Carolyn Hax Live (August 23)

Aug 23, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answers questions and responds to comments about a father caught in the middle, potluck weddings, a son's childcare demands and more. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday. I am off next Friday, and the wedding hoot will be on Sept. 6.

A couple of weeks ago I broke up with my boyfriend, “Steve”. We’d been together for 5 years, living together for over 2. I’d originally told him that I saw moving in as a step towards marriage and then I outright asked him three times. Each time Steve said that us getting engaged was a “goal” for him but he wasn’t ready yet and didn’t know when he would be. My younger sister, “Emma” got engaged this summer and it made me realize that I want what she has – a man who enthusiastically wants to marry her and raise children with her. After she got engaged, Emma moved out of the house she shared with my other sister so it opened up an opportunity for me to make a swift, clean break. I saw no reason to propose to Steve yet again and issuing an ultimatum was ugly IMO, so one Friday I broke up with him and took my dog and the few things that were 100% mine and moved out. To my surprise, Steve now wants to get married, says he can’t stand to lose me, misses the life we had together but I don’t know. I love him, he’s a good, faithful, charming man but I didn’t move out to force him to marry me. It’s clear that at age 35 marriage and children aren’t a priority to him or he’d have said yes to me before. A reluctant husband and father for my children is the last thing I want. Steve says that I’m throwing away everything we built together for some “fantasy man” who may not exist. I turn 31 in a few days and need to get going if I’m going to find a man who does very much want the same things I do. Am I making a mistake if I turn Steve away and go searching for someone else?

Someone who actually wants to marry you enough to think of it himself is not a "fantasy man." 

Steve, however, sounds like a jerk.

I'm sorry he lacked the emotional capacity to feel anything beyond his immediate comfort. 

If you think I'm being too tough on the guy, look again at his reaction. Where's the "I want you to be happy" line of thinking? That's the basis of a selfless, loving response.

You saw something in your sister's experience that made life-changing sense to you. Trust it, please. It might not turn out as you hope, that you fall in love with someone who feels the same about you--but even if it doesn't, then you'll still be living on your terms, doing what you feel you need to do--not agreeing with a guy who just told you his oh-all-right-if-you-insist proposal is the best you can do.

I know you normally handle more relationship advice, but what about life advice? Six years ago I suddenly lost feeling in my fingers and toes and had neuropathic pain that was debilitating and stopped me from working. After eight weeks we were able to figure out what the disease was and I mostly recovered. I still have pain/muscle weakness in my feet when I walk too much. I'm in my early 30s now but cannot go to the grocery store, or concerts, or museums because of how much walking they take and the amount of pain as a result. It has been suggested I use a wheelchair for some of these tasks but I feel like if I do it's a lie. I'm physically able to walk, it just results in pain, and thus I feel like a fake if I'm in a wheelchair. Flip side I avoid anything that results in walking and thus I've gotten mad at life for handing me these circumstances that keep me from doing normal things. I've asked my family/friends if I'm a fake if I use a wheelchair without NEEDING it but I feel like they are all partial and deal with the fallout of me walking too much (miserable, in pain, unable to do daily activities for the subsequent days/weeks) and so I'm writing to you. I think part of my issue is that I look able-bodied and so I worry about being judged, or getting sympathy that I don't feel like I deserve. I feel like a wheelchair should be reserved for those truly disabled. What's your opinion?

My opinion is that our tough-it-out, I'll-do-anything-to-avoid-being-judged culture has become a kind of collective insanity.

Use whatever medical devices you require to participate fully in life. The end.

I'm glad you're doing better. Now, please, just start *doing.*

I share a friendly co-parenting relationship with my 9 year-old daughter's father. It hasn't always been easy. We were in a new-ish relationship when I got pregnant, and he left only a few months after she was born. I dealt with a lot of feelings of anger and abandonment at the time, but he has since apologized, admitting he was overwhelmed and ashamed of his actions. I now consider him to be one of my closest friends. Recently, we've been spending more time together as a family, and I find myself developing feelings for him. I want to say something, but I'm worried it'll make things awkward between us if he doesn't reciprocate. How should I approach this? Should I tell my daughter's father I have a crush on him, or should I just take a step back and let things subside? I'll admit, a small part of me thinks he might feel the same way too, but I don't want to screw up the good co-parenting relationship we already have.

"I'm worried it'll make things awkward":

Yes, it might.

And if it does, then you push through the awkwardness to the other side. So many of us see awkwardness as a static, permanent thing, but people are built to become accustomed to virtually everything. Whatever is novel in our lives eventually becomes old, familiar, normal.

So you can tell your truth, possibly have some awkwardness, and then just keep going--keep holding up your end of your co-parenting arrangement, keep inviting him to things you typically invite him to, keep just living your half of a close friendship. Awkwardness is just the byproduct of an uncomfortable change--and this change like any other will wear into something familiar eventually. Trust that.

And, please, don't "step back and let ... subside" loving feelings that could, if reciprocated, enrich three lives beyond measure. This is so worth a try. Even speak the possibility of awkwardness out loud, to say you won't let it stand in the way of your friendship if he doesn't feel the same way. 

Good luck and send us an update, if you think to.

Carolyn, I know a number of people who are not interested in having children. This is not a problem and I don't want anyone to have kids that doesn't want them, nor do I think everyone needs to adore kids. But some of these people are so mean about kids--speaking about them like they are just there to be a drain on all the civilized, child-free adults--and I don't understand why this is considered acceptable. Children are *neurologically different* from adults. It's not any more OK to universally hate kids than it is to broadly dislike those with mental illness or special needs. So why do people seem to feel comfortable talking about kids this way? Any witty suggestions for how to shut this down? -Think of the children!

"They also there to grow into the doctors, nurses, pilots, drivers, auto workers,  farmers, chefs, wait staff, designers, builders, writers, artists, bankers, insurers, first-responders and attorneys, who will care for you, transport you, feed you, clothe and shelter you, inform and entertain you, and bail your butt out when we're all too old to do this ourselves. So may I suggest a little respect for them and the people who raise them." 

My family of origin is broken. My siblings and I were emotionally and physically abused as children. My parents would of course dispute the word “abuse.” They did the best they could, but they didn’t have good parenting/coping skills. Fast forward, decades. The “kids” all live far from a place we never call “home” and rarely visit. Sole surviving parent has a wide circle of friends but has become increasingly quirky and difficult to be around. As a result, elderly parent gloomily spent the last Most Important Holiday alone. I feel torn between: A) a sense of responsibility to ease another human’s pain by visiting during Important Holiday, and B) protecting myself from a person and place that causes me anxiety and crushes my sense of self. Choice A would mitigate my sense of guilt for not visiting; Choice B doesn’t. How does a healthy person make this decision?

I'm sorry you have to wrestle with this.

You owe nothing to your abuser.

You owe yourself compassion, patience, self-knowledge, and creativity in finding ways to be at peace.

If you think you need make a holiday overture to your parent in order to find peace, then do it. If you think that will cost you more peace than it gains you, then don't do it. That's the healthy person's reckoning.

For what it's worth, it sounds as if such an overture would be destabilizing for you. 

If you're not sure of the math--it is all or mostly projection, after all--then take a look at the reason you've even considered this. Your parent is pushing the emotional burden of a bad holiday onto others, and expecting others to fix his or her feelings. Isn't that just another iteration of the abuse? Healthy people don't do that. They handle the responsibility internally: "My MI Holiday was terrible. I need to make plans for the next one so I don't go through that again." That can include inviting others to visit, or hosting local friends, or making plans to travel somewhere interesting, or lining up volunteer gigs, or even just making the solo holiday purposeful by choosing the right movie marathon or show binge and laying in the proper supplies.

It's also healthy, or health-building, to ease another human being's pain, yes--but it doesn't have to be just this one human being. If, again, the cost for you is too high, then you can contribute pain relief to someone less emotionally problematic for you--call it a universal donation--and leave it to the universe to step in for your parent. Generosity for its own sake can be a compromise with yourself.

One of my best friends started seeing a woman after being alone for a long time and our whole group was so happy for him. She seemed great at first because is friendly and outgoing, is very thoughtful and giving of her time if anyone needs a favor. But we came to find out that is only with her friends. With strangers she is downright nasty – she ridicules how they talk, their appearance, their actions if they're slightly confused or make a mistake or ask what she conditioners to be a dumb question. And she makes a stream of mean comments even when the people can probably hear her. I want to talk to my friend about this because to me it’s a huge red flag but my boyfriend says I should stay out of it and our friend is not going to break up with a good-looking woman who treats him great just because she’s snarky. I think I owe it to him to at least try. Which of us is right?

Allow me to edit that for you:

"our friend is not going to break up with a good-looking woman who treats him great just because she’s not actually nice."

Worth running by your BF, just for giggles. 

Anyway. I don't think either of you is right. Instead, please respond in the moment to the nastiness. "I think it's offensive to ridicule the way people speak." Or, "I'm not comfortable with this." Or, "You do realize they can hear you, yes?" Or, "I doubt when you need help that you appreciate being called stupid." Call all of her spades a spade. It's the decent thing to do anyway, and it allows both the woman and your friend to adjust in real time.

Your friend's response to your objections, if needed or appropriate, can be an opening for you to talk to him about it further--and it can be your justification to stay out of it from here, since your point will have been made.

The human mind is incredible at rationalizing literally anything. It's really, really common for disabled people to think they're not disabled, or not disabled *enough*, even when the average sensible person would read their symptoms and come away with the understanding that yes, this person is experiencing something truly debilitating and is disabled. You're disabled and now, on top of that, your brain is lying to you about it. Debilitating pain is a disability. Being unable to walk through a grocery store without severe pain is a disability. Please take care of yourself and stop beating yourself up for not looking like Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol.

I am you. I have peripheral neuropathy and can't walk any distance. I have HC plates on my car and have to drive to the market across the street. Instead of a wheel chair, consider a mobility scooter. I have one I use when I travel. People don't "look at you funny" when you get off a scooter and walk short distances as they might if you use a wheelchair. Also, you have my deepest sympathy. People just don't understand that my LIFE is about my feet constantly feeling like I'm walking on burning sand if I have to wear shoes and walk on hard surfaces.

From the beginning of your letter ("I know this isn't the usual question...") you are doubting and diminishing yourself. You have enough physical pain and trauma as it is, please don't inflict this additional burden of having to excuse yourself for having human needs and emotions as well.

To Steve's ex: I did the math, and this is what I got: "he can’t stand to lose me, misses the life we had together" + "throwing away everything we built together for some 'fantasy man' who may not exist" = man who is telling you that (1) *his* comfort is what is important to him, (2) your qualms mean diddly-squat to him, and (3) you can't do better than him so you might as well settle.

Yep, that's how it looked to me.

"Each time Steve said that us getting engaged was a “goal” for him but he wasn’t ready yet and didn’t know when he would be." - This jumped out at me. Getting engaged isn't the goal - getting married is. Please trust your gut here. I think you did the right thing by moving out.

Carolyn, I get where you are coming from, but it’s not going to work. People who say things like this will counter that they won’t need these services or similar. For some reason, it is currently acceptable to treat children as a class in a way that is unacceptable for nearly any other group. I’ve made many attempts to discuss this rationally and failed each and every time. All I can say to the OP is: good luck.

They won't need food? You might need friends with more foresight.

I'd also like the child-raising people to quit bugging those of us who keep quiet about our reasons for not having children. The ones who continually harp on how selfish the child-free are and how we'll regret it when we're too old to have them. Your turn.

No. It's no one else's turn and this is not going to deteriorate into a carp-fest.

These are two different issues. The selfishness charge against non-parents is ludicrous and mean, as we've discussed many times here, but the impulse to see a valid complaint about the treatment of children as an opening to complain about parents? That's not a happy reflex to have, and certainly not one to feel gratified for indulging. Finger-pointing is not the inevitability you make it out to be.

This week, my husband lost his job. He out-earned me, but I make enough to cover the bills while he's out of work. He has a few really solid leads on other opportunities, we have items we're going to cut back on and savings if it takes a long time to get another full time position. Our overhead is low - no kids, no mortgage, no student loans. Basically, I can reason through it to myself and others that we're going to be fine, but this is really scary and stressful. He was a star employee and fired for a stupid mistake, none of his colleagues even realized that what happened was a fireable offense. There was no warning and it really killed him to be let go because he loved his job. I'm really proud of him because he had totally hit the ground running, he has a lot of solid leads and some gig work he can pick up. I know we're going to be okay, but the problem is that I don't feel that resilience 100% of the time, but I really can't talk to anyone about all the fear and uncertainty I'm feeling. I can't stand people's pity and I'm baffled by the judgements people can extrapolate from any crack in my bravest, this-is-fine face. If I am anything but positive and confident, I'm flooded with pity, unhelpful advice, and platitudes. For instance, my parents and in laws were screeching that we're destitute and can't pay rent next week, which we absolutely can, but now I can't express fear about how long his unemployment might be and our savings will last because I'm calming them down that we're going to be fine and not to give us money from their retirement accounts; I told my sister I was upset that he'd make a boneheaded mistake and then hear from my brother that we're on the brink of divorce, which is absurd; and I told a friend that it was such a shock because it happened to a rising star employee and she sends me reams of advice she's not qualified to give on pursuing legal action for wrongful termination. It feels like the only option if I want people to treat me normally is just to cheerfully tell people that we're absolutely a-okay! This is all for the best! It's so great to have him home to clean up and cook dinner! My husband is really the only one I can be honest with about the nagging sense of worry and how the only thing that would be more draining than pretending to be 100% resilient is dealing with everyone's pity, which he understands. He feels the same way but knows at least he can talk to me. When I tell him about the stress I'm feeling, he feels responsible because it's his fault I'm feeling that and that kills him. I don't want to see him in pain either, because I love him and I know he's doing his best to get back to work and remove that stress . I keep telling myself that it's temporary, that he's going to find something even better, that it will all be fine, but the truth is I don't know it will be. I'm exhausted and I'm not sure how to help myself.

Ugh. I have a feeling a lot of people have a version of your problem but can't put their finger on it quite so precisely as you just did.

Obviously the specifics will be different, but the sentiment is the same. Overwhelmed parents, for example, drawing unsolicited  parenting advice and divorce rumors and concerned clucking that they should(n't) have chosen stay-at-home parenting, etc. when they just want to say aaaaaaaagh every once in a while. Or frustrated DIYers getting told they never should have taken on such a big project. And endlessly on.

Some of it you're just going to have to write off, as you have--deciding this or that person is not worth confiding in. But i think you also need to choose a few people to at least try to "train." Spell out the problem, kindly: "I know you mean well, but right now getting advice/suggestions/warnings just means more emotional work for me. What I could really use is a sympathetic ear." And, because it's so spot on: "I know we're going to be okay, but the problem is that I don't feel that resilience 100% of the time, but I really can't talk to anyone about all the fear and uncertainty I'm feeling. I can't stand people's pity and I'm baffled by the judgments people can extrapolate from any crack in my bravest, this-is-fine face." 

If you can swing it financially, a good therapist can give you a place outside your marriage to unload without hassle, especially as you work to identify the people in your orbit who won't make things worse.

Oddly enough, people in tough spots often find it's a second-degree friend or relative, not a super-close one, who comes through with the steady support, patience and flexibility. I'm sure there's something to that, but the reason doesn't matter so much here as the notion itself of looking a little farther out for your best people for this moment. 

BTW, Ring Theory explains why it's a good idea to make these extra efforts to "dump out" your stress instead of dumping it in on your husband. LINK

And not going crazy is why it's a good idea not to keep the mask on. If that even needs to be said.

But the issues are related! Ask the OP, how do they come to hear these anti-child comments? Do childless bigots come up to her on the street and start raging about children? Or is possible that the OP asked someone “why don’t you have children” or “you should have children” or said “before I became a parent I didn’t know what love meant”? For the record I adore children and I have never in my life heard anyone, unbidden, go on a screed against children. So I don’t buy it.

The appropriate response to such knuckleheadery as “why don’t you have children” or “you should have children” or said “before I became a parent I didn’t know what love meant” is never, has never been, and will never be even more knuckleheadery in the form of showing contempt for children. 


Not having children you don’t want, and living the life you desire, or having children you don’t need, but want, and also living the life you desire? Answer: Neither! Doing what makes you happy is not being selfish, it’s being self aware. There’s nothing noble about having children, and there’s nothing noble about not having children. Why do people feel the need to beat each other up over wanting something different out of life?

When you find out: 

Proud DINK (dual income, no kid) here! I want to say to parents: KEEP IT UP! You're doing great! It's hard being a parent and raising passionate thoughtful, loving, judgy, compassionate, selfish, vulnerable, inquisitive, happy, energetic, quiet, (and whatever other qualities your kiddo(s) have!) tiny humans. So many people -- both childless and child-having -- know that and see that. It takes a village and we're ALL part of that village, whether we choose to have children or not. We're the village for children, tweens, early adults, middle-aged adults, and senior citizens. Our world is in serious need of more village people. And now I'm imagining us all dressed as The Village People.

Carolyn, This, to me, seems like a microcosm of everything going on politically. Someone makes a reasonable request/suggestion/complaint and the "other side" has their hackles so far up already that they lash out over a similar but not the same issue. If we can't agree to leave people's children/reproductive choices alone then how can we agree on the big issues like the economy, immigration, etc. Actually I won't shoot for agree but respectfully disagree. I urge all of us (myself included I'm no saint) to lower their dukes and try to see the human in everyone else.

But what about my rights to what-about!?!?!

This is great. Thank you.

And I was being selfish, but at the time, I was hurt, sad, and confused. Can we cut him a little slack and not assume he's a manipulative jerk?

[stands up] "I'm Steveacus!"

Fair enough, but the sympathetic version of the list in full is actually hurt, sad, confused and immature. Because feeling hurt is not an excuse to ignore the pain and real needs of the person you're professing to love.

As long as there's equal respect for people who DON'T have kids, which is where the root of this problem probably lies.

Again--no. No doubt you posted this before the other responses, but I'm using you (ahem) anyway to underscore this point:

If we're all going to wait around for respect to be a quid pro quo, and refuse to give it unless we see proof of delivery of ours, in exact equal quantity, exchanged on a bridge somewhere with the two sides all armed and ready to fire if someone on the other side so much as twitches--then we deserve no better than the polarized mess we're in.

If instead we do the brave thing and give any warranted respect just for the sake of it, without guarantee of anything in return, because showing it is as good for us as it is for everyone else, then we'll get somewhere.


Military veteran here. If you look around, you occasionally see parking spaces that just say "reserved for veterans." In my observation, rarely do veterans park in them because they always think there's someone "more veteran" or deserving than them. You say in your letter "I've gotten mad at life for handing me these circumstances that keep me from doing normal things," but your whole letter is about how you could do normal things if you just used a wheelchair. So life isn't keeping you from doing them, you are. All that is to say if you look hard enough, you can find someone who needs a wheel chair more than you but that doesn't mean you don't need it. Will people judge you? Not the decent ones.

So well said, thank you.

How do you get to the Wedding Hootenanny?

You find a new way to make a wedding (yours or someone else's) an extensive and detailed referendum on you, escalating your demands and pressure as the date approaches, recruiting people who feel obligated to be nice to you to cater to your every whim, changing those whims at the last minute wherever possible, and either threatening or making scenes at clutch opportunities. Or you can just not hold your liquor.

Or come to the chat Friday, Sept. 6. 

That's it for today, and I'm off next week.

Thanks everybody, have a great couple of weeks. Hope to see you back here in September.

Thank you, Carolyn, for all your advice, and to the Proud DINK! It is a village and not everyone even needs to be with the kids. My brother that is single and childless by choice was probably my parents' most trying teen, but I am SO thankful for his care and concern for our parents, especially since our dad had surgery this week. I and my husband are chasing after kids, so we can't get over as much as we'd like, other siblings live far away (but do care and check in how they can) and local bro is stepping up, along with family friends. PD's comment made me tear up in thanks for all those villagers around us. Thank you, Village People! <3

Also, keep in mind that you're talking about a process and not an on/off switch. You can have a process that moves however quickly or slowly the both of you need to understand your feelings for each other. Do some dating and spend some time alone together without the "glue" of your daughter. You're not necessarily asking him to commit right now today to a life together; although he might know immediately that a relationship with you is not right for him. But take the risk, for sure, and let him know how you feel. I'd also suggest, though, that you not frame this as a "crush." That has a connotation, IMHO, of something more superficial than what you're experiencing.

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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