Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Feb. 17)

Feb 17, 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. 17 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

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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Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Hi, everybody, and thanks for stopping by. 

Why oh why must my adult friends persist in putting together lunches and potlucks and nightsout and dinners together to honor their birthdays? I'm just really tired of it. First, after 21, all you get are years divisible by 5. Secondly, if you want to have a party, host a party. This means you pay! You're the hosts for your guests. Am I over reacting? How can I decline these invitations for close acquaintances without being rude?

If it weren't the adult friend's birthday, would you want to go to a potluck or lunch with this friend? 

Seems to me anything that's okay in the regular course of a friendship is okay in marking a birthday.

And therefore kvetching about it suggests there's something else going on.

In other news, one of my 9-year-olds, home from school today, just put a remote-control fart machine under my chair and is going to town.

I have found an excellent response to inappropriate questions/comments. Take a beat, and in a clear slow voice ask, "I beg your pardon?" It's not a phrase used much anymore, and if anyone overhears it, they pay attention. Who you are speaking to will either fumble around (realizing what they've said) or blithely repeat the statement. In which case you reply, "That's what I thought you said." Then you go get another drink. Either result, and I'm not ashamed to say, can be quite satisfying. Great to have in your back pocket for the boss who keeps commenting on your breasts (not that I know anything about that).

I like it, thanks, and am also intrigued that you're able to "go get another drink" at work.

Hi Carolyn, I'm a big fan. I'm hoping that by putting this out for the 'nuts maybe we can start a trend. I'm 31 and getting married next month and have had at least 4 people ask me if they can host a shower for me. But you know what? I have almost everything I need (plus shower games are really stupid). You know when a shower would have been helpful? When I graduated from college. I also think it's crazy that single people (i.e. one income households) continually have to buy presents for people who get married (i.e. two income households). Can we work on this please, people?

The problem with the college-grad shower is that the bulk of your friends presumably will also be just starting out, so you'll all just be buying each other ramen. If there's a grad who has a village of supporters besides his/her peers, then, sure, that village should go ahead and start a trend.

As for the math of the bridal shower, aren't all but the first wave of brides and grooms usually part of a mixed peer group, including single, paired, shacked up, married, ex married? And aren't there plenty of couples who together make less than some singles?

I am all for re-thinking the whole idea of showers (wrote a column to that effect a few weeks ago) but for anything that replaces it, the math has to work.

BTW--four people offering to host a shower? You have generous friends. Maybe combine all your advantages and have a shower that doesn't require people to spend anything on you, like a recipe shower. A little 50s-throwbacky, depending on how you handle it, but it could be useful if you and you rintended actually cook. You could also do used books, photographs (people bring shots of you with friends at various points of life, to be assembled in a photo book or online gallery) ... or you could pick a family or charity and celebrate your good fortune by outfitting them. I'm sure there are other ideas out there. 



Are you sure that isn't Gene Weingarten dressed up as one of your kids?

Actually, the columnnist is a 9-year-old dressed up as Gene Weingarten. 

Carolyn This is going to come across as "I wish I had your problem" especially considering the real issues you see every day, I have a really nice second home which I simply don't bring up with coworkers. I don't feel comfortable standing out in a crowd. I also don't want to deal with nosy questions that always circle back to "how can you afford this, cheez, must be nice" or even worse yet that one coworker that you know is going to pester you about borrowing the keys. So, I just don't bring it up. Is that wrong? Or, is hiding it wrong, for instance, if someone asks why I visit a certain place often, and I avoid the real answer which is "because I have a home there"? I know how things operate (gossip). That would get around VERY fast and I think I'd be looked at differently. Thoughts? Or, maybe better, if I really should stop hiding this, how to deal with the inevitable as I've mentioned above? Thanks

It's nobody's business.  Carry on.

Carolyn -- You often refer to yourself as an introvert during the chats, so I'm hoping you have some tips to offer on the pattern that I find myself in. I have every intention of calling or emailing a certain friend, including putting it on my To Do list for the week/weekend and composing topics of conversation in my head. For a variety of reasons -- from legitimate, such as working or traveling, to I just want to curl up with a book -- the call or email doesn't happen. Eventually, it's been so long that I'm embarrassed and feel awkward and don't know where to start, and so I stop putting that person on my To Do list and we seem to go our separate ways. Others have pointed out that these people haven't called or emailed me either, so this isn't all on me. And, of course, some level of drifting apart is inevitable as everyone gets older, marries, has kids, moves around, etc. Nonetheless, the end result is that I feel more isolated and alone as I drift apart from old friends and am not very good at making new ones. Any advice for how to break this cycle?

Since you seem to want to make the call/send the e-mail, force it by telling yourself you can't X (X being something you look forward to) without calling/emailing Y. You can even order your lists by priority, with call/email preceding something that really needs to be done.

I realize I should put "force" in quotation marks, because you're the one laying down the law, obeying it and enforcing it, which makes it about as toothless as a law can be. But, when you choose to respect it, it's a great method for introducing self-discipline where you're suffering from its absence.

Another motivator: if you send an email early, it can be a sentence or two, or even just a few words. "Hey, thinking of you--what's up?" or, "Free Saturday?"  When you wait, you generally have to write more. (Though somethign terse after a months-long silence is still better than nothing at all.)

If he keeps commenting on your breasts, I'd say it's not very effective, no? And I don't think the workplace is the same thing as a party or a bar. This is sexual harassment. You should treat it as such. Shaming him, when he already knows what he's doing is wrong, is pointless. Be direct. Now is not the time to be Miss Manners.

You're right, I shouldn't have blown past that, thanks.

I was really surprised by your response to the bday question. It is considered poor etiquette to expect people to chip in to celebrate one's birthday. If one wants to celebrate, they should host it themselves. Or, better yet, realize they are an adult and stop expecting other people to care about the fact that they were born on a certain day. I think the problem is that many people expect friends to make a big fuss over them and then are let down when it doesn't happen. Interestingly, my friends that really care about their own birthdays don't make the same fuss over anyone else's. It reeks of self-centeredness, and I think that's why many people do not enjoy it when they get yet another invite from someone expecting 30 people to want to go roller-skating and buy them presents.

You're right, if you're throwing your own party, you pay. But the writer's tone got me to look at the other angle. If a group of people socializes in a certain way, then celebrating a birthday in that same way doesn't get anything of mine in a bunch. I think before any of us judges an invitation as selfish, it's important to look at the context. Let's say you and your friends routinely meet for lunch. If the birthday person thinks one of those lunches would be a great way to mark her birthday, is she supposed to not invite you and wait till you think of it--or would it be okay for her to call and set up a lunch like any other of your lunches? Maybe she doesn't even expect you all to cover her tab; maybe she just wants to see you.

So, like I said, the what-is-with-people? approach applies sometimes, yes, but not always. 

And, when the context says it does apply, you decline the invitation. That's what my original answer was going for--what's the context?



And also, if these friends are so legitimately grabby, then why are they your friends?

recipe/wine shower... this is what I did. I was 40 when I got married and had everything I wanted/needed. I didn't even want a shower but my sister and bff insisted so I insisted that it be one that no one has to spend any money on a gift. Everyone brought a recipe and a bottle of wine that would go with that dish. They were told to bring a bottle they already had in their house. I got a ton of great recipes that I still use. Win/Win for everyeone.

Thanks. Though I bet some people bought bottles out of shame at the idea of sharing their "house" wine. Yes that would be me. But, that would still be my choice. 

I am getting married in April, today my sister (and one of 2 bridesmaids) called to ask what time the wedding is. When i told her she responded with "oh crap I told someone else i would do something really important that day but of course ill be there since its your wedding and thats important and what not but i may leave early". Well the Ceremony starts at 5 and she wants to leave at 6. Come to find out the "really important" thing she has that day is one of her friends is having a dance recital. Is it completely out of line and bridezilla of me to tell her she can do what she wants but unfortunately ill have to make someone who can actually be there for me a bridesmaid insted of her? Trying not to be awful

"Awful" is bagging out on your sister's wedding after an hour.

"Awful" is also saying, "You can do what you want but unfortunately i'll have to make someone who can actually be there for me a bridesmaid insted of you."

Non-awful is to say, "I'm really hurt that you want to leave my wedding for a friend's dance recital." It's not about your sister's ceremonial title, so don't approach it as if it is.

If your sister responds dismissively to your feelings, -then- you can say, "If that's really the way you feel, then I hope you'll understand that I need to ask someone else to be a bridesmaid in your place. Being there is kind of the minimum requirement."

OP seems to be putting a lot of pressure on him/herself to make a "quality" contact (see "composing topics of conversation in my head"). Maybe it would be easier if OP had slightly lower standards - e.g., the email could simply say, "I've been thinking about you and wanted to say hi. Hope you are well!" Then contact is maintained, and if the friend writes back it might be easier to get into a dialogue where both contribute.

Good point, thanks. Lower standards are the right idea, but if that's too hard to implement, think volume: The more you're in touch with someone, the less you need to make every utterance a meaningful one.

How did your kid come to be in possession of a fart machine? Hmm?

I was going to say they stole it from Weingarten's desk, or that I was teaching them the value of saving their money to make important purchases and this is what they got, or that they shoplifted it, but then I realized the truth is better than anything I can make up. It's their dad's.

Regarding the man whose girlfriend thinks Valentine's Day is stupid (me too). You suggested black flowers. How about a Venus fly-trap? Or a blooming cactus?

That was taken from a chat so long ago that I can't even remember suggesting it. But, the point then and now is, get whatever amuses you. I'd say to get a  remote-control fart machine, in keeping with the highbrow theme of this chat, but if your beloved is truly The One, s/he will already have one. Possibly two, in the event one breaks.

brief delay, sorry, someone was at the door again.

I can't help but ask this question after Valentine's Day, but why do people feel the need to use social media to constantly brag about their lives? I can't tell you how many pictures of bouquets and dinners and chocolates popped up on my Facebook feed on Tuesday-- on top of the already daily descriptions of "perfect boyfriends" and pictures of vacations in real time. When did people stop living life and start just trying to prove to others that they are doing so? And, my main question, how can I stop from getting sucked in to feeling like I need to prove myself to everyone else? I have a wonderful boyfriend with whom I share such a bond that I don't CARE how big his bouquet is or how much my facebook "friends" know or see... but I almost feel guilty for not caring. Like somehow my indifference toward bragging means that this relationship really must not be brag-worthy when I know in my heart that it isn't true?

The first part of this is easier to answer than the second part: You need to block the updates of the people who use social media to brag. That's not what -everyone- is in it for, that's just the way some people use it, and there's absolutely no reason to pay attention to them.

Some might say just to stay off these things altogether, which is a perfectly good and uncluttered solution--but if you see a lot of good amid the bad, then waste a little extra time on your feeds and tweak them till the majority of what they yield is useful.

Disclosure, I'm in the midst of this process myself, and I'm almost to the point where my feeds serve up news, links to great stories I would otherwise have missed, photos of people I care about and art that's suited to online delivery (music, video, photography ...).  

The next question I'll have to answer now is about staying on track then there's a steady stream of thoughtful distractions available to one 24-7, but at least you won't have to worry about looking at the march of brags.


The second question, how not to care? Isn't something you can fix by adjusting your settings.

It is possible you run with a crowd that's particularly competitive socially, but that presents a chicken or egg riddle--are they making you that way, or did you seek them out because you're that way?

Fortunately, that question becomes easier to answer if you consciously remove yourself from the competition. It'll take a bunch of small decisions not to compete, and it'll take a while, but I think if you pull it off then you'll be able to see whether it's your environment or your emotional makeup that has you looking  over your shoulder to see how you compare to everyone else.

Carolyn, I love you dearly, but I have to chastise you for letting the first LW in Wednesday's column (the porn-hating GF; link) off so lightly. Trying to control what your partner reads and thinks is toxic behavior. If someone wrote in to say that his or her partner told them, "you will not listen to any rap music" or "you will not read any vampire novels," I think you would be citing to the Gift of Fear. Why should Wednesday's LW get a pass just because her controlling behavior relates to pornography?

Oh goodie, I get to chastise you for equating porn to rap music.  Such a false equivalency.

Porn equates better to alcohol, gambling, or even sex itself. It's something -responsible adults- can enjoy in a way that isn't problematic, but overindulging or indulging recklessly: is linked to addiction, can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and your intimate relationships, may interfere with job performance, and can introduce ancillary problems like debt and legal problems.

And, if you read my column, then you know I advised her not to try to control what her BF reads and does, but instead to accept this is his way and decide whether she can live with him or not.


This must be the stupidest question ever. My boyfriend and I have noticed that our housemate goes to the bathroom and leaves without washing his hands, even after doing #2. Sometimes he goes straight to the kitchen and starts working there. We all share dishes and cooking equipment, so this is pretty gross. Should we say something to him, or is it a lost cause?

"Um, would you please wash your hands after you go to the bathroom?"

Also, consider putting a hand sanitizer (pump dispenser) in your bathroom. Shorten the distance between the two points. 

--Skeeved in D.C.

Hi Carolyn. I have a good friend "Judy" who is in a shaky engagement where she's trying to sort through a lot of issues with the guy, "Andy." She is battling lingering feelings she has for her best guy friend, "James," which become stronger when she is fighting with Andy (the guys are exact opposites). To make it more complicated, James is interested in me and I am interested in him, but I would never make a move. However, James recently to ask me on a date (I am newly single). I said no, being loyal to Judy. She got mad at him for asking me out and confessed her feelings. He does not feel the same way toward her, feels awkward and is distancing himself from her. Her relationship with Andy has since gotten much stronger and seems to be on the permanent up and up. Question is: Is there ever going to be an appropriate time where Judy and James have distanced themselves enough from each other and Judy is satisfied enough with her relationship with Andy that I can ask permission to give it a go with James? I would be content with the answer "NO!" but my friends say Judy has no right to block James from me since she is engaged, etc.

Dunno where to start, except to ask if you're all fish in an aquarium, and you dictated the letter to your human keeper?

I'll try answering bottom to top:

-Your friends are right, Judy has no right to insist you and James can't date.

-You can, out of respect for Judy and her relationship, choose both to hold off for a while while Judy recovers from her attachment to/detachment from James, and, if you do start dating James, to honor the distance between him and Judy as necessary for Judy's peace of mind. Ideally she'll have eyes only for her fiance,* but reality says sometimes a person stays on your mind, and at some point you have to get on with your life. 

-There is an appropriate time for you and James to try dating--after Judy is married makes for a nice milestone, but I'm not convinced that day should ever come,* or will. If it doesn't, then I'd say wait till Judy stops dwelling on him or when your interest in James outweighs your friendship with Judy, whichever comes first.

-About the aquarium. I might be way off here, but if you are all inhabiting a smallish world, then it may be that you and James are interested in each other because you've exhausted your interests in the other available people. Offices get like this, grad programs do, college buddies do, and tv shows that have been on the air for more than a couple of seasons ... anyway, all that means is that it's a good idea to question your interest in james before you act on it, just in case. Probably a sensible path with anyone but it's especially important when a circle of friends gets a bit incestuous.


Honestly, I hate germs as much as anyone, and I'm just devastated when I'm at a Nats game, for example, and witness more guys than I can or want to count hit the restroom and stroll right out without washing up... it's an epidemic (which in that situation you can see without any doubt). BUT... honestly, how do they know exactly what this guy is doing in the bathroom? Are they standing outside the door listening for the water and timing it? Maybe he already has a thing of hand sanitizer in there and uses that, and just fails to add sound effects of some sort to put his roomies' minds at ease? And as much as we all want to be healthy, is being a busybody any better? Just wondering. I do wash my hands, for what it's worth.

Normally I'd agree--love just about any busybodyist rant--but it is in fact possible to hear 1. what a soul is doing in a bathroom and 2. not hear running water afterward and 3. be quite aware there's no hand sanitizer in the bathroom. 

Ah, shared living. 

I often see those "perfect boyfriend" posts as a facade in themselves. Many times when people brag it's because they are trying to convince themselves that things are ok when they are not. It's gotten to the point that I worry about someone's relationship when more and more of these "My boyfriend is soooo great because..." posts start to pop up.

Or, even creepier, some people feel pressured to glow/gloat (glowt?) publicly about gifts because their partners look for it and get upset if they don't. 

And, too, some people just live out loud, and would have done so at any point in history, using whatever tools available to them. 

I guess the upshot is, if you know your friends, then you have a good idea why you're seeing posts of their V-Day bouquets.

Sis doesn't want to be in the wedding. Nicely release her and say she'd be more relaxed if she came as a guest and didn't have to worry about being in the wedding party.

There's that, too, thanks.

Are you sure saying something will actually do anything? This is the same person who keeps putting specific non-recyclables in the recycle bin (after being asked not to repeatedly) and who keeps saying that he doesn't know how to load the dishwasher (after repeated demonstrations). Are you sure this isn't going to have no effect and just make him mad?

Both of those outcomes are possible--in fact, I'm never sure saying anything will accomplish what the speaker intends. People are always the X factor. But, if you're as sure as you can be that he's doing this, then you might as well try, on the off chance he doesn't actually know how dirty even a clean bathroom is. 

If you think he's punitive or unstable, then that's something else--and it involves finding a new housemate.

And do consider the hand sanitizer. Make it easy for him just in case.

And while I'm at it, instead of demonstrating how to load the dishwasher again and again, why not suggest that he load it while you watch, so you can "make sure he's doing it right"? I.e., approach him as someone who never learned some valuable, basic lessons about taking care of himself, be it due to a diagnosable condition or just negligent parents. It does happen.


I'm a healthcare worker/health teacher here in California and I can assure you if someone defecates and doesnt wash hands afterward, hand sanitiser isnt good enough. Hepatitus A anyone? Soap and water is a must!!! How about posting a sign like what is required in bathrooms of resteraunts that says human decency and state law requires...sorry for mispelling but I'm grading papers and seeing this post nearly made me snort my coffee!

Putting this out there as a PSA, but I might be inclined to go with the "better-than-nothing" solution if "nothing" remains a real possibility.

Is snorting coffee like alcohol, gambling and porn?

We have a guy in our social group who posts MULTIPLE times about how awesome his wife and kids are. (I want to make it a drinking game. Do a shot every time he says "lucky.") It's just more annoying than anything else. Are you guys looking for a punchline? She has had sex with him since their last kid (and the last kid is starting school soon), and he talks about it CONSTANTLY when he's out with us. I'm not saying this to laugh at him but if you looked at his FB profile and what he says around us, you'd never know it was the same person.

Hasn't had sex, right? or else his FB posting would take on new meaning. 

They tested slogans in England to see which had the most effect on handwashing. The one that worked the best was: Wash it now, or eat it later. Why not post that on the door/mirror of the bathroom?

A fine idea. And if that doesn't work, post in the kitchen another bit of English sloganeering, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

I don't have a Facebook account so I don't have a dog in this fight, but is this really "bragging" (defined to me as discussing my life for the purpose of making you sad or jealous) or is it happy people being happy in an environment they are comfortable in. Maybe they posted the bouquet they received becuase it was a pretty surprise and they knew that the person who sent it would like to see their happiness, too. Same with vacation photos or the picture you got of Bo during your White House tour. Not bragging, just fun. Why is it bragging if they are not talking directly to you to make you feel some certain way?

Reflexively, the first thing I want to leap on is the "make you feel" phrasing, since that's just a tar pit. The only way someone can "make" you feel anything is by taking away your choices. 

Anyway. I think your point goes back to the issue of context that's hijacking this chat from the R-CFM. If you know your friends, you know that Susie posts a picture of Bo because she's a goofball and would just as easily post a picture of the collapsed souffle she perpetrated last night, and Sally posts a picture of Bo because she needs everyone to know She Was at the White House Last Night. 

Hi there, I'm LW1 from today's column (Link). I just want to say that I find it absolutely fascinating to read the comments about my letter. I agree with some of what people have to day regarding the selfishness of what I was engaging in (now more than a year ago) with my former office crush. However, what I really find interesting is that the comments confirmed something I have always borne in mind when reading the columns, which is that there is SO much more to the story than what can fit in a letter, so commenters can only speak to what little the letter contains. Life is messy and doesn't fit in a few paragraphs. I wrote that letter when I was feeling terribly guilty about not fully loving my wonderful, warm, caring, smart, funny, and very dear to me boyfriend. I didn't WANT the crush, and admittedly engaged in bad behavior during the "emotional affair" (BTW, he never called it that, I called it that - that is a typo in the original letter). If I truly didn't want my BF I would have broken up with him, but my struggle was with truly loving someone yet still nurturing this (admittedly wrong and misguided) crush. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, thanks to all the commenters, but it's never as black and white as a brief letter makes it appear. I'm not in junior high, I don't fear being alone, and my BF is a prize I want. All this makes me human... like the rest of you.

Yes, we're all human, and yes, life is a lot more complicated than any story that can fit in a letter. I get letters like yours occasionally, and people who see their letters in print sometimes go on to supply a missing part of the story that changes everything.

I want to see that in yours, but I don't. What I see is that you've changed your story since you wrote the letter. In the letter he's a "long-standing crush." Here he's just "my former office crush." In your letter, your BF was "the consolation prize," and here he's "a prize I want." And in this new update, there's an inconsistency: is it " not fully loving my ...  boyfriend," or is it "truly loving someone"?

I'm not new to anger at me and at the comments-section crew, and sometimes we deserve it (though never all of the commenters; they're generally an even handed bunch and often it's just a handful who wade into outrageous waters on any given day). But here ...? The phrase "changing your story" is stuck in my head. If your feelings haven't genuinely changed since you wrote your letter, then you're not helping yourself or your boyfriend by defending your feelings for him.


Yeah, we've tried asking him if he'd like to try loading the dishwasher while we watch and comment. He says no, he'll wash the dishes all by hand, if it's that important the dishes get done. Then he never washes the dishes by hand. He's such a nice person, but.....(tears hair out).

Um. Not really, not if he expects his housemates to do all the work.

Um, what's "R-CFM"?

I got tired of typing "remote-control fart machine."

Hi Carolyn- quick question: my daughter is invited to a party this weekend. The invitation says "your presence is gift enough" and then says if we would like to bring a gift, we can bring a baby item that will be collected and donated to a local shelter. Plan to pick up some diapers for the donation but can I, or should I, still bring a gift for the birthday girl? I suspect some other parents might do both. The birthday girl is only 5, if it helps.

Please don't bring a gift. The donation is their way of accounting for people who are constitutionally incapable of showing up empty handed.

And yes, I realize the no-gifts request as well as the charity solicitation are both etiquette violations, but the etiquette doesn't take into account the groundswell of STUFF that accrues in the lives of kids from financially comfortable backgrounds (not rich, just anyone above scraping by). A more etiquette friendly approach might be to skip the big B-day party altogether (FWIW, child-development types see the child's age as a guideline for the right # of guests), but sometimes people have their reasons for inviting the whole class, and no kid of any age needs 20 gifts. Many, if not most, don't even want that many, whether they realize it or not.

Does that go for posting a "thank you" to your spouse on Facebook for what he got you for Valentine's Day? For me, it was more of giving him credit in front of our friends for what he did for me, rather than bragging about what he gave me. What about those posts on birthdays, where spouses post on their partner's wall and go on about how much they love their spouse? Is that unacceptable bragging too?

Why does the "credit" (ew?) need to be in front of your friends? (And, on a completely different note, is there such a beast as acceptable bragging?)

To me this isn't about being boastful so much as being needlessly public. Okay, send a bouquet to someone's office -so a person can enjoy the flowers-, since often most waking hours are spent there vs home. But proposing on stadium Jumbotrons I thought was a fad that needed to die, not one that needed to be shrunk down to fit individual screens.


Reading, reading ...

I was a bridesmaid last spring to a demanding friend. The wedding and the preparations for the wedding zapped my enthusiasm for the friendship, and it dramatically waned once the glowing bride returned from her honeymoon. Her mother is putting together a book of memories of the wedding in time for the one year anniversary. My feelings toward the bride are luke-warm, and I just don't feel like responding with a flowering, "I remember how beautiful she was, and how the breeze was blowing off the ocean!" Should I just suck it up for what I hope is one last request on this woman's behalf?

I think it's fine, even appropriate, for you not to contribute. You're not her friend anymore, the wedding is what exposed your friend as someone you don't actually like, and so there'd be no integrity in getting fake-misty just to get the Mom of Bride off your back.

If you feel obligated for some unforeseeable reason, though, you can tell a truth, if not -the- truth: "I saw my friend get exactly the wedding she wanted," or something to that effect.

Do you think narcissism can be "cured"? My ex-boyfriend is addressing his narcissism issues as part of his therapy--I think in hopes of reuniting--but I wonder if narcissism can be overcome? Interestingly, I am divorced from a man who also has very narcissistic traits and he hasn't changed in the 15 years I've known him. I also wonder why I seem to gravitate towards men who seem to have this trait. I don't think I seek them out--but I've run into what feels like more than my share.

Have you done anything more concrete than "wonder why"? I'm less interested in whether narcissism can be cured than whether your attraction to it can be exposed, understood and cognitively/behaviorally redirected toward healthier people and relationships.

Carolyn, Love the column, love the chats even more! I'm a 39 yo single mom to a great 12 yr old boy. I've been dating my 35 yo boyfriend since last June. We have been staying at his place for nights on end, he picks my son up from school (makes sure he eats something, does homework) and we spend time doing activities on the weekend as a trio. My bf has said he likes my son, enjoys their rapport and appreciates his efforts to help walking the dog, taking the trash out, etc. He has also said it is a different life than he is accustom to when dating single women. It's a built-in family that comes with me and it's more or less all the time (my son's dad lives out of state + he's more donor than daddy). I know the discussion on moving in together is in our future - my lease expires in Sept - any advice on how we maneuver this situation? I want to be mindful of my son and of my relationship. What do you advise if my bf balks at more permanent housing? Is that a red flag on how serious we are?

"My bf has said he likes my son, enjoys their rapport and appreciates his efforts to help."

Okay. But does your son like your BF, enjoy their rapport and appreciate his efforts to help?

Given that most children are abused by someone they know, the idea of "more permanent housing" is one with potentially serious consequences for your son. And while it's probably not the case that you're letting an abuser pick up your son after school, just by the numbers, you did write almost your entire question from the perspective of how good this arrangement is for your BF, and only at the end do you mention being "mindful of my son"--and even then, listing your relationship in the same sentence, as if they have equal weight.

This might just be an accident of haste in composing your question, but, wow, your son needs to be the axis on which this entire household decision spins. Is he safe here? Does his mother have his welfare in the front of her mind? Or is she preoccupied enough by making her potential mate happy to be looking for all the wrong "red flags"? 

Sorry that took so long--I was darting around looking for statistics, then decided this wasn't the right topic for quickie research.

Coming in late, but really hope you can answer: On the bus last night a young mother was behaving awfully toward her little daughter. She was not physically abusing her, but telling her to shut up etc. The kid was maybe 4, the Mom maybe 19 and clearly furious with life. At some point during the ride, every person on the bus turned around to try to give the mother a dirty look. Is there anything else we could have done?

When practical, talk to the child--even if you have to ask the parent, "Okay if I say hello to your little girl?" If you get a yes, then try to get to child height and ask about, say, the stuffed animal or drawing she has in her hand, or her dress, whatever. Ask nice, simple questions and let the child talk. It can take  wound-up parents out of an angry moment and remind them how cute and small their children are. If it backfires and the parent won't let you talk, yells at you, etc., then you can put your hands up, say, "I understand," and, "Children are such a blessing," or something general and innocuous. Even in that case, the child sees and hears someone step in to help, which matters. (This isn't from me, but instead from those who have been in the child's place here.) 

When possible, too, say something to -support- the parent. "Tough day?" All that stinkeye from fellow passengers could have had the opposite effect from the one you all intended. A young parent feeling pretty low and taking it out on a kid will arguably feel lower at all the eyeballs, and who's going to get the brunt of it then?

Just a couple of light ones to finish up. Cheez.

Anyway, thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you soon.

Hi Carolyn, I'm the Adult Birthday OP. Thanks for the insight. I think what's going on is that I have a large circle of acquaintances/friends who think we're closer than I think we are. I don't feel like I get a lot from these friendships. I get a fair number of these birthday invites, but my priorities on weekends are more along the lines of spend time with my family and cook. I worry about declining invites and hurting feelings. Also--here's the part where I need to get my own house in order--I generally feel like I do a fair amount of hosting and that it's not returned. So, when I receive a birthday party invite that explicitly/implicitly says to bring booze/food, I feel disappointed. Thank you for the insight and feedback. Love the chats!

Thanks! And it does sound as if you need to tighten your circle of friends a bit. Not by doing anything drastic, but instead by being present as a rule for the ones you really care about, and declining guilt-free the invitations of those who feel more like acquaintances than friends. 

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

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