All I learned in life, I got from Carolyn Hax.
No. Not quite true, and it’s too much of a burden to place on Hax, The Washington Post’s beloved relationship columnist.
However, there’s a lot to learn from the columns of CH, as she’s referred to by dozens of loyal readers known as Hax-Philes. Questions pour from all corners, all sorts of relationships: spouses, ex-spouses, siblings, parent/child, co-workers, you-name-it. And occasionally from people who have no real relationship with the other person at all, like the young woman offended by the stranger staring at her chest during a restaurant dinner – I wish she’d written Miss Manners, too, for one of Miss M’s typically scathing and witty answers to rudeness.
How about the recent Hax question from a young man who’d managed to sustain such bad emotional garbage after a short-term girlfriend cheated on him that he didn’t feel he could trust another woman? Hax’s last paragraph: “The ending where you control your life goes like this: ‘I can’t believe I’ve given her this much power over me — and also judged all women harshly based on one woman’s actions.’ That ending is yours, today, if you choose.” Or the woman who confides she’s “so proud” of her friend’s improving self-esteem, but is the friend displaying too much ego? Carolyn asked, in part, “Even if you’re peers in the eyes of the world, there’s a master-protegé element to your friendship. Is this someone who has looked up to you in the past, and sought your approval accordingly? And who is now road-testing her own sense of herself?”
One reader posted, “I am convinced that Carolyn Hax holds all the secrets of the universe”. As in this CH gem: “Sometimes reality works better than what we think we want”, meaning, hey, actually sit down and talk to your significant other, find out if you’re really on the same track, if you share the same fundamental values . . . because, sweetie, if you don’t, your marriage is going to make a six-car smash-up look tame.
The Hax-Philes themselves are a hardy, opinionated lot who respond to questions, to CH’s answers, to each other. They’re often enlightening, usually witty and well-spoken, and can be scornful to people who post cruel responses. And they’re candid to a fault. Want affirmation for cheating on your spouse? You won’t find it chez Hax-Philes. Dealing with a flatmate with gross-out habits? Grow a backbone and set guidelines. Thinking about telling a pregnant wife about a brief sexual affair that happened pre-marriage? Fuggeddaboutit.
One of the most wonderful things about Hax’s column is the growth it engenders. You can feel it, you can even read about it from readers who remark that they hadn’t “thought about it that way before”. People who differ on age, sex, education, background, race, national origin, and opinions (“He should.” “He shouldn’t!”) acquire the perspectives of those whom, perhaps, they’d previously considered entirely unintelligible. It’s like a giant water-cooler discussion (remember those?) held over days, open to anyone who cares to write.
Want to drop in on Human Development 101? Get thee to Hax.