Carolyn Hax: Doing the right thing is hard to figure out, hard to do — but worth it

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 13

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

Your suggestions to a bride worried about her mother’s likely meanness at her wedding — in particular, saying, “It’s not about me” and deflecting barbs with cheery responses — sound nice in principle, but they strike me as a textbook case of “easier said than done.” Presumably Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela or the pope could/would be unruffled in the bride’s place, but I’d defy most ordinary mortals to be. I speak from experience with toxic people.

Anonymous

Everything, everything I advise is easier said than done. Figuring ourselves out is hard. Figuring out others is hard. Figuring out how much honesty is appropriate is hard. Figuring how much withheld information becomes dishonest is hard. Figuring out whom we can trust is hard. Figuring out how to trust ourselves is hard. Figuring out how much help we need, can ask for and can advisably accept is hard. Finding ways to leave painful things behind us is hard. Finding words at a tense moment that help vs. hurt is hard. Accepting what we’ll never achieve, whom we’ll never be, what we’ll never be given, what we can’t expect, is hard. Admitting when we’re at fault is hard. Accepting when we’re blameless but will suffer anyway is hard.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Knowing what’s right is hard. Doing what’s right is harder.

It’s not about being unruffled. It’s about retraining ourselves to use more productive behaviors than the broken, maddening, ineffective, self-destructive old ones. It’s about figuring out our limits and enforcing them in ways that preserve our self-respect and sense of goodwill — and, ideally, our relationships.

It’s stuff we can take decades to get right, if then, and bandy about in overlong online sessions every Friday since the Clinton administration, and still not solve or fully agree on.

Doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

Hi, Carolyn:

When my husband and I made the choice to hyphenate our children’s surnames, we did it for both egalitarian and rhythmic reasons; “Emily Jones-Smith” sounded more interesting and memorable than Emily Jones or Emily Smith. Well, our little “Emily” started expressing interest in a name tweak many years ago — we thought nothing of it at the time — and upon turning 25 last week, announced to us that she had her name legally changed to Emily Smith, dropping my name.

Since it was already done, I reacted to the news very neutrally, but my feelings are hurt, much more so than I would have expected. I’m being silly, right?

Wounded

No, you’d be silly only if you made a fuss. There’s a big range of normal in our attachments to names, so hurt feelings aren’t a surprise (except maybe to you).

That range also makes it possible for her name change to be anything from a not-at-all-about-you bit of pragmatism to a calculated renunciation of you. Surely you know by the context whether this is a tweak or a Statement — and thus already know whether you need to shake it off as a superficial matter of taste, or heed it as a sign your relationship with your daughter needs work.

If it’s the former, then give it time, and if it’s the latter, then embrace the new name as the little birdie that told you attention needs to be paid.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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