Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, February 22)

Feb 22, 2013

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, February 22, 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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Hello, everybody, happy Friday. 

Some business before we start: I will be off next Friday, so the next chat will be on March 8.

Also, be sure to visit my new forum page (link), where you can pose a question for the crowd, create a poll, weigh in on a topic or read about one that interests you.

 

But wait, there's more ...

In response to those who have asked for (complained about the lack of) an easy way to find my column, here's a direct way to sign up for a daily e-mail (link). 

 

Hi Carolyn - the link to sign up for your daily e-mails doesn't work. Can you try re-posting?

I just fixed the link. Here it is again: bit.ly/haxpost  It will take you to a sign-in page first. Thanks!

Carolyn, I was somewhat surprised by your answer to the letter the wife wrote about attending her husband's best friend's wedding on the husband's 40th birthday; a birthday they thought he might not reach due to medical problems. I went to a niece's Bat Mitzvah on my 50th birthday, and the Bat Mitzvah girl came over and wished me a happy birthday. We attended a cousin's wedding on our 20th anniversary, and they invited us up to wish us a happy anniversary and asked everyone to toast us. In the case in the letter, since the husband was asked to make a toast, would it have been so hard, after the toast, for the groom to ask everyone to wish his friend a happy birthday, as the wife thought he should have done. It would have taken a very little bit of time and effort, would not have cost anything, and would have meant a lot to his friend. I think that totally ignoring it was thoughtless and the groom could have learned a lot from our niece when she was thirteen.

That's all fine and hard to argue with--but it didn't happen that way.

And so this couple has to make a decision: Hold a grudge over it, or move on? Since it's an adult, it's a birthday, and it's not unusual for people to forget things on their wedding days, it seems like lunacy even to consider denting a long, good friendship over it. It seems that way to me, at least, which is a disclaimer that goes with everything I write: just my opinion.

It is common, though, for me to get letters like yours in response to a lot of problems: "But the X should have done Y ...."  So, it's worth spelling out here, I don't put much stock in the concept of "should." If it's egregious and significant then, yes, I'll write into my answer that X should have done Y. But in most cases, dwelling on that amounts to a decision to stay stuck in a place of indignation, waiting for justice to be done. I'm not a fan.

Carolyn is experiencing some technical difficulties. She's sorting it out now, so please stick around. Thanks!

Sorry about that, guys, my page was stuck. It seems to be unstuck now, so let's try this again.

My husband and I have a close friendship with a female about our age at a church we work at but my husband also has a regular job in a city close by. Recently he found out that a coworker was applying for a different position in the company so her spot may open up soon. We talked to our church friend about applying there since she has been looking for a good job and my husband and I thought she could ride to work with him to help cut both their cost. We have now been informed by two of her family members that her riding with him wouldn't look right and she shouldn't even apply for the job and we also found out they are telling her the same. What should be are response and what should my response be when these people can't believe I'm not jealous or worried?

"Thank you for your concern" is all you need to say to these family members.

I know some  people will probably jump in to say it's possible they know something you don't, and of course that is possible, but the only answer to that is to proceed according to your best judgment, which you're already doing, right?

One of my colleagues missed a professional commitment this week, leaving some others in the lurch. This person has dropped balls more frequently in the last couple years and especially months, and I've wondered whether he might be losing his memory. Yesterday he brought it up with me (because I was involved in this week's missed commitment) and said he's worried because he's had a bunch of other (outside work) memory lapses lately. I expressed concern, said (a few times) that he should see a doctor, could be something simple like electrolyte imbalance (no medical knowledge here, pulled that one out of my ear), but he really should get it checked out. So, am I done? On the work front, we've been keeping an eye on him for a while now, and we'll continue to do so. It's not all that easy but it's possible for now. Do I have any obligation to call his wife? I know she's been out of town a lot, and I don't know whether he will even remember that he's supposed to call the doctor. I barely know his wife, and the one person I could think of who seems to both have reasonable judgment and know the couple better thinks he should stay out of it.

Your colleague is having serious memory problems, but he's present enough to express his concern. That means he's present enough to answer this question for you. "Would you like me to call your wife so home and office can work together on your behalf?"

This is a Karla Miller question more than it is mine, but it sounds as if you also need to make sure the chain of command at work knows what's going on, if you haven't taken care of that already. This is too serious a situation for you all to make this up as you go. Is he, for example, driving? 

Hi Carolyn, I am dieting for the next two months as I train for a fitness competition, and thus there are certain foods that I eliminated from my diet for the short term (sugar, white flour, certain types of fat). I am already a healthy weight, so I find that people look at me cock-eyed when I tell them that I am dieting. They then proceed to ask me fairly intrusive questions, about how many calories I am taking in, is this healthy, why do I feel compelled to do this, etc. They are no doubt well meaning, but I find the questions tiresome. (And note that I never respond with questions about their eating habits, which can be unhealthy to the other extreme). I have a few food-centric social events coming up where my diet is bound to be a topic of conversation. Do you have any pithy one liners or conversational tactics that I can use to redirect or stop the questions?

Don't say you're dieting, say you're in training. For the rest, please use the aforementioned, "Thank you for your concern." If it's a bit of a non-sequitor, all the better for delivering the "butt-out" portion of the message.

Hi Carolyn, I'm not proud to admit this, but I have cheated on my significant other... More like "having an affair" because it's still going on. The other guy is our friend, who's girlfriend is also our friend. We hang out all the time together. Any way, we somehow started talking more and one thing led to another... This is the kicker: we want to be together, as in break up with our SOs and start dating. The problem? One of his immediate family members is in a long term committed relationship with one of her's (think siblings). We already know how awkward this would be. I know we should break up with our SOs, which I'm currently planning on doing, but how does the rest work out? How do we start dating without it being some huge scandal?

The scandalous behavior has already happened, so you'll just have to stand up and take it. Break up with your SO's immediately--like, tonight--then take at least a few weeks, preferably several, away from each other to clear your heads. If you still want to be together at that point, then face the family with all the truth they need to know: "It wasn't planned, we just fell for each other. I'm sorry I hurt you and sorry I abused your trust." 

This isn't a golden ticket to forgiveness--some or all of these family members might blacklist you--but what it does is signal  that you're not going to pile on the insults by pretending things didn't go down the way they did.

My 13-year-old nephew has terrible table manners. He picks everything up with his hands, spills food all over the place, chews with his mouth open, etc. My brother is a single father and has just never taught him proper table manners. I have attempted to delicately talk to him about this, but both my brother and my nephew act offended if I say anything. He's a sweet, intelligent young man, but I really worry that this will hold him back in life -- who wants to go on a dinner date or to a business lunch with someone who spills food all over himself? Is there anything I can say or do to help my nephew here?

If you have this kind of relationship with your nephew, or you think you're in a close enough position to develop it, then start taking him out to lunches or dinners one-on-one.  Say--to him and to your brother--you're doing it because he's getting older and you want to get to know him as the adult he's becoming. 

Awesome cause, right? 

Then, on these lunches, take on the table manners. Maybe not on the first or even second one, but when it's an established thing and you have a rapport going. Don't be coy; that's often more insulting than being direct: "Okay, we need to do something about those manners." If he looks hurt, then assure him that it's not personal, and that most kids need a lesson or two in not showing their chewed food to people three tables away.

Again, this is all a thread you play out IF you are close enough to do so. 

If you aren't, then you need to accept that not everyone can fix everything about everyone. Manners are serious when you lose a prospective job over them, yes, but they're not serious in an immediate or life-threatening kind of way. That means this is a problem you can turn over to the Village, since there are bound to be villagers in his future with better standing to help him out. 

My daughter is in 3rd grade, and her teacher lost her mother last week. I'd like to know what we, as parents, should be doing right now for the teacher. Sure, send a card and flowers. But, we're not close friends or family, so I don't know what her day-to-day needs are. I asked the school if I should come volunteer a couple of days next week, but they don't even know if she'll be back by then. Do you have any suggestions?

My main suggestion is not to overdo it. When people are grieving, they often use work as their place to be normal, to escape being The Person Who's Grieving. Even expressing condolences can affect people's composure when they'd rather stay on an even professional keel.* 

You have a generous heart, and the offer to volunteer in the classroom is a good one that you can re-make when the teacher is back, ideally through the school and not through the teacher herself. Having your daughter make/write the card would also be swell--just keep your involvement to the kind that the teacher can respond/react to in private.

*Since things are never easy ... some people are terribly offended when no one says anything about their recent loss. That's why it's so important to acknowledge the loss in some way if you haven't been asked not to. Just, again, err on the side of discretion in professional situations, and use methods that allow a person to respond and react on their own time.

We adopted a little girl last fall, and she is very beautiful. I have taken to heart your admonition to center praise around effort and accomplishments, and not on looks (although I sometimes slip; she really is amazingly cute). My question is, what can I do about comments from people meeting her? It's usually one of the first things out of their mouths, and while she doesn't know much English yet, that's starting to change. And she meets a _lot_ of people; she has a way of making friends with everyone in the store/restaurant/coffee shop just because she's so outgoing. Is there a graceful way to demur without being rude, or do we just hope the family emphasis on character has more weight than the entire rest of the world's comments on her looks?

This is really, really hard, because people can't (or won't) help themselves, and kids to internalize messages they hear every day.

You can send a polite message to people who say she's cute/beautiful by saying, "We think she is, inside and out, thank you."

You can also hold onto the fact that your influence towers over the influence of the people she meets. That's not to say every remark you make about her looks needs to be treated as a "slip"; it's okay for parents to tell their kids, "I think you're beautiful." It's important to, I bellieve, and you don't want to overcompensate. It's just that the bulk of the message needs to be about things she controls, like her effort, her attitude, her manners, her determination, her compassion. 

And finally, there's the fact that the comments directed to you as if she's not even there will slow down as she gets older. Some people will persist and say it to her directly, or talk as if she's not there even when she's 14, but there will be doofus behavior everywhere; at least in this case it's not a mean message they're beating into the ground.

My husband has a group of friends that are more like family, basically we're stuck with them. Most of the time they're great, but I guess like a lot of guys they make fun of each other a lot. Recently they've taken to calling my husband by "fat" nicknames because they know he doesn't like it. He is not the largest member of the group and is not obese, but he is self-conscious about his weight. (His Dad died from type 2 diabetes). He won't say anything to them and doesn't want me to either. Is there anything I can do? I hate seeing him broken for a few days after dealing with them for extended periods and I really hate hearing them continue when I know how he's internalizing it.

He asked you not to say anything, so, no, you can't say anything. (Unless it would suit your relationship with them to say, "Yeah, Mark, and you're a walking magazine cover.")

There's nothing stopping you from talking to your husband, though. When he's in a multiday funk, you can point out that he's obviously hurting after he sees these guys, and discouraging you from saying or doing anything, even though you hurt for him. Then you can ask, "What do you think you'll do about it?"

he might accuse you of calling him fat, but that's not what you're doing: Explain that you're seeing this happen in a cycle, over and over again, and you're merely suggesting he try to break it somehow--you're not invested in any one approach, you're just hoping he'll take it on somehow, b/c these post-friend fallout days are hard for both of you. 

If he blows you off, then let it lie. This is a one-time intervention for a problem that isn't serious enough to warrant more than that.

 

 

 

I just decided I didn't like the answer I was writing, so I'm starting over. Sorry for the delay. 

I'm seeing a new guy. He's great: dynamic, caring, interesting, etc. I just notice he has a capacity for alcohol that is greater than mine. He is in a high-stress industry and loves to go out carousing on Saturday or mid-week to blow off steam. Is this a warning sign? I will admit that I have been with an alcoholic before (this guy doesn't act like that) and so I am very sensitive to substances. I am not sure if I'm being prudish. He has not gotten violent, or drove drunk, or done anything dumb. But the other morning he woke up and said "ugh, I'm hungover" and I began to panic. I can't tell if it's him or me/my own baggage.

Definitely a warning sign, yes, since occasional carousing is human but regular carousing is a lousy and potentially very destructive way to manage stress.

How old is he? The over-drinking sounds like a maturity issue either way; his age would merely suggest whether this is a phase that might soon pass (grounds for caution), or one that should have passed 10 years ago but hasn't (grounds for concern).

It might help you to read up on warning signs, especially since you might have a mini-pattern emerging. I like NIH's site: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health

 

 

Dear Carolyn, My husband and I live in a major metro area that has a ring of suburbs. My husbands entire family lives in one of them and it is a nice area. We recently purchased a new house for a great deal in a different town, but only about 20 minutes from them. My family lives in a rural area about 2 hours away, so a 20 minutes drive didn't seem that big of a deal to us. Plus, the trade off of fantastic schools and close shopping centers was appealing. However, ever since we moved, his family has been giving us a lot of grief over moving "away from everybody" to what they call the "rich town." My SIL actually asked me if I would still let my kids play with hers, or if I would consider it "slumming." Carolyn, we made this move because it was the best thing for our family, not because we think his family is a bad influence. We didn't even move that far away. How can I get our relationship back on track?

Ignore the badgering. A cheerfuyl "Oh stop," and change the subject to one that's familiar territory for all involved. This is about their insecurities, not your real estate, and the worst thing you could do is change the way you interact with this family or get all earnest about justifying your decision. That would only reinforce the idea that you're somehow better than they are now that you have an expensive house. 

A relative of mine (an in-law) attempted suicide and the family wants a fabricated story to send around to explain his hospitalization. Every time I see him tell the fake story, I see his pain... As an out-law, (I mean,in-law) I don't feel it's my place to challenge the family (who is steeped in dysfunctions, anxiety disorders, etc, etc.) It seems to me, if he could be loved and supported through this with the truth, he'll discover how many other similar stories--and victories--are there for him... So: say something--or shut up? What do you think?

Are you close enough to the relative to say to him, one on one, after he tells the fake story: "Are you okay with this version of events? If you are, then I am; I just worry you were pressured to cover up." 

If you're not close enough to feel right saying something like that, then I suggest getting expert guidance on dealing with someone suicidal; NAMI has a help line that would be a good place to start (link).

Hi Carolyn, I love your column and appreciate your practical, no-nonsense approach to life and the problems it brings. Maybe I'm getting grouchy in my mid-life age and please tell me if I am. My brother is getting married for his first time, his fiance's second time. I've never met her due to the distance and state of relationship with my brother. It's not bad, just not really existent. I received an invitation to her bridal shower with a list of all the places she is registered. I can't go, but I will be attending the wedding and intend to give the two of them a wedding gift. Is it okay for me to send my regrets, but no gift for the shower? In addition to getting them a nice gift, I'll be spending a good amount of money on the trip to attend the wedding. I don't want to be a scrooge, but I don't have money falling out of my pockets right now.

No, you don't need to send a shower gift, just your regrets, and no, this does not make you grouchy.

In fact, none of the other information--that you're paying to travel, that you're not printing money in your basement, that you found her registry info off-putting, that you haven't met her, that she's been married before, that you're not close to your brother,and whatever else--is relevant. 

I have a friend who is a very independent and private person, and who has built a stable life for herself after a difficult upbringing. She was recently diagnosed with a likely curable form of breast cancer, and she feels very alone (no family, close friends mainly live elsewhere). We have one close mutual friend, and the mutual friend and I have been trying to offer the support she feels she's missing in her life. I've told her to call me any time and that if I can help I will. I've taken her to one appointment and am scheduled to do so again soon. But what else can we do? I'm kind of at a loss, and it pains me to see how sad she is about being on her own through so much of this. She was already struggling with depression - something I've experienced myself. She has a counselor lined up, and I've encouraged her to pursue therapy in addition to taking antidepressants. I think my greatest fear is coming off as glib and making her feel alienated. While I have dealt with depression, I have always had a vast support network, and while I have been a bystander to a few cancer diagnoses and other devastating illnesses, I've never experienced those problems myself. I try to be reassuring, but I don't know how helpful that is.

You can call her, regularly but not obnoxiously, to show her you care and that she does have a support network. Make sure you don't expect these calls to be answered, or returned, or to last more than a minute or two. She calls the shots; you're just there to provide the reassurance that only a person's actual presence, vs. "call me any time" presence, can provide.

Also watch it with the perception of her as this exotic "other." I do get it--hard life, introversion, few friends--but she's still just a person like any other.

Allow for the possibility, too, that not all of this is a burden she's forced to bear. Your "vast support network" might be her worst nightmare. heck, even your frequent calls might be her nightmare--which is why you need to place them with no expectation that she'll meet you even part-way. The most important thing is to follow her lead.

 

My relationship with the lovely man I'm in a relationship with is fading due to his obsessive work habits. When we first met he was unemployed, so the dynamic was completely different. I am at a loss on how to deal with this. I am not the controlling type, but he is driving me nuts for a long time (2+ years.) Any suggestions on how to constructively draw the line?

The line belongs right between what is your business, and what is his.

His business: How he treats you (and how he consents to be treated).

Your business: How you consent to be treated (and how you treat him).

If you don't like the way he is treating you, then you articulate how you feel and what changes you would like to see.

If he doesn't make the changes, then you get to decide whether you want to stay in the relationship as-is, or whether you would rather break up.

That's a set of instructions that applies no matter what the issue is, whether it's socks on the floor or working too much or verbal abuse. Following them will work every time, if you define "work" as "giving you clear choices based on the facts at hand." What doesn't work is waiting for someone else to make your relationship into what you want it to be.

You're two-plus years into being driven "nuts" with no changes in sight. Clear choices have to sound pretty good by now, no?

Hi Carolyn, I'm pregnant with my first child, and I'm getting quite a bit of "feedback" from close friends and family about having a baby shower. The issue is, I don't really want to have one. I feel like my husband and I have the resources to take care of what we really need, and it seems a little self-centered to asking anyone else to contribute to a choice we made on our own. I felt the same way about a bridal shower, and I did successfully avoid that horror, but I'm feeling a lot of pressure about the baby. Is it okay to say no, I don't want one? Is it important to let other people have a party?

You're under no obligation to have a shower. So, yes, it's okay to say no and hold to it.

However, the answer to your other question is that people often do like to feel as if they're a part of your major life events (sounds like the case here, for sure), and having a bunch of people feeling invested in your baby's life isn't the worst thing for the baby. 

So, why not at least consider a themed shower that allows people to 1. express their taste vs. follow your instructions; 2. spend very little; 3. promote a beautiful connection between these loving people and your baby? The idea I have in mind is a children's book shower, where guests are asked to bring (and sign) a favorite. another, though, would be an advice or time-capsule shower, where people can write down something they wish someone had told them ... let's say upon their HS graduation. Get a nice archival box for them and hold onto it to present to your child when s/he's 18. I'm wishing I'd done this.

Anyway, urge these "close friends and family" to toss around ideas with you, if the this version of a shower appeals to you.

 

No wonder my ears were burning . . . Re: calling the colleague's wife from a work perspective, my response would be, "What Carolyn said." Check with him and offer to talk to his wife about your concerns. Aside from making sure work obligations are being met, I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't the potential for the company to be held liable if something goes wrong outside the office. (Not a lawyer, just a hunch.) As for those work obligations, helping him set reminders in his calendar would be a kindness, as would making sure he's not flying solo on vital assignments. Good for you for caring, by the way.

Synergy, baby. Thanks, Karla.

I was a loner cancer patient too (twice actually). What really touched my heart was receiving cards from people in the mail that simply indicated they were thinking of me. Another thing that helped me was when someone who cared made sure I had real food in my refrigerator after surgery. Not junk food...it may sound comforting to give someone struggling with procedures a lot of empty calories but that really just makes things worse. Cook up a lasagne that can be cut up, frozen, and eaten for a week. Honestly, that, for me, was so wonderful I don't even know how to put it in words.

You just did, though--thank you.

I had a friend with cancer. Several of her friends organized a book club and we met once a month at her home. It was a great way to show support without hovering.

Stinkin brilliant. She had the option to cancel/postpone, I assume, and you nevereverever left her anything to clean up.

You might suggest the friend find a support group for people with cancer. I an newly diagnosed, living in a new city away from friends and family, and just attended my first such meeting. Others in teh group with cancer were incredibly helpful both logistically and in terms of support and resources. No one wants cancer, but it does include admission to a whole new community...it's a silver lining when one is badly needed.

Another good one.

Nutterati, 3; Suffering, 0

Or just send them something you want to give them both that is in your budget. My fall back is always meat off the internet. (Not as bad as it sounds) You can get cheap nice steaks for less than $20. And you can send it to both of them.

"Internet meat"--one for the lexicon?

If "regular carousing" is a warning sign, then this LW is going to run into a lot of people she can't spend time with. Maybe it's the fact that I spent much of my 20s in Manhattan, but drinking seems to be a regular pastime for many, many folks fresh out of college and through their late 20s/early 30s, particularly if they haven't had kids yet. Her panic when her date woke up once with a hangover suggests to me that this is her issue, not his.

Like I said, age is a factor. I took her previous experience dating an alcoholic as a hint that they're not all 25, but tried to cover the range.

Carolyn recommended NAMI, but suicide and related attempts are a specialized area, and I would suggest the writer call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Phones are answered by trained counselors, and you can get good advice about all aspects of suicide. It also functions as a crisis hotline, but they can answer general questions as well. Remember the stigma around suicide attempts and mental illness is read, and peoplr can internalize that...creating a real reluctance to admit they have considered or attempted suicide. It's a sad cycle.

Thanks, I've considered it as more of a crisis line.

In college(20 years ago) I was eighty pounds heavier than I am now, everyone that knew me in college called me Ox. From the John Candy character in stripes, which never bothered me then, certainly doesn't bother me now, but my wife doesn't get why guys that are now 30 pounds heavier than I am still call me Ox. And make fat jokes. It's just male bonding crap, and if you are sure your guy is actually moping about that, and not something else, I hope you realize that letting them know it actually bothers him will ratchet it up an order of magnitude rather than down. Let him deal with it how he sees fit, and call him on the moping. My wife thought it really bothered me, when, honestly, the moping was mostly about outgrowing friends that used to be close.

Good stuff, thanks.

Maybe he didn't think the friend would want to be singled out in front of a lot of people he might now know personally. The birthday couple has been holding a grudge about this for almost and entire YEAR. That's insane.

Right--and that also reminds me, I was going to mention in that answer but forgot:

1. the niece might have been directed to do this by parents, or

2. the niece thought of it because a 13-year-old would think a birthday is a big deal, where 40-somethings wouldn't. 

My kid had awful table manners for a while there, too, and it was not because I did not try hard to teach her better. It was like bathroom humor among kids of a certain age. Her group just seemed to think it was really funny to offend adults, and each other, with this obnoxious and disgusting behavior. My kid was not the compliant sort, and I was fighting a lot of battles. In the end, I decided to let puberty take care of this one (though we did refuse to take the offender out to eat until the behavior went away. Sure enough, as soon as she started really liking boys, she realized that the gross-out humor needed to go. Now in her early twenties, she has excellent table manners, and social skills in general. Sometimes that peer pressure/hormone combo thing can be wonderful.

Right-o about the "just seemed to think it was really funny to offend adults, and each other, with this obnoxious and disgusting behavior." I'm living it, wall-to-wall. Thanks.

"I can't break up with her because one of my family members is dating one of her family members" honestly sounds like an excuse. I'm not so sure the poster's affair partner actually wants to break up.

Maybe. Poster still should break up with SO, tonight--what changes is that the fling ends not for a cool-off period, but until the other breakup happens, and then a cool-off period. Thanks.

People won't ask questions if you don't give them anything to go on. Stop bringing it up altogether. If someone offers you food that doesn't fit in your diet, just say "no thanks" and talk about something else (as opposed to "oh, no - I'm not eating white flour/sugar/certain fats"). They only have this insight into your eating habits because you are giving it to them. So don't.

[Forehead slap.] Of course. Thanks.

Just curious why you recommended taking a multi-week break from each other? Seems like from the question they are pretty sure they want to be together- so why suffer through a hard time apart? I am really curious about this because I also am currently with someone that I started dating as part of an affair and people say this to me all the time and I just can't see any merit in it. Could you please explain your reasoning behind that advice?

Because being on your own has a corrective effect. It helps you see what you'd do, what you'd wear, what you'd eat, when you'd go to bed, when you'd get up, what you'd watch, and on and on, without having someone else's needs, wants and tastes to accommodate. It helps you remember who -you- are. That stuff can get rubbed off over a long period of being with someone.

And, in fact, the excitement of a new person can partly come from your ability suddenly to be yourself in a way your old relationship didn't permit. So instead of locking yourself in to a whole new thing, and denying yourself (even benignly) some whole other part of your natural state, give yourself enough air to recognize where you leave off and this new relationship begins.

The conversation with her husband ought to be about why he's "stuck" with friends who bully him. An occasional tweak jab about being too sensitive is one thing, but teasing to the extent that a friend is "broken" for days, even if he is too sensitive, is the essence of bullying. He should distance himself from these guys.

Another possibility, thanks.

I really wonder how much the OP's concern is about the in-law's well-being and how much is about what seems pre-existing anger/disappointment/etc. in the in-laws' general dysfunction. I just got a general icky feeling from the post that the suicidal in-law is being seen more as an Example That My Way Is Right and less as an actual, hurting human being. (Of course, my dirty lens is that I'm a survivor of suicide attempts, myself, and while I wished my family hadn't tried to sweep my depression under the rug, I sure as sugar wouldn't have wanted my suicide attempts to be a topic of discussion with every Joe Blow in town.)

Interesting take, thank you--it is a fine line, sometimes, between caring about someone and seeking validation.

I totally support the idea of a book shower for a new baby -- it gives the village a chance to get together and celebrate a new baby, and you never know when you might need that village down the road. For that matter, don't discount the tips that you can get at a baby shower in the way of useful stuff -- when you get married, you already have a pretty good idea of what you need to maintain a household, but you might not even be aware of the random stuff that other families have found to be lifesavers when it comes to taking care of babies.

Thanks. And one more:

The future sis-in-law's concerns about the lack of closeness with her brother, etc. ARE relevant, in that she will be judged more harshly if she makes an etiquette error, or that there is a chance her brother and his betrothed are hoping for a closer relationship with her, and this was their way of opening a new door, and her declining the invitation might be taken the wrong way. Noting fatal of course, but I think most of the things she mentioned in the her letter were relevant to her unspoken fears. (And her use of the word "all" in relation to the registries did not need to be taken the way you took it.)

Aaaand that's it. Useful stuff, thank you everyone.

I'm way past my way-past ending time, so I'll say bye, thanks for coming, and see you here in two weeks, I hope. Have a great weekend.

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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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