Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, August 24)

Aug 24, 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, August 24 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 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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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

It may just be me, but I totally don't understand the "tweak" the mother in the first letter of today's column delivered in response to her daughter's fitness pursuits. "Changed my mind, maybe you should get married" means...she's now thin enough to warrant male attention? She should cut out all that self-improvement nonsense and devote her time to pursuing the man who could complete her? Besides the idea that the mother ever thought her daughter shoudln't get married, I'm kind of mystified by the actual slight. Also, just as a general reminder to everyone, jokes are way harder to get across on Facebook because (a) if poorly phrased, they just hang out there in text, and (b) everyone can see them, not just the jokee. Stick to ribbing in person if ribbing is desired. That is my philosophy anyway.

I was mystified by the joke, too, both in content and motivation. What I took away--and what stood out more, if anything, when I reread the column this morning--is that the mother has her dukes up. High anger, high defenses, and using "humor" to avoid her real concerns.

Hi Carolyn, Was something edited out of the first letter in today's column that let you know the writer was the Mom and not the Dad? Egregious comment either way--just curious, and apologies if I read past something obvious.

The name on the email. This is often the case.

My best friend has made a mess of her relationship with her fiance and father of her infant child. She acknowledges that the breakup was her fault (breach of trust but not cheating), but thinks that since she said she's sorry a few times, that's enough and doesn't understand his hesitation to simply pick up where they left off. He's told her that he still loves her, but he needs to think. Really, I think he's trying to see proof that she is working on her insecurities that make her controlling and manipulative in relationships. Still, he's coming around. They're talking. He's spending time with their child and her daughter. She says she wants him back, but every other day I have to talk her out wanting to cut off contact with him because "it's painful" and "what if he doesn't come back?" I've tried telling her that she can't get him back without risking rejection. Considering what she did, if he was my friend, I would tell him to run for the hills. So I think she's lucky he's even talking to her, let alone entertaining the idea of coming back. How do I convince her to stop sabotaging the best relationship she's ever had before it's too late?

I appreciate what you're trying to do here, and why, but you alone can't give her a healthy emotional foundation. That kind of overhaul is, actual size, what your friend needs to get this all straight: her behavior toward people she loves, her perceptions of what these loved ones are doing, her understanding of intimacy and what it involves, her acceptance of pain, her ability to distinguish between avoidable and unavoidable pain, I could go on.

What your friend needs most is a therapist. Well, that's not right--what your friend needs most is an appreciation for how unhealthy her emotional foundation is and for how important it is (for her, but especially for her child) that she start working to improve its health. 

Since she's confiding in you, you do have some influence here, and I urge you to use it to suggest she get into counseling. If time or money or the usual obsracles stand in the way, you can also offer to do some of the legwork in finding a reputable therapist who keeps extended hours, accepts insurance, offers counseling on a sliding scale based on income, etc.

If that's a tried-and-failed proposition, then please write back and I'll give it another shot.

 

Carolyn, for Wondering who needed to figure out her anger, you suggested a "walk around the neighborhood." I had similar issues dogging me (anger, general unhappiness when at home) and my OH was bombarding me with mixed messages that were making things worse (IMO). When an opportunity to housesit for six weeks came up, I took it and it helped me to clarify my thinking and relationship and life in general a LOT.

Great work if you can get it--and, yes, exactly the kind of scenery change that jogs a person's thinking. I liken it to the way people have to approach suspected food intolerances: You remove things from your emotional diet, one at a time, and see how you feel as a result. With a life problem it's obviously much harder (you can't just go housesit when you have small kids, e.g.), but it is often possible, with a little planning, to take a week or more away from a partner, a job, a hobby, a family member, etc. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Could just be my computer, but the chat formatting is off. Did something change or is there a problem?

Producer here: There's an issue with the display on our chat pages right now. Our tech folks are looking into it. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please help, Carolyn! My mom is a very angry person, 12 years post-divorce. She is driving my siblings and her friends away because she is always so negative. I am buffered because I don't live nearby, but my mom complains to me that my siblings won't spend time with her while they confide how difficult she is to be around. When we tell her it's because she is so negative, her response is that she is who she is and that she's not going to change for anyone. As an example, my sibling recently arranged and paid for work to be done on my mom's house. Rather than be thankful, my mom complained about the workers leaving a gate open and harped about it for a week. She also demeans my siblings to their face in front of others. I want to help my mom stop destroying her relationships but she won't get help. What should I do?

Accept that you can't help your mom stop destroying her relationships when she is dead-set against taking responsibility for the consequences of her actions. You can--and should--respond to her "she is who she is and that she's not going to change for anyone" defense with, "That's your prerogative, of course, but then please don't then wonder why your kids and friends want to spend less time with you." Not angrily, just calmly, kindly and sticking to the facts you have.

If and when she ever sounds receptive, please do remind her how much you care, how it pains you to watch her undermine her own interests, and how much she stands to gain by getting professional help.

My best friend and I haven't drifted apart so much as broken up. We were best friends from age 13 until about 28, at which point I moved with my husband 500 miles away from my hometown to be nearer to his. I tried to keep conversations going between us and even started sending her postcards once a week just to keep in touch. She never reciprocated. She didn't even bother sending a Christmas card. I was always the one to call or post something on Facebook or send an email and yet, she basically told me I wasn't doing enough. I guess she thinks that since I'm the one that moved, I should be the one to initate everything. But I'm tired of doing that. And the worst part is that I don't even feel that sad with her basically out of my life. I feel wrecked inside that the demise of one of my closest relationships barely registers. Is something wrong with me? I feel like I should be feeling something-- sadness at the loss, anger at her not trying harder, relief at the end of the drama-- but there's honestly nothing.

You chose each other when you were very different people from the ones you've become. Besides, you're upset that you're not upset, which means you're still upset, which means your feelings aren't completely misfiring. 

You didn't ask this part, but for what it's worth: Your friend might come around, given time to get over her hard feelings over your move--one possible cause for her punitive behavior.

Another possible cause is that your friend didn't miss you as much as she expected to, either, and subconsciously trumped up the "you're not doing enough" charge to pick a frindship-ending fight. In that case you wouldn't expect her to come around, but you would have a get-out-of-guilt-free card. 

I'm not sure you could ever know for sure one of these is true, but they're thinking points in the process of letting yourself off the hook.

My husband has developed a case of bad body odor recently (within the past few months; we've been together 16 years). Is there a tactful way to tell him this? Do I switch out his deodorant for something stronger (suggestions, anyone?)? He has put on some weight in the past year (maybe 5-10 pounds or so); I'm not sure if that's the cause or not. In any event, I'm more concerned about this for his own sake -- he has a public job where his appearance matters. Thanks for your help.

I would just come out and say it. Any reason you can't?

I am three months pregnant with my second child and completely miserable. I am sick every day (was sick all nine months with my first) and have regular migraines I can't take medication for. These days I am ill, irritable, weepy, and/or exhausted all the time. I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I can no longer handle my usual responsibilities. I feel like such a failure! We have no family nearby. When I told my husband how unhappy and stressed I am, he said that no one with young children is happy and happiness is an unreasonable expectation. Is he right? Is it time to just suck it up?

You're looking at six months, + or -, of intensive child care while wanting to curl up in a corner and puke. While there are some grains of truth in what your husband said, your physical state alone makes them irrelevant: You need to hire as much child care as you can afford until you have this child, or until your nausea passes. (Not all pregnancies are the same.) You also need to rephrase the "unhappy and stressed" to "sick as a dog," since your husband is apparently under the impression that you're just feeling some normal SAHM grind-down; what you describe here is a whole lot more than that.

As for the feelings of failure, please don't do that to yourself. If a robust pregnancy were a matter of choice or hard work, then every woman would be in robust health for every pregnancy, and ironing shirts and teleconferencing while rocking a cradle with her foot, or whatever it is the mythic mother would do. Reasonable expectations begin--and end--ONLY with the facts of your situation.

Dear Carolyn, I am a paralegal in a small law firm. I share duties - that include answering phones and greeting clients - with 2 other paralegals. Both of them struggle with illness (one has lupus and the other is undergoing chemotherapy). One of us has to be at the office during business hours during the standard work week. In light of their illness, I have been more than happy to be flexible and available, especially when they have doctors appointments. However, in about 6 weeks I have 2 days off for my sisters wedding. This has been scheduled for over a year. They both have doctors appointments on those days and want me to be in the office, claiming that since the wedding is local I should be willing to spend a few hours at work. I have not taken a single day of vacation in over a year and have always been willing to be in the office when they can't make it. I am hesitant to bring this up to the attorneys because I do not want to look like I am whiney or difficult. I would rather solve this issue among the three of us. Can you suggest a tactful way for me to tell them that this time - this one time - I am unable to cover for them? Or should I suck it up and come into work?

"Yes, the wedding is local, but these are days off I shceduled more than a year in advance and I plan to take them. I will do what I can to help you prepare for my absence, but I will not come in on those days."

You have nothing to apologize for here, so don't make choices as if you do.

I became engaged two months ago and was at first extremely excited. He and I want the same things in life, have the same morals and priorities and I just love being with him. We've had our issues stemming from mistakes he's made in his past that we've worked through together. After a very stressful week that ended with a fight (he was taking his frustrations out on me, and in front of my mother) I find myself lingering on those past mistakes and am terrified by the word 'forever.' When I'm alone I have doubts and can't stop thinking, 'oh God what am I doing?' but when I'm with him I think 'how can I not marry this wonderful man?' How much of these doubts are normal and when can I settle on a decision (to marry/not to marry) that I can be sure about?

What were these mistakes, how often do his frustrations become your problem, and, this will sound odd, how charismatic is he? The fact that you want out when you're alone and want him when you're with him suggests your brain is telling you no and your emotions are telling you yes. That says you need to ask yourself whether he's manipulative, you're impulsive/impressionable, or both.

I could be way off, but if I am, then you lose nothing by weighing the possibility.

Short story - can a wife tell her husband she wants to take a break from sex? Husband tries to "guilt" me into sex (in some form or fashion) every 2-3 days and in the meantime grabs and rubs up against me a.m. and p.m. like he can't control himself under the pre-text of "cuddling." Sorry to be so frank but I am so turned-off and jumpy all the time and tired of the emotional coercion followed by insults if I don't comply. I'm told a "good" wife would be more passionate and loving. Help - I can't think clearly anymore after years of badgering. Am I the one with the problem? I care for him otherwise but can't stand him to touch me.

Not to make this a theme, but oh my goodness you two need marriage counseling. I can just hear your husband's side of it: "I still think she's beautiful, I still want her, and when I try to show it I get treated like some kind of perv." 

This is not to suggest you're "the one" with the problem. It's a two-part problem, plus any kind of "a 'good' wife would ___" coercion and any insults are over the line. However, given the the huge perception gaps I've seen on this topic over the years, and given that you're apparently nowhere near seeing this through each other's eyes, and given that you're at a point of estrangement over it already, I think a disinterested third party is your best chance at getting to a point where you can think clearly again.

It sounds to me like you are being taken advantage of. Being sick doesn't give the right for these others to be selfish. I would think seriously about this. And if you are given vacation time, unless you would be rather be paid for it, you should take it.

Amen on using vacation time. You're entitled to it and it exists not just for your benefit, but for your employer's, since people who don't take breaks don't do their best work. 

Yes, you can refuse sex with your husband for months or years. And yes, he can divorce you or sleep around. Pick your poison.

Or you can both agree to leave your entrenched positions and try to understand each other. Right?

How about when you and he have been to couples counseling together? Always a good investment.

Or a good pre-marital workshop, which can be as or more productive than counseling, though each is only as good as the work ethic you bring to it.

Slate.com has had a series of pieces over recent weeks by Jessica Grose about the under-reported, misunderstood problem of PREnatal depression. Might offer some insight to the poster and her husband.

Thanks. Haven't seen it, but sounds on point.

For what it's worth, if I were your husband, I'd expect you to have my back on this type of thing and TELL me. Maybe he changed his diet slightly. Diet can impact BO - I see it all the time - people have different odors depending n what they eat. Take a ride on a crowded Metro on a hot day if you don't believe me. Could be you 2 changed laundry detergent causing his shirts to be less clean to start with. But talk about it. Maybe stress - I used to have a job where I noticed that I perspired a lot more than usual during the day - especially if it was stressful. It was so noticable that I remember "checking" my own BO on many occassions. Safe to say I'm glad I'm out of that. It isn't a reflection on him and you should help him out.

No argument here, though the crowded hot-day Metro car you conjured has become a mental scratch-and-sniff, and I might need a moment. 

A sudden change in body odor makes me wonder if there's a medical condition behind it. Maybe not, but that seems like an awfully sudden thing to occur and 5-10 pounds doesn't seem like enough on its own to cause that.

A few readers have pointed this out, thanks.

Carolyn, Thanks for the advice. I agree with what you are saying - in theory - but it is hard for me to actually say this to them. I just feel guilty when I am forceful with people who are going through so much already. I have had issues with confrontation before, and I know this is something I need to work on.

You're going through something, too--a year without so much as a day off, and all you have to show for it is a guilt trip from the beneficiaries of your efforts.

I think the place to start with "confrontation" issue you describe is with figuring out to what you are entitled--not as you specifically, but "you" as a human being, family member, colleague, etc.

That's because a fear of confrontation isn't so much about confronting as it is about boundaries; confronting is the symptom, because it's hard to ask for something out loud when on the inside you're not sure you have any right to ask. 

What I am saying (and others have said in responses to your question) is that you have a baseline of what you are owed that's spelled out in your benefits package with this law firm, and you can use that to settle any doubts you have about taking these days. 

That's also a good place to start in figuring out where to draw lines: Use the ones drawn for you.

The other doubts you likely harbor--whether you have a right to object to bad treatment by a friend or family member, whether you have a right to ask someone to go out of their way to help you with something, etc.--are tougher to tackle, and might better be tackled professionally (and I'm not saying this to have a perfect therapy-referral batting average today). But even if you take them on yourself--it has certainly been done--make sure you start by granting yourself the same entitlements that you grant others.

Also include a healthy regard for the power of "no." Just as you can say no to people who ask you for more than you want to give them, they can always say no to you when they think it's too much. It's a great equalizer, and spares you of doing all the work in deciding what you can and can't ask of others.

My 25 year old daughter is successful, owns her own home, full time job, recently finished her masters. Soon after she bought her house she moved in her new bf of 3 months. Hes a nice guy, good looking, but not much else. In the months since he has been unable to keep a steady job and has spend huge (months) of time unemployed sitting in her house while she goes out to work every day. So obviously he is not helping pay the mortgage. He has a high school education only, and while he talks of college nothing has come of it. It drives me crazy to the point where I dont speak to him anymore. Although it bothers her, she doesnt see the problems I see ahead, always being the main breadwinner, lack of financial security , etc... He recently got a job, and will start it soon. Whenever she talks of the next step, either marriage or buying a bigger house together my jaw clenches. How do I make her see the light, or more likely, get to the point where I dont picture his head blowing up in front of me as the ultimate solution?

I can only speak for the 20th century here, but it seems to me that plenty of men married women with the full expectation of being the sole--not main--breadwinners in the family, and I don't recall reading anything about the parents of these men wanting anyone's head to explode, or giving the silent treatment to those who presumed to be housewives, or fretting about their financial security.

These are different times, obviously, and maybe this guy is an albatross after all--but you squander any right to protest your daughter's choices when you bring such clear biases to the table.

For what it's worth, you also haven't made any distinction between trying unsuccessfully to find work, and sponging off someone else. The latter is a jaw-clencher, but the former says nothing about the character of this man. 

If you don't want to torch your relationship with your daughter, then I strongly suggest you throw away any visions you've harbored of the "right" mate for your daughter, and start looking harder for what she might see in this one--and specifically what he might provide her that isn't as easy to measure as income.

Just for the sake of argument, a hard-driving  professional like your daughter can often benefit from having a partner who doesn't share that level of ambition, since two people with big dreams, agendas and schedules are a reliable source of business for divorce lawyers. 

Dear Carolyn, My son is getting married to a lovely woman. She has kindly included me in a lot of the wedding plans and keeps me updated, much more than my son. When she told me she planned on having black and lilac for her wedding colors, with her bridesmaids wearing black, I bit my tongue. I can't help but feel like black is a color for funerals and not weddings. I brought this up with my son, and he said that he doesn't care what the colors are. I'm not sure this is worth bringing up with my future daughter-in-law, as I do not want to start a conflict. But I am genuinely not sure if she realizes that the vast majority of the guests will associate black with funerals. Advice?

A vast majority of the guests will associate black with what they wear every day themselves.

And the ones who think of funerals, what harm is coming to them by having to look at black dresses? 

These are two of the steps on the ladder to a point I could just leap to without a ladder at all: SAY NOTHING ABOUT ANYTHING TRIVIAL. I can't imagine anything more trivial than color.

Her inclusion of you, now, that is huge. The fact that the bride is a lovely woman is huge. These are what matter, and people who remain focused on what matters and don't fret the little stuff are the ones who spend the most time as welcome guests in their grown children's homes. 

Your saying something  to your son might already be a problem, because he might make the mistake of passing that on to his fiancee. I suggest you preempt (or rectify) this by saying to your son that you're sorry that you brought it up at all because it's such a minor thing. Even if you aren't sorry, say it anyway and hope any relief on his face brings you around to the value of saving your opinions for when they're requested and/or when they really really matter.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I just had a beautiful baby boy, his first name is a name we like and his middle name is for my father. In my husband's family, it is tradition to name boys family names from the fathers side. My in-laws decided to call my son my husbands name followed by jr. This is extremely frustrating to me, and my husband, because we intentionally did not name our child after his father because my husband doesn't like repeated names. I am also concerned that, if my in-laws keep this up, my son will be confused. I am considering never responding to my in-laws when then refer to my son as anything other than his given name. Thoughts on this situation?

That's fine, not responding to the wrong name--or just saying, "You mean Realname, yes, he's" blahblahblah. But the more important step is for your husband to say to them, without equivocating, "His name is Realname. If you have a problem with that, then we have a problem." 

This is not about confusing your son--he will know what his name is--it's about your in-laws being bullies. That's a problem to address strongly and now.

I suspect my husband of 18 years may be straying, which as far as I know would be for the first time. I don't have proof and cannot point to one incident...just little things here and there and a strong sense of intuition. (E.g., I overheard a small part of his end of a phone conversation...he did not know I was there...it was not what was said, but the very familiar way he was speaking to the other person and I just "knew".) I'm unlikely to ever prove an affair, because I do not have access to his passwords, and I know he would deny if confronted. I love my husband and believe he loves me. If he is cheating then I will feel incredibly hurt and disrespected, and want him to stop. I have chosen not to talk to anyone about this in case I am wrong -- but I am lost as to what to do and need some good advice. Thank you in advance!

What is the outcome you're hoping for?

You say you want him to stop, and that of course is one outcome you're hoping for, but I don't think works on its own.

What I'm sticking on is, "I know he would deny if confronted." What that tells me is that you don't want an honest husband or an intimate marital relationship--both of which are contingent on truth-telling--you just want the other woman erased and the status quo back.

If instead what you want is a loving and intimate relationship with your husband, then you're going to need to come clean with what you overheard, what your mind leapt to, and with your expectation that he wouldn't tell you the truth if you said this to him.

This is where knowing the outcome you hope for beforehand is so important. He is going to answer your remarks somehow, be it to surprise you with a whole and messy truth, or a less-than-credible denial, or some surprising other thing. If the answer isn't satsfying, then you should tell him why, based on what you were hoping for.

For example: "I was hoping you'd trust me enough to tell me the truth, no matter what it was, and while I can't prove it I do feel that you aren't telling me everything." Your depth and honesty are your best chance at receiving the same from him. One of the hardest things when one partner sees signs of an affair is that you can't prove a negative; sometimes a denial is the truth, and yet the skeptic often doesn't believe it. A confrontational, accusatory tone will affect the tone of a denial as well. Your transparency, by contrast, will set a tone of transparency in the discussion, and those are the conditions that help the truth stand out for what it is, whatever it is. 

I have a boyfriend who did not graduate college (meanwhile, I did the whole type A college, killer GPA and professional what-have-you) and for a long time I thought I needed the right 'level' in a mate. So I dated (literally) rocket scientists, guys who went to Harvard and MIT and who came from the 'right background' and ivy league summer on the Cape types. It never worked. My boyfriend finished high school and is from Alabama. He also happens to be one of the smartest people I've ever met, he's sweet, caring, attentive and generous and isn't focused on "winning" any kind of rat race. My friends adore him, as do my parents. I was the slow one on this. Look again and look hard, sometimes someone who fell on bad luck (job market is hard) and isn't working is also cleaning, cooking and providing tons of support. We are not what we do for a living or our educational pedigrees.

Thanks. We are, on the other hand, what we contribute, and there are so many more ways to contribute than the ones that star on our resumes.

Carolyn, what about a nod to mom needing to let go of her daughter a bit. This is a fully functioning adult, yes? and she is not speaking to him? way to disrespect your daughter's choices, and when did it become ok to throw common decency out the window just because you have another opinion?

Sure, nod away, thanks.

Why does it matter if it was in front of the mother or not? This whole question reeks of this guy not being a good guy and her trying to polish him up. If someone takes frustrations out on you why would you need to hide this from your mother? Also the whole part about them jointing getting over his "mistakes" sounds really suspicious to me.

One good one, thanks, and another here:

I'm sorry but this sounds totally off to me. Sounds like he cheated and now you consider it a prize that he's "picked" you for marriage. When you internal voice tells you something you need to LISTEN.

Thanks for both.

I have been dating someone for about five years, during which we muddled through long-distance for four years. We're both career-driven and we've been very supportive of each other's career decisions, even if it means that it would cause us to be apart, because we're still in our mid-twenties and don't want to curtail our individual ambitions. We are finally in the same city, but after this year, I'll be moving to a city a four-hours' drive away for a two-year stint. I'm not sure if I can weather another two years of a long-distance relationship. A part of me feels like I ought not to give up on us -- I still love him deeply -- but I feel equally convinced that I need to draw the line somewhere when the logistics don't make sense. I just want him to tell me that things will work -- that if need be, he'll move with me to the new city -- but he can't and won't make that sort of promise. Maybe it's not fair of me to want that. Trying to make our careers and our relationship work has been really exhausting and I just want things, for once, to be easier.

Tough for anyone, but particularly so for someone so future-oriented, but: Why not enjoy your relationship for what it is, and decide what to do about the future when the date of your move approaches?

Dear Carolyn, My husband of 2 years drinks one to two bottles of wine every night and typically "falls asleep" shortly afterwards. He says that because my aunt was an alcoholic, I have a "warped" sense of what's normal alcohol consumption. Is one to two bottles of wine a night normal? Does it matter if he says that he'll stop at 2 glasses but either can't or won't? When I question him about his drinking, he drinks more and says it's because I "treat him like a baby" by asking him about his drinking and telling him that I wish he would not drink so much. My teenage children have lost all respect for him because of his drinking and he says that I didn't do a good job raising them because they don't respect him. Is he right - am I the one with the problem? If not, then at what point during his drinking do I have the right to preserve my dignity and self-respect? -Thanks, Sue Ellen

You never started having the right to "preserve my dignity and self-respect" because it was never not there. You were born with it.

Now, the point at which he turned your concerns around and blamed them on you, that's when you had the right to say "enough." Drinking more and blaming it on you! Nothing like an adult baby complaining about being treated like a baby.

To find out where normal drinking crosses over into problem drinking, have a look at what NIH has to say: (link). Please go to Al-Anon, too, since you're clearly not confident in your role as spouse of a problem drinker.

Also recognize that the problem doesn't lie solely with alcohol; he's showing you no respect and you're doubting yourself in a way that doesn't generally improve on its own. A good therapist and attorney might be in your future, but start with the (free, accessible) Al-Anon and see where that takes you.

Married people occasionally have little flirtations with friends. I have always thought that these things generally aren't a problem - unless they are, and then you need to walk away from the friendship. From your perspective, what are the indicators that a friendly flirtation has crossed the line and calls for steps to shut it down?

If you've singled out one friend with whom to have one of these "little flirtations," then I'd say you're already at that point. Married people don't live in sensory deprivation chambers, sure, but targeted attention at anyone outside the marriage is troublesome.

If you're talking about having flirtations here and there with no one specific, then I'd say the cutoff point is when it becomes specific--when it becomes a distraction/preoccupation. If your imagination is starting to take the connection further, then that's the time to shut it down.

Even more important, it's also time to pay more and more deliberate attention to your spouse, because chaances are you've drifted a bit in the time it took you to recognize that you were getting carried away.

I could also say the you've hit that line when you're asking yourself or others where the line is. People tend not to worry about such things until they're actually there.

How do I stop feeling so sorry for myself/angry/indignant that things don't seem to go well? Or rather, that they start to go well, and, inevitably, something comes along to ruin it. I live very much paycheck-to-paycheck after a year of unemployment (during which time my finances took a big hit). I'm one car payment away from owning my car outright, and that extra $300/mo would go a long way to paying down my personal debt, but my car is now making a new clunking noise and will take hundreds to fix (I have no savings). My workplace is moving within biking distance to my apartment in 2 months, so I have been looking forward to riding to and from work to save money/wear/tear on my car, and last night, after working both my full-time and part-time jobs, I got home to find someone had cut the lock and stole it. It has been this way my whole life. I get a glimmer of hope that my circumstances are getting better, but something comes along to mess it up. I'm at the point of wallowing, and after 27 years, I just don't see and end. How do I break out of this funk? It's hard to live every day waiting for the other (millionth) shoe to drop.

I appreciate how hard it is to be knocked back just as you're getting close to some relief--but you're actually making it harder on yourself by seeing it all as part of a larger narrative. That's not really how things happen, and you know it; you know there isn't some specter hoving over you and stealing your bike just as you're about to be within biking distance of work, and you know the bank didn't notivy the gremlins in your engine that you were down to your last payment.

It all just broke that way. Well, mostly; if the specter really had it in for you, it would have waited another 8 weeks to steal your bike, but it makes a better story to round it all up and down as needed to fit the narrative.

And that's where you can help yourself the most. Tell yourself--out loud even, like a dork--that things really don't work this way and you need to stop starring in the Cosmic-Conspiracy Show. What you're dealing with are just bummers, and bummers happen but they're a heck of a lot better than catastrophes. They also make you tougher, more resourceful, funnier (that's where the Eeyore narrative comes in handy), more empathetic, and more grateful for the good things that come your way. 

To break the habit of waiting for the millionth other shoe to drop, try this: Neither good things nor bad things are permanent, only change is. And with change will always come good breaks and bad breaks--so, another shoe is always about to drop even with people who appear to have it all. And good things come even to those who feel as if they're the new and improved Job. Think about your good breaks if you're skeptical: You have a job, you're close to owning a car outright, you'll bike to work on the bike you'll be able to buy as soon as you pay for your car repairs (which everyone gets stuck with eventually who has a car). Three very good things, by most people's standards.

Submitting early: A friend of mine recently told me that she wants to die. I know she has a history of depression and has made some choices in her life that she regrets. She has also put on some weight recently and that's adding to her perceptions. I have suggested talking to her dad, a therapist, our minister, a doctor (to see if she needs new meds). I have encouraged her to think of her son and how her death would impact him. She says she still wants to die. What else can I do?

Don't shoulder this alone. You say "our minister"--and since s/he is in a helping profession, bound by confidentiality and acquainted with you both, that's the place to sound the alarm. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm a very silly, good natured person. I speak loudly, say inappropriate things, laugh at everything and generally enjoy life. I think, for the most part, people find this entertaining as I have friends and family who love me and are amused by my behavior (most of the time). What I'm starting to realize is that potential dates/mates might not like this? I'm a 33 year old single woman and have had a hard time in the last few years progressing into a relationship. I'm starting to think that men like to be friends with the silly, loud girl but don't want to marry her. But that is the real me. Should I consider toning it down or changing so that I can accomplish some of the life goals that I want for myself? Thanks!

So you tone yourself down and marry someone who liked the toned-down version of you. What then? Do you want to perform a role for the rest of your life, or do you want to be you?

Now, if you aren;t happy with who you are, then that's another story. But if you like who you are and want to be that person in a marriage, then that's the person you need to be when you're dating. There are a lot of personalities--not just loud, silly female ones--that require a patient approach to finding a partner, because they're not geared to mainstream tastes. Call that a handicap or a point of pride, it's all the same. You can only accept yourself and trust that others will, too--enough of them at least. 

Enough, Hax, enough. Thanks for stopping by today, and I will be here next Friday as usual, even though the columns will say I'm on vacation. Have a great weekend.

Some good comments in here--I'll push out a few without comment.

This is life, we are all doing this. I don't know if that makes you feel better but I think you might have a warped sense of what everyone else is experiencing.

I kind of understand how the LW feels, as I've been there before. One thing that makes a huge difference is that you have to stop counting on external circumstances to hand you a prize. Problems will NEVER stop happening; you have to fortify yourself to respond better to them, or better yet, proactively mould your life and outlook in anticipation. Stop wishing for problems to go away, and start thinking about your mindset.

Why not take a break when you move to the new city and see how it feels? If you both want the relationship after that, it's a keeper. If you are just staying together because you've invested so much time already, that's no good reason. Stay with someone because you don't want to be without them not because change is hard.

For the person who has had it with the cosmos, a carefully worded request on Freecycle might just net him/her a bike until they can afford another. I have seen people be incredibly kind on Freecycle.

Carolyn, please let this person know that for many people, age 27 sucks. It is just in the nature of what it takes to get established in life that the things he/she reports happen at about that ago. (I ahve been there.) One expects to be in a good place, but that place often is several years in the future. This person should just keep on keepin' on.

My husband and I did 4 years of long distance in our early 20's and we are both very driven, career-oriented people. It seemed overwhelming at times trying to balance the relationship, the distance, jobs and how we'd end up in the same place. Finally it hit us... We simply approached it day-by-day. "I love you today. The distance is worth it today. We'll see what tomorrow brings."

Speaking your truth does have a time limit however. If he denies it, and you don't believe him, after you tell him you don't believe him, you have to either drop it, or ask for a way for both of you to approach this, including marriage counseling, to address this as a trust issue. Because if he's not cheating, he doesn't deserve to have his spouse convinced that he is, repeatedly bringing up an accusation with no solid evidence behind it, and treating him like he is cheating.

Because if he's not cheating, he doesn't deserve to have his spouse convinced that he is, repeatedly bringing up an accusation with no solid evidence behind it, and treating him like he is cheating.

Just bears repeating. 

This may be unfair, but what seems to be screaming to me through your letter is that both of you are prioritizing your careers, and you're tired of not prioritizing your relationship and doing some career sacrifice in order to be in the same place at the same time on a more permanent basis. Which is entirely a valid way to feel. However, it's come at a point where the person who might have to career sacrifice to make that possible isn't you, and that may be unfortunately, or it may be a matter of your perspective. So turn it around - are you willing to move back? Why or why not? Why would it be fair to ask him to do what you're not willing to do?

Also consider your spouse's comfort with your behavior. If s/he brings it to your attention (assuming your spouse is a reasonable person) then it's time to re-evaluate. A little fun is not worth the damage it can do to your marriage. My hubby recently did that for us and I am grateful he did it early and in a calm way before it got too out of hand. (I was the flirter).

That's it. (I look like I was left speechless---funny.) Bye for reals, and thanks again.

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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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