Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answers letters about a possibly cheating spouse and a boyfriend about to meet his gal's six older brothers.
DEAR CAROLYN: Do you think there is any reasonable explanation for a spouse to spend 7 to 10 hours a week on the phone or texting with someone of the opposite sex whom they met online?
Dear Spouse has several three-hour phone calls a week, and texts when the rest of the family is not around (deletes history)… . I’ve asked about this several times, and expressed my concern that there is more than just a friendship brewing, but have been shut down and told not to invade Spouse’s privacy. Not sure what else I can do.
DEAR MARRIAGE: You can assume the worst, and decide what you’d do in that case.
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Once you’ve got a clear action in mind — “If this is as bad as I suspect it is, then I will X” — the next step is to decide whether you want to do X no matter what the truth is behind the calling and texting. After all, even without knowing the full truth, you have a substantial piece of it: three-hour calls, and his tending to your concerns by flipping you the bird.
The next step is to decide what you would need from him to keep you from doing X. Then, you ask him for that, and weigh the outcome.
I realize this is a dry little flow chart for a deeply emotional process, but it’s common for deep emotions to make simple processes seem more complicated than they are. All you’re looking at here is whether you will accept the status quo, and, if not, how you’re willing to change it.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am going to meet my girlfriend’s six older brothers for the first time. She has repeatedly warned me: “They’re going to give you a hard time,” but whenever I ask what that means, she doesn’t really have a firm answer, just, “Oh, you know, they can be protective older brothers.” How much of a “hard time” am I supposed to tolerate?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Six older brothers! That’s a Southwest “Wanna get away?” ad.
A well-meaning hard time, you tip your hat to; mean-spirited, you indulge none of it — though either way, what will matter more is your girlfriend’s support.
If you find yourself in the midst of a worst-case scenario — mean-spirited attacks, no air support — try to keep in mind that getting defensive or shrill serves no one, you least of all.
The alternative isn’t easy or appealing, either, since it involves assuming this attitude: “OK, have your fun, I’m here for only 48 hours but this sorry life is yours full time.” That, in turn, involves otherworldly restraint. But a wry smile, an occasional “wow” and a timely walk around the block will get you pretty far.
If you’re tempted to give as good as you get, make sure you’re skilled at doing so to disarming effect. Most aren’t, and have a trail of escalations to show for it.
And now that I’ve laid a foundation of gloom and abuse, I’ll advise the nearly impossible: Try not to go into it with all of your dread engines running. Assume it will be a perfectly bearable time, laughs had by all, even at your expense, no lasting harm intended, because that’s usually how these things go.