Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, March 18)

Mar 18, 2011

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 18 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 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. Quick business before we start: I'm on vacation next week, so this is it till April 1. 


Also, I'm posting a new link for the columns because I've been getting a lot of complaints that the new ones are hard to find since the redesign. If this doesn't get resolved or if you have other complaints/suggestions, there's a dedicated email address for your input:

Meanwhile, I just reached for a peanut and stuck my hand in my coffee mug. I don't know that this bodes well for the rest of the chat. 

We're all getting used to this website redesign, I know. But I cannot find your columns from this week anywhere. The page I used to have bookmarked only has through March 13. At the top of that page is a big NOTE: Find recent Carolyn Hax columns here [with a link]. Click that link, and you get a new page ... with the most recent column on March 13. Any ideas?

Hey there, so are we! Here's a working link to Carolyn's columns.

I am having a cookbook author over for dinner. Should I serve her from one of her cookbooks. or someone else's?

Make something you're comfortable making. You want reliable results, not a symbolic statement.

Hi Carolyn, I've been dating an awesome guy for about 4 months. Nine times out of 10, when we make plans together, he honors them and we have a great time. But whenever he does cancel, he offers up the flimsiest excuses. More than once these excuses have turned out to be lies. I really don't mind a 10% cancellation rate and would be totally understanding if he were to sometimes say "I'm not up for a date tonight, can we reschedule?" But at the same time I believe everyone has the right to privacy and to avoid awkward truths with harmless lies. Should I address this with him, or no?

Absolutely. If you -know- one of the excuses to have been a lie, then you can use that one to point out that you understand that sometimes people have to cancel, but you'd prefer the truth to cover stories or excuses.


Whether he can accept this gift from you, or whether he instead gets defensive, will tell you a lot about how comfortable he is with himself, with letting people down, with telling uncomfortabel truths--all valuable insights on his character. 

Hi Carolyn, I just got my third "thanks but you didn't make the final cut" letter in the last two weeks -- I'm in academia and these were two awards and a prestigious summer position. Of course this world is filled with people with amazing credentials, and so rejections aren't anything to immediately panic about. However, in all three cases, others who were relatively objective (but know me) and weren't involved with the selection committees said that they were surprised that I didn't make the cut in comparison with the information available about those who did. (In all three cases, I didn't go around asking people what they thought -- it was others who spontaneously sought me out to say "hey, I saw you didn't get X, I'm surprised because you've done Y and Z. Huh.") I definitely feel like this is a trend (that's just the last two weeks, plenty of similar situations going back in time), with me as the common denominator. I think I do tend to be self-deprecating and modest -- and I know I don't throw my ego around as much as some. These were written applications and phone interviews, and I think that perhaps I don't do a great job of conveying why I'm the best person for X. I would really like to change this, but don't know how. Can you help?

I suggest you work with your school's career office on evaluating and improving the way you present yourself in an interview setting. These offices vary in what they offer, of course, but it's not uncommon for them to videotape you in mock interviews and provide a constructive critique. I realize you're just talking about phone interviews, but getting a read on both your words and body language couldn't hurt.

Hi Carolyn -- my mother-in-law has picked a name for herself that she would like to be called by her grandchildren -- it's her version of "Grandma". It's really, REALLY cheesy and (IMHO) bizarre. It has no relation to the term "Grandma" whatsoever. In fact, it's a food. Really. Do I have to go along with this? Must I tell my children to call her this really weird name? I can't imagine saying it without cringing! Thank you!

You'll get used to it. It's what she wants, so indulge her. The kids may well mangle it and turn it into something else even more bizarre, which will be a bit of karma you can hold close when you need it.



Muffin? Pumpkin? Cookie? Cheeseburger?


Six years ago my brother and his husband/boyfriend (depending on whether you're in Canada or the US) adopted a baby girl. At the time I was living and working very close to them in Quebec, and at age 38 I thought it was likely I would stay put indefinitely. I gladly promised to be a permanent fixture in their daughter's life, because they were intensely worried about giving her consistent female role models. Since then I have been extremely close to the family--she only has two parents, but I am more than an aunt to her. I had every intention of things staying this way throughout her childhood. Unexpectedly, I met a man in the States, and he has asked me to marry him. He wants me to move to New York with him, which is understandable. I would absolutely go if not for my niece. Not only would I miss her terribly, I feel that her dads rely on me to help them with certain aspects of raising her. I feel so guilty about the thought of abandoning her that I have not even told my brother that I'm unofficially engaged. By the way, my fiance does not have the option of leaving NY because he has a child there from a past relationship. What should I do?

Talk to your brother! If I were in his shoes, I'd be sad but I'd give you my blessing. While it will be hard on your niece--and the rest of you, too, of course--you need to go where your life takes you. If you chose not to on my/my child's account, without saying anything to me, I'd be upset that you didn't give me a chance to support you.


Meanwhile, since you live in Quebec and you got to know a man in New York well enough to want to marry him, you apparently have some mobility. That's something you could use to stay in your niece's life--not as you are now, but still enough for her to knwo she can trust you and count on you.


That is, if this is what you want. It's perfectly fine to stay because -you- don't want to leave. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm in a slightly awkward position with a new girl at work. She got engaged shortly before she came here, and sometimes when we have downtime she and I chat about her upcoming wedding. At this point, I have helped her choose vendors, looked at countless design photos, and even listened to gossip about the attendees as she worries about who will sit where. This may sound obnoxious, but it has actually helped us become quite close--to the point where, terrible as this sounds, I now feel like I deserve to be invited to the wedding. I am honestly shocked that she hasn't taken the initiative to ask me by now, since we talk about it multiple times per week. Is this a rare example of a time when it might be okay for me to try to ask for an invite?

Gah, no. I am sorry she doesn't see you as a friend worthy of an invitation (might just not have occurred to her), but that doesn't in any way justify inviting yourself.

I'm laughing, crying, and salivating all at once. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. Please, please, OP, throw us a bone at least.

Granola? Grapes? Pistachio?

Smoked Turkey?


I'm hoping it's The Gramster. Gramsterdam. Gramdogg. Notorious Grammie G. Grammalammadingdong. Puff Grammie.

If only--but these aren't foods. Unless Hostess has added a  Grammalammadingdong to its lineup.

KungPao? BigMac? FoieGras? Couscous? Yeah, I'm thinking couscous....

We're all going to have to take a snack break.


Ooh--maybe it's Snack.

A grandma I know asked to go by Lolly, since her husband (grandpa) is Pop-pop. Lolly pop. Cheesy, I guess, but I think Lolly and Pop Pop is adorable, and clearly conveys grandparentness, even though the word itself isn't even close to "grandma." Carolyn's right that the kids will make it their own anyway. My Grandma Corinne was Ga-ga Grin for more than a decade.

This makes sense but, at this point, Lolly would be a total letdown.

I, too, am having a hard time finding things the way I used to on the "old" WaPo (not a complaint, just an adjustment period). Following you on Facebook has totally solved the problem. Everything gets posted there each day: columns, chats and follow ups, too.

Which reminds me, I have to link to my bracket there. Thanks.

A woman I know had four radical surgeries, including gastric bypass, which has resulted in a dramatic 200-pound weight loss. Thing is, she tells people that it was all hard work: diet and exercise. And lately she's been giving people who are struggling to lose 20 pounds on Weight Watchers or some other diet "advice"on the exercises and foods they should eat to get the results she has. Part of me wants to out her but I know should keep her secret. Is there something I could say to my other friends so that they don't become frustrated?

My first instinct is stay out of it, with two exceptions: if you know the surgical dieter well, you'd certainly be within friendship boundaries if you pointed out that misrepresenting her tactics could discourage these other dieters; and if you know any of the discouraged dieters well, you can certainly encourage them to be careful about taking advice from others, since everyone's experience is different. 


What I'd really like to see is people not get so far into each other's habits, but that's probably to much to ask.

We are having some technical issues. Bear with us as we work them out.

Is this thing on?

Just want to affirm your response on the white lies, Carolyn! I'd add, further, that this is a great opportunity not just to learn about questioner's boyfriend, but also to learn about their compatibility as a couple. She says, "I believe everyone has the right to privacy and to avoid awkward truths with harmless lies," but clearly she actually prefers to be told the truth--if the white lies bother her enough at 4 months to write into an advice column about it, just think how much it'll bother her after years or decades of them! Not that white lies are right or wrong--it could be a matter of preference, but, her preference is pretty clear, so I think it's only fair to all involved to see if they can find a mode of communication that actually works for her.

Works for -them.-  Otherwise I'm in. Thanks.

My father has always had a strong, outgoing personality. Over the past year or two I've noticed a gradual slide into Cranky Old Man territory. Since I don't live nearby anymore I don't have real concrete examples, just general impressions, although sometimes he tells stories in which he seems to boast at the conflicts he's gotten into with other people. As his long-distance daughter, I don't know how to address it. I feel like he's going to end up being rude and not a lot of fun to be around (me or anyone else). But is it a right that older folks have as they age? He's coming up on 60, and I am confident that this is not part of a larger physical or mental deterioration.

Seems to me you're doing a lot of projecting. When he tells a boastful story of conflict, why don't you just present a gentle counterpoint? An, "I don't know, from the sound of it she may just have been trying to help you," for example, can plant the idea of seeing the other person's side before getting all puffy. But only do it when you have genuine doubts that a conflict was necessary, based on what he's said. You're not his guardian, you're just someone who cares about him and who also cares about the quality of your conversations. You wouldn't want to spend time on the phone with a friend who evolves into a constant complainer, so approach your dad the same way you would that friend and take note of the crankiness, lightly. 


With one caveat: Mood is often a symptom, and pronounced mood changes always need to be treated of possible signs of an underlying health issue.


So, yes, right after I advised you not to project, I'm advising you to keep your mind open to the possibility of a " larger physical or mental deterioration." Even though it's not unusual for people to get more set in their ways as they get older, one important role of a loving family is to pay close enough attention to know when someone's behavior veers outside the range of normal.



Hi Carolyn, This question is regarding your column on Monday, where you stated "Every one of us gets rejected almost daily. X will choose not to sit with us, Y will choose not to call us, Z will ignore something we post on Facebook. Minor rejections all, but they're the ones adolescence teaches us not to think about, because dwelling invites complete social paralysis." What if you are someone who is paralyzed socially? I don't have many friends, I never date, I'm often afraid to talk to people, and being left out from something has the power to ruin my entire day, even though I know objectively that it's not personal. I'm not sure how to stop being so cowardly around people. Any advice?

Have you ever sought counseling for it? Finding someone reputable to help you is a logical first step toward bringing an irrational fear down to size.

Things seem to be working again but are -very- slow, so I'll need to ask for more of your patience. I'm sorry.

Hi Carolyn, Over the last few months I've become increasinglly clumsy (like wiping out or getting reallly banged up) and forgetful. i'm 30 and in decent health/shape. I went to my doctor because I'm getting anxious about it. After bloodwork came back fine, she diagnosed me with anxiety! Suh - I'm anxious because I feel like I'm 90 and need one of those "I've fallen and can't get up" buttons. And I was a little bummed that I didn't get a diagnosis because diagnosis means treatment. Instead, I'm treated like a hypochondirac and a klutz. I'm not sure how to advocate for myself with out sounding completely looney. I'm not looking for "House" diagnosis of super rare diseases, but I don't think this is anxiety.

Go back to this doctor and say yes, you're anxious--but you believe the anxiety stems from the falling and not vice-versa. Then say you'd like her to have another look for an underlying cause.


If she resists, doesn't check you again, seems to be going through the motions or if you aren't satisfied that she looked hard enough, line up another doctor for a second opinion.

Grandparents spend a LOT of time thinking about what their grandparent name will be (I'm hoping it's Gramola!). I just found out that my parents have had theirs all picked out, since before any of us kids were even born (and not one of us is close to having kids!). Telling the grandmother that you hate her grandma name is probably pretty close to if she were to tell you she hates the name you picked out for your baby. And, just like baby names that you don't like at first, the grandmother name will start to seem normal after a while!

Great way to frame it, thanks.


I have the name, btw. I'm just saving it because I'm cruel.

I grew up in a household where explosive anger was common. I hated experiencing it, whether it was directed at me or I was just in proximity to it. Now I am ashamed and upset to sometimes engage in this behavior myself. I have a temper and struggle (and often fail) to control my anger when my family does not listen to me, or when my kindergarten-age child is careless and breaks things, gets hurt, ignores repeated requests, etc. Intellectually, I know I am overly harsh in my responses at times, and I am miserable for being awful to the people I love most in the world. Any tips on how to defuse the anger in the heated moments and learn to keep my mouth shut (or say better, quieter things)?

I think family therapy is a must here, for your child's sake especially, but also for yours. The damage you do to your relationship with him/her with your explosive temper will haunt you, likely in the form of a relationship that's superficial at best--due to his/her need to get distance from you--and your guilt from knowing why you're not close.


That's an obvious answer, but it's not the whole answer. I urge you to get yourself into a reputable parenting class (ask your pediatrician to recommend one). You say: "when my kindergarten-age child is careless and breaks things, gets hurt, ignores repeated requests, etc." That tells me you're harboring unrealistic expectations of a small child. Kids break things, get hurt, tune out/get absorbed in what they're doing. It's just part of the developmental package. And I believe that if you make the effort to set your expectations at a realistic level based on -your- child's actual abilities, you'll address not just the expression of your anger, but the source of it.


If you know full well your kid is going to spill stuff as a matter of course, you're not going to get angry at the child when it happens. Even when it's a "careless" accident, because it's also normal for a child not to have the mental/manual dexterity to process a bunch of things at once--which leads to more than a few elbows knocking into cups due to what we adults perceive as inattention. Really it's just attention on something else, something they'll eventually outgrow.

Hi Carolyn, my bf's sister had a baby a few weeks ago. My bf is thrilled to be an uncle, and all relatives in this big family are over the moon. My problem is that I am incredibly jealous. She's four years older than me and I can't seem to stop being jealous of her success. Unfortunately, she is not a nice person to me and hence why I dislike her, hence my bitterness towards this situation. I really want a kid, I really want a pet (can't have one in my apartment), I barely have any close friends and can't identify with my family at all. I have a great job but a lot of debt, but I am painfully lonely. I don't think it it healthy for me to be jealous of a newborn but there it is. And I don't want to go to therapy.

Then what do you want to do to address this? Or just, what are you willing to do?

Any advice on when you're both single and see each other on a daily basis, but the coworker doesn't have an interest in you?

I think the advice from today's column applies. Tap into the power of negative thinking.  That is, where it's not possible just to separate yourself from the person and train your mind onto other things.


And I guess I should qualify that a little. You don't want to force yourself to see people as monsters; you just want to let yourself see their little foibles. We all smooth over those things when we really like someone (thus the percentage of people who wake up to realize one day that they cant' stand their mates).  So, you want to make a conscious effort to disrupt the smoothing-over process and notice the flaws.

Hi Carolyn: Do you think it is selfish or short-sighted for parents to give their child an unusual name? My husband and I are expecting our first, and we have randomnly fallen in love with an unusual name. (If it matters, the name is "October." So it's rare as a name, but not hard to spell or pronounce.) We have run the name by friends/family, and their reactions have been overwhelmingly negative. I'm worried that we will be setting our daughter up for a lifetime of questions/comments about her name--which seems like a cruel thing to do, especially if she turns out to be a shy or reserved person who doesn't appreciate the attention. So...what do you think? Is it self-indulgent to give our child a name that no one but us seems to like? It's the perfect name for my husband and me, but is that a good reason to choose it, considering that we aren't the ones who have to live with it?

Since months are not terribly unusual names now (one of my little guys is August), I don't think it passes into the realm of cruelty, though if you're going to use it you have to accept that everyone draws a line in a different place.  With funky names, I think you also have to consider the nicknaming possibilities, and since Tobie/Toby is a somewhat mainstream (but still uncommon) name for a girl, you do have a little insurance policy. And, hey, you can call her 10, too ...


That covers the topic of general self-indulgence. You have a specific issue because your immediate circle is on the record as not liking it. That's one reason I advise people not to share their names before the child is born--because people are less likely to unload on your choice after it's on the birth certificate. (LESS likely, mind you.)  It's the parents' prerogative regardless, but if you use October you'll need to be prepared to stick up for it in a quick and breezy way. "[shrug] We just kept coming back to it."

I recently became the first of my circle to have a baby. Since then I don't see much of my friends. Around New Years, I had one of those friends tell me about how sad the group was that they don't see me anymore, and wondering what "Friend A" was doing right, because it seemed like she was the only one I talked to. As a result, I made a New Years resolution to be proactive when making plans with friends. Well, that's all gone up in flames. Even when I try hard to make specific plans, they do "single" things to mess them up - change at the last minute, want to go to a new location, change times, all things a person with a kid (and a job) can't always do. I'm incredibly frustrated. I feel like, if they really do miss me, they should be making a better effort to see me, and should be understanding about my limitations. It hurts to think they must not really care enough about me to even try to accommodate me, and it hurts more when I think they are blaming it on my baby. I've said numerous times that I'm ready to blow them off permanently and make new "mommy" friends, but that's much easier said than done. Plus, in a few years, some of these friends will have their own kids and the problem will be solved. I don't know what I can say to them now that they'd actually listen to, but I actually spent a night last week crying because they changed plans to something I couldn't do.

Have you told them that last-minute plan changes effectively mean you can't come? Since the precedent is that they have no idea what your situation is all about, I suggest you always try spelling out what you think is obvious before you move on to Plan B. 

(I'm assuming, btw, that you've "said numerous times that I'm ready to blow them off permanently and make new 'mommy' friends" only to the mirror or to your mom/sib/cubemate, and not to the friends themselves." If you did say it to them, then that might explain their reluctance to put forth a "better effort.")

You probably will end up finding new friends who have more in common with you--because that's natural and because your current friends sound like they're on the extreme end of the don't-get-it spectrum. However, it's best when that happens organically, instead of in one broad declaration of defeat.

Some comments coming, which I'll post without ... comment:

Hi Carolyn My sister, who died at a young age, started falling down and forgetting things. It turns out it was hydroencephalitis - too much pressure from the fluid surrounding the brain. Another early symptom is the bladder leakage.

Yikes. I'm so sorry. Thanks for writing in.

Did anything in this letter ring any other bells? I don't want to be judgmental but it just seems odd to me. The writer says the sister is "not a nice person" to her, she doesn't have any close friends, apparently no relationship with her own family, and is "painfully lonely." Oh, and doesn't want to go to therapy. Perhaps she needs therapy for more than just the jealousy of the baby?

Please, please go to therapy! Make yourself healthy first, and close friendships, a child, etc. can follow. Please don't think having a child will make you less lonely - if you start from the place you are now, I suspect you will be overwhelmed by how lonely you are taking care of a child.

I had similar problems for about six months leading up to finding out I had PCOS. Did the bloodwork cover tests for hormone levels?

Crackers? Sushi? Hummus?

you might also want to think about your own schedule -- are you getting enough sleep, exercise and personal time. I find myself getting overly angry with my -- generally well behaved -- children when I am feeling personally stressed..

My husband and I are finally pregnant. It's been a long and physically and emotionally taxing road, but it's well worth it, and we are so relieved and SO thrilled. The only damper is that my parents weren't in contact much through this whole process, mustered surprisingly little joy when they heard the news, and have finally revealed that it's because they don't believe in infertility treatments. They don't believe it's "God's will," and they would have preferred if we had adopted a naturally born child. I'm so emotionally drained already that I can't even think how to respond to this. I'm hurt and angry and indignant, as is my husband. My first, immature reaction is to want to deny them the pleasure of grandparenting a child they don't think should exist, but that seems petty, although, wouldn't it be wrong to expose our child to grandparents who disapprove of its existence? I'm just at a loss here.

First of all, congratulations.

Second, your answer has been served up by nature (or by God's will, if that's how you roll). It'll take many months for this baby to arrive. In those months, you can concentrate on your health and your plans and your preparations for the baby, and opt not to do anything about your parents. Shift into neutral with them; no silence or confrontations, just, civil contact where appropriate. 

By the time the baby does come, you all will have had time to cool off, and your parents also will be able to see a grandchild that is just as real and worthy of love as any other child conceived any other way.

If they still can't budge off their platform of disapproval, you can deal with that then--but don't waste this time bracing for it. You'll just upset yourself needlessly and, possibly even worse, predispose yourself to shut them out no matter how they respond to the baby's arrival.

As you cool off, you will obviously spend a lot of time thinking about your parents' reaction. While your dismay is justified, I hope you'll also leave room in your heart/mind to accept that your parents clearly have strong beliefs here, and that their quiet withdrawal and reluctance to tell you the truth were their way of maintaining their integrity without stomping all over your joy. Would it be better had they chosen to put on happy face, or found the strength not to judge you, or found joy in your joy, or opened their minds to the possibility that God created fertility treatments? (The line-drawing on this one has always fascinated me.) For your sake, of course, yes, but clearly they struggled with this.

And, also among their options were to condemn your efforts openly, to try to block you, to call you horrible names, to disown you, or to find other, highly invasive ways to try to impose their values on you. They didn't do that, and instead chose to leave you quietly to your choice. I hope there's room for mutual acceptance in that.

As a Connecticut native and alum of George Mason, I know I'm eatting up bandwidth with streaming score updates. I suspect that's the cause of your slowdown. Or it's just that the new format sucks.

Could be a little of both. But, I'm told it's the volume of traffic to the chat today, so I wanted to give you guys credit where it's due. Thanks! Now back off a sec so I can answer a @#$% question.

I was hoping that there was something I could do on my own besides therapy. I am willing to do nearly anything. I've discussed it with my bf and a couple friends (my close friends live far away) and I truly think I just want more companionship. I have a really hard time talking to new people though. I've joined sports and taken up classes, and while I enjoy them, I haven't succeeded at approaching people. I don't think I would be so jealous if I was happier overall. Do you think that is a reasonable theory? Thanks for taking my question.

From Carolyn: It seems as if you've tried an awful lot to conquer your social fears on your own, and you're not satisfied with the result. If I were you I would give therapy a try; you don't have to stay with it if it's not right for you.

It's Kiwi. God help me if she ever finds this chat.... :-)

From Carolyn: Eh. Someone who calls herself Kiwi has to haver a sense of humor.

I hope you all have one, after the technical implosion that was today's chat. I think I lost a couple of Q and A's in the process, not to mention my concentration, so I'll try to recover everything by April. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of March, thanks for stopping by and I'll type to you soon.

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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