Carolyn Hax Live: There are no 'personal wormholes' to a better life

Nov 22, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your questions and comments about avoiding birthday celebrations, a Google faux pas, and forgiving yourself after a break up. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody.

I need to understand how you ever forgive yourself for doing something monumentally stupid. My girlfriend and I broke up 6 months ago. Things had gotten pretty bad between us, mainly because of me. My parents never really liked my girlfriend though they were always nice to her face. Behind her back, they’d constantly tell me she was trashy, over-weight, I could do so much better and that all got in my head since I love and respect them a lot. They’ve always been so good to me and done so much for me. I started picking at my girlfriend over little things, things that my parents had pointed out about her, we had a lot of fights and she finally moved out. My parents were really happy and fixed me up with a friend’s daughter right away but we didn’t hit it off at all. Every few weeks I’d text my ex just to chat but I was really testing the waters about getting back together. She never seemed interested but didn't shut the door either. In October I saw her at a Halloween party and she’s with another guy now and majorly in love with him. It was a gut punch to me to see her move on so quickly. I realize I blew it, I really loved her and I’ll never get her back. I want to accept that I screwed up and move on too but I can’t seem to forgive myself for being so weak and stupid. I’ve lost interest in socializing, I’ve tried dating but other women seem dull and lifeless compared to my ex. I’m also angry at my parents but mainly at myself. How do you forgive yourself for being a major idiot?

Forgiveness is an excellent goal, but I don't think you're going to get far with it unless you do some good hard work on the "weak and stupid" part.

The flashy red lights are here:

"Behind her back, they’d constantly tell me she was trashy, over-weight, I could do so much better and that all got in my head since I love and respect them a lot."

You love and respect--a lot--people who behaved abominably, in service of some truly terrible values. And you not only fell in line with those bad values instead of thinking for yourself, but also took the inner conflict you felt out on your poor girlfriend. 

So this is is bigger than a one-off "monumentally stupid" act. This is a singing telegram from your maturity and integrity centers attempting to let you know you have some work to do.

This doesn't make you a terrible person, just an unfinished one. But if you're looking to behave better when you're entrusted with other people's feelings, then you're going to need to start with some objective attention to your parents and their values. It is possible for (even serious) problems in that department to coexist with doing so much for one's child. In fact, they can be deeply entwined, if there's a narcissistic viewpoint driving it and you, as their offspring, are therefore special and the inferiors and raggedy people must be chased away. Ugh.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. You need a reckoning here: Is a person's value on the inside, or the outside? Does your parents' opinion differ? Is this the first time they've shown snobbish tendencies, or can you see a pattern (now)? Does what they've done to build you up compensate for what they did to tear your GF down? 

Once you sort these things out, then I suspect the forgiveness process will follow.

I don't want anything for my birthday. I don't want my wife to do anything. She wants to make me a cake/dessert for me, but wants me to give her a recipe. I don't want it. I know I am coming off as a scrooge, but I would really prefer not to even acknowledge the day. It's not a milestone birthday or anything, just don't want anyone to make a fuss over me. We will be with my wife's family for Thanksgiving, my birthday falls then, so she wants to make a deal out of it. Is this one of those things where the birthday person doesn't get what they want, but needs to let other celebrate?

I think this is one of those things where you say to your wife, is there a reason this is so important to you? And you listen carefully. It is also one of those things where she then asks you, is there a reason it's so important to you *not* to have a cake? So that you can both listen to each other and decide whose needs it makes the most sense to meet. But she hasn't asked me so I can only hope she comes through.

The obvious answer would be, your birthday = no cake, but I'm resistant to anything that treats adult birthdays as some kind of law. Identify the subtexts, trust each other, make the call.

Dear Carolyn, We recently had new neighbors move in with kids close in age to ours. The wife invited my kids and me over to play but we hung out just the one time. I googled the wife and discovered that her mom is a prominent business person. I texted her asking if she could connect me with her mom because I’m in the same field. She said her mom was busy but she would pass along my contact information. I haven’t heard from her mom nor have I hung out with her since. When I see her walking in the neighborhood, she doesn’t seem as friendly. Did I overstep? How do I recover? Nosy Neighbor

Google was only the platform for the faux pas. Even if you had heard about the mother through conversation with another neighbor, say, your attempt to get to the mom through your neighbor was ungracious and grabby. That was the faux-pas. She made an overture of friendship! And you thanked her by trying to use her to advance your career. You basically told her you valued her not as a person, but for what she could do for you.

I would say to apologize, but that's not going to accomplish much if you don't understand the fundamental rudeness of what you did. It would have been similar, by the way, arguably worse, if you had sat on your knowledge of the mom until you had befriended this neighbor, and only then asked her to connect to the mom. It's all just using. Using is not okay.

The only respectful course was to spend time with your neighbor (or not) based solely on the quality of her companionship. Any professional advantage would then be a nice bonus IF and only IF your friend made the offer herself.

You do still need to apologize, regardless. It'll just mean a lot more if you understand why.

Hi, checking in here. It seems so long ago that I originally wrote you. I took your advice and got our entire family in counseling. It wasn't easy to find an affordable one but I managed. It turns out I didn't shield my son from the fallout from my marriage as well as I thought. Even though he was only 6 at the time, he picked up on the fact that when his father came back into our lives I was fearful of him and our dog hated him. My son never asked me about this but always wondered and worried about it. There was a lot of things both he and my daughter never felt they could ask me. I wanted to protect them from the ugly memories but I guess I made them think it was all a big secret. We're talking openly about some of it now and it's helping all of us. Thanks for answering my letter and the advice.

Thank you, too, for writing back. I'm so glad you're getting to these important truths, and it's helping.

My brother-in-law is not someone I consider a good role model for my son. BIL's idea of appropriate behavior with his nephew at Thanksgiving is arm wrestling him at the dinner table and then teaching him about gambling while watching football. In your opinion should I ask my sister to tell her husband to steer clear of my son, or let it go for one time a year?

There's no avoiding bad role models entirely, and whatever you teach your son is going to have to bear up under all kinds of external/societal pressure, only a sliver of which you can anticipate and preempt.

When you know you have some say, it can be a tough decision. Is it protecting your kids as any responsible parent would, or is it pearl-clutching and bubble-wrapping at your kid's own expense?

I don't think there's a universal answer, in part because quickie descriptions often don't offer enough information for risk-assessment. "The Gift of Fear" and "Protecting the Gift" (de Becker) can help you calibrate your judgment, and they're both accessible in what they suggest.

In the meantime, you can do your own basic risk test: Are once-a-year arm-wrestling at the table (which you can see and say no to right away) and a few gambling tips enough to send your son's life spinning off course? Is preventing these things worth the no doubt highly insulting conversation with your sister?

If there's more to this and/or your BIL triggers your gut-level warning system, then the answer still isn't to talk to your sister--it's to make sure your son is never unsupervised with any person who sets off those bells.

I recently began painful and exhausting fertility treatments, with no guarantee they'll actually work. An old friend, a mom of three, coincidentally began studying for her Realtor's license on the same day I began injections. She now sends regular emails about how excited she is that we're "in this life journey together." More than once, she's asked how I'm doing and, if I mention I'm stressed or worried, she responds that she knows exactly how that feels, because if she doesn't pass her exam, her dream will be crushed. Today's text message: a photo of her textbook next to a Starbucks latte, and the message, "thinking of you as we both pursue our dreams." I'm trying to be patient with the idea that she sees her coffeeshop study sessions as equivalent to my shooting myself up with hormones, undergoing extensive lab tests, and determining my familial future. But I'm frankly irritated. Not only does my friend's success depend entirely on her own hard work -- instead of my crap combo of genetics and luck -- but her worst case scenario is that...she fails an exam and has to take it again. I'm super emotional about everything right now, but am I crazy? This is weird, right? What should I say or do that doesn't belittle her but makes this stop?

You have the in-person, I-know-you-mean-well-but conversation. You can even say you're all for cheering each other on--but if you don't spell out that you're uncomfortable with this "journey" coupling, and why, then you're going to start avoiding this friend or dump a latte on her, both of which are more aggressive acts than just telling her how you feel.

Sorry you're having a tough time.

Dear Carolyn, I don't want children (and have health issues that would make pregnancy and childbirth life-threatening for me), and I enjoy having lots of time to myself. I have a good job, am saving regularly for retirement, and enjoy my social life. In light of all of the above, I have recently begun rethinking my assumption that I should be looking for a life partner. I am in my early 30s and feel okay with the idea of being alone in the foreseeable future. Yet I wonder if this is shortsighted; at some point, will I regret that I didn't meet someone while there were a lot of partners (theoretically) available to me? How do I know for sure?

Conveniently, I don't think anybody "should" be looking for a life partner. Add enriching things to your life, yes, and circulate enough to meet new people, and keep an open mind to new directions your life can take--all of these are great ideas for anyone--and if you are open to dating, then extend and accept invitations. Healthy all around. But actively evaluating people for their life-partner suitability is so specific that I think it actually interferes with--and overly influences--our natural screening processes.

In fact, I could even argue that trying to meet someone while the selection is bigger could lead to your pairing off with someone who's perfectly fine ... which then keeps you from pairing off with someone *great* for you, but whom you only meet by accident 15 years later. In that case, actively looking for a life partner for the reasons you describe would actually be more "shortsighted" than simply continuing not to try.

It's all just a crap shoot anyway.

Since the object is to be happy with the life you have, and you're happy with the life you have, I'm loath to advise messing with it.

I feel like your answer to Thursday's LW suggests that in order to make yourself feel better, put down the other person (in your mind, at least). Thoughts?

I'm surprised at this. My point was that some lives are right for some people, and some are right for others, and there's no golden life everyone wants to have. And that even people who have been through something terrible can emerge from that with something of great value, maybe not to everyone, but to those who are looking for it or needing it.

So: To make yourself feel better, see the value of what you offer.

Now, had I said, "Think of how miserable your sister must be inside," assuming no one successful can possibly be happy, then I'd think you'd be on to something. 

Thanks for the chance to clarify.

Hi Carolyn, I am the letter writer from your reprint yesterday about my fabulous sister. She is still fabulous! In April, our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our father is still working so he couldn’t do all of the caregiving, rides, and support so family pitched in. I coordinated this and volunteered to do what I could to help. My brother and sister-in-law came in from out of town to assist and on one visit my sister-in-law said she was glad I was there. I must have worn my surprise on my face because she said that she liked hanging out with me. This was a transformative moment for me because at family stuff I never think of myself as somebody other people look forward to seeing. My mom is still in treatment but doing well, I love my new job, and that small compliment made a big difference.

Thanks so much for the update, and I hope your mom comes through this okay.

Side note, what a great reminder to tell the people we're glad to see that we're glad to see them. 

My sister died last month. She was young (43) and very fiery, fought a debilitating illness until the end. One of my greatest human inspirations. I will miss her terribly, and yet over the past few days I've started to feel a bit more like normal, to look forward to plans with friends, to nod my head to pop music on TV. I had planned to grieve for months, if not years, and I feel very strange about being able to feel happy again so soon after losing her. Is that normal?

Short answer, there is no normal.

Grief has its own ideas.

But it's possible there's a normal phenomenon at work here: When people are sick long enough to "fight until the end," especially when it's debilitating enough to take them away from you incrementally over time, that often starts the grief clock early--so maybe you haven't grieved for a month at all, but have been grieving for years.

I'm so sorry.

Dear Carolyn, Your answer in today's column really struck home with me. When I was the letter writer's age (I'm now in my late 60's) I didn't have kids of my own but I spent a lot of time with my friends' kids. I even had a "custody arrangement" with one, a single mother, where I took her daughter every Friday night so that she could have some time to herself. In all cases I did it for me, not for them, so that I could spend time with children I really enjoyed. The result is that those parents are my closest friends and I now have two "nephews", ages 47 and 45, and a surrogate daughter, age 40. I eventually married and raised a child of my own, but all of the others remain close. And I had some of the most memorably happy times of my life with those kids.

What a great friend you were, even if you did it for you. Thank you.

Hi Carolyn, Earlier this year I had a short but intense relationship with a guy who was a great catch. Good-looking, smart, well-read, liked his family, etc., and in our late-20s/flirting with 30 that seems harder and harder to find. He wasn't a "words of affirmation" person, which I very much am, and he had several close female friends (4) he had varying degrees of intimate relationships with in the past, which I had a hard time with. I wasn't quite ready for a relationship and was still working on self-esteem and insecurities, which really came to the surface with this person. My question is - how do I move on from a relationship that had great trappings that *I* wasn't ready for? I know he wasn't perfect, but it seems like it was my insecurities/neediness that really drove us apart, and I'm finding it hard to forgive myself and come to terms with that.

Actually ...

If you're still at the point of "working on self-esteem and insecurities," and if your neediness was in full bloom with him, then I think it's more useful to look at this guy as someone your low self-esteem/insecurities/neediness picked out.

If that's the case, then I highly doubt he'd still seem like such a great catch in the eyes of the healthy person you will someday, I hope soon, become after all your hard work. 

Keep working on your stuff, on your ability to stand confidently on your own, to be yourself without apology. What you're doing is hard; don't add to that by being so hard on yourself.

You could just be experiencing some relief at your sister's battle being over. That doesn't mean you didn't love her or that you're not grieving/won't grieve. You might still have breakdowns in the shower or on your kitchen floor. But for now, the battle is concluded and there's no more fight to have. That's going to cause some positive - or at least neutral - feelings, even if the surrounding context is heartbreaking. I'm sorry for your loss, and may your sister's memory always be for a blessing.

I always tried to describe where I was as I went through my 30s as happy with my life as it was but open to finding someone who enriched it, as opposed to looking for someone as a life partner. It is all nuance but the world is nuance after all. It isn't just binary, you don't have to declare "I'M ALWAYS GOING TO BE SINGLE" or "I MUST FIND A PARTNER." Be open and then if you find someone it will be for all the right reasons. As I did. I met my wife when I was 39.

It’s not denigrating someone else to realize that we all have different definitions of “fabulous,” that we never know the full truth of anyone else’s life, that there is no one-sized-fits-all definition of a good life, and that we can learn and grow from great pain and loss as well as great accomplishments and joy. Bottom line - don’t judge your inside by someone else’s outside, don’t even judge your outside by someone else’s outside - just don’t judge anyone, including yourself, for anything but perhaps the only quality which really matters, which is the ability to be kind - to ourselves as well as others.

Hi, just wanted to say that I’m also currently doing IVF and in past got a 3year graduate degree in 22 months, and that there is zero comparison. Most people are so effing clueless about IVF and don’t treat it like the complex medical situation it is. One recent NYT article discussed how research shows IVF stress level is comparable to that of cancer patients. Hopefully your friend isn’t so obtuse that she’d do this with a cancer patient- the problem is that most are clueless and think you should be positive because it’s baby-related. Yeah, my husband just stuck another needle in my butt a few hours ago while I tried not to faint again like I did last week- this isn’t some magical moment.

AHAHAHAHAHA! You must be new here. Just wait till you read the Holiday Hoot, you'll be giving him a big ole kiss.

I really do have a conflict of interest with these questions:

"Don't worry, plop your kids by their ol' Uncle Bookie and don't give it another thought."

I have been waiting patiently all year to find out what the darn word in the naked charade was!

Dec. 13.

In case you missed Naked Susan: LINK

I’m a survivor of an abusive family, and the truest truth for me has been the line near the end of Big Little Lies: Kids see everything. A parent who suppresses discussion about family dysfunction and acts as if nothing happened, “to protect the kids,” just exacerbates the situation exponentially. One moment from my childhood that resonates was when a neighbor saw me crying in my backyard after my parents had verbally and loudly fought. The neighbor asked if I was hurt; I wasn’t and replied thus. That was the whole encounter, but I felt seen and cared about for the first and only time. It was comforting. No one in my family, not parents nor older sibs, has ever discussed any of the constant fighting. Not one single time, even after more than half a century has passed. I still remember that neighbor’s moment of concern for me like a mental hug. So kudos to the mom for starting family therapy. I still feel shame and embarrassment and tainted by my family’s constant fighting so loudly that neighbors sometimes phoned in the middle of the night to say shut up or we’ll call the cops. Yet somehow the ‘rents managed to pretend that their kids had slept soundly through it all. But we saw and heard EVERYTHING.

I am so sorry that happened to you, and thank you--I think this will really help.

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed by it in a moment and unable to shake it - search online for free (short or long) guided meditations on forgiving yourself. When I regret something I can get really ineffective and panicky. These help move forward. One question they ask is “was there information you didn’t have at the time?” Being raised by them you may not have yet realized from up close how judgmental and sh***y they can be. But it is good you’re taking personal responsibility now. Maybe send the ex a thoughtful apology, not to get her back or to make yourself feel better, but because it might help her to hear you realized you were in the wrong and it wasn’t about her.

Good ideas, thanks.

"My parents were really happy and fixed me up with a friend’s daughter right away..." Makes me suspect the parents' agenda all along was to fix up their son with the friend's daughter, therefore the girlfriend he'd chosen for himself had to go. Writer should seriously consider the possibility that his parents habitually manipulate him. I note that he expresses a great deal of gratitude to them. Are they fond of reminding him just how much they've done for him, reinforcing an unstated point that he OWES them? If yes...maybe some counseling could help him sort out what is healthy and what is not.

Is the OP an only child? OP writes in such a way that it strikes me as having only child syndrome which has resulted in some serious narcissism. While the parents' behavior is abominable and OP needs to work with a skilled therapist about adult child/parent boundaries, is it also that OP was only with the "overweight, trashy" girlfriend because it made OP feel some sort of superiority for not dating a stereotype of a thin and elitist woman? That this love and adoration for the girlfriend was only because OP had serious insecurities and now back out in the dating field, is getting repeatedly rejected by this stereotype? As a fat unpredigreed (but damn worthy) woman, I've seen this behavior before. People like the OP "love" us because we make them feel better about themselves and think we should just be happy that people like the OP are paying us attention. The GF shouldn't go back to the OP at all. She found someone better. Learn from your crap behavior.

This is the comment equivalent of hot lights.

I take great exception to the swipe at only children--they're hardly all narcissists and not all narcissists are onlies, so unfair. I also have to call out "She found someone better" as totally beyond the scope of our knowledge. For all we know the new BF is a trauma on legs.

But between those rage bookends, you're on to something, if not with this OP then in general that some are "only with the 'overweight, trashy' girlfriend because it made OP feel some sort of superiority for not dating a stereotype ... because we make them feel better about themselves and think we should just be happy that people like the OP are paying us attention."


This needs to be a public service announcement to all spouses struggling to keep a marriage together for the sake of the children, or for any reason that ultimately doesn't work.

I am a mom in a kid-heavy neighborhood and a pretty successful academic and run a decently large center at my university- and I've had more than one parent google me and all the sudden email and ask for "advice" for their child applying here; whether I know of any jobs at the U; letters of rec for their kids (!) or themselves (!) - and the thing that creeps me out is that they googled me. Ew. Feels stalkerish, and weird from people with whom I'm not terribly close.

Occupational hazard, perhaps, but the Googling and being Googled fazes me not at all--it's the use of the information once acquired. So thanks for the counter. (Now can u get my kidz into skool pleez?)

The Google really bothers you more than their asking these terrible favors?

One of the most important ways we grow up is to develop our own sense of self that is independent of our parents' sense of us (and of the world). That doesn't always mean we become the opposite of our parents, but it does mean we turn a sharper, more critical eye toward what they've taught us and what we want to take from it. On that note, my husband once told me that it wasn't until he was a young adult and out in the world that he realized what selfish people his family were. It was all just normal to him until he saw from an independent adult perspective how other people behaved. It took a lot of self-awareness for him to realize that he needed to make some changes, but he did it. He was still able to maintain his family relationships, but drew healthier boundaries and put himself on a better path. If he hadn't we probably never would have dated let alone gotten married, because his family are seriously awful people.

I'm a family therapist and if I had a dollar for every time a parent had a eureka moment of, "It turns out I didn't shield my son from the fallout from [difficult life event that affected the family] as well as I thought," I'd be a retired family therapist. Believe me, parents: Kids might not know every detail, but they know something is wrong. Talk to them about it rather than shielding them from it.

Please remember that you listened to people who TRAINED you to listen to them. For literally your entire lifetime. To do exactly what you've said here: Love, respect, and listen to them. Yes, you've probably rebelled in some places along the way, but the question to look at for yourself is: Were those rebellions a success? Why or why not? I think it's really important to acknowledge to yourself that you can love your parents without respecting their opinions - or even them - very much. You can acknowledge what they've done for you - so far - while recognizing that it doesn't obligate you to continue to live a life that makes YOU happy, not them. But as you do that, again - please remember that what you're doing is the adult work of separating from the idea that you have to continue to listen to your parents, despite all of those years of training. Forgive yourself by doing that work now and making sure that you don't let yourself fall into the same pattern again when you do find someone else who makes you that happy again.

Great points, thanks.

This part could lead to a whole other thread: "Please remember that you listened to people who TRAINED you to listen to them. For literally your entire lifetime. To do exactly what you've said here: Love, respect, and listen to them. "

I think about this a lot as a parent. When they're little-little their security depends on your certainty, but at some point as they grow up you have to hit the "I''m fallible" switch (and then the "Okay you got me, I'm making a lot of this up as I go" switch), like a train getting re-tracked--or else you produce followers (or rebels, if they're lucky) instead of free-standing adult children.

An additional reckoning is warranted here. Since realizing how foolish you were to not just let her go but actually push her away, have you share that--with the certainty you seem to now possess--with your parents? And since you're the only person in this mix that you control, what are you going to do the next time your parents attempt to sabotage your relationship with your girlfriend...or your wife?

My sister disclosed her extramarital affair to me after it was over. Since then, she has cooled our relationship which was quite close prior, and I'm feeling as if she associates me with a reminder of the affair - I do think I'm the only other person who knows, as she did not disclose to her spouse. We don't chat or text very often and I haven't seen her in over two years now. Our mom is starting to ask more questions around why we don't talk as much and aren't as close. I'm tired of skirting the issue by saying things like we're too busy to talk, etc. What is my duty here in keeping this secret from our mom, since it's making me feel like I'm lying to her to keep my sister's secret? Sis did ask me not to disclose to anyone else ever.

Your duty is to talk to your sister about it first, please--all of it, from the (unwelcome?) distance between you to the weight of her secret. If you miss her, say so.

If you agreed not to disclose her secret to anyone, then at a minimum she needs to know you've changed your mind in light of the collateral damage it has done to your relationship with your mom. 

I just wanted to second the notion of the LW actually dong things with their friends. I have followed a fairly traditional path; I have a lot of friends who have not. The ones I've remained closest with are the ones I see at more than a few get togethers throughout the year, because we have things to talk about other than the general "catch up" topics - we can talk about the movie we saw, or the funny thing that happened, or how they ever solved that problem they were telling me about. It is a bit chicken and egg, but if you make an effort to do stuff with your friends, you'll find it easier to do stuff with your friends.

My girlfriend and I have been together for three years or so, and while things are great we do not see eye to eye on a few things. Her friends tend to be great, until they tend to get high and then I find it tough to be around them. It's been pretty much a rare thing, so I just absent myself. Our state has legalized marijuana effective january 1st, and girlfriend and her friends are all very excited about it, but of course, I am much less so. The discussions we've had about it have been unproductive, I hardly want to issue a weed or me ultimatum, I am not even anti-weed, I am anti the banality of discussion that these otherwise decent, fun people devolve to when indulging, and my girlfriend does not share my disdain of banality, I guess. I don't even know what question to ask here, except I either have to accept the stupid as a regular thing or breakup, right?

Yeah, if it becomes a regular thing. It might not. It also doesn't have the be a weed thing per se. If they were all drinkers and you find it boring to be around shouting buzzed people when you aren't buzzed, or if they were all gamers and you find it boring to stare at a screen for hours, or if they were all art connoisseurs and you just like to spend your free time watching a ballgame, then you'd reach the same crossroads as this one: Is this how I want to spend so much of my time? Yes/no. If, again, that's what January brings.

Srsly, he teaches him how to gamble? That's it? We literally gambled after we ate at Thanksgiving, usually poker and blackjack. OPs head would explode if I related the stories of that time we had a Tequila Thanksgiving...grandma falling on great grandma was the least of it

omg I need a Hoot link RIGHT HERE. 

So said the family therapist, and I would like to add that it is human nature to try to find reasons for things, and kids have only their own experiences and emotional maturity to work with in the absence of better information, so what they come up with to explain the family dysfunction is not going to be as useful to them, in many cases if not most, as something that bears more resemblance to reality. Kids tend to think that things are about them that aren't, for instance. So they may shoulder blame for the dysfunction but keep that inside. Or they might assume that if daddy is mad all the time, mommy must be at fault, or any number of other things. Meanwhile, they're alone with their anxiety and fear.

This is all true, thank you, and important.

I want to add, though, that some of this is inevitable, in any kind of family (or school or whatever), not just in high-conflict places. The task of providing this "better information" at all times on all things is not achievable. It's incumbent on parents to establish that they're approachable, so their kids aren't afraid to ask questions even when anxious, and to provide accurate information on the important stuff--but kids don't ask about every little thing, and sometimes don't even approach the approachable parent. So they're pretty much all walking around with at least a few weird kid-centric theories on stuff, and swapping them virally on playgrounds. 

I get what the posters are saying about talking to your kids about problems they may be seeing, but as someone whose mother told her almost everything about the problems with her father definitely tread with caution about what you reveal and make sure the kids know it is not their problem to solve. My mother took it way too far and I am still struggling with the consequences.

Important balance, thanks. Good family therapy can help people find the spot between under- and over-sharing.

But terrible interpreters. I can't remember where I read that (PEP materials, maybe?), but it has stuck with me. They see more than we think they do, but they can't interpret it unless we help them.

Oh I'm just seeing this--yes, right. Again, they don't always let on what they're seeing and interpreting. Those wheels are always turning.

PEP is great, by the way--especially if family therapy is inaccessible or cost-prohibitive. LINK


There's a great new satire piece in the New Yorker about situations like this: "Hello, I'd Like to Network at You" I personally have a lot of students from my former graduate school pursue me really aggressively because I work in a field that's hard to get into, and they seem to expect me to help them get a job just because I went to their school 10 years years. Please, people, when networking, keep in mind that the networkee is a human being, not your personal wormhole to a better life.

I do not have a personal wormhole to a better life, and I am *vexed.*

There are a bunch of reaction posts to the IVF vs cancer mention, and so I direct all to the original post, which was referring to a *news article* about *research* comparing stress levels. Please let's resist some temptations to take offense.

Hi Carolyn, Two things in the letter suggested that the LW’s real issue may be less the fragrance and more LW’s personal dislike of their sister in-law. One was the LW’s statement that their house “always has windows open, and it's fresh and clean.” The windows are always open (btw that sounds like a temperate and dry climate; I want to move there!), but the guest room smells for weeks after she leaves. Huh?? And two, the casually contemptuous way LW refers to her family member (a purportedly stinky one, but LW’s spouse’s sister nonetheless) as “this woman.” This woman? Wow.

LW can personally dislike the sister-in-law *and* have significant health issues related to fragrances.

Especially since the LW might dislike SIL *because of* her stubborn refusal to stop poisoning her host, which would likely move me to "that woman"-uttering fury as well. But that connection is not necessary for my original point to stand.

Here's the link to the Hoot (pony up, OP of the gambling grandmas): LINK

That's it for me. Thanks all for stopping by, and special thanks to Yu for the Hoot link. Have a great couple of weeks and I'll see you here in December.

Did you just give permission to betray her sister's confidence because mommy is asking questions?

I told her to talk to her sister before she says anything to anybody. So, no.

She has a right to be more forthcoming with her mother than, um just too busy. Even, "We had a falling out." But even that will trigger a call from Mom to Sis, likely, along with some possible unintended consequences even from a general reference to something going wrong. So she talks to sis and says why she's revisiting this and they figure out something they can live with.



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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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