Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Feb. 10)

Feb 10, 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, Feb. 10 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.

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Got any of Carolyn's answers or readers' questions from the past year stuck in your head? Submit them for next week's Best of Hax 2011 chat that will take place while Carolyn is on vacation.

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. In case you're wondering what anti-anti Valentine's Day means: First, there is hype for something. Then, there's pushback to the hype, in which the thing that got excessively built up gets torn down. Then, there's anti-anti, in which people tired of both the hyping and the tearing-down gather to talk about something else.

Today the overblown/over-blown-away institution is Valentine's Daay, but weddings are actually the classic case. They get totally out of control, yes ... but then the  "I got married in a burlap sack and served canned beans and it was the best wedding ever" gets out of control, too.

So, whatcha got?

OH WAIT I know what we've got: soundtrack. Just like with the 2011 Hootenanny.

Carolyn, I am a long time reader and normally love your chats, but I was really stunned by one of your comments to Arizona from last week's chat. You told her to hope that her BF's mother is just a xenophobe instead of a racist. Is being a xenophobe better in any way? As a foreign-born American who continues to struggle with discrimination, I sure hope I am misinterpreting something.

I see racism as hatred of something known, and xenophobia as fear of something unknown. No offense intended.

Hi Carolyn, I'm the OP from last week with the dilemma of dating the man who is married to the out-of-state wife with anorexia. First, I didn't mean any disrespect to those dealing with this issue. I feel a lot of compassion for a woman that I don't know, may never meet, and I only want her to live and thrive. Second, she has refused treatment over and over again. He has been supporting her financially and she refuses help from her family. Husband role or not, he has taken on the burden of providing her. She refuses to move back to where he is living and working. The bottom line for me is I like him and your advice last week was wonderful. Thank you.

Thank you, too, for writing in again. No need to write in to explain/justify this part, but I do hope you have ways of knowing the story is bona fide. It didn't raise flags for me, and a good number of readers suggested you and I were both gullible. Just fyi.

I know this is ridiculously petty. I think I just need to be told to chill out. My mother has recently (after 6.5 years of our marriage) started calling my husband by a nickname that only my husband's mother and sisters use for him. I'll use the nickname very rarely, and only because it's short (for his longer, preferred name) when I'm trying to get his attention across a crowd or other "yelling" situation. My mother has never used nicknames for anyone else in her life (at least that I witness). It's super weird to me that she is doing this. My husband said he's not really bothered by it (but he would say he's not bothered if you started shoving needles in his eyes). I really want to say something to my mom, but I haven't so far because I realize I'm being petty. I just think the use of the nickname seems forced, makes her look sort of silly, and seems to imply a certain closeness that isn't there (they get along fine, but aren't by any means best buds).

I can see why this bothers you, completely, but I also suspect that any cure would end up being worse than the disease. Thoughts from the nutterati?

For her bridal shower, I gave my soon-to-be sister-in-law two sets of lingerie from Victoria Secret. They were the baby doll variety with matching thongs. I have been to several bridal showers and had one of my own and it was my impression that lingerie is an appropriate, even appreciated gift for the bride. I also thought the pieces I chose were tasteful (but obviously taste is relative). Just in case it didn't fit or she didn't like it, I included a gift receipt. I did not attend the shower because I was on a business trip so I gave the gift to a sister-in-law to bring with her to the shower. Later on, I heard from my mother-in-law that the bride was very embarrassed by the gift--she turned red, held out one set, but left the other one in the bag mumbling something like we'll show that later. It was a large bridal shower and my MIL said I was the only person who gave lingerie. MIL also said several grandparents were in attendance and perhaps that is why she was embarrassed. Everyone else got something off the bridal registry. My intent was to give something off the registry for the wedding but to give something more romantic for the bride at her shower. Did I make a huge faux pas? I see the bride several times a year at family events and am friendly with her, but I would not say we are close. Was I too presumptuous? My husband talked to his brother, the fiance, and he said she didn't mention it and I shouldn't worry about it. I can't help but worry about it.

Why don't you just call or email her (whatever is your more comfortable form of communication with her), and say you hope you didn't embarrass her and you are -so- sorry if you did? Lingerie certainly pops out of the cake at many bridal showers, but there are also people who would be mortified at the idea of holding up their frillies in front of Grandma. You meant well, so, show her you meant well.

My husband and I were at my sister and her husband's house watching tv. My husband was sitting at one end of a long couch, and my sister was laying with her head towards the middle. I looked over and saw that my husband was massaging my sister's head. I know I stared for a good minute because it was so unexpected, looked at my brother-in-law to see if he noticed (he didn't), and then finally asked him what he was doing. My sister didn't say anything, and my husband kept doing it while making some sort of smart remark that I can't remember. He then said he'd stop if I wanted him to. I just looked at him with what I'm sure was a flabbergasted look, and he stopped. I felt that it was an intimate gesture, and highly inappropriate between a sister and brother-in-law. I don't think I'm overreacting, but don't have the slightest idea how to address it with my husband or sister. I'm more upset at my husband for some reason. I'm sure the fact that my husband makes little or no effort to be romantic or tender with me plays into this, but isn't the whole reason I'm upset. I'd love to hear from the peanut gallery on this.

This: "my husband makes little or no effort to be romantic or tender with me ."

Maybe it isn't the whole reason you're upset, but please make it the object of 99 percent of your attention here. Your marriage is foundering, you're upset about it, you're not dealing with that head on, nor is your husband--and even if there's something more to his gesture toward your sister, it will still be just another symptom of your overall foundering-marriage problem. 

If anything, that makes the "Where do I start?" question even harder to answer, but I think you just have to pick an uncluttered time when you're alone with him, and say, "I feel [your truth here], and I'm worried about us."

What's with the blue highlighting of certain phrases? It shouts like all capital letters does. VERY IRRITATING

Those are links to relevant material (past questions, Carolyn's columns, the room, etc).

Hi Carolyn: I'm writing about a conundrum I'm sure others wish they had. Last week, my 86-year-old father (who lives 1000 miles from me) entered the hospital on an emergency basis and came out three days later with a pacemaker. He's currently being cared for by his "lady friend" at her home. As far as I'm concerned, she's gone "above and beyond" and I'd like to send her a thank-you for all her help. I know she's caring for him because she cares about him, so would it be inappropriate to send her a small gift? Or would that be an insult, since they've been in this relationship for about six years? Should I just send a note? Thanks - signed, Grateful Daughter

What about having dinner delivered--one that's heart healthy for your dad, but also good enough to be a treat for her? That'll lessen her workload, say "Thanks" to her and "Get well soon" to your father.

I totally agree with you here, Carolyn. I've seen this in my own group of friends, where a few people adopted one girl's childhood nickname (which her brother, also our friend, uses). Like the OP I find it cloying, but she doesn't seem to care and really its fairly harmless. I see no up side to mentioning it to her mom but a definite potential down side. If "they get along fine" I would say count your blessings and don't sweat it.


She's trying to be closer to him! This is a good thing, not a bad thing! Ack such problems! My MIL is being nicer to me! Make her stop!


The person who committed the faux pas was the mother-in-law. Who on earth thinks it's appropriate for a third party to step in and to tell a gift-giver that the gift she gave embarrassed the recipient?

Ding ding ding. The idea of ulterior motives did cross my mind, but I fumbled the thought away. Thanks.

Isn't that enabling her to live this self-destructive life? Why not divorce her (like millions of estranged couples do) and let her become self-sufficient? She might grow a spine in the process and learn to love herself. Anyway, it is her moral responsibility to be self-sufficient. Why is he supporting his estranged wife? That bothers me more than if they' apart but not divorced for insurance reasons. I would date a married but estranged man, but I would not date a man who is supporting his estranged wife.

Interesting take, thank you. Deadly illness makes the enabling calculation so much harder to make, just from what I've witnessed and seen in my inbox over the years.

As a lifelong single, let me be the first to defend Valentine's Day with these five words: FEBRUARY 15TH. DISCOUNT CHOCOLATE DAY.


Can you ask your sister what she was doing canoodling with your husband? You can tell from her eyes what's going on.

Also brilliant, though use "canoodling" and one of you might laugh.

What does it mean that this song is so distracting I can't finish the quesion I'm reading? 

I'd appreciate it if you could respond in your chat today because I believe I need to act quickly. Yesterday my fifth grade son told a racist joke at school which got back to a black girl who told a teacher she was hurt by it. My son is spending today in the principal's office and is tasked with writing an apology to the girl. We have grounded him, removed his screen privileges for the next week, and told him he needs to write us an essay about why what he did was wrong. We believe he is remorseful, and as the principal said, we are treating it as a "teaching moment." My question is about the best way to handle any communication with the girl's parents, if any. We feel awful that their little girl has had to deal with this ugliness. We thought about asking the principal to convey our heartfelt apologies. Is that a cop-out? Should we email/call ourselves (assuming I can get contact information)? According to my son the girl is new in town and for some reason that makes me especially anxious to assure them that we do not consider this acceptable (full disclosure: we're in the outskirts of Montgomery County, in a community that has had some reputation for being racist). Thanks for any advice you can give.

If you can call, call. If you can't, then write a note to the parents. The principal can decide whether to send it home with the girl or mail it to their home.

What was the song, for those of us who are at work and can't listen to the soundtrack?

"The Sex Has Made Me Stupid" by Robots In Disguise

Dear Carolyn, I am a divorced mom with a ton of friends of varying degrees of closeness. I recently had the kind of career accomplishment (hooray!) that is likely to happen only once or twice in my life, if I'm lucky. Friends said "we should go celebrate that," but no celebration ever happened. I'm not talking fireworks or flowers, but just one or two friends saying, "come by after the kids are in bed and let's celebrate over a glass of wine. " The loneliness of realizing no one would raise a glass (metaphorically or otherwise) hit me like a ton of bricks, to my surprise, and I've had a really, really hard time letting go of my sadness and disappointment. It's not my friend's responsibility--I really do understand that. But it still leaves me feeling so profoundly alone. I'm usually very forgiving and understanding, so I've never had to push myself past something like this. Help? Is this just yet another step in the divorce grieving process, which I thought was over a couple of years ago?

I don't think it's another manifestation of divorce grief, and I don't think you're alone, and I don't think you're the only one who cares about your accomplishment (though you are, of course, the one who cares about it the most, as you would be if you were coupled or best-friended). 

What you got is a drive-by--people did care, likely still do care, but the moment passed before anyone seriously thought to jump on it. The best preventive measure you can take for drive-bys isn't to have better friends, but instead to jump on the moment yourself. "Yes, let's celebrate--anyone free Friday?" 

As an introvert who doesn't do the "Hey let's all go ..." invitation naturally, I recognize that it can really suck to have to pull together your own celebrations. But, the people who like you will respond to this, and a bunch of them will make time to raise a glass in your honor. 

And, congratulations!

Holy cow that is a LOT of punishment. I taught 5th grade leadership seminars, and kids that age are experimenting with new words and concepts, etc. All of that discipline (principal's office AND written apology there AND grounding him at home AND essay at home AND apology to the girl? Only the latter really matters. The rest is driving home the shame of a mistake. You don't want to teach a lesson of destroying self confidence, you want to teach a lesson of tolerance and thoughtfulness. If I were a betting woman, I would wager that the kid shared a joke he only recently "got," and did not intend to hurt the girl. Like I said, the only one that matters is the apology.

Another good catch, thanks. The volume of punishment presumably reflects the parents' shame here, and you're right that it's excessive.

I am actually NAMED after the woman who took care of my (divorced) grandfather as he was dying of cancer. My grandmother is still pretty bitter about this woman (though according to my mom nothing was untoward about the timing or nature of the relationship), but she was warmly welcomed into the family and had company in her grief. Carolyn, I thought your suggestions were lovely... but at the most base level, if you have not yet started treating her like family, I am sure that would mean a lot to her. Holiday cards, emails, invitations to life events, etc.

Nice point, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, every year I tell my husband we should keep it low key for Valentine's Day and then every year I get mad at him if I don't get chocolate, roses and the like (usually I do get a nice memento). Why do I do this??? Why can't I mean what I say?

I don't know, but would you please tell him, tonight, that you have no idea why you keep downplaying V-Day every year because you actually love it? Then get him something fun to show you're not just in it to receive. 

I used to be one of the militantly anti-Valentine's people. Then I started waiting tables which is a mid-winter lean time bonanza. Valentine's for All! On a more humiliating note, my mom gets me a woman in her thirties, fluffy, pink, cuddly kitten cards every year. I think it's hysterical.

Not only is this a good point, but it's also missing a key comma, which has you receiving a thirtysomething woman annually as a gift. Does your mom have her wrapped? Does she cook?

My sister is an a verbally abusive relationship, and I'm fed up dealing with her! That sounds so horrible, but it's an endless litany of drama and him behaving badly, which she complains about, but when you suggest she leave or offer help, she never does. Her drama and it's effect on me, is starting to effect my own family. I'm short with my husband and kids due to my worry and stress over her. I think I need to disengage with her for my own sanity, but feel heartless for doing so. I've already tried telling her, "let's talk about something else," but she never does. Thoughts?

You need to disengage for her sanity, too. By listening to her complain about this guy, you're rewarding her unhealthy choices with your attention. Tell her you love her and worry about her, but it's over your head and she needs to talk to a therapist, not a sibling. Decline to listen to the complaints unless she's discussing ways to get help.

If you worry that this is going to alienate your sister when she needs a lifeline the most, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to get ideas for how to walk this delicate line. 


My husband and I are very much in love. We are extremely affectionate in private but in public come off more like buddies. We are both fairly private and this is what makes us comfortable. I keep getting pulled aside by friends who are "concerned" about our relationship. I tell them we have a great time together and are happy, but apparently this is not enough. I feel uncomfortable knowing this aspect of my personal life is a topic of much discussion. Short of leaking a snuggle tape, what can I do?

Since this makes perfect sense as you've stated it, I wonder which is the problem--your communication with your friends, or your friends? If you have said this to them as clearly as you have here, and if you're right about the source of their concerns,* then you have a bunch of busybodies for friends. Plainly stating your frustration about this to your closest friend, one on one, would be a good place to start if indeed your friends are boundary-challenged.

*Any chance this isn't about PDA, but instead something else? For example, "fairly private" and "repressive" are two dots that are pretty easy to connect. It's also not uncommon for a once-gregarious person to pair off with someone who is very controlling about privacy and appearances--and gradually disappear from friends' lives. If your friends feel that you are withdrawing to satisfy your husband's demands for complete privacy, then your friends might have cause to worry about you.

Thanks so much everyone - for taking my question and providing feedback. You've helped me see that it's an attempt by my mom to get closer (whether it's feigned at first...) to my husband. And I get why she wants to. I'm an only child and have always related more to my dad - personality, rationality, etc. I think my mom has always felt a little "left out" and sees a relationship with my husband as balance, per se (and his family lives far away, so they're not in our usual 1-2 week visit dynamic). Thank you. I will bite my tongue and try to see the love in it.

See the love, man-- that's our theme today. Thanks and good luck. 

Because you want to think of yourself as low-maintenance, above it all or have trouble expressing yourself/needs. Any of those are possibilities, but the end result for you and your husband is stress - making you far more high-maintenance in the end. If you like doing something, just admit it and ask for it - or plan it yourself.

have trouble expressing yourself/needs = making you far more high-maintenance in the end

The secret of life? 

Those parents sound great, but I think they should encourage the kid to apologize face-to-face. That takes a lot more courage. I had my own "racist joke" incident as a child. I'm white and told a horrible "joke" about African-Americans that I had overheard my uncle tell at Thanksgiving (we kids weren't supposed to hear it.) I told it on the bus after the break, not noticing the African-American student sitting there until my performance was over. I can still remember the look in her eyes. I didn't have the guts to own up and apologize - ever. I was at the age where telling such jokes was my way of getting attention. Because I was perceived as a goody-goody, I thought it would be especially shocking that I would tell a racist joke. I really should have apologized because that is the least the student deserved, but there was no one to make me do it. Instead, I kind of avoided the girl for a while. It's a good thing that the OP's son got "caught" and I'm glad the parents are seeing it as a moment to teach him a better way.

Another excellent point, thanks. 

As a single guy in my 30's who is too busy volunteering and running triathlons to meet quality women in bars (past chat reference!), I'd like a woman in her mid thirties for Vday. Can I give that previous poster's mom my address? P.S., comma's are awesome.

As are apostrophe's.

Will get back to you on the gift of woman.

I want you to know that my normally impeccably behaving cat, after observing this chat, jumped onto my desk and pooped on my keyboard. Take that, Valentines Day!!!

The forehead implications are why I don't have cats. 

Hi Carolyn, Is there a nice, yet forceful, way to tell my friend: "If you're calling me to talk about [that asshat you're "dating"], I'm beyond over hearing about it (as it's been nonstop obsession/complaining for over a year now) and am hanging up now. Please get thee to therapy." ? Thanks

Can't speak for anyone but me, but I'd much rather hear -exactly- what you just wrote than some carefully crafted ball of fluff.

I am not a big fan of Valentine's Day (can we call it VD for short?), and I can trace it to a memorable high school year where my first real boyfriend, who had recently broken up with me, kindly surprised me in homeroom with a personalized card and some brownies. All day I thought maybe he was into me again, until I saw him at the end of the day sheepishly handing a huge bouquet to the new object of his interest. *sigh*

Brutal. But at least he got you the right gift. You don't see many people self-soothing by putting on pajamas and eating flowers. 

I went on a first date this week that went ok, enough interest on both sides to set up a second date. I'm thinking a 2nd date on Valentine's Day. I'll drink too much, be rude to the wait staff and after an awkward silence or two I'll tell her I love her. I promise to report back to the peanuts next Friday with how awesome this date went!

I weep with gratitude. 

Just thought I'd write in to cheer up those who feel that they're having a bad day. My husband is at the vet with our dog, who we thought had been having struggles with, disgustingly, her anal glands. Just got a text from my husband that reads: "Wow. Anal gland just shot the vet in the face". So. It can't get worse than that, right? Hope that makes someone feel better.

Another definition of  AAVD. As is Janis Joplin on the soundtrack.

Thanks, cosmos--I'll make you some brownies Tuesday.

I am expecting to get engaged in the next week or two when I will be out of the country (yay!) and plan to tell my parents via a phone call, and then email my boyfriend's immediate family (their mode of sharing big news), email our close friends and extended family, and then email friends close enough that they shouldn't find out via facebook. My big fear is that my parents will be announcing the engagement on my facebook wall before I am off the phone with them, let alone before I tell my sister, future bridesmaids, or my boyfriend's family. Is it terribly rude to ask my parents for a two hour embargo to make sure that everyone gets the news first? I don't want to take away their excitement, but it would be horrible if my future in-laws saw the facebook message before the email went through. Or should I just suck up because my parents are the kind of people who love facebook and honestly think they are being wonderful by sharing every detail on my wall?

I'm going with 3. For the love of perfect rose petals, stop scripting your life. Please. Nothing we micro-plan is ever as awesome as what unfolds when we let it.

Carolyn, For some reason, I'm more or less incapable of using gift cards, which is a problem since that's become the main way my family has given me Christmas gifts the last few years. I can never quite bring myself to just use the damn things. There's stuff I want, but I always hesitate and think, well, maybe I'll find a better deal, or maybe I should save these up for one big purchase, or something. It's insane. How do I just spend this found money that's not even actually money?

Use them to buy the gifts for other people that you usually buy. Same amount of relief for your bank account balance, much less angst.

I'm recently divorced and not dating. Last year I was able to go out with a friend who's husband was overseas. This year, no one single that I know, plus no babysitter. So it's me and the kiddo. I'm making heart shaped pancakes for dinner and ice cream or cupcakes and we are going to watch a movie (I'm thinking of introducing him to the Princess Bride). Romance no, love yes.

Princess Bride! Brilliant! Thank you.

Speaking of kids, I have to run--another performance at their school that I can't miss. Thanks as always for the great questions, and for the extra giggles today.

Possibly appropriate, but seriously, get the kitty to a vet ASAP. An otherwise well-behaved cat who does something like this is telling you that he/she doesn't feel good!

Right, of course, thanks.

Whatever you do, do not let the words: We have black friends cross your lips. Or anything similar.


So if you're a husband who has no idea what to give his wife for Valentine's Day after 12 years ... what do you do?

Something she always has to ask you to do, hates having to ask you to do, and wishes you would just once think to do without her prompting? Fits wives and husbands equally well.

Really leaving now. Thanks again, and happy hearts and flowers, or  not.

In This Chat
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 She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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