Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 12:00 PM
Carolyn was online Friday, Feb. 4, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. For those who have been asking: Transcripts from 2009 and 2010 have been added to the archive. Thanks, Jodi.
Are you there, Hax? It's me...: My devout Christian mother-in-law was disappointed when she learned my husband and I plan to raise our children agnostic. We will not be espousing a particular religion, but will try to introduce the kids to various ways people worship in our area. She has asked our permission to take the children to church with her on occasion, to increase the chance that they will identify as Christian later. I know she ultimately has no control over whether the kids decide to practice Christianity, but I still feel strange about saying yes--however, I also can't think of a good reason to say no. What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: When you "try to introduce the kids to various ways people worship in our area," presumably that will include Christian churches, right? So having their grandmother take them occasionally will satisfy both this part of their education on faith, and her desire to see her beliefs carried on, if not in the next generation then in whatever generation is receptive.
I can already see the argument against this, because if your mother-in-law has it in her to undermine what you're trying to teach your kids, then it might be more trouble than it's worth to let your MIL take them to church.
However, there's a whiff of reasonableness in your letter: Your MIL is "disappointed," not pitching a fit; she "asked our permission" to take the kids; she didn't insist that she be the one who keeps them from going to hell. If it is indeed the case that she has been temperate in her approach to this, then it seems like good faith (er) demands that you grant that permission.
Carolyn Hax: Another thing to consider: Instead of her just taking them to a church of her denomination, you might even want to suggest that she mix it up: one time Catholic, another Greek Orthodox, another Methodist, etc. Really make her part of the project.
Your take on this.: Recently EHarmony put out these lists of men and women's top Must-Haves and Can't-Stands.
Of note for the Deal Breaker: "racism" makes the list for women whereas men highlighted "excessively overweight"
Carolyn Hax: If you are a person of character, you will prioritize character when it's time to choose a mate. The rest is just fluff, stuffing and page views.
Washington, DC: For Christian MIL - encourage her to go with your family to other worship services. The family tie alone can be pressure. The kids should see how grandma reacts to other faiths, rather than how she practices her own. Will help put them grandma in a broader context.
Carolyn Hax: I like it, except for "rather than," I'd make it "in addition to"--again, unless Grandma is undermining.
Dallas: Hi Carolyn, I'm 27. I had a boyfriend in grad school but he wasn't very nice to me--cheating, lying, the works. Oh well, it happens. That was three years ago and I lost all interest in dating after it happened. I don't believe I was particularly traumatized, it's more that my attitude has been, why risk it, there's so much other stuff to accomplish. The issue is that I do want to be married and have kids someday, and I know remaining indefinitely single isn't going to help me achieve that. Do you think I should force myself to get busy dating even when my heart isn't really in it?
Carolyn Hax: No, but, if you're not already, it might be a good idea to get busy socializing in general. Making connections to people outside your immediate circle of friends/family/co-workers will keep you emotionally and socially "in shape," and that will put you in a position of strength if and when you start to feel ready to spend time with someone exclusively.
It may be that you never really "date" again; it's entirely possible just to have a bunch of friends, and for one of those friendships to become something more. Much easier on skeptics when it comes time to trust.
Overcoming Denial: Background facts: 1. My husband was diagnosed as an adult with ADHD; his childhood school reports read like a textbook case. 2. Our 8 year old extremely bright son is having trouble with "production" at school - getting ideas/math/stories from his head to paper. 3. My husband doesn't think much of his teacher who has been at the school 35+ years and has a somewhat formulaic approach. (It's a private school, lots of resources, well regarded if that helps).
Situation/question: we got our son's midyear report recently which comments repeatedly on how bright he is but every paragraph ends with "but he is easily distracted" or "he has trouble following multi-part instructions" or "he struggles getting his wonderful ideas onto paper." I read this and think "oh, we should probably have him tested for ADD". My husband read it and said to me "Can you believe it? It reads just like my childhood school reports, his teacher must not be seeing how great he really is."
I think he really doesn't want our son to face the learning struggles he has but is in denial; he's very sensitive about the ADD and is upset that I once mentioned to his teacher that we have a history of attention issues in the family. He thinks that handed her a formula. I think the formula's right. How do I approach this with him with sensitivity?
Carolyn Hax: He's so sensitive that you can't talk to him about it directly?
It may be that you need to find someone good who does ADHD screenings in your area (as your pediatrician), and make an appointment just for you and your husband to speak to him/her.
If it's not to the point where you can't even bring it up at home--bringing it up around a third party is quite different--then just say to him in a calm and quiet moment, "I realize you're inclined to believe Son's teacher is seeing ADHD that isn't there, just because i gave her the idea. However, ADHD is believed to have a strong hereditary component [it is]. Just in case it's not the teacher and Son really would benefit from ADHD treatment and strategies, I'd like to start the process of having him screened."
In response to any resistance, you can suggest the conference with the specialist, parents only.
San Diego, CA: Re: Christian MIL -- I was the child in this situation. My parents were raised in different faiths, so they decided not to pick for me but to make up my own mind. When I was exposed me to lots of religions, they were "pushed" on me at different levels. From some people (including my extended family) I got the hard sell, and others were more laid back in their approach in exposing me to their religion. I naturally pulled back from the hard sell... It doesn't really fit with my personality. So even if grandma does push a little, it might be a healthy part of the education process.
Also remember that while grandparents do have an influence, you as the parent have the greatest influence.
Carolyn Hax: Your experience seems right on point, thanks.
Denver, CO: My boyfriend and I, both 26, are planning on moving in together in a few months when our current leases are up. This decision makes sense, from both a financial and emotional perspective. However, I can't figure out how to tell my parents! They're both conservative Christians, and loving enough that I know they won't reject me or anything...but I'm afraid of their disappointment and how to handle/address their concerns about why we're not getting married first. Thoughts on how to broach this topic?
Carolyn Hax: Q: Why are you moving in together, vs. getting engaged or married?
Avoiding Bittersville: Hi Carolyn,
Eighteen months ago my husband & I moved across the country for a great (but temporary) job opportunity for him. I left a job I loved and am now working in a job that I hate (same profession). He was recently offered a position here that is too good to turn down - it will keep us here for six more years at least.
We came to the decision to move (and now stay) jointly. I truly believe it's the right decision. But I am a little sad for myself. I am actively looking for a new job but worry I won't find one. I have to work due to student loans, and even if I could take this time to stay home and have a baby (a common suggestion from others) I'm not ready to abandon a career I've worked hard for.
So my question: how do I keep perspective on all of this and make sure I don't become bitter if things don't work out for me career wise?
Carolyn Hax: Do people who aren't already bitter or resentful really worry about becoming bitter or resentful?
I ask this as a legitimate question, not as a rhetorical flourish. I don't know. It just seems as if someone who is feeling good about a decision won't be worried about -not- feeling good about it somewhere down the line.
So it might be the best thing you can do to help yourself through this is admit that you are feeling a little bitter and resentful at the crappiness of your options and your stuckness with them.
And then, once you've been honest with yourself (and your husband, as needed*), you'll be in a better position to assess those options. Specifically, you want to look at this as a six-year plan, including better use of your career training, attention to your loans and possibly having children.
The people in the job you loved might be a good resource for you here. What range of things to people do for that organization? What do people do when they leave it--do they go into related fields, get into business for themselves, become consultants, etc?
In the meantime, pull your husband into the issue of your student loans. Find out just how much you -have to- make to keep them tamed. You've come through for him; now let him come through for you.
Put together creative ideas + firm idea of money needs and see whether that = happier/more flexible work for you.
To keep the sadness for yourself at bay (it's normal, but terribly counterproductive), try to think of some way to redirect yourself whenever you indulge in self-pity. Run a mile? Call a lonely relative? Clean out a drawer/closet/box you never unpacked?
Q: Why are you moving in together, vs. getting engaged or married? : Now I wish someone had asked me the opposite: Why getting married, why not just live together? Now I'm in a loveless situation with no real reason to divorce except wanting some change for love. Don't marry unless you really really know this is the person you need to spend your whole life with. Getting married because people say you should do that rather than live together is an equation for disaster.
Carolyn Hax: No no, that's not what I was saying! I'm trying to see why they're moving in vs. committing. No agenda implied or intended.
Besides, people who move in together vs. marrying also find themselves in exactly your position, in epic numbers. Please don't look at your failure to shack up as the reason for your unhappy state right now.
In fact, I'm skeptical of the whole idea of there being one thing a person could have done in the past to prevent an unhappy present. Your decisions back then were the result of countless factors, including who you were at the time emotionally; you don't know what that person would have done with the changed circumstances you're envisioning.
It's much more productive instead to take what you've learned from all this, and apply it to your present and future.
"get busy socializing": this comment made me cringe because I am NOT a social person. I am not a people person. I am not a sunny outgoing person. That doesn't mean I don't want to find a life partner. I guess I'm hosed? FWIW, I'm a decade-plus older than the original writer, have had long-term relationships and am currently in one but don't think it will go the distance (mainly because it has become long-distance). How do unsocial (note: I didn't say ANTI-social) people connect?
Carolyn Hax: With less frequency than extroverts, for lesser durations, in more laid-back settings, with a greater likelihood of seeing the same people from event to event vs. a whole new batch every time. So, e.g., regular volunteer gig vs. speed dating.
I'll take your word for it that the distance is the deal-breaker, but I do hope (if everything else is great) that you exhausted all possibilities/ideas for staying together.
ADD Husband and Son: As someone with ADD, who's been taking meds and learning coping tactics since childhood but still struggles with certain things, please remind the husband that the goal here is not to "cure" the son or to compensate in any way for some failing on his part. It's to figure out how the kid works and then help to mold his circumstances and mindset to make it easier for him to excel.
Think of it as determining that you're right-handed vs. left-handed. If you're a leftie, it's ridiculous for you to keep trying to write or pitch with your right hand. You can probably do it if you try hard enough, but you know, why not just see if using the left hand works any better?
Carolyn Hax: Sounds great to me, thanks.
Texting, privacy, and cheating: Carolyn,
Do you think cell phones, email, texting, and that sort of technology have made cheating (and paranoia about cheating) more prevalent in our society? When people ONLY had land lines, you would know when someone was calling your house, when your spouse was on the phone. Letters would come in the mail - more of a chance for a person to see that someone else was contacting their spouse. Nowadays, people in relationships (even cohabiting) receive calls on their cell phone and emails to private accounts - I feel like it makes it so much easier to cheat.
Carolyn Hax: Go back some centuries, and cheaters could conceivably leave town together and start new lives as new people. No muss no fuss/attorneys.
Go back a few decades, and someone could be completely unreachable by phone for hours at a clip for perfectly legitimate reasons. Besides people who work in tunnels and nature preserves, who can claim that now?
I don't think it's productive to assess cheaters and cheating now vs. then. Where there's a will, there's a way. That's all that matters.
So, find people you trust either not to have the will, or not act on it.
Also know that there's no thing as 100 percent certainty. Accordingly, get used to living with a firm knowledge that your life isn't going to go exactly the way you have/had in mind, and be tough enough to deal with that.
Don't marry unless you really really know this is the person you need to spend your whole life with: No one can ever, ever really know that. Another reason not to beat yourself up.
Carolyn Hax: Yah. See above.
Raleigh NC: I received notification earlier this week that I'm going to be laid off as of the 15th of this month. I work in a fairly specialized field, and no one is hiring locally. I am doing what I can to prepare, checking into unemployment, looking at my savings and trying to budget. But I'm sad, scared, and stressed. But my friends and family keep going on and on and on, telling me to buck up, that things will work out, that I've always landed on my feet, that everyone is going through hard times right now. I know they're right, but frankly, I'm not in a place to hear it right now. Honestly, I want to be able to spend a few days with the blankets pulled over my head, and be able to cry a bit. But when I say that, or say anything that sounds like I'm sad or scared, I get another "buck up" speech. I'm torn between wanting to scream, slam doors, and slug something next time this happens. Any advice for how to handle the well-meaning that I don't want to hear right now?
Carolyn Hax: Stop inviting them to comment by complaining about your situation.
I know that probably doesn't sound fair--you should be able to say, "I'm scared," without fear of another "buck up" speech--but since you're not getting the, "I know, you poor thing [pat, pat]," that you'd probably prefer right now, you're stuck with two choices. Either tell them explicitly, "I'd really just like to whine a bit, please don't feel you have to cheer me up," or go under your blankets without announcing your intentions to do so.
Silver Spring, MD. : Not to get too progressive on you, but I'm a new dad and I'm having maternity leave envy. I did not expect this at all, but I am jealous that my wife gets to spend this time at home with our gorgeous 6-week-old daughter. Looking back I kind of resent that she scheduled this leave without even considering an alternative arrangement--such as half her, half me. Am I just being a dope?
Carolyn Hax: If you nurture this into full-blown resentment, then, yes, you're being a dope--especially since it doesn't sound as if -you- considered an alternate arrangement, either. At least not until now, after the fact.
You are not being a dope if you are just nuts about your new kid, want to be more involved, and use this smitten energy to figure out some way to do that. Talk to your wife, look at your family-leave policies at work, check your account balances and see what you can do.
Two of the best things parents can do for their kids is to want to be with their kids, and to want to be together. Don't make a lunge for one at the expense of the other.
Atlanta, GA: Can divorce really scar a person for life? My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years. My bf's parents divorced when he was very young. He's ideally the person I want to marry and have a family with, but he's expressed hesitation and concern, specifically what happened to his parents. We're talking this out a lot, and this is a recurring theme throughout our conversations in the past 2 years. I understand his hesitation, but I'm trying to decide when I should just throw in the towel. I'm beginning to think his parents' divorce has scarred him for life, and he'll never want to marry me even though he's never said one way or the other. How long is too long?
Carolyn Hax: I don't think those are the right questions, actually. Can divorce scar someone for life? Sure--you should see how bad some of them get. How long is too long? "Too long" is when there are things a person can do to deal with the baggage, but s/he chooses not to do them.
Neither of these says much about -your- situation. That's because you know what you have, and you know how likely it is to change based on what has or hasn't gotten better over the four years.
So now that you're at a point where you're (apparently) all talked out, the best thing you can ask yourself now is: Do I want this man, this relationship, right now, as-is? Yes you stay, no you go.
How do unsocial (note: I didn't say ANTI-social) people connect?: Participate in group settings where you can listen, learn and enjoy without having to be too active, such as book groups, lectures, tour groups, crafts. Introverted people often find that once they become more knowledgeable about a particular topic, hobby or pasttime that they are more comfortable being drawn out about that subject because they know what to say. Often, not knowing how to react to social cues, or subjects or what to say increases the social anxiety, and just knowing your subject matter can make you more responsive to social situations (if not more outgoing). I've seen many introverted people open up in a group that they've been attending for a while and feel comfortable in. And also meeting people who ultimately became a significant other; even when that wasn't the intent or goal of participating.
Carolyn Hax: All good, thanks.
Marriage and 100% certainty: Was I 100% certain before I married? No. But, I asked myself this question, "Would I still want to marry him if he got hit by a bus tomorrow and spent the rest of his life incapacitated?" And the answer was yes.
I think marriage should be taken as a serious committment, and that people should not get married unless they are willing to make that committment. He felt the same way.
I'm not sure what the standard for moving in together should be, but that also strikes me as a huge committment, not a change to make just because it is convenient.
Carolyn Hax: Another good one, thanks.
New Jersey: Carolyn,
Two years ago, I got pregnant by my mostly platonic friend, T. After agonizing quite a bit, I decided to keep the baby, whom I fully expected to raise by myself with limited help from T. To my surprise, T really stepped up to the plate and has been incredibly involved in caring for the kiddo, whom he loves dearly. Till now we have really made it work, and have never had a problem with boundaries. T and I are not romantic and probably never will be.
In mid-2010, I started dating M. We are now exclusive and serious. Unlike most guys I've met, he did not take off running just because I have a toddler, and he is loving and supportive in every way. The problem is that T cannot stand M. His reasons are unspecific and unfair, but his feelings are very strong. He does not want M around kiddo, but he makes it very difficult for me to see M without kiddo, as well (such as by refusing to babysit over multi-night stretches when he knows M and I will be together). This has caused us to have our first major fights in 8+ years of friendship. T really hurt my feelings when he said that the only reason I'm seeing M is because I think I can't get anyone better with a baby.
Do I have the right to stay in a relationship with M? And if so, how do I do it without creating major disharmony with T, who I hope will always be a part of my child's life?
Carolyn Hax: Two Qs:
1. Is T in love with you;
2. Would T consider going to counseling with you?
The reasoning behind 1 is a big duh, though it's possible T doesn't feel that way about you and just has a visceral dislike of M. It happens.
The reasoning behind 2 is that counseling (by someone good) can really help couples who have reached an impasse. You and T might not be a couple, but you're a pair who have a relationship of great consequence, to your child mainly but also to each other, as evidenced by your distress.
I hope, by the way, that -you- see the qualifiers you wrote into your question. "Mostly" platonic? "Probably" never will be romantic? That T has a problem with M, (apparently) the first man you've been serious with since your baby's conception, can't come as a shock.
Oh, and one more bit of language-related fussing. It's not "T, who I hope will always be a part of my child's life." It's "T, who I hope will always be a part of HIS child's life." See preceding paragraph.
For Silver Spring: Umm... Did he think about the fact that if his wife is breastfeeding that she is the only one to be able to feed this little girl right now? Its a lot more stressful and difficult once she goes back to work; often women have to stop exclusively breastfeeding. Plus, at only six weeks, her body is likely still trying to recover from the birthing process -- another reason why she's home. Why doesn't he just do paternity leave when her maternity leave ends?
Carolyn Hax: What I was hoping he'd do after consulting his leave policies at work.
My boyfriend has no ambition. Zero, zip, none. He's content to sit at home all day (with his parents) surfing the web. We haven't talked about it much, but I know we need to. I'm working full time and living several hours away, and I'm starting to feel a rift. How do I have a conversation with him about this? He gets very defensive and I know his current situation bothers him, but he's not willing to make any changes.
Carolyn Hax: What do you like about him? Besides pulse, respiration and boy parts. Thanks.
On a roll: I've had a few rough years...unemployment, the end of a long term relationship (my fault), an unchallenging job. Now I've got a new relationship, an interview next week, and another professional feather in my cap...and I can't help but feel as if everything is going to come to a screeching halt and come crashing down on me. I paid karmically for my bad behavior, but I can't help but feel the universe has it in for me still. Any thoughts on how to shake the negative vibes?
Carolyn Hax: You could look at it this way: You survived having your world collapse around you once, so at least you know you're able to pick your way out of the rubble and rebuild.
I.e., less "karma," "vibes" and "universe," more "My actions have consequences, good and bad." Good luck with the interview.
Bethesda, MD: Carolyn - Do you ever look back at your transcripts for nostalgic purposes?
Carolyn Hax: I have to see the recent ones to make the adapted columns. With the old ones, it's kind of like looking at pictures of myself in middle school. So, no.
From Original ADD Poster : I think he would be less sensitive if the report had come from a teacher he respected more. I can't bring it up, or rather, I can, but I have to do it pretty gently and under the right circumstances. Medication has helped him tremendously, but he is very concerned about the tendency to jump to medication for kids quickly. We do have an OT evaluation coming up and are working with a couple of specialists at the school too, so I may end up asking one of them to deliver the message. (He also knows that this is something I've been watching out for practically since our son was born and therefore may be too quick to the trigger.)
Carolyn Hax: I'm loath to back anyone who is sensitive to the point of avoiding certain topics, especially when the well-being of a child may hinge on his ability to face them like an adult--however, it sounds as if your husband does have a couple of solid points. The quickness to diagnose and medicate ADHD in young boys should give parents pause, and your being primed for the diagnosis doesn't help. (Dumping on the teacher could very well be unfair, so I'm not counting that one.)
It sounds as if you both could use the guidance of a level-headed, disinterested specialist--and by that I mean, get your boy screened by someone who isn't affiliated with the school and who wouldn't be handling the treatment. You'd need to tell said specialist that you both might be colored by bias here, and that your main area of agreement begins and ends with wanting what's best for your boy.
Withheld: Hello. This is the Army Reservist's wife again. I tried really hard to wait until my husband got home to ask him about the nearly 13,000 call minutes and 7,000 text messages between him and his colleague, but after several restless nights, I decided to look a little deeper into the situation. Early one morning, at 3 am and unable to sleep, I thought to check his email. I know what he commonly uses as a password. It worked and I was able to log into his account. I searched for her name and was devastated by what I found. The first was an email where he was offering her career advice, nothing wrong there, but at the end of the message, he put "Ilu." The next email I read was a love poem he had written to her back in March 2009, when I was pregnant with our first son. A few lines from the poem: "There is not a day or night that goes by where I do not picture you at my side. I love you deeply and do not wish to depart. But sometimes I am saddened because I am not with you from sun-up til it turns dark. The whole of me wants to keep you selfishly. As I can not see a life without you. The unborn child who is on the way is the prime reason in which I stay. I want to be a good dad and see the child everyday. However I don't want to lose you or be far away...When we first touched I knew right then you took me to a place I had never been...I stay up late working like a bee, working to have you close to me. But what about those nights I am not by your side. I think a lot, I even go and cry!" And her response back to him: "I feel the same about us, and I love you very very much. You are right I want you just for me. Some day we don't have to be apart from each other even a minute...As long as I have your love I can go on forever. My heart is with you always. There is not a moment that I don't think of you. I love you, my only love. I wish I could hold you in my arms as I say this at this moment." Later that day, I sent an email message to both of them and told them I knew about their nearly two-year long love affair. My husband's response...that she's a psychiatric nurse who is helping him with some PTSD issues (he served in Iraq from 2006-2007), thus the frequent conversations, yes they are in love with each another, no they have not been physically intimate, but they have fantasized and have shared those fantasies with each other, and they're both committed to their families (she also is married with children). Despite the fact that they have not had a physical affair, it's really difficult for me to accept that he's in love with and fantasizes about another woman. Since it drives me absolutely nuts to see her phone number on our cell phone log, and I know they won't stop communicating with each other, I've suggested to him that we get separate plans. Then at least I won't be able to see their daily phone activity. For the short-term, my husband and I have agreed just to focus on the birth of our son in a few weeks and to discuss our future together at a later time. Right now, I'm just so emotionally and physically exhausted I'm having difficulty processing everything. How can we possibly stay married if his heart is somewhere else?
Carolyn Hax: I'm really sorry. Most sorry because you realistically hoped that airing this with him would bring you to a conclusion of one kind or another, and all you got was more suspense.
I am not a therapist, but it's my understanding that a fantasy/escape world is -not- helpful for someone who us trying to get well. It's a way of avoiding the hard work of getting well. (In fact, if it's all true what your husband said, this should cost the nurse her job.)
For that reason, and because I think the best thing you can do for your children right now is to find someone to help you through this, I think it's time for you to get a professional counselor involved. You need to decide if his version of being "committed" to his family is one you want to commit to. Not immediately, or even soon, but instead whenever you're ready to make that decision.
Take care of yourself and those babies, and hang in there.
NYC: I'm going through an application process that could be pretty life-changing, in a positive way. If I'm successful, I would be moving away from my boyfriend. When I asked him a few weeks ago if he was feeling upset about this, he told me no, because "he knew we could work it out." He then proceeded to ignore the fact that anything was going on - not offering support, asking questions, being excited for me, etc. He finally admitted that he can't get excited for something that will take me away, when I confronted him, but I feel angry and upset that he's unable to be excited for me, even if it's not exactly what he wants. Now I feel reluctant to even bring it up. How to move past this? Or has this kind of been an eye-opening dealbreaker about the support I'll get from him in the future?
Carolyn Hax: I'll reread this later (but not in 2021) to see if I still feel this way, but at the moment I'm thinking:
He just got an eye-opening dealbreaker about the third-degree (plus smackdown) you're going to give him whenever his feelings don't align perfectly with your expectations.
He's upset that you might be leaving! He didn't tell you that outright, quite possibly because he knew you were excited and didn't want to rain on your parade! You confronted the truth out of him, and then got angry at him for it!
How about: "I'm touched that you're upset. I hope, though, that you can find some way to be happy for me--maybe if we both believe what you initially said, that 'we can work it out'?"
Marriage vs living together: Carolyn, why did you ask if the couple is moving in instead of committing? Isn't moving in a pretty big committment in itself? I don't think those 2 things are diametrically opposed.
Carolyn Hax: My initial answer:
"Carolyn Hax: Q: Why are you moving in together, vs. getting engaged or married?"
Follow-up was nothing more significant than shorthand for speed.
WDC: Hi, Carolyn. My husband is trying to lose weight. He is obese, his entire family is obese, and he will have health problems in the future if he doesn't do this. I am conflicted on how to support him in this. I think he wants to do it, but he regresses so often, makes bad choices, and just basically doesn't know how to eat well or say no to himself. How do I respond when he tells me he ate Five Guys for lunch...again? I don't want to be a nag, but I'm not sure why he tells me this. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: Have you asked him: "I'm not sure why you tell me this, or how I'm supposed to respond." If there's a call for more, you can go on: "I don't want to be a nag, but I also worry that you don't know how to eat well or say no to yourself. What role do -you- want me in?"
There's no right answer here--he could ask you to help him, or he could ask you not to be anything weight-loss related, just loving spouse. I can argue for either one as beneficial to a weight-loss campaign. he might also not be sure what he's asking, and talking it through could help you both.
I hope for your part that you also work on getting used to the idea of his remaining obese and having health problems because of it. Neither may come true, but if you're seeing it as a worst case and actively hoping he'll crack the weight-loss code, then your expectations could become a problem for both of you. Accept him right where he is, and see everything else as a bonus.
Carolyn Hax: I'm still here, I'm just trying to verify something ...
Baltimore: As an introvert I'd like to set the record straight. Introverts are not shy or socially inept by definition. Introverts recharge alone. In contrast, extroverts recharge in groups. Extroverts can be shy and lack social graces.
I'm sure the previous poster did not intend to make a blanket statement that all introverts are shy or are afraid to go out in large group settings but it's almost 3 o'clock and I'm tired and crank. Please leave the introverts alone!
Carolyn Hax: Okay!
Feelings not lining up: "whenever his feelings don't align perfectly with your expectations."
This hit me kinda hard. I have a couple of medical conditions that cause me to cough and clear my throat a lot. My husband gets really annoyed by it, and when he's annoyed about it he tends to act out that annoyance (i.e. huffy silences or being snappish towards me). When I call him on it he apologizes, but then I'm annoyed that he can't grow up and deal with the fact that I have these issues. (For the record I've been to the doctor multiple times trying to find a solution...lord knows I don't enjoy it, either.) So...should I not get annoyed at him for getting annoyed at me? Should he not get annoyed at me? I mean, his reaction really doesn't align with what I'd like to see (which is some understanding that I'm not doing this to annoy him, and I'd stop it if I could). If he was annoyed but just retreated to his man-cave to get away from it, I think I'd be able to deal better with it better (I know he's really sensitive to noise), but he always has to telegraph that he's annoyed, and then I end up PO'd and hurt. Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Apples and oranges. It's your husband's -behavior- that's out of line here. Huffy silences and snappishness, over something you can't control?
If you haven't told him explicitly that you'd be fine with the man-cave solution, then please do. Otherwise, you're stuck with two annoying chronic conditions--the postnasal one, and the spousal one.
BTW, I get that constant throat-clearing can irritate the heck out of people, but there are alternatives to reacting badly to the people who do it.
NYC Again: I don't have a right to be upset that he's been leaving me on my own to deal with an incredibly stressful period in my life, after he TOLD me he wasn't upset? I feel like his behavior was passive aggressive and cruel, but it sounds like you think I'm way off base here?
Carolyn Hax: I could argue you've also left him alone to deal with an incredibly stressful period in his life--and yours at least involves a "positive" change. he's just getting either uprooted or left behind.
He may have TOLD you he wasn't upset, but that also could have been his trying to rally for you, which is exactly what you're angry at him for -not- doing.
By all means, tell him you're upset that he wasn't honest with you sooner about his reservations about the whole thing, or sympathetic to your side of things; the only way to stay close through big changes is for both of you to be honest about your feelings, and for both of you to want the best for each other.
But make sure you also admit that you've let him down, too. You haven't been terribly (er, at all?) sensitive to his side of things--you want cheerleading from the guy who's about to get his world upturned?--nor does it sound as if you were clear about feeling stressed and isolated, and hopeful for his support even though this whole process might not be the best thing for him.
Obese & Weight Loss: For WDC: Your husband has to find his own motivation to do this. Wanting to lose weight and being motivated to lose weight are two different things (I wanted to lose for years but didn't until I had my own motivation). It's not something that you can be nagged into (though you can make someone thoroughly depressed by telling them they need to lose weight--which interferes with the abiltiy to gain motivation).
Tools are something different. I learned a lot about health, nutrition and exercise on my weight loss journey. If you think there's a chance you can offer something to him he might not have thought of (like Weight Watchers Online or a meeting with a dietician), great. Unfortunately, it's out of our hands to offer others motivation (though your husband might eventually decide that getting healthy to live a long life with you is motivation for him).
Carolyn Hax: Good distinction between tools and motivation, thanks. FWIW, offer to help with the tools and see whether the person wants them; don't just impose.
Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the blank spot--I've got a ton of responses in the queue to a few different threads, and I was trying to choose representative posts as a way of signing off. It was too ambitious a plan, though, so I'm going to call it. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and see you here next week.
RE: WDC: As a man who lost 50 pounds in the six months, I empathize with her husband. She mentioned that his family is obese, which is a sign that healthy eating was not something he was taught growing up. That means that like me, he is going to have to retrain himself and go against thoughts and feelings that were ingrained in him.
My advice is that when he regresses, she shouldn't beat him up about it. And, she shouldn't let him beat himself up. It happens. Acknowledge it, and let him move on.
I'm sure he's telling her for the same reason I tell my fiancee: She is worried about my health and being honest with her shows her I am still committed to losing weight. It's a way to confront it head on, instead of lying about it and slipping further into unhealthy eating.
For me, one of the most important things has been the support of my fiancee, no matter what. She doesn't judge me when I regress; she offers encouragement... and that's what I need.
WDC can help him make healthier decisions by planning healthy meals for dinner (if she cooks the meals), and provide him with support and encouragement. That goes a long way, IMO, because of how obese people tend to tie emotions to food.
Carolyn Hax: Okay, this one I'll post. (Thanks--good stuff.) If I have time to scour for other comments, I'll put them on www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax
Re: Denver: Did Denver ever respond to why cohabit v. engaged or married? Seems reasonable that if they spend the majority of the time together anyway and leases are expiring, that's as good a reason as any?
Carolyn Hax: Ooh wait--yes. I just missed it. Hang on ...
Denver, CO again: There's been a discussion of engagement, and how that's the next step and will probably go hand in hand with moving in together. He was married young before and divorced quickly, and is concerned about getting married hastily again, without the "test fit" of living together. For my part, if I'm going to get married, I want to make sure it's forever, and I feel it's hard for me to tell that without seeing how I fit with someone in the day-to-day of living together. Plus, on a fun note, we want a puppy and it's much easier to care for one if there are two of us instead of one!
Carolyn Hax: Agh, don't do it for the puppy!
Move in when you see each other being together permanently, whether you're married or not, and whether your parents would faint or not.
Get the puppy when you see you're even better in the same home than you were in two separate ones.
Get married whenever you feel the need to make things legal.
Carolyn Hax: Bye for real. Really.
Carolyn Hax: Yikes: Nick's book tour! Check out this week's dates at
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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