Dear Carolyn: I interact with my husband's ex-wife, "Debby," almost weekly at the kid handoff and other kid-related events. She is one of the sweetest people I've ever met, and she has handled our marriage with nothing but grace and maturity.
Yet there is something that really upsets me every time I see her. She has an almost compulsive need to put herself down when she talks to me, usually in the context of how I am better in some way. "I wish I had your sense of humor … [husband] deserves someone who laughs at his jokes!" or "I am so glad [husband] doesn't have to look at someone with these love handles anymore!" Sometimes they are obviously meant to be funny, but there is a core of truth that makes me feel really uncomfortable and sorry for her.
I know it is never as simple as one person's being better than another, but I am about 10 years younger than she is and don't think she would take kindly to my giving her a condescending lecture on how the chemistry between two people is its own organism or anything like that.
What do I do, just change the subject every time she does this, in perpetuity?
Carolyn says: This has so many ways to go wrong, for all the reasons you've given and a few you haven't.
So I think you say something only if you're confident you can do so with compassion but without a hint of pity — and only if you're comfortable knowing you have only one shot at it. No fixes, no do-overs.
And I think you say: "I wish you were as kind to yourself as you have been to me."
I hope you can do it. I hope she hears you.
Dear Carolyn: What age is appropriate to not invite to an adults-only wedding? There's ongoing flak from that decision a few years back with teenagers. Thanks!
Carolyn says: Whatever age the couple chose, that was more appropriate than the choice others are making to give "ongoing flak."
The "appropriate" way to handle objections to an age limit: (1) Either (a) pursue a satisfying resolution by speaking up civilly, or (b) get over it privately — immersing oneself in the twin realities of its not being anyone's business but the couple's, and its not being any more significant than a disappointment; (2) those who speak up but aren't satisfied can (a) sever the relationship with the couple, or (b) maintain the relationship and manage the dissatisfaction privately. See 1(b).
That's it. Harping on something is not only a failure of maturity, but also a failure of common sense — trading a onetime aggravation for one that never goes away.
Dear Carolyn: Wife constantly checks her phone at dinner, at games, anytime we go out. Texting, etc.
I would prefer an enjoyable evening alone with her, without her Facebook friends. Not an Earth-shattering complaint, but any suggestions?
Carolyn says: An Earth without intimacy sounds shattered to me.
On the type of occasions where you used to focus on each other — or would like to start — ask her to put the phone away-away. Explain why exactly as you did here.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.