Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, March 9)

Mar 09, 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, March 9 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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Hello, hello. Hope you've got the turntable going (those of you who have access), and also have subscribed to my feed on Facebook, If not there will be consequences: You won't get my feed on Facebook. I know, cruel and unusual.

And, I hope you all have easy questions, because then I can be really fast.

Hi!! I'll preface with two things: I don't consider myself a prude and I don't have kids (yet.) That said, I'm wondering on what the etiquette/general sensibility is around breastfeeding your child AT the table while out at a restaurant with other couples (males and females.) A friend's wife has now done this twice at group meals and I get the general vibe that it's not so comfortable for anyone else at the table, but there's not any easy way to say something. I am all for breastfeeding and think it's beautiful/natural/must be done when the baby needs it, etc. But, at the table?

I've been at the table a few times while a mom breastfed her baby, and it wasn't a big deal. There are ways to be discreet. There are also, often, not good places for a mother to go. You don't want her sitting on the toilet, right? And presumably the crowd at the table will be more suitable company for a feeding than everyone who comes in the door, assuming the other place for her to go is the waiting area by the entrance.

Generally, I think someone who is just taking care of business gets a pass, and someone who is making a look-at-me Statement gets a, "Wha?"  But this applies to just about everything, not just breastfeeding. As does the general coping strategy of averting your eyes when there's something going on that you don't want to see but that doesn't require any intervention on your part.

Over the past couple of years I have come to realize I contribute too much to conversations, generally in a "one-upping" situation. This was recently confirmed by a friend. Besides just shutting up when I feel like speaking up, what are some other strategies I can use? I know my reputation as a one-upper will stay with me for quite some time.

You've got the right idea--biting your tongue when you'd normally repeat your signature mistake is the first step in retraining yourself socially. Once you've got that down, though, it's important to come up with something to replace your faux-pas, since just sitting there inertly isn't ideal, either.

Since your impulse is to make things about you, use that to define your next step: Keeping it about others. When you catch yourself in an impulse to one-up,  see if you can form a question that will draw out the other person. 

Sometimes you'll come up empty,* and that's okay--you'll at least be thinking of the other person and that might help you contribute later in the conversation. But often you will come up with something, and that will help chip away at your reputation for being self-centered.

* FWIW: Often people who "contribute too much" the way you have are actually not egotistical, but instead awkward or insecure in conversations, and it comes out as "That reminds me of me"-type one-upsmanship and bluster. If that's the case with you, orienting yourself toward asking questions (as long as they aren't intrusive ones, a whole other issue) wil help you on both counts.

I (a male, to give context) have no problem with it, but had the most embarrassing moment at a restaurant when I was just staring off into space, lost in my own thoughts on something or another. When my eyes refocused, I realized I was "looking" in the direction of a woman who was breastfeeding, and she was absolutely glaring daggers at me, thinking I was staring at her. Me=Mortified.


Is it ever too early to submit a question? Do they all get stored in a database, or do you only get them once you start the live chat? Thanks!

As soon as a chat is available on the site, you can submit questions. They all are stored, so you don't need to wait until the chat actually has started.

I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks last year and my husband took it very hard. He told me that he didn't want to know if I got pregnant again until the second trimester. I have found out that I am expecting again but now I am not sure if I should tell him or not. I want to respect his feelings but I also don't want him to regret not seeing those first milestones...heartbeat etc. There is also the selfish part of me who wants a hand to hold in case something does go wrong again.

Hm. There is a lot going on here, enough that the better time to talk to him about this, in depth, was before you got pregnant again. I realize this doesn't sound helpful for me to note at this point, but I mention it because you might want to open your conversation with your husband by noting that you probably shouldn't have let his ignorance request go unchallenged.

And here's why: It's not "the selfish part of you" that's telling you you're in this together. You ARE in this together, co-parents, a team in biological, emotional, financial and logistical senses. It's not right, fair or mature of him to delegate unilaterally a huge chunk of the emotional hard work to you.

While a miscarriage is a painful loss, it's not as if carrying a pregnancy into the 2d trimester will magically erase all possibility of any other painful losses. I mean, duh--as a parent, he's going ot have to deal with all kinds of pain. And since he's going to have to suck it up at some point, that point might as well be now.

You can have this whole conversation, by the way, without telling him you're pregnant yet, but unless he's willing himself into cluelessness he's probably going to guess. Still, it might be better for you to have the talk before you give the news.

And if he fights you on the idea of emotional accountability and/or gets angry at you for telling him you're expecting, then it's time to bring in a professional referee, in the form of marriage counseling or a marital seminar/workshop. You really, really don't want to go into parenthood with someone who thinks it's okay to use the emotional coping tactics of a 7-year-old.




Ms. Hax, I've noticed a trend where people who used to be in more contact are avoiding me/not returning phone calls/emails, etc. My siblings are all acting disaffected as well. How do I approach this without sounding paranoid? On the other hand, I *am* beginning to feel paranoid - what have I done to cause so many people to distance themselves from me? Maybe I'm afraid of the answer, and so don't ask; but this is beginning to seriously impinge on my daily life. Any ideas?

This is kind of a think globally, act locally kind of question. I could tell you to stop thinking in terms of a larger message, but that's not practical; your mind is already there. So, counteract that by acting in small ways. Instead of trying to chase everyone down to prove/disprove your dire theory, think for a moment about who you really miss, and then make a concerted effort to get in touch with just that person. Do this with two or three people max, and see where that gets you.

Dear Carolyn, What do you do when you're dating someone who wants to spend a great deal more time with you than you yet feel ready to give? I feel like an inadequate girlfriend to this wonderful man I"ve been seeing for a few months, and am afraid I will lose him. We have talked about it a lot and we just seem to be on different tracks-- he's on the fast track toward full-time coupledom, I'm on the slow track. He's not happy with this situation and neither am I. I went through the divorce from hell over the past couple of years, and I feel like that experience has clouded my ability to give him everything he really needs now. Help...

Wait a minute--why is this all about what he needs? Why isn't this equally about what you need, which is clearly a slower pace, more patience, more room to breathe?

Everyone deserves this, but you've emerged from the divorce from hell--there's added urgency for you to save your trust and affection for people who show respect for who you are. You've let this guy know you need to slow things down, and what is he giving you? Zero respect, with a "not happy" cherry on top.

Whenever a couple is dating and comes to a standoff between "I need more" and "I need less," the "I need less" wins--not because it's fair, but because it's awful to make people spend more time with you against their will. Please take a very hard look at this person who will not take your "no" for an answer.

Dear Carolyn, I want to find out the sex of our baby-on-the-way, my spouse adamantly doesn't. Any chance it'll work if one of us knows and the other one doesn't?

There's a chance of just about anything. The question I have is how the I-don't-want-to-know party (N) will take it if the knowing one (Y) slips? Will N suspect Y of "slipping" on purpose? Is Y one to do stuff like that? Is N one to accuse Y even if Y has no history of being manipulative like that? Would N get genuinely angry and hold a grudge?

Or would N shrug it off, be grateful to Y for at least trying to keep a lid on it and would they both quickly move on?

If the latter describes you two, then don't worry about it. If any incarnation of the former describes you two, then you have bigger things to worry about than ultrasound preferences.

BTW, if you want to compromise, you can tell the technician that one of you wants to know and the other doesn't, and ask if it's possible for Tech to do the exam but not announce "boy" or "girl." Sometimes it's obvious to a layman, sometimes it isn't, so both parents can come away with a little info and a little room for doubt.

If nothing else, aren't there some very practical concerns regarding not telling her husband about any early term pregnancies or miscarriages? What if they were in an accident or something, and medics had to know? And if she does miscarry, and has to go for an extraction, is she supposed to schedule that, drive herself there and back, and deal with the emotional and physical ramifications of that alone because he's a delicate flower? What a punk. Didn't he take "in sickness and in health" vows?

No, he had them written out because they upset him.

How can one distinguish between "one upping" vs "I understand what you're saying, I have experienced similar"? I do one of those or the other, but don't know which.

You know, this is a very difficult distinction to navigate, and often the only difference between showing your empathy and going all "me me me" on someone is how the beholder sees your anecdote. Big help, I know.

But I think one way to stay on the safe side is to say something to the effect of, "[nodding]Yeah, I hear you, I've been in a similar position ..." and then not launch into your story. Instead, ask a question (there it is again) about hte other person's experience, and give the other person a chance to ask you about yours.

Full disclosure, I'm not always as good at this as I like to be, and cringe at the memory of sharing some "been there" stories when listening was the better move.

Or did I just make it all about me.

You will know the sex of your baby for the rest of your life. You can wait a few months to find out so you and spouse can be surprised together. Bonus: not knowing makes the payoff after labor and delivery even better than it already is.

That, too. thanks.

Our friends did that - he knew but she didn't. They agreed to always refer to the baby as a girl to avoid slip-ups. It worked both times.

And that! Simple genius. Thanks.

If "I need less" wins, "I need more" is free to move on to find someone that is more time/space compatible, right? The OP says that she doesn't want to lose him and she's not happy that she's not in a place to give him more. Isn't it equally disrespectful to put him in the situation of waiting until she will want more?

If he waits, he puts himself in the position of waiting. She is merely asking him to move more slowly, and that's not disrespectful at all. If he doesn't want to wait, then, yes, he's free to go.

It's the pressuring for something that hasn't been freely granted that's the problem. You can ask, you can see how the other person handles that request, then you can like it or lump it.

Unless you want to be miserable and recruit a mate to be miserable with you, in which case, pressure away.

No matter what my wife and I do, my in-laws can't manage to say one positive thing about it. I'm talking about big ticket, couple-y things, like planning a wedding, buying a car, making job decisions, picking a city to live in, buying a house. Our new-to-us car: too old, could break down. Our new house: weird floorplan, no room for multiple babies (we have no kids). Our new city: too expensive. I'm serious - not. one. positive. comment. About ANYTHING that we pick for ourselves. It brings me down, hurts my feelings (these are, after all, reflections of our tastes), and makes me think that they think we're idiots, like we had not considered these negative things they bring up and decided the positives outweighed them. I'm no Joe Chipper, but I was raised to be non-critical, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything," etc., and I can't get over how, well, rude they can be. I know they won't change, so how do I respond the next time they can't manage to at least compliment the silverware at the next restaurant we take them to?

What does your wife say about this?

I plan to answer you more fully after you respond, but, in the meantime, I feel comfortable saying (nay, thrilled to say) that their comments are not reflections on your tastes. If they had the rare objection to something you chose or did, then you might have grounds to internalize their criticism in that case, but what you're talking about is pan-negativity, and that reflects nothing but their own pathology. 

Hi Carolyn, my sister just had to have her much-beloved dog put down. It was a difficult decision and very hard for her. She is grieving. Last night, she broke down in tears telling me that her step-son and his wife, a young couple, came to dinner at her house the other evening, and not only failed completely to offer any condolences or even acknowledge that the dog was gone, but prattled on for quite some time about their new dog. After the dinner, she expressed her hurt to her husband but not to the step-son or his wife. It's been a couple of days now since this happened. I wasn't there, but I do know the couple, and I want to call them and find a way to say that their behavior was hurtful to someone I love. Would this be OK if I found the right way to say, "I know you didn't mean to cause hurt feelings, but you did" ?

No, please stay out of it. You obviously mean well but it's not your place. 

Numerous family members of mine control others with their tempers. You know that if you say the wrong thing, they will scream and yell at you and will ruin the dinner/event etc. for which we had assembled. (Yes, even if we are out in public). I can't just cut them out of my life - we're a small family and very close otherwise. How do we tame the beasts? Just keep tiptoeing around them? It seems wrong to let them have their way all the time because we are afraid of their roar.

How can you possibly be close if you live in constant fear of saying the wrong thing? 

You're refusing to consider the white (cutting ties) and I can't imagine ever promoting the black ("let them have their way all the time"), and I suspect the gray in between is something that was absent from your family experience. If that's the case, then finding a good family therapist is probably your best first step toward "taming the beasts" ...

Which actually isn't what this is even about. It's about learning boundaries and getting your life back. The beasts aren't yours to tame.

but i can't get this turntable thing to output any sounds. any tips? thx -- love reading your columns, always informative, thought provoking and helpful!

Have you tried clicking on the speakers in the room? Or checking your computer/speaker volume?

I'm the one who wrote in several months ago (link) because my husband told me how disappointed he was that I did not, after a scare, miscarry our accidentally conceived second child. He won't get counseling, so I have finally gotten it together to go alone (no child care, no time - better late than never, right?). I had one session and the therapist seemed maybe even more negative on my husband than I am. On the other hand, he DOES say things like "You're the one that wanted this" (when I complain that he does almost no physical child care, like baths and diapers) or "What did you think having a baby would be like?" (when I complain about being tired. For the record, I'm seven months pregnant, we have a fourteen-month-old, and I'm a work-at-home-mom and graduate student.) And I guess those sound pretty awful to a third party (not to mention how they sound to me). So how can I tell whether a therapist is helping me see my situation clearly vs. just helping me wallow in negativity?

"How can I tell whether you're helping me see my situation clearly vs. just helping me wallow in negativity?" 

This is your therapy, you get to ask these things. You can also ask the therapist, specifically, whether s/he thinks there even is a practical way to make things work with your husband, since that was the point of going to counseling, to see if you and your husband could get past his anger at the second child.

You also need to start planning for the point when it's clear 1. that your husband isn't going to let go of this grudge, and 2. that his hostility is bad for your babies. I mean, what you've described here is his hostility to the baby he apparently agreed to, and not just to the reality of the unwanted 2d baby. Wow.

So, engage the therapist in a conversation about what s/he sees as the possible outcomes here, and let your mind start exploring a conclusion where you need to get out for the sake of your kids.

I set and enforced boundaries with folks like this in my life. In a "down" moment, when everyone is calm, tell them (or email them) that you're not going to put up with the yelling and screaming anymore, and if it happens again, you will disengage (walk out of the restaurant, hang up the phone, etc.) Then stick to your guns. I think I learned this from Hax chats, so thanks, Carolyn.

Any time. 

I'm glad we found out before. We had a daughter and kind of wanted a son--not huge preference, just kind of "one of each." It was good to find out we had a 2nd daughter on the way, so we could deal with the slight disappointment then and be nothing but happy when she arrived.

Yep, definitely applies if you're hoping for one sex over the other. Thanks.

Can men benefit from reading the Gift of Fear too? I am in a marriage where I am starting to doubt my own boundaries for what kind of, to use your phrase, "emotional violence" is harmful or acceptable to my own sanity. Doing and saying things known to be hurtful have come to be normal and my total acceptance and silence are expected. This just can't be right. I never would've guessed in my whole life I'd be here not representing my own expectations and boundaries, let alone insisting that such boundaries are the least I will live with. If I didn't have so many responsibilities, I know what my answer would be but I just can't get there right now.

I've never seen Gift of Fear as a book just for women (though the anedotes are mostly perp=male, vic=female). It's so good at calling attention to red-flag behaviors and manipulation that I do think it will help you.

What won't help you, if I may, is ruling out any one solution because you "just can't." Go into this with your mid open to all (legally and morally sound) paths. 

A person whom I've known a long time, and with whom I used to be close, doesn't get that I don't want to rekindle our friendship. I have ignored some contact, delayed in responding, answered that I was busy to multiple invitations. Is there more I can do? I've been pinned down with the "have I done something wrong?" inquiry, to which I didn't know how to respond (since the answer is No, I'm just not feeling it any more).

When pinned down, you need to tell the truth. "No, you haven't done anything wrong, but I feel as if we've grown apart. I'm sorry."

I read the OP's question that the THERAPIST was the one asking the hostile questions that she quoted. And that the therapist is a man? If that is the case, find another therapist. Try a few, making at least one of them a woman.

No, she's noting how awful those must sound to a third party, so I think it's pretty clear that the speaker of awful things is the husband and the third party is the shrink.

(OP, if I'm wrong, pls weigh in, thanks.)

feeling stung's husband sounds very bad, but he did not agree to the baby. He said he absolutely never wanted another baby.

Did you read the original question? It was an unintended pregnancy. 

So, the unwilling father had two choices: Divorce his wife before the baby comes, on the theory that she lied about its being an accident, or suck it up and be a father, on the theory that he helped make this baby and grown ups handle it when they don't get exactly what they want.

He's chosen neither, and made the petulant non-choice of staying but sniping. 

Remember, too, he's not pulling his weight with the first child now, who presumably was a child he wanted. How are these kids to feel growing up in a household like this? And how is it that this father hasn't thought of this himself, and prioritized the emotional needs of his innocent kids?


Thanks for taking my question. She says that's just how they are, and that I should just let it roll off me, or do as she does (ignore it or roll her eyes and tell them to cut it out). I'm not comfortable with the roll-my-eyes approach (I think it's kind of rude - and they're not my parents), so I guess I need some other way to handle this. I really, really want to have a great relationship with them and look forward to their visits, but it's reached the point where I just don't want them to know anything about our lives for fear that they'll find something wrong with it, and I just don't want to be around them and their endless complaining.

You've nailed it--you need some other way to handle this. "Really, really" wanting them to be people they aren't is only going to prolong your disappointment.

I can see why you don't want to roll your eyes, and that's good, you should stick to what feels right (though I suggest you go easy on your wife, since she's had these naysayers in her face her whole life). Instead, though, you can choose any number of responses that don't force you to hide when you see them coming. You can choose to be positive in the face of their barbs ("Huh, I love the floor plan, oh well!"); you can cliche them into irrelevance ("Different strokes," etc); you can use humor "("Well, good thing you don't have to live here"); you can "wow" them; you get the idea.  The trick is to reflect it back to them in a way that suits you, instead of absorbing it all and taking it personally, which is inaccurate above all else.

You can also dispense with the "fear that they'll find something wrong with it," since it sounds as if you can be count on them to find something wrong with it. Instead, count on it, and be ready.

Carolyn, I'm in the same situation as the OP (delaying responses to invitations, etc) with one friend in particular. The problem for me is that she did do something wrong. She's one of those incredibly competitive people whose one-upmanship was charming at age 13, but somewhere around the 10th "You take a lot of [explitive] classes for your easy major" comments, I realized I had to cut her out. If she pins me down, can I be honest about why I don't want to spend time with her anymore?

Sure. it would be a public service. Just don't stoop to her level, and make your case using civility and specific examples. 

I'm facing something similar. Someone who I thought I was close to got busy with life. I haven't seen her in 2.5 years despite repeated attempts to do so. Every invite was met with an "I'm busy with X" type of excuse. I gave up after awhile. Then I went through a terrible break up, moving out, recovery, and I'm now at the beginning of a new and happy relationship. Earlier this year, she was in town, but I ignored her because I'm done. Out of the blue, she wrote me last month to tell me that all those excuses were true but now she realizes that prioritizing other things has made her lose out on a lot of friendships. SURPRISE! She said she missed me and she understood if I never wanted to talk to her again. I'd love to be friends with her, but I know telling her about all the drama and awful things that have happened is only going to make her feel worse about her absenteeism. I just feel like it's not worth it and just to keep her in the dark and let things go. She wasn't there for me when I needed her most -- a friendship ender I guess.

So, which is it--you don't want to make her feel worse by telling her what you've been through, or you don't want to be friends with her because she wasn't there for you?

I'm inclined to advise that you take her apology as sincere, forgive her and enjoy renewing a friendship that you've missed--but if you're going to remain angry at her, then there's probably no point. Figure out what you want out of this, long-term, and then act on it. Don't worry about the logistics.

Thanks, Carolyn! Why didn't I think of just asking her? For the record, my husband is only hostile to the *idea* of parenthood - when he takes notice of our son, he's very loving. Spent a lot of time teaching the little guy to walk, for instance. But... yeah, hostile to the idea is still a problem. He has been negative to the idea of counseling, but I want to try again to get him to come. How can I make it clear to my husband that our marriage is on the line? Are there non-punitive, non-ultimatum words I can use that still get the point across?

I realize it's possible you're digging holes unintentially with unfortunate word choices, but, "when he takes notice of our son"? Eek.

It is great, of course, that he's very loving with him, and it's enough to (re)build your marriage on if he's willing. To explore the language of talking about this with your husband, I'm again going to advise that you raise it with your therapist. I could offer ideas, but in a session you'll be able to fiill in details of how he's likely to respond, and that's going to get you the better answer.

My mom has been like this all my life. My husband found the best solution: he cheerfully validates the criticism and then one-ups it. House in a flood plain? Right, that can be bad, and he's even heard of houses just floating away. My mom actually ends up comforting him and telling him it probably isn't bad as he's now thinking, while my sister and I watch in astonishment. We've tried to downplay her negativity all our lives and this works so much better!

I love it, thanks.

Are there any circumstances under which you would encourage seeking out closure from someone you haven't been in contact with for a few years? Actually, I loathe the term "closure"... what I really mean is: can I e-mail this person and be like "WTF?! You're an (glass bowl)!" Relationship ended abruptly, horribly and I later found out that said person had been cheating on me prolifically and in full view of his/her friends, which I guess explains why they always gave me such a hard time. I didn't find out about the cheating until recently and up until I found out, blamed myself for what went wrong. I guess I just want this person to know that I know I'm not to blame. ...But they already know that, right? Because they are the one who did the cheating. So, there's no point in contacting this person. Have I just answered my own question the way you would? Any other advice? Any mantras I can repeat when I start fantasizing about revenge scenarios?

You have just answered your own question, but not the way I would. (My answer wouldn't have been nearly as manic or entertaining.)

This all happened a few years ago, so any brain space you're giving this person is too much. And while it can be hard to reverse that (don't think about X, don't thing about X, aaaagh!), the one thing you can do is NOT announce to him that you're still granting him brain space. So, no , no emails. The truth was your [some term other than closure]. 

Carolyn, How many shoes do you actually have? It says "a lot" in your bio, but 'cmon, that could mean anything. You don't have to count them all today, but inquiring minds want to know!

I don't know, but I've been downsizing. I still have more shoes than I do feet, though, so that probably still qualifies as a lot. 

I think I got this idea from you or the 'nuts -- and it really works! Make a mental, or even a real set of 'Bingo' cards with all the crazy, negative, soul-crushing or just annoying things your relatives can be predicted to do/say at the next gathering. As the event goes along, every wow-inducing moment gets you closer to Bingo! At my most recent Thanksgiving, my partner and I were amazed at how many times we ended up whispering 'Bingo!' to each other....and somehow, making it a private game took all the sting our of their barbs!

This idea has come up in this space, and it can help, but one caveat: It's a real wedge-driver. When someone's behavior is the object of a private running joke, you can pretty much kiss goodbye the idea of ever being close with that person again. Plus, you're laughing at someone behind his or her back. So, save it for when you need a survival tactic around someone, and this is your alternative to severing the tie completely.

Dear Carolyn, Was reading through an old journal of mine and was alarmed to find descriptions of a phenomenon in my relationship that used to make me miserable, furious, and frustrated. The alarming part is that this phenomenon still occurs today, but I haven't gotten upset about it in a long time. Do you think it's a good or bad thing that I've learned to cope with something I used to consider breaking up with my boyfriend over?

Depends on whether it's a harmful thing that you're numb to, or just a neutral thing you've accepted.

Carolyn, a FB vs Real Life etiquette question for you. A couple of girls in my circle are now pregnant and when they made the phone calls, they said "it's not public yet, so please no posting on FB." Why do you need to tell me this? Why would I post about the goings on in someone else's uterus? As a note - I am not big on sharing any personal info online. I rarely post pics, much less tag people in them (although i always have a camera and email pics directly the ppl involved); i am not an oversharer, i NEVER real-time post, and honestly believe it's best for big news (engagements, pregnancies, new jobs, etc) to come from those directly involved. Anyway, is the "announce but dont social media congratulate" now standard practice, or should I be offended?

If you get offended, then it will be because they failed to note your exemplary discretion to the degree that you'd have liked them to. So, no, please don't get offended. 

Besides, when people go out of their way to include you in otherwise-embargoed good news, flattery is a happier default reaction. 

Hi Carolyn, love your chats. Um, wow! I just caught my new-ish boyfriend (of about 3 months) in kind of a whopper. My birthday was in January and for my birthday present he signed us both up for salsa lessons. How romantic! The day that we were supposed to start he told me that the dance hall called to say they had to postpone it two weeks. That was two weeks ago, so our first class was supposed to be yesterday. He told me again yesterday that they had to postpone another two weeks due to lack of enrollment. I called them today to find out when classes were "actually" going to start and...surprise!! We are not even registered. He made up this whole story about how the guy from the dance hall said that winter enrollment is always low and how they were going to give us a discount for our inconvenience etc. I'm floored. This isn't the first lie I've caught him in, but the other few were all very minor and insignificant, and I wrote it up to him just being absentminded. Now I'm wondering how to handle this.

"I'm sorry, this isn't working out. Good bye."

Would like a little reassurance: Twice in the past couple of weeks, I've had to entirely disengage from an argument that started out political and ended up ugly and personal. These two arguments were with different people (which probably says that I should bite my tongue more often, but anyway), and both thought that my disengaging was rude and "unilateral." I am still pretty sure I did the right thing, stepping away from conversations in which I was called condescending and smug, but I would like some reassurance and maybe some advice on keeping my opinions to myself when I know they are unlikely to sway anyone.

When someone crosses into a personal attack--you or the other person--try saying, "Ouch, that's personal, and I'm not comfortable with that. I'm going to step away now and cool off." That is unilateral--but so is, "Oh, I'm late and have to go, I'm sorry," right?--and you still might get accused of being rude, since this is a heated conversation after all. But, it's still a civil way to disengage, since you're saying what you're doing and why.

As for how to bite your tongue, ask yourself before you say anything, "Am I ready to get into a brawl?" In most cases the answer is probably going to be no, and since you are passionate about your beliefs, walking away before the argument starts will be a lot easier than walking out when it's in full swing.


I can see how it COULD be a wedging device, but in our case, it really hasn't been. I guess the difference is that we ultimately love our family, and would be complaining or processing the barbs after the party anyway -- Family Bingo is a way to laugh it off in the moment. I don't agree we're laughing at them. We're laughing at the ridiculous situation and the fact that Uncle Jim will always, every single time, ask when we're getting married, when he and everyone else knows we're not. Uncle Jim isn't ridiculous, but the question certainly is!

Thannks, I didn't look at it this way, but I see your point.

My office is an open space shared by 7-10 people at any given time. A coworker frequently brings food for lunch that doesn't have the most appealing odor (nuked broccoli, anyone?). Jokes haven't seemed to sink in, so we would like to tell him directly to take it upstairs. Unfortunately, a few of us got off on the wrong foot with him when he made some inappropriate comments about race and gender early in his career, and it makes it difficult for us to say something without coming across as hypercritical. Any ideas on how to knock some scents into him?

The best way not to come across as hypercritical is to put a lot of varied, normal, generally positive interaction between past criticism and the present day. So I guess I look at this question and wonder, why is it that you're not on the kind of firm footing where you either can say, "Ugh, broccoli upstairs!" or can just brush off a little smelliness for 15-20 minutes of lunchtime?

So my younger daughter asked why we didn't find out the gender of her older sister but did find hers out (I don't know how she knows this, but there are so many possibilities that it doesn't matter). I simply told her that different situations lead to different actions, a response that she didn't really accept. The truth is that my husband really wanted a boy, and he needed the time to deal with the opposing reality (though what he really did is assume the ultrasound tech missed something and that the child was, in fact, a boy; he's in love with his daughter, can't imagine a son, etc., so no worries now). I fear this question will come up again, and while I'm happy to go with "Parents make decisions that kids can't understand," I'd kind of like to simply end the discussion. Ideas?

Is it possible she knows the truth? because if she does, then brushing it off or making something up could arguably make it worse by confirming that the truth is too bad for her to hear.

Either way, I suggest you ask her, kindly, what's on her mind? If she's interested as an extension of some fear or concern, then tending to it could end the discussion in a way that's good for both of you--and if she's just curious about stuff, you can feed her curiosity in other ways that are less open to interpretation.

My head is already in the weekend. I just ended a call with a work colleague by saying "Love You," in the voice I use with my wife. He's not going to let me live this down.

I hope not. I'd lose my faith in humanity. Shmoopie.

Hi Carolyn "Any ideas on how to knock some scents into him?" Great pun!


I think part of why we feel like it's hard to say something to him about the broccoli, is that while dealing with his actual egregious behavior, management basically asked us to lay off of him for a while because he was so "intimidated" by us and that he meant well, but was just clueless. Unfortunately, his tendency to ignore communication from the folks who he offended the most (I am one of them) makes any kind of polite request difficult. Does that help?

It does. I think in the interest of fence-mending, you either ignore the smells (if you disagree with management's take on him) or you invite him to have lunch with you upstairs (if you agree that he's just clueless).

Hi, I'm getting married this year and my mother is fighting me on not wanting to invite a couple. I grew up with this couple's daughter, stood for her at her wedding a few years ago, but have not spoken to her since her wedding day for a variety valid reasons. I have expressed this to my mother at how awkward it would be for me to invite the parents of this daughter but not the daughter and her husband, and why I do not want to extend an olive branch or just go ahead and invite all four. I like the couple, just not enough to want to feel awkward and be asked "why didn't you invite our daughter?" My mother doesn't seem to be hearing me on this and keeps bringing it up ad nauseum. Advice?

have you asked her why it's so important to her?

I passed up a job interview last year right after I had my second child because it was a few hours away from home and I didn't want to move my family. (There were also other factors: my husband had a new business locally, and I had severe postpartum depression which admittedly makes it hard to make decisions). I started my own business three months ago and it's not doing well. I haven't thought about the job I passed up until a few days ago, but now I just can't understand why I didn't pursue it. The regret is consuming me and I have been crying for three days. Any advice? What might have been

You had excellent reasons not to go to the interview. They're still excellent. The fact of your current business doesn't rewind time to last year and change the quality of your decison. 

It's also possibly you're still depressed?

Each of these alone is grounds to let go of the regret. What needs your attention is what's ahead of you, which is a decision on your business--forge ahead, or go to plan B? 

Also, a depression screening is in order. Assuming you saw a doctor and/or therapist last time, please put in a call for a follow up, and hang in there. 

My 6 year old came home from his dad's with some startling accusations against his step-mother. If true, police would need to get involved. (Nothing sexual, thank god, but not good in anycase). The thing is, he's started lying recently. About big and little things and I'm not sure to believe him. He hates going to his dad's and he might be thinking he won't have to if he says this. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to figure out the truth. Do I call the police and share my concerns?

Please call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, and share the details with them that you haven't shared here. There are very important protocols in talking to a child who is making accusations, and you don't want to make a mistake that will harm someone innocent, be it your child or the stepmother.

If you haven't spoken to the daughter since her wedding day, it's pretty darned unlikely she'll show up.

True, but she also might see it as an overture to friendship.


And now, an overture to leaving. Bye, thanks for stopping by, thanks for the strangest assortment of music to date, and have a great weekend.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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