Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

This Week's Columns: Sun.| Wed.| Fri.


Carolyn Hax: As promised, here are some grown-kid reflections on their parents' unhappy marriages. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. I tried to choose a representative sample.


There are a few points regarding children of loveless marriages that I thought of today while reading the transcript.

1. Children don't always have the best idea of what's going on in their parents' marriage. My parents were often unhappy with each other when I was growing up. There were fights; there were temper tantrums; there were drama-queen silent treatments; frequently, we were all pretty miserable. For a long time, I thought that everything would be easier if my parents divorced. However, they've been married now for almost 45 years; obviously, this relationship fills some sort of need for both of them. (And they seem to get along much better now that my sister and I have both graduated from college, for whatever that's worth.)

2. The financial security of a household makes a huge difference in whether the parents in the loveless marriage should split up. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. My parents had a tough time making ends meet with everyone under the same roof; if they had split up, there would have been no way that either one of them would have been able to carry the mortgage alone. We would have moved to an area with pretty crappy schools. My and my sister's chances of getting into the colleges we did would have dropped, as would my parents' ability to finance those tuitions. Angst about relationships would have turned into angst about money. (This actually did happen to my husband, whose mother ended up declaring bankruptcy after her nuclear divorce.) It's easy to say that the money can always be worked out, and that it's not as important as other things, but it's a rough trip for a kid to suddenly drop several rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. Divorce is tough enough on kids without that; if each parent makes enough to sustain the current lifestyle, this argument is negated.

3. The children's personalities are an uncontrollable variable. I am pretty thought-driven and find it easy to disengage from emotional scenes. There is no question that my life turned out better without my parents' divorce than it would have otherwise. My sister is extremely emotions-driven and internalizes misery much more than I do; she probably would have actually benefited from a divorce. (I only say "probably" because she and my mother are unhealthily dependent on one another and I think a divorce could have exacerbated that.) Both of us benefited from the increased financial stability resulting from Mom and Dad sticking together, but she, by virtue of her temperament, unfortunately paid a price that I did not.

4. The reflexive "it's better for kids to see their parents happy" argument drives me nuts. Up to a certain age, children are incredibly egocentric. They don't give a crap if their parents are happy. They don't give a crap if anyone is happy, apart from themselves. As long as the conflict is not open and flagrant (which it was in my case), there's an excellent chance that kids can go through much of their childhood without realizing that their parents' marriage isn't all that.

I'm actually not a raving anti-divorce maniac, but I do think that in the throes of an unhappy marriage, it's easy for someone's thinking to become distorted. I know several people who are divorced and who have managed to raise happy, thriving kids. The thing that these people all have in common is that they kept their children in the forefront of their minds at all times during the divorce process, in ways that many people don't think to and in ways that many people told them were unnecessary.


I hope I'm not too late to weigh in on this one. When I was in 5th grade, my parents divorced, amicably and quite sensibly. They realized that although they were no longer partners in marriage, they were still partners in parenting. Dad became more involved in our daily life. Mom got her degree and then a job. Their divorce taught me that daddies are parents too, and that mommies are people too.

As a teenager, I had a long talk to my mom about wedding vows. She said she didn't feel like they'd broken their vows. They were married until death did them part -- but instead of one of them dying, it was the marriage that died. From their divorce, I learned about what I wanted from a marriage and how to keep one alive.

To anyone wondering if they should stay in a loveless marriage "for the kids," I urge you to consider if you could be a more effective parent if you're a more fulfilled person. If you and your spouse have the emotional maturity and strength to have a peaceful divorce and continue to be parents together, please think about ending the marriage "for the kids." It must be incredibly difficult, but it can be worth it. My parents' divorcing was one of the best things they've done for me.


I'm writing in response for your request for feedback on the issue of whether people who are unhappily married should divorce if they have children. Honestly, based on my experience of being the product of an unhappy union, I have to say that my parents being unhappy together but not divorcing worked out just fine for us kids. I can't speak for my sisters, but I think my own personal difficulties have to do more with who my parents are, and who I am, and their generally crappy interpersonal skills/isolationist/introverted tendencies/abusive and neglectful behaviors than the fact they had a crappy marriage. Matter of fact, I think roping more people into our universe would have been more stressful and made matters more confusing.

People who say that if you're unhappy you should divorce and give your kids a chance to see a functional relationship are overlooking two points: (1) it's a ripple effect of changes and there's no guarantee marriage with a different spouse is going to be blissful and happy and (2) who defines loving and functional? Is there a checklist? And can I get a hold of it?

As it turned out, my parents were married almost 35 years until my dad's death last October. And my mom and us girls all miss him. And while not the happiest or most functional of partnerships, it produced three daughters who are generally happy and okay and able to support themselves. So while my parents coulda/woulda/shoulda done some things differently, in the end they considered themselves successful.


I've been thinking about the posts concerning kids who survive loveless marriages a lot since last week, so here goes:

My parents fought for their marriage for 27 years before finally choosing to find happiness apart. I was 18 when they divorced. Do I wish they had split up sooner? Not really. Not only because that sort of thinking is a waste of time now--but also because I very much saw how good my parents were at parenthood, even if their marriage was always en fuego. Tense and terse? Normal at our house! Kids aren't idiots, and I did find it quite insulting when adults (my parents included) thought we didn't know what was going on. Of course we knew things weren't peachy--we SAW it, we FELT it, but what's a kid to do? You share knowing glances with your sibling, dream of your own happier future and shoot some hoops. Get tough.

Their marriage taught me a lot about love, commitment, and putting family first. Their eventual divorce taught me about even more about love--and that sometimes it is a very loving thing to let someone go. I also learned the value of choosing to be responsible for your own happiness, and that closure is a pipe dream. Why they chose to stick together so long is an understanding I'll never have. It was powerful for me to accept that my parents' relationship will always be their own and that part of my growing up involved becoming less the center of my own universe. I refuse to bear any responsibility for their choice to divorce, just as I refuse to accept any responsibility for their choice to remain together unhappily for so long.

Only you and your partner can say when love ends. If you do have children, please speak with them about your choice and treat them with dignity, no matter what their age. Divorce is no cake walk, for anyone down to the family dog, but time marches on, happiness is out there, and YOUR LIFE IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.


Atlanta, Ga.: My boyfriend of seven months has a female best friend he used to date (he ended it). Am I naive to think there is nothing wrong with this?

Carolyn Hax: If you have evidence of a problem, then you're naive. If you have no evidence of a problem, then you're trusting your judgment.

By evidence of a problem, I mean the whole range, from signs there are still sparks to a nagging feeling that you're just the runner-up. But certainly a scenario like yours can work. Frankly, any scenario can work, as long as there's informed consent from everyone, and as long as you're all getting what you need without compromising anything vital.


Potomac, Md.: Is there a way to un-intensify relationships without hurting feelings badly? I've got the summer off and I've been catching up on old relationships and making up for lost time, but I'm really getting burnt from the over-stimulation of it all. The fall is going to be much worse because I'll be seriously busy and won't have time for much of anything again. Some of my friends and family seem to enjoy and become accustomed to the weekly visits. Any way to prepare them for the "break up" of the fall? I tend to over-extend myself to the point I'm tethered and become extremely stressed and cranky pants and I don't want that to happen again. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Be polite, set your own pace and others will adjust. If they get in your face about it, be polite, set your own pace and give them another chance to adjust. Repeat as needed.


re: breaking up with son's girlfriend: I am in the same shoes as the ex-girlfriend in that question. When that boyfriend dumped me unexpectedly, his parents were also upset. He gave his mom the dose of sympathy you mentioned to go along with the hurt feelings, and over time we have all stayed in touch and I have been invited to a few family functions here and there. It is possible for people to come out of these things okay, but only when everyone's mature about it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in.


Freelance blues: I'm very excited to be going on vacation on Monday, but I can't get my biggest client to understand that there's only so much work I can squeeze in before I leave. It's stressing me out to the point that I'm having trouble finishing what I absolutely have to do for them over the next three days. Any suggestions besides saying no, reminding them that I'm only human, and then refusing to answer their e-mails and phone calls? "Please understand that I can't get this done if I'm spending all my time on the phone with you" is not working, and I'm about to jump out the window!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe you can present Client with a list of what you will be completing before you leave, making the explicit point that if there is something else Client would like completed before you leave, then Client must first choose what item to remove from the list? Then, once list is established, ignore calls and emails?


Irritated, Virginia: I have been dating someone for a year and a half. I am in love with him. He says he loves me but I'm ahead of the curve in terms of depth of feelings. Understood. I'm not in any hurry for the relationship to progress (we are in our 40's and 50's, several divorces between us etc.) Problem:

He knows that it important to me that we talk "check-in" on the phone on a daily basis. We don't see each other every day because of our schedules and the fact that I have small children at home and we don't see each other on those days. He does call frequently, and I often initiate the calls. However, when he is busy or out of town (like right now for 2 weeks)he often doesn't call and I feel that if I am the one always initiating the calls that I'm chasing him (he say's that's crazy) and it makes me feel uncomfortable. We've discussed this several times. Right or wrong, him calling me shows me that I'm important to him. He know that. Yet, he doesn't always call and he says he got busy, or he was immersed in something, or was waiting for me to call. It really bugs me that he can't do this. Am I being a jerk?

Carolyn Hax: I wouldn't say jerk, but I think you have allowed your neediness to go unchecked, to the point where it's making you miserable.

It is in your nature to want a daily reminder call that you're loved.

It is in his nature to go several days without calling.

Why is it his nature that has to change to accommodate yours?

You cannot change someone else's habits, personality, or feelings for you, nor would it be your place to change them even if you could.

You can, however, change your own behavior. And since your own behavior is driving you nuts--yes, your behavior, not his--then it's definitely your place to do so.

Starting here: He either loves you or he doesn't, whether he calls you or not.

He either loves you or he doesn't, whether he calls you or not.

He either loves you or he doesn't, whether he calls you or not.

He either loves you or he doesn't, whether he calls you or not.

Meaning, he can call you every day at a time you sppecify to say the words you specify, and he can still not feel for you what you want him to feel. Conversely, he can also not call you for weeks and regard you as the great love of your life.

So, please, in your mind, cut the tie between his calls and your happiness. Call him when you have something to say to him; don't call when you don't. Let him call when he has something to say to you.

In other words, live the part of your life that is your job to live, and let him (and everyone else) do his job. If it works out, then, yay; if it doesn't, then deal with that when it happens.


Silver Spring, Md.: I just made an appointment to be screened for depression and ADD, something I should have done a very long time ago. I've been terrified of making that phone call -- I even rehearsed it before I picked up the phone -- but I did it. And it was about as exciting as ordering a pizza! It took about five minutes and wasn't scary or complicated or embarrassing at all. I feel like I got through the biggest hurdle. I dunno, maybe if someone else has been putting off that phone call because its so scary, I can attest that it isn't bad at all.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, and congratulations. I've also heard from people who cried through the phone call, and in the end they had an appointment, too. Even when it's a hurdle it's not a hurdle.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn:

I am a mid 20s female with a bit of a lurid and destructive sexual history. I'm in a relationship now which up to this point has not been consummated. Should I wait until I'm in love to sleep with this person? It would be out of the ordinary, but I'd like to avoid the kind of devastation I've experienced in the past by moving too fast too soon.

And how do I know when I'm in love?


Carolyn Hax: The honesty of your post says you've come a long way, which speaks well of your chances, regardless of what you decide.

However, devastation isn't something you can always choose to avoid. It has its own ways and its own mind and sometimes just finds people--say, to use your example, if all goes well and you make good choices and you and this person fall truly and hard for each other and then something random pulls you apart. The definition of devastating.

So aside from being a big fat gratuitous downer, this is an important reminder not to get your expectations too high that you can get everything "right" this time and live happily ever after. You can just do your best and hope for the best.

How that applies in your particular case will be up to you, and so the answer is: Yes, wait, at least till you're confident of what's right for you, for the usual reason that you can undo a no but you can't undo a yes.

As for knowing when you're in love, I can't tell you that, either. Maybe it's more important that you feel good with this person--good as in you're feeling like a good version of yourself--and that you trust the feeling to be mutual, and that being together is a natural and fulfilling (vs depleting) thing.

Finally, don't be afraid to take these questions to a good therapist; it's rare for a "lurid and destructive sexual history" to exist in an emotional vacuum. Maybe you've already worked through that stuff and made peace with it, but if you haven't, doing so could provide a lot of your answers for you.


Boston, Mass.: I just got an awesome new job offer, but I can't quit my current, hateful job because my boss is gone till next week. Can I play hooky today?

Carolyn Hax: Write your resignation letter! Or, better, start organizing things for your successor. I don't think it's possible to regret leaving a job well. Congratulations, btw.


Falls Church, Va.: I have been married a little over a year now. I am 26 and my husband 36. We don't plan to have children. ever. But of course people (close to us and not so much) keep asking about it. How do I politely but firmly tell these people that we aren't interested in procreating? I could use a good, witty, dry line to come back at them at. Like I am only worth something if I am not popping out babies.

Carolyn Hax: Now now. Often people just can't think of anything better to say/ask/criticize. Don't feed the beast with canned strained "wit." Just say, "Why do you ask?" for serious inquiries, or, "I'm changing the subject now," for lighter ones. In response to (seriously rude) follow-up questions, do in fact change the subject.


Washington, D.C.: A friend of mine has a dilemma and we figured you might have a good answer. She dated this guy for a short period and he was kind of an arse. When they broke up, he started dating someone else but they still talked here and there. During a few conversations, she said to him "I bet that you will be engaged and married within two years." She joked about this bet a few times with him (and us) but it wasn't like they wrote down terms. Well, 18 months later, he's engaged and going to be married. Last week, he sent her a check. Should she cash it? She still thinks he's an arse. (online only, please)

Carolyn Hax: Cash and send to charity (forward him the receipt) or just endorse it over, if the recipient is allowed to accept it like that.

If she doesn't already have a charity that is meaningful to her, here's mine!

ALS Association of DC/MD/VA

7507 Standish Place

Rockville, MD 20855

(301) 978-9855


Wife on Bedrest: My wife is pregnant with twins and on bedrest (we have a two-year-old as well). Her stepmother and father have been a HUGE support (buying groceries, coming by everyday after work to help babysit while I finish all of the things my wife would normally do). I was wondering if anyone out there had any idea of what I could do for them to say thanks (I say it all the time, but none of us are very gushy emotionally so a heartfelt speech of love and thanks would be torture for everyone). Its been pretty tough on me and my wife and I just wish there was something I could do for them.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously, your gratitude is enough. When it's genuine, it shows.

That said, you can have your 2-year-old make pictures for them; you can buy them grocery gift cards so they're not using their own money to buy food (even if they don't mind, this acknowledges you;re aware of how much they're doing for you); you can buy them tickets for something they'd enjoy.


Washington, D.C.: My family is otherwise relatively functional, but both of my siblings (sister recently out of college, brother recently out of grad school) are both living at home and mooching completely off my parents, with no real plans for leaving. My folks are neither broke nor spineless, so it's not like this is a dire situation, but it kind of irks me. Other than extolling to my siblings the joys of earning a living and living the independent good life, anything I can really do here? BTW, I'm the only one living out of state.

Carolyn Hax: You have no horse in this race. Stay out of it (for your own sanity if nothing else).


Parents: From Sunday's letter about the guy with parents who refuse to acknowledge his girlfriend. I don't get why so many people feel like they have to maintain contact with their parents, even when they are hurtful, "But he's my Dad!" Seems to me, Dad lost those privileges when he stopped acting like one. To let his wife hurt his son that way? Just awful, plain awful and a betrayal. Dads are supposed to take care of their kids, protect them and back them against people who hurt them, not stand on the sidelines and watch. (Unless this is a romantic situation where the kid is gonna get his heart broke and you can't do anything but sit and watch, but this is different.)

The kid should tell them he's welcome when he wants to visit both but if that never happens, have a nice life and maybe they'll get a pic of the grandkids.

Carolyn Hax: Definitely people shouldn't feel they "have" to maintain a relationship with anyone, especially not someone who is actively (or passively, which in a way is even worse) hurting them.

What I've found, though, is that people tend to feel better about estrangement it when it's the result of a gradual process. A step back, see if that works; another step back, see if that works; and so on. A sudden, extreme decision can turn into sudden, extreme guilt or regret if someone dies or gets sick or moves far away while there's still some unfinished business. So, my advice re family situations tends to have incremental steps built into it, to allow for finishing business.


Marriage: Hi, I'm the one (maybe not the only one) who asked a couple weeks ago for children of divorce to comment on the affect it had on them. I don't love my wife but my kids are my life, and I would be ok with staying together for the next 1.5 decades as "parenting roommates". Just not sure how it would affect the kids. I don't have all (or any?) of the answers yet, but I wanted to thank you, Carolyn, and the readers who responded. Very helpful!

Carolyn Hax: There were two of you, actually, a couple of weeks ago, but it's a recurring question. Glad the readers were helpful. If anyone didn't see their experience represented here, please weigh in and I'll try to post it next week, if not this.


Washington, D.C.: Come on, what kind of person needs to write into an advice column to figure out how to thank family members for helping with impending twins. And Carolyn, why did you waste all of our time with this?

Carolyn Hax: I've got the next pairing for Date Lab:


The good stepmother: Ah -- the husband with the great stepmom story was so great. My stepmother-in-law is horrible to my husband (and has been for two decades!!!). It is so cool to read about a great stepmom.

Carolyn Hax: Have fun, kids.


Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend sometimes chastizes me in public. I'm either talking too loud, or I say something he thinks is rude and he tells me so, or in the course of the conversation, he expresses his opinion which differs from mine and sometimes (I feel) makes me look bad. I've discussed this with him several times. He doesn't see it as chastising. Am I being too sensitive or is this a controlling-characteristic of his personality.

Carolyn Hax:1. Do you enjoy being treated this way?

2. How long are you prepared to be complicit in treatment you don't appreciate by staying with someone who you feel belittles you?


Carolyn Hax: Obviously, if you're being "too sensitive"--his words, or yours?--then you're soon going to find yourself with no friends. But flip that around, and your other friends/past boyfriends are your answer: Have you had this problem before? With everyone, friends and family included; just with boyfriends; just with this boyfriend? You already know what you need to know. Admit it and start addressing it.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I know (I think) that you don't believe in living together before marriage, and was reminded about it today in your column. What I don't get is why -- and why you think couples who live together won't break off a bad thing because off the logistics (the packing -- ack, the moving -- ACK!!) moreso than a married couple won't. For what it's worth, I would never have considered marriage before we lived together first - and many years later, I am grateful for a happy and healthy marriage. On the flip side, all of the 3 couples I know well who did not believe in living together before marriage are separated or divorced -- all citing the various shocks of lifestyle/personality they discovered that first year of marriage (and in their case living together). I just don't get why people put more effort into buying a car than they do choosing a life partner and (slowly) nurturing that partnership.

Carolyn Hax: Whoa, waitaminnit. One, people who choose not to live together first don't "put more effort into buying a car than they do choosing a life partner." How myopic can you get. Your way worked for you, and I'm happy for you, but that doesn't mean it's The Way Everyone Hereafter Must Be Or Else They Will Fail.

Two: The three couples of your "flip side" hardly an argument make. Even an anecdotal point needs a better sample than one of you vs. three of them--three who may have gone on to marry and separate/divorce even if they had lived together first.

Three, my point about the moving-out logistics is that people treat cohabiting as easier to get into than a marriage, but it can feel just as hard to get out of, especially when there's communal property involved. So I think people should think of it like a marriage and decide accordingly (see next).

And finally, you misrepresented my opinion. I advise against moving in together for superficial reasons (as in, to save on rent or to shorten a commute), and I also advise against doing so without first establishing what each wants out of the deal. A vast quantity of avoidable misery is generated by couples who aren't aligned in their intent--say, when one sees cohabiting as a run-up to marriage and the other is content for it to be an end in itself.

So, basically, I'm all for it as long as people don't have their heads up their (non-thinking places) when they make their decisions.


Carolyn Hax: But other than that, I'm right there with you.


Variation on a theme: Here's one for you while there's all this talk of divorce.

My parents divorced when we were young. My dad's pretty much a complete jerk where we're concerned. He married a very nice woman. He's divorced from her, too, and has married another likely very nice woman. I'd like to be in touch with wife #2, but he's offended by the fact that I'd like to be in contact with her but not him.

Got any advice for things to say to him or to her about why I don't want to be in touch with him? She knows he's been miserable to us, but they're still in regular touch (he threw a fit that she didn't want to be in the wedding party for the 3rd marriage).

I don't want to tell her to keep it a secret, but I also am tired of his tirades and accusations when bypassed - and he sees it as bypassing, even tho they are no longer married. (Having an infantile parent is no picnic.)

Got any great lines for me?

Carolyn Hax:"I'm an adult and she's an adult, and so whether we stay on touch is our decision to make." Adapt accordingly to say it to her. Because you're an adult and she's an adult, and whether you stay in touch is your decision to make. That's the only line you need if your dad gets offended and challenges you on your contact with wife 2 (his decision to make).

If you then choose not to be in touch with him, all you need say is that you don't appreciate his telling you with whom you can and can't be in touch. The implication being, for anyone who's paying attention, that you also won't appreciate anyone's telling you that you should be in touch with your dad.

And finally, your only obligation to yourself is to be touch with people because you enjoy their company, and not because you want to prove anything to anyone, not even to yourself.

Good luck with it. Sigh.


Virginia: Carolyn,

I recently started a new job I love, that I took after consulting you btw!, However since day one, I saw an impending problem: An attractive co-worker. At first I thought I would just acknowledge my attraction for him but recently, with people being out of town, our normal group lunches have become one on one. I know you've advised on situations like this before, Should I keep away from this situation? We work for an office of about 60 employees. HELP!

--Cooing for my co-worker

Carolyn Hax: WAIT IT OUT. Ahem, didn't mean to shout, sorry. Wait it out, please. In six months, you could be astonished verging on horrified that you once found this person attractive. Wait, wait, wait, restrain self, get to know colleague. In an office setting, you don't have the luxury of testing out sparks and then saying "oh well!" when it fails, the way you would in a social setting. This applies to anyone new to you--get to the point of longstanding familiarity before you trust an attraction.


Fairfax County: How can I tell whether I'm being overly picky or just unlucky? I periodically meet women I'm interested in, but so far not one of them has reciprocated that interest. As a result I haven't dated much, and the only relationships I've had have been with women who were interested in me but whom I wasn't excited about. Naturally, those don't last.

It's possible that I'm just not meeting the right women, and that (more) time will solve the problem, but if I'm unreasonably selective I may never find anyone.


Carolyn Hax: It's also possible you're not meeting women in the right context--i.e., you're in instant meet-and-decide venues when you'd be more successful in get-to-know-you-slowly ones.

Another possibility is that the surface traits that attract you aren't aligned well with what you offer or project.

Or you get tense around people you find attractive and aren't your normal self around them, but you are yourself around people you care about (this is actually an extension of the first possibility).

Or you're hunting for people based on a preconceived notion of what you want, and you're closing your mind to things that don't fit and that might actually suit you better.

Just some stuff to think about.


Richmond, Va.:"in the course of the conversation, he expresses his opinion which differs from mine and sometimes (I feel) makes me look bad."

This is way different than the rest of the (actually disrespectful) stuff asked about.

Differing opinions almost never "make [one] look bad."

Carolyn Hax: Actually, this can go both ways, too. The way the differing opinion is expressed is -everything-. It can make you feel validated (as a worthy intellectual discussion partner) or it can make you feel like a blithering idiot who has never formed even half of a worthy opinion. And often the entire difference between the two can come in shadings of tone or the position of an eyebrow. So I see it as a legitimate element of any gaslighting question.


Washington, D.C. Chastised Girl: I have a follow-up question- so when do you know to throw in the towel in a relationship? The chastising is a big problem (and this has not happened to me before). But is it worth throwing the relationship away for it? People always tell me that when you're in a serious relationship, no one is perfect and you have to learn to accept/ live with the flaws of your SO. Can his concern over what people think of him/ or me when I'm with him be likened to a personality flaw, that he can either change, or I can learn to live with, i.e. just telling him to shove it in front of everybody next time he does it again? I really feel like he doesn't do it to belittle me, but for some reason he feels like my behavior is his responsibility when I'm with his family or friends.

Carolyn Hax: What is that if not belittling you? And what does intent matter if that's the effect? He feels the need to direct you in the show he puts on for his people. This means he doesn't trust you to present yourself the way he wants, which really just means he doesn't trust himself to meet the approval of his inner circle without putting on a show.

If this is something you want as a part of your life for the rest of your life, then that's your decision to make. When people say nobody's perfect, they're right, but they're also brushing past the essential fact that imperfections come in all shapes and sizes, and there will be shapes and sizes that you find less obnoxious than others.

In making the decision whether an imperfection is one you can live with or not, the best best best thing you can do is act on your natural impulse (assuming it's within legal bounds and all) in reacting to that flaw. In other words, yes, do find a very politic way to tell him to shove it next time he tries to direct you. If that's the dealbreaker, then you know it was going to be a dealbreaker eventually, as your will to grit your teeth wore down. Or as your poor teeth wore down.

In other words, if you and he can't both be your flawed selves comfortably in the same room, under widely varied circumstances, and if instead one of you needs to suppress to maintain the peace, then that's towel-chucking time.


Adult ADD?: Hey Carolyn,

My wonderful husband often has trouble focusing, getting things done, and listening. It's become a little joke that he has untreated ADD, but recently he's wondered aloud if he actually does, and whether he should get diagnosed. I'm generally anti-drug, and my first reaction to this was that he's fairly successful without any treatment, why change a good thing--but is this being short-sighted?


Carolyn Hax:"Generally anti-drug"? How about about being "pro-appropriate treatment"? Sometimes that involves medication, sometimes it doesn't. Do your homework and THEN form an opinion. If your husband feels something is holding him back, then please have enough respect for him to support his effort to find out. If his state of mind is in fact "a good thing," then the diagnostic process--plus your and his research and advocacy--will bear that out.


New England: I want to preface this by saying I really like my boss. Nice, funny, smart, easy to work for. However, when she sends e-mails to people asking them to do things they end up sounding, well, bitchy. And she's so not. I have a writing background and everyone around me is a scientist. So a lot of people's written (and verbal, for that matter) communication skills aren't that great. But my boss is pretty important and in charge of operations. I get CCed on a lot of her correspondence, and I suspect most of the time has no idea how the e-mail sounds. Short of suggesting I proofread her e-mails, is this just the sort of thing I should mind my own business about? Is there even anything you could say to someone about this?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe a workplace expert would weigh in on this differently, but I;m thinking that if you can see she's "nice, funny, smart, easy to work for," then others can, too, and will take her (I assume) terse emails for what they are. Part of surviving in a workplace is learning to adapt to stuff like that.


Baggage, USA: My ex husband was unfaithful a few times and hid tons of other things from me as well, from vodka bottles to credit cards he'd opened. I am in a relationship now with someone else but find myself still often seeing "suspicious" signs when there may be none. It most likely has much more to do with me than who I'm with. How do I get over this and not poison the relationship I'm in? And, if something IS rightfully suspicious, how do I distinguish that? Obviously, I'm not feeling able to trust my gut.

Carolyn Hax: A perfect example of gaslighting yourself. It's absolutely possible that you're projecting your past experience on your current relationship, and your suspicions are unfounded.

It's also absolutely possible that you've entered a new relationship that has the same basic structure as your last one, and your suspicions are founded.

I apologize for the told-you-so, but this is why it's so important to tend to your baggage before you get back into a relationship--because with someone else, your bags get all commingled and who knows which belongs to whom?

If you can, take a step back and try to figure out what your gut's trying to tell you. A few rounds with a good therapist could be helpful in sorting out what happened in your marriage and what lessons--about him and, more important, about yourself--you can take away from it. Whether you do it solo or with a pro, making sense of what happened then is the only way to make sense of what's happening now.


Should she cash it? She still thinks he's an arse.: No. I'm not sure what the contest is, but he wins if she cashes it. And we don't want ex arses winning.

Carolyn Hax: But but ... that was the point of the charity gift. Everybody wins. Arse gets to be part of a good deed without being able to claim victory.


re: Falls Church: Why can't she just say "actually, we don't plan on having children." If that's their decision and they're comfortable with it, then why the vague answers? To me, vague answers like that only serve to reinforce the idea that you aren't valuable unless you procreate. Just sayin'.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed, but I could also argue that the factual answer validates the asking of a question that most people have no business asking. Straight facts are definitely good for those who are close. Thanks.


Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Thanks everybody, and have a great weekend.


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