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. For more than 20 years she has answered thousands of reader questions about everyday life — friendships, dating, parenting, in-laws, siblings, exes, dogs.

The Post is publishing collections of Carolyn’s columns that address different sides of familiar issues. Below are excerpts from and links to Carolyn’s columns about taking the high road in a breakup.

Proceed with grace. Never drunk-dial.

A self-declared "late bloomer" wrote to Carolyn in 2014 about the best ways to weather their first breakup. What's the best breakup etiquette for the dumpee? Is this even a relevant question when someone is hurt or angry the relationship is over?

Here's what Carolyn said:

The question is at its most relevant when there are hurt or angry feelings involved, since we need far fewer civility guidelines when we're feeling calm and at peace.

It's hard for me to say what "good dumpee conduct" (a fine dark horse for a band-naming contest) looks like for your situation when I don't know what happened between you. But, I think you'll be okay with these general guidelines: saying thank you for any candor that isn't plainly intended to wound; not trying to score points (including but not limited to lashing out, trashing Dumper to anyone who will listen, seeking vengeance); not begging to reconcile; and for the love of bloomers late, prompt or bunched, never drunk-dialing. Accept the breakup as fact, and gracefully look forward from there.

Read the full question and response here.

Focus on the present. Worry about the long term later.

After traveling for a work trip, a reader came home to texts from their fiance abruptly ending the relationship. He blocked their number, moved out and signed over a shared home.

"I have a 7-year-old son, and my ex has two sons," the reader wrote in 2017, saying the loss felt like a death. "We were a family."

The reader asked Carolyn: What's next in carrying on? How do I learn to trust again?

Here's what Carolyn said:

So awful — I'm sorry.

I think you're as close as you can get to an answer in treating this as a death. Something so sudden and transformative and final (with the added slap of his having chosen it) has a set of rules of its own — along with license not to hold yourself to any rules too tightly.

The first step is relieve yourself of any responsibility to figure out long-term issues like how to trust again. Your job now is to think of the immediate, because that's plenty. Housing. Kid's emotional needs. Getting through today, then tomorrow, then the day after.

Our bodies are built to help us through truly horrible things by, for lack of a cheerier word, normalizing even acute pain. What is agony now will dull with time. And, as it dulls, your abilities to function will return, including those that help you make sense of what happened and help you rebuild your optimism. Which is, of course, emotionally synonymous with trust.

Obviously people can get stuck in this process and may need help getting there.

So the moment you get your housing resolved, yes, therapy for you, whether you're stuck or not. A support group might also help you on the cheap — check NAMI (nami.org) for listings.

You probably know this, but I'll say it anyway: Anyone who can leave so abruptly has problems serious enough that you can't assume all or even half of the blame for the outcome yourself.

He also isn't representative of most people; he's a sick outlier.

But that's for later. Now, just console yourself and your boy.

Read the full question and response here.

Stop avoiding places where you may see them. Break the mystique.

Someone wrote to Carolyn in 2018 about a friend, Jane, who's beginning to date the reader's ex-boyfriend "John," "the one who got away." The questioner dated John for about three years and still avoided some places in order to not run into him more than a year after the breakup.

The question posed to Carolyn: What to say to Jane? Is it possible to stay friends and stay quiet about the ex-boyfriend who broke the letter-writer's heart?

Here's what Carolyn said:

Tough one, and not much you can do about it. I'm sorry.

But the few things you can do have the potential to make a significant difference:

1. Stop avoiding these places you're avoiding. You need to demystify them, the sooner the better, especially now. Running into John in the new context of not being his girlfriend is the best way to render seeing him — and render him — as ordinary as possible. If you were stuck seeing him every day, next door or at the next desk or whatever, then that could interfere with getting over him (or accelerate it, depending), but you're talking occasional contact, so the more that happens, the more of a nonevent it becomes.

As it stands, the "ready myself" plan of avoiding him completely has probably only fed the John mystique. You want to land in the middle somewhere.

2. Don't stay quiet, but don't go all in, either, with a prediction that your friendship with Jane likely won't survive. Just say the minimum: "That will be tough for me, I won't pretend otherwise. I'm glad you told me though."

3. If Jane and John become a thing and you conclude that's it for you and Jane, then don't "silently pull away." Again, just say the minimum: "I'm happy you've found happiness. I tried to be okay with it, though, and learned it hurts too much to be around you two. I hope you'll understand."

By the way — he's not the one who got away. He's still around, so he's the one who didn't fit. Please, please trust that and free yourself of the image of him you've built up.

By the way, I haven't addressed Jane's choices here for a reason. It's possible she could have avoided John with your feelings in mind, but callously chose not to — and it's also possible she was innocently friendly with John and they fell for each other organically. Dwelling on the "Which was it?" question is wasted emotional energy. Focus on what you need and let the Jane question answer itself.

Read the full question and response here.


We're publishing collections from Carolyn's past columns that touch on common relationships in our lives — regarding marriage, dating, in-laws and more. If you have a topic you'd like to see covered or any feedback, tell The Post.

Is this collection helpful? If you're new, let us know in the comments. If you're a long-time fan, tell us if there's another column worth adding here.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at bit.ly/haxpost.