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Carolyn Hax: Good advice for a nephew’s fiancee


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My nephew has a girlfriend I adore. He’s a great guy, too — he’s always been so sweet to my husband and me. They just got engaged (they are mid-20s).

Recently she confided to me a lot of worries she has about the marriage. She told quite a few stories that make him sound like a control freak (for example, he “won’t let her” keep her maiden name). I know she already has made sacrifices — career choice, location — in order to support his choices, and I’ve not seen similar sacrifices on his part.

After she shares her worries, she sighs and says she’s “stuck with him.”

Their parents are very traditional and thrilled they are getting married; I worry this is a big reason she said yes. Neither has ever had another serious relationship, and I think she’s terrified to be alone.

I know people have to make their own mistakes; I know my worries also may be groundless. But I am worried. When I hear things that alarm me, I say, “Is that okay with you?” That’s when she says she’s stuck with him.

Preventing Marriage Mistake?

And that’s when you say, “No, you’re not. I love my nephew and I think you’re wonderful, but you’re a grown woman, free to do what you think is right for you.”

She needs to hear this from someone who believes it and, even more powerful, comes from his “camp.”

Then she can go off and mess her life up all she wants.

Hi, Carolyn:

I got married last year and am midway through my first pregnancy. Both of these blessed events have hit my sister “Kate” pretty hard. Kate is 37 and discouraged by not having found The One yet; she is starting to make comments about how worried she is that she will never have children.

I am 34 and met my husband online. I’ve encouraged Kate to try online and other non-obvious forms of dating; she rejects every one because she believes dating should be organic.

I see where she’s coming from, but know she’s closing off countless opportunities. I don’t know how to help anymore. What do you think?


I think she’s not asking for your help. She’s essentially saying, “I want what you have and resent you for having it,” to which you need to say, essentially, “Bummer, but it’s not that simple.”

Because it isn’t that simple. As you’ve pointed out, your sister wants certain things a certain way — and that’s always a gamble in life, but particularly in mate-selection, since 50 percent of the control is in someone else’s hands.

That doesn’t make it her fault she’s without spouse and child, of course, but it does make her more of an architect in her life than maybe she wants to see right now.

That also suggests your two reflexive answers — “Poor you” and “Date online or stop complaining” — are off-target. Closer to it are answers along the lines of, “I’m excited, but I worry, too, that life will break my heart. I suspect we all do.” Get out of the conceptual rut that a good life looks one way and a disappointing one looks another. Whether she follows you out is her call.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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