Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010; 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, June 18, 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.

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Good news! Carolyn's archives have been updated. Check out the sidebar on Carolyn's archive page to find even more transcripts from past Hax chats.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I'm going to start with something that was better suited to last week, but I promise this is not going to be Wedding Chat Part Deux.


Florida: I know this is a wedding question, but hopefully you'll take it anyway.

I can't have all my eight BFFs in my wedding, and I can't choose without hurting feelings, so I let them all know I was going to leave it up to chance--they drew straws, three randomly chosen friends are now my bridal party. I thought all were OK with this, but now I find out one of the others, whom I have known the longest--I was in her wedding--is pretty hurt that I didn't pick her just because. Others have said they wouldn't mind if I made space for her in the bridal party, but I feel like that would open a can of worms. Is this too dumb to even devote mental energy to?

Carolyn Hax: Somebody's feelings are never "too dumb" to warrant the devotion of mental energy. Now, there's some residue of too-dumbness in (a) seeing eight people as your "best" friends;(b) drawing an arbitrary line between three bridesmaids (somehow okay) and eight bridesmaids (somehow not okay?); (c) going to the hat-draw as a solution instead of just committing to all-or-nothing (all eight or going without bridesmaids altogether); (d) your oldest friend taking your iffy decision personally instead of just seeing it as the desperate act of a desperate bride-to-be.

But now that the hurt feelings are in progress, you do, as I said, have to devote some mental energy to the problem.

I would suggest starting off with a conversation with the hurt friend. Tell her you felt like you had too many people's feelings to think about, and you settled on the hat-draw essentially as a way of throwing up your hands. Make it clear to her that you're sorry for [whatever you're sorry for] ...



Carolyn Hax: There are a couple of possibilities--sorry for not thinking more clearly about individual feelings, sorry for lumping all your friends together, sorry for not anticipating how much she'd care.

If you're not sorry, and instead you're a little frustrated with her for taking personally what wasn't at all personal, then stick kindly to your decision, with a response along the lines of: "I hear you, and I see now that you're hurt, but please realize that I was simply trying not to prioritize some friends over others. I do feel closer to some of you, but it felt wrong to me to announce those preferences."

Which, again, is a good argument for not having a bridal party at all--an option you still have at this point. The hurt feelings and hard feelings and unwelcome expenses--at least from where I sit--seem to take away more from weddings than having a wedding party brings to them.


Takoma Park: My husband and I have just signed on for primary custody of his two sons from a previous marriage. Initially I was excited, but now I'm panicking about this. I like kids, I adore these kids, and I'm not really nervous about "sharing" my husband. But I am anxious about all the big changes coming up and about learning on the job. I also worry that this will cause us to have to interact more often with his very unreasonable ex. As half of this couple, I technically have the right to tell my husband I want to bail on our decision, but I know that would alienate him and probably be really selfish. Please help; I feel stuck and at a loss.

Carolyn Hax: I can argue two different points in favor of staying on your chosen course of taking in these boys.

The first one is strictly logical: Panic is not a good reason to reverse yourself on a big decision. Deep, thoughtful misgivings would be, maybe, but panic is the antithesis of deep thought. It's the raw emotion the springs from a fear of change.

That's why your best move right now is to bring careful thought back to the fore. Tell your husband that you're feeling a little panicky. Make it clear you aren't changing your mind--you don't want to set him off in a panic, too--but that you do need to talk this all through a bit more.

The second point I can argue ...



Carolyn Hax: ... is that these boys have (from your perspective at least) an unreasonable person for a mom. So while it's your right to veto taking the boys in, it might well be your moral obligation to suck it up and help raise them.

Yes, it will be hard, and yes you will have to learn on the fly, and yes you will make some spectacular mistakes that will send you to your room to cry in private. But you married a man who has kids, and who therefore has an obligation of his own to act in their best interests, even when those interests run counter to his own or to yours. He's an adult who brought them into the world, so it's on him to equip them for adulthood, to the best of his ability.

You are an adult in your own right, obviously, and can make choices for yourself. But you can't really make choices for your husband. If you choose to be with him, then you choose to take on his obligations.

Where you have the most say is in how you contribute to his fulfillment of that obligation. These boys have a mom, so you don't need to be that. But you can be a reasonable partner to your husband, to show the boys what that looks like. You can try your best to be good to the boys while also honoring your marriage and being true to yourself; that's a wonderful thing to model. You can make mistakes in trying to get these three things into balance, and then admit fault, pick yourself up and start over--another excellent example to set for these kids.

You can also embrace this as the life you've got, even if it isn't quite the one you had in mind--and you can embrace the kids, literally; there is absolutely no down side for kids in having more people who love them and are looking out for them. Even if they don't get every little i-dotting and t-crossing just right.


Washington, D.C.: What do you do when you're in your late 20s and continually get told by women you ask out "you're a nice guy, but..."?

Carolyn Hax: Depends. Would you describe yourself as a pleaser? I.e., do you note what women seem to like, and go out of your way to provide it for them?


Carolyn Hax: A trick question if there ever was one, but that's part of its charm.


Re: Bridesmaid Quota: Three bridesmaids is such as arbitrary #...I had six because I wanted all those close to me involved. I would never want to lose a friend over something like this. But I guess if it has to be three, could you have the other five involved through a reading at the ceremony? Or maybe have some usher-ettes that don't stand up but have coordinated outfits so that everyone feels involved?

Weddings, in my opinion, should be about inclusivity...otherwise, there are going to be some very negative vibes around on your special day.

Carolyn Hax: Not to sound insensitive, but, barf. Putting names on the board for little make-work jobs is the stuff of kindergarten classrooms. If you have eight people whom you regard as legitimately close to you, then take a moment to be thankful that you have quality companionship in such an unusual quantity, and then send them all the same invitations to your wedding that you're sending everyone else. That -is- inclusion. Creating a hierarchy of inclusion is the idea that launched a thousand matrimonial train wrecks. Throw "you're special" laurels to the people who will appreciate them most: the kindergarten-age ring bearer(s) and/or flower girl(s).


Carolyn Hax: harumph.


Berkeley, Calif.: Today is my son's last day of Kindergarten. Any suggestions about something fun I can do with him after school gets out?

Carolyn Hax: The wedding chat seems to have segued into the kindergarten chat. Coincidence ...?

To a kindergartner, going through a car wash is the height of cool, or yelling an order through the window at a drive through, or taking a walk that you re-label as an "adventure." Just breaking the routine will be a winner. As will anything that makes -you- giggle. Wing it, have fun, don't overthink it.


Carolyn Hax: Oh no--I was about to post a Q and A when my browser page closed. Some freak thing that has now set me back 5 minutes. I;'m sorry--please hang on while I try to reconstruct that answer ...


Three bridesmaids is such as arbitrary #...: How do you know it's arbitrary? maybe she's getting married in a small chapel with limited space. Maybe her husband only has three attendants and she needs a compatible number. Maybe they can only afford gifts for three. Maybe three is her favorite number. It's not arbitrary to LW.

Carolyn Hax: The need for all of the attendants to stand at the altar? Arbitrary. The need to match his number of attendants? Arbitrary. The need to spend a certain amount on gifts for the wedding party? Arbitrary. Three as favorite number? Arbitrary.

The feelings of the people you love? Priceless.


Arlington, Va.: So why can't she have eight bridesmaids? You all never asked that question. So there are eight bridesmaid but only three groomsmen who cares. Groomsmen each get two and one three life is good unless there is cash bar. Bridesmaids should never pay for drinks. Weddings should enver have a cash bar.

So why can't she have eight bridesmaids?

Carolyn Hax: I did float that, as the "all" in the all or nothing.


For Berkeley: We are bigs fans of the Backwards Dinner on special days: Ice cream first for "dinner", regular meal for "dessert." My now 6th grader still loves to do this!

Carolyn Hax: Zackly. Small break in routine, for grins. It's magic. Breakfast for dinner works too. Thanks.


For Takoma Park: It sounds like those boys need you, so please be there for them. Having said that, I think a little anxiety is healthy in a new situation. It helps keep you on your toes and aware of what's going on. In my opinion, we do ourselves a great disservice as a society by wanting to feel calm and accepting about every single situation. Life is complex; embrace the chaos and remember to breathe. You will be fine.

Carolyn Hax: Standing O, thanks.


SS MD: Lately I find myself raising my voice to my 2-year-old, usually once a night when she refuses to put her diaper on or let me brush her teeth. It's not screaming, but it is to the point where she says "Mama, you loud" afterwards.

Do I need to go in another room and scream or is this just part of raising a toddler?

Carolyn Hax: yes you need to go to another room to collect yourself, and yes this is part of raising a toddler ...

But you also, in a calm moment far from diaper and toothbrush time, need to come up with a new approach to this time of day, because the one you're using obviously isn't working.

Think of something she LOVES loves loves to do, or have you do, that's appropriate for nighttime. Say, you have a puppet read her favorite book. Then, say casually to your daughter, "I've got Mr. Puppet, and he said he'll read to you as soon as you put your diaper on and let mommy brush your teeth." I.e., get her invested in the outcome, and make that outcome contingent upon her doing her job.


Carolyn Hax: I haven't heard back from the Nice Guy yet, but the audience speculation is rolling in, and collectively it's starting to look like a manual on how not to hit it off with women. I'll post a bunch:


For the Nice Guy: I had a friend in grad school who asked out pretty much every woman in our class (including me). No success with any of them, and lots of "you're a nice guy, but...". His problem wasn't that he was a pleaser, exactly. Rather, it was blindingly apparent to everyone around him that he was -drowning- in self-loathing. Oh my goodness, he haaaaated himself. And he was desperately looking for a girlfriend who could help him feel good again, and no one wanted to take that on. Finally, he started taking better care of himself, both physically and emotionally, and found some self-respect and happiness that was all his own doing. And guess what? He proceeded to date a few very nice, very attractive women before finding one who really seems to get him and appreciate him...and now they're married.

As it turns out, the old saw is right: you can't love someone until you love yourself. Not just because you can't genuinely express love for someone when you are buried in self-hatred, but also because no one will want to stick around long enough to find out.

Carolyn Hax: And:


For 20-something D.C. guy: Sorry to say it, but it could very well be that the guy is awkward. I've had many a co-worker in this area who have physical, social, and verbal awkwardness issues. Some of them speak as if every sentence was a question. Other's move with lanky gates, like they never quite figured out how to get their body parts to function. Still others hang around long after a conversation is over, not quite sure what to do with themselves. If you're getting a lot of young ladies who think you're generally nice, but you aren't the kind of person they would date, there may be some glaring awkwardness that can be overcome by personal training and awareness. It's always worth a shot.

Carolyn Hax: Ouch. And:


Re: Nice guy: Every so often "you're nice but" means you're not her type but usually A) the guy is trying too hard, B) his expectations are waaay too high or C) he's coming off creepy. I've met them all.

One would always try to buy me drinks but would never buy drinks for our other friend, whom he considered unattractive. One would do anything for a girl, even if she was unreasonable, and most women want a man who can stand up for himself. They see this as a weakness. One would complain about they can't date X because she's 20 pounds overweight... he was 100 pounds overweight. One would never remember my less attractive friends' names but always remembered the hot ones (and their fave color, band, etc.). One wooed a girl with $$ on the first date, then told me "for all that money, I didn't even get a kiss." Women aren't mutual funds, you can't always expect an ROI.

Some nice guys tend to have a hidden resentment toward women because of the rejection that is not as obvious as the blatant misogynists but it's noticeable once you get to know them. Women are very observant and they notice these things.

Carolyn Hax: Can we make that "people are observant"? Neither sex has ownership of the ability to see through people's [hangups].


Nice Guys: My boyfriend is currently in his mid-30s is a "nice guy" who got the speech from women a lot. I told him that women in their 20s tend to not appreciate nice guys as much (I know I didn't), and I told him that I was glad they did. I don't plan on doing the same, he's perfect and wonderful to me. Some girl will appreciate you. The others may regret they didn't.

Carolyn Hax: And:


Woodbridge, Va.: So you are "continually" told by women that you ask out that you are a nice guy but... Any chance you're just not that picky so you ask out pretty much every woman you meet and they can tell?

Carolyn Hax: And:


For the nice guy: I hate to oversimplify this but I think this guy is just asking out women who are not attracted to him. I think women like nice guys so I'm not really buying that. I bet he's been asked out by nice girls who he isn't attracted to and has turned them down. I think he should start going out with types that are interested in him first and give those nice girls a shot.

Carolyn Hax: And:


"You're a nice guy, but...": The most common dating mistake people tend to make is to confuse "niceness" with attractiveness. You can't buy yourself sexual chemistry with good behavior.

Also, being "nice" with ulterior motives is often discernable and off-putting. It suggests that you think people owe you something for being nice or doing thoughtful things, so it comes off as obsequious and insincere. It also makes people suspect that you're only nice if there's something in it for you.

A lot of people say, "Well, if being nice is pointless, I might as well be a jerk!" No, you might as well move on to people who might be attracted to you.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, almost. I would just change that last line to: "No, you might as well be nice for its own sake, and not as a quid-pro-quo, because when you're genuine, people will respond--not all of them, but enough"


Carolyn Hax: How was that? It seemed pretty comprehensive as it was all flying by, but you guys have more time to think critically about it, so if you see an omission, flag away.

And while you do that, I'm going to try to get to that answer I lost earlier.


D.C.: Carolyn -- It's clear that the bride meant well, and I feel bad for her predicament now that her friend's feelings are hurt...but it got me to thinking, what's really the point of bridesmaids, aside from tradition? Is it to show the other guests who is in your closest circle? (if so, that's awkward!) To help the bride out at and before the ceremony? (seems like any close friends would do that anyway). The whole tradition seems ridiculous the more I think about it. I'll admit I thought it was nice when I was asked to be a bridesmaid a couple times...but now I'm wondering why it is such a coveted honor?

Carolyn Hax: You've typed out the exact thought process that brought me to my position now, that no wedding party is the best wedding party. And I'm a former believer--though that's probably too strong a word, and "former follower" is closer to the truth.

In my 20s, I had and was in some big wedding parties--and the whole beauty contest aspect of it appealed to me, both in selecting and being selected as a Top 3/5/10 Friend. Not to feed competitive impulses but instead to satisfy a yearning both to give and get validation, to be part of something.

But time has pretty much flattened that idea, because the wedding party turned out to be black-and-white and inflexible where friendships themselves are both nuanced and fluid. The person who "wins" and becomes your person of honor can be the one who rarely calls when the bottom falls out of your world, and when you find yourself surprised by and grateful for the kind attention of a friend whom you hadn't even considered as a wedding partier just a few years earlier.

And that awesome crisis friend can either become your new closest friend, or retreat as the crisis passes and his/her special nurturing talent is directed elsewhere.

In other words, the whole notion of assigning public priority numbers to friends is now, to me, bizarre. Friends are to each other what they are, and so what can formal recognition bring to the table that isn't already there? Why not leave well enough alone, and stand up at the altar with just your intended?


Sex and the...Suburbs: Hi Carolyn,

I'm in grad school and just moved to the site of my summer internship, a suburb with emphasis on the sub-, actually leans more toward rural. I am surrounded by older families, particularly older women, as well as children and a few teenagers but basically no one between the ages of 18 and 30. The closest city, Baltimore, is about a 1-hour drive away. I'm looking at a really lonely summer. I enjoy dating and it bugs me that I probably won't get to do any of it for months. What hobby can I take up to pass the time?

Carolyn Hax: Getting to know your new neighbors?

Granted, it's easier typed than done. But it's worth taking a hard look at the whole notion of running with a pack of people more or less the same age you are. It seems to me to be more of a habit than a conscious choice. We all spend most of our waking hours from age 4 to 18/21 (add more for some grad schools) immersed in people our age and with our general goals, whether it be to get this grade or make this team or do this play or roll eyes at those parents.

Then, we often just as automatically spend our twenties among peers as we shop for mates, assuming we haven't found one in high school/college/grad school.

By the time we hit our thirties, it's not surprising that we look around at a town full of "older families," "older women," and "children and a few teenagers" and think to ourselves, "Wow, I have no one to talk to here."

Again, I know that these are not easy populations for an outsider to crack. The 18-to-30 group you're looking for tends to be less rooted and therefore more socially dynamic. At the same time, interesting people come in all ages, so if you can find a way into regular proximity with some of them--a shared interest is always a winner, be it a cause or a church or a hobby/sport/art/craft/talent--then you might find yourself with friends for life. Not to mention a better attitude for when you get back into the peer pool.


Father's Day Q: I am female and in my 20s and lost my dad unexpectedly seven years ago. He was always my world, the most loving, giving father, husband, and man I've ever met. Looking through some old correspondence after he passed, I discovered that my perfect father was a bit of a "player" when he was younger, before he met my mother. Nothing terribly serious or disturbing. I was actually somewhat reassured that men could be a little wild and still turn out as amazing as my dad. But now as I date, I wonder, how do I know? How do I tell who is someone acting with youthful indiscretion and who really is just plain bad? (And side question: They say women marry men like their fathers, but I'm afraid I'll be an old maid before I find someone half as great. I know I'm lucky, though!)

Carolyn Hax: This appears at first glance to be a confusing situation, with a lot of threads tangled into a knotty decision about your future, including grief, players, judgment, trust, measuring up ... when in fact there are only a couple of things that really matter here.

You lost your dad before you could get to know him fully as a person; he died when you were still young enough to see him as larger than life. This is sad for the plainest of reasons, and also makes it difficult to understand him the way you may need to when it comes time for you to choose a husband--but it's not an insurmountable obstacle. It's just a cue for you to keep in mind that your view of your dad is larger than life.

The only other thing that matters is your judgment when it comes to other people--not just a mate, but friends, too. It's not so much about "women marry men like their fathers"; it's about making sure -you- marry someone who is good for you. The choice isn't between finding someone half as great as your father and being an ... agh ... old maid. It's between being better off on your own, or choosing to be with someone because you enjoy each other's company and you regard each other's needs as equal to your own. Enjoying someone's company is pretty self-explanatory, and you'll probably find a bunch of people who clear that fairly low bar. But a guy either has your back and you have his, ungrudgingly, or you keep looking. It really can be as simple as that.


Suburban Md.: My family is from a pretty rural town, also about an hour from Maryland, and whenever I was home from college for the summer I went through the same adjustments. I rediscovered reading for fun, which is hard to do when you're in school studying, and I also just made myself get outside and be more active through walks or hikes or whatever. Just by walking around the town, you'll get to know people and perhaps build acquaintances or friendships. Being your own company is a skill that takes practice sometimes, but can be just as educational and interesting as being with peers.

Carolyn Hax: I like this, too, if the proximity to new neighbors doesn't work out for whatever reason.


I'm in a pickle!: This is not really a wedding question. My coworker is getting married in a few months. I've met her boyfriend a few times. I was out at a gay bar with some of my boys (I'm female) and saw her fiance there and he was making out with a guy. He never noticed me and I left quickly. I don't know what to do - I should tell her, right? It's just that I don't think she will believe me and she will end up saying I'm jealous because I'm single (she's that type). We are not that close and to be honest, I don't like her that much. What do I do? For all I know, she's aware of his tendencies and doesn't care. But if the table were turned, I would want to know.

Carolyn Hax: You sure he doesn't have a twin?

I swear that's a serious question and not a pitch line for a soap opera.

For what it's worth, I don't think you should tell. It's none of your business. The one exception I cam see is if you're in a position to say to your coworker, "Hey, were you at The Rodeo last night? I thought I saw Fiance, but had to leave before I could say hi." Contrived, but this is a workplace, and you have to be MUCH more careful than you would with a just-plain-friend in a social setting. You can't embarrass your colleague in front of others, and you have to leave deniability room for both of you. In this case, she'd need to be able to say, "It couldn't have been Fiance, we were together at The Corral," and you'll need to be able to say, "Yeah, I didn't get that close a look, so it must have been someone else." And if she says you're just jealous, well then, you might as well agree with her. "Yes, I'm sure that's it--forget I said anything."

Like I said--my primary advice is to stay way out of it, and I make an allowance only for the variables of the type of conversations you have with this colleague and the nature of the workplace.


For Sex and the Suburbs: Those "older women" probably have kids, grandkids, or children of friends who they'd love to set you up with. Just a thought.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, but it would be kinda lousy to engage them just for access to the people you'd rather know. That has to be a pleasant surprise on top of the original pleasure of their company.

I have this sense I haven't been eloquent in my advocacy of making friends beyond one's own generation. It's also the source of regular doses of perspective. To use an immediate example, it's harder to get afflicted with bridesmania when you're relating your selection drama to someone with a parent in a nursing home or a seriously troubled teenager at home, etc.


Carolyn Hax: Back in a minute or two--someone's at the door ...


Carolyn Hax: That worked out--I needed a drink of water badly. These 3-hour shows are like radio without songs or commercial breaks.

So where were we ...


Firstdateville, USA: Went on a good first date yesterday. Person seems great, but it came out that a long relationship ended in the not-to-distant past. (Not quite sure, but I think it was around Christmas.) How do I proceed accordingly? I get the slight vibe that this person is a serial monogamist and might be looking for a replacement, but I don't date that much or pair off that frequently, so I don't trust my own judgment. I think I've talked myself out of some good stuff in the past, but what's the difference between being overly negative and ignoring the little voice that tells you something's up?

Carolyn Hax: If your not pairing off frequently is "your thing," then maybe it would be constructive to see that as no different from pairing off as "his thing," should your serial-monogamy hunch turn out to be accurate. We all do have our comfort zones, and the range of normal is pretty wide. While it's smart to be a little skeptical anytime you get into anything new, be it a relationship or anything else, there's also nothing wrong with making a conscious choice to hold off on value judgments until you learn more about someone's character.

That doesn't mean you date someone for X amount of time no matter what; please, always feel free to dodge even a second date with someone who treats the wait staff like crap. But when all you have is the fact that a guy left a commitment at Christmas and seems open to commitment now, he might just be as interested in you as you are in him--or he might be someone whose parents were a really nice pair, and who has a natural inclination to act as half of a pair. The latter may be less flattering to both of you, but it's also not necessarily a flaw in his character, or a strike against him as a possible mate for you. As long as he's not using women serially and/or he's not clamping on to the first receptive female just for the sake of being paired, then his monogamy knack might not be a knock.

That was way too cutesy, sorry. Couldn't help myself.


Big Decisions in Boston: I just made a huge life decision to move, which will affect my good friend and roommate, who knows I've been unhappy and have been struggling with what to do. I sent her an excited e-mail today telling her I'd received an offer and accepted, which is a huge weight off of my mind. I know this will make her life harder (she'll have to live with someone else for the remainder of our lease - 4 months) and I knew she wouldn't respond to the e-mail when I sent it, but now that she actually hasn't offered any sort of congratulations or happiness on my part, I'm feeling (maybe irrationally) upset and am having trouble facing going home. Is it selfish of me to want her to be happy even though it's not necessarily good news for her? Can you give me any words of advice/help on how to deal with her not being over the moon when I get home, or how to get over myself? For the record, she tends to have difficulty being happy for others if she herself isn't happy (not unusual, but moreso than most people I think).

Carolyn Hax: She is who she is, and she's being that person right now. Don't torture yourself by expecting her to be otherwise. Instead, do your best to act as you wish she had acted--happy for your fortuitous turn of events, and sensitive to the way it's going to affect her. Help her find a roommate, help keep the place clean and neat so the good potential candidates wont' be scared away, be as friendly to her as you wish she had been to you when she got your news. It's all going to be over soon--it's worth the extra effort to take the high road out.


Boston: Hi Carolyn,

Big fan of your chats for many years. I'm a 30-year-old woman, started dating a 33-year-old guy about six months ago. He was active on an online dating site the whole time, while dating me, and when I confronted him, he said he did not have strong romantic feelings for me though he appreciated my many qualities, and wanted to keep his options open. We broke up.

After a month or so, we reconnected and have been spending time together again. We have a lot in common and have a fantastic time. We share two of our main hobbies and also have a bunch of shared history/values/goals/etc. We have sex which is also great. When I am with him, my absolute gut feeling is that he likes me and we get along great. But sometimes when I get home, I feel like a fool. I think I am fighting an uphill battle, dating someone who is not fundamentally attracted to me.

I have acted differently since we reconnected. Before, I was very aloof, because I knew he was dating online. This time, I have been more affectionate and friendly, and things are working better. Sometimes I think my aloofness might have been the reason for the initial lack of strong feelings, though I think it is more likely to be my physical appearance.

Since we reconnected (just a couple of dates), I don't know whether he is still dating online. I have not checked. I know how awful I would feel if I saw that he was. Is there any way to go with the flow, and not check, see what happens and not be a total idiot here?

Carolyn Hax: If denial is the only thing that has you feeling good about this relationship, then I'm not going to call you an idiot--a mite harsh--but I'm going to suggest you face the thing you're avoiding. Either assume he's seeing other people, and be pleasantly surprised if it turns out that he isn't, or determine that you have solid reasons to believe he isn't seeing other people any more.

This is a tough line to walk, because hunting around on dating sites for his profile seems as doomed as forcing yourself not to look. But talking to him about whether you and he are exclusive seems like a viable start.


Damaged: My father dumped my mother after 24 years of marriage because she let herself go. I saw the entire thing as it happened: She tried to lose weight but gained it instead, she never worked again after losing the job she loved and spent way too much time watching TV instead. They tried therapy but my dad had already checked out.

Now that I'm in a serious relationship that seems to be headed toward marriage, I keep thinking of these things and how they all happened despite my mom's every effort to prevent them. I'm in shape and employed now, but I'm terrified that someday I might wind up overweight and idle and become a different person than the one I am today, whose boyfriend loves her. I believe these anxieties are causing me to stall on the progression of the relationship. Please help!

Carolyn Hax: Since when does watching too much TV constitute "every effort" to prevent marriage-killing stagnation? I can think of a few things she didn't try, per your account: getting screened/treated for depression; volunteering her time; getting out and exercising/being active just to get her insides in shape (mind/soul), even if it didn't show on the outside. Your mom lost her way and her sense of purpose, and while that does happen sometimes--it's why I mentioned depression, since sometimes "getting out there" isn't an option--it's still incumbent upon us to take care of ourselves, even if it just means asking for help in getting ourselves off the couch.

If she did ask for help (well before the therapy attempt) and your father ignored her, then that's on him; and it was also on him to urge her to get off the couch and be open about his frustrations with her, before they're so strong that there's no going back.

Still, though, it comes back to your mom's choices. Her experience is telling you that if you should experience setbacks similar to hers, you have to work even harder to keep them from swallowing up everything else in your life. It sounds unfair, for the victim to have to work harder when it should be the loved ones who pull extra weight on the victim's behalf. But that gets people only so far. At some point, the victim has to save him/herself.


Serial Monogomist: If he is into serial monogamy the evidence of it will crop up soon enough. No one can hold an act like that together for too long. He'll have specific expectations of what your role should be. He'll drag you home to the parents after two dates. He'll start pushing at a deeper commitment early on, and if you voice any objections he'll challenge those and push back. He won't do nice things out of a like for you but rather because he thinks that's what he's supposed to do. He won't really know who you are but he'll act on his inaccurate view of you instead -- usually this view has you on a high pedestal. At any sign of a potential break up, he'll shut down and tighten his grip on the relationship regardless of how bad it is.

Anyone who's that bad can't hide those things.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, that's hard to distinguish from the dance abusers do to reel in complaint people. Quick commitment, heavy romancing, gentle well-look-at-you resistance to your being yourself (when it deviates from what you're expected to do/be), heavy resistance to breaking up.

They're really just different points on the same continuum. They're both people who get their sense of self from somebody else, and the difference is mostly in the severity of the consequences.


re: Big Decision: Did the LW say that she wrote an e-mail today and hasn't heard back yet? Is it possible the roommate is in a meeting, lunch, etc and hasn't had sufficient time to read or respond to her e-mail?

Carolyn Hax: Right, duh, I blew past the time frame. Thanks for the catch.

People are also flagging the announcement-by-e-mail as a violation, and I'm agnostic about that. It seemed to me the foundation was laid by prior conversations, but if that's not the case, and if the use of e-mail was solely to avoid face-to-face news-breaking, then the flaggers have a point.


Sister question: Carolyn,

My sister was awful to me last weekend - with no apologies. I even sent her a text apologizing just to try to smooth things over, and she never responded.

She just texted me asking to help her move this weekend. I will feel bad if I don't help her - and I know she has no one else to help her - but at the same time, I feel like I am enabling her being such a b..rat by just helping her after she's been so terrible to me.

Please give me advice on this.

Carolyn Hax: Call her. Put it plainly: "What the hell?" Give her a chance to do the right thing.


SAHM blues : Hi Carolyn,

I'm totally overwhelmed with being a stay-at-home mom. I can't decide whether this is rational or crazy. Here are the facts: My husband works 9-6:30 or 7 most days, I do the bulk of the cooking and childcare but someone else cleans a few times a week, and on Wednesdays my niece babysits in the evenings so I can have some time to myself. Compared to my friends who have done this, I realize I have a good support system, but I still feel like my to-do list is always bigger than my energy supply. How else can I lighten my load? (By the way, PPD isn't an issue here.)

Carolyn Hax: It's an overwhelming way to spend your days, it just is. Please give yourself permission to strip your to-do list down to the absolute essentials.

There has also been some serious warping in the whole idea of what constitutes "a good support system." A good support system used to be a community of women--grandmas, aunties, fellow moms, midwives/doulas. The whole idea that one person would be at home in virtual isolation with children is new.

Hired help does make it easier, but it doesn't make it any less lonely, not unless you bond with the nanny or housekeeper, which does happen, certainly. But suburbs and cars and high mobility and two-income families--not to mention an oppressive image of at-home parents as Super Parents--have all but obliterated the whole idea of a communal approach to family.

And even when people are aware that isolation isn't ideal or healthy, breaking the isolation requires people to be outgoing when they're often so tired they just want to go fetal on the living room couch.

So, no, you're not crazy. Streamline your list and apply any energy savings to reaching out to other parents.


Re: Damaged or, WOW.: Jeez, Carolyn, I never thought I'd see the day when you blamed the victim. You dressed it up with disclaimers a la "IF she asked your dad for help..." but really, what your answer boiled down to was a shrug of the shoulders and, "Yeah. She did. Put down the Fritos and don't let it happen to you."

Carolyn Hax: No, it boiled down to, we have to own our own lives. I have beating that drum for years, even with the touchiest of perp-victim relationships, the abusive ones. The victims are victims and didn't do anything to deserve abuse, but it's still on them to get themselves out of the trap that ensnared them. Rephrase the message however you want--I am all I have. You are all you have. Others can help, but there's only so far they can go.


Sister Act: The "What the hell" won't work. She's been awful to me my whole life. She basically is only nice when she wants something.

One of her boyfriends put it best: she treats you terribly, and then right when you're about to be done with her she'll do/say something that will make you forget.

She's a master manipulator and really - that's not going to change. I guess my question is - do I help a master manipulator move since she's my sister, or do I just focus on myself. Seems if I don't I'm being really selfish - blood is thicker than water all that jazz.

Carolyn Hax: I have to pick this up next week (I know, after the move). You can say no to the move--and you will eventually have to learn to say no to her, or yes but on your terms, not hers. The rest is about integrity vs. selfishness; you seem to be mistaking the two, and she's exploiting that.

Anyway, really must go, I'm on way too late.

Bye all and thanks.


Boston Again: Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for the insightful advice about my online-dating not-quite-boyfriend! I am definitely expecting him to be dating online, and am open to being pleasantly surprised if he is not. The reason to not check the website is to avoid myself the emotional pain of seeing the gory details (I'm human!). I'm not in denial, though... just laissez-faire for the moment. My plan is to go with the flow for a little while then bring up exclusivity -- if there is a need to -- at a time that feels natural, which to me seems like sometime later.

Thanks again!

Carolyn Hax: Sounds good, thanks.

And, yikes, I just realized I'm off next week. So that sister Q, we'll take up NEXT Friday. Thanks again and bye bye ...


Re: abusers: What is "gentle well-look-at-you resistance"?

Carolyn Hax: Look at you [doing X]


Aren't you funny [thinking Y]



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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