In Which We Consider A Different Proximate Cause

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


My boyfriend Dallas is a great guy with a short fuse. If something makes him angry he usually blows his top. For example, we were at Wal-Mart one day and a woman cut him in line. He immediately went off on her and told her to get back in line. It seemed a bit excessive, but then again it was somewhat annoying. What I’m saying is that it’s not like he never has a poor reason for becoming angry.

If I ever piss him off, he is very nice about it and calmly explains what the problem is. He has yelled at me a handful of times but he always apologizes and it’s not like I haven’t done the same, it’s just that he does it to people he does not know. In addition, he does not abuse drugs or alcohol.

Am I just rationalizing or is this a red flag?

Maria B.

Dear Maria,

Some people never become angry at all. Others save their venom for the ones they love. Dallas has found an appropriate outlet for his rage: people who he will never interact with or speak to again. As long as he isn’t bringing physical violence to bear on randoms, individuals who cut lines should face loud voices and approbation for what they do.

Showing that you are upset when you are upset is actually rather healthy. Hanging onto these emotions or repressing them is far more dangerous to yourself and those you love.

Recently one basketball player raised the hackles of commentators for profanely excoriating a teammate, his friend. A lot of people aren’t used to others displaying their emotions and it makes them feel uncomfortable even when that display is actually controlled. This would be something to watch for with your boyfriend. How quickly does he calm down? Is his behavior an appropriate response or could it get him shot in an open-carry state?


My stepson Dave is eleven, and like a lot of children of divorce, he wants to see his parents get back together. He doesn’t seem to harbor much ill will towards me for marrying his mother, but he spends an intense portion of his existence trying to reunite his mother with her her ex-husband, Antonio.

When Valentine’s Day comes around he makes an effort to remind them of their failed marriage and it typically ruins my wife and my time that day since he needs attention. Is there any way to disabuse him of this notion without seeming like a total asshole?

Jerry S.

Dear Jerry,

Sure. Give him a different memory than the one he already has for that specific day. For example, I never forgot the day I broke my arm when I suddenly fell down the stairs. Just kidding, although let us not rule a tragic accident as nuclear option here.

Probably your stepson simply needs more attention in the days coming up to this event. He clearly has too much time on his hands. Include him in your Valentine’s Day activities for a few years and maybe he’ll forget all about this Antonio, who may not even be his real father.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


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