Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Thursday, March 11, 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


Carolyn Hax: Hi, everybody, and thanks for stopping by on a Thursday.


Regretting it : Hi Carolyn,

I lied to my parents about my boyfriend's age when I first started dating him because he is quite a bit older and at the time I did not expect the relationship to last. I was in university and didn't want them involved in my relationship.

Well, the relationship did last and we are engaged and very happy together. My parents have since met my fiance and absolutely love him. But the lie has been going on for years! I really regret lying, it was stupid and unnecessary, but I don't know how to come clean.

They know he is older than me (and ironically were not at all concerned about that), but they think it's by x years, while the real age is slightly older than that. (Fiance looks and acts younger than his age).

I know I should tell them the truth before the wedding and the sooner the better, but I just don't know the best way to do it. Should my fiance and I talk to them together? When? To both or only one parent first?

Carolyn Hax: Oh brother.

Just tell your parents next time you talk to them. While the image I have of your telling them together--with you and your fiance holding hands and speaking in solemn tones while your parents sit expectantly on their living room sofa--is a priceless bit of instantly regrettable awkwardness, which gives it great merit for the rest of us, I think you'll be grateful later if you choose just to tell them yourself at your first opportunity, be it in person or just on the phone.

If it helps to have some phrasing handy, you can say you initially lied because you made a stupid choice, and then you took forever to correct the record because you felt so stupid about your choice.

Congratulations on the engagement, and have fun.


Arlandria, Va.: I am 28 and I am dating my dream guy, who is in his 40s. The only catch is that he doesn't want to have kids and I do. I have been trying to decide for some time if this should be a deal breaker, but I can't seem to make up my mind. How should I handle this?

Carolyn Hax: Choose him over having kids, definitively--just don't tell anybody you've done that. Then, live with it.

The other way to go is to make the other, definitive choice: Break up with the guy, then live with it.

Neither approach guarantees an epiphany; they're both just nudges in one direction or the other, and both are more or less reversible (the former is more reversible than the latter, obviously). But both are a lot better than just throwing up your hands and saying you can't decide. You can, and you will, you just need to listen to yourself, and trust what you hear.

By the way, he's not your "dream guy." Your dream guy would want kids, no? What you have now is a reality guy, which is fine, because that's all anyone ever has. So, decide if he's the reality you want.


For regretting: "Fiance looks and acts younger than his age."

What the heck is acting younger than his age? Is a person supposed to act differently at 30 versus 25, or 35 v. 30? I'm turning 40. Please tell me how I'm suppposed to act differently.

Or are you saying his immature and acts like a teenager when in his 30s?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe his knees don't pop when he descends a set of stairs.


Bummed: Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my question; I look forward to your chats every week!

I found out this morning that I was not accepted into the Grad School Program I had applied to back in November. While I understand it is a small program and only 12 were accepted, I can't shake the feeling of being a complete failure. I know I'm still young (24) and have plenty of time to get where I want to be. I just feel like I'm wasting time.

Also, I I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm stuck at an entry level job in a field that is far from what interests me with no hope of moving up. I've applied for other jobs online within a field that does interest me, with no succcess.

What do I do? I'm trying to look to the bright side but am having trouble finding it.

Carolyn Hax: First, I'm sorry you didn't get into the program you wanted.

Second, I'm sorry to all the other people who didn't get into the grad program, because only 12 of you did, which means a certain school just dispensed a whole lot more bad news than good.

Third, welcome, Bummed and everyone else, to the biggest club in the world: Rejects! Everybody becomes one at some point. You know the "It's a Wonderful Life" conceit, that every time a bell rings, and angel gets his wings? Well, every time you hear a "ding," somebody just got rejected.

Since you've crossed over to the other side, here's the welcome packet, with the basic steps for ding recovery:

1. Grieve. Have your ding dinner with your friends, or go get a massage, or go to the gym every day for the next two weeks, or whatever tends to work for you when you get handed a lemon.

2. Get over your narrow self. Whatever it was you wanted--be it a job or a date or a program--there are others to be had. other jobs, other people, other programs. If you applied only to this program, then start researching others that cover the same general material.

3. Realize there's no such thing as wasted time, unless you choose to treat it as such. Even if you're just boxing up widgets to feed, clothe and shelter yourself, that's not wasting time--that's surviving. Give yourself credit for that much. And then, build on it: You don't want just to survive, you want to ______.

Whatever you can do toward _______ is your main concern now, and keeps this time from being wasted.

So have a good wallow, then start figuring out what _____ is and how you can start moving toward it as you continue boxing widgets.


Banging Head, West: I was raised very religiously and got married before we ever had slept together or spent any time together without a chaperone. Fastforward to eight years later and I've been divorced for over a year. Well I did something completely opposite of the way I was raised. I went on a date with a coworker that I've known for awhile, got buzzed (yeah not so drunk I didn't know what was happening) and slept together. The one thing I've never mentioned in the three years I've known him is how religiously I was raised. I enjoyed everything we did more than I ever had, but do I really have to go find a way to slip in the conversation how I was raised or can I just play it cool and see what happens?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure. Is your religion still important to you, do you still practice it in some less restrictive way, is that even possible?

If you plan to be in a committed relationship with someone again, presumably then you will want to talk about your past, since it's part of who you are now--even if it's just a formative part that has little relevance to your day-to-day life now. But wondering how to talk about yourself with a new date/sex partner says mostly that you're just really unsure how to proceed on these new non-religious terms, which is completely understandable.

Since you've known this co-worker for a while, maybe the best thing you can do is draw on your sense of him to see whether you'd feel comfortable sharing how new this is to you. You don't even need to go into great detail--it's seems to me enough that you mention you were married and haven't really dated before or since. 2 + 2 = 4.

BTW, if you're feeling uncomfortable about more than the dating dance steps, and you're conflicted inside, too, then you might want to talk to a pro--especially if there's one who has training and experience in talking to people who have diverged from a strictly religious path.


At a loss, Newlywedsville: Carolyn,

I'm at a loss. I've been married not even six weeks and my mother in law already dislikes me. In short, she completely ignored my husband, Matt, and my requests about photography during the ceremony, going so far as to tell the photographers (friends of hers) to do whatever it took to get the shots. They ended up being very distracting during the ceremony, and I actually had to tell them to stop moving around halfway through! Matt and I tried several times to talk to her about what happened, but she wouldn't call back. We finally spoke with the photographers themselves Tuesday; they told us that she gave them permission to ignore our requests. Now she is livid and both Matt and me, but especially me. (She called Matt yesterday and yelled at him for an hour.)

I've been thinking about what I would consider a good resolution, and to me it would be an apology for completely ignoring everything we agreed upon ahead of time, and for essentially ruining the ceremony. Matt thinks this probably won't ever happen. So I guess my question is, what do I do now? How do I interact with her from here on out? I'd be fine never seeing or talking to her again, but don't want to pressure Matt to feel the same.

Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Matt has to talk to his mom to take the pressure off you. Obviously this isnt' about pix, this is about her staking out her territory at your wedding and in your marriage. Matt needs to draw the line, make it clear that everything on his side of the line isn't just his, but his and yours together, and that she (Mom) will be welcome as long as she respects that line. He can also say it would make him very sad if she chose not to honor these very basic terms, but that if she continues to do things to antagonize him and, worse, to antagonize you, then she leaves him no choice.

If she resists instead of apologizing at this point, then he can say that he'd like an apology, whenever she's ready, and that she knows where to find him when she is.

Should that time ever come, that will be his chance to say, "You also need to apologize to my wife."

Finally, if and when that all happens (remember, there's no hosting his mom until she concedes here, there's only polite civility when you see her in other contexts), then you need to accept the apology and knock yourself out to mend things.


Carolyn Hax: One side note: That whole answer was for someone who hadn't asked the question, which is something I don't like to do. But as the tone-setter for the relationship with his mom during this marriage, Matt is the one on the hook here. When he is the enforcer, that frees you, New Bride, to be the peacemaker, which is not only where you want to be, but also where Matt really really wants you to be, unless he wants to be in the middle of an epic battle between his wife and mom that could span decades--i.e., as long as the key players and the marriage survive.


In-Character Crass Joke: Hi, Carolyn. I'm catching up on weeks of somehow not reading(?!) and saw two chats ago the "somewhat crass but completely in-character joke" that made the writer's friends laugh and girlfriend insulted. Did the writer ever e-mail you the joke?

Carolyn Hax: No! I'm miffed.


Washington, D.C.: How, if at all, can you explain to a 40 year old man that looks aren't everything?

Carolyn Hax: Why is it incumbent upon you to change his mind? The reason matters, I think.


I've applied for other jobs online within a field that does interest me, with no succcess: This is the perfect situation for some INFORMATION INTERVIEWS. Research a company that has your dream job. Ask your friends if anyone has a contact there. (If you can't find a contact, find a connection from his/her online bio. You can always open with "I read your article on blah blah...") Email that contact and ask for an information interview so you can learn about the skill and education requirements and how you can prepare yourself for a transition.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. I also forgot to mention the one thing I thought it was impossible to forget--people aren't exactly being harassed these days by prospective employers offering fascinating, high-paying jobs. Just another reason not to get down on yourself because your breakthrough hasn't happened yet.


Protective Mother: Hi, Carolyn. My father-in-law has been making uncomfortable comments about my adolescent daughter. Things like, "She's really developing into a beautiful woman." I know that doesn't sound that bad, but his expression and the way he says it border on creepy. My husband says his dad is just being complimentary and he is reeeeally offended that it feels different to me. I don't know how to handle this situation, or what even needs to be done, if anything. I would really appreciate hearing your view on it.

Carolyn Hax: I'm stuck on, predictably, your husband's taking such great offense. I realize what you're suggesting is pretty bad--no one wants to think of Grandpa lusting after Granddaughter, and it can seem unthinkable if Grandpa is your own father--but part of being a grown up is being strong enough to face the possibility that someone is not exactly as you've always assumed.

That doesn't mean he has to agree with you, necessarily. While I try to err on the side of validating people's creep-meters, it is possible you've taken it wrong. Still, as a grown man, as a husband as a father himself, your husband needs to suck it up and at least be willing to consider that you have good reasons for flagging his dad's behavior.

Now, since that and a nickel will buy you 4 minutes on a D.C. parking meter, what do you do now? First, you make the case calmly to your husband. "You know I like/respect/have never had a problem with/[whatever] your dad, and what I'm suggesting pains me, too--so that's why I'm asking that you respect me enough just to be open to what I'm saying."

Since that's not likely to break through his denial/outrage/need to preserve his image of his dad, you then need to realize you're alone in taking this on. If there are already no real occasions for your FIL to be around your daughter alone, then all you need is a watchful eye and a solid respect for your own instincts while you count off the years till your daughter can stand up for herself.

But if there are occasions for your FIL to be alone with your daughter, then you need to make sure they don't happen--obstructing them quietly is fine, if that's what keeps your husband from getting upset or getting in your way.


Washington, D.C.: Because I'm concerned about how his POV will eventually impact his child.

Carolyn Hax: This is the 40-year-old who needs to learn that looks aren't everything?

I'm not sure I see any way to make a vain 40-year-old stop being vain. He is who he is.

But if this child already exists, and if the vain dad is imposing a damaging world view on said child, then other adults in that child's life need to stick up for the child wherever possible, providing encouragement for things the child can control (effort, for example, or perseverance, honesty, courage, resourcefulness) vs. offering praise or criticism for things the child cannot control (looks, innate intelligence, skill level vs peers or speed at acquiring skills, etc.).

Also, where possible, present Vain Dad with research-based evidence on the damage his chosen behaviors can have on impressionable kids. It's out there, especially in but not limited to material on eating disorders. A child psychologist via your pediatrician (or just your pediatrician) can suggest books, pamphlets, Web sites, etc.


Re: Newlywedville: She wants her husband to cut his mother out of his life because she was bossy with the wedding photographers? Long road ahead of you, honey. Get some perspective. Let the wedding crap go. Sure, he needs to set boundaries, but if you think this is actually an important issue on its own vs. an important symbol of what may be to come from his mom, you are sadly mistaken.

Carolyn Hax: Important distinction, thanks.


You want kids, he doesn't: Just to make it clear: the last thing you should do is stay in the relationship thinking one day you will change his mind. For both of your sake's, take him at his word.

Carolyn Hax: Ditto, thanks.


For Bummed: A lot of grad programs really look towards work experience after college when deciding whom to accept. If you're just in an entry-level job now, try to switch over to the field you're interested in... you hopefully will enjoy it more and it will put you on the path you think you want to be on. Looking at this on the positive side, this will give you a better glimpse at the industry to see if you really want to work in this field as much as you think you do, or to realize you don't without dropping all that cash (and time) on grad school.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: My husband is pissed that I won't see a marriage counselor. I have asked him for a divorce. I have been unhappy a long time, and have gone to individual therapy the last year and a half. I am not in love with him anymore, and the reasons I want out are not external, but those internal things that add up to a strong distaste as an intimate emotional partner. I still enjoy his friendship. I don't want him to hold a grudge about this as we move forward, but I think counseling together would give him false hopes.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure what you're asking, since there's no question here. But it looks to me as if you're really facing a choice between divorcing on your terms (thereby risking that he'll hold a grudge and scuttle any chance at the friendship you desire), or granting him his terms and going to marriage counseling (thereby risking that he'll get his hopes up only to have them dashed, and that he'll only postpone the escape you're anxious to make).

So, all you can do now is figure out which is more important to you: getting out as quickly and as unequivocally as possible, or getting out in the way that gives your friendship its best shot at surviving? You're frustrated because he's not letting you have both, but that's often the way these things go. He wants to have some say in something that's essentially out of his hands. At least acknowledge where that's coming from, even if you don't want to bend to it.


Fairfax: Hi Carolyn, I'm 26 years old and have been dealing with depression for the last decade. Therapists, I've talked to (four, each for at a year). Psychiatrists I've met with (two). Medications I've tried (10 in varying combination). None of it has alleviated the depression and 10 years later, I feel even less able to cope -- little motivation to do work, overeating (I've gained close to 30 lbs since mid-December).

Carolyn Hax: That's a tough spot to be in, I'm sorry--it's a bit of unfairness that's not uncommon. Treating depression can involve extensive detective work to find out what your underlying cause is, what your body's receptive to, what supplemental treatments work, etc.--and detective work takes time, energy, perseverance and organized thinking, which are four things a depressed person has a uniquely difficult time producing.

I know I'm not telling you anything you haven't experienced firsthand, but I hope that seeing it here will help you recognize that your best course is to stay the course.

This time, though, concentrate all the energy you can summon on forming a team of primary care doctor, psychiatrist and talk-therapy provider. They all need to work together, because depression often has more than one feeder--and can include an underlying illness and emotional stress, not just imbalanced brain chemistry.

Start by writing down everyone you've seen, every med you've tried and in what combinations and for how long, and ever supplemental remedy you've tried (yoga, vitamin B, whatever). Then go to your doctor and spell it all out, and say you'd like the name of someone who specializes in treatment-resistant depression. If your doctor is not/has not been helpful, then you'll be starting from scratch, but it's still doable--call your local branch of the American Psychiatric Association and ask for a specialist that way. Then get that doctor's recommendations for the other team members (PC and talker). Make sure they're working all the angles for you.

In case there are some angles listed that you haven't considered, have a look here:


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I communicate daily with a friend that I dated long ago. The friend is now married. While there is no possibility of things getting physical- i.e. cheating- is it wrong to continue to be friends with someone when their mate doesn't know/wouldn't be comfortable with the friendship. Is it even my business whether he divulges this or not?

Carolyn Hax: Why are you being hidden?


Denial: Why's it such a great place to live?

Or why is it so hard to give up hope for reconciliation and redemption?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know why it's such a hideously painful process, but, just anecdotally, it does seem that people who move from Denial to Is are usually almost deliriously happy they did it--even as they still feel some sadness for whatever it was they had to give up to make the trip.

I do have a quibble though--Denial isn't a great place to live. Living there is like reading a brochure for a great place to live that you can't afford.


Rejection Section: Can I add a couple of things to your list? First, There is not a big neon sign above your head flashing REJECT. If there was you'd be on TV right now. Secondly, and really this is another way of saying what Carolyn did, enjoy the time you suddenly have. I'm saying this as someone who will soon be unemployed and has not yet found another job. The prospect of having to move home...let's just say I really want a new job. Nevertheless, I can still be productive and still have fun and still seek a new job and improve my resume. It won't be in the manner that I'd hoped, but it will still count.

Carolyn Hax: We have to decide who gets to wear the REJECT sign, though, because if we all do it, then we won't get to be on TV.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn, There is something that keeps gnawing at me; I would love your input. I am getting married in a few months. My fiancee and his buddies are planning his bachelor party in Atlantic City and hopefully will spend their time playing poker and hanging out in bars. I know it's pretty common for guys to go to strip clubs or get strippers for these parties but I am absolutely disgusted by the thought of him watching/touching/getting lap danced by some naked girl. I have told him this and I think he gets it, but he won't really be planning it himself AND these parties are just as much for the other guys as they are for the groom.

This is making me crazy. To the point that when he left his email open the other day I actually did a search for the word stripper. And you know what came up? An email he sent back to his best man about planning the party (+/- stripper). I think he sent the email before I spoke up but still, it bothered me so much. I am violating his privacy and driving myself nuts. Please help me with this.

Carolyn Hax: You know what? Snooping through his stuff is worse than having some nudenick shake herself in your fiance's face for money. That's because his icky behavior says very little about him except maybe that he buys a little too mindlessly into Guy Tradition. Your icky behavior, on the other hand, says that you're okay with drawing lines for him but that you won't draw lines for yourself.

Please figure out who you are, and then start living as that person. Are you honorable? Are you strong? Are you thick-skinned (which is very different from strong)? Are you trusting? Are you trustworthy? Are you principled?

If you are, then add those up into some position on the whole stripper thing, be it:

1. If some paid nudenick shakes herself in his face in the name of Bachelor Partyhood, so be it, it's just a stupid rite of passage (or a rite of stupid passage); or,

2. I asked him not to go to a strip club, and I trust him to honor that, or I wouldn't be marrying him; or,

3. I asked him not to go to a strip club, and I know he probably will anyway, but at least I said my piece--and besides, I do know it's more his buddies' thing than his, and he might as well have this fun while it's there; or,

4. I asked him not to go to a strip club, and I don't think he really understands why it matters to me--I think he just "yessed" me and plans to go anyway, which suggests he's too weak to own what he's doing, which I find abhorrent, so the wedding is off; or,

5. Am I seriously marrying a guy who feels the need for a bachelor party? Maybe the problem isn't the strippers, it's that I'm marrying someone with all the maturity of a frat pledge.

Whatever it is, you need to own it.


Washington, D.C.: I think it's hidden because a) the wife wouldn't like it as we dated in the past and b) we operate at a very familiar level, i.e. I tell him a lot of personal information regarding work, dating, sex.

I guess I'm trying to determine how much moral culpability I have. I am acquaintences with his wife and I'm pretty sure she would hate me if she knew we talked as often as we do. Despite this fact, I still think it's not my business, I didn't take any marriage vows, and it would never escalate so there is no risk of cheating. I think if she was upset, he would be 100% to blame. Am I wrong here?


Carolyn Hax: He's more culpable, but you're still lying to the wife about who you really are--since, in your acquaintance with her, you're essentially representing yourself as a much-less-close friend to her husband than you really are.

While I openly and frequently reject the idea that exes can be generalized as All Bad, some exes should be regarded with suspicion, and your behavior makes you one of those. It's a two-part test: Do you have a level of intimacy with the coupled person that s/he doesn't have with the mate, and does the mate know about you?

To make this pass the sniff test, the husband, your friend, needs either to direct his intimacy toward his marriage, or to be above board about his closeness to you.

For your part, you can say this to him, instead of abetting his having and eating of cake.


Dealing with Depression: That poster could have been me at various points of my life...feeling like medication, doctors and everything else doesn't work. Here are some suggestions of things I've done that have helped...might be worth a try: -Make a list of activities that you've wanted to try and do them. Gives you goals to achieve and a distraction. -Work out. I am not athletic in the least, but working out improved my self esteem and the endorphins acted as a natural anti-depressant. If you're overwhelmed by the gym, just go for a walk. Anything to keep yourself active. -Revamp your diet. I know many will disagree with me, but I find organic foods help my mood, so when I'm down, I'll hit up TJ's or Whole Foods for some organic foods. Plus, having healthy food on hand helps for those down moments when you just need a snack. -Keep a journal. While I didn't find talking to doctor's to be overly helpful, writing things down was a way for me to get emotions off my chest to clear my mind.

I know this isn't a magic formula, or a long-term solution, but these were little day-to-day things that worked for me that I wanted to pass along.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I don't disagree, but I do think instead of using the narrow category of organic food, opening it just to healthy, whole foods (lowercase) can be useful. It forces preparation, which is a constructive use of time that can become a hobby unto itself, and it improves health in immediate ways like adding vitamins and fiber, improving digestion and improving sleep.

Someone else suggested the poster try NIH for clinical trials, but I'm going to widen that, too, just to research on the site:


D.C. Parking Meter Analogy: You wrote: ". . . that and a nickel will buy you four minutes on a D.C. parking meter . . ."

You obviously haven't used a D.C. parking meter lately! It's now $2.00 per hour, with a two hour limit, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., practically everywhere. A nickel buys you all of 1.5 minutes. And who carries around 16 quarters?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I use them every day--not all meters have been changed yet, I guess. Shh.


Re: Bachelor Party: How about:

6. I tell him that I snooped through his email to try to dig up dirt on his plans, and I will let him also have the same question as to whether or not I'm the right person for him to marry.

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right, 6. Thanks.


Creepyville: My husband is finding himself uncomfortably noticing how gorgeous his teenage nieces are becoming. He brings it up with me (not with them or with their mother) fairly often, I think mostly because he doesn't know what to do with the fact that he's noticing them.

I wonder if there is some way to help both Dad and Grandpa deal with the daughter's transition into young womanhood, to let them know what it IS ok to say and how to relate to her now that they can't bounce her on their knees anymore.

Carolyn Hax: I dunno ... it sounded as if what the grandpa -said- wasn't icky so much as the way he said it. In your case, too, what you and your husband can take away is that these uncomfortable noticings will happen, it's fairly normal, and that the important thing is to keep them in your mind and be vigilant in leer prevention efforts.

Which I guess does give something to the mom in the original question that she can say to her husb: Your daughter is attractive, people will notice, but you feel uncomfortable about the way Grandpa is expressing it.


Close friendship with the married male friend: Carolyn, you were way too soft on this.

Call this what it is. It's an emotional affair. The writer may not be married, but her friend, the guy, is. If she really cares for her friend, she will respect his marriage and have some boundaries. I am sick and tired of people having inappropriate boundaries with friends who are married.

And we wonder why divorces are so common? This is one of the reasons why -- emotional affairs with friends and exes. I'm not saying this particular relationship will lead to divorce, but it happens all the time.

Boundaries have to change when your friends or exes marry, that's just the way it is. Deal with it.

Carolyn Hax: There you go. Thanks.


Re Washington, D.C. (anti-stripper): Anti-stripper says she gets that the party is in part to appease the other groomsmen but can't seem to fathom that her guy would want to accomodate them too (i.e., by telling his best man in an email that he was pro-stripper)? Aside from this being a latent "why are you marrying someone with such different values than you" type question, her immaturity shines through in her inability to let this be (snooping over a stripper?! Sigh). If it's not an "I won't marry you" level offense, how bout let the guy have his party, and see what he reports back? If he's marrying a disciplinarian who would demand he not get a lap dance at his own bachelor party, he may like that about her and follow orders. (FWIW, as a feminist, I used to HATE the idea of strip clubs and got upset when bfs would go. Then I started going with them and realized that I liked going, that strippers are just people doing a job, and they really like seeing women in the club.)

Carolyn Hax: Okay, I subscribe to the lid-for-every-pot theory on relationships, and on a regular basis point out that, hey, if a couple likes things a certain way, then I'm in no position to carp.

But when I read, "If he's marrying a disciplinarian who would demand he not get a lap dance at his own bachelor party, he may like that about her and follow orders," my mind immediately goes to 5, 10 years from now, when he's partaking in secret, flirty conversations with an ex-girlfriend whom he distinctly remembers as having little to no relationship with discipline. This isn't just a convenient tying together of threads, this is a setup as old as dirt.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Really?! So if they divorce it's my fault??? I'm just living my life, minding my own business. I don't go out of my way to contact him. Frankly, I don't really care.

It's HIS responsibility to tell his wife- I don't have any control over this. If he is keeping friendships from his wife, AGAIN, how's it my business, why is it my place to make sure he does the right thing? Shouldn't he be the one setting boundaries, as HE'S the one who's married?

I think the poster's judgement is misdirected. For some reason, I always see a lot of animosity directed at the "other" woman when a man cheats. When in reality, that should all be channeled to the person who broke their wedding vows.

Carolyn Hax: Not all, most. But that still leaves some for you. "How's it my business, why is it my place to make sure he does the right thing? Shouldn't he be the one setting boundaries, as HE'S the one who's married?" The answer to all of these can just be, karma. Don't do anything you wouldn't want some guy, and some ex of his, doing to you someday.

Or, you could be even more straightforward: It's not your place to make sure he does the right thing, of course not--it's just your place to do the right thing.

I'll agree that people direct disproportionate anger at the "others"--but that makes so much sense, if you think about it. Cheaters often maintain some kind of relationship with the people they cheat on, whether they're still together and trying to save the relationship, or they're split up but still raising kids together, or just trying to keep the whole relationship in their minds and hearts as something better than a complete and utter loss. That means the full weight of the anger is rarely brought to bear on the cheater--a lot gets diverted to the "other," because there's no bond to preserve there, usually. So whether you think it's fair or not, it's the way things usually go.

People are far from perfect, obviously, and they make mistakes all the time. But the remedy for those mistakes is to do your best, with your next choice, your next choice after that, and then the next one, and so on, to do something good--or, at least, not to do something you know will come at someone else's expense.

So next time you get an email from this guy, you can write back with, "You know, I don't like how it feels to be your secret friend, since it means you know you're doing something wrong, and you're recruiting me to help you do it. I'd like more from my life, so I'm out." For no other reason than to sleep a bit better at night, or not feel like a liar when you see this guy with his wife.

Don't get so defensive that you forget why you wrote in with this question in the first place.


I subscribe to the lid-for-every-pot theory on relationships: Honest to god, I never found my lid. I've tried to come to terms with it, but still get angry when I see "pot-finds-lid" stories on TV. There, in fact, is NOT a lid for every pot. Maybe the pot turned left the day the lid was walking down the street, or the lid made a wrong choice and is in a commmitted but not Pot/Lid relationship. If there is a lid for every pot, pot is a failure. But if there isn't a lid for every pot, pot is just one of many unlucky pots.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't mean to hit a sore spot there. I always took the lid-for-every-pot saying to mean that matches happen where you wouldn't expect them to because of, say, someone's narrow interests/bizarre behaviors/annoying quirks.

The phenomenon you describe is the way I look at, "You'll find someone when you stop looking/when you least expect it/if you just stick with it," which I agree is a disheartening crock.

Tried to whomp up a crock pot joke, but I'm running out of time.


Re: bachelor party strippers: As a 5 time best man and bachelor party planner, the stripper argument was always an emotionally charged one. After the first debacle, where I was somehow the villain, I always made sure to let the bride to be know of the plans. I figured it was as good a thing to have an argument about as any other for a new couple. But just so some women out there understand, you really have nothing to fear. There isn't really a stripper out there that wants to steal your guy, it's a job. Trust that there's a pretty good reason he's marrying you, and another naked female body won't change that reason, and if it does, well, you find out early.

Carolyn Hax: I like what you're saying here, thanks, even as I have a hard time imagining someone as a best man five times. I mean, at a certain point, the superlative has to go and you become a better man, right?


For the creepy grandpa: What's wrong with her just calling him on his behavior? If she's there when he makes one of his salacious remarks, just look at him and say, "Ew." He'll get the point.

Carolyn Hax: Worth a try, though those responses usually work because they happen naturally. Would be interesting to see how it flies as a decision, vs a reaction.


Ditched and Caught: Hey Carolyn, So, last year I introduced my roomate to one of my guy friends, and lo and behold, they fall in love. Great!!! Sadly for me, she decided to move out to be with him, which is awesome for them, but I miss her. So, I make plans to get together with her for dinner. The day of dinner, she texts me to tell me she has a migraine and can't make it to dinner. Later that night on Facebook, a mutual friend of all of ours put up pictures of the double date dinner that they all went out to that night! I have no idea what to say to her now that I know she lied and flaked on me. I am just tempted not to say anything at all. Do I say something? End the friendship? Say nothing?

Carolyn Hax: Eh, call her on it. "It's on Facebook that you didn't have a migraine. Next time please tell me so I can reschedule, or find new friends, or whatever."


Manassas, Va.: What are your thoughts on joint bank accounts versus separate bank accounts? My fiancee and I disagree about what we should do. We're at an impasse and we've agreed you can be our tiebreaker! Please help!

Carolyn Hax: My thoughts are that either is fine as long as you're in agreement on the rationale for your choice.

So, what's the rationale for each of your preferences?


Carolyn Hax: I meant to say, that's for next week. Now it's time to go.

Bye, thanks again for stopping by a day early, and type to you again next week, when I'll be back to the usual Friday.


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.

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