The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: When unmarried means uninvited


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 parents make a strong, overt distinction between married and non-married significant others, meaning the former are included in absolutely everything, appropriate or not, and the latter are routinely excluded from things that are family-only.

For instance, my sister’s husband was invited to (and attended) my otherwise all-women baby shower, while my boyfriend, now the father of my child, was not invited to our annual holiday vacation. Mom’s argument is that being treated like family is one of the benefits/incentives of legal marriage. (I would like to get married but realize it’s not right for my boyfriend and me at this time.)

I declined to go with them, but now I’m seething at being forced to make that choice. I’m trying to see things Mom’s way. What are your thoughts?


Mom sounds bullheaded and arbitrary, and from an outsider’s distance I dig the irony of a “pro-family” move that splinters a family.

But since my opinion counts for nothing here, and since dwelling on the rightness or wrongness of Mom’s policy hasn’t gotten you anywhere (nor is it likely to), your better bet for pondering is your situation.

Are you doing all you can to serve your child, your sense of what’s right and the health of your relationship? If not, then answer your Mom agitation by focusing on what your own family needs — not by your mom’s standards, but by yours. And if you feel you are meeting those needs already, then use that as an internal rebuttal to your mother, and keep reminding yourself that you’ve got the right priorities for your circumstances.

It sounds as if your mom believes that priorities are independent of circumstances, and that’s just a different world view from yours, one she’s entitled to just as you are to yours.

Dear Carolyn:

What do you have to say about two people who have a child together, but insist they are not ready to make the marriage commitment? Are these two types of commitment really so different, or is that (as I see it) just a huge load of bull?


Funny you should ask.

I’d have to know the circumstances to call something bull, because there’s often a reasonable explanation for something that appears off. (And as everyone knows who has been to a traditional, all-hoops-jumped-through wedding of two people who turned out to be terrible together, there can be a whole lot that’s off about something that appears sound.)

To give an example of something I’d call reasonable, take a statistic that I dug up a while back for a column. A couple of sources put the rate of premarital sex among American adults at 85 to 95 percent. So, darn near everybody. And since birth control (and self-control) can be imperfect, sometimes unready couples conceive. And sometimes these couples decide that despite their unreadiness as a couple, they like each other enough and want children enough to want no part of abortion or placing their child for adoption. So, they step forward gingerly into the business of being a family.

That’s just one example of a cart-before-horse couple who I wouldn’t call a “huge load of bull” or banish from Christmas — but, then, I can only Christmas for myself.

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

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.