Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, October 5)

Oct 05, 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, October 5, 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 ... tap tap ... is this thing on? Things are looking a bit odd on my side of the page. 

From today's column: "She needs you to recognize that you all mistook her good behavior for emotional maturity." Emotional maturity is a term I see a lot, but how do you define it in this case?

I don't think it has cases. I think there's a universal definition: not reliant on external approval to feel worthwhile.

Carolyn, today's column struck a chord with me as another grown up golden child. Luckily, I haven't had any "publicly humiliating ditch" situations, but I am suddenly struck that my fear of one is keeping me from taking any risks in order to please those around me, and as a result reaping fewer rewards because I don't know how to demand them. This is something I'm working on, but what are your "top tips" on starting to establish that sense of self, and how to figure out what I want vs. what I need to please those around me. It feels like a daunting, close out the world task, so I'm hoping there's a smaller/more practical way to start. Thank you!

It is daunting, it is confusing, it is hard to get started. That's why so many people need the public implosion to get motivated: Up until that point, all of their strength is dedicated to the effort not to implode. I think of is as someone white-knuckled with the effort of hanging on. Once they reach the very point they were trying so hard to avoid, then they realize there's no point in holding on any more, and they release their grip.

There are ways, though, to let go incrementally and get adjusted to the idea of listening to your own voice instead of everyone else's. The most accessible is to start taking note of the countless little decisions you make every day, and make the conscious choice to  opt for (or at least admit*) what you really want, instead of what you've been conditioned (or conditioned yourself) to do.

*This comes with a warning label, though: You've probably been conditioned to bathe regularly, show up to work/school on time, observe traffic laws and not shoplift candy bars. Before you start your incremental I-gotta-be-me program, be sure to commit to the things keeping you employed and non-incarcerated as non-negotiable, and then start second-guessing those other daily decisions. 

But do treat virtually everything within those boundaries as fair game. 

 

What if you ARE a book editor & expert on the current market, and friends/family/acquaintances are frequently sending you manuscripts? Or asking you to forward them to another publishing contact who could be interested? Usually I try to sidestep this by telling them to find an agent first, but then I'm asked about agents I know, and...their stories are never good enough that I feel comfortable with that. Is this an instance where I just have to be honest about their quality of writing? How do I tell people I love that they're just not good enough?

You tell all of them that you receive too many manuscripts and other publishing queries from people you know and love to give them all the attention they deserve, so you've had to make it your personal policy not to field any of them. 

I've been reading you for years and you have always been an advocate for The Women's Center in DC. I finally took the plunge and started going to a therapist there and I can't say enough good things about the place. So thank you for planting the seed, it feels good to take the first step. Thanks again.

Thank you, too, for reporting your experience. Therapy can seem to have such a high barrier to entry that a reputable, accessible resource is pure gold. 

After being overweight and exhausted constantly for the past 10 years, I've recently started losing weight, exercising, and generally taking better care of myself. And while I have a long way to go, I've been seeing results. I used to oversleep every day and nap away the better portion of my afternoons, and yet was still tired all the time. Now I sleep less and have way more energy. And time. Having more time is, in theory, a great thing, but my problem is, I have no idea what to do with it. And it's making me anxious so I wind up right back where I started: sitting on the couch staring at the TV. I live alone and don't have a significant other, although I do have a good circle of friends I see as often as possible, I volunteer on a regular basis, and I'm attending grad school part-time. Everything that needs to be done is getting done. I have a few hobbies I enjoy that I've been spending more time on, but even with that, there's too much time on my hands. And I honestly don't know what I want to do, nor do I know how to find out, and in the void of time slips worries and what-ifs. I realize that I have an amazing opportunity to do. . . something, but I don't even know where to start. Any suggestions?

This is tough, because it's so personal--for example, the first thing that came to mind was becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister, but if you don't enjoy being around kids, that's a non-starter. Fostering homeless dogs and cats is another great, steady, purposeful use of time that arises from a bottomless need, but, again, are you an animal person?

So the only advice that feels right is to ask, what do you have a knack for, what are you passionate about, what brings you joy? Or, if that's still too big to wrap your mind around, look around you: Where is the most pressing local need? In those questions there might be the seed of something that can grow into a unifying purpose for you. 

Not that having one is necessary; it just wipes out the "What now?" question for good.

Whatever you end up making of all this, you still accomplished something difficult and significant. Congratulations on breaking a 10-year-long bad habit, against what must have been a powerful gravitational pull.

Dear Carolyn - Thank you so much for printing my question in your column yesterday. Your advice yesterday, as it was in the chat several months ago, was extremely helpful. However, I have found that the chief benefit in having your question picked for a column is that you get all the viewpoints and examples provided by your commenters! I loved reading through the comments, as they helped me wrap my mind more completely around the core of the problem. Update: my husband and I are going on a short trip away by ourselves, and I think we are now better equipped to handle the guilt-trips that our families are so good at providing. Thank you for your advice and for cultivating such a rich commenter base.

It takes a thick skin to wade in there when you're the one they're discussing, so good for you for being open to constructive deconstruction. 

My sister has a beautiful 4 year old daughter. She's pregnant again - and about a month ago she found out she was pregnant with twin girls. Meanwhile, our brother and his husband have been talking more seriously about starting a family; years ago my sister told them she would consider being a surrogate or egg donor when they were ready to discuss it. Yesterday, my sister told me that since she found out about the twins, she has had the crazy idea of exploring the possibility of my brother and brother-in-law adopting one of the girls. She said when it first occurred to her, she immediately dismissed it as insane and admits she was sort of horrified, but she can't get it out of her head, and the more she thinks about it, the more she thinks her husband and our brother might see it the same way. Part of me thinks this is the most insane thing I have ever heard, but part of me totally sees where she's coming from. Everyone involved here - my sister, my brother, and both husbands - has a long history of behaving like mature, empathetic, boundary-respecting adults. I'm actually leaning towards advising her to go ahead and raise the idea with her husband. Is that crazy?

Has either of you talked to any twins? I imagine they'd be strongly opposed to the idea. I don't have a twin myself, but two of my kids are, and that leads many of the adults we meet out in the world to point out that they also are twins. Then come the stories of how amazing it is to grow up that way, with your better-than-best friend. Even though this would most likely be a wide-open adoption, I just can't imagine taking that experience away from them--not even for such a generous and loving reason as your sister's.

I also expect the husband will nix the idea quickly, but advising that you kick the idea down the road till someone says no is not much of a plan.  

Dear Carolyn, I have never been skinny, but have gone up and down in weight over the past couple years. I am fun, smart, have a good job, and am a size 14/16. I dress well and have a ton of friends wholike me. The problem? My husband of 7 years/partner of much more. He has always makes weight/exercise comments to me. And whenever I tell him how much it hurts or bothers me he says I am scarred from my childhood and I am unable to have a talk about my weight/exercise without getting upset. He says he only cares about my health, but he makes me feel like crap. I try to tell him NO wife would like it,but he doesn't care. I feel like I have been having this fight forever, with no end in sight. Today he told me as long as I don't loose weight or exercise, I will have to listen to him for the next 30 year's. Am I being too sensitive? Should I leave? Otherwise, we have a ton in common and a great time. But I hate when he gets like this.

That kind of badgering is so totally unacceptable in a marriage. Have you asked him what purpose he thinks he serves, repeatedly telling you things that any sentient adult already knows? And that annoy you, hurt your feelings, move you to question how much he actually cares about your needs vs. his own, but haven't once made you thinner?

Should he counter with the you're-scarred-from-childhood crap, stand firm. "I don't like talking about my weight because there's nothing more to say, and because I've asked you to drop it. Your choice to belabor the subject, despite my explicit request that you drop it, is not my parents' fault, nor is it my fault."

If that's not enough to wake up this "partner" of yours to his arrogance, then Step 2 is to identify an area where you'd enjoy some improvement in him, and asking how he'd like it if you reminded him on a daily basis that he was falling short of your expectations.

Should he answer this with an, "I'd appreciate it because I want to improve myself" (which will most likely be rhetoric, not truth), then you have an opening to request counseling: "We obviously have different ideas of the boundaries between what's our own business and what's the other person's. I'd like to go to marriage counseling to work this out."

And finally ... if he refuses, then you have two things: 1. a solid indication that this issue goes well beyond your weight and into matters of boundaries, kindness, arrogance and entitlement. 2. a decision to make. Is this a deal-breaker for you, those impending 30 years with him all up in your grill, thinking he has that right?

 

I understand the idea that telling a family member who's a writer that his/her work is terrible would be harsh, but if you're an editor, and you think it's terrible, there is a good chance other editors may feel the same way. Why not be honest and say "I personally don't like this; I don't think x works, or that y is written well/etc"? What are you really saving them from by lying to them about it?

I don't think anyone's saving anyone, and I don't think anyone should lie. I just think friends and lovers should stay out of the business of critiquing each other's work, except in cases where it arises organically--say, when they established that critiquing rapport before there was romance, or when both parties truly feel comfortable giving and receiving constructive criticism.  

I also think one critic, even a good and informed one, isn't even close to the last word. Just think of all the mega-novels lately that a good chunk of the population finds unreadable. If any of these unimpressed readers were the loved one asked to give an opinion, said cash-cow novel might be in the bottom of somebody's drawer. And since one opinion isn't everything, why even get the one opinion that might injure a relationship? Let the people on professional footing do the truth-telling (or, I should say, their truth-telling).

Um, babies aren't cookies. You don't give your brother one just because you've got two.

There's that. Thanks.

Another option is just to appreciate and embrace having some down time (something that I am still working on mastering!). It sounds like you do a lot - exercise, grad school, volunteer - and there's no rule that says you have to fill every free second with something meaningful. Sitting on the couch and watching tv is fine as long as, as you say, "everything that needs to be done is getting done." If it's the "tv" part that bothers you, you can always replace it with a book or substantive magazine, which tends to feel more fulfilling.

And that, thanks.

Three quick comments, two from twins and one from a parent of:

Yikes! Maybe the adults in this scenario are mature, but the children will be kids for a long time. I have twins also and their bond is incredible, so much so that the "Parent Trap" bothered me because I couldn't imagine parents splitting twins up. I think it would have to be difficult to discover that your cousin is actually your twin. There's got to be a better way to help out the brother and the husband.

Thanks. And:

As a twin: NO. Do not encourage this idea. My relationship with my twin sister is by far the defining relationship in my life. Do not encourage your sister to deprive your nieces/nephews of this bond.

And:

I'm a twin with a twin brother and reading this question just gutted me. We've had our ups and we've had our downs, but I would be horrified if someone had split us apart at birth. I can't even contemplate it, no matter how well seeming the idea appears. DON'T DO IT! Please.

And this. Thanks all.

My husbands mom is a generous and loving woman, though she can also be crazy and overbearing. My husband is presently out of work, and she has been hounding him about what she sees as his missed opportunities, perfect chances he flubbed some how (despite applying). Finally, one night after her fourth browbeating call, my husband let her have it and hung up on her. Her tirades put my stressed out husband that much more on edge, and make our family life more stressful. He is a wonderful father and a good man. I really want to speak candidly with her about this but am not sure how. Given their families dynamic, that might be a rude awakening for her to be told how her bad behavior is trickling down.

Seems to me your husband already spoke up for himself. Any reason to think he isn't handling it on his own, or able to keep handling it?

Dear Carolyn, My amazing, wonderful fiance made what he has referred to as "a very bad decision" and got married at 20, while he was still in college. He was divorced by 23, and not amicably. We met and began dating a few years later, and he was very open about it from the get-go. From the moment he first told me, and throughout the course of our four-year relationship, the fact that he was briefly married has barely registered as a blip on my radar -- people make mistakes. But suddenly, now that we are engaged and beginning to plan our wedding, I can't seem to stop dwelling on the fact that he once publicly promised to spend his life with someone else. It has never bothered me until now. I don't doubt his commitment to me, or that this is a well thought out decision. I just wish I could get over this odd, unexpected "second place" feeling. I know I need to take a step back and recognize that it's water under the bridge. Any advice on how to do so would be really appreciated!

Are you able to step into your past a bit, to rummage around for an experience that can help inform your understanding of your fiance? Specifically, I'm thinking of a time in a past relationship when the only life you could envision is one with that person. I don't see that huge a difference between "publicly promised" and privately felt, except perhaps in the timing (if you were under 18 when you felt this way) or degree of impulse control.

Either way, your life was this person ... until it wasn't. Now your life is with him, and you're both just as fully in this moment as you would have been if there were no failed  early marriage. (Arguably he is more so, but that depends on how much he learned from it all.)

I'm a big fan, Carolyn, and hope you take my question - I am in absolute anguish and hope you can shed light on my situation because I don't know what else to do at this point. My boyfriend of three years wants to get married and I am not sure if I want to marry him. He proposed ten months ago, I wasn't ready, he's been patient. He's now eager to know one way or the other and neither of us want to waste more time (early30s), but I am completely torn about what I want. At my core, I feel like he is my soulmate and that we connect on an other-worldly level. In a vacuum, this would be bliss. But enter in the big bad world and I hesitate to fully commit because I am religious and he does not want to participate, even for my sake. I am also very spiritual and have a hard time saying yes to a life where I know I will not grow and connect spiritually/religiously with my spouse. I've tried therapy, we've tried giving each other space, and we've tried living out our lives together until I arrive at an eventual conclusion, none of which has worked. This is tearing us apart, as individuals and as a couple. What now?

Well, since you've tried everything else, the only answer you've really left yourself is to leave for good, decisively enough to trigger the processes of healing and of building new lives without each other.

But, for the sake of argument, you say "we connect on an other-worldly level"--and then you say, "a life where I know I will not grow and connect spiritually/religiously with my spouse." Which is it?

To me, "connect on an other-worldy level" and "connect spiritually" sound like the same thing. That would mean your only failure to connect would be religously--and while that's clearly no small thing to you, it's also not fair to say you wouldn't grow spiritually from this relationship. Again, that's using my reading of "other-worldly level"--as well as my belief that one doesn't need religion to be spiritual. If you didn't mean it that way, then we're back to Paragraph 1.

How do I encourage my stubborn daughter to reunite and establish a better future for us? I burn to see my grandchildren.  All communications replying to my pleas have resulted in no response over two years. I have gone to counseling and read father-daughter material, and am eager to show I have changed.

What went wrong? You've changed, you say, but you still call her stubborn. That's hedging.

I've hesitated on asking this, because I'm no longer really in a position where it's a problem. But what the hell. My parents don't believe a word I say. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. "Your wrist isn't broken." (It was.) "You don't have measles." (I did.) "You're lying about how awful your college roommate is" (no) "and failed Japanese to spite us and waste our money." (Sigh) It hasn't gotten much better in adulthood; they still won't take my word for much, whether I'm telling them that our dog will eat any pizza they leave on the coffee table or that my husband and I have decided to move out of the Midwest. I'm a college graduate with a good job and an excellent reputation in my field, am happily married, have two healthy and thriving children, and would prefer that the dog didn't eat so much pizza, so it's not like I have any reason to lie about any of this stuff. As I said, now that I am not in a position where I depend on them for things like medical care or tuition money, it's more of an annoyance than anything else. And we do actually get along very well; I love them and I know they love me and they adore their grandchildren and we all enjoy spending time together; it's not like I brood about this. But for some reason, when we told them we were moving and they responded the way they did, I thought, "Huh. This is just like it was with the pizza. And the roommate. And the measles. And the Japanese class. Wait a minute." So, any ideas why this might be? I do have a younger sister and they take everything she says as an article of absolute faith while simultaneously acknowledging that she is something of a drama queen. Do they get their skepticism ya-yas out on my life or what?

This is bigger than a chat question--it's a great therapy question, if you're so inclined--but I want to float one possibility. Are they working off an ancient script that you and your sister unwittingly wrote when you were too little to remember? I ask only because I've seen it so much over the years, where adults take great comfort in assigning kids an identity and sticking to it, no matter how much the kid changes. The typical contruction is "The ____ one." "He's the smart one," "She's always been the dramatic one," "Ooh, look, he's going to be your troublesome one."  Not only do people say these things, but they do it out loud, in front of the kids. Gah.

Anyway, if your folks do this--and as much as it rankles, I get it, it conveys the illusion of mastery of one's little world--then it would make complete sense that you, truthful and competent, are the one who tells tales, and your sister is the dependable one (if a bit prone to drama).

 

I've been dating a wonderful man for about the last year and I love him very much. We're starting to talk about taking the next step (moving in together, as a step toward marriage). The hitch? I'm in my late 20s and he's about 20 years older than me. He's fit and active and looks and acts younger, but I'm having a hard time getting over the age difference. My friends say it's not a big deal, but my parents see me pushing around a disabled old man when I'm only 60. Is this something I can, or should, just get over?

I dunno. How do you feel about the possibility that you might have years of energy left when your husband's health starts to fail?

Not that it's guaranteed; I don't need to get into the vagaries of terminal illness and traffic accidents to prove you don't ever know what you'll actually get. But, should you both remain on your cuurent trajectories, he'll succumb to age two decades before you do. I wish I had all the examples near at hand, but over the years I've gotten a good carton of letters from people who married someone much older--and while some are expressions of deep regret for signing on to be a caregiver in the prime of their lives, most are celebratory, framing their foreseeably shorter time with these spouses as far preferable to not being with them at all.

Since you don't have confidence in your feelings yet, nor can you reasonably expect to after a year, it sounds as if you should slow down on the shacking up and get to know him (and your heart) better from the least risky perspective: staying right where you are.

My father was an awful Dad. He was the first person to ever call me a "bitch" (I was nine) and was absent when he wasn't antagonistic. Bad, bad Dad. The thing is, I've always towed the party line, always said the very best things about him publicly. I lied with a smile for decades and continue to now that it's pretty clear his days/hours are numbered. I've contacted extended family and old colleagues to let them know that this great man is ready for the last bits of adulation they may offer. I represent him within our small community and receive and share the sadness of his demise. He's still so hurtful to me in every way imaginable and yet here I am, being a sucker until the very end. How do I deal with all of the self-loathing for having essentially been complicit in his bad behavior? I can hear (the imagined?) tsk-tsking from the Nuts (and from you, C, because you lost a Mom who was clearly amazing and devoted).

I've decided not to speak about any of this as my last gift to him, but it's costing me.  I'm just so angry at myself. How do I deal with it? I genuinely wish him no ill-will, I'm just torn up by the lack of justice here. Not only will he never be held accountable for being so unrelentingly selfish and cruel, but now I'm burdened with these feelings that I fear would only make me sound petulant and somehow ungrateful. Will they fade once he's gone and the grieving period has passed? I can't confront him with it now. That feels entirely unfair somehow. The man is dying. The end is here. Moreover, he honestly wouldn't know what I'm talking about because he is so utterly convinced of his own blamelessness. Help.

Oh my goodness--you'll get no tsk-tsking from me, not even close. You have -not- been complicit in his bad behavior. A father who calls his 9-year-old daughter a "bitch" is knocking her off the grow-and-thrive path and squarely onto the survival path. You didn't have any say in that then. From an age before awareness, you have simply done what you felt was necessary to get by, because that was the one choice he gave you.

Now that you are an adult, please see this and forgive yourself. Give yourself the one thing he couldn't or wouldn't give you: acceptance that you matter. You matter no more and no less than any other human being, and that means you're just as entitled to dignity, civility, and the freedom to be flawed without getting those flaws shoved back in your face every single time you express them.

In other words, guide yourself on to the grow-and-thrive path. Since a dying father means you're likely to need it anyway, look up your local hospice provider and find out what counseling services they offer. It's not as if you can pluck compassion off the shelf and take it to the register, but hospice organizations are about as close to that as you can get. Take your burdensome truth there, and your mixed feelings and your self-loathing and no doubt your anger at your fate in the parent lottery, and leave it all there. You're not petulant, you're not ungrateful, you're a survivor of enduring, systematic abuse.   

I was in a very similar situation with my now husband. The best thing I did was just say out loud - It's really weird that you've done this before with someone else. The resulting discussion really made me understand the difference in where he was then and where he is now. Your fiance already seems very open, give him the chance to make you feel better about it.

Sounds good to me, thanks.

How would she choose which twin gets adopted? How would the adopted twin feel about being the one "not chosen" by the biological parents?

Ugh, that too. Thanks.

And, now that you mention it--what if one thrives and the other doesn't? What if they don't agree with the way the brother/husband are raising their half of the set? What if the brother/husband split up? I used to have ethical mini-crises when it came time to dress my guys, and I didn't have, say, two sweaters of the exact same weight: Which one do I give the thinner sweater? What if he isn't warm enough? I know that will sound nuts, but that kind of stuff occurs to you when you're doing things in twos.

You are correct in equating "other-worldly" and "spiritual" around how I connect with my BF. I think it really boils down to two issues around spirituality/religion I can't seem to get past. While we connect spiritually with one another, I feel like I am not getting the spiritual nourishment I need to deepen my faith and live a more fulfilling life. And for the religious side of it, it's not just his lack of current participation, but the prospect of down the road being the only parent providing a religious example and education for our kids. But are those concerns enough to end an otherwise wonderful relationship?

On the religious education for your kids, you might be in a strong position to swing a deal with your husband. Often people who opt out of religion were exposed to it as kids, and therefore are open to giving their kids the same chance to grow up in a faith and then make their own choice. You and he would just have to think carefully about how much of his participation is conscientious child-rearing and how much constitutes fraud. I'd say you also have to prepare yourself for your someday kids to opt out of your faith, but that's a prospect every parent faces, true no matter how involved a co-parent is. 

On the connection issue, I can only say that every marriage leaves some hunger unsatisfied--whether it's religious, or intellectual, or physical, or just a whole-hearted embrace of a certain sport or hobby or cause. It's not realistic to expect everything from one person; we can only make sure it's not something we'll miss too badly, or regret not holding out for. Often the difference between okay and not okay is the source of this external nourishment. People who marry when sex is a problem, for example, learn quickly that their extramarital choices are problematic at best.

Meanwhile, those who find that missing nourishment in good friends and hobby groups are often just fine, even grateful to have their emotional lives diversified a bit--but even that is deeply personal. Some people love to have friends for friend-talk, and some people wish they got that from theit spouses. There's no answer out there that can change the fact that you have a tough decision to make, and you're exhausting your garce period for making it.

 

The poster sounds like my younger twin (12). Her sister is loving, trustworty, dependable. A solid kid with a great future. The younger of my 2 darlings lies about EVERYTHING! Did you bathe, brush your teeth, comb your hair? Who broke the whatever? she's always sick: Mom, take my temperature; I'm nauseaous, on and on. I constantly find myself saying, " why would you lie about that?" I get a hung head and no real response. It's so bad, I told my sister to take note of how we treat the girls at home so that when I'm dead she'll not get to lie about being treated unfairly as a child. Maybe, the poster wrote a script that she has forgotten.

Please get some family therapy--soon, and find someone good. Your lying twin is trying to tell you something big, and you're missing the forest for the unbrushed teeth.

When I look back on the relationship I had at 20 and the one I had at 25, I thank my lucky stars that I wasn't asked by and didn't agree to marry either of these men. At the time, I would have said yes and would have probably ended up exactly where your fiance is.

Exactly what I'm talking about, thanks.

Hi Carolyn My boyfriend (45) and I (38) have been discussing marriage and I suggested elopement. The reason is that my family is nuts, especially my mom. Currently she is not speaking to me (neither is the rest of the family or she will stop speaking to them) because a) refused to give over a modest inheritance from my grandmother to her or my sister (plans was to use it to pay for the food for the wedding), and b) i asked her to stop posting passive-aggressive comments on my Facebook wall in reference to the inheritance. My SO is close to his family, so eloping would hurt their feeling (and they are super nice and welcoming to me), but I can't take the chance of my family ruining such an important occasion like they have ruined other milestone events (e.g. HS, College, PhD graduations, Grandmas Funeral, Sister's wedding, to name some). How do we tell his family we want to elope so I don't burn bridges with them but not make my family out to sound like the nutters they are? Yes, SO is ok with elopement, it's breaking it to his family that we find ourselves in a pickle. C.

"... but not make my family out to sound like the nutters they are": That ship has sailed. Stop worrying about how your family appears to others. They are who they are, and they're not you.

"... so I don't burn bridges with them": You either have a wedding and let the nutter chips fall where they may, or you elope. If you choose to elope, then your boyfriend alone tells his family, or you and he tell them together, that you and he are ready to get married now, so you're going to--and you will have a post-wedding party, on you of course, for both families, nutter chips and all.

You're a combined age of 83. You can do what you stinkin want. If his family takes that badly, then their bridge had kerosene on it anyway, and any spark was going to consume it. Truly. 

My 15 year old daughter is bright, funny and smart. She is, however, is an introvert, not willing to plan things, waiting for her friends to call. The problem is they don't call often. How can I, an extrovert, parent a child who is fine in her own company and does not have my social needs?

Follow her lead. And, be the parent you'd want: Do you think you'd appreciate hearing, "Why don't you stay home for once? You never give yourself time to think"--or would you prefer someone who understands that you have your own needs, as well as a right (and possibly sufficient maturity) to find your own means of meeting them, within certain gentle boundaries.   

Hi Carolyn, My recently ex-husband has supervised visitation with our 1 year old daughter - 2 hours once a week. I know this isn't much time, but he has major issues, which is what led to this arrangement. He has a fairly severe mental illness, refuses to take medication, won't go to therapy and is an alcoholic. For years I gave into his 'needs' because he's so dramatic and I didn't want him to be depressed, suicidal, etc. Now he's pressing me to give him extra time with our daughter and I don't think it would be good for her to be around him more. But when he tells me that 2 hours isn't enough, I can understand that. What should I say to him to hold my ground? Am I right to hold my ground?

"Yes, of course--when you take better care of yourself, you'll no doubt get more time with her." 

Right?

Carolyn, My Mom is a helicopter mom, but loves BIG. My sister and I both met wonderful men. I got married and she just got engaged. My husband has a son who lives away so we will be with him this christmas and won't be home. This will be my first christmas alone, I know my mom is bummed but trying to be brave about it. However my sisters new fiancee, now wants her to go with him for christmas to an entirely different coast instead of to our house. He wants to show his family the ring etc. My mom would be left with just her and my dad for christmas...and maybe we arent giving her enough credit, but I can see her being devestated. I can't think of a solution to this...and we are both torn up about it. We also live so far apart that a second "Christmas" later that month or the next is untenable. What should we do!?

Give your mom credit for being an adult, and hope she does the same. 

Hi Carolyn, I just got done helping at my son's second grade this morning. The teacher asked me to work with a little girl outside the classroom on some reading skills. While out there, the girl said, "you know your son has a girlfriend, right?" (I knew this - whatever that means to a second grader, though). Then she said, "Well they have sex like grownups do. Just thought you should know what they're doing behind your back." Glad to say I maintained my composure and didn't react. Now I'm wondering how to handle. It seems like this little girl might be troubled and trying to be provocative, as I'm sure what she told me wasn't the truth (my son and his "girlfriend" only see each other at school and have had one well supervised playdate - and they're only seven!!). I'm going to have "the talk" with my son - about this and about facts in general - do you have any resources I can use about how to talk to kids about this? Also, do you have any advice about how to handle this little girl? Should I mention it to the teacher? I don't know her family at all. Thank you!

I don't know you and I can still picture your face when she said this.

First, I wish time were rewindable so I could coach you to ask, "Interesting--what do you mean by that?" It wouldn't be appropriate to ask much beyond that, given the circumstances and the topic, but it is often helpful for several reasons to find out on the spot what a child is really saying. Asking them to define their terms often reveals a more age-appropriate truth.

Next thing, do mention this to the teacher. Schools are unique position to catch trouble early, and that only works if the witnesses are communicating. Some stories are told only in small pieces, often so small as to not seem worth telling, and if 20 people hold such pieces without sharing them, a troubled kid slips through the cracks. 

Last thing, for talking to your kid, I suggest preparing yourself by reading the work of Deborah Roffman. Pick the book that seems to cover this stage of your lives best, and that will likely be enough to get you started and keep you reasonably on course.

3:13, I'm here well past my welcome. Thanks for stopping by today, have a _____ (relaxing/splendid/monster/better-than-you-had-any-reason-to-hope) weekend and see you here next Friday.

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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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