Carolyn Hax: Dealing with friends’ boyfriends and one’s own

Columnist April 19, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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

What to do about a good friend who constantly complains about her boyfriend and won’t make the obvious choice? I want to be there for her, but she’s bringing me down.

Here We Go Again

“I see. You’ve talked about this quite a bit lately — what do you plan to do about it?”

Or, variations:

“Wow, I can see why that gets to you. What are you going to say/do about it?”

“Yeah, I hear you. What comes next, do you think?”

“You keep saying some version of this, yet you haven’t taken what seems like the obvious next step and broken up with him. Why is that, do you think?”

Or even: “Yep, that’s a tough one — but I know you’ll figure it out.”

Or anything else your imagination conjures, as long as it steers her right back to her choices and to action(s) she plans to take. Just “being there for her” by providing her with bottomless sympathy and unending patience is actually a great disservice to a friend. You’re rewarding her inaction.

Hi, Carolyn:

The other side of the “should I tell my friend I hate her boyfriend” question: Do you have any advice for how to sort out when your friends have a point and when you’re being overly influenced by them?

My friends and my boyfriend don’t get along very well, and I think the things they don’t like about him are things I don’t mind — but sometimes I doubt myself because generally they know me pretty well, and I wonder if they’re seeing incompatibilities that I don’t. (Not abuse, just personality stuff.)

Friends and Relationships

Ask them if the boyfriend gets on their nerves, or if the person you are when you’re with your boyfriend gets on their nerves.

Or, in a similar vein, find out whether they see you as generally unhappy or out of touch with your former self.

The former is a bummer, but the other two are problems that deserve your attention.

Hi, Carolyn:

I am set to fly off to a gorgeous resort for a week-long vacation with my boyfriend and his family. However, we’ve been fighting so much recently (even having discussions about splitting up) that I’m now looking forward to the trip with dread rather than anticipation.

I had already made arrangements to stay separately from the family for appearances’ sake, but I will still be spending a great deal of time with them and am worried about how to get through this without (a) lying through my teeth or (b) allowing my relationship problems to sap all the joy out of this.

The plane tickets and hotel stay are nonrefundable, so excusing myself isn’t an option. How do I manage to make this an enjoyable and memorable-for-all-the-right-reasons experience?

Morose in Maui

1. You can cancel; you’ll just have to pay back any part of it his family paid for you;

2. You can leave early if you’re miserable.

3. You can also go and, in the event of bickering, excuse yourself politely to pursue solo activities. Better absent than angry. Treat it as a chance to find out whether you and he can get past your differences.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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