Carolyn Hax Live: If your girlfriend 'tests' you, dump her

Nov 08, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your questions and comments. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, and hello, Friday.

My boyfriend and I are long distance. He lives in the nicer apartment and in the more exciting city, so 9 times out of 10 (about once every two weeks) I drive 5 hours each way and visit him. I am always glowy and happy about these visits, so it's taken me months to realize that I'm spending a fortune on gas and going to work exhausted the morning after each return trip, not to mention falling behind on my housework and forgoing the chance to build a social life at home. I mentioned this to my boyfriend, never dreaming his response would be anything other than "Oops! We'll start splitting the visits." Instead he launched into a campaign about why his city is better than mine and it's clear to me he has no intention of ever visiting ME more often than every 4-6 months or so. Suddenly I am less excited about my upcoming visit and the long drive, excessive tolls, etc. Now what? We are both committed to the relationship; I want to give it a chance...

Why? He just totally dismissed your effort and hardship, and prioritized his own fun and convenience. He sounds like a terrible long-term investment.

Hi Carolyn, Lately, I’ve wanted another kid. I’m already lucky enough to have a 4 year old and a supportive partner. Two years ago, I discovered that I couldn’t have any more kids. I’m now in my early forties and my husband and I knew it was a possibility. I was interested in pursuing adoption and he’s interested in looking into a donor egg (our fertility doctor’s suggestion). We went to an adoption information session but my husband left discouraged. He’s incredibly content with our family situation, as am I. Sometimes I think another kid in our family would add so much, a sibling for our son to play with, and I just think kids are wonderful. But I also love our family as is. What do you think? My husband also thinks it would be too disruptive for our son. Happy one and done, but maybe two and done?

There's an easy answer here, if you want it: To have another child would involve a significant effort, even if both of you were all in--which means your husband's doubts are enough to make this a "one and done."

There are also some creative answers out there, also if you want them: I'm reading between the lines a bit, but I take it you're a happy, strong, mature little family unit with some means and some extra love and energy to give. A second child isn't the only possible place to put that stability, love and money. Look around, see who or what needs you. I just finished an adapted column about two neglected adolescents and all I could think about was how many people would love to step in to help them if they only knew of the need. I'd feed them any time they needed it. I'm guessing nearly 100 percent of us would.

So, here's a chance for you to look around, ask around, give of yourself. 

The third answer is a kind of hedge, where you keep doing the research, keep discussing, and even get into the early stages of the family-building process you choose, since there is a famously long time ahead of you before you'd actually have a child.

Last thing: "disruptive" is a huge category, with a side of the scale that's potentially beneficial to your son and a side that puts him at emotional or physical risk. (A new baby, for example, is always "disruptive.") Maybe that's where you start the discussion? 

My partner of 9 years and I have different metabolisms or comfort levels pertaining to in-the-home temperatures. I prefer it a bit cooler in the Winter and warmer in the Summer than my partner and we're always tweaking the thermostat to get to a comfortable setting. I prefer 66-68 degrees in the house in the Winter, wearing long sleeve shirts/layering on in the day, and like it cooler at night, enjoying a comforter to keep warm. She would have it 70-72 degrees day and night, which to me feels too warm and like short sleeve shirt temperature, and she doesn't like to feel the weight of a blanket or even a down comforter in bed at night. In the Summer I prefer 74-76 in the day and she likes 72 degrees which to me feels chilly. My thoughts are if one feels chilly when the weather is cool/cold then layer on a bit, wear a bathrobe if getting up in the middle of the night, and so on. I realize we have different temperature comfort levels and temperature preferences, neither one is good or bad. Mine is resource and environmentally more conservative (not in the political usage of this term!). One doesn't necessarily have the right to tell the other what the temperature setting ought to be. How do we settle this? Help, please! [if you need a name, mine is Bill]

You choose the temperature at which both of you can feel comfortable without taking uncomfortable measures.

So, for example: If your winter temp of 67 is comfortable for you when you're wearing a sweater, and for her to be comfortable at 67 degrees she needs two sweaters, then you turn up the heat, because asking someone to wear two sweaters is a doink move. You set the thermostat at one sweater for her, shirtsleeves for you.

If you'd both be in the same layers but have different happy places, then just pick the middle temp and deal with it in your own ways, because that's what adults do. So, 69 degrees 24-7 winter, and 73 summer, and we all take a moment to express gratitude that we don't still live in caves.


The point of the visit isn't the city, it is to spend time with your significant other. It sounds like the boyfriend wants it all without effort. PS - I'm a guy, I would never do this to somebody I cared about and wanted to see.

Thank you, Guy.

So, you say that he was discouraged by the option you're interested in? How do you feel about the option he's interested in? Somehow you managed not to say how you feel about that one way or the other.

I was always ambivalent about having my own child/ren, and was content being a stepmom to my husband's two daughters. Once I learned I needed a hysterectomy in my late 30's, I suddenly had intense "baby fever." It didn't last, but I think the thought of "ending a possibility" was what triggered my fever. I am now in my 70's and don't regret not having bio child/ren. Just sharing for what it's worth.

I’m wondering whether to make an issue of my parent's blatant favoritism of my younger sister. You’d think I’d be used to it by now but it still bothers me. They couldn’t help me or my brother with college, when we went to the nearby state school they considered letting us live at home as a big favor. But 10 years later they paid plenty because my little sister was “had anxiety” and the only school she felt comfortable going to was a small private college 2 hours away. Same thing with cars, my brother and I bought our own first cars but they had to buy her a really safe one (meaning brand new and expensive) since she’s a nervous driver. Now for her wedding in February, they’re paying for the whole thing since, according to them, our family had a rough year with my grandparents both dying and we could all use a big party. My brother and I got no money for our weddings - I’m a girl too so you can’t even put this down to simple sexism. My brother is venting by making snarky comments on their wedding Facebook posts. He told me he’s even considering skipping out on in protest, saying that it’s time to finally, publicly, call them out for what they’ve done. What do you think?

I think you and your brother have a valid complaint. I think your brother is handling that valid complaint so childishly and vindictively that he's going to squander any moral capital he has.

And I think you both seem to be missing the fact that the person harmed most by your parents' poor judgment is your younger sister.

Whether there's diagnosed anxiety there or not--I take it at face value, but leave room for parental dysfunction as the root condition here--your parents' rushing in with stacks of money to pad the corners of all of life's coffee tables is a terrible disservice *to her.*

Anxiety warrants attention, treatment, forethought, respect, yes--but that's not what you're describing. You describe a buffering from the ups and downs of normal life. And it's a disservice because your parents will not win a battle vs. life; it will keep slinging ups and downs at your sister and eventually it will serve up more than your parents can absorb for her. And when that happens, she will have to process them after never having developed the skills, resourcefulness or self-confidence that it takes to do that. And, more simply: She will have to do this without the loving support and camaraderie of siblings, because your parents sacrificed those bonds when they prioritized ... whatever impulse they were serving when they chose to coddle your sister.

About that "whatever": I actually don't mean to vilify your parents as much as I have. An anxious child can terrify and torment her parents, leading them to parlay good or scared intentions into unwise choices--which they then rationalize, which over decades they then wear into such a habit that they justify throwing an overpriced foofy wedding as something other than unfairly indulgent. 

You and your brother have a point, but you also have skills and resiliency. Yes? Please harness those now in service of a healthy response to your unhealthy family. A good family therapist can work wonders--as can reminding yourself, if you can truly believe it, as you regard the spectacle of your parents and sis: "There but for the grace of God go I."

About 3 years ago my older daughter “Ashley” and some of her friends were caught making fun of my husband’s sister, “Sue” for being overweight. We had Ashley apologize to her aunt and also had many good talks about bullying and sensitivity. I know that Ashley, who is now 17, regrets it and has grown into a better person but Sue hasn’t really warmed up to Ashley again and holds her at arm’s length. Sue has asked us if she can invite our 15-year-old daughter “Tanya” to spend a week with her after Christmas. Since Sue lives in NYC this is going to be a big deal with them seeing the tree in Rockefeller’s center and a Broadway show and a spa day. When I asked Sue if she would consider inviting Ashley too she told me no, she won’t feel comfortable with Ashley in her home and wants this to be a fun, carefree week. My husband wants to let Tanya go but I want to veto the idea unless Ashley gets to go too. My husband points out that Tanya, who struggles with her weight, has always been much closer to Sue and that we can do some fun things with Ashley while Tanya is with her aunt. My husband and I have been arguing about this for a week now and could really use an outside perspective. What do you say?

Let Tanya go. Your making Ashley's inclusion as a condition of sending Tanya might have made sense when they were little and/or if Sue were being biased or cruel. But, Ashley's old enough to understand and even be happy for Tanya, and Sue has a valid reason for choosing as she has. 

Even without the history, I can make good arguments for the one-niece-at-a-time plan. Always sending kids as a package isn't a favor even to the kids.

Would it be better if Sue reminded herself Ashley was 14 at the time, cruel but still so emotionally unfinished, and used that to override her emotional reflex to keep Ashley at arm's length? Yes, it would. But this is part of the lesson Ashley, I hope, learns from the past three years and beyond, that the laws of "actions have consequences" don't have a fairness clause. She can't assume forgiveness just because there are grounds for forgiveness.

I dissected all this because that's what I do, but, really, you could have changed the backstory to anything and I'd still say: Ashley is 17. She'll manage--so let her.



Dear Carolyn, I'm lucky to be able to telework three days a week. On the other two days, I have a 1.5-hour commute (each way) and I share an office with a guy I can't stand, so on work-from-office days a lot of my debriefing involves complaints about those things. My husband has gotten very frustrated with me for being in a job where I "seem unhappy" 40% of the time. He is a creative professional doing what he absolutely loves, and to him it doesn't make any sense to suffer inconveniences like a commute and an officemate, even though I get a paycheck for doing so. This difference in perspectives on work is really starting to bother me, since our children are at an age where everything we say counts. They are not trust fund babies, and I don't want them to get the idea that it's wrong to tolerate small daily hardships (which in my view is why you get paid to work). He doesn't want them to think it's okay to tolerate a working life that isn't more fun than, well, work. How do we reconcile these differences and send our kids a consistent message?

Do all messages need to be consistent? 

You have your experience, he has his.

One part of his experience, though, is your negative "debrief," which is the part that seems to want rethinking here. You may see it as an end-of-workday cleansing ritual, but your husband is (however we cast the details) to the general point of feeling weighed down by the negativity of it.

So it's time to change your cleansing ritual. Your long commute, IMO, is an advantage. That's a lot of podcast, literature, music, beach-reading, standup-comedy, language-learning, TED-talking opportunity you have there. For six hours a week, you laugh, cry, learn, feel, mangle simple phrases, and otherwise get out of your rut. Beautiful. And, ideally, you come home to your husband, maybe even have an agreed-upon "crappy thing of the day" 5-minute retelling of tales about your terrible colleague, then move on to full embrace of family life.

Given that daily life and the small hardships thereof are basically the building blocks of the human experience, I don't think you need to do a lot of explaining to your kids about the importance of managing them with grace. Just, manage them with grace. They're watching, always. You can trust that above anything else.

Another thing to experiment with is each having your own blanket in bed, since you both have different temperature preferences AND different weight preferences.

My boyfriend of a year is 28 and just went back to grad school this year. He is spending a lot of time around classmates who are a few years younger, 22-24, and is living with two of them as roommates. Though he is a very intelligent and independent person, I think that they are rubbing off on him in certain ways. Namely, when we try to have discussions about the future (we have talked a lot about getting married and having children together), he borrows the phrase "ten-year plan" (used a lot by one of his roommates), suggesting that he sees us getting married and having a child within about 10 years, after he has interned and traveled and blah blah blah. I am 31 (yes, robbing the cradle) and I would say that marriage/children for me are more of a 3-5 year plan. As in, my understanding is that we should get moving on these things within five years, not 10, as 10 is probably too late. How do I talk to my boyfriend about this when the people he's closest to right now (aside from me) are so far behind us in chronological life?

You say it, and if he doesn't get it, then you question his math ability.

This is not to say he owes you anything beyond taking your concerns seriously. Once he realizes "have babies at 41" is not a high-percentage life plan for women--assuming the necessary math skills--he's still free to have and live by his 10-year plan. It just means you'll have to factor that into *your* plans and then decide if this is the guy you want to be making plans with.

Last week you answered a question from a size 14 bride whose mother told her to lose weight. Well I am also a size 14 girl, but I have the opposite problem. I really want to and feel like I need to lose weight. My BMI is in the obese range and I am, like the prior poster, a bulimia sufferer. Except mine's active currently. So I am trying to eat healthy and cut down on alcohol (a binge/purge trigger for me). But instead of encouragement, I get "you don't need to lose weight, you look great," "oh c'mon let's go out for a drink," "have some pizza" etc. All the time. Every time I try to decline something. So I tell people, I know you think I look great cause you love me, but I really need to lose weight for health reasons. But I still get the same responses. I don't really want to share my eating disorder history with everyone and those who know still say the same things so I don't think it would help. I know you can't control others' behavior and I don't want to avoid literally everyone I know. What can I do here??

You don't mention having professional help as you deal with "active" bulimia, and that concerns me. If you're not working with someone qualified to help you, then please do so. Here is information for the National Eating Disorders Association help line: LINK

As for what you can say: "I really need to lose weight for health reasons" is not helping you with friends, and is arguably not accurate. What your body needs from you right now is about cause (healthy relationship with food), not effect (weight). To foods you don't want, say, "No, thank you." Repeat without explanation as many times as necessary. I'm sorry even your well-meaning friends aren't helpful--and please do call the help line today.

I have been dating a woman for a few months. For the most part things are going well, but there's one thing that is increasingly bothering me: She has on a few different occasions "tested" me. Example: She texted me that she was sick and asked if I would take time off work to take her to the doctor. I said I would and she texted back, "OK, you passed! I'm not sick, I was just testing you." I have told her that I am extremely uncomfortable with being "tested" like this, but the tests continue. Is this something to break up over?

Yes, immediately.


(I just bailed on an answer because it's better suited to the column. Pardon the silence while I start over on something else.)

Over the last 20 years, I had a well-paid job in an interesting foreign city. I had lots of visitors—usually for between one and two weeks—and I was in the fortunate position of being able to be a lavish host. I now live in a different interesting foreign city, but have retired on a much more modest income. Friends and family are lining up to visit—and I would love to see them — but not only can I no longer pick up the check all the time, I need to keep my dining, dancing, and drinking out to a minimum. Some of my friends will get this instinctively, but not all of them —I had one friend stay for two weeks last month and it smashed my budget to smithereens. How do I change this dynamic without making them feel unwelcome or sounding poor-mouth? They know I love to go out, but my life is quieter now. I was raised not to talk about money (and I confess I think it’s tacky), so I could use some advice.

If you won't feel comfortable saying, "I'd love to, but I'm retired now and scaling back"--which I suppose is tacky but warms my pragmatic heart--then you're going to need to get comfortable saying, "That sounds lovely, but I'll be cooking at home tonight/skipping dinner/etc. Do go without me, though, I know you'll love the food there," in hopes they'll either go without you, or get the hint and treat, or stay home to help you cook. It's either that or go broke thinking you have to say yes.

I know this is not the point of the original question, and was likely at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but can we just address the fact that a 31-year-old (presumably) woman dating a 28-year-old man is not "robbing the cradle?" No one would even blink at that age difference if the genders were reversed. I'm a woman married to a man who is less than 2 years younger than me, and I've been told on multiple occasions told that I'm robbing the cradle. Can we just not, please?

I took it as tongue-in-cheek, but if not, then, ugh.

To the OP: When your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend asks, "But why are you breaking up with me?" the correct response is: "You failed my test."

As entertaining as that may seem or satisfying as it may feel, it actually perpetuates the problem. Better to be honest: "Because jerking people around to 'test' them is acting in bad faith. I want to date someone who is not afraid to trust people."

You may have it backwards; it may not be that your boyfriend has been influenced by his younger friends, but that he sought out a younger crowd because that IS where he is right now. He doesn't sound like someone ready to settle down soon, and if you are, you may need to look elsewhere.

Yassss. Thank you.

Five hours to drive for a booty call. That's excessive.

For the caller. For the call-ee, it's a sub-optimal delay. 

(Unless one has a conscience.)

She may also be worried about Tanya and her relationship with Ashley. Sue may see a solo trip as a way to check in with Tanya and make sure she hasn't been subject to any bullying from Ashley about her weight, even in the past. There could be an incompleteness to Ashley's growth/regret that Sue sees that you don't that can justify her not wanting to invite Ashley to spend several days in her home.

Um, what does Tanya's weight have to do with this decision? The fact that Dad (Sue's brother) brought it up suggests the family may separate people into groups based on weight (consciously or not), which would make Ashley's move to bullying of the "other" a smaller step than it might have been. Also makes we wonder how Ashley has treated Tanya over time and out of the parents hearing. I may be way off, but I think the whole family might benefit from some introspection on this issue.

Carolyn - I agree with your answer to the OP that it's the sister who ultimately suffers, but can't second enough the recommendation for her and her brother to get the support of a family therapist. It's not going to get any easier over time if the sister cannot function as an adult and the parents can no longer bail her out. Will the sister's husband pick up that role, or will the parents and sister expect the siblings to continue coddling her? Starting to build the skills and the language to resist those expectations can't start soon enough, because it's only going to be harder as parents age. Sadly, Been There.

Yeah, we've been sold a bill of goods that we should always be able to be happy and fulfilled by our work. That's totally worth pushing back on. But the flip side of it is that if work is making you MISERABLE, then no, you should not consider yourself stuck in that just because it pays the bills. Certainly not when there are other options on the table, other jobs available. You should be looking for something that is at least tolerable. And if it's tolerable, you shouldn't need to complain about it as much as it seems that you're doing. So. Is it really tolerable? Can a perspective shift or the self-care Carolyn described help it be tolerable? Or do you need to look around and see what's around that will work better for you out there? And back to your kids: Do you want to teach them to put up with a job and requirements for it that are tolerable or miserable?

I understand, intellectually, when someone says about favoritism shown to a sibling - 'At least you learned to stand on your own to feet' or 'They are really hurting the favored child in the long run' I get it. I do. But at a very emotional level is the knowledge that the person (or persons) who is/are supposed to love you unconditionally, and hopefully at least as much as your siblings, doesn't. And that hurts, no matter what spin you put on it.

True, thanks.

If a main motivator for having another child is to provide a playmate for your current only child you may want to rethink things. The age gap is already four years and it seems likely it would be five or six years by the time they have another child. That's a wide gap that's not likely to result in the kids seeing each other as favorite playmates. So, you may want to think about how important "the sibling for our son to play with" is in this equation because it's unlikely that five-year age gap will result in besties.

Another good point, thanks.

My commute is about two hours each way because I have to ride a ferry. For some reason, people think this is an arduous commute and I must be crazy, but for me it absolutely isn't. There is no "traffic" on a ferry, I'm not actually driving, and I can read, knit, nap, text, whatever. By the time I get home (at 5pm), my second boat ride of the day has washed away all of the work residue. I work to live, I don't live to work (anymore), and this is the price I'm willing to pay to live on a beautiful island where I can watch the sunset over the water every evening.

omg I want to come knit with you (big uneven lumpy things because I'm too impatient these days to work the fine stuff).

Okay, that's it for today--thanks everybody for stopping by; special thanks to Kelly the Producer, in for Yu; and have a great weekend. 

My partner hated his job and every night I too got to hear the "debrief." It led to the worst arc or our relationship. For him, he was just venting. For me, he was dumping his s*** on me. Then he'd finish up and walk away cheerful and thanks to him, I would have a nasty black cloud over my head for most of the evening and we'd end up proxy fighting about who ate the last cracker. Ugh! We tried 10 minute limits or him not saying anything to me at all (just going straight to the gym to work it off, etc) but in the end, the thing that worked for us was him quitting the nasty job (which I agreed was awful for many reasons). It took about 2 months to find the new job and we struggled a bit with finances but even during that "poor" period, we were happiest we'd been in a long time! He cooked, cleaned, ran errands. I was almost sad he found the new job! But when he did, a huge weight was off both our shoulders. He's employed again, even making a bit more money and while he still has bad days (me too!) but the debriefs are less often and more controlled and we are SO MUCH happier . So my advice is to find a new office mate or switch jobs but above all, stop debriefing your s*** all of your poor partner.

"proxy fighting about who ate the last cracker": brilliant.

I don't agree that a 5-6 year gap prevents siblings from being close. I'm 5 and 7 years older than my two younger brothers (there was a miscarriage between us) and the three of us were inseparable from the start. I thought my first brother was a present for me... Things were tough when I was in my late teens, which is not unexpected - but when we were kids we would all play games, stuffed animals, sneak out of bed at night to watch TV, etc. I loved every moment of it & to this day we are all very close (in fact, the youngest works at the same office as I do!)

Playmates are beside the point. But as an adult with siblings, I can say it's good to have someone to share aging parents with, and often meaningful to share one's own aging with (because once they're in their 20s, there's no effective age difference). Being an only child is fine, just as being childless is fine; but so is having an adult sibling. There are lots of considerations to discuss.

Also (coming from a youngest) it's weird to think that your parents had you just for the purpose of enhancing the life of your older sibling. That mentality will mess you up out of the gate.

How my grandmother, hostess supreme, would have handled this without ever mentioning money: "Since I've retired, I've discovered how much I enjoy having the time to cook!" "Nearby College has an excellent Drama department. I like to support them and I really enjoy the work they do." Every cheaper alternative would be described as something worthwhile for itself and possibly even better than what she had the time to do before.

Very true. My boyfriend's sister is 7 years older and honestly his childhood was like being an only child, as was hers. They are pretty good friends now at 31/38.

Another downside of the favoritism is that when parents go out of their way to provide excessive support to one sibling, they damage the relationship with their other children. Then, when they need help, the child they poured all of their attention and money into is incapable of helping and the other children may be so resentful that they don't want to step up.

Yikes. Yes. Lots of roosting chickens here.

It's a joke, folks. My wife is one year older than I am, and we've made that joke any number of times over the 32 years of marriage (so far). Lighten up.

When you make the joke, then you know it's a joke. Since you didn't make this joke, you don't know it's a joke.


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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