facts, ma'am: You miss the milestone birthday, then.

This is not an answer that applies in perpetuity; if I were advising the mother, I would be talking about ways she might start to ease into inevitable joint occasions, because there might someday be a wedding or a Nobel ceremony and a guest of honor's dad's by-then-longtime spouse is going to be there. Plus, she has great reasons related to her own health and peace of mind to release these feelings about you.

But the person who was kicked when she was down gets the last word for a long time on just about every else leading up to that.

Dear Carolyn, I have a petty problem stemming from a much larger relationship issue. I'm getting married in a few months and I've not bought a dress because the thought of doing so terrifies me. I'd love to buy a colorful dress at the local thrift store and call it a day, but my mom has visions of me in a beautiful white gown with my hair and make up done...I don't want to crush my mom's dream (my sister already did that when she failed to live up to my mom's wedding-look expectations). I feel like if I don't let my mom dress me up, she will be hurt about this and remind us of it for years. At the same time -- I'm just *not* comfortable with fancy bridal attire! How do I walk the line between my comfort and her expectations?

Your birth did not start the clock on obligations to fulfill your mother's dreams. You didn't choose to be had.

She is entitled to her dreams but not to the expectation of their fulfillment by other people. That's just not how things work. She does what she does, you do what you do, others do what they do, and we all work really hard to make the best of what we control and to love the people we love for who they are and how they've shaped us.  

That reads like brochure copy for an all-inclusive resort  called Haxland. Thirty-five local microbrews on tap, bottomless bowls of dark-chocolate-covered almonds, and a free "Live and let live" T-shirt for every guest.


Here's a deal you can offer your mom: "I would love to include you in my search for a dress. There is one condition: I will not wear a fancy white dress. I plan to wear something colorful and fun, maybe even from a thrift shop. If you're not okay with that, then I'll think of something else we can do together."

This assumes, of course, that there's even a sliver of a rational foundation to build on. If there's no such thing, then assure her you love her and want her to be part of [some other part of the wedding with less baggage], but the white dress thing isn't happening and you hope it isn't going to be a problem ... and then don't discuss it again.

"Remind us of it for years"--is there any more efficient way to destroy a relationship? 

If she does try to make  you pay eternally, then a clear statement of, "This is costing us dearly, Mom, in our feelings of closeness to you. Do you want to continue that over a dress, or would you rather drop it?"



I'm not even sure how to start this since I feel like a terrible person getting myself into this situation. I recently got engaged to a great guy - kind, responsible, outstanding human being. Because we are both 40 we immediately tried for a child, and, joy and surprise, I immediately got pregnant. I'm overjoyed about the baby. However, despite the fact our relationship is going smoothly, I'm not feeling any desire to actually...get married. In fact, I've been waking up dreaming about a former boyfriend, and wishing I was marrying him, and am feeling painful aware that, although I definitely love my fiance, I don't love love love him the way I know I'm capable of. He, I'm pretty sure, does love love love me. I'm feeling trapped. I'm missing laughter. I'm feeling terrible. I'm not sure how to proceed or even what questions to ask myself. What's best for the baby is probably to throw myself 110% into making this relationship as good as can be, but I'm also scared that we'll settle into a mediocre marriage where he'll sense I feel trapped, and that might be worse than blowing up our lives now. How do I untangle this?

This may only turn out to be 10 percent useful, but I'm going to suggest it for its potential to be 100 percent. 

Tell the truth about not wanting to go ahead with the wedding. Don't "blow up our lives," but instead just say you're feeling overwhelmed (since it's true!) and stressed (since it's true, that's what the dreams and inability to laugh are telling you)--and what you'd like most is to be free to give yourself over completely to your pregnancy, to sharing with him this overjoyed moment.

The 10 percent is that you will alleviate the pressure of impending nuptials you're not 100 percent behind. The (possible) 100 percent is that giving yourself room to breathe will (possibly) relax you, and a relaxed you will be open to the love you have for and from your fiance. He might not be the reason for your lack of intimate feelings, in other words, but instead the victim of it. At least buy yourself the time and space to find out.

.....really struck a nerve with me. I’m in my mid-30s and am recovering from anorexia and orthorexia. I’m right in the middle of the weight restoration phase - i.e. I’ve gained a bunch of weight (40lbs) because my body does not trust me not to starve it again. I have an amazing therapist and dietitian and an incredibly supportive husband, but this process is so difficult. I’m not saying the LW’s girlfriend is in this same situation, but I do want to take a moment to issue a PSA that I’ve learned through this recovery process: thin people aren’t necessarily healthy, “overweight” (by whose standards?) people aren’t necessarily UNhealthy (or inactive), and “overweight” people can still be underfed and undernourished. Whew. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

Yes, yes, thank you. I focused on the shame issue in the letter because I thought was the primary one, but you and others have rightly flagged that the conflation of weight and health is misleading and one of the enablers of shaming. 

My best to you as you work through this.

This is about that question from last week, which the OP followed up on. I agree with your answer, Carolyn, since they asked the child what he wanted and plans are apparently in the works. But for next time he wants a family outing, I wonder whether there is a way to deal with it so that "family" doesn't mean him, his mom, and his dad without the step(s). Clearly, if his mom is that wounded, there is zero point in forcing the stepmom and sibs on her for what is meant to be a happy occasion for the child. But I also don't think they have to let him have whatever he wants for his birthday. Generations of ponies have gone ungiven, after all. In between times, maybe his dad could work with him on realistic expectations. He and mom can do something special, and he and dad/stepmom/sibs can do something special separately.

"Generations of ponies have gone ungiven." If I were home, I would have scared the dogs. Brilliant.

Speaking of--I'm going to warm my hands for a minute (I'm chatting from an ice rink). Please feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

I am devastated. Husband has asked for a divorce and I haven’t been able to change his mind. I’ve been begging, crying and pleading with him to stay. Of course he says that’s making it worse. It’s also making me somewhat embarrassed for myself. Why not just let him go if he doesn’t want to be here? There’s no one else involved, but some bad choices on my end have led to his decision. I just don’t know what to do. I fly out to work this evening....I’m a flight attendant so I don’t even trust I can work without breaking down. Unfortunately, I can’t call out. I’ve just taken nearly 2 weeks off as it is. We’d planned a trip to HI next week, but he has said he’s not coming with me. I’m going on the trip, but it won’t be the same. I just want my life back. Just a few days ago things were fine and then now my whole life is upside down. I haven’t been eating or sleeping. Just an all around mess. How do people get through this?

In tiny tiny little increments of functioning to get through a conversation, an hour, a meal, a shift, a day, a week, a process.

Grief just sucks. There's no sunshine or rainbow. At one moment you are uneventfully being X, and the next moment the universe announces (via haymaker) that you're Y.

The way to the other side is to count on time to do most of the healing for you, and to contribute to that process what you can, when you can, as you can. Meaning, in your case: You need to contribute a shift at work. Okay. So do that--nothing else, just, clean, dressed, present, competent. Everything that isn't on that list gets pushed till after.

Then, after, what can you contribute? The list of helpful things is not fancy or difficult. Letting yourself cry is there; making yourself go to bed is, too. Getting out of bed when you need to or when it's healthy to. Having nutritious food. Taking a walk. Calling someone who helps you feel better. What will help you heal, and, when that's not available--when that requires more energy than you have--what will help you pass the time in a non-destructive, non-self-destructive way?

Tiny, tiny steps, and trust. Trust that humans go through this and humans get through this.

Flight, for what it's worth, and Hawaii, might help. I have found big views and landscapes to be healing when I've been in this kind of hell. There's something about feeling small relative to the world and history that puts things a little bit in perspective. 

Carolyn, I received some devastating news from my spouse this morning. My brother in law (spouse's brother) committed suicide. To make matters worse (as if they could be worse), I'm currently outside the country for work. My spouse (and in laws) says that the best form of support is for me to finish my work trip as planned while investigations happen (routine for such events) and then when I come back we can take it from there. The thing is how and when to tell our kids (13 and 9). We decided that it would be best that I get back (in 10 days) and then we tell them together so both parents are present. And that we say their uncle was sick (he was a vet and had been suffering PTSD) and omit suicide. But as I process the news, I'm second guessing our decision. Should we tell them now? Should we explain what suicide is? How do we deal with this? Where do we go from here? My spouse was not close to my brother in law and the last my kids saw him was two years ago. But we kept up with him and got regular news about him and his family. Please help.

I am so sorry. And furious that so many veterans are suffering and dying like this, even as everyone knows of the problems.

Please talk to a specialist about the best way to share this news with your children. I don't like the omission of suicide, either, but of course it's accurate that he was sick.

I don't have a resource at my fingertips, but the web sites for suicide hot lines have information for families as well. (And if anyone has a number handy, send it and I'll post, thanks.)

Hi Carolyn, I'm a nineteen year old who is debating whether or not it is the right call to end my first relationship. He's smart, kind, handsome, and as of late, distant. Because of the school we go to, we would continue to live about two hours apart for half the year for the next few years. I hear from him once a week via text unless I reach out more and ask him about his day. I feel like our connection has fizzled, and our conversations fall flat. I don't see it being strong enough to maintain a semi-distance relationship for a few years. I moved across the country for college, whereas he didn't. What I need these days to fight the ocassional loneliness is a friend, or someone I can talk to, not necessarily a boyfriend. I was fine without men up until four months ago, so it doesn't make sense to stay in a relationship that is falling flat, right? Thanks, New to This

Right. No analysis necessary beyond "our connection has fizzled, and our conversations fall flat." All part of the dating process.

Hi Carolyn, My oldest kiddo is turning 14 in a few weeks and asked me last night if he could go to a friend's cabin for the weekend (leaving on his actual birthday) and celebrate with that friend who also recently had a birthday, and a couple other friends (and the parents of other birthday kid). So he won't be home with us (me, his dad and his younger brother) for his birthday, save for the morning time before school. I know he really really really wants to do it and he loves his pals so much and I said 'sure!". But my face gave away my true feelings of heartache and I was very teary-eyed. In my rational mind I know this is normal and fine and of course he should go...but when I think of him going away that night/weekend for his bday celebration I am really sad. I want him to do what he wants and be with whom he wants, but, oh, it hurts. I am having a hard time faking my 'it's totally fine with me' vibe with him, and I don't want him to not do what he wants because he is worried his mommy will be sad. Any advice?

I want to write this softly but I can't feel my hands and I have to go, so please pretend this "Suck it up, Mommy" and this "Get used to it because from now on it's a long goodbye" are written with poignant and tender prose.

He loves you. He's healthy. That's what his message is to you with this birthday weekend: He's strong enough to want a life apart from you with friends, that's your victory as much as his. And, he cares about how you feel.

Good job, Mama. For real.

Now get in there and finish your good work over the next few years by rallying. If you weren't clear, tell him the trip sounds great, you're fine with it, you'll just miss him. Plan a birthday celly with the family for the weekend before or after. Hug him tightly when he's feeling affectionate and don't pout when he's not. Talk to your friends or fellow parents about the teary-eyes, so you're managing it on your time vs. his. 

And as he pulls away gradually and appropriately, keep an eye to ways you can, gradually and appropriately, start to redefine yourself as the parent role recedes.

I'll also plug here that pregnancy is existentially demanding. Your whole life shifts. You have to keep this other person in your life permanently, barring any extreme events. (See the step-mom's letter above!) You should follow Hax's advice, take the time to examine your feelings carefully, and work your way through all that upheaval and what it means for your life. Pregnancy is also weird, all your hormones shift around, and I didn't like how my husband smelled for nine months. Honest.

Ha. Thanks.

Okay--that's it for today and next Friday. Thanks everyone, thanks Teddy, and have a great weekend.

There is a support group called Survivors of Suicide ( that may be of help.

Two quick thoughts from someone who works in child life (please Google it--we help kids and families deal with stressful--mostly medical--situations): 1) The kids already know that something is going on based on hushed conversations, overheard random words, spouse spending more time on the phone, etc. They may be imagining things much worse--something happened to you, divorce, etc. Please don't wait 10 days to tell them. 2) They will eventually find out that the cause was suicide, so please don't hide this from them and stigmatize it further. Even young kids can handle this information. Mental illness is an illness, and it can be explained in those terms: When someone is depressed and has PTSD, their thinking is affected by the illness, and they think that death is the only way out.

My uncle killed himself when I was 7. I was told he was sick so I asked if he took any medicine and I was told that was the problem. I didn’t learn about the suicide itself and that bipolar runs in my family — indeed I am bipolar too- until I was 12 which I always felt was too late. I don’t have great advice on what to say—best to lean on the experts— but wanted to share how troubling it was not to know sooner.

When my son was 10, our pastor shot himself while away at a retreat center. I told him that pastor had died, but on the way home from the wake, I explained that Pastor had been noticeably depressed (by church members and officials), that he had killed himself, and that one reason the adults were so sad was that we didn't do anything to help him. Son replied, "Mom, were you in (town name)?" I said, "No." He replied, "Then you couldn't have stopped him." Kids understand more than we credit them; don't hide the truth from them.

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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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