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September 7, 2012

12:06
P.M.

Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, September 7)

Total Responses: 42

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Carolyn Hax

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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About the topic

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, September 7 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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Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Hi everybody.

Q.

Gifts with strings attached

Hi Carolyn, Reading last week's chat made me think (the returning gifts thread). Over the past few years my Mom has given me several gifts - a bed, some books, etc - and said, "But if you decide to get rid of this I want it back." On one hand it's good that she's upfront about her feelings. On the other hand, a gift is a gift. Since some of them are family heirlooms I understand her feelings and would never have gotten rid of them anyway. However, now she's starting listing who will get what when she dies (I have a brother who will also be getting furniture, photo albums, etc.) and how we're not to get rid of any of it. I'm a little uncomfortable with this situation. Is it within my bounds to say something like I'm not sure if I should accept X since I can't guarantee that I'll always be able to cherish it the way she does? She always takes excellent care of everything she has and somehow manages to keep everything looking new years and years later. I guess I just don't want to dig myself in a hole by accepting gifts that I can't care for in the manner she expects. Hope this didn't sound too whiny. I just wanted to know if someone stating upfront that they wanted the item back later on changed things. Love the chats!
A.
:

Thanks. I actually think people should say upfront that they'd like something back if you ever decide you don't want it any more--prevents a lot of the hard feelings that led to last week's question.

That said, I think attaching that condition to everything given to everyone is a bit much, and you're better off not accepting anything from your mom unless you really want or need it.

As for the will issue, that will take care of itself (she said morbidly), but to spare yourself some future guilt, you can say something noncommittal, like, "I'll do what I can, but of course I can't make promises," since you really can't, can you? What if your life takes you someplace where you can't take all your stuff?

– September 07, 2012 12:10 PM
Q.

New Home Stalemate

My husband and I have always had the same instincts about where to live (after 4 moves together), but we are currently looking for a new home and cannot for the life of us agree on one. There isn't even a consistent pattern in the ones that one of us likes and the other doesn't; we have looked at all sorts of places of various styles in all parts of town for a range of prices, and for some random reason one of us will love it while the other hates it. We need to sign a lease ASAP or we will soon be homeless, so how do we move forward? I should add that I am a stay-at-home mom who spends significant portions of the day both in the home and in the surrounding neighborhood, whereas he works longs hours outside of the home and travels approx. one week of the month, so frankly I think I should get the last say...
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Makes sense. So why does he think you shouldn't?

– September 07, 2012 12:12 PM
Q.

Overly Involved

Dear Carolyn, A friend and her husband are going through a really rough time, because he cheated on her while she was in the final months of grad school. The stress really wrecked her--she blew it on her exams. While this was going on, I was there for her in a major way. She leaned on me, spent some nights at my house, and talked my ear off as she tried to decide whether to stay in her marriage. Needless to say, I developed a rather negative view of her husband. There are two sides to ALMOST every story, but this one was really pretty straightforward. I encouraged her to think long and hard before forgiving him, and expressed my belief that counseling should be a minimal requirement to staying together. Now the husband (who claimed he would "do anything" to stay with her) is resisting the idea of counseling and blames me for making things more difficult for him. I have gotten some very nasty emails from him telling me to stay out of his business, accusing me of being jealous and meddlesome because I'm single, and all kinds of other hateful nonsense. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is, because I agree that my friend's marriage is her business, but butting out at this point feels like an act of abandonment.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Does your friend know her husband is sending you these emails? 

(I'm just going to ask questions today, not answer them.)

I ask because, and I know this will sound perverse, I think his behavior toward you actually says more about him than his cheating, and for the friend ought to be a hands-down, get-an-attorney deal-breaker. 

– September 07, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Shreveport

My fiance just told me he hopes that when we have children, he will earn enough money to support us all so that I won't have to work. I feel so confused about this! On the one hand, it goes against all my upbringing: I have a graduate degree and have always anticipated a career of my own. On the other hand, I actually hate my career field, and being a stay-at-home mom and homemaker sounds far more rewarding than anything I could do in an office. Not that I have to commit to either path right away. Are my ambivalent feelings normal?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Sure. For one, I'd be--and I am speaking only for myself--very wary of a fiance who wouldn't be just as open to my making enough to support the family so he could be a stay-at-home dad. 

Since raising kids is such a loaded topic, I can take that out of the equation and say it this way: Even if I had wanted to serve in a certain role my whole life, I wouldn't want to be assigned to it by my spouse for his reasons. I'd want him to support me in achieving my ends and , where applicable, be an equal partner in deciding what's best for us as a couple and any future children.

I think it's great both that your fiance said this out loud instead of just assuming you thought the same thing, and that you're not brushing away your confusion by persuading yourself that it's okay because it's something you want anyway. It's great because you now have the perfect opening to talk openly and honestly about your beliefs on this topic, to see where you agree and whether any disagreements can be reconciled.

If you're not sure what your beliefs are, or if you've just carried some under-examined assumptions with you wherever you go, this is also your chance to think carefully and long-term before you make this enormous commitment. 

– September 07, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

She gets the last say? Really?

*She* gets the last say because she's a stay-at-home mom? So just because he works outside the home, he doesn't get an equal amount of input into the home in which they'll be living? Wow lady - what a perfect way to guarantee your husband will spend *more* time on the road and *more* hours outside the home!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

A bit over-the-top, no? Someone who is home all day almost every day should have a little more say in the decision--not, "You'll live here and like it because I say so," just that she has extra weight on her side of the scale when it comes to a difference of opinion like, he's willing to settle for a smaller place without many windows to save some money, but she's worried the cramped gloom will affect her mood and so the extra expense won't be wasted. 

– September 07, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

For "Overly Involved" ...

You're right, but I'll point out it was kinda silly of the wife to do the old (tired) "But [so-and-so] says I have to make counseling a minimum requirement of staying with you."
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Who said she said that? He could easily have been accusing her without being told anything. "What, did Friend tell you that?" Seen it too many times. 

– September 07, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

"....so frankly I think I should get the last say... "

Uh. Yeah, except HE'S the one paying for it. If my hard-earned money's going towards something that (most likely) costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, you're darn tootin' I'm going to need to love it as well.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Ugh, there's no "It's my money" in a marriage! Not unless it's part of an agreed upon approach where there's community cash and personal fun money. You're essentially saying stay-at-home parents have no say in their family's spending, which is abhorrent. They're equal partners.  

This whole thread is about having greater say in specific decisions, for specific reasons. If we were talking about a new car for which he would be the primary driver, then he'd get the last word. 

– September 07, 2012 12:47 PM
Q.

Re: "Overly Involved"

Maybe the wife did mention that her friend suggested counseling. Maybe the friend really is overly involved. None of that, IF true, would excuse the husband's way out-of-line controlling bullspit. Ain't sayin' he's abusive or anything, but the very fact that he's trying to bully his wife's friend into saying what he wants him/her to say is worrying on its face
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Zackly.

– September 07, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Two sides to every story

I would agree that the nasty emails from the husband are a great concern, but "I encouraged her to think long and hard before forgiving him, and expressed my belief that counseling..." makes me wonder if the husband's anger at this woman might not be justified. It's very hard having a best friend of your spouse show what sounds like open contempt towards you, regardless if it's from an appropriate cause. I wonder if the husband is rejecting counseling because he feels the idea came from her, and if she agreed to step out of the picture for a while (which she should do anyway as they decide what to do next) if he'd reconsider?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

No, he doesn't get to make that call, certainly not through pressure and certainly not by sending nastygrams to the friend. The non-bully path is right in front of him: Say to his wife that he fears Friend is undermining their efforts to work through this. That's not only respectful of boundaries--his wife has the right to seek the advice of any friend she chooses--but also respectful of his wife's judgment. If he trusts his logic and his wife, then there's no need to take his case to Friend.

And rejecting an idea because you don't like its source is just beyond childish.

– September 07, 2012 12:53 PM
Q.

Not having to work once children are born

I did not necesarily take the fiance's comment to mean that he will make her be a stay at home mom. From her wording, it sounded like he currently does not make enough for that to even be an option. If he wants it to be an option or a possibility (not a requirement) he knows he needs to make more and thus he hopes he will make that much then. It might explain his thinking about his current career.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Right, of course. But the issue is not the requirement angle so much as the (possible) underlying assumption--that when there's enough money, she gets to stay home, whoopee. But would she even want that if it were possible? What if her career satisfaction improves in the time it takes them to have kids, and she winds up not wanting to leave it? 

If he hasn't even considered that he would be the one to stay home if finances permit, or that they'd both continue to work even if they could afford not to just because they think that will be better for the family than the alternatives--or that she might just have different ideas from his about the "right" way to raise kids--then they've got a potential problem waiting for them. So, they need to talk about it fully. That's all I'm saying.

– September 07, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

re: OVERLY INVOLVED (title is a clue)

Isn't there a point where one says : I care about you and want only the best. I'm concerned for your well-being -- that being said I don't appreciate being harassed by your S.O. (which is not your responsibility, but adds to my concern for both of us) -- however, you are a very intelligent, capable adult person who is highly capable of solving her problems. I wonder what you would advise me or another friend to do in the same circumstances?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Sounds good to me, thanks.

– September 07, 2012 1:02 PM
Q.

re: New Home

Have you and your husband each created a list of things your new place must have, and must not have? If not, do so (separately)-- and then compare the two lists to see if there's some major conflict. If you're on the same page with all of the requirements, then see if you can work together to find a house that hits everything on your checklist. Also, you might also want to think about whether or not you both really want to move.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Great stuff, thanks.

– September 07, 2012 1:03 PM
Q.

DC

Do you think I have to disclose to my friends, relatives, dates, etc., that I'm on antidepressants? It's likely to change my relationships in some ways (hopefully for the better) so I feel they deserve an explanation, but I'm afraid I'm going to feel judged, whether or not anyone is actually judging me. What do you think?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Friends, no, relatives, no, dates, no ... with the exception that when you get to the point where you trust a person not to judge you, then it would probably be good for both of you to share the truth.

I say that for a couple of reasons:

1. intimacy isn't possible unless you share who you are, fully, even (especially?) the stuff you're afraid to share. That's not to say you should spill all and just cross your fingers that people won't make you pay; choose people carefully, get to know them, and when you trust them enough to feel safe and when you trust yourself enough to carry on even if the person lets you down, then you start revealing more.

2. Looking for this "safe" point will help you see more clearly whether you're surrounding yourself with people who are good for you. If it turns out you have good cause to believe* people will judge you for simply tending to your health, then you have another, potentially valuable piece of your mental health puzzle. Your relationships may change for the better after you stabilize your moods, but they can improve only so much if the people you're spending time with are negative, critical and judgmental.

 

– September 07, 2012 1:16 PM
Q.

My Sister is a Ham

Hi Carolyn, My entire life, I have been the quiet, introverted child and my sister was the extroverted, ham sister. We are now in our 20's and out of college. I am starting a career that I love and am recently engaged. My sister is a struggling actress. But what was cute and endearing when we were kids has become irritating and a little selfish as adults. My fiance has said that 20 minutes with my sister is entertaining but 21 minutes is annoying. My fiance and I are wondering if asking her to be a bridesmaid is such a good idea because everything about her behavior suggests that she is unable to step back and let us shine for the day. I love my sister and I appreciate her talents, but I do not want them on display at my wedding. Should I have a conversation with her about toning it down at our wedding? Should I ask her and just let the chips fall how they may? Any advice from you are the nuts would be appreciated.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

No wedding party. I think it's a great idea even without a spotlight-sucking sister and have said so many times over the years, but with an S-SS, it only accrues more charm. 

BTW, she's not going to "let us shine" for the day no matter what you do, so don't even think about that as a concern--just be the bride and groom. Not only will you be the  center of attention naturally, by virtue of being the ones at the altar, but also a bride and groom working to be the center of attention at their own wedding just has YouTube all over it, and not in a we're-laughing-with-you kind of way.

– September 07, 2012 1:23 PM
Q.

Today's column

Hi Carolyn, Pretend that I am the husband from today's column, who eats and drinks to excess in response to stress. How does one go about changing some of these ingrained behaviors to find healthier ways to deal with stress?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I think the first place to start is to look at whether you're living the right life for you.

Which, I realize, sounds akin to telling finess rookies that they ought to ride in the Tour de France.

But so much stress comes from ill-fitting choices, and not just, "I choose to buy chips instead of grapes." It's one of the reasons diets are such failures. If it helps bring it down to a more manageable size, think of stess (and the health deterioration that comes with it) as having a list of fundamental sources:

-what you eat

-how much you eat

-how many hours you sleep 

-what upsets you

-how often you get upset

-what you do and say when you're upset

-who or what calms you down when you're upset

-what you do well

-what you do badly

-what you think you're supposed to do but don't

...

I could go on, but this is a start in answering the "right life" question.

– September 07, 2012 1:32 PM
Q.

Anti-depressants

When you do share, please don't present it as something shameful. When I told my close friends and family, I shared it as great news, which it was.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Yes, I was remiss in not saying that--thanks for the catch.

– September 07, 2012 1:34 PM
Q.

Last say--the right kind of list

As a retired (and re-tired) real estate broker, I need to say that this couple needs to go deeper than making a list. Why is each requirement important? Modern vs vintage--I feel grubby in someplace old. City or suburbs--I need the energy of people around me or I need to be removed from the hubbub when I get home. When you know the underlying needs, it's possible to find a place that can meet them. By the way, Carolyn, I often quoted your relationship advice to help people choosing a home. A belated thanks.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

You're welcome, and thanks for returning the favor. This is good stuff.

– September 07, 2012 1:34 PM
Q.

Antidepressents

Maybe it's generational (I'm in my mid-twenties), but I've never really perceived much of a stigma to taking/using antidepressants. It's so common- according to the CDC, one in every ten Americans take them. That means that virtually everyone has somebody close to them or in their families that is sharing your experience.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Maybe generational, but I'm a generation older and I don't see a stigma, either, except via the column. It's probably also a bit geographic. Or socioeconomic. Geosocioeconomic.

Plus there's a backlash stigma, in that the numbers of people on antidepressants (also true of ADHD meds) have given medications an "I don't want to be one of those take-a-pill-and-make-it-go-away people." 

The moral of the story, I hope, is that this is no one's business except the patient's and the doctor's, and that, when in doubt, it's best to support people's efforts to get and remain well. 

– September 07, 2012 1:43 PM
Q.

My Sister is a Ham OP

Thanks for taking my question! Great suggestion with not having a wedding party at all. It would eliminate an awkward conversation with my sister and actually fits well into out causal/brunch reception were were planning. Wedding parties are such a normal part of weddings that I didn't consider nixing it until now. Thanks!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Wheee glad to help.

Other are calling you on the sibling-rivalry overtones, which I should have--it's a permanent fix to issues of attention-seeking behavior.

– September 07, 2012 1:47 PM
Q.

For the Sis of the Ham:

Tho I agree with Carolyn, since many people just can't eschew the wedding party, I say let the chips fall where they may and invite sis. And maybe the LW should think about where her fears come from. After all, she needlessly mentioned that she's "starting a career that I love" while her sister isn't simply pursuing an acting career, she's a "struggling" actress. Her fears of being upstaged at her wedding and this little jibe say a lot about her insecurities, which may be mild, but seem like a kinda less than happy thing to harbor for a lifetime. Just me, but I'd rather get to a zen state where even if sis hopped up on a table at the reception and danced a watusi, I'd be able to laugh heartily and hug my husband and whoop it up with the rest of the crowd.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Standing O, thanks.

– September 07, 2012 1:48 PM
Q.

Re: moving and SAH spouse

I don't think the wife here is out of line. When you have to be somewhere nearly all day every day, then I think whether you are comfortable with the physical house, the neighborhood and anything else local is important. It affects your mood, which in turn affects the kids and various other things. Certainly both spouses should be comfortable with it. I'm a SAHM right now, which I didn't anticipate being. But we moved five years ago, then I got pregnant and then the economy tanked. One thing I can say is thank heavens we are here, in a nice neighborhood with good neighbors and kids my kids' ages. If I'd had to be a SAHM in my old neighborhood (in another state), I think I'd have gone nuts.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Thanks--I've probably overdone this topic, but it's nice to have a firsthand account.

– September 07, 2012 1:52 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Sorry for the blank spot--delivery truck just showed up, but that's done and now I'm back. 

Q.

Gift of Fear

You recommend this book a lot. I have a friend coming out of a controlling and a abusive marriage immediately followed by a controlling relationship. She is afraid of making someone mad or hurting their feelings by saying a firm "no" when being asked out. She always leaves the door open by saying "not now" or something like that when she really means no, which just seems to encourage more asking. She is trying to get into counseling. Does the book address how not to be open ended on responses?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Yes, that's one of its central points. De Becker makes it clear that when you say, "Not now," the other person hears, "Later." When you say, "I can't, I'm busy," the other person hears, "... but when I'm not busy, I will say yes." When you say, "I'm seeing someone," the other person hears, "But when we break up, you're in."

You should read it, too, not just recommend it to your friend. It's an excellent course in communication, human motivation, and rational thinking on risk, among other things.

 

– September 07, 2012 2:02 PM
Q.

Baby Shower Nightmare

Hi Carolyn -- I love your column and would welcome some advice. I'm preganant with my first child and my in-laws are hosting a baby shower. It's co-ed and my BIL and SIL who are hosting were afraid that their house wouldn't be big enough so they rented out space in the back room of a bar and grill. My MIL (who had previously offered to host, then backed out upon finding out it was co-ed because that will make it "too much work") disapproved of having a baby shower at a bar (obviously I won't be drinking, but others should feel free to!) and is now insisting on hosting it at her house. I am very uncomfortable because I know she doesn't really want to host, but don't know what to do without ruffling too many feathers. I talked to my husband, but he thinks I just need to get over my discomfort. What do you think? Thanks, Mom-to-be
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Discomfort over what--having it at you MIL's house, or overruling your insistent MIL?

Don't spoze there's still time to invoke the families-don't-throw-showers-for-family rule, because it sounds as if this shower is just a bad idea that metastasized into an Issue.

I think it's perfectly fine to opt for the path of least resistance, whatever that happens to be--though in the interest of avoiding a stampede through the house of a reluctant hostess, I say have it at the bar, let MIL see that it's perfectly lovely, and this will all go away. (Or she hates it and it still goes away eventually.)

 

– September 07, 2012 2:09 PM
Q.

"look at whether you're living the right life for you"

I've never like my job and always feel stressed. I'm now in a position where I could quit. I have a pension from a previous employer. I'm single, and my only child is grown-up and graduated from college. The thing is, if I quit my income will be greatly reduced. It will be enough to live on but not much more. What I don't know is do I want to quit because I'm not living the right life for me and I need a chance to find something else or do I want to quit because I'm depressed and I'll be depressed even after I quit?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Why don't you use this great opportunity--not having to work to survive--as a chance to find work that's fulfilling, and whatever you earn doing it is a bonus? I realize jobs aren't just out there for the grabbing, but if you take your time, stay in your current job while you search, and listen carefully to your own needs, including the things you enjoy doing, do well naturally, would pursue in your free time even if you weren't paid, then there's a good chance you'll find something you'd happily quit your job to do. 

For what it's worth, watching so many of my Post colleagues take buyouts and start post-retirement lives has had a huge influence on me. It has been a revelation to see the interesting things they've chosen to do--working in education, foundations, small businesses, libraries, etc.

 

– September 07, 2012 2:21 PM
Q.

Iritiball

I've recently come to realize that I am irritable/angry quite often and worse than that - that I have been for much of my adult life. I wouldn't dare say that my life is difficult or that my irritation is ever fully justified, it just seems to be my go-to reaction/emotion. I never lash out at people - and certainly control how I communicate with others, even if they irritate me, but I do notice that I "witch" about a lot of things (to my boss/husband) that I could probably brush off instead. Even when I attempt to approach the day with a more positive attitude, I inevitably end up irritated because of an email, being forced into doing something that isn't my job, someone talking to me about their problems, a car cutting me off. This isn't healthy. I have a successful career, great husband, wonderful family and friends, and best of all a baby on the way. I don't want my son to have my reactions as an example to live by. Do you think that some people are just predisposed to being grouchy or is there more likely something deep rooted that I need to deal with?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Certainly it's worth a conversation with your doctor, since any number of chronic health problems could lead to irritability. It might be a longer road than that to figure out the source of your moods, but that's where it should start.

– September 07, 2012 2:24 PM
Q.

Family troubles

Hi Carolyn! My problem stems from my sister and her son. Her son has a couple of severe food allergies, in addition to other environmental allergies, including cats. The past 2 times she has come into town to visit, she and her family have stayed with my family, despite the fact that we have a cat. On her last visit, her son (who is 2), had an allergic reaction: hives, swollen face, etc. Despite the obvious, she refused to acknowledge that our house and cat is the problem. I love my sister, but she's very sensitive. Is there a way I can tactfully explain to her that they shouldn't stay at our house for the next visit? I feel terrible about my nephew suffering for our cat!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I feel terrible that your nephew is suffering for his mother's inability to get over herself. 

Maybe it actually wasn't the cat who puffed up your nephew, but, still something did, and it was at your house. Meanwhile, stubbornness and sensitivity are huge obstacles to good judgment, likely creating a problem for your nephew that you can do very little to solve.

What you can do, at least, is say when your sister plans her next visit: "Great! I'm booking you a nice hotel. If Nephew gets through short visits to our home without any hives, then we'll see about having you stay here next time." You can insist--it's your house--and you can choose to hold that line cheerfully, no matter what your sister says.

– September 07, 2012 2:35 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

You could, of course, also just let them come to your house and see how it goes again, since it's the decision rests with the parent, no matter how obtuse--but if the reaction was severe then go the hotel route.

Q.

Father retiring

My father decided to retire with his wife in a place that is at least a 10 hour flight from the state we all live in. I don't want to rain on his parade, but this news devastates me. Any tips on how to cope?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

You can tell him you're happy for him and his wife but really sad he'll be so far away--that's not raining on a parade, that's telling him you care about him and will miss him. It's even fair game to ask if he's willing to reconsider, because of how difficult (and rare) any visits will be, though if he says the decision is final, then accepting it graciously is really the only way not to make things worse. I'm sorry.

As for coping, you just work hard to stay in touch--video chatting is your friend--try to see it from his perspective (location maybe a lifelong dream?) and invest in your relationships closer to home.

– September 07, 2012 2:47 PM
Q.

Guilty Feeling

Hi Carolyn, There's a lot of backstory and angst that go along with this story, but I'll keep it to the short and sweet version. I'm in my twenties, and I got in a car accident with my Dad and stepmom's car. I did not borrow the car for fun - I was visiting with them (we live a few hours away) and needed to pick up prescriptions. Car accident happens - totally my fault, although luckily no one was hurt. I find out that the car didn't have comprehensive insurance and no damage is covered. I offered to pay in the heat of the moment, not realizing how expensive the repairs would be. Stepmom wants to hold me to this promise and thinks I should pay it all. Dad told me he doesn't want me to pay anything but wouldn't tell my stepmom this. My mom and stepdad, who have themselves had issues with my dad and stepmom not paying them things as promised, are adamant that I should not pay and that it was their fault for not having insurance. I am torn, and time hasn't helped at all. I feel like I should pay something, but I'm worried that if I do, my stepmom will hound me for more. But I feel guilty. I guess the answer you'll probably give is to pay what I can and stop overanalyzing this. Or maybe you won't, because sometimes your answers are surprising. But I would really value your opinion.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Yes, it's their fault for under-insuring their car, but you also say it was "totally my fault." What also matters here: You promised to pay, your stepmom expects you to pay, your dad doesn't but won't back you up openly. What your mom and stepfather think is beside the point; you're an adult and this isn't their car, so they're just bystanders.

Put that all together, and I think you do need to pay for the damage, in installments, unless and until your dad puts actions behind his words and calls off your stepmom.

(BTW: If you are insured for your own car, it's unlikely you were covered for this car, but it's worth checking just in case.)

– September 07, 2012 3:01 PM
Q.

Tell girlfriend about mom's feelings?

Carolyn, My girlfriend of 9 months recently came with me to a big family wedding. I really like her and think we're great together, so I was excited to have her meet my family for the first time. On a phone call a week or so after the wedding, my often-outspoken mom told me something along the lines of, "well, she's perfectly nice, but I think The One that you eventually meet will be more _______ and ________." (She gave both a personality-based and physical attribute.) I instantly -- and a little rudely, I'm afraid -- told my mom where I thought she could get off and that I was in love and hoped she could be happy for me instead of judgmental. She didn't apologize but changed the subject and hasn't brought it up since. My question is, do I tell my girlfriend? I feel like I would want to know if her family said this kind of thing about me, and I don't like keeping secrets, but why stir the pot unnecessarily? And is there anything else I need to say to Mom to keep this latent conflict at bay?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

You said just the right thing at just the right time, and probably with just the right tone, since sometimes rough edges are called for. 

Do not, do not, do not spoil this sure-handed response by sharing your mom's criticism with your girlfriend. Truth is a wonderful thing, but there's such thing as evidence that's too prejudicial for a jury to hear, right? Same goes for sharing parental opinions of new significant others.

If your mom persists in dogging your GF, and if you and GF remain on a serious trajectory, then you will need to let her in on your mom's reservations--but only in general terms, and only to the extent that your GF hasn't picked up on them already (which she will, no doubt). In the meantime, give your mom a chance to rethink her position in response to your clear defense of your choice.

– September 07, 2012 3:09 PM
Q.

Support to 21 year old daughter

General question is should parents be (wanting to be) primary support system to almost 21 year old away at college daughter or more like the secondary? Specific question is based on what we parents considered a weird phone call yesterday from daughters ex. They only dated about six weeks and are now friends. He is majoring in social work, so seems extra sensitive. He called our place of business (that's how he know to get ahold of us) and told my husband, "Yr Daughter is really struggling academically and emotionally and I think you should know." We'd been talking to her on and off - she seems ok socially and, yes, is really struggling with her second try at organic chemistry. All seems normal to us. Do we jump in and say, "What's up, do you need us, ex says you are really in trouble, what can we do!!??" Or do we shrug off this as "Ex doesn't know her as well as we do."?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Short answer, secondary.

Long answer: The ex could be officious, even a little off--but the ex also could be right and your best friend right now. To figure out which, I suggest, yes, calling to say, "What's up, do you need us, ex says you are really in trouble, what can we do?" (Note removal of exclamation points--no need to go into crisis mode, just truth mode.) Say this not just to see if she really needs help, but also to let her know this friend is making calls on her behalf. If he is butting in where he needn't/shouldn't, she needs to know that.

– September 07, 2012 3:17 PM
Q.

It's me, Shreveport!

Just wanted to add something to my question, since I realize a bit of it got lost in translation. When I said he "hopes to earn enough money that I don't HAVE to work," my emphasis is on the choice part--he wants to make the option available to me. As a college- and postgraduate-educated person, I have just never thought staying at home was an option (not because it doesn't sound ideal in many ways, but because I've invested six figures in my education and just always pictured myself working). Plus, I'm concerned about my own feeling that staying home would be better (which probably means I'm in the wrong field?). In other words, I don't think my fiance is sexist, but SAHM life doesn't quite match my identity, BUT I worry that I'd be missing out if I declined.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I don't think your fiance is sexist, either; I just think a statement like his warrants a broader conversation about the roles in a family each of you sees as ideal, desirable, etc. If his statement earns any "s-word," I'd use "simplistic."

Since your posts seem to be about not being sure yourself, that makes the conversation all the more important to have; you don't want to lock yourself into any one path or promise something based on your reality now that might not be true based on your reality then. 

Spending "six figures," by the way, does not belief make; many highly educated people choose to stay home with their kids, for a year or two or for the whole run, for better and for worse. Some get back into the work force immediately, because they can't stand SAH life, and some struggle to get back after losing career years  that they didn't realize were critical to their arc. Some would never have raised their kids any other way, some regret it after the marriage to the breadwinner fails and they're stuck with very compromised career prospects.

My point is, run it all through the hopper and see what you think then. 

– September 07, 2012 3:26 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Okay, that's it for today--I threw in an extra 30 to make up for the extra slow spots this week. Things should be evening out as I work out the summer-to-school-year transition, which always seems to be a little lumpy.

Anyway, have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by and hope to see you here next Friday, usual time.

Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Wait--some excellent follow-ups coming in, which I'll post without comment:

Q.

RE: Support to 21 year old daughter

Had a BF do the exact same thing to me in college. I was totally fine, he was a controlling a**. My dad didn't tell me about it and I wish he had, would have opened my eyes a bit sooner.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Key bookend coming:

– September 07, 2012 3:30 PM
Q.

ex call about daughter

This happened to us. Son having a real nervous breakdown about organic chemistry. We didn't respond as well as we could have, and he tried to commit suicide. Carolyn is right. Call and try to find out, but don't do so with exclamation points. Our son survived. We were lucky.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Wow--thanks.

– September 07, 2012 3:31 PM
Q.

Allergic Toddler Nephew and Cat

Why not experiment a different way: put the cat in a commercial boarding arrgt or a friend's house for the visit, and vacuum REALLY well, maybe use one of those super duper ones, including the upholstery, change your furnace filter, etc etc. Watch out what clothes you and other adults wear if/when holding your nephew, etc. You won't get ALL the cat dander out, but you can reduce it to a very small amt, and see what happens. And use that data to inform future conversations w your sister. abt this. If you have time/inclination to go to all that trouble before they visit. If it will make you resentful, don't do it.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:31 PM
Q.

Support to 21 Year Old

Social Work majors aren't 'extra sensitive'. Calling someone sensitive when they report a probem is a red flag. They probably have a talent, and probably is right.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:31 PM
Q.

I feel like I would want to know if her family said this kind of thing about me

No. No, you would not. Just trust us on this.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

:D

– September 07, 2012 3:31 PM
Q.

underinsured car

It could depend on the value of the car, too, since people often don't bother with comprehensive insurance on an older vehicle. It might be worth finding out how much the car is worth (NADA book value) and making sure you don't pay more than that.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:32 PM
Q.

RE: GUILTY FEELING

The LW should check his/her auto insurance policy or call the insurance agent. If the LW's car carries collision insurance, it might also apply to a borrowed car. I read auto insurance policies for a living, so thought I'd chime in.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:32 PM
Q.

re: guilty feeling - what the law says

carolyn, in court, whoever wrecks the car is at fault. it doesn't matter whether the car owner had insurance or not. watch "the people's court" and you'll see that "he shoulda had insurance!" loses 100% of the time.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Shoulda!

– September 07, 2012 3:33 PM
Q.

Iritaball

Take care of your basic needs: if you are hungry, eat. If you are tired, rest. And if you need a break, take one. I don't think anyone outgrows the physical discomfort of terrible twos, some just manage their needs better.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:37 PM
Q.

MIL and bars

"MIL, thank you so much for offering, but Husband and I really appreciate that BIL and SIL put all this effort into planning an event, and we're going to celebrate at Funtime Bar and Grill. I hope you'll join us."
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:38 PM
Q.

re baby shower nightmare

Or better yet, the mother-to-be should tell the in-laws, Decide among yourselves where to hold the shower, and then tell me when and where to show up. Let the hosts (whoever they turn out to be) do the hosting.
A.
Carolyn Hax :
– September 07, 2012 3:39 PM
Q.

 

A.
Host: