Carolyn Hax Live: Advice Columnist Tackles Your Problems
Friday, August 21, 2009; 12:00 PM
Carolyn was online Friday, August 21 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.
Largo, Md.: Is bad backseat driving a sign of a control freak? I am talking about constant complaints about going too fast, going too slow, braking too hard, not being in the best lane, not taking the best route to a destination, yada yada yada.
Carolyn Hax: It is, unless you're a dangerously bad driver who has no idea where s/he's going.
Boston: I was recently having cocktails with some old college friends (we're in our 30s now) and was appalled when one showed up with a date who couldn't have been older than 22. Worse still was when his date went to the bathroom, several of the other guys gave him exaggerated congratulations. I was eventually so nauseated (and I wasn't the only woman to feel this way) that I cut the evening short early and went home.
Did I overreact?
Carolyn Hax: If you were otherwise having a good time, and your make-a-statement departure accomplished nothing except to deprive you of a few hours of pleasant company, then you overreacted. If instead the bathroom-break high-fives were representative of the quality of the discourse during the rest of the evening, and if you weren't having a good time, then leaving early was just the right thing to do.
So really, what makes the difference is whether you just didn't like the men these college friends grew into, or whether you saw a righteous cause where an eye-roll and a shrug would have sufficed.
I am curious, too. Did you get to know the date at all? Because if you wrote her off based on age and (presumably) trophy-esque looks, then you fell into a stereotype with just as much as a thud as the hootin' dudes did.
Go Ahead and Punish Me: I hooked up with my best friend's ex-fiance. I have seen him a few times since then and I think a romance is blooming. If she finds out now, it would definitely end our friendship. (The break-up was recent and really ripped her apart.) However, I think if she were to find out somewhat later, she might be okay with it. Is cutting off all contact my only option?
Carolyn Hax: If it would be better for her to find out later, then it would be better for it to start later. You don't want to see this guy in secret, lie to your friend, count to 100 and then spring it on her at a time that best serves your desire to have your cake and eat it too.
So, either you keep seeing the guy and tell your friend, knowing it might mess her up and end your friendship, or tell the guy that you really want to keep seeing him but that out of loyalty to your friend you'd like to hold off for a little while. Your call.
Wheaton, Md.: Guy here. I've read your column a thousand times so I know you tend to red-flag markers of controlling relationships. However, I think I have a legitimate gripe here: My fiancee, who is very beautiful with a very vivacious personality, has begun dressing like a total skank. I don't want to overstate the connection here, but this seemed to begin right after I proposed to her. Strangers are constantly ogling at her and I am sure most people get the wrong idea. I know how smart and classy she is, and it's driving me nuts to see her sell herself short this way. However, whenever I hear myself getting at her about her outfit, I feel like a controller, which is the opposite of the relationship dynamic I want with my soon-to-be wife. She's embarrassing me. What do I do?
Carolyn Hax: I agree that you have a legitimate gripe. That you're watching yourself for controlling behavior is almost as persuasive in establishing legitimacy as the situation itself.
But the situation is persuasive. A drastic change, particularly post-engagement, is a red flag of its own. So I think that if you want to keep from becoming controlling and also keep from missing the point, you need to concentrate on that change, vs. addressing it one skanky outfit at a time.
Meaning: "It used to be that, when we went out, you would wear [the more specifically you can describe what she wore here, the better]. Now, you wear [new specifics]. I may have the wrong impression, but it seems as if this change happened when I proposed. Is there something going on--is there fear or ambivalence here that's coming out in your clothes?" In your words, but that's the idea.
I wouldn't expect her to just up and say, "Yes, I'm scared that I'll be all old and married and never flirt again, so I'm showing all the cleavage I can without getting arrested." But getting your concerns out there in this general, I'm-concerned-about-your-feelings way, might lead to a productive discussion in time.
If you're not sure how to keep from crossing the line as this unfolds, then it might help to keep this in mind as not an issue of clothing and not as changing who she is, but instead one of -her- changing behavior. Keep reminding yourself as you go.
And also remember that if she doesn't see/acknowledge any change, and if she doesn't change back, then you'll need to treat the new exhibitionist version of your fiancee as the real version of your fiancee, and make your decisions about your future accordingly. That's another way to stay on the
right side of the controlling line--taking (or leaving) people as-is instead of badgering them to become the way you prefer.
Because Everything Here Is Always So Sturm and Drang: I'm falling in love, mutually and slowly, with a guy I've known for years. It's awesome. And healthy. And I never would have figured it out if it were not for having read your stuff for ten years.
Carolyn Hax: Aw. I'm verklempt. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: And when I checked my dictionary to make sure I was spelling "verklempt" correctly, it said it didn't recognize the word, and offered as alternatives:
2. variety meat
Best Friend's Fiance: Uh... why did they end it?
That really matters, here. If it ended because she cheated or she's insane or whatever, go get 'im. But it doesn't sound like that's the reason. Most of the reasons that are coming to my mind involve him being a glass bowl and you being either blind, dumb, or selfish. I hope I'm wrong, though.
Carolyn Hax: Really? I agree completely that the reason they broke up matters, but "most of the reasons" that come to my mind involve one person falling out of love/losing interest/realizing s/he's not as into it as the other person, and never will be. That's with all breakups, not just this one.
Most of the dubious behavior involves the thoughtless or careless way in which the no-longer-interested party informs the still-interested party.
Variety Meat: Like spam? or bologna?
Carolyn Hax: I have no idea. I'll plug it in and see what it says ... hang on ...
Carolyn Hax: It said, "22-year-old woman."
It said, "an edible part (as the liver or tongue) of a slaughter animal other than skeletal muscle."
I am officially off lunch.
Boston: Yes, I spent the first part of the evening making conversation with the date. I wish I could say she was sweet and mature, but she reminded me of everyone I know (myself included) at age 22: giggly, insecure, easily bored.
The problem wasn't her, it was that a group of 30-something men, sitting among a group of their 30-someting female friends, spent the entire evening implying that a girl in her early twenties is a prize, while an older one, by contrast, would not be. We were insulted.
Carolyn Hax: Yeah, if they were at it the entire evening, then you didn't overreact. I wish I could say it was their loss, but it sounds as if it was everybody's--theirs, yours, the other women's, the trophy date's. The best answer might just be to wipe this one off the books. Bad night, move on.
Friend's Ex-Fiance Hooker-Upper: Why not advise ex-fiance that it's too much for now, and you don't want to mess up your friendship, but you'll be friends for a while and see if it will work out later? If you're right for each other, you can let things cool off with his ex/your friend for as long as needed, so that when you DO get together, there won't be the same hard feelings.
Carolyn Hax: AKA, the longer version of "hold off for a while." Tx.
Reston, Va.: Last week my husband wrote me an e-mail at work to ask me if I would mind moving the appointment we currently have to induce our daughter (I am due next week) to a later time that evening... to ACCOMMODATE his fantasy football league draft that evening!!!
I would just like you to know that I am not in jail right now and very proud of myself...
Carolyn Hax: Hey, isn't that the beauty of inducing? You can schedule it?
22-Year-Old: How does the poster know that the date "couldn't have been older than 22"? It can be really hard to judge other people's age. I'm mid-30s but am regularly mistaken for early 20s (sometimes to the point of people accusing me of having a fake ID when I want a beer). My poor husband has had to deal with some eye rolling and indignant behavior from strangers since he doesn't look 10-15 years younger than he is... So other than looking young (and presumably attractive) did this 22 year old do/say anything to prove their 22ness?
Carolyn Hax: There is that. Unfortunately, though, unless she was smokin' hot, her leaving for the bathroom wouldn't have touched off a high-five riot if she were just a youthful looking 35. At least that seems like a safe assumption at this cultural moment. (With any luck, this whole discussion will seem quaintly bizarre to someone reading it 100 years from now.)
For Go Ahead and Punish Me: I've been your best friend. It all happened eight years ago, the guy is long gone from both of our lives and we are no longer friends. It wasn't that she went after him, it wasn't that I wanted him more, or that it felt like he chose her over me that really bothered me. It was that she lied to me about it and got our mutual friends to cover for her. She was totally my best friend and I miss our friendship but did we really have one if she was gonna sneak around like this? If you tell her, she'll be hurt, she's only human! You are in a situation where you are going to have to make a choice, it's either the guy or her. That maybe temporary but that is the way it is.
Funny enough, I dated a guy for a few months, broke it off with him, then ended up marrying his friend a year later. I know both sides. Make your choice, deal with it and be confident with your decision.
Carolyn Hax: There. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: How do you know when to let go of someone you have had a long history with, a history filled with love, hate, ups and downs, problems and joyful times, both as a couple and with children from former relationships...lots of baggage, but lots of love and laughter...how do you know when things are truly so bad THIS time, that you should leave the relationship?
Carolyn Hax: When you're causing collateral damage. If two consenting adults want to mess each other up within the privacy of their own relationship, then, well, so be it. But emotional chaos rarely respects boundaries. Usually, there are kids or friends or relatives or colleagues or even neighbors who are getting dragged along for the dysfunctional ride, and when that happens, then it's time to start cleaning up the mess.
New Orleans, La.: Re: Fantasy football wife
I wonder if she's rethinking procreating with that man.
Carolyn Hax: Could have been worse. He could have not asked her to reschedule, and just been distracted and pissy during the delivery without explaining why.
I started typing this as a joke, but then realized halfway through that this is in fact what a lot of people do to each other.
Baltimore, Md.: OK... So I've been dating a girl for about a year and two months. Here's the issue: she keeps her family and friends completely separate from our relationship. She recently met my folks, but I have not met her family. Not only have I not met her family, she hasn't even TOLD her family she's seeing someone. When her parents come over, it's basically understood I'm supposed to make myself scarce. Basically the same with her friends- when she goes out with them, it's quite obvious she's going alone. Should I be making more of an issue with this? She insists that she loves me and cares about me very much, and when I bring it up she says she's "independent." But to me...well some days I can't help but wonder if she's also keeping secrets from me, just like I'm a secret to her family and friends. It sure would be easy considering how much of her life I'm not privy to. Help?!?
Carolyn Hax: If she's "independent," then she has nothing to fear from commingling various aspects of her life. That's because she'll be able to stand on her own if, say, you don't like her friends, or her parents don't like you. If her feelings for you wane, she'll be strong enough to break up with you despite your having developed strong ties to her friends and family.
An independent person will be able to separate her own opinions of you from others', so she won't have to worry about peer pressure to get married or parental pressure to break up or whatever pressure to whatever.
An independent person will be able to separate a past bad experience from her experience with you, and so even a bad breakup with someone who insinuated himself into every part of her life wouldn't justify her shutting you out.
Now, if she has some other explanation for it, then you're entitled to hear it and make your own judgments. But if that's all she's got? Seems awfully thin to me.
When you're trying to gauge how much of a protest you should kick up to a certain kind of treatment, the best course is just to ask yourself whether you understand and respect the reasoning behind it. If you don't really understand why your GF is doing it, or if you do understand and you don't respect it or agree with her approach, then you need to say so. And you need to ask for a more thorough explanation than, "I'm independent," because you're not buying it.
And if she doesn't let you in more--or at least explain your exclusion to your satisfaction--then you need to realize this isn't someone you agree with or respect, and you need to say goodbye.
Fantasy Football: Can he bring his iPhone into the delivery room? Kill two birds with one stone...
Carolyn Hax: Yeah. The iPhone, and the husband.
Grateful?: Where do you stand on saying "thanks" to your spouse for the little things? If I ask my husband to do something, I say "please," then "thanks," and I mean it. He tells me to stop. But I want that in return -- I want some gratitude for cooking dinner 95 percent of the time, then doing the dishes 100 percent of the time. I told him I've tired of cooking because I resent that he seems ungrateful, or takes it for granted. He says we're married and "thanks" is never necessary for things we do -- but I just want a "thanks, hon, I know you worked all day, too." Am I asking for the wrong things here?
Carolyn Hax: No, but you're asking them of the wrong person.
I'm on the record (abundantly) in favor of expressing appreciation to and for one's mate, so I disagree with your husband. But just because I disagree or you disagree doesn't mean he isn't entitled to his way of doing things. Even if it sucks, it's his, and it's his right to be himself. Even his sucky self.
You, in turn, have to decide if you can live with his way of doing things, or not. It's unfortunate that his refusal to do something small might force you to do something big. But that's just how it is sometimes.
Of course, it doesn't have to be big. If you decide your husband contributes as much to the marriage as you do, and just does it in his own way, then you just need to reset your expectations of him to reflect what he's willing and able to give.
If on the other hand you decide that he doesn't give as freely to the marriage as you do, and you're no longer interested in doing 95 percent of the cooking and 100 percent of the dishes in a household where you never even hear "thank you," then you stop doing dishes and cooking. Or at least you pull back to the point where you feel you're more in balance.
These are just two examples of the mental math you need to do, but no matter where your calculations take you, it's to a better place than you're in now--since now you're stuck asking repeatedly for changes that are never going to come.
Fantasy Football: When my mom went into labor, she drove to pick my dad up at the office - and he then asked her if she could drive them to the hospital, because he had had a really long day. It's a still a favorite family story. By the way, my dad has been the most involved, attentive dad ever - he just doesn't think sometimes. I assume that's what happened for the fantasy football guy.
Carolyn Hax: I put up the original post for yuks, but interesting stuff is coming in. Two more to follow:
Re: Induction: Wife: "There is a human being in my body whose arrival will completely alter our reality forever."
Husband: "But I have a play date."
Are you kidding me?
Carolyn Hax: And:
Toddler Mom Here: Move the appointment, unless the induction is life or death. I'm not kidding. This is literally his last chance to focus on a game for months, possibly years, and he knows it. Induction rarely matters one day on either side - and to be honest, there's a lot of research indicating that induction just because you're a week or two overdue is potentially harmful. So give him the day, earn tons of points for being awesome, and cash in those points in the weeks to come. And congrats on the baby :)
Carolyn Hax: I'm not endorsing the induction-is-potentially harmful bit, since that's not something I'm qualified to handle, but it's a bookend to the are-you-kidding?
Evanston, Ill: Hi Carolyn,
I am a huge animal lover and always had pets growing up; my boyfriend has never had a pet and apparently has no desire to. Unfortunately, I didn't find this out until recently when we started talking about buying a house together and I said something about finally having a yard so I could get a dog. He is adamant that he does not want ANY pets EVER, even if I took care of them 100 percent and he didn't have to lift a finger. It's not like either of us hid our feelings on this from each other - it just never came up. But while I can't imagine a life without him, I can't imagine never having another dog or cat either. Is there any way to compromise on this or do I have to accept that if I am with him, I can never have another pet?
Carolyn Hax: "No" doesn't come with exceptions, bypasses or back doors. It's just, no. And he said no. If he's willing to let you go in order to preserve his pet-free life, and if you're willing to let him go in order to have pets, then that's what happens here. You break up. If having and honoring priorities were easy, we'd all be a lot better at it than we are.
Nashville, Tenn.: I have a happy marriage with one seemingly silly problem that keeps getting bigger: I've asked my wife countless times not to call me at work unless the matter is urgent. She doesn't do it as often as she used to, but she still calls me about non-urgent matters every other week or so. At this point, the principle is more annoying than the distracting attempts at chit-chat, and I don't know how to make it stop. This seems like a silly thing to go to counseling over. Any ideas?
Carolyn Hax: I agree that it's about the principle--not to mention annoying, easily avoidable, and therefore possibly even a power grab on her part. You say this is "one" problem, and I'll take your word for it--but if there's any other stuff between you that suggests she wants to keep you on a short leash, then you have to take that with this calling issue and consider there's more to it than chit-chat phone calls.
That said, one call every other week strikes me as minuscule in the scope of a marriage, the kind of thing presumably you;d be willing to brush off as a small price for having her as your wife. So the question is, why the "presumably" is something we can't presume. Is your work (or brain wiring) such that these trivial interruptions break you concentration for long after the call ends? Does your supervisor give you a hard time for the breaks? Or ...? If it is something like that, have you made that plain to your wife?
Meanwhile, has she said anything to explain why she keeps calling? Have you encouraged her to tell the truth--i.e., set a precedent of not getting on her case for telling an uncomfortable truth, like, "I feel like an idiot, but my imagination runs away on me and it just makes me feel better to give you a quick call"?
This is how a small problem starts to look like just the tip of a big one: if neither of you is telling the truth about what you want and why, or if neither of you has a serious reason for wanting to call/not wanting to be called, and you're just digging in to make a point. If it's neither of these, then just shrug off the calls as an item for the "small price" file--or, even better, screen them and call back at a more optimal time for chatter.
D.C.: When you say "stop doing the dishes" or "stop cooking 95 percent of the meals" how does that work in real life. Its easy to say stop doing all these chores but then it makes life even more difficult. I'm not going to simply cook for one (as that seems passive-agressive), I'm not going to attract bugs etc by leaving dirty dishes everywhere and I need clean underwear too! I've had this problem in pretty much every relationship I've been in and in my last one it broke us.
Carolyn Hax: You buy no-cook things that you can eat for dinner, solo, in lieu of cooking--hummos and pita, e.g.--and you do your own laundry. By not cooking, you create far fewer dirty dishes, so you can hand-wash any you use.
This is a big statement, and -not- something I recommend unless you've reached a complete impasse. It's essentially saying, "I'm making one last try to keep this relationship together, and the only thing I have left is to stop waiting on you."
Induction: It is "literally his last chance to focus on a game?"
I dunno, maybe we're terrible parents, but my husband and I take turns having evenings with our friends, we get the occasional babysitter and go out together, and when we're home, we watch a LOT of baseball. And we have a pre-schooler and relative newborn. All the doomsday talk about life being OVER when you have a baby annoys the heck out of me.
Ergo, no way in [heck] should she reschedule.
Carolyn Hax: It would be nice if there were a general understanding that life after a baby will change, and that no one has absolute say over how much it changes and how--and so both parents need to approach it with an open mind and a complete dedication to being flexible in response to whatever comes up.
It also wouldn't hurt for couples to talk about the Before things they hope to hang onto After, and he things they're willing to trade for them. For example, one spouse says s/he wants to keep up with fantasy football, and is willing to grant other spouse weekend sleep-ins during football season--and other spouse wants to keep up a class or book group or buddies' night out and is willing to do night feedings. Or whatever. Changes are a whole lot easier to process--and often end up being a lot less dramatic--if, again, you stay open-minded and generous in your intent.
Women and Men: From today's chat I've learned that: (a) women don't understand why you would congratulate a friend for dating a hot chick; and (b) the importance of fantasy football. Is there any better metaphor for understanding the sexes?
PS -- the men are right.
Carolyn Hax: I can't think of anything more boring or pointless than a manufactured gender war. Sorry.
Hong Kong: Hi Carolyn, For the guy whose wife calls him at work: it's not necessarily that she's keeping him on a leash, she might just be lonely. Does she by any chance stay at home all day? Does she work in a very solitary job?
I have a job where I work from home, with nobody to talk to except pet birds. I start going a little batty from this, so I call my boyfriend at work to relieve my sense of isolation.
Yeah it's kind of lame, and I guess I shouldn't be excusing the wife if the husband has made it clear he doesn't like it. I'm just throwing it out there as an alternative explanation to her being controlling or paranoid.
By the way, my boyfriend became more tolerant of me calling when he was forced to spend an extended period of time home alone, staring at the four walls, talking to the parrots as if they understood.
Carolyn Hax: There can be a lot of reasons for the behavior on both sides; I just hope they're open about those reasons (though I suspect they aren't, given the fact that it's a problem).
Downtown: Recently figured out that I'm getting the phase out from a friend. It's a combined feeling of regret, since I genuinely liked her, and stupidity for not figuring it out sooner. Also a fair amount of anger, since it's happened after her wedding, for which I was the sole attendant and just before mine. Found out she asked me because I was a "non-controversial" choice. I think I just got used and tossed. Should I just write it off quietly, or send a note asking for explanation and saying how I feel?
Carolyn Hax: I can see why you're upset and hurt, but she doesn't sound worthy of an explanatory note.
D.C.: Six months into our marriage, my husband just told me he had a vasectomy several years ago while engaged to a different woman. He has been, not just keeping this from me, but actively lying about it throughout our entire relationship.
He knows I want children and he says the reason he didn't tell me earlier was because he panicked every time he imagined what my reaction would be. He was shaking when he told me and we have not spoken since. I am staying with my parents and rejecting his calls until I figure out how to handle this. I know most vasectomies can be reversed, but what about a lie of that magnitude?
Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, that's awful. Lies of that magnitude can't be reversed, as you know, or you wouldn't be staying with your parents. The issue is whether you can 1. forgive him; 2. keep loving him; 3. trust him. You really need all three for your marriage to make it, and so those are the three questions you need to answer.
Washington, D.C.: "Before things they hope to hang onto After, and he things they're willing to trade for them."
"he things" ... is that a typo or Freudian slip?
Carolyn Hax: Freudian slap.
Earn Tons of Points for Being Awesome: Is that how it works? Or are you just setting a precedent? There's a specific example in the chat, of course, but my experience in relationships has been the less I ask for (and occasionally insist upon), the less I get. My nature is to be flexible, but experience tells me that accommodation either draws narcissists who think it's all about them anyway, or people who aren't that interested in participating to begin with. Where's the balance point?
Carolyn Hax: Finding people who like you, vs. like to use you. People who like you will like how accommodating you are--whether you're barely accommodating at all, or a complete pushover. People who are using you will like you -for- how accommodating you are.
How to tell the difference? Nothing specific comes to mind--except that people who like you will give back, whereas users just take. For a while they may look the same (early in a courtship, a user/narcissist can seem quite charming and giving), but time always separates the two. Givers keep giving (because they like you) and users stop (because they were generous only to snag you).
In other words, I would be careful not to set a precedent of regarding your actions as precedents. Be yourself, and be cognizant of others' responses to you.
Milwaukee, Wis.: Regarding how to stop doing the majority of the cooking - you have a conversation with your spouse and say "I'm only cooking real meals four days a week. You're in charge of the other three days. Which days would you prefer?"
As for cleaning up after a spouse - again, you have a conversation. "I'm not your mother or your maid. I have a hard time feeling like a lover when I'm having to clean up after you like I AM your mother. So I'm not doing it anymore. You're an adult, you can get your dishes into the dishwasher on a daily basis, your clothes in the hamper and pick up your own towels in the bathroom." And you LEAVE whatever it is where he/she left it.
As for laundry, I prefer to do it. But I only wash the stuff that goes in the "official dirty laundry pickup places." If he/she runs out of socks/work clothes/whatever, too bad, so sad. It's not my problem.
Carolyn Hax: So well said, thanks.
I wish I was so interesting that: having me as a bridesmaid would be considered "controversial."
Carolyn Hax: The brass ring for us all.
I'm actually quitting only 26 mins late today, instead of the usual 60. Feeling cheeky I guess. Have a great weekend, everybody, thanks for stopping by, and type to you here next week.
Out West: Can we just ban all weddings for a generation? Any couple who wanted to be married would have to show up in a deserted parking garage at midnight and get a big red stamp on their license from a bored attendant.
Carolyn Hax: I like it. Except one would switch to sparkly gold ink and start charging more, then word would get out, celebrities would start choosing that one, there'd be lines ...
My Experience in Relationships Has Been the Less I Ask for (and occasionally insist upon), the Less I Get. : I agree. I learned that way too late. If I'd realized that earlier, my life would be very different (I'd have kids). Those who ask (nicely) are showing self confidance. I thought I was being low maintenance, but I was really using no standards and putting up with anything. Having expectations sends the signal that you think well of yourself and think you deserve respect. I did it wrong.
Carolyn Hax: Agreed, with the caveat that they -have- to be things you want, in the normal course of being yourself. Expressing your limits and desires works; suppressing them to please doesn't. It's not about the quantity of expressed demands.
Now really leaving.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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