Carolyn Hax Live: 'A race-to-nowhere culture'

Apr 05, 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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Oh hiiii.

The writer has described my life and that of everyone I know. We're all commuting, working, working out (well, lots of us), running errands etc. There's moments of bliss, periods of happiness and some plain old exhaustion. Respectfully, I think it's the human condition. Maybe not social media influencers and movie stars, but the rest of us.

Does it have to be, though? The "moments of bliss, periods of happiness and some plain old exhaustion" part sounds right, but the mental exhaustion, I'm not so sure that's something we should accept as normal and unavoidable.

Plus, as the utterly nauseating college-admissions scandal just laid bare, the movie stars and their social-media-influencer offspring apparently aren't immune to the psychological harm of living in a race-to-nowhere culture. They just have access to more productive crimes.

If it were up to me, everyone who wants to work full-time would be able to leave after 35-40 hours a week, and everyone who wanted to work part time could do so without fear of losing benefits, and everyone who wanted to be a stay-at-home or homemaker for others would have a dating/mating pool stocked with people who could support a partner and family on a run-of-the-mill income, and creatives and caregivers would be valued enough to be in that livable-income pool. 

Maybe a collective-sanity contagion will get that started.

Read Carolyn's column: Burned out? It’s perfectly fine to take a break.

Hi Carolyn, My 60-year-old dad, a widower of about three years, has started saying that he wants a girlfriend. Okay, sounds great; I would love for him to have companionship, no issues there. What bothers me is the way he talks about his reasons for wanting to find this hypothetical girlfriend. For example, "I need to find a girlfriend so I can have a decent meal for once." Why not make himself a decent meal, you ask? Apparently that's woman's work. Or, "This place will be a lot neater once I find my girlfriend." I never really thought of him as sexist in this way before, but I am really put off both by the implication that he is dating to find live-in help, and what that suggests about his marriage to my late mom. I have never doubted how much he loved Mom, but I really hate listening to him talk this way. I can ask him to stop it, and he will, but do I have a right to try to fight back against the underlying attitudes?

Why don't you just ask, "Okay, you want a cook and a housekeeper. What are you offering her in this deal?"

Curious to hear what he'd say.

Dear Carolyn, Our 30-year-old daughter came out as a lesbian in December. For my husband and me, the coming out was really just a formality; we've always known. But my husband's 80+ yo parents are shocked and very upset. They paid our daughter's (in-state) college tuition and have helped her with a few other financial difficulties along the way, and they have announced that if she is going to "live as a homosexual" (as opposed to either living celibate or dating men against her will), then she could consider their money on loan and they expect to be paid back. Our daughter is furious and on principle wants to repay them as they've asked, and then have nothing else to do with them. Doing so would create major financial hardship for her, and we believe it would be wrong of them to let her. We could repay them on her behalf, but would that be caving to tyranny? How do we handle this?

1. You don't handle this, your daughter does.

2. Why doesn't she pay them in installments? Monthly, by check, mailed, no further comment?

Not just to lessen the financial hardship, but also to give these grandparents a regular reminder of who's choosing to be honorable in this scenario as they deposit their granddaughter's checks.

They may not even be able to see that, but that's all the more reason for your daughter to buy her emotional freedom from them.

Carolyn - I feel like our culture is swimming in images that wealth equates happiness. Do you consider this to be true?

You mean that the message is true, right, not that it's true we're swimming in these images?

So, yeah. There's data here. Not that I'll be able to find it on the fly ... but I think it has been reliably established that below a certain threshold, the lack of money does produce *un*happiness, particularly in stress, poor health and health care, substandard living conditions, crumbling institutions, indifferent service and the other markers of poverty we all know too well.

However, once you get above that threshold, additional money does not keep adding happiness on a dollar-for-dollar scale. Once you have enough money to be comfortable, there are actually diminishing returns on what you get out of the extra money, to the point where anyone faced with a decision on a high-earning path vs. a lower earning one that offers, say, shorter hours, more creativity or a greater sense of purpose, ought to think very carefully about that choice. 

Also, as we all know but that bears mentioning anyway, you can be fabulously wealthy and get dumped, abused, betrayed, seriously ill, financially ruined, devastated by loss and grief. You can't buy out of the human condition.

Should I move for a guy? I currently am not satisfied with my job, unhappy with it even. If I could find something more exciting and interesting, do you think I should move to his respective city?. I am 23 and live in a much smaller city I think I have grown out of. I have a fear of potentially derailing my career or later regretting the decision.

Don't move for a guy. Do move for a better job, city, climate, culture, growth opportunity, fit.

Hi Carolyn, My 30yo son and his wife are separated with plans to divorce. The story I was given in a nutshell is that she had not gotten over her ex-boyfriend and is now back together with him. I get it; life is messy, and they are young enough (and childless/propertyless enough) to start over without much trouble. My son is accomplished and handsome and will bounce back just fine. But he really loved this woman, and I hurt for him. My daughter-in-law just sent me a long email asking me to consider keeping maintaining a relationship with her after the divorce. We got along well together and in a way it would make sense, but I am finding that I just can't think nice thoughts about her right now. What is the most elegant and fair way to say that?

You don't have to say that. That's the most elegant option.

You do want to take a pass on the friendship, yes. Even if your son initiated the divorce, there wouldn't be much of an argument for maintaining a relationship with your son's ex. He's your person, she isn't, and there are no grandkids to keep you all in each other's lives. (Unless he and you were both all for it for some reason; none of this is one-size-fits-all.)

Add that to her likely seeking relief, at least in part, for her own conscience in securing your friendship, and you have a solid argument for opting out.

So, just say a version of that: "I'm fond of you and felt lucky to have you as a daughter-in-law, but I think the fairest gesture to [son] would be for me to focus on looking forward, not back.

"I understand life is messy, and do wish you the best."

Signature, out.


Hi Carolyn, We have a close circle of friends, mostly couples. One couple divorced suddenly and nastily about two years ago-- I never liked "Kelly" much so we were happy to keep "Jack" in the divorce. Most of the other couples in the group also ended up keeping Jack and distancing themselves from Kelly, due in part to who they were closer to, and in part due to where most of the nastiness in the divorce was coming from. We'll be attending a baby shower at the end of the month for another couple in our group. The mom-to-be is one of the few who remains close with Kelly, so she is sure to be there. We don't know if Jack was invited or not. Other couples will attend as well. I'm hoping to pretty much keep my distance from Kelly and occupy myself with seeing other friends. But if we do cross paths, I don't feel like being friendlier to her than I need to be to keep the baby shower stress-free. What are your thoughts on how to walk that line?

I think you're probably overthinking it. It's a party, so you need to be a good guest, which means polite to all and no scenes with anyone. That's your Kelly script. Polite. As you would be to anyone.

For what it's worth--and not to defend Kelly or defend nastiness of any kind in any context--being in the wrong situation and/or with the wrong person can bring out nastiness in people they wouldn't necessarily express otherwise. I mention this as a back-pocket thought you can keep handy for when you run across current and future Kellys and need justification for remaining courteous: It's possible what you witnessed was her cracking under pressure; it's possible she hated herself for it; it's possible she's in a better, kinder, more self-aware place now; and therefore it's possible that the righteous shunning you would rather lay down when you see her again would actually be misplaced.

Speaking of overthinking.

Turned out he was a skillful philanderer, and the "city" was more like a town with limited jobs, culture, and social life. I did learn what I was willing to tolerate, and that acquaintances can turn into loyal, wonderful friends. But it was horrible. Make sure you are moving for you, not for him. That's a recipe for disaster. And if you do move, make sure the lease is in your name, so you can kick him out.

Why is it that we accept this hamster-wheel lifestyle as normal? Seriously. No other country has this kind of mindset. As a country, there are significant increases in the number of suicides and people being treated for anxiety. I also read (I think in the WaPo) that we're having less sex. What would it take to change the terrible, negative spiral we're in?

I wish I knew, because I think about it a lot. And I agree it's not normal and not healthy, though I worry we're more likely to export our craziness to other countries than we are to learn sanity from everyone else.

I suppose, as with everything, the only answer is through individual choice, played out on a massive scale. It's really hard to be the one to opt out, though, when everyone around you is still opting in.

Just look at the straight-up money angle: You want to work less, great--but you have to find a way to support your self on less work, and if every household around you is two-or-more full-time-income supported, you're going to have housing prices that reflect that buying power. So you kind of need everyone to pull back to make the same standard of living affordable to those who work less, or you need to relocate to where living costs are lower ... but then wages tend to get lower there, too. Thus the need for collective revaluing of values.

Think about it with schooling, too, and childrearing, since I brought up the college-bribe thing. Kids whose parents are equipped to "optimize" them and their childhoods are miserable and pressured and stressed. Are people ready to encourage their kids to pursue their bliss vs. ace tests? Going against societal currents is difficult and scary for people.


I think it's entirely possible that he's just trying to joke about things so that she, the daughter, won't get upset that he's dating someone new.

Huh. Sounds promising, thanks--I hope she asks that, point-blank.

Just another suggestion -- if she does pay them back in installments, I'd set up a separate checking account in case they don't cash the checks. That way her real bank account won't be a constant tally of money she doesn't have.

Wicket smaht. 

The relationship was very new, his city was cool and offered lots of opportunities in my field, I didn't like my job. I figured I would move, see if it worked with him, and if it didn't, at least I was in a big city with lots of interesting people. Fifteen years later, I'm still here, we're married, and our son just started walking.

Carolyn - I have always thought I wanted to have a family one day, and I think I still do. I love my husband and I love the idea of making people that have a little bit of both of us. But at 26 when I think about babies all I can envision is uncomfortable pregnancy, painful childbirth, and how kids would totally cramp my lifestyle and bank account. Will my perspective on this naturally change?

Yes! Or no.

I have no idea whether your perspective will change. And for what it's worth, I am deeply suspicious of the whole "You will magically want to reproduce someday because female" mind set. We are no less complicated on this than we are on everything else.

But I can try to tease it apart for you a little.

Opting out of kids because 9-ish months will be uncomfortable (some people feel great, btw--I did) and one or two days will be excruciating seems awfully shortsighted. So I will presumptuously dismiss that concern for you right here.

That kids will totally cramp your lifestyle and bank account is maybe understating it. They will empty your bank account and rewrite your whole lifestyle.

But, for some people, that's great--that's what they're happy to spend their money on and life with kids is their idea of fun. For others, not so much. 

There are (at least) two other things you don't mention that have to factor in if you want to make an informed decision. First, the pregnancy/pain thing isn't the real physical issue. More important is the lasting effect. Pregnancy changes a body, and can really do a number on it, in ways that don't always improve with time. It can age you, rearrange you, widen you, stretch you out in places you don't want stretched, mess with your back, even change what you like to eat.  

Second, the lifestyle change isn't the biggest change to your life. It's a phenomenon often referred to as having "your heart outside your body," meaning, you have a constant love and concern and fear and responsibility for and attachment to someone not you.


This means you sleep less; worry more; face more challenges that would otherwise never occur to you; face criticism more, since we can't seem to stop judging each other (I laughed a little too hard at "Bad Moms"); feel gutted more by more failures and disappointment, since you don't just feel your own, but your kids'. 

Non parents have all of these weights and feelings, of course--the issue is the "more." And when you're a parent, you're on the hook for it all, at least in the early years and arguably for life in some ways. You're where the buck stops on ev-ry-thing. 

So, if you're not sure, don't.

And if you stay unsure, stay don't.

But do talk to your husband about these thoughts you're having. It's not fair to present yourself as one thing and then not mention it when you're possibly transforming into another.

I always knew my sister was my dad’s favorite. He always made time to show up at her cheerleading competitions but never to my soccer games. Not once. Then there was the daddy-daughter dances at our high school. My sister and dad loved them so much and I couldn't wait until it was my turn. My dad travels almost every weekend for work, so the fact that he'd stay home and go to the dances was really important, especially since we didn't get a lot of his time with him. When my turn came my dad didn't decline weekend work for me, not even my senior year, after he promised he'd make it. I know it sounds stupid but that really broke my heart. At my sister’s wedding my dad gave a toast about how much he loved her, how she was his “special little girl” who he loved so much that he actually turned down work to go to dances with her. I was sitting at the table with them as a bridesmaid and I had to force myself not to cry. Now I’m getting married and there’s no way I want him walking me down the aisle, having a special dance with me or giving a toast. I told my mom so she could be the one to tell him and she is begging me to reconsider, saying I’m being petty, and making a spectacle of myself. Am I? I just can’t see letting him take that role just so people won’t talk and he won’t feel bad. He never cared if I felt bad. My fiancé and I just want it to be a happy day for us and we're paying for it all ourselves, unlike my sister. Since of course now that they're closer to retirement they have no money for my wedding like they did for hers. Whatever. I’m not asking someone else to fill in for him, just eliminating those things entirely. Should I follow through with our plan or not?

Oh gosh yes. Do your wedding however you want.

" I’m being petty, and making a spectacle of myself"?

Your *mother* said that to you?!

Not only is that appalling in its own right, but it is also world-class enabling of the emotional abuse your father dumped on you *on her watch* for your entire childhood. 

She can tell you not to be petty, but she couldn't tell your dad he might want to consider actually taking a weekend off for his other daughter's dance? His cruel and selfish choices are obvious; hers are insidious.

There are three ... no, now it's up to five ... things I wish for you with my whole heart:

1. The strength to tell your dad yourself that you won't be doing the traditional father-daughter stuff at your wedding;

2. A beautiful wedding, as you envision it and true to your heart;

3. A long, loving, supportive marriage to someone who values you for who you are;

4. A gifted and compassionate therapist for you to call upon when the weight of your family history feels heavier than you can manage;

5. A get-out-of-guilt-free card for any distancing from your family hereafter that you deem appropriate.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. I think it's good you're paying for the wedding yourself. No blood money.


Dear Carolyn, I am maid of honor in my close friend’s wedding. I planned a bachelorette party downtown with the three other bridesmaids and four friends of the bride. I rented two connecting hotel rooms, made dinner reservations, and planned some fun bars to go to. The next morning we were going to have brunch. The bride was excited about it. We planned it together. Then the bride’s step-mother started sending me messages that she and the bride’s sister really want to be included. The bride’s mother isn’t invited to any bachelorette party events, but is going to the shower. I told the step-mother this, and she said that her daughter (age 15) really wants to attend and since they are paying for the wedding she doesn’t think they should be excluded from any wedding events. I asked her if she wanted to come just to dinner or just to brunch the next day, and she was really put out by this suggestion. If I invite her and her daughter, we couldn’t go out to the bars after dinner. I would also feel obligated to invite the bride’s mother. There is nothing against them, but that just changes the entire event. I already planned a shower where all family members are present. From my conversations with her step-mother, I think she is put out with her daughter not in the bridal party but still paying for the wedding. I asked the bride what she wants me to do and she just got really upset and said she doesn’t want anybody mad. I really want to help her, but I feel thrown in the middle of a family conflict. What should I do?

This is a bachelorette party, not a teenage-girl's-and-bride's-moms' party, for fox's sake.

So say that, nicely of course. Hold the line. Technically it's to the point where the bride ought to step in and tell her stepmother to back off, but she's not doing it, so do it for her. I know it's awkward, but think about it: Do you really need the stepmother to like you?

It's a good chance to work on your diplomatic skills, too. "I'm happy to work with you on other events, but this one is at a bar and so we can't bring someone underage. Thank you for understanding." No further communication on this topic. It can help to have a deflection ready, such as: "Maid of honor, volunteer, and this is above my pay grade."

So, ah, good luck!

I remember feeling the same way at your age. People kept telling me: "Just wait! When you turn 30 your ovaries are going to start CRAVING children." I kept waiting for that feeling, and it never came. I thought that meant I didn't want children. I ended up meeting a man who definitely wanted kids, and so even though I was unsure, I went for it. For me, it was hard to be "sure" or certain about something with so many variables. In addition, the easily understood facts about having & raising kids are the daunting ones that you mention. The unknown ones like the love and joy are less tangible.

Yes, thanks, very true on both counts--that you can want children and be happy to have had them even if you don't have a craving, and that the love and joy with children are less tangible.

However, I do think the PR engine for having kids and for the love and joy part is going strong 24-7, so I'm just trying to offer balance.

As you were, of course. Funny that we can have such different perceptions of the part that's obvious and the part that needs to be said.

I did it when I was around 22. It went terribly wrong almost immediately and I still look at it as one of the best things I ever did. The experience of recovering from a bad relationship in a place that was far different from where I grew up and building a life on my own was invaluable. I can't say I knew what I was getting into, but I can say I don't regret it for a minute.

It turned out he was a lunatic. I'm still here, went to grad school, am gainfully employed, married to my husband for 10 years, and our kids our in elementary school. Go for it, but maintain your own identity. Find a job, make some friends, and have your own place.

I moved for my now-husband too. Even when things do work out with the relationship, it can plant a little seed of resentment. You never want to feel like you are starting off a relationship on a footing where one person makes more sacrifices/changes themselves too much for the other person.

I wasn't paying that close attention--any stories of guy moving for girl? Or guy?

I'm worried my girlfriend is developing some kind of martyr complex, or already has one. For the past couple years, she has been increasingly over-extending herself, and it's making her miserable. She goes above and beyond at work, then volunteers for extra duties, and she routinely gives up whole evenings and entire weekends to help relatives and friends with their own problems. All of this would be fine, except it's stressing her out. Most of our conversations anymore are her complaining about things/people in her life, how tired she is, and how there isn't enough time. Often, she breaks down crying. I've suggested she slow down and take care of herself first, but she never does. For some reason, she's extremely vulnerable to guilt-tripping from friends/family. She worries they'll get mad if she doesn't do enough for them, so it just continues. I put on a brave face to support her, but I worry all the time, to the point where I can't focus at work. I don't want to break up with her, but now I'm becoming miserable. I feel like I've been conscripted as her pseudo-therapist. I've run out of things to say and do to comfort her. It's exhausting and not how I want to live. Is there any way I can explain this without making her feel worse? I'm afraid she'll interpret whatever I say as me being mad at her, which would only stress her out more. Thanks Carolyn.

Sigh. I'm sorry. You are in over your head.

As is she, of course. 

Her low self esteem jumps out of your question. She is frenzied with efforts to compensate for what she sees as her shortcomings, as if she can only justify taking up the earth-space she occupies by generating good works. Or what she thinks others would see as good works.

It's just layers and layers of doubts and cover-ups of doubts and cover-ups of the cover-ups.

She does crave and also deserve some comfort, and I'm glad you have tried to give her that, but comfort is not a solution to the problem. She needs to see her own worth, beauty, gifts.

I think therapy is the only option that makes sense at this point. Suggested by you, since you're the one asking, as an expression of concern for her health given how exhausted and sad she is, and how little you've been able to help her. 

Say explicitly that you care about her and want to help her but are not equipped to. 

Show her this Q and A if you think it would help her see that you're not mad at her, you're worried and, again, in over your head.

Stepmom may be paying for the wedding, but she's not paying for this party. Take one for your friend and tell stepmom it won't work if they come. Letting her be mad at you and not at your friend would be a great wedding present to her.

And environmentally sound! No packaging.

My husband and I have a ninth-month old baby, and in my husband's family we also have a 2.5 and 1.5 old niece and nephew. My MIL "Rachel" is a tough person to handle at times. I am not a doctor and am not diagnosing her, but I am a teacher who has worked with differently-abled kids, and I strongly believe that if Rachel was born today, she would be diagnosed with Asperger's/ASD. I haven't shared this opinion but it helps me give context to her rigidity in plans and overlooking of social cues. My issue is that Rachel says that she loves her grandkids, but does not really make the effort in connecting with them. It really hurts for my husband and siblings-in-law. Outside of my SIL in New York City, everyone lives within an hour of each other in the DC area. As an example, we spent the day in DC at their house, and when the Patriots game came on Rachel eagerly got out her crossword puzzle and watched the game.... while I sat on the couch with my daughter and was ignored for a few hours. My FIL is a sweet guy but extremely passive when it comes to Rachel and she calls the shots on their schedule. This came to a head this past weekend when everyone was together for a wedding, and my SIL asked Rachel to pick a weekend or week to visit them in New York. Rachel's first response was "Well I have a lot of baseball games this summer.." and SIL's face just collapsed and it seemed like she was about to cry. I'd like to talk with my FIL and say gently that it would mean a lot to everyone if they more actively sought out grandkid time instead of us constantly asking them to be involved. I don't want to make things worse, but it seems like open and honest conversation with my in-laws doesn't often happen. Do you have any suggestions?

Sounds like you'd be talking to the wrong people. Rachel will be Rachel, and FIL is FIL. 

So why not talk to the people who are on a hurt-feelings renewal plan every time Rachel lets them down just by being who she is? You don't need to get into your hunch about Rachel's wiring, though you could present it responsibly as a framework. For example, say to your husband or SIL: "I see you getting upset when Rachel does X, and I found a way to deal with X that really helps me--are you interested?" And if they are, then you say you use the strategies you've developed when working with kids who have conditions that interfere with their ability to read social cues. Then describe said strategies. And follow with, "It just may be that you're asking of Rachel something she isn't wired to give."

When someone's social and emotional limitations are at the heart of the problem, it makes sense to address the problem through the people with some social agility. New, realistic expectations of Rachel could change everything.


Thought I was in love. Found a job and moved in. Relationship lasted three months but at the new job I met, fell in love, and married the woman I just celebrated 30 years with. So, win for me!

My husband moved for me, 20 years ago now. Two kids. Normal ups and downs, but almost entirely ups. Wouldn't change anything:)

My husband moved overseas for me. He definitely had his own plans, place, etc., though - we didn't even live in the same town initially, but we were suddenly within driving distance. We kept dating for several years, he eventually moved to my town, we eventually moved in together and have now been married 16 years.

My now-husband moved across the country with me when I started law school. We got engaged shortly before the move. He left his job, family, etc. During my second week of school, Lehman Bros. collapsed, the economy went into a tailspin, the legal market cratered, and he couldn't find a job for nearly a year. He then moved back to the other side of the country when a job opportunity arose (same coast where we started but different city), and I moved to be with him! 10 years later: Married, one adorable child with another on the way, both gainfully employed, and perfectly happy.

There you go--the double move.

Hey Carolyn, in the question last week where no sibs showed up for the son's wedding, you suggested the husband talk to the sibs. But it was actually the writer's sibs, so she/he (the writer) should talk to them right? I'm not asking just to be pedantic - I'm actually curious if you thought the level of frustration of the writer suggested that her husband talk to her sibs?

No, I made a mistake then--I mean that the one with the sibs talks to the sibs. Sorry about that.

As a currently-pregnant mom of a 13 month old, I couldn't agree more with you that kids will completely change everything. But as much as pretty much all of pregnancy and much of child-rearing sounds AWFUL on paper, it ROCKS in reality. Or at least it does for me. There's nothing I love more than hanging out with my kiddo, whereas before, I was not at all a baby person. Having kids changes who you are on a fundamental level. If you can open your heart to it, it can be by far the best thing to ever happen to you. But if you're not ready for that kind of radical change, better to wait until/unless you are.

Contracts 101: You can change the terms of a contract after the fact! These grandparents did not stipulate adherence heterosexual orientation as part of giving her the money. They can't change the original contract now!

I know, but they can be unwelcome parts of her life, and remedied accordingly.

If funds are tight, or if scheduling therapy during work hours is difficult to do with frequency, she might consider Al-Anon, even if there is no active addict in her life. I went to both therapy and Al-Anon (at my therapist's suggestion), and they helped me with taking on other people's problems. but Al-Anon also gave me a wider range of people to talk things through with, as well as the realization of how common these problems and behaviors are.

Thanks. I got tsked once for recommending Al-anon for non Al- support, but I agree that it's got a lot to offer on general boundary issues, thanks.

As an old millennial, something about naming this trade-off really hits me hard. The implicit messaging I grew up with was that pursuing my bliss would somehow inherently lead to my acing the test. Because... reasons? With how overscheduled teens and upwardly-mobile college students seem to be today, I suspect it’s gotten worse. The real struggle, it seems to me, is to decouple work satisfaction from life satisfaction. The whole idea of “achievement” needs to be rearranged.

This is totally untrue. There are plenty of other countries with cultures of overwork, maybe most notably Japan. Let's not pretend this is just an American problem. Hopefully we can all develop solutions together.

Carolyn, don’t dismiss the pregnancy and labor health concerns. Maternal mortality is rising in this country. Women’s pain, questions, and fears are routinely dismissed. Pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition for even the healthiest. Squeamish, if you become pregnant, find healthcare providers who will be your advocates. Your life may depend on it.

Daughter writing a check to the grands is, essentially, calling their bluff...they may rethink what they've done. So, another suggestion...LW seems to indicate she and her spouse could afford to repay the money on daughter's behalf. Why not offer to loan daughter all/part of the funds, let daughter pay off the grands and then pay back LW & spouse over time? LW can either accept the installments, or, if they wish, save it and give it back to the daughter down the road.

Rather than making a snarky remark, it would be better to simply be honest and say the comments are hurtful and you hope your mom was more than a servant to him. If nothing else, that could spur a good conversation in which he'd learn the impact of his words, and you'd learn where he's really coming from.

This was 2 years ago, right? Be pleasant to Kelly at the shower. Jack’s and Kelly’s divorce wasn’t your business two years ago and it’s not your business now.

Since when is it ok to turn a gift into a loan?

When it's made by jackholes.

I always thought that too because I was desperate to get financial independence from my parents. Then my sib married into an extremely wealthy family. Sib's kids have only known an extremely wealthy, comfortable life. You know what? They're not even 18 yet and all of them are miserable. No present is good enough. They've been all over the world and had the fanciest experiences so whenever someone tries to give them something, it's never valuable or meaningful. They have piles and piles of stuff, but they're always looking for the next best thing. They're always talking about what they don't have and what their siblings do and how life isn't fair. To be sure, they have so much money, they'll never know the pain of poverty, but they'll never be happy with anything or anyone either.

I know that principle is important, but has she thought about the grandparents' realistic chances of collecting? One cannot retroactively change a gift to a loan. And if she began installments, and the grandparents die before it's paid off, would that amount to an acknowledgment of debt, making her responsible to their estate for the balance?

Oh blah. Call lawyer before writing check: check.

Read "The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible." Life is arguably better today than at any time in history. Wanna get off the hamster wheel? Stop whining and do it.

Honestly, you're going to run into these situations more often than you'd like as you get older and life happens. She's an old acquaintance. Say hi. Ask what's new. Go get a drink.

Wow, haven't you made a major error here is endorsing the idea that grandparents who gave their granddaughter money for college and other things can RETROACTIVELY announce that these were loans, because they now think there is something wrong with her sexual orientation? Unless there was an explicit "this is a gift unless I disapprove of something you do" clause, the grandparents should just take a hike, no?

In case it wasn't clear, I don't see it as money owed the grandparents, I see it as freedom from them that the daughter owes herself. If she so chooses. If she doesn't want to pay them back, then, that's great too.

Dear Carolyn, I was curious about something you said above, not in a mommy wars way, but just genuinely curious: I do not have the same warm fuzzy feelings about the desirability of homemaking/SAH life, not because I want to flame anyone and not because I love burnout, but because so very many people I have seen have made this choice and then suffered the ramifications when their plan did not work out. Sure, part-time work, fine, keep a resume. But given how many letters you get from folks--and disproportionately women-- who are struggling with the inability to support themselves and often their kids, due to spousal death, illness, divorce, what have you, I'm really curious about your statement of support. Seems to me like all of us need to walk around assuming that we gotta have a plan B ready to launch in modern life.

I support choice. For men or women. Not with warm fuzzies, just with simple acknowledgment of these choices as valid. Some people are at their best as homemakers. There's social benefit, too--ask school administrators and community leaders and nonprofits anywhere how much they rely on the people who don't work for pay.

Is there a financial risk to it, yes--as there is with many other things. There's risk to choosing a path just for $, too, the risk of misery. So of course in choosing the path, all potential pitfalls should be considered and plan-B'd for. Just as with all other paths in life.

I woke in a sad, cranky mood -- stuck grief after putting my dog down. This *very* long chat has been just the company to help me through my morning. <3

Aw geez, sorry about your buddy.


I feel like a lot of this discussion (burned out, and kids/no kids in particular) is really about these questions: Who am I? What is important to me? In some ways these questions are easy, but in other ways it can be really really hard to get to the answers because there are so many layers of what we've been taught and what we think we're supposed to think and want. I went through the process and answering those questions -- for the first time -- in my late 20s and was kind of surprised. Some of my answers surprised me -- like, it's really important to me that I find time for live theater because it's nourishing for me. And some of my answers were hard to accept! As a weird example, I was living near one of the world's best museums of ancient Egyptian artifacts and it was really, really hard for me to give myself permission to just. not. care. about ancient Egypt. Anyway, I guess I'm saying that I think that the more you allow yourself to define yourself, the easier it can be to opt out of some things, because by doing that, you're actually opting in to what's most important to you.

This is so great.


I seriously have to go now though. Bye! Thanks for stopping by.  Have a great weekend, 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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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