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Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, Jan. 29, 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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Engaged Encounter follow-up: In the 1/22 discussion, a poster said that while Engaged Encounter is Catholic-run, they found it to not be preachy or pro-choice. My husband and I also went to Engaged Encounter and found it to be extremely preachy and pro-choice, to the point of misinformation about contraception and fertility. So I guess it depends on the particular group and who's leading it.

Carolyn Hax: This is what I'm hearing from other readers too about Engaged Encounter, thanks--that it depends on the leader.

Since that's going to be the case, to some degree, with any program, here's a universal disclaimer: Try to sample a program's offerings before you sign up. Read the literature, audit a session, whatever the group permits. Where that's not possible, make sure you can get a refund for any fees if you're not happy.

And, finally, don't be afraid to be skeptical. If a program doesn't appeal to you, then don't just tough it out on the assumption that there's something wrong with you for not liking it. Scrub it and try a different program.

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Seattle: Okay, this is a pretty trivial one compared to others but here goes...We love to travel and visit friends but we hate staying with people. The lack of privacy, the fact that we're usually crammed into their kid's double bed, while the poor kid's sleeping on the floor somewhere ("He doesn't mind! Really!" Yeah right.)...we would rather stay in a hotel. But it turns out we're offending some friends. Our "but we love to stay in hotels" isn't cutting it. Do you have any suggestions on how to spare friends' feelings?

Carolyn Hax: You're doing exactly what you need to do, and need to keep doing. It's unfortunate that people are taking this as a personal slight, but that's their decision. Calling attention to this gently--"It's not personal, we do this wherever we go"--couldn't hurt, but, beyond that, all you can do is stick to your ways and hope they eventually get used to it, even if they never actually understand it.

Well, that's not -all- you can do. Theoretically, you could also just cave in and stay on people's sleeper sofas, but I don't believe in wrecking one's back because people take impersonal things personally.

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Baltimore: My gay male friend seems to be having an affair with a woman -- complete with public hand-holding, smooches on the street, and other gross behavior. I've learned that they are regularly spending nights over at each other's homes. Should I confront him about this? Isn't he being untrue to his nature?

Carolyn Hax: His honesty to his own nature is strictly his business. So is his "gross" behavior (why the hostility, btw?). That she's presumably sleeping with a man who has presumably slept with men is more your business, but only if you know the woman in question is unaware. Certainly in that case you can voice your objections to him.

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Washington, D.C.: My girlfriend of two years hit my brother last summer when he butt into a fight we were having. We broke up then made up. She's my best friend and I love her. Because of her actions my brother doesn't want to be around her. Rightfully, I suppose my friends and family flock to his house rather than mine. The problem is that I don't get to see my friends and family as much as I use to. What are my options? Do I have to break up with her to resume the life I once enjoyed?

Carolyn Hax: Women can be abusers too, you know. Her hitting your brother plus your family's exodus from your and your GF's company suggests there's a lot more here than an errant punch/shove/slap. Have you done any reading on abuse?

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Oakland, Calif.: Hello Carolyn. A friend's wife became pregnant as a result of a sexual assault. She has decided to not have an abortion, and doesn't know yet whether she wants to give the child up for an adoption. Would the husband be a [glass bowl] for refusing to raise this child, and divorcing if necessary? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. I think the only happy outcome is one the husband and wife conjure together. Technically, this isn't something the wife can force on the husband and expect him to agree to joyfully.

That said, technically, this pregnancy wasn't something to be forced on the wife, and yet it was. So, in a rare case where bean-counting is the way to go, the husband needs to let go of any notion of an ideal outcome here, in direct proportion to the wife's distance from her notion of an ideal outcome. This is the only fair and decent course.

Finally, there's the child to be considered, who is obviously innocent, and deserves to enter the world with just as clean a slate as any other child's.

I'm not saying this wouldn't be a Herculean challenge for the husband, because it would--but embracing the innocent child strikes me as immeasurably better for the soul than leaving one's rape-victim wife to be a single mom.

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New York: Husband of 20 yrs. left me for another woman 3 months ago. I'm now single mom of a daughter who'll go to college in the fall. Once she's set, I plan to sell the house and move closer to my office -- and into a new life. Question for you, Carolyn: How in the world do I get my mojo back? What I miss the most about my suddenly- over marriage is the warm confidence of knowing that someone I love loves me back and wants me. I cannot fathom how to handle the single life, dating, -- good lord; I haven't had a date in 23 years. I really want to love again and have that warm feeling again. How do I go about this?

Carolyn Hax: Start by realizing there's more than one source of that warm feeling. There's great warmth to be felt in building your own life your own way from scratch. It can be hard to imagine when you arrived at this new life abruptly and painfully. However, even just a little energy invested in the "new life" cause can pay immediate dividends. A great deal of mojo has been located in new apartments and in the mundane business of settling into them. Good luck.

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Engaged Encounter followup Pro-Choice?: Does the poster mean Pro-Life?

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right. Can't believe I read right past that, thanks.

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Her Gay Male Friend is dating a woman: Can you explain why it would be the letter writer's responsibility or right to inform Gay Male Friend's apparent Girlfriend that GMF has presumably slept with men? If Letter Writer knows other details about his (or anyone's) sexual past, is it her place to pass on the info whenever that person is dating someone new? Or is it only necessary if the person is dating outside his/or declared sexual orientation? Does it matter if GMF has never had a male partner, or only had one, or if he was promiscuous?

My point is, I tell my friends a lot of things about who I am dating. I am so grateful that when they met my boyfriend, they did not feel compelled to educate him about my dating history.

Carolyn Hax: You misread my answer, I'm afraid. I didn't advise the person to tell the woman anything. I merely said the letter-writer had standing to voice an objection to the friend--and even then, only if LW knew the friend was deceiving the woman.

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Hitting Girlfriend: I know that it is hard to give an answer without knowing the whole story but is it possible that we, as a society, jump too fast onto the "abuse" bandwagon.

Yes, it is good to read about abuse and see if she is an abuser but also explore other options such as maybe she never apologized or he bad-mouthed her and all the family agreed while they were broken-up.

I have an abusive past (physical and sexual) so I'm not excusing abusive behavior but for a situation that could have many reasons for behavior, I wonder why you immediately jumped to abuse and didn't point it out as one option of many?

Carolyn Hax: I suggested he get informed about abuse. Those were carefully chosen words to direct him to find out for himself whether his girlfriend was abusive. Any other possibilities would be relevant only if this relationship withstood that initial scrutiny, so I put first things first.

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Richmond, Va.: I am six months in to a new relationship. I absolutely love everything about it and truly feel like I am falling in love.

The only problem I'm having is that I can't handle hearing about her past relationships. She doesn't bring them up but sometimes in the course of conversation, they're mentioned. I know it's ridiculous - we're both in our early 30's and had lives before this relationship. My brain understands the reality of the situation but my heart seems to get jealous.

I wonder if it's because this is my first same-sex relationship. Whereas she has been out for the past decade, all of my previous relationships have been with men.

I wish I wasn't this way but I can't seem to turn my brain off.

Carolyn Hax: Two possibilities, both stemming from the fact that you're a first-timer.

1. It could be that you have underlying insecurities, and you never had them tested because you were with men--and you never got as attached to men as you are now to this woman, because men weren't your thing.

2. Or, it could be that the newness of this configuration makes the whole thing feel like a first love, and first loves often present the biggest challenge as far as processing someone's past: You've never felt something before, and you feel vulnerable knowing the other person has felt it before.

If it's No. 2, time and a reliance on your logical brain will probably take care of this threatened feeling eventually. if it's No. 1, then you might find yourself struggling unless and until you address the underlying insecurity.

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Wife pregant from a sexual assault: Responding to Oakland...what an awful situation for this couple. Rape crisis centers are often very helpful in such cases to both the wife/direct victim and husband/indirect victim. If the wife isn't getting support from a rape crisis center, she should.

And either way, the husband should seek out a rape crisis center as well. Their counselors are not just for the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, but an ongoing resource. Please encourage your friends to contact an RCC in their area as they work through the aftermath of this sexual assault.

Carolyn Hax: Seconding the suggestion. A good way to find a local center is by calling RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE (rainn.org).

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Oakland again: Thanks Carolyn. Obviously this whole situation is devastating for them. I don't know if this make a difference, but the couple is white, and the assailant was Afircan-American, and the husband isn't exactly progressive when it comes to race relations.

Carolyn Hax: Oh this just makes me want to scream. The poor kid.

It does make a difference, because it speaks to the husband's ability to be a good father. Either he gives himself a 100 percent effective crash course in not judging people by their skin color, or he has no business raising this child.

Which would point toward the wife's divorcing him as the solution, and not vice-versa.

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Washington, D.C.: Yes the girlfriend gets out of hand sometimes. I just avoid her during those times. 98 percent of the time she's is a lot of fun to be around. I just want to have fun ...with everyone.

Carolyn Hax: Well, that's your choice to make, but I hope, if you're male, that you've had a vasectomy or you're really expert and diligent with condoms, because the last thing you need is to create a child to be raised by someone who "gets out of hand sometimes." That would be outrageously irresponsible, because a 0- to 7-year-old can't "just avoid her during those times."

As for your family, they could be telling you, with their absence, exactly what your idea of "fun" is costing you. Maybe it's time to ask.

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Getting a pet... or not: My cat died about six months ago and I really miss having a companion animal in the house, but my husband is only half into the idea of getting another pet. I would really like to get a small adult dog from the shelter. I've been thinking about this for about a month now, and have been doing some reading up on dogs as pets (I've had a dog before but it's been a long time). My husband is worried we'll regret the time committment. We have a two year old and full-time jobs. But we are also home bodies who rarely go out in the evening or on weekends, except for walks in the neighborhood and to take our son to the park. I'm not going to get a dog and then return it to the shelter. I'm taking the decision seriously. But if I'm having doubts does that mean it's a no go? Or is that a good thing that means I'm really thinking it over well?

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me your husband's doubts make it a no-go before we even get to yours.

Plus, because your child is 2, your current lifestyle is almost guaranteed to change, because your child is changing dramatically on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. You're homebodies now, but will you be when Junior gets into music/sports/whatever? "Thinking it over well" means a lot of projecting in this case.

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Dallas: I am in desperate need of some solitude to recharge my batteries for the battle of daily life (It's not always that way, just the current state of things). A weekend would be blissful, but I'd settle for an hour where I can be confident I can sink into it without being disturbed. My husband needs constant attention and goings-on, and he makes sure he gets it by being continually at my side or out with friends and colleagues. When I plan an evening out with my friends, he'll even get a sitter for our son so he can go out, too. So, when I ask (beg, plead, cry) for solitude, for him to take our son away for a set period of time without coming home early, he flat out doesn't understand or believe me. He thinks he can't leave me alone because he himself would hate it. Gaah! How can I convince him I know my needs, and they're not being met before I completely lose my mind?

Carolyn Hax: If he's being so obtuse that he doesn't hear you "beg, plead, cry" to be left alone, then you're beyond the point where magic phrasing is going to solve anything. Time for a marriage counselor, stat--just choose carefully.

On the bright side--I know that sounds facetious, but it's not--you won't have the same problem most people do when it comes to getting your husband to go along. Presumably he'll insist on going with you, and if he does refuse, then you'll have your hour of peace.

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Burlington, Vt.: My live-in boyfriend of two years and I get along really well, but his sex drive has recently plummeted. I am very happy with him, except for our sex life. I know he's not being unfaithful, but I get really frustrated and am sometimes mean to him as a result. We are in our early 20s.

I just got a job in another city and am moving away. He wants to follow me, but I don't know if I should stay together. We're tentatively thinking long-term here, but I'm scared that will extremely sexually frustrated. Dumping him seems so selfish, as he is a great partner otherwise. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: I could argue that encouraging him to move with you would be selfish. You have a real obstacle to long-term happiness with him, and you have a natural crossroads coming up. I don't usually liek to offer such definitive answers, but nothing makes sense except for you to go your separate ways.

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USA: Hi, Carolyn:

A woman who works for me is going through a really rough divorce. We work on a university campus and we have a lot of events coming up in the fall--she's supposed to be coordinating but has really fallen off due to lots of "sick" days, etc. I'm sympathetic (I was once where she is and I know how it can creep into your work) but I'm also having to stay late, work weekends, and so on to make up for the planning she isn't doing. At what point am I allowed to toss my sensitivity aside, sit her down and say, hey, not cool?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not the workplace expert around here, but it seems to me that your employee has let too much of her personal life into the office, and it's your place as the boss to say, "I get it, but you need to get your head back into your work."

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LDR : In my first long-distance relationship. Besides the fact that it sucks not seeing him regularly, I'm overwhelmed by having so much freedom. When we were in the same place, out of respect for him I would have avoided parties and bars where I knew men would be slobbering over me. I'm not going to cheat on him, but now that he isn't around, I feel like what's the harm if I go out with my girlfriends to places my boyfriend wouldn't like? But is the rule that I'm supposed to only do things I'd do with him here beside me?

Carolyn Hax: There is no "rule." Live your life. If doing so is in conflict with your goal of staying in your relationship--or any goal you have, for that matter--then you need to re-visit your lifestyle and your goals to see which is in need of adjusting. Be yourself first. That's the only way to ensure that the choices you make will be good for you in the long run.

Not that I need to say this, but I will anyway: If being yourself involves being romantically involved with people other than your boyfriend, then you need to pull the plug on the relationship as soon as you figure that out.

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Re: "beg, plead, cry": That doesn't sound obtuse. That sounds controlling and abusive. He won't let you go out with your friends? He comes home early when he said he was going out? He's checking on what you're doing and controlling your movement. Stop looking at this as "he doesn't get it" and start looking at it as unacceptable.

Carolyn Hax: Whatever the motivation--hapless cling or controlling passive aggression--it is unacceptable. Thanks for flagging it, since I should have the first time.

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Washington, D.C.: I guess you are right. I need to let her go. I just hate to give up my 98% ball of joy to occasionally be around friends and fam who largely spend thier time with thier SOs.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you're getting it. There are great people out there who won't deck your brother, and whose company won't cost you your family. Antisocial dysfunction may be funny on "Rescue Me," but not in real life. My original answer stands: Please do some reading on abuse.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, My boyfriend of several years works in a job with occasional high-stress situations, such as responding after awful incidents where people are hurt or killed. Every time this happens my heart sinks with dread. 1) Because of course I feel terrible for him and the people involved, 2) In part, because while working he tends to shut down. He doesn't want to interact with people and the work takes all his energy. It gets to the point where he doesn't ask "how are you?" because he doesn't have the energy to listen to the answer.

It hurts to be sent away during these times, knowing he is in pain, stressed, and unable to sleep. When I do spend time with him, he says it helps and thanks me for coming over. But the next time, he will push me away again. I can't get used to it.

Am I being selfish? I realize partners of military personnel, doctors, police, firefighters, first responders, etc. deal with this and much worse. How do they do it? Are some of us just not built for being with people in certain professions?

Carolyn Hax: This isn't about what "some people" are built for, it's about what you're willing and able to do to make peace with the boyfriend you have. When he's caught up in something awful, he's not going to have anything left over for you. When the awful thing is over, then he will have room for you again. It's a cycle, it's not changing, it's not personal. Can you be strong for him, and can yo be strong for you? And, maybe even more important, do you want to?

That might be where you go next with this: Decide you -want- to get used to it, and -want- to be one of those durable partners, where now what you want is for him to stop sending you away. It's a small shift in mind set that could have a big payoff for you emotionally.

if that doesn't work, then I do think you need to consider that he's not the guy for you.

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Peeved USA: Why do the mooches in the family always catch the breaks?! Husband and I work and take care of our family. We're most certainly not rolling in the dough. More like pay check to pay check, but we make it work. (Try and live with in our means and all.) Yet my BIL and SIL live beyond their means and are CONSTANTLY having to be bailed out by family. The latest incident has me super peeved. Just found out that they have inherited a car from a family member who passed. I know they are more "in need" of it, they only have 1 car, but the only reason is because they don't take care of anything. I don't think it's out right jealousy that has my dander up, more that the frivolous are rewarded while the responsible get stiffed. I'm not going to open my mouth about it and will just get over it but am I wrong to feel this way?

Carolyn Hax: No, you're entitled to your hard feelings, and I don't think they're at all unusual given the situation. When you've witnessed moochers or takers indulge in what you regard as a luxury, and when you've sacrificed such luxuries yourself, it can be hard to imagine of any sight more grating than that.

Still, you presumably have a work ethic, and an internal system of rewards that allows you to enjoy your hard victories more than the ones that fall in your lap. Presumably, too, the people you like most and respect most are the people with similar values.

So now imagine being a mooch, and consider 1. how you feel about enjoying the fruits of someone else's hard work, and 2. how the people you like and respect would feel about you.

Is that who you want to be? I'm guessing not. So it's possible your BIL & SIL don't "catch" any "breaks" that you'd even want.

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On the LDR...: This post seemed very odd to me. "I feel like what's the harm if I go out with my girlfriends to places my boyfriend wouldn't like?" What kind of places does she go to? I can't tell whether she has this wild life or if the boyfriend is unreaslistic and controlling. If he doesn't like you going out with some girlfriends to a bar that should raise a red flag...

Carolyn Hax: Thus the answer I gave. "Be yourself" covers the range. If staying in a relationship means you have to be someone other than the person you want to be, then the relationship isn't healthy. That way the details can change without changing the answer. It read to me as if both of them are thinking in terms of relationship behavior and single behavior as dramatically different things, when in healthy relationships they aren't (aside from the obvious part about not getting romantically involved with other people).

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Sex Drive: You seemed a little harsh on the guy with the lowered sex drive. Would your answer have been different if she mentioned that there was something external causing his lowered sex drive -- new medication, stress at work, etc?

Carolyn Hax: If he were not just willing to work on it, but also taking concrete steps to deal with it, and if those steps were pointing to this as a solvable and/or temporary problem, then yes, my answer might have been different.

But even then, I wasn't being "harsh on the guy"--I took no stand on the guy. This is the math of the disinterested observer: They have a problem that will likely only get worse, especially since they're still in their -early- 20s and he's possibly at his rabbit stage; they're not married; she's not happy; and they have a natural separating point that's not going to allow them to hang onto the status quo while they see if the problem solves itself. 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 4, even for excellent people who care about each other a lot.

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Re: LDR: This is a pretty big red flag to her attitude:

"When we were in the same place, out of respect for him I would have avoided parties and bars where I knew men would be slobbering over me."

Really? Slobbering over her? What is she wearing and how is she acting?

Carolyn Hax: The whole thing on both sides says they're committing well before they're ready to commit to anyone. It happens--they might like each other a lot, or just be really intensely attracted, and so they're doing what they think they're supposed to do, first by getting together as BF/GF, and then by trying to stay together long-distance.

But that's not going to work when their guidelines for staying together come from external notions of what BFs and GFs are "supposed" to do--say, she's "supposed" to stop going out partying with her friends, and he's "supposed" to get bent out of shape when he thinks of guys hitting on her in bars. Commitment works, again, when you do what you feel like doing, and that naturally falls within the bounds of loyalty and respect.

In the course of a long relationship, both parties will have the occasional urge that falls out of bounds, but when the bond is strong and the two parties are mature, the choice to resist the urge is a no-brainer. Not always easy to act on that decision, but the decision itself is easy.

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To Oakland, Calif.: I was raped and as a result got pregnant. I kept the child and had therapy to help me deal. I wasn't married, but I did have a boyfriend at the time. We didn't last.

What I would tell the friend and the mother to be (if she chooses to keep the baby), is that the main thing to worry about is how the child sees his/herself and how you will view the child. My daughter looks like me, but what if she looked like the rapist? I don't think I could have handled that. The conversations explaining what rape is to my daughter and why her father is not around were the hardest I ever had to do. Kids have questions, but providing answers is hard. Just something to think about...

Carolyn Hax: So painfully honest--thank you.

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Upstate NY: My girlfriend of 2 years and I have been dating long distance the entirety of our relationship. I love her a lot, but school/work has kept me upstate, and now she's insisting I move to the city and live with her or it's over. I don't want to lose her, but she's been strongly hinting about marriage soon and I'm just not ready for that. The move and living-together feels like more than enough. It scares me a little that she seems so much more confident that marriage is right for us now than I am. I think we need to take more time to date and have told her as much, but she gets very upset and I'm probably choosing my words poorly to boot, since she starts accusing me of breaking up with her. She's a great girl otherwise, and I've been wanting to move to the city anyway, but it's like she literally doesn't hear me when I tell her marriage isn't in the 5 year plan for me (we're mid-20s). Is there a "sensitive" way to talk about this stuff?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, but even the most sensitive phrasing won't help you if your audience isn't flexible enough to hear what you have to say, vs. what that audience wants to hear.

She's letting you know that there's only one answer to her question that she'll stand for: "Yes, I will move in with you, with marriage on the horizon." You need to be very clear with her that you can't give her that answer. When she accuses you of breaking up with her, you need to hold your ground: "No, I don't want to break up. But I also can't give you what you're asking for right now. If that's the only thing you'll accept--all or nothing--then I have no choice but to go with 'nothing.' I'm going to move to the city and get my own place. I hope we can keep seeing each other when that happens." And then don't budge. It's the right thing to do, to have your own place while you negotiate being in the same city, and just being in your 20s. Don't let pressure or emotional appeals cloud your judgment.

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Mooches: I also have a sibling like this. But you know what? It's my folks' money, not mine. They earned it and can do as they like with it. How other people handle their finances (parents, siblings, whatever) is none of my business unless it affects me directly, and this doesn't.

Carolyn Hax: Sanity break. Thank you.

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High-Stress Boyfriend: He might be the guy for her, but it sounds like it might not be the right job for him either. I come from a family of first responders and they come home from terrible things and can still ask about your day and eat & sleep. In all my dad's years as a fireman & chief, he never once forgot me at school (he sometimes had to send someone else to get me) and yes, our dinners and holidays got interrupted, but then he came back and we went on - he didn't walk out on Christmas and then not participate when he returned because someone else's house burned down. He might need to seek some advice from others at his job about how they manage. Because what he's doing doesn't sound healthy.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting perspective, thanks.

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Bridezilla: So I just learned today that my college friend, A, disinvited another college friend, B, to be in her wedding in two months because B is fat (she's about 5'3", 200lbs) and would ruin the pictures and how everyone looks at her on her big day. She did tell me that if B lost some weight, she'd let her back in the wedding party. I can't communicate in polite enough terms how offended and appalled and disgusted I am by A's behavior. Her rationale is that B promised to lose the weight by the wedding but didn't, and that whenever there is a big bridesmaid everyone is looking at her and not the bride. I am so angry about her nastyness that I can't even think straight. Is it kosher for me to drop out in solidarity with B (with whom I am actually not that close)? What is the best way for me to communicate back to A that she is a gigantic -glass bowl-? I am stunned. I don't know if I even want to be friends anymore. FWIW, B hosted a bridal shower, has come to all the food tasting/clothes fittings/other assorted crap. She's a good egg - we don't click personally, but I am really at a loss for how someone does this. I heard from mutual friend C that B spent the morning crying her eyes out. I would too! What can I say to B that will help her?

Carolyn Hax: Everything you hope to accomplish, you can accomplish in one move: End your friendship with A (which obviously includes dropping out of the wedding). When A asks, tell her exactly why. B doesn't even need to hear it from you; it'll make its way around. I hope C follows your lead.

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Springfield, MA: Hi Carolyn,

Can you break down some psychological vocab for a dumb guy? I have a hard time understanding what my girlfriend means when she refers to her emotional "needs." For instance, she "needs" me to ask how her day was and to be willing to hang out with groups of her friends sometimes. She has said before that she cannot stay in a relationship where her "needs" aren't being met.

I would argue that anything you can live without doesn't qualify as a "need." Before we got together, she was presumably making it just fine without anyone asking her how her day was or being her date in big groups. So how am I the bad guy if I don't automatically provide these things?

Carolyn Hax: First of all, let's define the key term. An emotional need is different from a survival need. We need water, food, shelter, etc., to survive, and then we need companionship/adventure/intimacy/privacy/whatever to be happy. The former list is universal, the latter is highly individual.

Your girlfriend is telling you what makes her happy. She likes to engage with loved ones at the end of a day full of work and strangers and whatever else. She likes to have her separate groups of loved ones know each other and spend time together. Again, these are highly individual; certainly there are people who need space at the end of the day, and for whom combining groups is more stressful than rewarding.

You're not the bad guy if you don't automatically provide these things. Either you provide them naturally, or you make the extra effort to provide them because it makes you happy to make her happy, or you tell her you respect her preferences, but it's just not who you are; you're a loner or set in your ways or whatever else, and you hope that will be enough for her.

Then it's up to her to figure out whether she really means what she's saying, and is ready to break up, or she was making empty threats and would rather have you as-is. Sometimes people realize that their needs are being met so well in a general way that the details aren't as important as they thought. What matters most is that you're honest with yourself, and with her, about what you can provide, and that she's honest with herself about whether that's enough.

The situation you want to avoid is when the person doesn't make good on the threats, and just sticks around, stating and re-stating a need that it's obvious will never be met. That's when one of you has to just say, "Enough."

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Carolyn Hax: My computer just got slow for some reason, so I'm going to take that as a hint to sign off and check it out. Thanks for stopping by, everyone, have a great weekend and I hope to see you here next week (although now, having come across the Worst Bridezilla Ever, I'm not sure if there's any point in carrying on. It's officially all a letdown from here).

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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.

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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