Carolyn Hax: Avoiding being a jerk magnet; living together as a ‘trial run’

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 9, 2013

Dear Carolyn:

I tend to get treated badly by some pretty serious jerks. Often, it’s my fault — there are obvious signs of jerkiness and I proceed without caution. Other times it’s out of thin air. Most recently it’s a combination.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

While I’m not sad at the loss of this person (we weren’t serious), I just can’t shake the feeling there must be something terribly wrong with me that every person I get involved with sees fit to treat me like the human equivalent of dog doo on their shoe. I mean, I’m the common factor here, right? How can it not be about me and my quality as a person?

Human Dog Doo

Easily. You’ve made a false connection: that treatment reflects the quality of the recipient. It reflects the quality of the giver. That men mistreated you speaks ill of each man who did so.


You are the common denominator, and you do have a role in your own treatment: You’re the one choosing these men. The “something terribly wrong” is that you’re missing or ignoring warning signs, and are possibly in a bad enough place emotionally for mistreatment to be your comfort zone.

Exhibit A: You’re seeing your role as “person worthy of shoe-doo treatment,” when there is no such role. No one deserves mistreatment.

You’re not bad; your taste is. Or, more constructively, your screening process is — and that can trace back to points in your history that shaped your emotional needs and expectations.

Whether you do it in counseling (recommended, if you can swing it) or on your own, please tease out what you’ve found attractive in all of these men, and let that lead you to the why.

Dear Carolyn:

My 28-year-old son, “Justin,” has been with his girlfriend, 27, for over two years. She is more than ready to get married, putting a lot of pressure on him. He, however, can’t seem to move forward.

I think, well, she must not be “the one,” because he has always looked forward to marrying and having children. They do tend to argue more than I think a young couple should.

Justin thinks living together would help answer all the questions that have kept him from proposing. He thinks it would be a nice trial run.

I am fearful. I did not feel the need for a “trial,” and I am still married 30-plus years later. Thoughts?

Concerned Mom

Living together can help couples pre-marriage, but the risk of an inertia marriage is too high to treat it as a “test.”

If she had asked me, I’d beg her to rethink the pressure. A good match will want what she wants.

If Justin had asked, I’d ask him: Does she know she’s a “nice trial run”?

When it’s a third party asking, my advice is generally, good luck with that. As a mom privy to her son’s thinking, though, you can call him out on his self-serving logic. Please do. He may have convinced himself that he’s being kind to his girlfriend by looking for reasons to marry her, but he’s not. Kindness is to be prompt, honest and minimally invasive in facing one’s doubts.

In your case, once you’ve said your piece, kindness is to back off and trust him to run his own life.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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