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Carolyn Hax: Quest for public approval pushed her into marriage and is keeping her there


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, 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

I don’t know why I got married. Probably a swirling mix of low self-esteem, anxiety and the desire to prove my mother wrong about my boyfriend caused me to pressure him to propose. What I’m left with is a husband who doesn’t really love me and the sinking feeling that I made a terrible mistake.

I don’t know how much effort to put into making this work vs. cutting my losses. He isn’t a bad person, but we don’t make each other particularly happy and this isn’t a relationship where I feel treasured. I would get a divorce without thinking about it, but I’m embarrassed about the possible “I told you so’s.” I keep hoping the minister made a mistake and we’re not really married and I can just walk away.


Are you ready to spend the rest of your life miserable, and drag your husband into your misery with you, just to avoid hearing “I told you so” — i.e., just to avoid temporarily granting spectators the upper hand — from people who seek validation in your pain?

I’ve seen someone stay in a marriage just to prove the naysayers wrong, and it’s not a life I’d wish on anybody. (Well, a few people maybe, but only when I let my petty, evil twin have her say.) I bet you’ve seen such marriages yourself.

People who would exult in being right — even though it equates to taking pleasure in your failure — are not worth even a flicker of deference when it comes to running your life.

Re: Divorce:

I can see this. When my fiance totally bailed on me with no warning, I was shocked by the sheer amount of people who told me they all saw it coming.

The best part? No one wanted to tell me because they thought I’d get mad.

You’re right that those opinions shouldn’t mean anything, but it made the whole experience that much more humiliating. I don’t know if people meant well or what. But, yeah, it would have been nice to be tipped off BEFORE we put down nonrefundable deposits.

Anonymous 2

Your frustration is justified. Please also consider, though, how you react to bad news. With everyone citing fear you’d get angry, you might have a reputation for messenger-killing.


I don’t think my mother would enjoy my suffering, and probably wouldn’t say “I told you so” out loud, but I ignored her concerns (and the concerns of my friends) that he wasn’t as crazy about me as a person should be. But I wanted to prove that no, dammit, he totally loved me! And now I’m embarrassed to tell anyone this isn’t working, because I worked so hard to convince everyone it was going to be great.

Anonymous again

I’m relieved to hear your mom isn’t the told-you-so type.

That will make it easier for you to take your lumps, which will feel better now, in one big hit, than if you take them in a daily low dose for the rest of your life. For reals.

One final thought-starter: The quest for public approval apparently got you into this marriage and has all but chained you to it. Isn’t it time to find some other rules to live by?

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



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