The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Sure, feel angry, but let her go


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 wife and I have/had been married 24 years, however, the past four years were in separate rooms and sticking it out until the last kid was in college. Last March we signed legal separation papers and, using a mediator, the divorce was friendly and going very smoothly. We continued to live together until July, then both moved to separate living places.

Shortly after moving out, I discovered that she joined a dating Web site the month after we signed separation papers — while still living under the same roof. She used pictures taken in our house, of family gatherings, cropped to show just her.

When I confronted her about this — what I believe to be a total show of disrespect to me and our family — she blew it off, saying we were done and she had to move on. But during counseling prior to signing papers, we both agreed to wait to date until we were on our own. I respected this agreement 100 percent.

She still denies any wrongdoing, and feels I should just move on. But I can’t let it go; I am very angry she did this. I believe this to be a form of cheating, dishonest and a straight kick in the groin. Do I have a right to these feelings? Should I let it go?

Angry, Yes or No

Of course you have “a right to these feelings”; they’re yours, and it isn’t anyone’s place to tell you not to have them.

I do hope, though, that you’ll summon the self-regard to let them go anyway.

Let’s agree to the grimmest interpretation: Let’s say your ex didn’t merely break a promise that you took pains to keep, but instead showed inexcusably poor taste in the family-photo cropping, coldly searched for your replacement while still living with you, did this deliberately on the sly, and knowingly violated the spirit of your mature and amicable split, which till now had been your main source of . . . pride? comfort? during this difficult time.

There. Now what? Divorce her again?

In lieu of intimacy, you just experienced four years of toe-tapping and looking at your watch. That’s a big slice of your life spent waiting for something, and deliberately not moving forward. By mutual agreement, but still.

If you choose to wait for your (ex-)wife to apologize — that’s what you want, right? — then you’re launching a whole new era of waiting for something. Don’t you feel claustrophobic just thinking about it? I do.

Again, you have a right to feel angry. You even had the right to ask for an apology (though I would have tried to talk you out of it). But your say in her business ends there. You can’t make her apologize or regret the profile, or make her take responsibility for your anger. You can’t claim some cosmic reward for being right, righteous or wronged.

You can, however, decide that “cheating” isn’t possible for people with long-standing, signed divorce plans; that people often “agree” just to get someone off their backs; that that’s wrong, but so is getting on someone’s back; that trying to control others only invests you in decisions you don’t get to make; that you can shape your future but can’t rewrite your past. Please set her, and yourself, free.

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



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