Carolyn Hax Live: 'The struggle Olympics'

Sep 18, 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.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I struggle with knowing when to be assertive and ask for what I want, and when to just let things go. For example, I'd love to spend more time with my boyfriend. I currently only see him on the weekends. I have told him in the past that I need more than just weekend hangouts, and yet, it still doesn't happen. At this point, I don't know whether to tell him "listen, I've been asking for weeknight hangouts for a long time now, they haven't happened, so this is goodbye" or if we can reach some kind of hang out agreement. I don't want to force anything, and but also I have needs here. Any advice?

There are a lot of things couples can reasonably compromise on, adjust their expectations of, rethink their world view on--but I don't think there's any way to reframe someone who doesn't share your sense of urgency about spending time together. So I don't think it's about assertiveness so much as investment. His isn't there. I'm sorry. It's okay to tell him that's how you see it, and why you're going to break up (assuming that's what you want to do). 

Nearly a year ago, I broke up with my partner of 3+ years after it became clear they wouldn't commit and weren't willing to do the work required when it came to their family (who expected an arranged marriage with someone of their faith and culture). I moved out and on with my life - breakups are always hard, but I actually had a great reentry, thanks to supportive friends and family and the knowledge I had done all I could to make the relationship work (including couples counseling). I had multiple people tell me I looked "glowing" in the weeks and months that followed; I had not realized how much the stress of the relationship in that final year had impacted me physically! My chronic anxiety was reduced significantly (even with the onset of this awful pandemic). Feeling good all around (although said pandemic has made dating again more difficult). Ex reached out about a month ago to return some belongings and we met up and had a friendly catch up. Subsequent conversations have revealed the work they have done to better themselves in the wake of the breakup, including re-committing to personal therapy, recognizing their role in the dissolution of the relationship, coming clean to family members, acknowledging how their own anxiety about how family would react caused them to take out their uncertainty and anger on me. I'm impressed with their progress. However, the last year or so of our relationship was a disaster that included disrespect, unkindness, disregard for my desires, etc. I do believe people can change. And, it is hard not to be tempted by this new and improved person (and wouldn't it be nice to have someone to cuddle in the cold, isolated months ahead?) but I also know how wonderful I've felt since getting out. I know I need to take this slow and thoughtfully, but what is your advice to someone considering getting back together with an ex?

My "advice to someone considering getting back together with an ex" would change just about every time I'm asked, depending on the details. 

Your version is this: Reread your question. 

I think you answered yourself, because I'm not sure why you're even considering getting back with your ex. You don't owe him you as a reward for changing.



I am very lucky to have a few good friends who have helped keep me sane through the pandemic. I don't want that to change. But one of my friends, "Abby," has developed a habit of turning every casual chat into another Struggle Olympics. Abby is currently working from home with a partner and a small child. I'm working from home too with no partner (so no financial safety net), constantly worried about the threat of sudden unemployment, struggling with pretty depressing boredom, and wishing I had made more of a priority of dating before that option was taken away from me. But I do not have a child, so in Abby's mind I am "so lucky." I don't want to engage in the Struggle Olympics, so generally I just remain silent when the conversation takes this turn. But would it be any good to say something to Abby about it, or would I just seem like a selfish non-parent who doesn't know how hard she's got it right now?

These mismatches are happening everywhere, every day, between even close friends, so, no, let's rule out the "would I just seem like a selfish non-parent" line of thinking. As we've talked about here a lot, these weird circumstances have put almost everyone in a bind of excess and scarcity. The people with full houses are desperate for space and the people living alone are desperate for companionship, the people working need a break and the people not working need a job. It's also stretching past the first wave of our coping strategies and is well into burning up our reinforcements.

So what I'm going to suggests is actually not a deep dive with Abby into the nature of your conversations, because that sounds to me like another drain on two already near-empty tanks. Instead I'm thinking that you redirect--openly, in the most surface-y possible way. Say something along the lines of wanting to talk about something ... else. Anything else, for your own mental health. Is she up for that? Is there a joint activity you and she can do that works with her time constraints and everyone's covid ones?

Maybe this is unrealistic. Maybe, too, an in-depth conversation would be more restorative than draining. I'm just guessing here. But it seems as though you two are more stuck than anything else, on the lack of new material your friendship is generating given that you're so limited in what you can do together. That's why I'm thinking in terms of superimposing something pop cultural/literary/outdoorsy/etc. that you can share and talk about. 

Aside from basic fidelity, what would you say determines whether two people can make a relationship work from 350 miles apart? Assuming they are both committed to each and other and really WANT it to work, but have all the usual frailties.

The ability to let go and not micromanage and not take things personally. You get what you get and you see where it takes you. If you and your partner are strong enough emotionally to do that--both to inhabit your own day-to-day lives fully as individuals and to embrace the idea that the other will do the same--then I could see that working. 

It's tough because all this oxygen in the relationship could also be what ultimately breaks you up. You really have to be all in on the idea that the natural outcome is inherently the best one.

Hello, Carolyn! I actually wrote in to the chat a few months ago, probably in mid-June, with a question about breaking up with a boyfriend who had a profile on a dating site (and had done so more than once during our relationship). I was unhappy about the idea of "the story of my life" not being what I thought it would be. I'm happy to report that I did break up with him, and that it was 100% the right decision, and that I feel free and light, and less lonely, ironically, than I did when we were together. So, that's all good. My new question is that he is continuing his manipulations by texting frequently. Mostly they are meaningless seeming "How was your day?" type things, but I recognize that these are ways to keep me engaged in some way. He has also texted that he's been in an accident, or been a victim of a crime, etc. These claims tend to come after I've ignored multiple "how was your days?" and are clearly an effort to ramp up the stakes and get me to respond. How do I word the text to him that somewhat nicely says: "I'm sorry X thing happened. Leave me alone." I feel like I need to send one text that says I won't be responding from here on out, as opposed to just not responding. Is that right? Any help would be appreciated. I slightly worry about his escalations, and am thankful that he actually left town when we broke up, but that could change at any point and he could return.

Please read "The Gift of Fear," by Gavin de Becker, to train your eyes to recognize signs this is getting dangerous.

And yes, a, "Please don't text me anymore, thank you," message is important, but even more important that phrasing it just so is not responding again to him after that. Otherwise (this is from de Becker): If you ignore 99 texts and then respond to the 100th, then you're telling him to text you 100 more times to get you to respond, because apparently that's what it takes.

As for the phrasing, be clear. Don't give a reason, because reasons invite work-arounds. 

Once you do this, I'd say to block him, but if there is threatening behavior here then you'll want a record of it. 

Do you recall the date of the original post, so I can add a link? Thanks. And I'm so glad you got out.


My kid just started middle school. We live in a great school district, but the cost of housing is high and that shows in my budget. On the first day, the students were doing their all about me introductions, and it made me feel like my kid is missing out on so much. I’m grateful for what we have and what I can provide. But the classmates spoke of dialing in from their family’s beach houses, taking expensive lessons that are beyond my budget (both time and money wise), etc. Couple that with the near constant praise of “sacrifice everything for one’s children“ and those who congratulate themselves on achieving perfect parenting, I just feel like I am failing as a parent. And then there is the stress of the pandemic added... I am so tempted to give it all up and move to a cabin in the woods. I know logically that as long as my kid has food, shelter, and a loving home, we are okay. But I recall how hard it was being the kid at school wearing old, dirty clothes, with neglectful parents, and getting a substandard education. I turned out okay(ish), and make sure my kid doesn’t have those things hanging overhead. It just seems like the goalposts keep moving, and I can’t keep up.

The "food, shelter, loving home" trio might not just be "okay"--it could arguably equip your kid better than the beach houses and lessons are preparing these wealthier kids.

Your child might also fall behind these classmates, too. I won't insult you with a bunch of rah-rah sunshine. But I think it's important to recognize that all the goalpost-moving and tutor-hiring and opportunity-broadening is not an automatic advantage for kids. There's a lot to be said for inner fire, resourcefulness, the perceptiveness of the person who doesn't have every moment of boredom remedied on the spot. It's something we thought about a lot with our kids, about where the line was between giving them a chance and giving them too much. Still not sure where the line is, but, at this point it's mostly up to them now to figure it out.

So please tell your childhood ghosts to go away. They've had their say, you've acknowledged them, their work is done here. You are attentive and thoughtful in your childrearing. You are giving your kid everything they need and positioning them within reach of so many things beyond that--which means they can find their own motivation to take things from there. That's enough. You're enough.

Oh, and there's no such thing as life without something hanging over one's head. All we can do is take care not to pile things carelessly on.

My boyfriend hasn't been divorced very long and I know everyone is still trying to figure things out. But I'm becoming increasingly concerned about his relationship with his 8 and 6 year old kids. They are with their mom and grandparents during the week and with my boyfriend on the weekends. He is *extremely* worried that they will forget about him because they now spend less time with him and that they like their grandpa more because they're spending more time with grandpa. This results in fights with the kids about how they don't call him enough during the week and they're distracted when he calls them, they spend too much time on the phone with mom when they're with him, plus they like fishing with grandpa more than they like any of his interests. Last weekend he told them he wasn't going to call them all week as punishment for I have no idea what - he didn't use the word punishment but that's what it was. He called them this morning to ask if they missed him and to say they should have thought of him during this week's football game because he likes football and it should have occurred to them to call him. I've told him that they are children and his expectations are too high for 30 year old kids, let alone actual kids. I've told him that it is not the kids' responsibility to manage his feelings. I've told him that he shouldn't push his interests on them and that they're interests will change a thousand times and they should be able to be themselves. I've told him that he sounds like a controlling boyfriend who insists that his girlfriend call at the right times and like the right things. I've reminded him that I lost a child before we met and that I'd give anything to have weekends with him doing whatever he wanted to do and that he should let the little things go. He's had self-esteem issues his entire life and I know how hard it must be not to see the kids every day and worry that you're losing them. I've suggested therapy several times but he brushes it off. I barely know the kids at this point and haven't actually witnessed any of this, I just hear about it from him. Is this none of my business or should I continue to advocate for the kids and give my perspective and hope this will work itself out with time? I don't know if I can watch this go on long-term if he doesn't stop putting this pressure on his kids.

Yikes. What you're describing--what *he's* describing--is emotional abuse.

Obviously you can't make him go to therapy, which he urgently needs. 

But you can break up with him and give as your reasons 1. his belief that it's okay to punish 6- and 8-year-olds, and 2 his refusal to get therapy even after a person who loves and cares about him says "he sounds like a controlling boyfriend who insists that his girlfriend call at the right times and like the right things." 

His fear is valid and heartbreaking. He is going through a lot. There's even an argument to made, maybe, that staying to help guide him through this would be better for the kids--but there's also the fact that you're dating someone with shockingly poor emotional health. That's a reason for you to go, and in doing so exercise good boundaries. There will be a point where your staying sends the tacit message that what he's doing isn't that bad.

Leave him information: the name of a couple of therapists; Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD; PEP,

I hope he gets help.

Hi Carolyn, I'm curious about your opinion about thinking a person might have an undiagnosed issue and treating them accordingly. I've known my MIL "Millie" for about 15 years, and she has always seemed intense, difficult to connect with, rigid, and says hurtful things seemingly without understanding the effect. As I became a teacher and worked with students with different needs, it hit me like a lightning bolt that Millie shares a lot of characteristics as someone with Aspergers/ASD. Beginning several years ago, I began (to myself) treating Millie's actions as they were coming from someone with Asperger's syndrome, as though she really doesn't understand the social cues or implications of her actions. This has honestly improved our relationship. But I am definitely not a diagnostician, and I'm wondering if there is potential harm in this. Millie declined to participate in a recent funeral Zoom for a member of my FIL's family because it "wasn't her family." Am I just declining to hold Millie accountable for her pretty terrible behavior?

Hold accountable how?

Your FIL's family can respond to Millie's behavior as they see fit.

When the behavior is directed at you, then you handle it as you see fit.

It sounds to me as if you've found a way to get along with a difficult person, in a way that honors both your and her humanity. It's not even necessary that you be right about your mental diagnosis--it can just be a kind of internal filing system that you use to keep Millie straight in your head. Sounds good to me.

Hi Carolyn, Thanks for all of the great advice over the years. I'm always saying "Carolyn says..." and can't thank you enough! One of my best friends recently broke up with his long-term, live-in, very serious relationship girlfriend. They had discussed marriage, and she thought an engagement was in the near future. How did this happen? A few weeks ago, he met "new friend." This decade-younger, fun, exciting new woman spurs my friend to realize in more concrete ways something that he's probably known for a long time- his relationship isn't right for him and he's got to get out. The breakup was sudden and unexpected, and the "new friend" is now the New Girlfriend. I want to support my friend through this breakup. I know he's hurting, and he'll admit to it at times, but he's unemployed and her job doesn't require a ton of screen time, so right now he's just mostly having socially-distant adventures with his new girlfriend, and says they're in love and talking about marrying her in a year. I know I can't do anything but control my own response here, but I'm having my own feelings about the way this is going, and also losing his partner as a person in my life. I'm having my own reaction to his breakup- a little sad, a little disgusted with his behavior, and a little excited for him (with a HUGE dose of skepticism). This is like a divorce, but...isn't. He wants me to meet her soon. Do I just make nice? Do I have to actually consider that this might be a person who becomes a personal fixture in my life, or does something like this just eventually burn out?

Thank you for the kind words.

I don't see any place for your opinions in your friend's romantic antics. Leaving one person for another is hardly ideal, but it also appears he didn't drag things out or cause any gratuitous pain. And if the live-in love wasn't the right person for him, then better this bullet than the even more harmful one that was coming for her. Apologies for the imagery there. 

I don't know. This is really all just academic. Even if your view of your friend's behavior is far dimmer than mine, your job as a friend is still pretty much limited to asking yourself, do I want to stay friends with this person or not? You don't get to appoint yourself as a one-person panel to screen his new person or levy emotional fines. If you want to stay friends, then you show up for the friendship and navigate it with integrity. Same with the ex--if she wants to remain your friend, then show up for her and navigate the friendship with integrity.

There's no script for that, either--no "make nice" or "look suitably frowny." There's just civility, and a response-by-response commitment to being true to your values. Like saying to your friend, when you have a problem with something he has done, "I have a problem with this." Which is about your friendship, not his romance. And so you take it from there.

I've got a similar dynamic with a friend, and finally decided to respond with a polite and (as much as I can muster) compassionate tone, something like "Yeah, we're all under a lot of stress right now. I know that xyz's something you need to vent about, but I'm just not in a position to chat about that/absorb that/be a sounding board for that right now. Can we talk about something else?" It's a work in progress, and maybe has strained the relationship a bit at the moment, but the one thing I'm realizing is that my response is less satisfying to my friend than us talking about xyz, playing the Suffering Olympics as we have, so they seem to be hitting that topic less and less with me (which was my goal) It's like if the only cookies at my house taste bad, my friend is not going to be so quick to reach for cookies when at my house and will hopefully get their cookie fix elsewhere. But they are welcome to share my delicious chips and dip if that's what they are in the mood for.

OMG, this was my dad. Not to this extent - because, honestly, I think us kids who saw him only on weekends were a burden to him, but he was punitive when he didn't get his way: He took my sister and step-kids on a boating trip but not me because of some silly reason like I skipped seeing him one weekend. He refused to show up at my 8th grade graduation because I couldn't get a ticket (we were limited) for his girlfriend - and if she didn't go, he didn't go. etc. etc. He stopped speaking with me when I was 15 and only started again when I was 25 because I tracked him down and said I wanted to talk.At our first face-to-face meeting he told me he had to "bury" me when I was 15 for I don't know what. I'm 49 now. Guess how well my relationships with men worked out until I got therapy at 30. (I have a loving, excellent husband now and I actually know how to relate to men now.) But also guess how often I talk to my dad. btw, the emotional abuse never stopped. The last time I saw him, he berated me until I was in tears because he claimed I never sent him my new address after a move (I had). That was years ago, and I will never see him again.

I am so sorry you had to go through this. Thanks for sharing it here--a real-life example is so much more effective than anything I can say.

Reading that post gave me so many flashbacks to my father after my parents' divorce. He did very similar things and continued to do them as my brother and I became adults. We never called enough, thought enough about him, "missed" him enough, etc. Now my father is a raging narcissist, so I don't want to say the boyfriend is the same at all - but therapy would really help him. Or he runs the risk of being like my father who hasn't seen or heard from his children in 5+ years.

Years ago, I actually heard a piece of advice Michelle Singletary gave in an interview that I used on my own kids. She told parents that instead of saying you can’t afford something or it’s too expensive, to use words like we’re choosing not to spend money on X because we are spending it on y (like saving for college). My parents were barely middle class and I had everything I needed but I was always anxious about money growing up. It felt terrible. As adult, my hubby and I are probably in a similar situation as the writer. We live in an affluent area but I can’t afford everything all these other parents seem to and in fact, I don’t want to give my kids “everything.” Anyways, fast forward 17 years and my son is going to college and after looking at all his options he decided to go to the local state school so he could get a good education and not have to take out loans. He researched his field and decided a more expensive private school would not be worth the loans given his chosen field of study. He is excited about college.

I've used that too! From Michelle. It's brilliant. 

My folks moved us to an affluent suburb when I was in 6th grade. We were to poor people on the block - probably the only family within miles doing their own yard work... My parents were always candid about just how stretched the budget was. I was just happy to live in a nice place and go to a good school. I appreciated their sacrifice. Your kid will, too.

Maybe. Probably.

But it's also possible other children in your exact circumstances would come out of it aggrieved and angry at the parents for putting them in proximity to such wealth without any hope of having it themselves. Or they will understand and not blame the parents but carry with them a self-doubt that never fully resolves. Families are all just a bunch of uncontrolled experiments, and there's no guarantee of any one result.

I'm not trying to depress anyone, I swear. In fact, I think this is actually the best-paved route to a positive outlook, because it's not only reality-based but also doesn't require anyone to get rid of whatever negatives find their way into the results. The aggrieved and the self-doubting will have stuff to manage, which will take them in different directions, parts of which they'll be grateful for, and isn't that pretty much what we're all doing anyway? 

It's a positive outlook that has the BS is built into the foundation. My kind of house. 

Guess this is finally my chance to be an Olympian! Unfortunately I do see myself as the "bad" friend in this scenario, but I am really having a hard time mustering sympathy for a healthy and childfree friend complaining heavily about having to put on a clean shirt for a zoom meeting by 9am. I guess we all have our challenges but I'm having trouble coming up with empathy for some of it in comparison to juggling full-time work with simultaneous child-rearing on minimal sleep and so-on. If you've got advice for that, I'm all ears.

Stop trying to have empathy for every one else's complaints?

I think it's reasonable to say kvetching isn't about the specific complaints, but the general friendship ... right up to the point that there's so much of it, it becomes about the friend. Meaning, you don't hold it against someone you love for venting something you internally think is trivial or tone deaf or whatever, because you love the person and we all need to go blah blah blah sometimes to people we see as safe. We didn't do it before, so don't do it now, not even in Pandemia. 

But when time and trivia accrue to the point that you no longer respect this friend, then you revisit the idea of giving any more of your time to them.

Specifically, in your case, your friend could be trying to be upbeat/silly knowing you're in hell, and just doing it badly. (That's the only way I can process complaining about clean shirts by 9, possibly.) It's okay, again, to stop trying to have sympathy. It's okay to say that out loud, even. "I know you're just being funny, but I lost my sense of humor about this in May. I'm drowning here." Note, it's not, "You're lucky you have X/don't have Y!" which is a judgment about them. Instead, it's about you. It's, "I am not responding to this well."

Maybe that can rebalance things. See you in Tokyo!

If the time every comes where your kids are asking why they don't have XYZ new thing or don't get to jet off to Switzerland for the holidays, you can do what my parents did. When I got to be 9 or 10 and could understand it, they laid out a paycheck (and all the deductions that come out of it) and their bills. At one point I uttered "Who the hell is FICA?" They watched me do the math on what was left, then explained the decisions they made. "Sure, we could buy a bigger/fancier house...or we can go to the beach for a week during February break. We tend to like the beach experience, so that's what we choose. Etc." It was a very good lesson. Not only did I understand their choices, I got a really eye-opening view of all the little things adults have to pay for that kids don't usually see. Insurance! Taxes! The water bill! Another thing to keep in mind...some people live within their means and others don't. Just because someone is outwardly showing off wealth or a fabulous lifestyle doesn't mean they aren't secretly living on a highwire of debt. It's like the social media version of people's lives vs. reality...sometimes what you see isn't the whole picture.

I lived in a sort of affluent neighborhood growing up. Then my parents got divorced and we moved to a town home complex with all the other divorced moms with kids. Still went to the same schools. Didn't have the same clothes or whatever as the rich kids. I knew how tough times were and I was happy to have clothes. A number of years after we all graduated, I ran into someone from high school who ran in the same friend group but whom I never really liked. (She manipulated a lot of people, but then I met her mom and it all made sense.) She told me she had always been jealous of my style and my confidence. It floored me. I never felt confident and my style was shabby-chic before shabby was chic. I'm grateful every day for the life I have now and the material things are nice, but not the most important. I think it's how you frame things for your kids.

My husband and I both grew up in difficult circumstances, difficult homes, but through hard work did fine (well, mostly fine) as adults. As we raised our children, we evolved into a pattern once a week of having a family council. We discussed chores, school, problems and money. Money ended up being the main topic. Every week, the kids wanted to talk about money, jobs, how could they earn money. We got smarter in talking to them about it. They learned a lot, and in high school they were saving and planning for college. Now that they are adults, they have told us that this money council was the very best thing we did as parents.

When I became a single mom, I managed to rent a small place in our affluent neighborhood so that my kids could still go to the same school and have the same friends. I could not afford to give them all the material things their friends enjoyed and it caused a fair amount of stress. I know they felt disadvantaged and it hurt deeply and I wasn't sure my decision was the correct one. My boys are now in their thirties, one is a PhD in Economics with an important and rewarding job in DC, the other one has a Masters in Counseling and treats young people with trauma. They both now credit their upbringing with giving them a sense of what money buys and what they had growing up that didn't cost money, namely love, support, warmth, happiness, emphasis on education and self-reliance and so on. Life wasn't easy sometimes but we're ok, in fact, better than ok. Don't lose hope, just make sure you give your kids the tools for becoming good and decent people and the rest will become the life lesson they will look back on. They will realize that adversity, however much we want to avoid it, sometimes is the best education. Good luck!

Remember that what YOU feel about YOUR childhood isn't the same thing as how your kid feels about THEIR childhood. If your kid doesn't mind not having beach houses, then you don't have to feel guilty about not providing a beach house. And the best way to do that is to make sure that the things you do give them, within the confines of your budget, are things they value -- bike rides, camping trips, family game nights, family book clubs, family singalongs, etc. And sure, maybe they will ask you to fund their involvement in something expensive like ice hockey, but if they love ice hockey then they won't miss the beach houses.

As much as you understand the good intentions of the parents, if they're perpetually on the edge it's still challenging. Not getting caught up in envy of ski trips and $200 sneakers is one thing, having Mom in tears and calling you ungrateful as she scrapes dollar in change out of the bottom of her purse so you can go to McDonalds or get an ice cream is another.

Painful, thanks--it's not all rainbows. 

OMG this term has made my COVID! My brother and I have been struggling with how to think about our Dad's constant stream of sufferings since shut-down. A good half of which are of his own making (ex. bought a massive and unruly piece of property in an isolated area that is now hard to manage and no one is visiting) plus politics, back pain, fires, weather, boredome etc. etc.. But now we can just say he's Going for the Gold! Thank you so much for this!!! Texting my brother right now.

Tell him we all said hi.

How about asking your kid how he/she feels about the fact that classmates are dialing in from their beach house, but you can't? How about a segue from that into a discussion of what it costs to run a household? I'm talking a rational, unemotional presentation, talking about what various things cost and why your family's lack of a beach house doesn't make you or your kid less worthy. Also, cut yourself a little slack. You're doing what you can with the resources available to you.

Wait, the useful thing about knowing that someone has ASD is the ability to help yourself AND them. Not just ignore the rude and hurtful things, but make clear why it is considered rude and hurtful so that THEY - who don't get the social cues - have a better understanding of why people get upset about stuff and they have the opportunity to adjust their behavior. If you're not ever bringing this up to Millie "It's true that relative is not directly a member of your family, but a lot of spouses go to these to be there and show support for their partners - people who are members of their families. It's a way of showing care for them." it's not necessarily that you're doing more harm than good, but you may be wildly missing an opportunity to help her make her life better. This particular place might not be one where it's appropriate for you to say something. But sometimes it will be and that's not a question of holding accountable, that's a question of helping her. If she shows resistance to that, sure, stop. Assuming that you haven't tried that is. But if you haven't tried, it's worth trying. Statements as matter of fact and factual as you can make them.

I have 2 elderly know-it-all neighbors who say whatever comes into their minds. So instead of coming off as two wise experienced people, they come across as rude & insulting, if you let them. Just accept people for who they are. If you can handle being around your mother-in-law your way, you’re doing fine. If not, try and stay away from here. It’s not your fight to fight.

Statler and Waldorf!

A friend adopted a dog this week. She is really, really happy about it. Yay! What is the appropriate friendly response here? A card? A gift? She has been sensitive in the past about not feeling like her milestones were celebrated as much as more traditional ones like weddings and new babies.

Card -and- gift! Cute dog stuff. Easy.

Maybe I'm wrong here, but should she reach out to the actual Mom in this case? Can the kids really tell her what is going on at Dad's house? Or do we think she all ready knows what is all going on and making her own steps to try and fix it?

Good point. Here's the Childhelp number again: 1-800-4-A-CHILD. It's a nonprofit source of advice for child-abuse prevention. I would run this by the staff before stepping in, since a call would allow me to get into the specifics. Thanks.

Your boyfried has done you a service - he has given you a preview as to how he will tgreat you wnen things don't go his way, and how he will treat any kids youmight have together. Now that you have seen the preview you need to decide if you want to be in this movie.

For the OP and every other single person who ever wants to know the answer to this question: "How do I word the text to him that somewhat nicely says: 'I'm sorry X thing happened. Leave me alone.'" NO! This person is totally out of bounds and is harassing you. You have broken up with them and they are not respecting that. They are in the wrong. You DO NOT HAVE TO BE NICE! Why do you think that you have to be nice? Stop that. All you have to be is CLEAR, and that's to protect you, not them. Do not keep putting their feelings above your security and peace of mind.

Years ago a dear friend wanted to be there for me during desperate times. She offered a daily morning walk and talk, I eagerly accepted. The first morning, as I started into my repeat complaints, she stopped on the sidewalk, looked a little quizzical, and said, "You know what? Let's have silent morning walks." I was floored! Now I laugh, it was so pure and gutsy of her.

You have gloriously thick skin. 

I would make it simple, not include any unnecessary words ("thank you"), and specify that you will not reply again. "Please don't text me anymore. I will not respond to any future texts." That's it, and then do not respond to any further texts. And yes to "The Gift of Fear." It's an excellent read.

This helped me with my "at least you..." silver lining responses. Brené Brown on Empathy. Maybe sharing it with your friend would help as a jumping off point.

Thanks. I can't remember if I've watched this one, but I love her work.

“Did you read the article in Newspaper about the new treatment for Annoying But Not Life-Threatening Condition?” “Saw a book review that you might enjoy...”. “Binged the new Jane Austens on PBS last night...” “I’m trying to do mini-yoga sessions of five minutes or so as a work break...”. Like that.

yes! Like that.

You mean acting like a decent human being.

Huh. Yeah. Which a lot of people also do.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have someone to cuddle with in the long cold months ahead" -oh God, no. That's a terrible reason to enter a relationship, or re-enter a formerly bad one.

Yes, thanks, that needed flagging.

How are we to deal with a close relative that believes antifa is an organized group and has threatened to shoot what they identify as "antifa-types" if they come close? If one questions them about any of it, they say they don't want to talk politics. And then send more vitriol towards tire brands and such. Do we find a way to let it go, or do we just let them go? Thanks!

We all need to report people who make credible violent threats. Is this one? Does your relative have a weapon? There's already proof of detachment from reality. Talk to someone in your relative's local precinct. Non-emergency, domestic, if there are divisions. 

Yes, this, and totally learned from if you respond after 100 times that's what you're teaching them. But be prepared for an emotional upping of the ante, which could include pleading, flirting, and threatening, or all of the above. Just hang tight and weather the storm. It's awful but stick to it. DO NOT ever respond. Good luck.

I have been reading this column for your years, and only last week did I figure out what Glass Bowl meant. I guess I was reading it slow every time, but read it fast last week and now I get it. Better late than never.


Hat tip to Tony Kornheiser, who came up with it during the Adam Clymer/Dubya dustup of 2000.

Was a godsend to me. I had broken up with someone who kept coming back and I’d get sucked in all over again. I finally read GOF from a recommendation in this column. I saw how I was re-engaging every time and I finally saw my part clearly. I left him a voice mail, said I wish you well and never contact me again. And I meant it. I felt like a weight had been lifted. He did keep trying for awhile and I did not respond. Eventually he stopped.

The thing about living in Pandemia is that everyone has an empathy deficit. Right now, it is super unclear which way sympathy should flow. A person at home working with 3 kids also home has it really hard. But a person with no kids could be living alone and depressed. Or could be an essential worker. Or something completely non-COVID related could be a problem like every appliance in their kitchen breaking in a 3 month period. It's fine to say that you don't have energy for a lot of time spent sharing complaints. But some of the comments above were kinda judgey about others' stress. Maybe sometimes it's us who is competing in a Suffering Olympics whereas the other person thinks they are at Suffering Cooperative Game Night.

They both sound exhausting. So, +1, great comment.

You're awesome to celebrate your friend's milestone. Yay for doggos finding homes! The best dog-related gift I got over the years was a picture frame so that once I had a good photo of my pup, I could display it. (The toys and whatnot were nice too--don't get me wrong---but the frame really stands out in my memory.)

There is a category of Greeting Card for Pet Adoptions. Google it for numerous sources, including Etsy and Amazon. Enjoy!

That seems to me like a prime example of North American overconsumption of resources.

As long as you also stiff the betrothed and be-babied, then I'm with you. If you're just being superior about where you draw gift-buying lines, then I'm not.

Or maybe the person who is have trouble finding a clean shirt for a 9 a.m. Zoom is suffering from a major, life-threatening depression brought on by 6 months of isolation. Just saying.

And saying fairly, thank you. You're right.

I didn't go back over and read my response, and then wondered if I mistyped the date of the original post to July 5 and not the correct date of June 5. Thanks (and thank you for your advice. I recognize this could escalate, and will read The Gift of Fear.)

Here's the original, thanks: LINK

Check back in again sometime, and take care.

Okay, 3 o'clock brain-no-longer-working bell is about to ring. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, or at least one that offers up a few moments of relief or grace, and I'll see you here next weekend. 

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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