Carolyn Hax Live: 'Being with you is like being with no one'

Oct 11, 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, hello Friday, you beautiful thing.

My aunt "Fanny" is in her mid 50s but still thinks of herself as 21. She was my cool aunt growing up, and now I feel like I outpaced her in maturity. She turned down marriage proposals years ago to travel, holds a part-time job, and thinks a pet is too much commitment. Fine, but she regularly complains about her loneliness. Two years ago, my last grandparent passed away, and Fanny had revolved her life around him. I had a baby last year, and Fanny has directed her attention and time onto my daughter. Fanny adores my kid and it is mutual. But I don't trust Fanny to babysit for a whole evening. Several times, she's told me after the fact, laughing, that she did something with my baby that I asked her not to do. Such as, when only eating purees, Fanny fed my baby a french fry. Or she took a picture of her in the bathtub, when I've been crystal clear on no naked child pictures. With each of these, I've been teased at how rigid I am. Fanny has watched my now 15-month-old twice, for an hour-ish, and I am okay with that. But she knows other family members have done an entire evening of feeding dinner, playtime, bath time, and bed. I don't think my child's life is in danger, but I don't think she would respect what I want her to do. Now Fanny is increasingly calling me out, in front of other family members, and asking to pick a date for her to babysit. I don't know how blunt to be. FWIW, I think she will be an excellent babysitter when my kid is old enough to talk and report back.

"I don't know how blunt to be" is tough for most of us to navigate. It feels so rude to say no to people* (vs. things), it feels rude to want someone to back off.* It feels personal.*

However, people actually tell us how blunt we need to be with them, if we're paying attention, in their (in)ability to receive our messages. You seem to have given Fanny guidelines, which she ignored, "laughing," and you have also given her the hint that she's not as welcome to baby-sit as other members of your family are.

Neither of these messages has gotten through, right? So, you need to be more blunt. Such as:

"I said a clear no to any naked pictures, and you took a bathtub picture. The baby doesn't eat solids yet, and you gave her a french fry. It's not about whether our decisions are the right ones--I'm not even saying they are. They're our choices., though, for our kid, and I think we have a right to ask people to respect them."

The thing about bluntness is that it's not just available in one flavor. You can say this in an angry tone, or you can say this in a lovingly exasperated, why-are-you-making-it-so-hard-for-me-to-say-yes-to-my-favorite-Auntie? tone. Find the latter and say what you want to say.


*It isn't, of course.


"Johnny" and I have been dating for about three months. We had this bizarre conversation the other night where he said that he is not ready to commit to a boyfriend/girlfriend label yet (ok, fine), but that he WOULD like to date exclusively if I'm okay with that. I found this kind of perplexing because I thought those were the same thing. When I asked him to explain further, he said he thinks it would be nice to "just focus on each other" and not date others, but also not have a big serious commitment at a time when we are both very busy with other things. Does this sound like I'm being conned? I'm really not sure I understand why someone would want this, but a couple of my friends have said they also believe in a relationship stage that is not quite "committed relationship" but that is romantically exclusive. By the way, I'm 28 and he is early 30s.

I was about to answer this when I realized I can't possibly do that without knowing: 

Did Johnny bring this up out of the blue, or was he responding to something you asked (for)?

Hope you're out there somewhere.

It's not the "relationship stage" that's at issue here, it's the ... I guess game-playing, or lack thereof, though I wish I had a better term for it handy. The degree of flinching? Anyway, it's a good topic, but needs the missing piece.

I love living alone. I had roommates for all four years of college and for three years after I graduated I shared a house with 2 to 3 other women. While I never had a really bad roommate I’ve just never liked having someone else sharing my space. I've lived alone for the last five years and it has been wonderful. With roommates I hated having to talk any time I saw them, having to ask for permission before having people over, having my stuff moved around, etc. I adore coming home, having it be absolutely quiet and just the way I left it and doing as I please on my weekends, and so on. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about a year now and I love him very much and I really do love his company for the most part. Lately, he's been asking if I'm interested in moving in together. He wants to be with me more, share rent, and so on. He's lived with girlfriends before and it's a natural next step in his mind. But I just don’t know. Not because I don't like being with him--I love being with him. But after a long day at work I just want the option of coming home and not talking to anyone, making whatever I want to eat, and not worrying about anyone else. I don't even feel like I sleep as well when I share a bed with my boyfriend, I prefer having sex and then coming home to my own apartment to sleep. Something about being alone truly relaxes me. I worry about this since I do want to be married and have a family so I'll eventually have to live with another person. Is this something I need therapy for or will I get over feeling this way someday?

Would you pls just copy-paste this and hand it to him? 

My stepchild hums all.the.time. At every meal, when we pray before bed, when other people are talking, during a walk, while making lunches, on the car ride to school, even when reading. It. Is. Constant. I’ve tried to specifically address is during times I feel it is inappropriate. “When you make noise when I’m talking to you, it makes me feel like you aren’t listening to me or hearing me” or “when we pray, let’s be respectful” or “when we see a movie, we want others to hear it too.” It stops in the immediate when I address it but continues soon after the interaction. I’m about to lose my mind. My step kid is wonderful and kind but also has terrible perfectionism issues and I do not want to make them feel bad about an innocent quirk! It’s just so constant and I feel like I’m suffering from noise pollution. Any advice? Is this normal? Step kid is 10. Thank you!

If I haven't reminded everyone lately, I am not a credentialed anything. However, the humming thing looks to my uncredentialed eye like a neuro-sensory-feedback thing. Kind of like foot-tapping, fidgeting, nail-biting, etc, but humming and whistling also fit. Could be of a larger piece with the perfectionism. I'd run it by your pediatrician -and- the school counselor. Two opinions being better than one, especially with somewhat less than common concerns. 

BTW, if it is a neurological thing, then it's still okay to ask them (kindly) to stop when the behavior is disruptive, but you'll want to swap out the long explanations for signals (explain once, then cut it to a whispered, "Humming"), and you'll want to adjust your expectations. Instead of believing you can get it to stop permanently, you'll need to accept you can stop it only temporarily and ideally at well-chosen moments. 

Dear Carolyn, My first husband and I married right out of college. It was not a good decision for either of us, we were not a good match, but there wasn’t anything terrible in our marriage, either. We fell into the inertia trap. I had an affair with his cousin and we fell in love. We got a divorce and I remarried. My first husband is a stand up guy, he’s just not the guy for me. My second husband and I have a strong marriage and three kids. A few years ago, my first husband met a woman who was recently widowed and they got married. Everybody was happy for them, including us. Earlier this week, she delivered a stillborn baby at 37 weeks. Pretty much everybody is framing it as particularly awful since they both have already been through so much. This is said with a pointed look at me, but interestingly enough, not my husband. We were also asked not to send anything or show support during this time, to simply remain silent. My husband’s aunt said that we should keep our distance and let them grieve this without any reminders. Carolyn, our divorce was 13 years ago. I feel like I am going to be blamed forever for this divorce, as if I am the only one who got the divorce. I would very much like to acknowledge this loss as the devastating event that it is, and not being able to is very hard. My husband said we should do nothing and just continue on. But that feels so wrong. What do you suggest?

I suggest you listen to your husband.

"I feel like I am going to be blamed forever for this divorce, as if I am the only one who got the divorce" is not a full reckoning. This would have been: "I feel like I am going to be blamed forever for this affair, as if I am the only one who had the affair." Right?

But then, if you had asked it that way, then you'd know the answer: Maybe "we" fell into the "inertia trap," but you are the one who cheated. And yes, you cheated *with* somebody, but that somebody wasn't married to your husband. One person broke the vows to your husband, and that was you.

So you are indeed on an island with your past actions that put your ex "through so much." Which I wouldn't have spelled out for you if your question didn't insist on it, with its "why only me?" theme; that it was 13 years ago and that both of you have since rebuilt your lives are significant points. It's just that you will never not be, to him, the person who betrayed him.

And so in this absolutely wretched moment of grief for him, the most generous thing you can do is what you've been asked to do. 

Hi Carolyn: I wrote into last week's chat about wanting a relationship, but not sure how to bring it up. I didn't bring it up, but today he did and he came forward (only over text) and said he had just gotten out of a ten year relationship and did not want something serious. It hurts right now, but I am gonna take your advice and go cry, eat pasta and continue to live my life. Part of me even wants to keep dating to see if he changes his mind but I know I should just move on. Thanks for all your advice.

You're welcome, and I'm sorry it didn't work out. If he changes his mind, he does know where to find you.

If it helps, I was thinking this weekend I'd go cry and eat pasta (no reason, just 2019). So, you won't be alone.

Dear Carolyn, I am 36 years old and have been in a relationship for 4 years with my partner “Rob.” We live together and while marriage is on the table, it’s not really a priority for either of us so we aren’t in a rush to tie the knot. Rob’s family is evangelical Christian and while we have very different religious and political beliefs, I do enjoy their company and they’ve been very welcoming to me. The issue is that even though I am pushing 40, because Rob and I aren’t married, when we visit or vacation with them, we aren’t allowed to sleep in the same bedroom. To make things worse, Rob refuses to engage with his parents on this issue because he claims they are “set in their ways” and it would be pointless to ask. I’m sort of sympathetic to this issue when we stay with them (their house, their rules), but the big annual family vacation involves the entire family staying in the same house on a beach together and we are asked to stay in separate rooms. I feel like since we’re contributing to the cost of the house and we are almost 40, we should be allowed to stay in the same room! I’m at the point where I am refusing to attend the vacation if Rob continues to refuse to talk to his parents about this. Can I also mention again we already live together! I’d love a third-party opinion on this.

Seems to me you've got it figured out: You have encountered something so ridiculous to you that you can't countenance investing another day or dollar to be part of it.

Okay then! That is a response that makes complete sense and has a lot of integrity to it.

It will also, as these things generally do, present Rob--a being with his own values and integrity to manage--with a choice, who, if he chooses in your favor, will present his parents--beings with their own values and integrity to manage--with a choice. As long as your eyes are open to your refusal as the first in a line of dominoes, then, refuse in peace.

My best friend of 30 years is an alcoholic. She had been sober for more than 10 years but recently started drinking again. (Ironically she began drinking again shortly after her older sister, also an alcoholic, died of liver disease.) I have told her I do not accept her drinking and will not spend time with her when she's drinking. She has said I'm too judgmental and she is going to distance herself from me unless I can accept who she is and what she does. I don't want to lose her friendship but I also think she is doing something self-destructive and don't want to condone it. How can I navigate this?

You already have. You have a right to choose not to be in her company when she's drinking. She, likewise, has a right to choose to drink anyway.

I hope she sees her self-destructive path for what it is, before it's too late.

Carolyn - I'm TRYING to get a handle on Christmas shopping this year but every year we struggle with the same people. They never give us a list and are literally no help. My father in law is the biggest struggle in that he's very materialistic and to him more is more. I wasn't raised this way and my husband has changed his ways but how do you deal with people like this? We're (ok me) pregnant but not due until Spring. My father in law knows this but has made remarks that it shouldn't affect the "giving spirit" of Christmas. In the past we've done experience things which he's balked at, given him gift cards because we're clueless which he balked at. We stick to a limit of $100 and bought ONE item last year that was just over the limit and he had the audacity to say "that's it." I'm just shocked at some people. Me personally I'd rather have an experience item (tickets to a show, sky diving, etc) than have a materialistic item. I'm not sure if it's just because of how I was raised but I don't need "possessions" to be happy. Luckily my husband realized this quickly so while he'll give me an something small I like (candle or perfume I like) he knows I value the memories more than the possession. How do you deal with people who constantly want want want. It would be different if that someone was a child who but we're talking a 70 year person who's for the past 20 years I've know him has always been this way.

Then where's the mystery?

I'm not unsympathetic to the eye-roll part of your question, where a sentient adult needs giftygifts and more and more of them!!! and doesn't have the maturity to accept your gift cards and experiences with grace.

However, you have had 20 years to see the nose on your own face, and you keep looking in the couch cushions for it: "we've done experience things"--nope from him--"given him gift cards"--nope from him--"bought ONE item last year that was just over the limit"--nope from him. You know why? You're trying to buy for him as if he's you! And he's not.

So that's why I'm just shocked that you're shocked. He wants you to spend the $100 on several smaller gifts because he is a more-is-more kind of guy, and you "deal with people like this" as you deal with anyone else at gift-giving time, by doing your best within your means to give him what would make him happy. For $100, maybe you can get him some slippers, nice chocolates, a book he'd like, movie passes and a small bottle of [bev of choice]. All wrapped separately with foofy Xmas paper. Ho ho ho.

My mom spent the last 20 years of her life managing an insanely busy department at work, working long hours and a lot of weekends, only to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018. She was a few years away from her planned retirement but passed away in February at age 60. Ever since then I’ve been rethinking the plans my husband and I have for retirement. He’s a big fan of socking away as much money as possible now and retiring in our 50s. I am no longer willing to put off life for a future that may never happen. I don’t want to go crazy but I want to start spending on things we can enjoy now, some home improvements, a dream vacation or two, nicer bikes for those vacations since we’re cycling enthusiasts. My husband says I’m over-reacting and need therapy to deal with my “residual trauma” rather than “de-railing our lives”. I think he’s the over-dramatic one since I’m only talking about going from saving 38% of our income to about 20%. What do you say?

I say, how does 29 percent sound?

I don't like the implications of your husband's "you're over-reacting and need therapy" response. Even if he's right that you're seeing things through "residual trauma"--and he probably is--a mind changed by trauma is no less legitimately changed than a mind changed by, say, an education or accrued experience or a spiritual awakening.

*You see things differently now.* And that's valid. So please start by stating to your husband clearly that, yes, the loss of your mom was traumatic for you, and yes, you are seeing things through that lens now--and yes, you do expect your life partner to respect your viewpoint, even when it differs from his, and even when it's significantly different from the one you used to share with him, and even when it's grief that got you there.

That's your major obstacle, so put your energy, attention and patience there, in communicating the validity of ... well, in communicating your validity.

And if he sticks to the therapy line, then say you'd like to go to therapy with him. Because that's the next step for a couple who were thinking as one but are now thinking as two and who are not agreeing on even the right first step toward thinking as one again. There's room in a well-lived life for both of your views, of disciplined saving toward a goal combined with an acceptance that the life you live between now and you goal might be the only life you've got. But you can't get to 29 percent if you both aren't open to respecting both views. 

I'm sorry about your mom.


I met my fiance, “Tom” earlier this year and we got engaged this summer and are planning our wedding. I used to wonder about his work situation since he’s a freelance software developer who doesn’t seem to spend that much time working. He plays a lot of golf and softball, hangs out with friends during the day, and updates his blog daily, yet he has a nice apartment and eats out most of the time. I knew he developed several apps and I thought he was living off the profits from those. Now that we’re combining our finances, I found out that what sustains him is a modest inheritance from his grandparents. Though it’s hardly enough money to last the rest of our lives, Tom admits he has no interest in ever holding down any kind of real job after living like this his entire adult life. He says that in 15 or 20 years he’ll probably inherit some more money from his parents “if they manage not to blow it all.” We’re looking at a February wedding and are both very excited about starting a family immediately (he’s 36 and I’m 32, so the time is now). I have a great job and I’m aware that when the inheritance runs out, I’ll be supporting everyone. Tom’s never had to cook or clean or be handy around the house, but childcare won’t be an issue for us since he’ll be home and he’ll have time to learn at least some of that other stuff. I talked to my best friend who is a SAHM about this and she warned me that Tom is not cut out to be a SAHD and his willingness to live off of inherited money that he could have saved and invested should worry me more. Is my friend right that Tom’s lifestyle says something bad about him? I think if our genders were reversed no one would think twice about our plans.

"but childcare won’t be an issue for us since he’ll be home and he’ll have time to learn at least some of that other stuff. "


How many spit-takes just hit how many screens.

I'm sorry, I know, I know, this isn't nice of me, but please understand I'm not calling -you- oblivious, I am calling *love* oblivious. Swearsies. 

But Tom is telling you exactly who he is! And when he "admits he has no interest in ever holding down any kind of real job after living like this his entire adult life"--after basically lying to you for months about his real vocation--both of you need to realize there is no job more "real" than wrangling a household and small children. It's physically demanding, emotionally draining, highly consequential, utterly thankless, relentlessly repetitive and boring as all hell. Like, rip-at-your-facial-skin boring. And then you wake up after not enough sleep and do it all again. Kindly! Gently! With enthusiasm! One Cheerio at a time and with 12 loads of laundry in wait. And without too much screen time or too many chemicals or this or that or the other thing dictated by the Beings Who Dictate These Things. 

So you do not necessarily need someone who knows "how" to cook or clean or be nurturing, because people wanting these skills can acquire them, and I will tell no one, not even an underemployed fun-loving heir, how to live his life, because I'd hardly be racking up billables if I were financially set--but for the love of all that is holy, do , not, not undertake the 20-plus-year project of childrearing with someone who does not have a capacity to knuckle through boredom and hard work for at least that cause, if no other.

So I suggest you two talk.

I posted that and realized I don't even remember what the question was. 

Your friend, if not definitively right, is at least on to something. [clears throat]

for the woman who cherishes her "alone" time. After multiple marriages, it took a long time for me to realize that most of the time, after a really full day at work, I want to be alone. To recharge. To read, to watch a movie, to veg. My wife finally realized that just because I want/need to be alone, it doesn't mean I don't love her and that I don't want to spend my life without her. I just need some alone time. We sleep in the same bed, we take our vacations together, we bike and hike together. But some time, I just want to be alone. If i'm not spending enough time with my wife, she will comment on it and I will try to be more social with her. I guess it's called balance.

This might be Tourette's. Pediatrician first, maybe pediatric neurologist. Yes, I'm a doc.

I'm not quite 20 years sober. You have made the right choice to hold a line with your friend. Sadly, her drinking may get worse at a faster rate this time. You can try to monitor from a distance and offer help if she wants to get sober. But she's going to be in denial about this and it will be hard to reason with her. So sorry. Her sister's death could have tipped the scales for her to start drinking again. Can you suggest grief counseling?

My husband is a leg shaker, its pretty constant when we're sitting. Depending on where he's sitting, I can feel the house shaking. When I am next to him, usually in public when I can tell other people are feeling it, I put a light hand on his leg and that's his signal to stop. It looks like a typical loving gesture (which it is, just loving myself and my sanity), and no one really notices. Again, won't stop it forever, but he'll notice it enough to stop for awhile. In the house, I yell "you shake-a the house" in my best Mario from Mario bros voice. We've figure out among ourselves when its appropriate for me to ask him to stop and I try to ignore it when we're alone. I'm also a step mom and I wonder if you have my constant thought of "Am I horrible, would this bother me if I gave birth to this kid/Would a 'real mom' let this get to her". In case you have that voice too, kindly tell it to eff off for both of us

Ha. Thank you.

Wait why is SHE spending so much time and mental energy on figuring out what to get HIS DAD from them as a couple? This seems like a perfect example of a place to say "hey hon, this ball's in your court from now on". And if he's the kinda dude to drop that ball, it's on him not her.

Ugh, I so needed to include this in my answer--thanks for the catch.

I defaulted to the idea of divisions of labor in marriages, which I subscribe to fully and depend on personally. But, gift-buying in particular and family/holiday communication in general are sites of persistent gender imbalance that warrants mention. Thanks again.

Here's hoping he doesn't double down on that. Because I don't think I could stay married to a guy whose go-to response when I talked about something important to me was to treat me like a defective toaster.

Loner, you and I feel the same way about solitude. I don't know if that makes us both in need of professional help or what... but Carolyn could you offer a little more guidance on how to 'splain to a significant other whom I love, that as much as I love being together, I love/crave/need/bask in long hours of solitude as well? We are planning on sharing our lives in the same place but I worry that I won't find a good compromise in alone vs together time. How can it be done?

I would, but I really don't think it's necessary--OP's explanation was clear, concise, compassionate, perfect. 

So I suspect what you're looking for is a bigger answer on whether this is okay, whether anyone will accept you this way, whether you have a right to ask?

If so, my answer is, you are who you are, you are fine, you are worthy of love. You may or may not find the person who fits right into your ways, but we're all in that boat, because none of us is guaranteed a fit. All we are guaranteed is the power to be who we are and decide whom we let in.

People find their compromises in all kinds of places, with accommodations as small as understandings and as big as separate homes. The important thing is that you say out loud who you are, how you feel and what you need, and hold out for a partner who is willing to hear these things without freaking out.

With you. He did not want something serious *with you*. I'm not trying to rub salt in the wound, I swear, but you have to look at it this way or else you're going to hold out hope that some other external factor that has nothing to do with you is the reason. It's not. If nothing else, this realization will give you some comfort if you ever see him holding hands and kissing a girlfriend the following week after he told you he didn't want a relationship with anyone. (Ask me how I know!)

Living with someone because you want cheaper rent isn't exactly an enthusiastic reason to move into together. You can get roommates for that. He has lived with gfs before? Okay but the guy is telling you that at some point you might break up and move out. He sounds like he's on autopilot. Again, not exactly an enthusiastic reason to move in together. This guy clearly wants to live with someone, but I'm not sure he wants to live *with you*.

It's okay if he isn't completely happy with the slippers, chocolate, etc. because he thinks they aren't [whatever] enough. You really do not have to fulfill everybody's dreams at Christmas or any other time. You do your best with what you have (in terms of your own values and your spending limits), you present the gifts with affection, and you thank your deity of choice that Christmas comes but once a year.

As an alcoholic, I can state that you withholding your friendship will further alienate her, giving her more temptations (loneliness) to drink. It will not be a factor in stopping her drinking, because the need to drink bypasses logic. I don't say this to guilt you, as you can choose to do what you want. But it won't help her. I find that people are quick to give alcoholics ultimatums, who wouldn't cut off contact with friends for other behaviors they (sometimes vehemently) disagree with. I find it a bit self-righteous myself.

I read your question and thought "Jeez lady." Even if you didn't have this history, when someone goes through such a sad event like losing a child, the kindest thing is to do what makes them feel better, not make the situation about you and do what makes you feel better.

Instead of paying into a large group house in which you will be uncomfortable, why don't you and Rob rent a 1-bedroom condo nearby? You can join the rest of the family for meals and activities, and retreat to your own space afterwards.

My wife and I went through that for a long time cause we waited ten years to get married. We were presented with the same issue. Fortunately, we were in a good position to get our own place when the big family vacation came around. That way, we could set our own rules and still enjoy the family vacation (quite honestly, it also cut down some of the never-ending chaos that is my family. It turned out to also be a place for the young adults to gather and be young adults). We were open and honest about why as well. To this day, I still kind of pride myself of the fact that we stood on our own and, I truly think my Dad respected me for it.

I like your script but it doesn't actually include the word no. I would add one more sentence at the end. "That's why I'm saying no." Otherwise OP could find herself in a long argument about who has the right to make rules, what respecting them means, etc.

If you haven't already, find some good memoirs about drinking, especially women and drinking. I recommend Caroline Knapp's "Drinking: A Love Story" and Ann Dowsett Johnston's "Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol." However you decide to handle this difficult and delicate situation, it's good to go into it with a solid sense of what it is like for the alcoholic. It's all too easy for us non-alcoholics to think that our alcoholic friend just has to "decide to stop." It is much more complicated than that. It might be that the best thing you can do for yourself, and for your friendship, is to make this same choice you are making, but be sure you are making it with as full an understanding as you can get of the complications of alcoholism.

They're not "allowed" to sleep in the same room?! They're adults and they're paying. So they show up and choose a room like everyone else does. Don't make a big deal out of it. Act like it's a perfectly normal thing to do, because it is.

This - I worry about this since I do want to be married and have a family so I'll eventually have to live with another person. Is this something I need therapy for or will I get over feeling this way someday? - seems like a pretty interesting question!

This has come up semi-recently ... a lot of people writing in that they keep separate bedrooms, separate homes, bought a duplex and live adjacent to each other, or have a don't-talk-to-me-for-an-hour rule (a plot point in SATC, if memory serves), lots of things. I think this subset of people has always existed and it's a point within the bounds of a healthy emotional range, but it hasn't always been talked about out loud, hence some shame and confusion. But people are becoming more open and creative about their needs for space and, for e.g., not hiding their separate bedrooms.

I don't disagree with your answer, Carolyn, but at the same time, if the exes have been on good terms since the divorce 13 year ago, are more than civil when they cross paths, would your answer be different? "in this absolutely wretched moment of grief for him, the most generous thing you can do is what you've been asked to do. " If they are on good terms and have been, he might feel hurt that this person he's known for so long didn't express anything! If they HAVE been close, maybe a private card from ex to ex, just to say "I'm so sorry for your loss, for both you and your wife."

Yes, a card is appropriate not just if they were close/on good terms, but in any case--IF the aunt was not conveying instructions directly from the ex. Worth asking the aunt, if there's any doubt. Important clarity, thanks.

He brought it up out of the blue, though I suppose it was part of a larger conversation about how much we're enjoying the time we've spent together. I did not ask for a label, but I almost definitely would have at some point soon, which I think he knew because of some things I said about my disappointments in past dating. I guess what I am worried about is that what he's looking for is sexual fidelity and to not have to share my time with anyone, but to keep a little escape hatch open in case he decides he's suddenly over it. When I would have been just as happy to continue dating happily but non-exclusively until we decided to be "boyfriend and girlfriend," whatever that means (in my world, it means making each other a high priority and assuming you are working toward a long-term future together, which he knows).

Thank you for following up.

This is what I was afraid of--that he brought it up. It just sounds so dodge-y, that he's talking labels and this but not that and ... no. Shell game. Not good. You (the collective you, all of us) know you're ready for a serious, adult, committed relationship (with anyone) when you're able to say how you feel and ready to live with the consequences of saying it out loud, and you know your prospective partner is ready when s/he can do same. 

This guy is not ready. Which is fine, we're all works in progress, but it's important not to treat him as ready, or else you're going to get an unpleasant awakening later. He's not serious and not ready so stay or go accordingly.

If he had said, on the other hand, that he really likes you and is having a great time, but that's as far along as he is right now, then that would be a more reliable statement, IMO. Which is why I wanted the follow up. If you brought up the topic of exclusivity and what to call each other, then it would be easy to see how he'd been caught off guard and was trying to find words. That's totally fine and normal and I'd say, hey, the Conversation claims victims of all ages.

BTW, both parts of any couple should have a "little escape hatch open," in the sense that if it's not working for you (dating/engaged) or not healthy for you (life-partnered), then you need to feel safe and justified in getting out. The only true constant is you.

I noticed that "Ask Aaron" has been canceled today. What did you do to him -- did he meet with an unfortunate Hax-ident?

I hope not! We need Aaron. It's possible he crumpled in a pile of haxhaustion.

I just wanted to follow-up and say that it is actually NEVER too late to switch OBs. I was leaving every appointment feeling like my concerns had been dismissed or rushed and my OB only focused on how great it was that I hadn't gained much weight (great, but let's talk more about the birth and my desires, questions, concerns!). I switched to a different practice with OBs and midwives when I was 31 weeks. It was the best decision and I was so much happier and confident throughout the process! I just thought more opinions should be heard about it being "too late." You will go weekly at the end and have plenty of time to form a relationship with your medical provider if you do switch!

Hi Carolyn. I wrote to you years ago about my husband who was hitting the gym for hours every day and leaving me to deal with our two littles. I just wanted to follow up, in case this helps anyone else. My husband was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In retrospect, all the concerning behaviors then (excessive exercise, increased libido, intense irritability & goal-directed behavior) were signs he was entering a manic phase. He is finally medicated and his mood has stabilized. It took years to work out what was going on, and our poor kids have been through a lot. I strongly urge anyone having similar symptoms to speak to a psychiatrist. It would’ve saved us a world of pain had he been diagnosed sooner.

Thanks for the update, and the PSA. I am sorry for the difficult years. 

This made me think of the recent triathlete-in-training ...

A few months ago, my extended family (mother, stepfather, stepbrother, stepsister and her family) decided we should all take a family vacation over the holidays to a popular resort location. I thought it sounded like a fun idea - I don’t know my stepfamily well since my mother just got married to their father a year ago but they’re very nice and I’d like to get to know them better. I did make it clear during early planning that my family (me, my husband and our son) would not be able to afford the hotel they picked, but that shouldn't stop the others since we're all going to be at the beach during the day anyway and we’d be staying a 3 minute walk away in a much cheaper hotel. My stepsister and parents have decided that everyone should stay at the more expensive hotel because it keeps the family in one place. When I reminded them of our budget, my stepsister offered to pay the difference so we could stay in the nicer hotel with them. This is no small offer - the difference is almost $2000. That’s pretty significant considering that $2200, excluding airfare, is about what we're planning on paying for the entire week. I know they’re well off but we couldn't possibly accept that big a gift from someone we barely know. My mother is hounding me to let stepsister do this and said I was ruining everyone's vacation and should be ashamed of myself. My husband is wavering but I think it’s totally unnecessary and I don’t want to spend my vacation feeling like a mooch. I feel strongly about this but I seem to be the only one. What am I not seeing? Who is being unreasonable here?

Your mom. Your stepsister sounds lovely, and your commitment to your principles is unimpeachable. Stay in the cheaper hotel and give all a chance to enjoy the unruined vacation.

Thanks, now I'm crying and I've only got pretzels. The mini ones that come by the bucket and only make you thirsty and hungry for actual pasta.

I'm sorry for any part I had in the crying, and the pretzels. But also don't forget, they're brave and salty little snacks and they're there for you when nothing else is, demanding so little, carrying you through.

FWIW, I am a female version of "Tom" (somewhat), and I can attest I NEVER learned to cook or care for children, and do so only under duress and with great resentment. I am what I am, and, thankfully, no one has tried to change me. Please don't expect Tom to change. Signed, Happily Married Later in Life, Step-Mom to Adults

We had that with a young cousin - it was a hearing loss & he was self-stimulating. Pediatrician for sure

In life, people tend to want partners, someone who helps carry the load, not someone who is the load you carry. Stay at home parents and working parents are partners. It is not a gender thing. It is that Tom is telling you he is looking for someone to carry him. It's been granny for a while, maybe it will be his parents in the future. But if you marry him, it will definitely, always be you.

Is "boom" still a thing?

Really disagree with the notion that you are obligated to hang with a friend who is an alcoholic when they drink. I had a friend who was an alcoholic. I did not like the version of themselves when they were under the influence. I told this person repeatedly that I would not interact with that version of them. They kept inflicting that version of themselves on me. So I withdrew. I don't have even one problem with that. People under the influence are very different from people sober. It's totally fine to not want to interact with someone who is drunk. And I don't care how judgmental an alcoholic or drug user may think that.

The most romantic thing my wife, who needs and enjoys her alone time, ever said to me: "Being with you is like being with no one."

This should be my new kicker after every chat.

Meaning ...

Thank you all, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week. 

I'm a (mostly) stay-at-home dad not living off an inheritance, but who spent his pre-kid years pursuing creative work with varying levels of economic success-- just wanted to say that it's not impossible that he'll be a great dad, and that being one will give him purpose and meaning he hasn't even realized he's missing. I mean, they definitely need to talk and make sure they're being honest with each other, but I don't know that it's so crazy that fatherhood would end up feeling like a much better reason to sacrifice a life of leisure than a 9-to-5 job he's not passionate about. Not that there aren't hours of boredom, and emotional challenge, but I'm more fulfilled now than I was before kids, and actually more productive (and financially productive, incidentally) on the creative side too. Kids are great.

I disagree with posters who are telling the OP to consider what her friend is going through and reconsider distancing herself from her friend when she is drinking. Some of this sounds like encouraging the non-alcoholic to develop a co-dependent relationship with the friend. If the OP is uncomfortable being around her friend when she's actively drinking, then she has every right to set a limit that she is comfortable with. It's her duty to herself to detach with love.

Yes, I agree, this says it well. I posted that other comment as an other-side view and should have included a qualifier. If the alcoholic friend (A) withdraws into her drinking in response to the boundary-setting friend's (B's) absence, then B is *not* the one responsible for A's spiral--A is.  


There's a lot more going on here than whether favorite aunt fed solid foods against your direction (fair complaint). You think you're more "mature" because she had the audacity to "turn down marriage proposals" to travel? And you think marriage means no loneliness? More than a whiff of judgment there.

Or just let her pay it. My husband and I are in a better financial situation than a lot of our family through no fault of our own (he's a Tom with a better work ethic). Sharing the wealth to make family vacations easier for everyone is literally one of our favorite ways to spend money.

Fair point, but, once OP said no, then the stepsister would have been reasonable in re-offering once--and, after that, then the whole fam owed them enough respect to drop it. If it's an issue on the trip, then OP can decide to be more open to such an offer next time (and after getting to know the other family better).

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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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