Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, April 27)

Apr 27, 2012

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, April 27 at noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got any of Carolyn's answers or readers' questions from the past year stuck in your head? Submit them for next week's Best of Hax 2011 chat that will take place while Carolyn is on vacation.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Oh, hi!

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I forgot to clear this with Haley (she's not producing for me today--everyone say Hi Michael), but I have yet another kids'-school conflict next Friday. I hope to chat Thursday at noon, but look for confirmation, if not later in the chat then next week on the chat schedule and on my FB page.

I think that's everything. Bye!

As if. But, I do have to cut the marathon short today--22 miles instead of the usual 26-point-something.

 

Carolyn, I really admired the LW from Wednesday's column. I'd like to have an open dialogue with my kids about sex too. They are 5 and 3 now, so while we have some time to build that relationship, I also know the time is coming WAY sooner than we think. And I realize this is not an "on-off" switch - we need to lay the foundation early. So how do parents establish that foundation for open dialogue - about anything from sex to drugs to any of those uncomfortable topics?

1. Tell them the (age-appropriate) truth. They will ask so many questions, so much sooner than you think they will. Give them the real answer (e.g., use real names for body parts vs euphemisms or cute-isms), but don't give them the whole 5-minute answer. Give them as little as possible, and see if that suffices. If it doesn't, they'll ask follow-ups.

2. Do not punish them for asking tough questions or expressing opinions that shock you or catch you off-guard, and don't laugh at them, either, when they do or say things that bring you into the general area of bodies, body image, where babies come from, etc. You want to create an atmosphere of safety around these topics, so they aren't afraid to tell the truth around you. The precedent you set early and maintain consistently is your best ally when kids get into the years of adolescence when they traditionally go "underground" with all awkward and embarrassing stuff.

3. LISTEN to them. If you're the one doing all the talking, you'll lose their attention. 

 

 

My friend and roommate has been out of town the last two weeks returning today. This morning I found a "final notice" on our front door that our apartment parking lots would close today. I texted my roommate letting her know. Roommate calls the rental office asking what would happen to her car (I didn't know her car was in the lot), they indicated that her car wouldn't be towed but it may feel the wrath of some rocks while they sweep. Roommate is now angry with me that I hadn't told her sooner as the rental office claims they sent out a notice a week ago. I'm at a loss, I never saw an earlier notice. I offered to drive over during work to move it, but her keys were at her parents' house. She is incredibly angry and feels I lied to her and she hasn't even seen how her car faired! I'm crossing my fingers that it's OK. Was there something else I should've done? What else do I say?

Tell her to stuff it? She's calling you a liar, you didn't lie, and so you owe her no apologies--that obligation is hers for shifting her burden to you, and for attacking your character. The rocks are a bummer, but her looking for someone to blame is worse.

In  a calm moment, explain to her that you take great exception to being called a liar, and that you hope that when she calms down from the whole car thing that she recognizes how poorly she has treated you (especially given you went out of your way to help as soon as you realized what was happening).

My boyfriend of 2 ½ years recently proposed. What I had expected to be a happy and exciting new time in my life has become discouraged and stressful due to the arrival of an e-mail from my father 2 weeks after our engagement. He told me that we didn't have the "right to pollute the gene pool with our bi-racial children" and that though he knew I was a grown woman and could do as I pleased it should be understood that he didn't approve. During the entirety of my relationship my father has never once stated his feelings on this issue - so I was somewhat shocked by his statement. Though, not entirely surprised. I want to respond to his e-mail in a way that makes it clear that while I've heard what he has to say on the subject- it changes nothing. I will be marrying this amazing man and beyond this one e-mail I will not hear or respond to anything on the topic ever again. Right now my anger at the way my fiance has been made to feel makes the calm demeanor needed to write these words rather hard to come by. Any suggestions?

First--I'm so sorry for your loss. I know it will sound strange to use the phrasing associated with a death, but in a way there has been one. Your relationship with your father now has a "before" and an "after," and basically the father of the "before" time is gone. That's a loss that you're no doubt grieving right now.

Next--how to respond. You've got the first part written: "I've heard what you have to say on the subject. I will be marrying this amazing man as planned, and beyond this one e-mail I will not hear or respond to anything on the topic ever again."

You'll notice something is missing, though, the "this changes nothing." It may change nothing of your relationship with your fiance, and it might not make the slightest dent in your plans, but it profoundly changes your opinion of your dad, doesn't it? 

If so, I think that's fair to say. "This changes nothing of our plans, but, sadly, it changes my opinion of you--possibly without repair. I am ashamed of/disappointed in/[your words here] you. I never thought I would be in a position to say that to you."

Not to put words in your mouth, it's essential that you use your own. But I think you do need to make it clear just how badly he damaged your relationship with him.

My wife and I were married young and lately, I've been wondering how we can ever be confident/sure about one another without having had other experiences. I guess this is a cautionary tale about early marriage. We knew one another well at the time and as we have gotten older, have continued to grow together, not apart (in terms of interests, goals, etc.). I love her as a person and partner (she is my best friend) but don't know if I feel the same way romantically. I also don't know if this is just because I didn't experience enough other people before we got married, leading me to wonder what else could have been. Or am I unfairly comparing us to what I imagine other relationships to be? Does passion just cool the longer we're together? Is that normal and do I just have unrealistic expectations? Would I be giving up something great (a life with this woman who I love and respect) just to see what it's like out there?

"Does passion just cool the longer we're together?":  Yes.

"Is that normal and do I just have unrealistic expectations?" : Yes and yes

"Would I be giving up something great (a life with this woman who I love and respect) just to see what it's like out there?": Yes, most likely.

I can only take your word for it that "as we have gotten older, have continued to grow together, not apart (in terms of interests, goals, etc.). I love her as a person and partner (she is my best friend)." If indeed that accurately describes life with your wife, though, then you've got something enviable.

Now, "enviable" doesn't mean much if you don't want it yourself; what other people want is irrelevant. However, the image of the lifelong, passionate romance is largely unrealistic. The only reason I won't say it's completely unrealistic is that the occasional couple do appear to look at each other "that way" decades into their journey. But even then, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, and no one knows what prices have been paid to get to that point.

If anything, the hazard of early marriage in your case is that you never watched the passion leave several relationships--or, alternately, never watched a relationship stay passionate but also volatile from beginning to end. These can be persuasive experiences to bring to a marriage.

(more) 

The only answer I can give you is speculation--you won't find X, you'll regret Y, you'll grow to appreciate Z--so in the end all I can do is offer up coversation topics for you to have with your conscience, your body, your dreams and your thoughts. 

However, it's really important for you to have those conversations and turn up as many facts about you and your life (and others' lives) as possible, vs. doing something rash, risking terrible harm to you and your "best friend."

Oh--and I can offer one remedy for the what-ifs born of a romantic rut: Find excitement in other forms than the new-love headrush. Life offers so many ways to push ourselves! Every victim of boredom is a pointless one.

My husband is very unhappy in his job and wants to quit. He has no plans for what he would do next -- he's vaguely mentioned "travel" -- or what kind of employment he would eventually begin looking for, or when he would begin looking for it. He has year's worth of salary in savings (I work, too) so its not like we'd be evicted from our home. But, especially in this economy, it makes me really nervous that he can't articulate any roadmap at all for the future. When I tell him this, he says that I "don't want him to be happy," and am preventing him from taking the risk he needs to make him happy. Carolyn, I do want him to be happy. But the prospect of him going through with this terrifies me. I don't even know what reasonable expectations are any more, or how to talk with him about this without it turning into accusations.

Ugh, "You don't want me to be happy," such an unproductive form of communication. For one thing, it fails logically, since it opened him to this response: "I could just as easily say you don't want me to be happy, since what makes me unhappy is financial uncertainty."

And, it puts you instantly on adversarial footing, right when you most need each other's cooperation. And, it's emotionally manipulative. And, and, and.

Granted, you have a year's worth of his salary saved, which is great--and I can see why he's thinking his coast is clear. But I can also see your point, since that money won't be enough if he runs into any one of the many foreseeable obstacles to getting back to work: no jobs in his field; depression from the abrupt removal of productive work; a desired new career field that requires more schooling; a venture into self-employment/entrepreneurship that fails; etc.

I think the way to approach him and this now is with an unflagging dedication to your -mutual- best interests. E.g. "Of course I want you to be happy, as I hope you want me to be--and you need something new while I need stability. Surely we can come up with a plan together?" If he gets nasty or impatient with you, remind him that being nasty and impatient with you only increases the distance from a solution. You're in a marriage, and that's a partnership, and that means you work together. He wants freedom, you want stability, where is the middle where they meet? Say yes, you want him out of that job as badly as he does; you're just asking for a clearer plan.

If he refuses to see this as a matter of mutual needs, then it might be time to bring in a professional referee, in the form of counseling or a workshop. 

 

Hi Carolyn, I think I may be flakey. I cancel on my friends last minute. I've always been this way, but in adulthood have tried to limit this behavior. I don't have bad intentions and I respect other people's time, but I sometimes find that plans I made days ago might not suit me today. For example, I might be really tired, had a bad day at work, feeling sick, or want to go home and play with my dog. How can I limit this behavior short of never making plans in advance again?

You can suck it up and go. The only well-mannered excuse for canceling established plans with someone is if you have to tend to something worse than what you had planned--you're sick, your dog is sick, your car breaks down, your basement floods, your mother needs to be bailed out of jail.

Feeling tired or sorry for yourself isn't a defensible excuse--except in the case of having been such a reliable and punctual and attentive friend for so long that you've earned the right to say, "You know what? I'm whupped--can I forgivably cancel on you tonight?" And even then, you give your friend a chance to say something along the lines of, "Yes, of course," or, "Er, normally I'd say yes, but if you bail on me tonight I'm stuck with an expensive ticket that I don't have time to resell."

You get the idea, though, right? You make plans, you keep plans. If you don't like keeping plans, then don't make them.

Forty years ago, my folks took exception to my girlfriend-of-another-race. They were too refined to speak rudely, but they made made their non-acceptance of our relationship crystal clear via arch comments about how they'd always hoped they'd have a lot in common with their daughter-in-law and (their idea of a zinger) "you have to think about the children." I ignored them and eventually married the girl, who over time became their favorite daughter-in-law and the mom of the grandkids of whom they are most proud. Within a few years of our marriage the folks came forth, shamefaced, with apologies -- but I've always felt less of them for their racism. So you see, things might work out pretty well, but it will never be quite the same. Such a shame.

Yes, a shame, even in the best case. Thanks for writing in.

Wow, "pollute the gene pool." As the wife of one bi-racial person and (in an astonishing coincidence) the mother of another one, I'm shocked anyone still thinks that. She might also mention that, barring a complete change of heart, he's ruined any chance he has of having a relationship with his future grandchildren.

Agreed, though it doesn't sound as if such a threat will have the impact it should.

And, fwiw, it takes away the surest path to redemption. The most powerful weapon against bigotry is love--with  familiarity close on its heels. His getting to know his grandkids is, as in the story above, the best way to make him eat his words, and the ugliness that prompted them.

Please don't e-mail him back -- call your father. Or better yet, visit in person. It's very easy for bigoted people to hide behind the written word (I'm looking at you, Bruins fans!) but harder to spout that stuff verbally. You say it's the first indication of such feelings so ask him about it. Where did this hatred come from? How will he feel about future grandchildren? His reaction may tell you a great deal ... or nothing at all. In either event, you take the high road.

I like this, thanks. (Though, shameful as those tweets were, let's rewrite your parenthetical to read, "I'm looking at you, handful of Bruins fans.")

To help one of the earlier posters, I just took a minute or two to search for a book I read about talking to kids about sex, and I can't find it ... anyone up to crowdsourcing? I'm hoping that if I see a few author names it will jog my memory. Thanks.

I just wanted to say how much I feel for the OP. My mother did the same thing to me, although not by email. Our relationship is very complex, but it was one of the hardest things I had to do - continue loving an amazing man, live my life the way I think is best, and tell my mother either accept it or we can't have a relationship. I never thought she would come around, but she did. It doesn't mean I will ever forget, but I am saying, it feels really horrible now. I thought I was drowning in a black pit. But you will get through it and he will be with you, and you did what was best for you.

More valuable perspective, thanks.

My brother and his wife had a daughter 16 months ago. My whole life I've been certain that I didn't want children. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE my niece. She's amazing. She's changed my mind entirely on the issue. I've been with my girlfriend for 5 years, she was ok with my stance on no children when we discussed it, but not as certain as I was. We are getting married this winter, and I was wondering what your adivce would be on my bringing up the issue and my change of heart? It seems a bit unfair, like a bait and switch, even if that wasn't my intent.

Changes of heart happen. They become unfair when you withhold them, spin them, lie about them, or act on them without communicating openly with a partner. Say to her what you said here, including the part about feeling bad about the bait-and-switch, and see where it takes you.

BTW, I think it's great that you're loopy for your niece, and that can reasonably be taken as a sign that you want kids of your own. However, make sure you prepare yourself for the fact that any child you have will be different from your niece. Your baby could be colicky, hyperactive or with other special needs, a reluctant sleeper, a boundary-pusher like it's his or her job, etc. Babies present a range of challenges--just ask parents who have more than one how different their experiences were from one child to the next. The one thing that doesn't vary is how badly they need their parents to love them as they are.

Maybe your niece is/was  colicky, hyperactive or with other special-needs, a reluctant sleeper, a boundary-pusher like it's  her job, etc. , in which case, never mind that whole second paragraph ...

 

Mind if I chime in here too? Everything Carolyn said plus... One thing my husband and I also did (grown healthy kids now who were very open with us) is to respect each other so they knew they had a safe environment. We disagreed but calmly. With our bodies, we were open with affection but discrete. We didn't hide our bodies but weren't sexual. We let them make choices and helped them when they failed, especially helping them seeing why they failed or made bad choices. We didn't coddle them and we did have boundaries, but it was their life to live inside those age-appropriate boundaries.

Great stuff, thanks--though I might throw an "overtly" in front of "sexual," since sexuality isn't the problem, in-your-face sexuality is.

But that's a quibble.

Is it realistic that the LW didn't know her roomate's car was in their apartment lot?

If she was lying to us about that, then she's beyond our ability to help.

Dear Carolyn, I have a friend who is in that phase of desperation where she seems literally ready to marry any guy with a pulse. As a happily married woman, is there anything I can say that won't seem smug or out-of-touch but might cause her to reconsider her lowered standards?

I've used this line before from "The Big Chill" comes to mind: "Just be supportive and shut up." Remember when Meg wanted one of her old college friends to impregnate her?

Anyway, it's not for you to jump in when your friend appears to be in a state of mind to do something stupid. It is for you to say, "I'm worried--you aren't acting like yourself when you're with Joker," or whatever is applicaple to the situation, when she is actually doing something specific that might put her on a harmful path. 

In other words, save your currency for when you're sure you need it. These circumstances don't appear to qualify.

Also, not to be all doom-and-gloomy, but even a "happily married woman" is just a couple of turns of fate away from an emotional abyss. It bears mentioning because it's an antidote to any smugness. 

 

I'm pregnant! After 3+ years of trying it finally happened. We're overjoyed, if a bit exhausted and nauseous! Woo hoo!

(Moderator note: Background on Infertile Myrtle.)

Hey! That is SO AWESOME. Even more than Joel Ward awesome. Thanks so much for checking in, and please do check in again as things progress. (I think "Peanut" makes a lovely name for a boy or a girl.)

My sister caught her husband cheating last year and they have had a volatile relationship since then, including fighting in front of the family and threats to walk out (on both ends). All us bystanders agree they would be better off apart, but they are holding onto the scraps of the marriage for some unknown reason. My question is, do I have to invite this man, who I now can't stand, to my upcoming wedding? If he doesn't come, there will be no love lost between him and my family, but I know it would put my sister in an awkward position.

Invite him. They're still married, and your sister needs all the normalcy she can get right now. 

Not that this is why you should do it, but weddings have a way of giving things a push--be it toward marriage, toward divorce, toward reconciliation, toward rehab, toward new adventures, whatever. They're like big birthdays in their ability to force reflection on people.  No guarantees of course, but, something to help you embrace the idea of including your BIL. (Yes, say it: brother-in-law.)

Mom can't tell her 17-year-old son he can't have his girlfriend sleep over? Who wears the pants in that household! (Ha, just a little humor there!)

Ha, good one.

I got a lot of similar responses from people who didn't take the light approach--advocates of, "Because I say so, and that's final." People who were almost uniformly disgusted by my answer.

I actually think it's good that we're pulling away from that old model. It makes sense for little kids (in some scenarios, though I also think there's a time and place for filling kids in on your rationales). But for near-adults (17) and actual legal ones (18 through full independence), it can go a long way toward estranging kids from their parents. Why not explain your reasoning, if you're a parent? Why not point out holes in parental logic, if you're one of those emerging adults? As long as a kid isn't being defiant, asking for the judge's logic can actually strengthen his or her respect for the ruling. And, communication about disagreements can strengthen the parent-kid relationship, just as it is about to become a bond between adults.

 

This follow up is important to note: After you bail/cancel/change plans/flake on your friends then it becomes your turn to make the next set of plans.

And, er, show up for them. Thanks.

I've read - and found it true - that one way to reignite the spark os to DO romantic things. Visit a place where you courted your spouse, and you'll feel like courting again. Honeymoon, and you'll feel like honeymooning again. My husband and I live near the college where we met, and a stroll there always makes me feel so lucky I have him 25 years later.

Love this, thanks.

I'm not so sure... My dad, while not a racist, has mean spirited things to say about people who are different. Most of his vitriol is spewed toward my husband, who is (for reasons other than race) not who my father wanted for me. Talking to him in person didn't help, in fact gave him a forum for his hatred. I would have been better off e-mailing him, therefore leaving no room for discussion. In cases like these, there's nothing to talk about.

Thanks for the other side. (And, ugh. Would these people recognize themselves in these stories? Would they be proud?)

Oh, I don't know about a call. Speaking from experience (as a gay child of a homophobe), sometimes trying to talk it out with a bigot makes things worse. A phone call gives you a chance to hear additional bigoted statements straight from the parent's mouth. Especially when the issue is as raw and new as this is. Might be better to have the distance and consideration of the written word. (I still shudder when I think of the things my mom said, even though it's been years and we've sort of worked past this.) Anyway, congratulations! Yay for love over hate! I hope your friends and other family are rallying around you. Pop some champagne and celebrate your lives together!

Another one, thanks, and I second your "Yay for love over hate!"

Is it the Robie Harris/Michael Emberly books? (It's So Amazing, It's Perfectly Normal, It's Not the Stork)

No, but so many of you have written in to suggest these authors that I'm putting them out there. Thanky.

I can't tell you how many stories are now pouring in about engagements met with hysteria and denouncements by family over racial or other otherness. How many generations before this crap goes away? If I started a pool, what's the over-under? Will I have to leave instructions for my grandkids to pay the winners?

as someone whose parents named her after a legume, i gotta say ... no! don't listen to Carolyn! congrats on your baby -- but please don't name it peanut!

Okay, Garbanzo.

I was thinking more along the lines of Zuzu.

Aw. The Boo.

Speaking of, did you all catch the story on the real (er, fake) Zuzu, from "It's a Wonderful Life"? (That's a link, in case you can't see the blue.)

Carolyn: look at the LW's statement. She didn't say: *we* have a year's worth of salary saved...she said *he* has a year's worth of salary saved. When people look at their marriage in terms of what *I* have and what *he/she* has - that's a HUGE red flag...in my opinion. Unless you're not in it together, and in that case, why are you married?

Good point, thanks. Could just be a streamlining of "We have a year's worth of his salary saved," but given the tone of his comments to her, as relayed in her letter, there does seem to be cause for concern.

I'm white, I live in Boston, and I would gladly have Joel Ward's baby. But only if his/her middle name can be "Bacon Pants." Carry on, peanuts...

Well said. And with that, I have to bail. Thanks all, have a great weekend, and hope to see you here Thursday. (I didn't get confirmation, but pencil it in and I'll try to make it work.)

 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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