Carolyn Hax Sides With Bobby Darin, And Dazzles With Her Ethics Advice Again

Syndicated relationship advice columnist Carolyn Hax is as trustworthy an ethicist as I know. She doesn’t call herself an ethicist, and probably doesn’t think of herself as one, but she is far better qualified in the field than many with advanced degrees and tenured teaching positions, not to mention the corporate compliance hacks who write Ethics Codes for the likes of Enron. Carolyn Hax is an ethicist and a superb one because she has an innate, instinctive, nuanced and perceptive understanding of right and wrong, as well as remarkable skill at ethical analysis.

She proves this routinely in her weekly columns, but occasionally special attention should be paid. That was the case last week, when she was asked her blessing by an annoyed fiance on a decision to exit the relationship because her betrothed had decided to reject an offer to enter the world of high finance in favor of pursuing a career as a carpenter, concluding:

I’m seriously considering walking away because I think he is being really selfish given the long-term prospects. I am a professional and have supported us through his two-year master’s program. I am at my end here — what do you think?

In as nice a manner as possible, Hax nails what is wrong with this, saying in part:

You want him to choose a career path that doesn’t interest him just because it would finance a specific lifestyle to which you’d like to become accustomed. How is that not “really selfish”?

He is deciding who he is. It’s taking him a while, and costing you both a lot to get him there, but those are just details. The barest fact is that he’s doubting the white-collar path. I think that’s his prerogative, especially as a still-unmarried person…

Laid bare, the question you face is: Can his searching plus your certainty work? Can you, as you are, be happy with him as-is? Anything can work if you both want it to badly enough, I suppose. But you don’t want to love him as-is. You want him to be who you envision, so you’re seeking validation for the idea that he should white-collar himself to your liking.

You won’t find it here.

If financial security is your priority, then no one gets to overrule that — just as you don’t get to tell him what his priorities are. Partnerships add an asterisk, but you’re not fully in one yet.

And I can underscore that it’s your prerogative to break the engagement, for any reason. Just don’t succumb to the temptation to make him the bad guy. “This isn’t right for me” is harder to admit but ultimately so much classier — not to mention accurate — than “You’re wrong.” You can love him and even encourage his quest for fulfillment and still veto marriage…

Do read the whole reply. Hax begins with a Golden Rule approach,  simultaneously pin-pointing what a biased and self-centered analysis misses, while still giving proper weight to the competing objectives in search of a fair and responsible result. This is more difficult than it looks, and it looks easy because Hax excels at complex ethical analysis.

Incidentally, my son, who belongs to an extended family almost completely made up of advanced degree-holders and professionals, wants to be an automobile mechanic. I’m proud of him, and proud that he never doubted that his decision to pursue what he loves would be applauded by his parents.


3 thoughts on “Carolyn Hax Sides With Bobby Darin, And Dazzles With Her Ethics Advice Again

  1. I read Carolyn Hax regularly — that is, as often as I can bear to open the biased Washington Post — and find her to be extremely fair and able to ask tough questions in thoughtful way. Her ethical stances are good ones — especially in this case. As my husband once said to one of our children: “Most people go through life just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make alot or money, or enough to support a family… with no real passion for one single thing in their lives. I don’t care what your passion is: I’m just thrilled that you have one. Pursue it!”

    If I were the wannabe carpenter, I’d have dropped the extreme and selfish upwardly-mobile fiancee a long time ago.

  2. You want him to be who you envision, so you’re seeking validation for the idea that he should white-collar himself to your liking.

    This is a root cause of most failed relationships. During the initial oxytocin-fueled stage, we’re only vaguely aware of these “flaws” in the object of our infatuation, thinking we can eventually mold this person into the image of our idealized spouse/partner. Unfortunately, in our increasingly disposable, narcissistic, instant-gratification culture, we’re prone to reach the conclusion that it just wasn’t”meant to be”, and discard this human being, often even rationallizing that the children, who are most likely to be psychologically wounded, are better off, rather than live in a home with two unhappy (selfish) parents. Every marriage, without exception, goes through stages that take various forms, but always appear to represent insurmountable obstacles. Also with only the rarest exceptions (abuse, chronic infidelity, chronic chemical dependency), doing the hard work required to navigate through these stages is incredibly rewarding. It only took me two failed marriages to figure this out.

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