EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions today. It’s been fun talking about advice instead of advising, but I hope you will come back for the advice, too. Submit questions here: https://thewashingtonpost.formstack.com/forms/carolyn_hax_questions

And here’s the live chat link again: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/advice/carolyn-hax-discussions/

And my author page: https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/carolyn-hax/

Carolyn Hax here, hi everyone. I look forward to your questions about my advice column for The Washington Post. 

I got this job in 1997 as a reward for being 30 and exceedingly snarky to my editor at The Post about the quality of advice columns for younger readers. My version launched with an “Advice for the Under-30 Crowd” tag that we later scrapped as too limiting. Nick Galifianakis, my then-husband, has illustrated the column since its first year, and we’ve been syndicated since 1998.

I’ve been at this for more than a quarter century but won’t attempt to advise anyone at AMA speed. Today is more for questions about being an advice columnist, a weird way to make a living. So, what would you like to know? I’ll do my best to answer, and thanks for having me here. 

Bio: https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/carolyn-hax/?itid=nb_carolyn-hax

PROOF: https://imgur.com/a/KthBMz1

Comments: 111 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

menley69 karma

Hi, Carolyn! Longtime reader of your column.

I often find myself struck, when reading the reader's question, by the fact that their question seems to come from a brain that is residing on an entirely different planet than mine ("how on earth could they think this is a reasonable thing to say or do?!") What's a reader question you've received that made you struggle the most to understand their headspace?

washingtonpost76 karma

I almost feel mean bringing this one back up, because my readership and I picked her and her arguments apart down to the last pinfeather, but she was a super great sport about it in a follow-up so I hope amplifying her in that way is some small compensation.


But here’s a point I think is more important than any given alien dispatch: Reading stuff like this, where you have no idea what brought someone to this place, is like ... um ... not getting an analogy here ... superfood for building empathy. It’s like reading good fiction, or travel: Peeking inside someone’s mind forces us out of our silos. Maybe my answer won’t be sympathetic – in this case bc she was absolutely trashing her nearest and dearest with her assumptions – but every letter adds to my data stores about how people think, live and act.

ThatguyIncognito58 karma

What's the one piece of advice you've given over the years that, upon reflection, you most regret?

washingtonpost88 karma

I wish I could name a specific column, because it would illustrate my point and I could explain myself to the OP. Mostly, though, I feel this when I read through old columns (which I run during my vacations) and see them through different, older, higher-mileage eyes. It’s rarely a big oops, more like an, ugh I wish I’d said that better. I don’t like to read my old stuff.

madesense46 karma

Will you be participating in the strike tomorrow? Why or why not?

washingtonpost116 karma

Yes, with a heavy heart, because I have worked at this company since 1992 and my people are my people without regard for who’s on which side of the line. I know that's not unique to me by any stretch. But the Guild-covered employees have been without a contract for too long and are asking The Post to give them what their peers have at similar publications. (My job is Guild-covered.)

superturtle4842 karma

Hi, I'm a Washington Post reader and their advice columns are a guilty pleasure of mine! Not a knock, they seem like a more vetted and reasonable version of the "am I the asshole" subreddit (the crazy Internet crowd-sourced version of your column) and I rarely disagree with the advice given. What do you think makes someone qualified to be an advice columnist if they're just starting out without a track record and don't have a certification like a therapy background? How does a newspaper decide that a particular writer gives good advice? And finally, how do you or the newspaper decide on which questions to take?

washingtonpost44 karma

I take that as a compliment, actually.

I’ll answer your Qs in order:
Must not get people hurt; must write advice that doesn’t hurt people in a writing style that resonates with readers; must be a question I feel strongly about and can answer with DIY suggestions. I pick the Qs myself, though my editors now winnow them down to pile I select from, which makes them better, IMO. It’s not just one person thinking it might be interesting, it’s two people :)

Illustrious-Egg-4337 karma

What is the typical time lapse between you receiving a letter and the response being published in the paper?

washingtonpost1 karma

It has grown over the years. When I first started, it was possible for me to write for print a day or two later. Once I went into syndication, in 2000-whatever, I had a hard deadline a week before publication. That meant I was aiming for a few days before that, in case anything went wrong. That was around when I had a small day-care’s worth of little kids at home, so I built a cushion on top of that. Then when the pandemic hit, I got into the habit of having a full week’s worth of columns ready to go in case I or a family member got really sick. That felt great so I kept it up. Tl;dr, I am writing today for early January.

Fishinabowl1135 karma

When you give advice, do you often consider that you may only be getting one side of the story from the letter writer?

washingtonpost55 karma

Always. That factors into every answer I give, and in fact it informs the way I answer questions. I try wherever possible or necessary to give multiple options and different ways to perceive a situation. Each answer and situation is different, but where I can I advise ways to think, questions to ask someone else, questions to ask ourselves. I get accused of being wordy but I make a point of exploring not directing.

saki444432 karma

When you’re answering a question, do you ever search your email to see if the same LW has asked you a question before? If so, have the results ever affected your response (or whether you respond) to the current question?

washingtonpost68 karma

Sneaky good question. Yes, and yes, but only when I need two hands to count the submissions. I had one serial faker who kept changing the name but used an obscure ISP and it was almost entertaining to find and delete them. There were a few quirks of phrasing that gave them away.

BTW, I have said this before and it bears repeating, I don’t lose sleep over the possibility of fakes – as long as it is a feasible and relatable situation for which there’s a feasible and relatable answer, I have nothing but whatevers about its underlying facts. I figured out early on that I can’t know, so I don’t try.

justheretolurk33221 karma

Carolyn! I don’t have a question, just wanted to say I’ve read your column every morning for the past 15 years, since I was a teenager. In fact, this summer I got married and quoted one of your columns in my vows! (It was “Good marriages have a feeling of inevitability to them.”) I googled to make sure I had the wording right and was surprised to realize the column was a decade old - I guess it really stuck with me.

Your column has meant so much to me and I credit your steady kindness and clarity in helping me navigate some of the toughest periods of my life. Thank you.

washingtonpost1 karma

Thank you, and congratulations.

Agile_Possibility20 karma

I’ve been a fan from the beginning— you gave me some excellent advice online in 1999 that helped me jettison a bad fit boyfriend, so thank you! My question is after reading decades of the same relationship problems repeating themselves with different people, have you considered writing an advice book? It feels like there are so many obvious relationship red flags that people writing in are oblivious to (or ignoring), and you have a very unique perspective that might help people be more aware of them before they end up needing to write you!

washingtonpost1 karma

I wouldn’t mind if someone helped me assemble a book but I do not want to write one. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my limitations over the years, and one of my bigger ones stands in the way of taking on long-term writing projects. To me they feel like torture.

PlaneIncome394613 karma

About how many letters do you receive? In a week, for example, or a day?

washingtonpost17 karma

No idea. I get hundreds just in my (almost) weekly live chats, which can find here if you want to join in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/advice/carolyn-hax-discussions/

Band_Small12 karma

What’s it like still working with your ex husband all these years later!? And what is his relationship with your family like?

washingtonpost56 karma

It’s great, really. We trust each other implicitly with each other’s work. Nick has a good relationship with my family as well, both immediate – he has his own connection to each of my kids – and extended. My sisters are in touch with him, plus he traveled a hardship distance to attend my dad’s funeral this summer. He and his wife spent a couple of Christmas Days with my whole family at our house when they were living near us and far from their own families. I can’t say enough good things.

pattheflip12 karma

Which other advice columnists do you read, and who do you disagree with frequently?

washingtonpost53 karma

I don’t read advice columns. I could pass it off as not wanting to pick up ideas inadvertently from my competition, but really it’s because I live in one every day and it’s not where I want to be after that. I have read them though, of course, and will refrain from comment on the one I eyeroll every single time I do check in, but I will say that I am pro-Dan Savage.

sadolddrunk12 karma

What do you think is important to know for advice recipients? How can someone on the receiving end of advice best determine whether that advice is good or bad? What is the worst advice you ever received, and did you know it was bad advice at the time?

washingtonpost29 karma

I’d tell my advice recipients to stay out of the comments if they’re feeling raw. There are a lot of thoughtful people weighing in, but there are also some pot-stirrers and that can make the experience of seeing your letter in print – already a little disorienting – into a nightmare.

I’d tell advice recipients in general to ask themselves what advice they were hoping for and why. Often we ask around because we don’t like our options and want a better one, when a better one isn’t out there — or else we’d have thought of it already. If we already know the answer and haven’t done it, then it’s time to ask why.

I’d also recommend going into advice-seeking with the understanding that your part is the only thing you can change—so you have to be willing to hear what you can do, even if something isn’t your “fault” per se.

I’ll advise a wife, for example, who’s upset about her husband to change X, Y and Z, and people will get upset that I’m not telling the husband to change. Like I have that power! I can only talk to the person asking me the question. If the husband writes in, then I’ll be glad to advise him to A, B and C.Worst advice ever: “The Rules.” Horrific.

eleiele9 karma

How did you discover your voice without being a professional therapist? Where do you think you got that intuition?

Have loved your columns for years - thanks 😊

washingtonpost21 karma

No no thank you!
I think my voice comes from the way I look at these situations: like emotional word problems. These things just have a logic, in my head at least, and it is interesting and satisfying to me to tease them apart to figure out how they work, what changes are possible and whether they might work. A therapist friend once described my stuff as flow charts, and that makes sense to me too.

MouseRat_AD9 karma

Did you feel unqualified to be an advice columnist when you first started?

washingtonpost32 karma

Yes, in the same way I still do. I am just a regular person winging it, and in that sense I have no standing to tell people what to do. But that’s what’s great about the institution of advice columns: They’re all about regular people holding forth on stuff. The only difference now is that I’ve read a lot more since then, I’ve lived through a lot more, and I type a little faster.

nathantcash9 karma

What is the most memorable question you have answered?

washingtonpost24 karma

Oh, definitely the one from the mom (?) of a small child, saying she and her partner regretted becoming parents.

skywalkerbeth9 karma

What is the most common theme you see; what is the most common thing we could all do to avoid the problems you see the most?

washingtonpost32 karma

Take things personally that are not personal. It’s not just something I’ve come to believe through the column, either. Becoming more of a lizard in my own personal life – i.e., taking things as objective fact and not reacting so much – has been life changing. It’s of a piece with “fundamental attribution error,” where we see all the nuances and mitigators in our own decision-making but assume the simplistic worst of others. If you start looking at things through a more is-what-it-is lens, things get ... maybe not easier, but simpler.

tdcthulu5 karma

Has your advice column gone through any noticeable "eras" over 30 years?

I imagine during society altering events like the 2008 recession and COVID that most questions will relate to those events.

washingtonpost2 karma

There are definitely theme moments, the pandemic most of all. So many questions about overwhelm and despair. But a lot of my questions represent life going on stubbornly as always. People really inspire me that way, in their toughness. Even through despair.

I also can argue for column eras that reflect my personal life and arc. There are the columns from before my mom died of ALS and after, which I think represent the most distinct change in era. Pre-kids and post-kids are probably also different. Learning from my kids in their teen years has been a transformative privilege, as has my own aging process. I don’t see questions or myself or the world the way I did when I started this at 30, nor would I want to.

saki44443 karma

Have you ever used a question that was originally submitted for a live chat as a regular column question instead of as a chat question? Or vice versa?

washingtonpost1 karma

I use chat questions in columns all the time. Sometimes I copy-paste them out of the queue mid-chat, because I want to answer but recognize it’s a bad topic to attempt under pressure.

3H3NK1SS2 karma

You have a very active and vocal fan base. What are the pluses and minuses of having so much feedback?

washingtonpost1 karma

I will miss a lot of things about this job when I retire, but not the scrutiny. That’s not to say I don’t welcome it as a benefit. It’s right that I’m held to account, and I learn a lot from it, too. Plus I find the comments fascinating in their own right. But I don’t like attention in general.

And I think the comments can be rough on the letter-writers when there’s a pile-on. Each commentator is saying one thing, as we encourage, but when it becomes 1,000 versions of the same correction, that can leave a mark. I urge LW's not to look if they're not ready for it.

And it drives me nuts to read a comment that basically restates what I said as if I didn’t say it. But that’s just me being vain.

PlaneIncome39462 karma

If at some point you decide to retire (please don't), do you think you'll have any say in who your successor is? If so, why will it be me? ;)

washingtonpost1 karma

My retirement is not imminent so The Post and I haven’t talked about it at all. When the time comes, I will weigh in if they want me to, and I won’t if they don’t. I don’t envision a “successor” at all, though. I do my thing, and it will end when it ends. Whatever comes after that will be someone else’s thing. This isn’t a Dear Prudence situation.

Illustrious-Egg-432 karma

When you go to social gatherings do friends/family ask you for advice? If they do, how do you respond?

washingtonpost1 karma

It is very rare for my friends and family to treat me differently based on what I do.

Askymojo2 karma

Hi Carolyn, I've been reading your column since it first started and I was a high schooler with ink-stained fingertips from real actual newspapers. Some of your earlier columns especially had this unique way of framing your arguments in this circular manner that more led the reader to their conclusion vs just telling them what to conclude. I really learned a lot about how to express my feelings in a healthy way from you. Reading your column is likely a daily meditation to me now.

My question to you is this, what are you interactions like with members of the public who meet you? I'm sure it must be a strange experience if you meet someone like me who is a perfect stranger to you, and yet to me you feel almost like a big sister. How do you deal with those para-social dynamics? Have your moments of recognition been mostly positive or not, and do people sometimes want to put you on the spot for advice?

washingtonpost1 karma

These have been entirely positive for the simple reason that they’re a ridiculous privilege and compliment. (Well, that and no one has yet come up to me with ill intent.) At the same time, I am an introverted creature who used a spousal job opportunity to go hide someplace where I have little name or face recognition, and I don’t mention what I do unless asked. So there’s that.
At the risk of sounding like Stuart Smalley, thank you so much for the affirmation.

wsch2 karma

How do you know the people writing to you are seeking genuine advice and not just making up a story?

washingtonpost1 karma

I don’t.

saki44442 karma

Have you ever edited down a LW’s question if it’s too long (or for any other reason)?

washingtonpost2 karma

I edit letters down for length all the time. I have a tight word count and letters often are longer than my allotment for the entire column. I don’t edit “for any other reason” (except errors) if it might affect the writer’s intent.

eury132 karma

Hi Carolyn - I just wanted to say I've been a reader of your column for many years and I appreciate your empathy and point of view. There have been a number of times I've taken your words to heart, even when they were responding to someone else's letter.

Thank you for doing what you do!

P.S. Okay, fine, one question - is Nick Galifianakis as funny in person as his comics indicate?

washingtonpost2 karma

Nick is genuinely funny in person. To self-credit where due, we co-write the cartoon lines, to make sure the humor in them both stands alone and complements the column. But the images he comes up with to give them life, those subtle expressions, are his. By the way, he has done a workshop or two as an adult, but otherwise he’s entirely self-taught. Astonishing talent.

PlaneIncome39462 karma

How long do you usually spend on an answer?

washingtonpost1 karma

Anywhere from a minute or two (in a chat) to 57 years, if it’s something I’ve been wrestling with my whole life.

jacquilynne1 karma

Which do you enjoy more - quickfire answers in the weekly chat or the (presumably) less frenzied pace of the column?

washingtonpost2 karma

I’m glad for both. Each is a respite from the other. Quick answers can be stressful but the slow ones can be quicksand.

Ask_me_4_a_story-10 karma

Do you feel bad working for a terrible person like Jeff Bezos?

washingtonpost17 karma

I do not. I have been at The Washington Post for a long time, so I know what it was like back when Ben Bradlee strode through the newsroom, and when Craigslist killed classified ads and brought the whole newspaper business to its knees. I saw the difference when Don Graham, whom I respect immensely, brought Jeff Bezos in to inject cash into the operation. Just in general, I can hold agreement and disagreement in the same opinion of someone. Comes in handy.