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Carolyn Hax: Mothers seeking to give advice to grown sons


Dear Carolyn:

My 18-year-old son recently began his first relationship, with a 20-year-old girl. They’ve been attending community college together and started as friends. He still sees his friends, although he spends the rest of his time either texting, Skyping, watching TV online or spending time in person with her.

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

They are both leaving home for different four-year universities in the fall. I was looking forward to the university further progressing his independence — new people, new activities, etc. However, their universities are within eight miles of each other — they applied before they knew each other — and they found free shuttles between their schools. They both have anxiety in public places, so I’m afraid they’re just going to reinforce each other’s weaknesses and spend all their time in each other’s dorm rooms rather than taking advantage of the university experience. I like his girlfriend, but I am concerned about her influence over him.

I’d like to have an honest conversation with him about my concerns, yet I don’t want to damage our changing relationship or make him think I question his ability to handle things. Should I talk to him about this, or just wait and see what happens?

Worried Mom

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Mom wants to instruct adult son on independence. We can pause a moment to enjoy this, yes?

You do question his ability to handle things, that’s your whole letter, so I don’t think you can discuss this without sending that message. You either admit you have doubts and why, and take your chances on damage; or keep your doubts to yourself and let him figure out what he’s missing when he shuttles between campuses; or accept that shuttling between campuses is one way of “further progressing his independence” — it merely isn’t the one you’d choose for him.

If it helps, consider the reason you care so much about his branching out. There was a time in your life when you chose the safer, don’t-branch-out route and you regret it to this day, right? I’m assuming, of course, but I’d be surprised if anyone professed not to be haunted by even one of these ghosts. They’re powerful teachers on the risks of missed opportunity — an evangelizing force that churns out missionaries for the cause of living in full.

One hitch: Who has ever learned this lesson secondhand?

I sympathize with your desire to teach it to him anyway, but the college (or life, or any) experience is its own best spokesperson, and many who tune out the call of new experiences started down that road, for whatever reason, by tuning out Mom.

As you say goodbye this fall, give it one good whack — “Hey, you’ve got one shot at this experience — wring everything out of it” — then trust the strength of the pull.

Dear Carolyn:

My son is 37, well-educated, successful, great friends, many interests, never married. The women he dates have all been wonderful.

I know he wants to be married with a family, but I think he questions when he’ll know she’s “the one.” What does your professional experience tell you about how someone knows? Is there a helpful checklist? At 37, is there too much “overthinking”?

The Mom

My experience tells me that no mother can motivate a marriage-shy son, not in a productive way, no matter how deep her ache.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at

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