Own It: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, August 2)

Aug 02, 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 be online Friday, August 2, 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 forum, home of the Hax-Philes and Hax fans. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody, happy early days of August, happy downsizing of summer expectations. 

After 15 years in an abusive (both psychologically and physically) marriage, I managed to get out and took my 3 children with me. Two of my children carry on relationship with their father, and I have stayed completely out of that since they became adults. I've done pretty well with dealing with him at family occasions (graduations, etc.) and have even had him in my home for a couple of celebrations, though it has been difficult for me. My second daughter is getting married next year, and asked me to walk her down the aisle with her father. I really don't think I can handle that or a "parent's dance." The thought of him touching me in any way makes me feel ill. I'm fine with him walking her down the aisle, or I would be proud to do it by myself, but I just can't do the joint walk. How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter, or spending the entire reception shaking and crying in the ladies room? Am I being terribly selfish for wanting to say no?

"How can I handle this without upsetting my daughter"--so much in this one phrase. Your job on this earth is not to get through your days without upsetting people. Your job is to figure out who you are, and what being that person requires of you. Then your job is to stay true to yourself as kindly as possible without compromising any of your core, and also recognize that how your efforts are received is beyond your control.

You tell your daughter that you love her and support her and can't wait to celebrate with her, but you will not dance or walk up the aisle with your ex.

Have you had any counseling to help you with questions like this in the aftermath of 15 years of abuse?

Dear Carolyn, I'm thrilled to be able to stay home and raise my three children full-time, but as a former Washingtonian, I still dread being asked "What do you do?" and having to label myself a SAHM. Any suggestions about rebranding this title so these encounters don't feel so awkward? And yeah, yeah, I know my job is tougher and more important than many, and that I'm projecting my own feelings onto other people -- it's just a hangup I've never been able to get past. Thank you!

Nope, rebranding would only expose your discomfort further, which presumably is the opposite of what you hope to accomplish.

Please think of stay-at-home parenting (or working full-time, or working part-time) as a modern retelling of "The Sneetches." First it was the non-working crowd that was fancy, then it was the working crowd that was fancy, then it was the I-can-afford-to-stay-home crowd again, then it was the crowd of people in enough control of their careers to swing part-time arrangements. At this point, so many stars have been on and off bellies that, from where I sit, it's pointless to try to determine who's fancy anymore. 

You're a stay-at-home mom. You chose it. Now own it.

 

Dear Carolyn; My husband is a terrible driver. I don't mean less-than-optimal, I mean he is a truly horrible driver. He tailgates constantly and can't even keep the car in the lane. On highways, he routinely hits the rumble strips on the shoulder and median, and even that is not enough to convince him that he's not staying in the lane. He thinks he's a great driver. When we met and married, we both lived in a major city and had no cars. If I had seen him drive on a first date, there would have been no second date. When we go someplace as a family, I drive because he dislikes driving the minivan. Thank goodness. So now our oldest daughter is 16 and has her learner's permit. My husband wants to teach her to drive. WHAT DO I DO?

Say no, sign her up for a driving school, and warn your daughter privately--as if she hasn't already seen it herself--that her father is to instruct her only as a (miraculously) living manual of what not to do. Somethings are just not to be soft-pedaled.

Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your always-sage advice. How does one avoid "keeping score" in relationships? Every so often my other half will complain about something that I've done. It's nothing consequential and it's nothing that will end our relationship. (Example: I sometimes put bags on the kitchen counter even though the bottom of those bags are not necessarily hygienic.) While I think it's perfectly valid to communicate one's pet peeves, no matter how trivial, I can't get myself to do it at the time that I find my other half doing bothersome things. At the same time, I hate feeling like crud when my other half points out a shortcoming and I don't have a specific comeback. When I challenge in a generic way that (s)he [I'm keeping this gender neutral on purpose] also does things that bother me, so maybe we could just let this slide, I'm always asked to provide examples. However, because I don't "keep score" I can't generally provide these examples except in a very general way, and I'm left changing my behavior in what seems like a one-sided way. The last thing I want to do is keep tabs on these things or raise the shortcomings when they appear, because it just seems so petty. But I don't want to be the doormat when a conversation about these kinds of behaviors takes place.

"While I think it's perfectly valid to communicate one's pet peeves, no matter how trivial": Really? I think it stinks. Now, if you're talking about a onetime warning along the lines of, "I have an irrational aversion to seeing unclean things on our kitchen countertops," with an occasional (like, every couple of years or so, as needed) refresher, then I do agree with you. But if you're talking about pointing out petty little nuisances as if the other person believes you owe it to him/her to be ever mindful of his/her expectations, then I'm back to saying it stinks.

It's actually good, though, that you don't have examples at the ready of your partner's nuisance moments, becuase if you did, then you'd be in a petty arms race, and that benefits no one.

Instead, you're in a position now to stick to the more relevant point: "If you're making the argument to me that you're perfect and never do anything that I'd do differently, or never do anything that rubs me the wrong way or qualifies as a pet peeve of mine, then I'm going to ask you to reconsider. I am merely saying that if you consider what it feels like to have minor infractions pointed out to you in the one place you want to see as comfortable and safe, then you might see that it's better for both of us if you withhold criticism--I will do the same--and simply wipe the counter when we're done."

You know, verbatim.

Point is, you avoid the tit-for-tat and go straight for the "Let's recognize that we'll both be happier if we don't nitpick than if we attempt to perfect each other's behavior."

If that doesn't fly, then it's time to ask yourself how much of your life you want to spend with someone who feels justified in trying to fix you. Thanks to a column this week (link), I've been hearing a lot from people who've been "corrected" all marriage long by their spouses and they're not happy tales. They're all tales of escalation, too.

Is there a link to send in early?

Hi, producer here. You will be able to submit early --the link for the Wedding Hootenanny will be provided in next week's chat.

Why can't she say, "I used to do XXX. Right now I'm fortunate to be able to take a break from the workforce to stay home with my children. Once they are back in school, I hope to go back to [chosen field]." that way she can own both her SAHMness and her previous occupation/education. Also, can't hurt in the networking department if/when she does eventually want to go back to work.

If someone said that to me, I'd hear "If I twist any more to justify myself, I might snap." 

It's really okay to say one is home with kids. I think it would serve us all to see it neither as heroic nor shameful, but instead just "is." If someone wants to add the before and after career for networking or just conversation purposes, that's fine--"I'm a teacher/lawyer/baker/shoe buyer, currently home with my kids."

I get that she doesn't want to dance with her ex, but surely the two of them can escort the bride down the aisle, one on either side? This does not involve "touching" the ex, but acknowledging joint parenthood of the bride. FWIW, my ex and I entered the church together at our son's wedding; as son pointed out, "I'm half his, too."

Your son is right, but that doesn't mean his point gets to the experience of having one's spouse physically and emotionally abuse you for 15 years. If she wants no part of the aisle scene, she gets to say no, and I hope the witnesses to her abuse would have the decency to back her. if not, that's no reason for her to cave; it just means she needs to recognize that she'll have to look elsewhere for understanding and validation. 

After a year-and-a-half relationship that many expected was going to be long-term, we broke up and I was surprised to find that many of our friends were not surprised, claiming that they "supported our relationship" but thought that we were too different and they didn't want to say anything while we were in the relationship. Now, four months later, I'm in a wonderful relationship that I have the potential of being very long-term. I understand it's the "honeymoon" phase, but I know when I've found something really good. Everyone thinks he is an amazing guy, but I don't get any sort of enthusiastic reaction from friends and family, which I believe could be because of my past relationship. Is there anything I could say to these people that would help them understand that I would prefer they would be as happy and supportive as my previous relationship?

Nope. It's not worth it nor is it your place. It's possible they think it's too soon after your breakup, it's possible they think it's another mistake, it's possible this is what approval actually looks like (since, remember, the last approval you experienced was fake). None of this matters now.

What does matter is that you proceed with this relationship at a pace that reflects good judgment and incorporates your experience, recent and otherwise. If you and he progress to the point where friends and family (and you) can reasonably expect to know this guy well and you're still getting a lukewarm reception, then ask one or two particularly trustworthy people what they think.

Otherwise, please stop scanning the crowd for reactions. Even for a question about people's reactions, look at all the looks you throw over your shoulder:

that many expected

many of our friends were not surprised

Everyone thinks he is an amazing guy

I don't get any sort of enthusiastic reaction

I would prefer they would be as happy and supportive

--

One could speculate (not I, pshhh) that you're dating not to please yourself, but your audience.

 

I recently received an email from an ex apologizing for everything he put me through and thanking me for all I did for him. He's an alcoholic, and our relationship was extremely emotionally draining. We broke up about two years ago and have had little contact since (none at all in the last year). I heard through a mutual contact that he was in rehab recently (he always refused to get help when we were together). Honestly, I would much rather he never contacted me, but now that he has, am I obligated to respond? If so, what should I say?

It sounds like a step in a 12-step recovery. You have no obligation to respond. If you want to respond, then an appropriate response would be, "Thank you, I hope you are well."

Hi Carolyn, I have a good friend with a 1-year-old, and I have a 10-month-old. We both work, and so do our husbands. She is constantly complaining about her husband and how little he does to help with the baby and around the house. From what she says, I should be SO thankful to have my helpful husband around (and I am and I tell him so!). She often asks for my perspective and advice about how little her husband does, but I never know what to say because I want to say that her husband stinks and she is being jerked around, but I'm not quite close enough to her to say anything like that. I always feel very awkward, since my true view is that she should stand up for herself and make her husband stay up with the baby *just once*! I guess I'd like to have it both ways-- convey to her that yes, she does deserve better from her husband, but also stay out of it. But I would settle for a good way to stay out of it when she asks... Thoughts?

"It's not about what I think, it's about what you think is right." And, "You talk about this a lot--have you thought about counseling?" Both encourage her to take her own concerns seriously, but not through you. Good luck to you both. 

My best friend is an independent consultant in a business (think something like Mary Kay), i.e. she throws parties and sells items to people. She's been largely successful in making some extra money every month (though not enough to quit her day job) and loves what she does, so I fully support her in this endeavor. However, she constantly invites me to her events/parties and while she doesn't outright tell me I need to come, the pressure/implication is there and she often guilt trips me in subtle ways if I don't have an excuse for not coming (the parties are usually on nights and weekends). I'm getting tired of essentially being hit up for money, especially since these items aren't cheap. I've already hosted a party for her this year and bought several items from her on other occasions, but I'm at my limit- I don't need any more. How do I gently express to her that I love her and support her business but I don't want to be invited to anymore parties or events because I'm maxed out?

"I love you and support your business but I don't want to be invited to anymore parties or events because I'm maxed out." Anyone who depends on friends to be customers needs to be able to hear this without responding punitively, or can expect to retain very few friends. Her resisting when you say no, even a little, already is over the line.

I too did not want to walk our daughter jointly down the aisle, nor did I feel my ex deserved that right on his own (for good reasons). I was honest with my daughter and she opted to walk alone-- which, as a 31 yo woman who had been on her own for 10 years- certainly seemed appropriate.

Good for your daughter for adapting--and for you for the honesty. 

There is also a custom of having one of the parents sit halfway down the aisle. One parent escorts the bride from the entrance to the middle; the second parent then stands and escorts the bride from the middle point to the groom. Possible solution?

Sure, but there's a whiff of excessive contortion again. I like the solo walk. Much more grown up.

Dear Carolyn, Please help! Every time I spend a few days with my mom I turn into a sulky 14-year-old, which is ridiculous because I'm a 38-year-old mother of two. We recently visited her for three days and I was about to lose my mind. On public excursions I kept wishing she'd stop following us around like a shadow. Every suggestion she had (which weren't many) I automatically wanted to shoot down. I found so many things about her embarrassing or annoying: the way she dressed, her assumption I'd rub her feet at night, the lone hair on her chin. It's not that I was outright nasty to her, it's just that I spent the whole trip feeling like I wasn't really engaged or interacting with her - like I was constantly looking for a way to ditch her. Usually on the phone, we're chatty and close; it's in person that's problematic. Is the answer here simply that I should just opt for a hotel room next time so I feel like I have some time away from her? Is it normal for grown children to feel this way visiting their parents?

Yes to both of your parting questions. Yes, build in some space in these visits, so you can bring your best when you're with your mom.

Yes, it's normal. It even happens between spouses and close friends, i.e., the people who might know you best as a former version of yourself, one you don't entirely love and one you see yourself becoming when you're with this person. It's like wearing an itchy sweater.

The important thing is to keep reminding yourself that it's not your mom, it's you, and so you're the one who needs to do the adjusting to make things right. 

Hi Carolyn, Our 8 year old has become fast friends with a boy up the street. I say fast friends, literally, because one of their favorite activities is tearing around the street on their bikes and scooters. This makes us happy, except that his new friend doesn't wear a bike helmet. Our son told us that the boy is a "great" rider and never falls down. This may be true, but they have taken to biking off a ramp in our front yard, and this escalates the risk, in my mind. Is it fair to tell the neighbor boy he can't go off the ramp without a helmet? I worry that he'll get hurt, and I'll feel responsible. My husband thinks such rules will mean the boy won't want to play here and will send our son up the street where he'll be able to do whatever he wants without our knowledge at the friend's house. What do you think? P.S.  When is the wedding hootennany? Thanks!

I think you need to talk to the kid's parents about the helmet thing. 

Wedding Hoot: Aug. 23. Roll me in marzipan and release the doves.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have always wanted children, and six months ago we were blessed with a wonderful, healthy baby girl. I love her to pieces, but whenever someone asks how I am "enjoying" motherhood, I guess the answer is...not all that much. My husband and I had such a great life before this, and now I sort of feel sucked into this vortex of constant, constant care that is mentally and physically draining. Yes, there are moments of joy, but most of the time is just kind of a grind, mixed in with intense bouts of worry. I do stay home with her full-time and work from home part-time, but my husband is extremely hands-on, and we have family in the area that will happily give us the occasional break. I know how incredibly lucky I am, most especially to have a healthy child, but I sometimes fantasize about an alternate life, where it was just my husband and I, traveling, going out to dinner, enjoying life as a couple for the rest of our lives. I wanted to have kids because I always really liked kids, and am a pretty nurturing person, so I guess I'm just surprised that actually having a kid isn't what I expected. I guess my question here is, does this change as they get older? What is wrong with me that I don't seem to be enjoying this? (FWIW, I don't have post-partum depression, and am very loving with my daughter.) I just haven't seen much out there about these types of feelings, and wondered if (and hoped!) it gets better.

Your feelings are totally normal, and I'm sorry you haven't found someone you can confide in about the where-did-my-life-go? aspect of taking care of a baby. It's hard. Harder for some than others, and some babies are harder than others, but easy it isn't.

So that's the first thing I'd suggest--finding a sympathetic ear, either by putting out feelers among your friends with kids to see if you can talk about this without getting judged for it, or cultivating new friendships that have more promise to serve this purpose. A new-moms' group, maybe. You do have to be careful, because your very real feelings have the very real potential to upset, even offend someone who has infertility problems unknown to you, or who lost a baby. This isn't to discourage you from speaking up--the feelings of both parties are valid--just to explain my suggestion that you put out feelers.

As for your other questions:

-Yes, things do tend to change as kids get older. What a baby gives back to you is often very abstract. What a 10-year-old gives you is conversation, belly laughs, a new view of the world (and stinky socks and scares from which you think you'll never recover, but generally more of the good stuff than bad). 

-What is wrong with you? Most likely it's nothing except a preference for older kids than babies--you'll know that for sure as soon as you get there, but you probably can guess at it reasonably now. There are people who just flip over babies and can take or leave teenagers, and there are those for whom the little kid years are a form of torture from which only time releases them. People all along this range of preferences can be good parents, as long as they remain loving and committed through their non-preferred years. 

It's also possible--longshot possible--you misread your desire to be a parent, but the "love her to pieces" says otherwise. hang in there.

 

My house, my rules. Yes, talk to the parents; but if he's on your property, you won't only feel responsible, a court may find you responsible. If the parents are useless, and you can afford an extra helmet (you can sometimes get them free at safety days, and there are good, inexpensive ones), it can just be your house rule for the ramp. We have a similar house rule, and while some kids will object, they follow the rules if they want to stay and play. Or maybe I'm just really scary.

I'm frightened. Thanks.

Keep in mind that there are two sides to every story. When my cousin and her husband had their baby, every single time he did anything (changed a diaper, swaddled the baby, warmed a bottle, God forbid he try to bathe the baby), my cousin was right there, swooping in to tell him how he was doing everything ALL WRONG. Now she complains about how all he wants to do is play with their daughter and doesn't want to give her a bath, make her breakfast, get her dressed, whatever. If I had spent a year being told I was doing everything wrong, I'd default to playtime, too. (And probably after less than a year.)

Thanks. Has anyone mentioned this to her? Seems worth the wrath. 

Driving school doesn't completely solve the problem. For one thing, it's already a requirement in many places. On top of that, in Massachusetts, for example, the learner has to spend 40 hours behind the wheel while supervised by an adult licensed driver. That's going to be one of the parents, generally, so the discussion isn't over.

Thus the part about saying no to the husband, and saying to the daughter that Dad is not an acceptable teacher except as a cautionary tale.

How would your suggested conversation change if only one spouse has annoying habits? My spouse is always noticing that I left the counter dirty or the sponge wet, etc., but pretty much never does those things himself. We have two small children.

I refuse to believe there's someone who has no annoying habits. Perfection* is itself annoying when used as a cudgel against the imperfect. In fact, I can't think of anything more obnoxious than "always noticing." I'd rather he fart on me on purpose. That, at least, I can work with.

 

*It also DOESN'T EXIST. Please humor me and read this pamphlet, specifically the "Warning List" pages on spotting abusers (link).

 

My mom blessed me with always being quite honest about how she felt about babies and children. She always said she liked to cuddle with babies but didn't like playing with toddlers. I really appreciate it now because it's nice to know that I won't like every stage of the future child.

Toddlers. [shudder]

Good afternoon, I had written a few weeks ago about a man I was seeing for four years who still had not gotten it together to finish up his separation/divorce. after I read your column, and some very judgemental comments from other readers, I had a conversation with him focused on just what you said. He has said that he was making the necessary changes, but due to children and financial issues it was taking longer than expected. In that regard, he did not want to leave a train wreck behind. I can respect that, but I also cannot wait forever - and I don't think he sees the train wreck he is leaving with me. thoughts on the current situation? Thank you!

Maybe he doesn't see it, but you do--so it's on you either to prevent it or serve as your own first responder. No?

Like, did the husband mention it to her? really people, parenting is a team sport.

Yes, true, though he may have and gotten plowed over for that, too. Sometimes a compassionate outsider can help, too, really, particularly when invited to by being used as a receptacle for the stream of complaints.

All my life, my mom ridiculed or belittled my feelings, especially anything negative. She told me I wasn't feeling what I said, told me I was overreacting, too sensitive, or just ridiculous. I've never been able to shake the feeling that what I'm feeling is wrong. Now when I disagree with someone, my first instinct is to tell myself that I'm being ridiculous. This has led to many confrontations that should have happened but never did, not standing up for myself, or just not voicing my opinion when I should have. All I ever do is second guess myself, and end up losing the opportune moment to communicate. Last night, I told my neighbor at 3am that he needed to quiet his dog that had been barking for an hour. I couldn't sleep the rest of the night, my heart was pounding, I was panicking over the fact that I had told someone I was displeased, even though I know I was totally in the right. How do I stop feeling this way about my own feelings?

Do you have access to good therapy? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in particular, I think, could help you rewire your responses. 

I didn't mean to make that such a terse answer. I should have added that something so ingrained just isn't going to go away with one tweak or one "Aha!" That's what therapy is for, really--the long process of teasing apart emotional knots. If you don't have access, then please write to me at tellme@washpost.com so we can figure out some alternatives.

Hi Carolyn, I really enjoy your column. I just put my foot in my mouth and I'm hoping you can help me rectify things. One of my (fairly distant) co-workers has been out all week. He came in today and I said hi and asked if he'd been on vacation. (I know I shouldn't have done that. It just came to my mind.) Unfortunately he'd had a death in the family. I extended my condolences, of course, but I know I put him in a tough position of having to talk about something he likely wouldn't have brought up organically. Is there anything I can do or say now to apologize, or would it be better to let it drop?

Thanks for the kind words.

Yes to letting it drop; your condolences were enough. Bringing it up again would "put him in a tough position of having to talk about something he likely wouldn't have brought up organically" and serve only to repeat the error.

The error, by the way, was one of friendly intent, so don't beat yourself up too much.

 

 

Hi Carolyn, my on and of again bf said he loves me, and feels I'd be the "perfect" woman for him- if only I were  in better shape.  Part of me thinks "screw you," and the other part of my brain acknowledges that I could stand to lose about thirty pounds. We broke up, and I've lost about twelve pounds,  now I'm stuck wondering if I should share my progress and talk about reconciliation ( he tried to get back together already) , or be happy that I'm getting healthier for ME, and leave him in the past.

What happens if you go through a stretch when you can't exercise? Put on a lot of baby weight that you struggle to lose? Develop a health condition or take medication that involves weight gain? 

"Off again" is an excellent place for this relationship, unless you think it sounds appealing to have someone's love conditioned upon something no one can promise to control--oh, and, bonus! conditioned upon your service to him and his preferences!

Kindness, absolutely; fidelity, sure; hard work, quite useful; curiosity, great idea; compassion, can't say enough good things about it; flexibility, a great gift you can give to each other. But physical appearance? Since when was it your job to be perfect for anyone? What a ----.

I have a friend that lives somewhat near me, who I've known since college. We weren't super close, but I suppose since we've known each other so long, we've kept up this friendship. I would like it to drift into the ether. My friend is selfish and consistently negative - she constantly complains about how tough her life is, even though she has everything she's ever wanted - ie husband, kids, certain amount of money, big house etc. I find our infrequent (thankfully) get-togethers draining ,and find myself competing with her in complaints to, I suppose, childishly, prove that she actually has it quite good. I then vent about these visits to my husband and friends and I'm sure they're sick of hearing about them. I've tried to drift away (don't initiate contact) but she always seeks me out eventually. My other friends and husband say I should suck it up and do these quarterly get-togethers, but I don't wanna! Is there anything I can do short of a big dramatic breakup? Don't really want to do that either...

How about telling her the truth?: "You know, I've listened to you complain about how tough your life is--for years, really--and I wish I had said this sooner: I have very little sympathy. You have everything you have ever wanted, and if that's not enough, then maybe it's time to look inward to figure out what's missing." 

Win-win, right? She'll either take it to heart or never call you again.

My soon-to-be first grader is in a small summer day camp. There happens to be a handful of boys a few years older that he has taken a liking too, and has been picking up bad things. The other day he told me "girls drink pepsi, so they can get sexy, boys go to college, so they can get knowledge." I know he doesn't get exactly what he saying, but he knows it's a put down to girls. I could see this coming out of a 9-year-old, but it really hit me hard coming from a 6-year-old. My husband and I have talked to him about hanging out with good kids, not emulating bad behavior, girls are as smart as boys. I know the road ahead is long, and he'll be exposed to much much worse than stupid sayings. But how can I help him tell the "good kids" from "bad kids"?

You can start by staying away from the "good kids/bad kids" mind set. It's just a branch of the same messed-up tree that produced the "girls are sexy/boys are smart" howler. People are complicated, and even the ones who somehow aren't deserve to be treated as individuals, not members of this or that group. 

So your message to your 6 (and then 7 and then 8 and on and on) year old needs to be that it's not right to put people in groups. Everyone's different and everyone deserves the chance to be what he or she wants. Boys can be sexy and drink Pepsi (! new one for me) and girls can go to college. Heck, girls can drink Pepsi, be sexy and go to college, or none of the above if that's what floats their boats. 

The consistency of this message is what's going to make it stick, and, conveniently, just about -everything- you experience with him is a teaching opportunity for this. If he's handed a kids' menu at a restaurant, for example, tell him he doesn't have to eat what people assume kids like. Or, ask him his opinion of things instead of just sending opinions one-way, parent to child. Or, when he comes home with another howler he learned from the camp boys, see if you can find an age appropriate way to help him reason through it. Teach him to resist stereotyping by teaching him to to respect individuality, and teach that by respecting him as an individual. 

I forgot to proofread that one. Any doozies?

Run! Yes -- run, to find the person you meet who will love you just the way you are. As you age, things sag, turn gray, get stretched, get less flexible, etc. What you want is someone who can look at you with 30 extra pounds or no hair and say, "There is no one I would rather be with." The bonus is, the person that will say that is much more likely to have your back, be compassionate and giving, kind, and hard working.

Or demonstrate the quality that is at the root of all of those behaviors: humility. The mere notion that it's remorely okay to expect someone to change to please you is breathtakingly arrogant, and arrogance makes for a foul-tempered roommate. Maybe he won't be this way always, but for the purposes of the LW or anyone else facing this kind of decision, now -is- always, unless and until actual maturity has happened and humility has set in.

That was me. I had been led to believe my whole life that whenever I got angry, I was just being difficult. I thought for years that any negative reaction I had to anything (other than say, world hunger) was an overreaction. Therapy has been HUGE for me in terms of accepting my emotions as legitimate and in trying not to beat myself up when I spoke up or set an emotional boundary and stuck to it. It also helped me find healthy people to have in my life who accept my emotions all over the spectrum as real and acceptable. Remind yourself that this is something you've learned over YEARS and cannot be unlearned in a day. Also? I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself to the noisy dog owner. I'm sure you haven't been told that enough, so go you for expressing yourself in a way that I'm sure scared the crap out of you.

Love this, thank you.

Allow me to add to the comment earlier regarding being told "you're doing that wrong" with a baby leading to just pulling back more. I'm that dad as well. Even though I had immensely more experience with babies (three nephews/nieces), it seems I couldn't do anything right. Even reading to her -- making up my own story -- was wrong. "How's she going to learn to read if the words you read don't match up with what's on the page?" So it's very, very tough. It's come with some negative consequences for my wife, too. Now our baby is a clinger and doesn't like it when mommy leaves.

Thanks for this--persuasive as only firsthand experience can be.

You have addressed the problem, I hope, and are now working as partners? If not, I am, alas, going to suggest you find yourselves a most excellent family therapist.

I know exactly how you feel. When I was pregnant I really looked forward to snuggling our babies (we had twins); once those babies were available for snuggling, yeah, that was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it, but it was just. so. much. work. And when you're down in the weeds like that, it's really hard to get enough perspective to see that you won't be on the feeding/changing/laundry/naptime/tummy time/feeding/changing treadmill for the rest of your life. Our kids are 3 now and it is so different and so much better it's unreal. I always thought I was the kind of person who would love wee little infants and would be at a loss with active toddlers/preschoolers; it actually turned out to be the opposite, which was a huge surprise and a delight. Hang in there. It gets so so much better.

Thanks, also a useful perspective. There can also be variations from child-to-child. E.g., you can love snuggling babies and have a baby who squirms away from snuggles. Then you not only have to do the grunt work that small children demand, but also recalibrate your expectations and look for rewards different from the ones you thought would keep you going. 

This is why the nudges and corrections from well-meaning bystanders--friends, family, strangers--can be so unbearable. Being the parent your kid needs can have a surprisingly steep learning curve, and the experiences of others are sometimes not applicable.

Hi Carolyn! As the first in our immediate group to have a baby, I'm left wondering proper protocol on when to bring him along. Since most events are organized casually over e-mail, they rarely say "kids included" or anything like that. For more formal (okay, evite) invitations, it rarely says whether or not babies/ kids are included... but probably because we're the only people on the list who need the clarification. I've tried to just guess and been wrong about people's preferences in every way and been wrong a couple of times. (we left him home, hosts asked why, we stayed home bc we couldn't get a sitter, host wished we would have come instead, and brought him only to realize that wasn't the host's intention). I often email and ask, but is there a better way to handle it? I'm not trying to impose my baby on anyone else, but if I can bring him, I'd often prefer that.

Talk to the host/organizer directly, and choose your words carefully--not "Okay if I bring the baby," which sounds like a preference and might come across as pressure, but, "Should I bring the baby, or call a sitter?" which suggests you're fine with either option. You might be misunderstood from time-to-time and told what people think you want to hear vs. the truth, but if overall you're respectful of hosts'/organizers' wishes, you'll be known for that and people will generally be straight with you. 

He said he wasn't sure he loved you. Does anything else really matter at this point? If you're truly committed to someone, at the very least, love needs to be there. Otherwise what's the point? I didn't fly halfway across the country to help my best friend when her marriage was going to crap because she was an acquaintance. She needed me, and I love her. If that doesn't do it for you, you should consider ending it once and for all. As scary and daunting as that sounds, you'd be surprised how much free and better life is when you're not beholden to trying to figure out the sphinx's riddle in your relationship. When I left my ambiguous ex, I had a much better grasp on life, feeling confident that i could reach my own goals. Now that i'm marrying someone who shares that, it's such a drastic difference. The entire relationship is grown-up primarily because I'm not always wondering what he's thinking. He tells me, and I don't even have to ask.

On this triumphant note, I'm signing off. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and I hope to see you here next week. Same bat-time, same bat---- crazy.  

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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 New England with her husband and their three boys.

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