Carolyn Hax Live: 'The importance of being acknowledged'

May 01, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Waiting for the chat? Read from the archive:

Carolyn's recent columns

Carolyn's past chats

Glossary of frequently-used chat terms

Follow Carolyn Hax on Twitter (@CarolynHax) and Facebook.

Want answers now? Search past Carolyn Hax live chats and find answers to your questions even if she is offline by clicking here.

Oh hiii. 

Hope everyone's staying healthy and more or less glued. 

Hi Carolyn, I have been dating a very sweet man for a little over a year. Despite the fact that he is kind, a good listener, and accepts me for who I am, there has always felt like there is something missing. I kept deciding to wait and see if greater intimacy would blossom - it hasn't. I know that love is an action and a choice, but I feel like there has to be some feeling around it, too. I just don't feel like I love him, though I do care about him and his feelings a great deal. There is something very rote and mechanical about the way he shows care and with this quarantine there has been no desire on either of our parts to shack up at one person's house. My friends tell me it isn't a good time to break up with someone, and I tend to agree, but he is starting to piece together my lack of interest and who knows how long we will be under shelter in place orders. Should I be grateful to have a kind and caring person I can spend time with for the time being or take the plunge and set sail on my own? -Lackluster Love in the Time of Corona

He's figuring this out, so, show him the respect of being honest. Maybe you're actually, mutually, meant to be friends and that's why his romantic overtures seem mechanical.

BTW, I know there's a sea of data from arranged marriages that people can decide to be in love, but it seems to me there's a palatable middle ground on the whole "love is an action and a choice" idea: The attraction and the affinity come to you naturally, and you stoke that over time with actions and choices. Fair enough?

I just can't see myself ever advising someone to choose someone who seems meh but decent enough and then to work doggedly at turning things romantic. 

Carolyn, thank you so much for doing the chats twice a week. I’m sure you must feel you’re answering the same questions over and over again, but it such a comfort. Every graduate school that my young adult child applied to said they are not taking any new students in the fall and made no decisions even if he was accepted. Really angry at them. No info on when that will change. He had counted on that to launch the next stage of his life. He’s so talented and wants to move on! How do I comfort someone who feels stuck?

At first I thought your headline was "Young Adults Suck." Got your question noticed, at least.

Also--sorry no second chat this week. I'm also trying not to burn out. I think an extra one every other week might be sustainable.

Annnnyway, your question.

I'm sorry your child is stuck. I don't think there's any real payoff, though, in turning so much anger at the schools. They're just trying to stay solvent and operational in extraordinarily challenging times. (If you want some ideas on more productive anger, I'm happy to discuss.)

There are millions of people right now trying to figure out their next step out of this dread-infused limbo. It's not personal. It's also not fair, but that's been the theme here for all 25 years of the last two months: This crisis is just thrashing around around indiscriminately, missing some people entirely and devastating some others.

If your talented, ready-to-launch son can find a safe, reasonably bearable place to ride this out, then he's ahead of the game. And if he can find room to repurpose this s*** sandwich in some creative or constructive way, then he can conceivable emerge better for it--maybe not right away, but over time.

I don't suggest trying to use this to comfort him, however. Depending on where he is on his aaaaaaagh arc, your loving presence might be more useful as a safe place for him to express his bad feelings. Listen for what he needs before you guess at what to provide. When in doubt, reflect, "Yes, of course you're [angry/worried/etc.]." And save answers for when asked.

It can be hard to read, but sometimes all an adult child wants is to lean on Mom/Dad, and sometimes all an adult child wants is to be anywhere in life but home again leaning on Mom/Dad. Sometimes both at once.

Dear Carolyn, My office moved to remote-only work about five weeks ago. In our last weekly team meeting, my supervisor issued a reminder that everybody be patient and understanding of missed deadlines on the part of coworkers X and Y, who have young kids at home. Her tone was lighthearted but she really meant it and I felt personally targeted because I have been known to send nudges when work comes in late and causes delays on my end. My supervisor's lighthearted "PSA" really ticked me off and I am trying to get a handle on my feelings. Yes, I get that this time is very difficult for people with kids -- I see reminders of this all the time. But as I see it, there is a direct line between having kids and the reality that they will be disruptive, and people ought to plan ahead for that. I do not have kids, and one of the reasons is that I am a terrible multitasker. I needed to be childless to find the success I wanted in this career. If I had cared more about having children than the career, I would have done so and not taken on work that had such strict deadlines. Under normal circumstances (everyone in the office), I don't feel this irritation but I am just wondering why exactly people with kids are being given a get-out-of-jail-free card as we are all trying to do our best work in the time of COVID.

Oh my goodness.


Your colleagues with children did fine meeting deadlines under normal conditions, yes?

Well, these are not only not normal conditions--they're never-seen-before-in-anyone's-lifetime conditions.

If your empathy is conditional on their having been able to foresee never-seen-before-in-anyone's-lifetime conditions, then your empathy plan is in need of an update to incorporate the new information known as 2020. 

Having to keep, say, a 2-year-old alive (full-time job) at home during work hours (of a full-time job)--when said toddler would normally have been in the care of someone whose full-time job it is to provide care--is not "car[ing] more about having children than the career."

Most people do, in fact, care more about their circle of humans than they do their work--but normal circumstances don't force people to choose.

One more thing. There are also people who care more about their work than they do their circle of humans, and I'm not judging them--in fact, society needs such dedication. (I just finished "Chernobyl," so this is a freshly renewed conviction.)

But society needs its parents, too. These colleagues who are ticking you off so are raising your future caregivers, mechanics, architects, road crews, flight crews, bankers, and supply-chain sustainers. Ahem. So please remember that and come through generously when your *supervisor* asks you to cut them some slack. This time and the next time the wheels come off the world.

Hello Carolyn, My sister is a very decent person. We have never had a falling out as seems so common in families. The truth is, I feel nothing for (or against) my sister. If she wasn't my sister, it seems to me we would never have crossed paths, as our lives are so different. I've wondered lately if this feeling is common for siblings. Putting it bluntly, she would like to visit for a week, whereas I feel a day would easily be enough. What is you take on this? Thank you, Brother

It's a week. 

Can you do it? (Literally at this point, and emotionally.)

I do think this happens more often than people feel comfortable admitting--that sibs wind up just not having much in common except their history.

BTW, since you might have more visiting time ahead of you than conversation topics: That can be a rewarding vein to mine, that shared history. The same events seen from different angles can tell surprising new truths. 

Dear Carolyn, I'm the OP from 4/17, "keeping the flame alive." Sorry I missed updating last week! I thought it was Blursday but it was actually Blahsday, and it may have been 5:00 somewhere, but it was no longer between 12 and 2. Anywho... We're doing a little better. I'm trying my best to let things roll off my shoulders, and I opened up to my husband about how I was feeling. Things aren't perfect, but they're definitely improved. I have to admit I felt a little lost with your response, at least initially. I don't mean that in a snarky way and I'm not being deliberately obtuse -- I struggled to picture what wanting the flexibility I have and choosing not to be annoyed would look like in practice. As I said though, I tried my best and things are on an upswing, so maybe I understood better than I thought? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Thank you for taking my submission.

Ha, this is great, and thank you for your candor. 

Changing a mind set vs. changing actions can be really hard, both to envision and to execute. 

My spouse often says I should do something, or I should buy something, or my daughter should do something. I often think I don't have to, I have a choice! It's it's not a matter of whether I should but can I afford to, or have the energy or desire to. You have expressed before the problem with "should" comments but I can't remember what the root problem is. Would you mind please explaining it again? I'm trying to figure out why these "should" statements are getting under my skin.

The root problem is someone is constantly telling you what to do. 

Even toddlers resent this, and they're still too judgment-challenged to know not to run into the street.

Don't you want to spend your time with people who think you're a competent adult who can make reasonable decisions on how to run your day-to-day life?

Please explain that when spouse says what you "should" do, you feel irritated. It is unsolicited advice  and you prefer to make your decisions on your own.

There's no point in pretending this will be easy. It's a huge emotional distance to cross, from seeing that one's constantly flowing insights are essential to the healthy functioning of home and marriage, to zipping it because one's spouse can clearly handle things without help.* But that's where you start. Couples' counseling is the next stop.


*If one spouse genuinely thinks the other isn't competent to handle things without constant corrections, while the other is in fact legally competent, then straight to either therapy or an attorney with that one. Because that's not a marriage, that's guardianship.



I am very proud of myself lately for finally learning how not to take things personally. I really try to reflect on how the other person is feeling when they speak to me with some criticism or complaint ("You didn't wear your face mask when you pumped gas!"). Asking them how they are feeling and coping, surprisingly, works like magic to get the other person to express their thoughts instead of piling on me. It turns out pretty much everybody is worried and upset about the same exact thing --- getting through this with our loved ones intact. Many families will not. My heart goes out to them.

Love this, thanks.

Hi all. I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about how I’m a new stay-at-home stepmom struggling during the pandemic. I just wanted to check back in and say thank you to Carolyn and the kind commenters who sent me encouragement. Things have gotten on a more even keel lately, and after good talks with my husband and reconfiguring our arrangement during the day, the kids and I are all a lot less stressed. I think we’re all getting used to our new normal, and there have been fewer tears on everyone’s part. I’m totally in love with my new family, and while I wish more than anything that our lives together hadn’t started during a major global crisis, I am so very lucky to have them. Thank you again! Especially to the commenter who wrote “no greater love, etc.” I think about that at least once a day. Sending big empathy and strength out to everyone struggling right now. <3

So happy to pass this along, too, thank you.

My corona virus situation is better than many people's, but my husband and I are still running into one conflict. My husband has been reading the news and getting really upset, and I'm often just baffled by it. Yes, politician X said something dangerous and stupid that will cause more people to die. But, it's both as beyond our control and as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow, so I don't understand getting quite as upset as he is. I know he's entitled to have feelings, and that I'm distracted by a really busy job (working from home) while he's suddenly unemployed. And he's been trying not to check the news right before bedtime, so we don't get into a long discussion and ruin my ability to be productive the next day. But, how do I have more sympathy for his feelings and be more supportive, without joining in his feelings, which historically has lead to some bad problems with depression for me?

If it's the political side of the news he's reacting to, then why don't you encourage him to get active? He can volunteer a bunch of ways, I bet, from making calls on behalf of a cause he cares about to actually signing on to a campaign.

Not everything is beyond our control.

My stepdaughter is 17 and came to live with us in December after her mother kicked her out (and then her mom moved moved across the country and has pretty much cut ties). She's a troubled kid. Her mom is totally self-involved to the point of neglect. Her dad (my husband) has been often away for the military in places where communication is difficult. They divorced when the kid was 13. The kid loves pot. And smoking. Both of which her dad does not approve of. I am an ex-smoker so I get the nicotine addiction and we've been countering that with the gum. But she went out for a walk, got some pot from a friend (no idea how she paid for it), came home and was smoking in her room. This is probably not the first time since quarantine. Her father feels like a failure. She has a gloom and doom attitude toward everything. I'm so angry at her for putting all of us at risk. Her father and I both have preexisting conditions that would make us more vulnerable to COVID. What do we do? How to we help? She has a therapist and is on medication for depression, anxiety and ADD. It's a mess. I'm so sad for both of them.

Me too, I'm sorry.

You need a therapist too here. Depression, anxiety, ADHD and substance abuse, plus the entirely understandable emotional obstacles dips and freakouts that come with almost every aspect of this (adolescence, family trauma, pandemic), present serious challenges. 

Yet parents routinely expect themselves to manage all this just by winging it. 

Please don't do that to yourself. Get an instruction manual in human form--as a kindness to yourself more than anything, but one that will also become a kindness to your stepdaughter over time. 

It sounds like you're bringing a really good heart to this, so no matter what you do, that's good for everyone.

a woman called me to day to thank me for an email i had sent. she said it was kind and made her v. happy and i had my first cry in 6 weeks. i live alone and had been feeling really low and she just made me so happy....


Good reminder for people who have the chance, to send a little happy to someone they think might need it.

Go with your gut! Take it from someone who did stick with the nice guy rather than look for nice with sparks. Looking back on everything I think we both settled rather than face the unknown. We've been married 15 years and we're friends and nothing more. We have a daughter we adore, and I stick with it for her. It's more complicated than that, but basically I've decided life is better if we stay together. Financially, it would be extremely difficult for both of us if we split up. It isn't horrible, but it's certainly not what I had hoped for myself.

You've given this relationship an entire year to see if something more would develop. Nothing did. Do both of you a favor and move on. I'm reminded of the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" where Meg Ryan's fiance says he doesn't want to be someone anyone settles for. Relationships are hard enough without going into it with such low expectations. Rom-coms have a lot of truth in them. I have spent decades studying this.


That is one of the most poignant, resonant lines ever uttered on the subject. And, Bill Pullman.

Choosing Love is for when you've been partnered for a long time and hit a snag. If you have to choose love at the onset of a relationship, it's not the right person. I've had to choose to love my husband many time over the years, but I'd still pick him as my quarantine buddy.

I dated a sweet, kind man for several months a few years back. He treated me very well. I thought his way of caring was a little mechanical. I suspected that he was mildly spectrum-y from other aspects of his personality, and I put the mechanical part down to that, because it was clear that he did care for me and had a truly loving spirit. We both wanted so much to love and be loved that we tried to make it work. But I never felt like he really "got" me. In the end, we parted amicably and remained friends for several years until our lives drifted apart. Shortly after we broke up, he met someone else and they fell in love. I liked his new love enormously, I thought she was good for him, and it was lovely seeing them together. They got each other in ways that he and I never managed. I was glad he and I hadn't stuck together just because. We could probably have made it work for some values of "making it work," but she was much better for him than I was, and he wasn't what I needed. They married, had a child, and were still happy together last I heard.

We don't usually get the view from this side. Good stuff.

Hey Carolyn and everyone, Thanks so much for all the ‘it’s ok to hate zoom’ posts recently. They made me feel a lot better. My question is: how do I make sure my friends know that just because I don’t want to zoom all the time doesn’t mean I don’t like them? My time at home is usually my treasured alone time, but now it’s being invaded by a million people who want to talk, which I am grateful for compared to the alternative of no one wanting to talk to me, but Wow I do not have the energy for more than one chat a day (and sometimes barely that).

I'd go with: "just because I don’t want to zoom all the time doesn’t mean I don’t like you."


My boyfriend broke up with me last week. We both live alone with family far away, it wasn't a shock, I was looking to a long term commitment while he wasn't. It wasn't love, but it was comfortable. Since breaking up, I've been filled with creativity and excitement and moving in my own direction. Can't promise it'll go the same for you, but I'm focusing on taking time to slow down and focus on me and my career (a sticking point in last relationships).

I felt this way about my sister — she and I have very different personalities and positions in life. We don’t even vote the same in general. It took a long time before I sought out her company. But once we started talking, I realized we are the only two people who have any idea what it was like to grow up in our (from the outside) super normal family. The only one who lived it alongside me. And even though we took different lessons and chose different paths based on that upbringing, telling our stories to each other fills in gaps in the narrative in a way that is very enlightening and even sometimes hilarious. Try it out. It’s one week. And have a list of things for her to do without you— or that you can do alongside her each other without too much looking into each other’s eyes.

Supervisor here. By all means if you're missing deadlines because you're waiting on others, let me know about it and I'll decide what needs to be done. That's MY job.

Dear Carolyn, Last week, I confided in my friend "Maya" that I slept with a different friend's husband for a short period a few years ago. I don't want to make excuses, but it was during a very bad time in my life and I did a lot of things that I would never do now. I knew I was disclosing a pretty big secret and that Maya would probably pass judgment, but I didn't know how much. A few days after that conversation, she texted me to say that she had been thinking about it a lot and wanted to know if I could provide her any sort of assurances that I would be more trustworthy to her than I was to that other friend. I wanted to write back that OF COURSE I would never go behind Maya's back, but, I don't know, those words feel hollow. The answer is that I never would, both because Maya's friendship is so important to me (the other friend's was too, but maybe not in the same way), and because I am now an entirely different person who makes better choices in general. But I don't know whether these words seem hollow too.

Seems like a better topic for conversation than text, no?

Either way: Tell her it's a great question, and fair, and you will respect that by not giving her some hollow answer, like, "Of course I'd never do that to you." Instead, you'll say only what you know to be true: that this experience changed you, and you're now someone who makes better choices in general. 

And you hope she will be transparent with you if this worry keeps dogging her.

It may be your friendship can't recover from having this truth out there, it happens--but if you're transparent with each other, then there's also a chance you become closer for it.

Hi Carolyn - My boyfriend has suddenly become a little distant. A couple of things come to mind that could be causing this (major life changes, quarantine) but when I asked if everything is okay, he said yes. His actions are telling me otherwise. My instinct is to back off until he either comes around or ends things. But if he's distant and I'm distant, it seems that will inevitably lead to a break up. So do I act like everything is business as usual? Either way, how long should I give it before I end things myself? I don't want to be strung along but I also don't want to overreact if this is something that may pass.

You can tell him you want to take his answer at face value, but you're sensing a change in him that says otherwise--so if there is something on his mind, you hope he'll trust you with it.

Then give him some room to come to you.

If you distance each other into a breakup, then that doesn't strike me as an overreaction so much as a sign: for starters, that you don't communicate well enough to be together.

Textual Tension OP--we got the second part of an update, but not the first. Any chance you can re-send? Thanks.

A childhood acquaintance of my husband's died last week of coronavirus. I use that description ("childhood acquaintance" rather than "friend" or "loved one") intentionally to give you a sense of how close the relationship was. My husband has begun using his grief about this as an excuse to stop helping with lots of things around the house, and I'm not sure how to handle it. These guys were not close to each other, though their parents have remained friends. I understand that the randomness and suddenness of it is terrifying, and my husband might be dealing with emotions about his own mortality (we're mid 40s, inching toward the category of people who are most vulnerable to this terrifying illness). But at the same time, we have kids and housework, and his wandering listlessly through the house while I do my share and his must be a temporary situation. How long do I give him to "grieve" before I ask him (I would do so very respectfully and gently) to please snap out of it so that our family can continue working on survival?

Sounds as if you're on to something with the "randomness and suddenness of it is terrifying, and my husband might be dealing with emotions about his own mortality." So, even though it doesn't quite make sense that he'd be grieving a mere acquaintance this hard (though grief is full of surprises, you never know)--it would make complete sense if he were grieving the death of his illusions about life. That can be seriously disorienting, especially if he's been in an American-style bubble where mortality is something that affects other people and is neverever to be discussed.

Regardless, maybe try not just giving him room to grieve, but also helping him process it? The way you would if someone much closer to him had died.

Here's the underlying theory: It's not the most mature coping mechanism ever, but it's not uncommon for people who don't feel as if they're being heard to start doing everything louder. So, the sick person who doesn't feel cared for will exaggerate symptoms; the underappreciated spouse will sigh audibly through every thankless chore; the mourner who feels unsympathized with will wander listlessly through the house.

Worth a try.


My mom sent me a note yesterday that, in essence, said that she saw all the work I was doing to take care of my family (three kids under three) and that I was doing a good job. I didn't read it until 8:30, just as the last child was going to bed and I was about to tackle the mountain of dishes and the Cheerio-covered floor. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It's remarkable how a simple thing like "I see all your hard work" makes such a big difference.

Yay mom. I would have cried on the Cheerios.

~7 years ago now I didn’t get in anywhere when I applied to graduate school. No pandemic, just didn’t work out. I reapplied and am now finishing my first year as a professor at my dream job (even if this is not the dream semester). Graduate school is full of set backs (and life in general I guess). If your child really wants to do this they still can and might even be better for learning how to deal with disappointment.

I know it sounds sort of obvious, but can you (and others) say more about how to choose love in a marriage? I'm 10 years in with my husband and even now (especially now?) in isolation central with our elementary schooler things feel transactional instead of rooted in a deep love. I have moments of wondering if this is all there is but I wouldn't want to hurt or break up my family. How do you choose love?

Ooh, wish I'd seen this sooner--great for people to weigh in on. Anyone willing to pitch in quickly? (I have a headache and can't marathon this till the usual 3.)

Here's a starter thought: Do something small, thoughtful and special for your husband. Bring coffee to him in bed, for example. It doesn't have to include romance you don't feel (yet--that's the point, to cultivate it again), but it does have to reflect your knowledge of him and what he would appreciate.

Repeat, maybe once every day or so.

Another: Say thank you when he does something for you or the family, even if it's "expected." "Thanks for dealing with those dishes." Because all the "transactional" things you do for your shared household are acts of love, in their way.


A guy I was in love with once said to me "I wish I was in love with you." Hurt like hell, but I knew even before he said it that he wasn't in love with me, though he liked me a lot.

Yeah, that's an exquisitely painful gift.

This morning I got a phone call from the hospital cancelling an elective procedure I've been waiting a long time to have done. Even though it wasn't a surprise it took a lot of effort to thank the young woman on the other end of the phone for letting me know. (In the last ten days my washer died, my heat pump quit and the bathroom sink sprang a leak. I'm frazzled.) "Thank you for not yelling at me," the young woman blurted. I told her the cancellation wasn't her fault, wished her a good day and said goodbye. Strangely, I've felt better ever since. I know it's hard but kindness does matter.

I really feel like the lede has been buried here - he's suddenly unemployed. Even if you're financially stable through your job, even if it's a temporary unemployment for him that should be over in the next few months, even if this was a layoff that had NOTHING to do with his performance, that's a huge body blow.

I can't recall where I picked up, so apologies f I repeat myself. After giving the text a week's thought, I sent what I thought was a well-thought-out and neutral message to let him know that I had read his text, and that I was not certain at this point that I could give an answer with regard to just transitioning to friendship. That appears to have enraged him. He called me "bitter (at best)" and stated that clear "I guess friendship won't work with you either". There we somre more choice words from him, and I responded that I felt like this was a discussion for a different veicle than a text message. His responses because more and more angry and segued into gaslighting...

...sorry, somehow that submitted before I finished. The reaction from this person was even more surprising and unsettling than the actual text break-up. I don't know who this person is, but they are not the person that I had been in a relationship with. Or maybe the person I was in a relationship with was all a show. Either way, I sure do regret it all. What the lesson in all of this is, I do not know, but you were right - this person certainly is immature. Especially for someone of his (midlife) age. Now, if anyone can recommend a good therapist, I think I may need one after this experience...

Yikes--I'm sorry. 

I can't find the original link, Google fail, but this much is obvious, it's so good you're out of this. Thanks for the update.

Hello Carolyn. It has been exactly one year since I wrote to you for advice about how to handle questions about my sister's passing. I outed myself a month or so ago when my letter was republished. (link) The advice you gave, as well as those from your readers, was helpful and I used one of the answers provided to help me deal when someone asks about the circumstances. Rarely am I asked what happened, though it did come up recently. My answer nowadays is either "mental health complications" or to ask why it matters, depending upon the person asking. I still don't personally understand why a person would ask, but I'm more or less over it, and just expect the question when I mention my sister's passing. I focus on the person she was and hope more folks consider that angle. As opposed to "how did this person die?" think "what kind of life did this person lead?" Certainly, it's not for everyone, but that is just how I try to approach news of someone's death. But, everyone responds differently, and the question doesn't sting as much as it did a year ago. Thank you for answering my question, and everyone else's. And thank you for including resource links to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the reprint.

Thank you so much for the update, and for educating us. Very helpful. I'm glad you're doing better.

Speaking as a media production manager of decades (now laid off from covid), I'd like to weigh in here. It's not just families with kids, it's families with pets that get sick (I have two cats), it's families with a seriously ill family member (not covid related, just my experience helping to care for my sister while she battled ALS); it's all the stuff that happens to people while there are deadlines to meet. It's being human and factoring in that the unexpected and mind bendingly difficult drops in - never when it's convenient or respecting of schedules. And that's under normal circumstances, not what we have now, which isn't anything like. Maybe if you stepped back and recalled when someone had to cut you slack because of any of the reasons I listed above, and so many others I didn't. Maybe you can't factor in "wiggle" time in your schedule due to your job. But compassion and empathy cost you nothing, and when life gets to whatever it's going to be when this eases, will give you a huge bank of goodwill that makes everyone's lives a whole lot easier. Breathe. Go out for a walk, listen to some music, your stress level is showing. You don't need that grief and neither do your co-workers.

Standing, clapping. Thanks.

When someone once reacted negatively to a “should” statement I made, I was startled. I wasn't trying to tell her what to do, just suggesting an idea! But of course it sounded like I was ordering. I realized then that I tended to use “should” when I meant “could.” So perhaps you could suggest to your husband that he try substituting “could,” if you find that less unpalatable.

Wellll ... "could" is better, but if it's unsolicited, then it's still tell-someone-what-to-do-ey. Which is fine once in the blue, but really grating when delivered with any sort of frequency. Volunteering "ideas" when someone is doing something and you're the bystander still comes across as a correction. Because you're actually telling someone who hasn't asked your opinion that you have a way to do something better than they're doing it now.

Which you might, but, again, that can be really helpful or really irritating, depending on the context.

Questions are somewhat better if you've got something significant to offer and haven't been asked. "Would you like suggestions, or prefer I butt out?" for example. That leaves them room to tell you if they're feeling patronized or imposed upon.

But I've found that I have more empathy, not less, for people with kids, right about now. Our society is not structured for this, and people are doing the best they can. Most of our deadlines are not nearly as important as we assume they are. I'm good with prioritizing making sure a 2 year old hasn't just figured out how to open doors with child-proof locks, over making sure the trains run on time.


Oh mama, let me tell you the long-term result of hearing "you should" as part of every sentence... In my case, it is my mother who tells me (55-years-old) what I "should" do in about every sentence. When I am compelled to talk to her, maybe 5-6 times a year, I ask her lots of questions and tell her almost nothing about myself. I don't want to or need to hear her perspective on what I "should" do or be doing, from my bed time, to my investment portfolio, to what time her birthday flowers are delivered, "you should have told them not to deliver them too early as I sleep in." I feel totally disrespected, but it seems as if it "should" reflect back on her because clearly she raised a daughter who is completely incompetent. To the OP, address this sooner rather than later. The resentment builds. It took decades for me to actually see this so clearly, you see it now. Good for you!

I'm a stay at home parent, and even my job is INFINITELY harder in the pandemic. Kids know something is up, plus they don't have their usual outlets of parks, playdates, activities, etc. My child is going absolutely bananas, having tantrums constantly, and tearing the house apart. I set her in her crib, leave the room, and dissolve in tears multiple times a day. My teleworking spouse has to step in occasionally so my child and I can get some space from each other. It's an absolute pressure cooker. This is not normal. Oh, and I just had a heavy book cracked across my face. So exercise a little compassion. We're drowning here.

This feels so real, I wish I could do something for you. Hang in there.

The transaction is the deep love, if that helps. Say, you are taking turns waking up early to take care of the baby. Each time it is your turn to wake up, you aren't just waking up because yesterday you got to sleep in. You are waking up so that the person you love can sleep in. When you get to sleep in the next day, it is because they love you and want you to get a chance to sleep in.

I put a wedding picture of my husband, myself, and our blended family in the bathroom - a candid shot, nothing special. When I’m overwhelmed, angry, disappointed, or tired, or just feeling meh, I see that picture in between the cotton balls and the toothbrushes and I remember why we did this. To me, that’s choosing love.

In these shut-down times, choosing love (for my two sweet kids; I'm divorced) has looked like giving us little things to look forward to during the day. So, one day at 1 p.m., I said "We are having a tea party at 4:00!" Then, at 4, we made tea in the teapot instead of just using mugs, and had some strawberries and buttered toast to go with the tea. And the kids set the topic of conversation for the party, which they decided should be Farts. It made that day feel a little bit less like all the other days.

Not around here, where every day Farts are the topic, but I hear you. 

When my twins were babies, I made a conscious decision not to hold anything my husband said or did in the middle of the night against him once the sun rose. THAT was choosing love.

Here was the original link. I had sent it to myself to read and reread again. I'm thankful I guess to be free from him. I'm just shocked at the apparently split personality. And that he thought I might want him to change his decision. *face palm*

Yeah, well.

Might help, when you're ready, to comb through your memories for stuff you might have missed. "Gift of Fear" has a lot to add here, just on signs we often miss and on our motivations to miss them.

A friend of mine took the time to say she knew how hard this quarantine must be for me, with specific reference to my particular circumstances, and it made me cry as well. None of has any immunity here, we’re all affected - but it means the world to know that someone sees our own particular pain, or hard work, and empathizes with either.

That seems like a fine last word.

Thanks everybody for stopping by today. Have a weekend-like weekend and I'll type to you here next week.

A couple days after I wrote to you about my bf of 9 years staying on the coast because I was a risk to be with, he called and told me he was coming home. I felt such immediate relief, for personal reasons of not having to be alone. We still have to have a discussion about me being Puerto Rico (able to voice thoughts, bit never getting a vote, or at least feeling that way), but for now I'm reveling in having home here a couple days a week. Another revelation I had was maybe I'm feeling a little of my old depression arising and should contact my shrink again for a tune up. This apocalypse is full of lessons I'm ambivalent about learning. Stay well!

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: