Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Haxcellent Advice

I have a new favorite advice columnist. Her name is Carolyn Hax, and she writes for the Washington Post. I don't think her column even has a name, but I absolutely love how she cuts through the bullshit and zeros in on the issue.

Here's a great example:

Dear Carolyn: I have been dating a wonderful woman for a year, exclusively for six months. We are both 24. Our relationship is built on solid friendship; I love her fully and unconditionally.

I have reached a point in my life that I want to get married and begin a family. She makes me happy on every possible level and I could not think of a better teammate. Recently we have cooled off physically, and I attribute that to the end of the “honeymoon stage.”

I’m sure it is only my self-consciousness, but I fear the cooling down will continue beyond the normal leveling that I expected. I am fully committed to her, and she to me. We trust each other 100 percent. When I make comments about marriage and growing old together, she agrees that she also wants these things. However, when I have suggested that we move in together, she shuts me down.

She spends 90 percent of her time at my place. It makes financial sense and I believe we would both be happier. She claims she fears judgment from friends and family because we haven’t been together long enough to warrant their acceptance.

I find these sentiments to be petty and childish, and that is not her personality. She is the strongest person I know. We are adults. We know what is best for us. I fear she is being less than forthright but I do not want to accuse her of being deceptive. She has given me no reason to doubt her sincerity to date.

I have attempted to ask questions like, “Are you sure that is the only reason you are apprehensive?” and she tells me she is sure and drops the subject.

Am I worrying unnecessarily? Or is her hesitation to take the next step in a relationship that has been beautiful and fulfilling from day one a clue that she is not ready for these things? — Worried she won’t grow up

Carolyn's reply:

First: Stop busting her chops about moving in with you. She’s not ready. That’s fine.

Next: “I love her fully and unconditionally”; “happy on every possible level”; “We trust each other 100 percent”; “She is the strongest person I know”; “We know what is best for us”; “Beautiful and fulfilling from day one.”

Um. What if she makes a mistake? A sloppy, impulsive, hurtful, consequential cuss-up of distinctly human proportions?

Will you reconsider your entire opinion of her? Will you blame her for that? Will you believe she owes it to you to return to idealized form (i.e., “grow up”)?

There’s a fine line between thinking someone is perfect for you, and needing them to be perfect. It’s appreciating someone’s good qualities vs. refusing to accept the bad ones. Over that line is where most controlling behavior starts, and it’s a fine enough line that people who cross it rarely see when they do.

So please dismantle your pedestals — smash them — and worship the truth instead. She is flawed. You are flawed. The relationship is flawed.

To get you started: Your relationship hasn’t been all that since day one; you dated other people for months. Which is fine! And, you don’t know what is best for you; you know some things and guess at others, like anyone else. Which is fine! And she’s not the strongest person you know, given her immature living-together response. Which is fine! She’s 24, human, and you’re not the strongest person you know, either.

And: You don’t trust her “100 percent” — which is fine, since absolute trust is fiction — and even you don’t believe she makes you happy on every possible level. You’re plainly doubting her on legitimate fronts: sex, maturity, maybe even honesty.

The only way you’ll be able to weigh those issues rationally is if you accept that pan-happiness doesn’t exist. Here or anywhere.

Accordingly, finding someone good isn’t about finding someone with zero (or fixable) shortcomings; it’s about finding someone whose strengths elevate you, and whose shortcomings don’t aggravate yours or preempt what you want out of life.

That means you do need to trace the origin of her concern about appearances. Does she actually guide herself by them, or is she too . . . scared? dishonest? . . . to admit her real concern about moving in?

You can’t learn who she is if all you do is dance around the issue with “Are you sure?”-type feelers. Again — don’t press her to move in. Simply spell out your frustration with her answer and ask what’s behind it.

Then, most important: Be someone who can hear a difficult truth without making the truth-teller pay. If your response to bad news is to punish, withdraw or obsess — if your mind receives every outbreak of humanity as cognitive dissonance — then you’ve got important emotional work to do before you have any business committing to somebody else. The strength of a relationship isn’t in its proximity to perfection. It’s in finding intimacy and peace.

"worship the truth instead." Can she throw down some advice, or what?


And recently a friend sent me this video from my other favorite advice columnist, Dan Savage, who has similar advice on perfectionism in relationships, which he calls The Price of Admission:


What would I do without my advice gurus?


chocolatechip said...

I just came home from vacation and thought it would be fun to catch up on all the Carolyn Hax columns I missed while I was away. But the Washington Post keeps asking me for a password, and the ones on aren't working. So I said to myself, "I'll go check out the Timblog instead," and what do I find?? This post! You are taunting me!

Tim said...

Very funny, cc.

Yeah, I've noticed the same problem with the Washington Post website. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to when they let me read her columns and when they require a login. Sometimes I think it's a time embargo where they don't let me read anything in the current week. Other times I think I just read too many columns in a row and they cut me off. I don't know. Since I refuse to set up an account, even a free one, to read free online articles, I just wait and come back another day.

Marisa said...

First of all, I agree that her advice to the kid was fantastic. At 24, I was just like him.

Secondly, I hope you had a great Thanksiving!

And thirdly, I want to ask you some questions about library science programs/what you do and I realized I don't have your email. Email me at