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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, July 24 taking 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I just realized, just as I'm typing this, that I promised to re-visit an issue from last week--the guy with strained family ties.

I guess that's kind of like giving someone's physical description as "5 feet 9-ish, brown hair."

Anyway, I do have the follow-up post somewhere; I'll try to get to it a little later.

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Brooklyn : My girlfriend won't move in with me unless it's a step on the road to a bigger commitment (probably engagement). I won't know if I want to make that bigger commitment until I know what it's like to live with her. What do we do?

Carolyn Hax: Move in when you know she's the one you want to marry, no nagging doubts, and the live-together-road test is just a matter of, er, checking your work. Then you can propose, set a wedding date 12, 18, whatever months away, move in, and still have room to process any unpleasant surprises.

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Carolyn Hax: I feel like that answer needed to end with the stamping of forms or something. [stamp] [stamp] "Next."

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Albany, N.Y.: My wife's career is ruining our marriage. She routinely works 14-hour days, leaving her exhausted and unwilling to do anything but sleep during evenings and weekends. She has unilaterally decided to push back our baby-making plan by at least a year (a big concern for me because I'm already 44). Worst of all, she is stressed out to the point of occasional hysteria-I'm talking tears once a week. She is a rising star in her career field and is convinced these sacrifices are necessary to get where she wants to go, but in addition to feeling terrible when I see how stressed she is, I am beginning to feel rather disregarded as her husband. In my opinion, every marriage should have some element of "veto power"-can I invoke that here?

Carolyn Hax: I agree in theory that every marriage should have some element of veto power, but I don't think you've gotten to the point where it applies. Have you told her how you feel, what you're witnessing in her, what you think is happening to your marriage? Have you talked about an end point to this phase of her career, and what you both can realistically expect when she gets "where she wants to go"? Is her getting there even a sure thing, or is it iffy?

Maybe you have had this conversation to the point where you're talking in circles, but just didn't say so here. In that case, yes, you certainly are entitled to say, "I don't want to live like this any more. Something needs to change." Ideally then you can work out a change, together, that satisfies you both.

These steps both precede a veto. Good luck.

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi,

I've been trying to figure out how/if to ask my 17-year-old son if he's gay. He's a great kid who has never dated and is very private about his personal life. On the one hand, I think his personal life is his to share or not share with me. On the other hand, I want to be informed/supportive. I guess I've answered my own question -- it's his life, not mine, and maybe I'm just really curious. By the way, the reason I have any question about his sexual orientation is because his church youth minister planted the seeds by telling me that my son "must be gay" because he says absolutely nothing about sex and is very, very private, and that is a "dead giveaway." I thought he was just a late bloomer, like his dad and I.

Carolyn Hax: Wha? Either your son has confided in this "church youth minister" that he is gay, and the CYM made a clumsy attempt to invite you into a conversation with your son about it, or this CYM is speculating in a way that's jaw-droppingly out of line.

If you want to be supportive, just be open to the idea that your son might be gay and let him tell you when he's good and ready. Don't drop hints, ask leading questions, tell stories about somebody's wonderful gay son, or any of that. Just be.

If you want to do one better, then be a person people can turn to when they have something difficult to say. Not only would that help your son if he is gay, it would help him if he's straight, too, since being the person people can lean on means being a good, steady, non-judgmental listener. Can never hurt to practice that approach.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I partly disagree with your answer to Brooklyn. While living with someone can, at times, be challenging, I would hope that leaving the toothpaste cap off or not closing cabinets can be overcome with love and respect and committment to each other. You say not to move in until he is ready to commit - that is the part I agree with. What I don't get is why you didn't blast him for needing to see how she looks in the morning or how messy she is before making that kind of committment.

Carolyn Hax: Because I'd rather blast you for jumping to conclusions about this guy. Who says it's about how she looks in the morning? I imagine he's seen that plenty by now.

The stuff you learn from living with someone can be very subtle, and can make or break a marriage. Openness to sharing chores, ability to modulate moods when there's someone around all the time, ability to make room for one's own needs without trampling someone else's--hell, the ability to still recognize know your own needs when you invite someone else into your daily routine. The way someone handles "mine" vs. "ours." I don't know that his concerns are along the lines of these, but it's concerns like these that make me sympathetic to the live-together camp. I realize it's not for everyone, and there are both smart ways to do it and stupid ones, but I'm not going to talk any one who requires it into bending on that requirement.

BTW, you toss off "how messy she is" as if it's a benign trait, when it's so often not. Dirty socks can gather marriage-busting powers in a matter of a few years, even in some marriages that started with "love and respect and commitment."

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Carolyn Hax: Got halfway through an answer an changed my mind. Will have something soon ...

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Sex and the City : I'm 26 and single and I love sex, but I think I've turned a corner where I now don't want to do it outside of a committed relationship anymore. However, I have no relationship prospects and fully know the dangers of rushing into something for "animal" reasons. Does this mean I'm stuck in a sexless existence till something changes (my attitude or my relationship status)?

Carolyn Hax: You don't need me to do your math for you. If you're looking for a way around the math--some kind of sexual fourth dimension--then I'm afraid you're giving me way too much credit.

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Washington, D.C.: I moved in with my boyfriend a couple of months ago, and generally speaking, it's going great. No regrets.

However, there's a fairly minor problem I'd like to resolve. In an ideal world, my boyfriend would spend literally all of his time with me, whereas I would prefer one night every other week or so where I can have the apartment to myself. I already take a weekly class and get out of the house several times a week--usually my boyfriend comes along. He almost never leaves the house on his own, though.

I guess it boils down to me wanting a little more "me time" without having to leave the house to find it, which is maybe a little selfish. I've tried retreating to the bedroom while he's watching TV, but he wanders in after a few minutes to look for me.

I love my boyfriend, and nine days out of ten I'm happy to spend all my time with him. How do I tell him that on the tenth day, though, I'd like him leave me alone to play video games with my cats, without hurting his feelings?

(Cavaet--this isn't about control on his part; he never objects or pries for details when I go out with friends or colleagues. He just really likes couple time.)

Carolyn Hax: You're just going to have to tell him. If he makes it about his feelings, then point out, "This is not about you, this is about me. I need to be alone sometimes." Your ability to draw this line and his ability to respect it without internalizing it will say a lot about whether each of you has the emotional maturity to handle the much less minor problems that are bound to come up if you stay together long-term. (Therefore, this isn't a minor problem at all, but I already walk the line of self-parody as it is.)

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Portland: My husband and I haven't really talked since Monday .. when he called me an [glass bowl] for questioning something he suggested we do this weekend (we were planning a little get away). Neither of us have brought it up since ... but, we also didn't finish the planning ... so, we're in limbo for the weekend. I know that if I say "honey, I was hurt when you called me ..." he'd say "then stop being a ...". Is it wrong to say "why would we want to spend our weekend get away watching a TV event. If it's so important, why don't we go another weekend?" I really was trying to understand why he wanted to do this (instead of sightseeing or something). is there any way to recover the weekend?

Carolyn Hax: How about, "I may have been abrasive in my wording about choosing another weekend, but on what planet is it okay for a husband to call his wife a [glass bowl] and then not speak to her for a week?"

Or you can just skip the opening volley and just bring this to marriage counseling, of which you two appear to be in dire need. [See, "ability to respect spousal preferences without personalizing or internalizing them as sign of emotional maturity," above.] Even if he agrees to go with you, of which I'm skeptical, please make sure also to see someone solo. You've just given a tiny glimpse here, but if on the fifth day post-argument he'd still call you a [glass bowl] instead of trying to deal with the problem, then the chances are good that he's an emotional/verbal abuser. And couples' counseling in that case should not be your only source of counsel, given the possibility that he'd control the couples portion to the point where it would be useless to you. Recover yourself first, then worry about the marriage, then worry about the weekend.

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Re: Washington, D.C.: She plays video games with her cats? No wonder the boyfriend wants to spend all his time with her; I want to see that for myself, too - that's awesome!

Carolyn Hax: Maybe he's actually following the cats around, and not her. Provocative twist.

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MD: Actually, a study was just released the concluded that the divorce rate is higher for people who live together before marriage, mostly attributed to the fact that it is more difficult to end the relationship if you have shared living arrangements. Many folks who would have broken up move on to marriage because it is "easier" than breaking up.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I've seen these studies over the years, and I've certainly seen, anecdotally, the people who get into inertia marriages, where they're just so deep in that calling off the wedding becomes unthinkable.

However, I don't see how this information applies to people who have already decided to get married before they move in together. If it's going to go bad, it's going to go bad, in a way that I don't think you can trace to their sharing an address while they planned the wedding.

I don't know what study you're talking about so I don't know the specifics, how well-designed it was, etc, but often these statistics treat every cohabitant equally--from the people who decide to live together to save money to those who don't believe in marriage or can't marry and so living together is, essentially, their version of marriage.

Even if you could filter for these circumstances, you'd still then have to account for the fact that people who opt out of cohabitation might also hold a more conservative view of marriage, and who might stay in an unhappy marriage that another couple would leave.

In other words, I find it more useful to deal with individual cases, and not general conclusions.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I complain too much. About everything. I complain about myself, my job, my love life or lack thereof, my apartment, everything. How can I stop?

Carolyn Hax: What's good about your life? Send me a list.

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Seattle: Hi Carolyn,

I'm moving in two weeks to a state where I don't really want to live so my husband and I can pursue our academic careers. I've committed to live there for two academic years, but I'm heartbroken to leave what has come to be my home since I moved here six years ago. I'm trying to look on the bright side-- it's two years, we'll be able to look for something better soon, and will be a better position to get better jobs then--but I'm struggling and deeply melancholy. I know I need to work to build community, find a church, make friends, but I honestly feel like I'm getting too old for this and I want to put down roots. What would you advise me for my plan to be?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, you can build community, find a church, etc--or find a community, build a church--or, you can just hold your nose and get through it. Or you can reason that it'll be easier to focus on your studies when there's nothing tempting you away from your desk. Or you can schedule, on alternating months, a weekend trip to explore your new home, a weekend trip to the old one (or new-new-old, or new-new-new-old, depending on what you can afford). The bonus here is that you schedule things to look forward to, which makes time shoot by, instead of just fly, as it probably will no matter what you do.

In other words, it's two years, a blip in a lifetime, and there's nothing wrong with giving yourself permission to do whatever it takes to get yourself to the other end. Just don't bash the place to the people who see it the way you do Seattle. That's just bad geographic sportsmanship.

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Glassbowl: Did the Post really just post that question unedited?! I LOVE IT! Liz would NEVER have allowed us this much fun!

Also, what's so important on TV this weekend that he wanted to schedule it into their getaway? I feel like I might miss out on something. It can't be the Sox-O's game, can it?

washingtonpost.com: Oops! Will fix it in the transcripts ;) - Jodi

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, that's why I glassbowled it. Labor-saving gesture for the transcript elves.

Anyway, excellent point about the can't-miss televised-event specifics. I can't think of anything ... Tour de France, maybe? Last day to affect final overall standings on Saturday?

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Boyfriends and Cats: I sometimes think my boyfriend likes my cat more than me! He once suggested putting the cat in a Baby Bjorn so he could take her with him when he went out. While initially I found this to be very bizarre, eventually I got used to it and now find it kind of endearing. Next time he wants me to play video games with him I'll have to suggest that he play them with the cat!

Carolyn Hax: 1. Does the cat find it endearing?

2. Can you send us a picture?

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Trying for a healthy relationship: Re. the "ability to make room for one's own needs without trampling someone else's" ... how best to know what reasonable needs are? I felt like I was being told to "jump" when my SO informed me we'd be having dinner at his parent's house last week. We'd agreed to see each other that night, bur had no set plans. Following that (perfectly lovely) dinner, I tried to say I'd prefer to be asked about plans, not told. That was shot down with words like "selfish" and I was told I "didn't want to go down that road" though I repeatedly explained my preference had nothing to do with his family, a family I actually like. I wouldn't veto dinner ... I just don't want plans made for me. I don't know whether the blowout that ensued was because of crankiness (on both our parts) for other reasons, or because our views of "reasonable needs" are just incompatible ..

Carolyn Hax: Obviously this is another case of having a tiny glimpse of a person, and only one side of the story (we don't know, for example, whether you harrumphed through dinner, or screamed at him after dinner vs. making a measured request, or whether you order him around yourself)--but I don't like what I see at all. "I would like to be asked about plans, not told," is an absolutely reasonable request, and it's reasonable no matter how you delivered it.

Even if you were being hypocritical--in the case that you ask to be asked but order him around with impunity--then the answer isn't to call you "selfish," it's to spell out the hypocrisy of your preference.

I could speculate all day on the stuff we don't know, but given what we do know, here's what you need to look for: If you approach him again, if you're both calm and rested, if you give careful thought to the way you run plans by him and you're sure you're asking for the same treatment you offer him, and if you phrase it as plainly as you said you did last week, "I maintain that I didn't ask for anything I wasn't entitled to ask: I'd prefer to be asked about plans, not told"--and if he flips out on you again, then you know it's not crankiness, it's "a very important difference" (translation: red flag) in what you and he view as reasonable.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend has been unemployed since graduating with a Bachelor's degree two years ago. I'm not bitter or upset with him--I know he is diligently looking for work and doing the best he can, but I'm ready for us to move out of our parents' houses and live together. He wants that too, but obviously he's not in the financial situation to do so. How do I balance supporting him with my growing impatience?

Carolyn Hax: Why are you waiting for him before you move out of your parents' house? It's not like those are your only two choices.

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Complainer in D.C.: That's it, Carolyn! There's A LOT good in my life. Which then makes me feel doubly bad, guilty, and weak for complaining in the first place! Why do I do this and how can I stop?

Good things include: amazing family, nice studio apartment, great friends, good stable job in my chosen field (albeit with slower promotion potential than I expected).

My number one complaint is the lack of a partner to share my life with. Once I start harping on that, everything begins looking negative and I start complaining.

Carolyn Hax: Why are you complaining about that? And by that I mean, what do you expect to accomplish by talking about not having a boyfriend?

People say negative things for various reasons. Sometimes they complain by way of storytelling: "You wouldn't believe what happened on the way here." Sometimes it's to fill a void when they have no idea what else to talk about. "Ugh, this weather is awful"; "Ugh, this train is so slow." Sometimes they're asking for advice or help: "Bedtime used to be fine, but now it's complete hell [description of hell] Have you heard of kids just acting like that, out of the blue?" Sometimes they're just looking for reassurance that they're okay: "I just started gaining weight this year, and I try but can't seem to stop."

If I had to guess, I'd say yours is the last case, that you're looking for reassurance. You wonder why you don't have a partner, you wonder if others are wondering why, so you kinda get yourself out in front of it--say it before anyone can think it, and therefore appear in control. Maybe?

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Moving Out in D.C. (again): Agreed, but I'm not unhappy here. I get along well with my parents and don't feel immediate pressure (either internally or from them) to get out. I've done the roommate thing, and I'm not interested in doing it again unless I absolutely have to, and paying for my own place would greatly reduce my standard of living. Part of growing up, right? I just have to deal with that?

The question really wasn't about moving out, though I guess it came out that way. It's more about how to survive dating someone who is perpetually unemployed. How can I be supportive and helpful without being a nag?

Carolyn Hax: Let's start with helpful. What does he need from you? Or, similarly, what does he ask of you?

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Couples Spending All Their Time Together: Carolyn, What do you think generally of the wanting to spend every second with your SO? I once had a therapist tell me it was a red flag and I believed her at the time but now my spouse and I are like that, as are her parents and my parents and all four of our siblings between us. I just think it is important to find someone with whom you are at least relatively compatible on this issue. So two people who both want to spend every second together are fine as long as it is what they both want. But maybe I am in a co-dependent marriage ... My old therapist would certainly say so.

Carolyn Hax: If both of you can ask each other for a little space, and if both of you can be asked for a little space, and if there isn't fallout and there aren't hurt feelings, then you can smother each other all you want, and I'm not going to apply any labels. Even if the asking has never happened and the above exercise is purely a hypothetical. If even one of you is harboring unspoken or unrespected wishes for a little alone time, then it's not healthy. That's where the line is.

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Re: Complainer in D.C.: Why did you assume the writer is looking for a boyfriend (as opposed to girlfriend)?

Carolyn Hax: Bias. What can I say. It "sounded" female.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently attended a funeral wherein I noticed several people taking photographs with their cellphones and others with cameras both at service and burial. I am somewhat unsettled by this. Is this a new trend? Are these photos personal memento mori or do they wind up on someone's Facebook or daily blog? Is there an etiquette for photographing such an occasion? Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I've never given this a moment's thought before reading your question, I guess because I've never seen anyone photograph a funeral and it never occurred to me to do so myself.

So, my un-thought-through reaction is the same as yours: Ick.

I mean, even news photos of funerals are taken discreetly, aren't they?

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Anonymous: I think my husband loves his job first and me second. There's obviously no way to really tell, but I suspect if he had to choose between his (successful, high-paying) career or his marriage, he'd choose his career. I am his third wife, married to him after he spent almost a decade being single. So the only real constant in his life has been his work.

Part of me thinks I got myself into this--I always knew he was crazy about work and in fact his ambition was one of the first things I loved about him. Also I worry that if I start to raise a stink about his priorities and crazy work hours, I'll go the way of his first two wives. But I feel I should have the right to ask him frankly where his loyalties lie. How do I start a conversation about this with him?

Carolyn Hax: I'd start by figuring out what you want out of this conversation. Yes, you want to be Priority 1 and you want more time with him. But what if what you signed up for is all he's offering? Can you live with that?

By all means, get your information. But you're right, you did get yourself into this, so don't go into this conversation expecting him to get you out of it. Have your own ideas, your own priorities, and your own contingency plans.

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East Coast: Still taking questions? I'm an unemployed grad student looking to buy an engagement ring. Am I absolutely crazy, or should I just go for it?

Carolyn Hax: The right person (RP) will say yes to a Cracker Jack ring. Not only would RP be more than happy to save bigger gifts for flusher times, RP would actually prefer that you not go into debt on a gesture.

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Re: Complainer in D.C.: Sounded both female and heterosexual, you mean.

Carolyn Hax: Right. By the odds, it's the likeliest scenario, though I usually do try to write around any assumptions before I hit the button (one of the many reasons I'm slow). I'm sorry that one got through.

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Pushing for what I want: Hi, Carolyn.

I'm realizing that my girlfriend is pushy. What I don't know is if she's pushing me along to encourage me along to the next phase in our relationship or is she just being pushy? How do I know the difference?

Here are some points:

We've been dating for one year, living together for a few months. She want to be engaged/get married. She wants me to buy a house so we can stop renting.

I'm trying to figure out if this is the normal or average timing for a serious relationship or is she just hurrying things along?

Thanks

Carolyn Hax: Hiya.

"Normal" or "average" timing doesn't matter. If you feel pushed, then you need to say, "I'm feeling pressured."

I would even argue that an eye to what's normal or average is the seemingly harmless precursor to a huge mistake. The only right time to get married is when -you- want to marry the person you're with. It has nothing to do with time, timing or age, and people who are concerned about those things often base their decisions on those instead of their own readiness or the person they're with. Leads to so many bad decisions.

So, to repeat: "I'm feeling pressured." Then, depending on whether it's true, you can say that you're happy with her, say that you just want to keep things as they are for a while, and that if it's a good decision now it will still be a good decision a few months/a year/whatever from now.

If you got pushed into moving in together, then that might hamper the work of the status quo--meaning, if the status quo itself is unnatural, then it's hard to just let nature take it from here. If in all this you're feeling that the cohabitation was rushed, then you need to say that out loud, too.

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Frederick, Md.: Hello! I have a good friend who loooves Facebook. She's asked me to join but I let her know that I have neither the time management skills nor willingness to share personal info with other acquaintances that it seems to require. A family member of mine recently joined and friended her...and so I've now learned that my good friend has posted NUMEROUS photos of myself, my child, my husband, and my home - some were taken by her during a visit, and others were photos I emailed to her (i.e., of my son's birthday). I feel VERY weird about this and rather violated. Am I too private? I know she'll remove them if I ask, but I know she'll be hurt & won't understand why I'm uncomfortable. Any words of wisdom for both of us?

Carolyn Hax: Don't let the feelings get in the way of a perfectly legitimate and practical request: "Please don't post pictures of me or my family on Facebook." Boom, done. If you have the bad fortune of knowing one of the three people who aren't up on issues of privacy on the Web, then she might take it a little hard, but then you can say it's not personal--it's just about wanting some say in who has and uses these images.

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Potentially Gay Son: I knew I was gay at 16 but had no intentions of ever telling my parents because I didn't know how they would react. For two years I kept it a secret. I was home visiting from college when I was 18 and my mom pulled me aside and gently asked me if my friend Megan (I'm sure I had been talking about Megan the whole time) was more than just a friend. Mom's guess was correct, and I don't remember anything else that was said, only that everything was well received. It was such a relief that she broached the topic, otherwise, I would have let it be the elephant in the room for forever. I'm not saying the LW's son is exhibiting "dead giveaway" gay-isms, but I think there could be some merit in the LW bringing the topic up first.

Carolyn Hax: You give such a great example of how to do it, thank you. "Is Megan more than just a friend?" is so much more loving and approachable--so much more "I get it"--than, "Are you gay," which can come from a place of complete sympathy and complete antipathy and just about everywhere in between, in many cases leaving a person to guess at the questioner's intent.

A parent who has something/someone to work with other than a hunch (or a youth counselor boundary violation) is in a much better position to approach.

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Moving Out in D.C. (again): I think he needs me to be a source of comfort and escape from the daily grind of job hunting and the pressure he's feeling from other sources (parents, bank account, etc). I can do that, but it leaves me feeling out of the loop and alienated from a large part of his life. If he spends all day filling out job applications, I understand not wanting to talk about it when he get some free time with the SO, but I feel...i don't know. Left out?

Carolyn Hax: I think that's a case where you can try to set your need aside (for in-the-loopness) in favor of his greater need (for relief from pressure). Doesn't have to be a permanent adjustment, just one you try on to see how it feels. You did ask for ways to support him that help you with your growing impatience, and I think backing away a bit satisfies both.

Unless you're a direct part of the process, there's no need for you to know details--so your asking for details would come either from a loving interest in his daily life, or a growing concern for your investment in it. Since you've all but spelled out that you're worried about the latter, I don't think it's a stretch to assume he knows that, too.

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Ft. Washington, Md.: In this day and age is there still such a thing as "too big" an age gap for a couple to have? I'm 22, been out a few times with a guy who works in the office next to mine - he's 32. My friends and I don't think it's a big deal at all but my parents were appalled. Is this more of a generation gap thing?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe you have to be the parents of a 22-year-old woman to get this, but frankly I'm appalled that they're appalled. Skeptical, sure, but adults are adults.

But, FWIW: "In this day and age"? No, you are not the vanguard ...

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From the "Pushy" one....: I submitted this earlier, but after seeing the comment from the male side of the 'pushy' argument, I would love to hear your thoughts on my side.

I have been dating my boyfriend for a year ("officially" together for 6 months). I am 30 and he is 33.

I know that there is no 'right' age for marriage, but I am also acutely aware of both my personal desire to have kids by 35 as well as the biological limitations there.

I feel like in my past relationships I have held myself back a bit and tried to play the 'cool girlfriend', you know, the one that doesn't pressure their man about getting married or having kids. I want my relationships to be fun and loving and not pressuring. Unfortunately, that attitude has gotten me in a string of relationships with men that are happy to plod along in the 'dating mode'.

I told my BF exactly this (with added tears because I seem to be incapable of having conversations about relationships without crying)and he said nothing. He reassured me that he cared about me, but said he "didn't know" when I asked about how he envisioned his life in 5 years. Even after a year he still hasn't told me he loves me (I told him, because I absolutely do).

I also said that for lack of a better word, I don't want to waste time (not because time with him is a waste, because it's not, but I want my life to include marriage and kids and if he and I aren't headed there, then it's pointless).

My question is, do I give him time? Pull back and let him think it over? Break it off? I really love him and enjoy every minute of spending time with him and I feel strongly that we would be amazing partners. If we broke up next week, I would not regret time spend over the past year with him. If we break up in 6 months because he still "isn't sure" I am going to be really angry and bitter about relationships. I need your advice :-)

Carolyn Hax: Your needs are clear and legitimate and I get it.

But I also would get it if he wrote in to me saying that he's afraid his girlfriend is more interested in him as a sperm donor than as a lifelong mate. And while that might not be fair--I obviously have no idea how you fell for each other or why, or how you show your love for each other, or whether your family family urges followed your meeting him or whether the urges came first--you have to consider this from his perspective, or else you're not being fair.

Your needs do -not- trump his feelings. In a loving relationship of equals, his feelings matter as much as your feelings, his needs matter as much as your needs, his preferences matter as much as your preferences, and so on. It's important to have priorities, and to make them clear, but they can't muscle out the other person's selfhood, for lack of a better word. It's not about sitting back and playing it "cool," it's about appreciating that you have an independent, sentient human being on the other end of this decision, and tap-tap-tapping your foot because his six months are up is not the way to show respect for another being.

There will be a day when he's had plenty of time to see what he has in you, and reasonable people can disagree on when that time is, but after six months this possibly unreasonable person wishes you were challenging your own assumptions about him a bit more.

What if you married him and for some reason you couldn't have kids. Is he the guy you'd want to be with, ever after? And since you are choosing (as you;ve made very clear) the man you hope will be the father of your kids: Is he a dad you'd want? If you do get married and it doesn't stick, will he be a good ex-husband? Will sharing custody be a relatively stress free enterprise?

Maybe you've been through all of this to your own satisfaction, but that's hard to believe given the amount of brain space you have working on the will-he-make-up-his-mind-on-time issue. Plus, choosing to your satisfaction might not be as tough a standard as choosing to your future kids' satisfaction. Set your mind to those, and give him room to ponder what's his to ponder about kids, about himself, about you.

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Strained Family Ties Update?: Just a gentle reminder from a fan.

Carolyn Hax: Much appreciated. I checked the follow-up post, and it's a bit of a twisty story, a few to many pronouns without clear antecedents. I'm going to sit with it when I have time to chart out the family connections, and either post it here next week or send it to the Hax-Philes.

I thought it would be a regular question that I could answer at chat speed, but it's not.

For anyone wondering, it's Detroit guy from last week.

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Time to join the NRA: I'm the father of a 19-year-old daughter. If someone 29 started to date her, I revisit my principles and buy a handgun.

Carolyn Hax: Holster it, Dad--it's like the shacking up question. General ideas don't apply, because it's all about the individuals involved and their maturity. Sure, some 29s scam 19s, but that doesn't mean a few great 29s don't surprise themselves by developing an interest in WHAT? 19?!

Really, it's case by case. Though I am glad there are age of majority laws to save people the trouble of having to figure out where the line is.

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Carolyn Hax: Well then. Bye, thanks, see you here next week, I hope. Have a great weekend.

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In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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