Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, April 6)

Apr 06, 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, April 6 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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Hi, everybody. Please say hello to Haley, who has taken over for Levi (who took over for Jodi, who took over for Michelle, who took over for Elizabeth, who took over for Liz, who took over for Lisa, who took over for ... does that take us all the way back to Jay? Did John do an interim stretch between Jay and Lisa, or did he just fill in for Jay sometimes ... anyone?).

Anyway. Hi Haley. 

Thanks, Carolyn. And hi, everyone else!

Hi Carolyn! I noticed something in today's column that you didn't flag, but I wanted to point out... The writer whose mother has cancer says that she thinks both her and her sister's weddings should be moved up to accomodate their mom. To me, it sounded like there was an issue with the sister - there seemed to be an unspoken accusation that while the writer is "fine with a simple church wedding and a hot dog/hamburger barbecue," her sister is not and doesn't want to move her wedding up. I just wanted to point out that while I agree with your advice that the writer should move her wedding up, it doesn't give her the right to dictate what her sister does with her wedding, or make her sister feel guilty if she decides to keep the wedding date where it is and it turns out to have been the wrong choice.

All true. I didn't get into it because I was saving space, but that was probably the wrong call. Thanks.

Just wanted to say I was in the audience at the Six Word Memoirs event the other evening. The whole thing was hilarious and touching (I will never forget Jane Shore's mother's soup), and it was great to actually put a real live voice to your advice. I was hoping you'd be telling a little story, too, though- any reason why not? And what would your six words be?

Thanks so much for coming! I didn't do a memoir because I wasn't asked to. (I probably would have had to say no anyway; I am seriously pressed for time, and I was able to commit to the six-word advice only because we were thisclose to winging it.

I was weeping uncontrollably--laughter tears, then straight to sad tears, no segue--during Jane Shore's segment. She's wonderful.

I don't know what memoir I'd write  if I were asked to perform, but I thought of one during the slam segment:

An acquired taste not everyone acquires.

(Here's the event, if you didn't see it on my FB page: ... I recommend catching one of Larry Smith's shows.)


I want to be more supportive of the people I love. I find that when someone I care about comes to me stressed out or needing support, I am woefully inept. I can be supportive in many ways, but usually all they need are some comforting words etc, while I much more adept at helping out financially or planning out something they need to be done. But if they need me to say something supportive or just be there, I feel empty. I feel myself stressing with them and getting panicky and if it's someone very much involved in my life (like partner or parent), I feel guilty like I am responsible. I understand it's due to my own past experiences as a child, but I want to be better. Help?

First of all, I think your discomfort with these situations is really common. And for those who are comfortable providing just the right reassuring words, it's often stressful when it comes to "helping out financially or planning out something they need to be done." We all have our  weaknesses.

Next, acknowledge those weaknesses. It sounds as if you're referring mostly to situations with a partner or parent, so use your close relationship with these people to talk about your concerns at a neutral time, i.e., when no one's asking for your support. Something along the lines of, "You recently were upset about X, and I felt bad that I didn't have words to help you feel better. I'm more comfortable doing something to help, like coming up with money or a plan."

Next, listen carefully to the person's response. There's an excellent chance that your nearest/dearest know this about you, possibly better than you do, and aren't really asking you to be anything beyond who you are. It could also be that your N/D are as frustrated as you are by your reassurance paralysis, and are eager to talk about ways you can help them. Or ... something else I haven't thought of. That's why this part is all about listening--you want to know how they see this and what they need from you,

Next, if needed, you both try to figure out a way you can both feel better about these situations.

Best part about this plan is that you don't have to repeat the process with everyone who has ever leaned on you in a vulnerable moment. Use these conversations--just with your innermost circle--to get a general idea how to conduct yourself with others. Even if it means admitting to someone who leans on you, "I wish I could be of more help--I'm kind of lost in these situations." 

We're hanging out in Hax Holiday but we miss you! Wanna come? The water's fiiiine. :)

I completely forgot! Been that kind of day.

hey carolyn, come join us in the turntable room!

Okay, I'm there, bobbin my head to Bowie.

Hey Carolyn, Thanks for printing my letter today! (I'm the LW with the LDR.) I'd like to think I'm not as codependent or as boring as I made myself seem--in fact, I have done a ton of sightseeing in New York (his city) during his scheduled work and sports hours. The problem comes in when we make dinner plans for afterward and he was off in estimating when he'd be free; that's when I find myself idly sitting around waiting. And to the point you made, I hate spending money on regular trips to NYC and then only seeing him for maybe 6 hours out of an entire weekend. Does this make sense? Generally, though, I agree with your advice.

Hey there. The numbers actually make a difference. When it's just "part-time job and sports team," it sounds like he has a regular life and you have a chance to do your own thing. 

When it's "he's busy for all but six hours of the weekend," then that's something else. (It's also where the LDR element comes in, because if you were in the same city, seeing him for six hours on the weekend would actually be a lot for a new-ish relationship.)

Since travel is involved, then it seems nuts to go out of your way to see him on a weekend when he's busy. Instead of "Cancel those other things or I'm not coming," though, just go at it as anyone would who values her time: "Sure, I'd love to come up, but how busy are you this weekend? If you've got work and a game again, I'd rather wait for a better weekend." Then, if he protests, you can remind him of the weekend you spend 48 hours there to see him for six. I mean, duh.

I think that also takes care of the late-for-dinner thing: It's not really a big deal for someone to be off on an estimate, if the rest of the weekend is going as both of you had intended. But if you're already a day into a trip where you've barely seen him, and that wasn't what you thought you'd signed up for, then that delay can really grate.


But, to be clear, in that case the thing to be addressed is your being there inthe first place when he doesn't have time to spend with you, not that you've been stuck waiting for dinner.

... though, of course, if he makes a habit of being off on his estimates, then it is time to add up that he's always busy + makes you wait + you go out of your way for him = pull the plug on off-balance "relationship."

I think posting the turntable link is going to need to be part of the regular chat features

Good idea. I'm glad to see so many of you are still using Turntable.  I'll start adding the link to the chat page. Thanks for the suggestion!

Dear Carolyn, I did a lot of career-shopping in my 20s (just turned 31) and, after spending the past 2 years in an unstimulating desk job, I'm feeling the itch to try something new, again. I am becoming obsessive about the idea of applying to law school, to start in 2013-14. The problem? My wife is pregnant with our first baby, and she is strongly opposed to my giving up a decent, stable income for loans and instability. I see her point, but know that within a few months I will be miserable where I am. Does the beginning of fatherhood really mark the end of my right to try new things and make decisions based on what makes ME happy?

Oh you poor poor bubbie.

Did you read your own question? Did it jump out at you at all how whiny and self-centered it sounds?

No, the beginning of fatherhood doesn't mark the end of a life that's fulfilling to YOU. However, it is the end of seeking that fulfillment without regard for the way your choices affect your spouse and child.

In fact, that whole me-me-me jig was up when you got married, but it sounds as if either your wife didn't hold you to it or wasn't as reliant on your stability as she is now (and possibly assumed you'd "settle down" when it was time to, her mistake if that's true).

So, here are a few suggestions to help you accept the fact that law school (including the loss of income and the accumulation of debt) is not a good choice for your family right now.

1. Think more broadly about your restlessness. It plus your "becoming obsessive" suggest there might be a third party holding the strings in your marriage, maybe ADHD or OCD or similar. If you haven't gotten screened, then please do asap. is a good place to get started.

2. Treat to your wife as a teammate, not an opponent, and talk to her both about the reality of your restlessness, and about other approaches to your work life that will keep you moving as you need, but also keep the income steady as your wife needs.

If you resent her just for having this need, or resent your kid for cramping your professional style, then you might as well start saving for an attorney now, because it won't end well. You made these choices, you produced a dependent, so you need to embrace your child's needs as a higher priority than yours, and your wife's needs as equal to yours.

"Equal," for what it's worth, doesn't mean she overrules you and pins you to the boring desk job. What it means is that you find a way to scratch your career itch that doesn't compromise your family's financial health. 



There are a number of traditions that I don't identify with when it comes to marriages and weddings; one of them is taking the man's name. As I try to articulate this thought, I can come up with of a couple of reasons why it doesn't sit right with me. For one, I really like my last name. Petty, maybe, but I do. Two, I don't like the idea of becoming part of his family. And by that I mean, I'm not becoming his, as may have been the case in the past - my father doesn't own me, and thus will not be giving me to anyone on my wedding day. Rather, I think we are joining families. And doesn't the tradition come from those roots? Man taking ownership of his bride? Husband-to-be would prefer that I take his name. He hears and recognizes my concerns, but views it as a box to check off so that we can be recognized as a family, as if we would otherwise not be. In some ways I understand that and I can also see where tradition is a hard obstacle to overcome on this one. For the record, his mom has even said to us, unprovoked, that we should do whatever we want, so I don't think we're facing any family pressure. I tend to err more on the side of unconventionality than he does, and I'm wondering if you can offer up another way for us to look at this in which we might see more eye-to-eye?

Since the reason he wants you to have one name is to represent that you and he are a family, suggest (kindly, not dukes-up) that he take your name. 

If that's really his only concern, then he'll agree to it. If it isn't, then you'll have given him an entry point into understanding why you're not interested in letting go of your name. You really like it. It means something to you. It's how you see yourself.

From there, you and he will presumably be in a better position to talk about alternatives, like using both names or hyphenating or keeping your own names but not correcting anyone who assumes you both go by one or the other. 

I do suggest you stay away from the "roots." What matters is that you and he (and, to a lesser extent, each other's families) regard the two of you as equals. If it becomes about bending to or standing up to a paternalistic tradition, then you'll both feel as if you've lost something no matter what you choose. Make it just about you two.

Hi Carolyn. I'm 26 years old and in my third year of a PhD program. I was very excited when I started the program but, over the years, I've lost my passion for the degree and the work necessary to achieve it. My friends and family are pressuring me to "just get it done" which should take another couple of years. I'm worried that, if I don't get the degree and enter my field professionally, I'm unsuited for any kind of career. But I can't seem to get over my current state of apathy and resentment at the enormous student debt I've incurred along the way. My self worth and peoples' opinions of me seem very tied up in the degree. Any advice on whether to plough on or find a new path?

Does your school have a career office? That seems to me where any decision should start, be it to stay in the program or ditch it. At this point, the only good moves are the ones that close the gap between you and fulfilling, debt-dispatching work.

What happened to Hax Philes? I haven't seen a new question in ages.

What's the best way to respond when you tell someone important personal news and they forget, only to find out again a few months later and then marvel that they hadn't known? In this case the news is my pregnancy. The friend is one of the first people I told in my second trimester (months ago) and we live in different states so don't physically see each other. I've had a very rough couple of months physically so have been laying low, I also know several friends dealing with infertility so I haven't made a big fuss about the pregnancy in general. It was recently discussed on facebook though and she wrote in some comments wondering how she did not know this great news. I'm not remotely offended that she didn't remember, but I feel terrible that she thinks I didn't tell her. What's a good way to respond that does not embarrass her (no, I did tell you, how can you not remember? etc) but also makes it clear that I would not have neglected to tell her?

If you're SURE-SURE you told this person, then call her and say you're a little worried--see, you did tell her, she was one of the first people you told. Make it clear you're not at all upset, and the only reason you're even calling is that you don't want her thinking she was left out, and also to make sure she's okay, since forgetting stuff like this is something you yourself do when you're really busy or going through a rough time.

I also think it's important not to make too big a deal of it, since stuff like this tends to start happening when friends hit the age of many disparate demands (what is it, about 30 to 55?). I'm imagining the conversation I spelled out above as along the lines of what you'd say if you lived near each other and discovered her mistake in the course of a face-to-face conversation. 

Can you suggest a philosophy or rule-of-thumb for approaching situations where the hosts' needs/values might limit their guests' enjoyment? I'm not sure where to draw the line between the rights/comforts of each party, and I don't want to overstep as host or guest. Some recent situations that caused me to ponder this: - vegetarian/teetotalers hosting a meat- and alcohol-free party - host asking guests to remove shoes at door - host asking guests not to eat in living room (both parties have toddlers, so guest wants to give kid snacks and host wants to keep kids' play space clean) - host asking guests to keep voices low due to sleeping baby. Especially since everyone's values differ so vastly, is there any sort of universal code or internal question to serve as a general guide in these situations?

Hey, I just posted this to Hax-Philes. You can find it on my Facebook page (link) or on the Philes page (link). I thought I responded to your email to say this, but it might have slipped my mind (see above).

Don't forget to remind everyone interested that there's always the helpful link at the info on the bottom of the chat to join the Hax Holiday turntable.

Thanks for the reminder!

I am pregnant with my first child and my husband and I are VERY excited. Can you (or the 'nuts) suggest any child rearing books to help us in our desire to be low key parents while not letting our kid run wild? We're looking to go the anti-helicopter parent route while still managing to have a self-sufficient, courteous, reasonably well-behaved child (to the extent that we can control such things). Also, could you remind me of the name of the book you've recommended in the past that discusses why kids lie and how hard work should be praised (rather than brilliance)? Thanks!

The book is "Nurture Shock," by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman. 

Also, as you'll find out on your own, the helicopter-parent problem and the kid-run-wild problem are two separate things. helicoptering is when you won't let your kid do anything on his or her own for fear that s/he will get hurt. It's when you catch them every time they're about to fall, even when the only impact they're headed for is a close encounter with some floor. It's when you run to them in a panic every time they cry, and keep them off bikes because they can skin knees and break arms, and etc.--and it's also when you hover over them making sure they never toddle off the path to excellence at whatever key excellence-indicator you choose for them, be it reading or a musical instrument or sport or foreign language.  

The "anti-helicopter parent" presumably also wants a kid to be successful, of course--but allows a little more room for error. Kids need to be taught the age-appropriate basics of whatever new thing they take on--walking, bikes, crossing streets, etc.--and then, when both you and kid are confident of kids' ability, you start letting  go.

In other words, you don't grip the leash tightly, or just drop it--you let it out in (again) age-appproriate increments. What are those? Well, depends. Using your judgment, your kids' abilities and a general sense of child-development milestones will get you in the ballpark.


The run-wild thing is completely different from the helicoptering issue. (Did I say that already? The hazard of answering in takes).  The issue of running wild is about civilizing your kid, and that's when hovering is necessary and good. In a restaurant, for example, you watch your kids closely, correct them gently and firmly, and remove them when they refuse to stop their unacceptable behavior (screaming, food-throwing, talking back ... you can usually get a full list of "don'ts" from visiting a family restaurant at about 7 pm on a weekend evening).

You can also never, ever hand your kid a cookie when s/he says, "Give me a cookie," even when you have a reasonable fear that your refusal to be treated like a cookie dispenser will touch off a tantrum. You've probably already heard kids talk to their parents that way, kids way too old to do that, like teenagers, and it's mood-curdling even if you don't even know the family. It's also completely preventable by setting the bar early (when they're old enough to say "peash" and "shankoo") at polite requests and not letting anything less than that slip under. Again, that's not helicoptering, that's being a parent. 

My husband and I got married last fall, and after much agonizing regarding The Last Name Question, we decided that we would both take a new last name. It took us forever to choose something (we tried combining our names, coming up with something in another language that felt meaningful, etc.) - we literally made our decision as we drove up to the ceremony location - but it feels really good now. I'm not gonna lie: People freaked out. It was awkward for him at work. His dude friends still make fun of him. And it was a LOT of work (fingerprinting, two court dates, taking advertisements in two local papers - and that's before we got to the changing of every official document, credit card, etc.). But we both got what we wanted: respecting our family history, sharing a name, honoring the new family we created, etc.

I admire your dedication.

As a law school professor, I can't stress enough to 31-year-old (1) how time-consuming and stressful law school is; and (2) how unlikely it is you will be able to pay off your loans -- if you can pay them off -- w/o destroying your quality of life. You will not get to spend any time with your child for those 3 years, except perhaps for 1 hour a night. You will be in $100K of debt. Unless you go to a Top-5 or so (seriously -- not a "Top 25") law school, you will have an excellent chance of spending the next 20 years with LESS disposable income than you have now. And you will have fairly good chance of not having a job at all, with no ability to free yourself of those loans through bankruptcy. Unless it has always been your dream to be a lawyer -- unlikely, given the career-shopping 20s -- DO NOT GO.

I'm just the messenger here.

For the person who wants to be more verbally supportive, I was a volunteer chaplain in a hospital for 14 years. Guess what? NOBODY feels at ease or comfortable in trying to support someone who is going through hard emotional times. Even people who are trained to do it. Listening is key, that's what most people really want/need. And to start you can always say I feel bad for you, tell me what you need, help me to understand the problem.

I love this, thank you.

Go to the counseling center. As a PhD student finishing up, I promise at least half your cohort has done so already, even if they don't admit it. If anything, the affirmation from the counselor that its OK to feel this way will make you feel better. FWIW, I had a hard time in my program. I didn't like the coursework, and it was hard feeling like I was in the bottom half of the class distribution (a new feeling). I questioned why I was doing it almost every day. Right now I'm doing an internship while finishing my degree. I love it, and the actual work is reminding me why I went to graduate school in the first place. So think about what the long run outcome of your degree is going to be; if that thing still sounds appealing, focus on that as your motivation.

All sounds good to me, thanks.

Really cool to hear from today's LW! There's been a lot of back-and-forth on the message board over whether she's being unreasonable, but I think hearing the numbers really drives her point home-- spending longer on the round-trip travel than she spends with her boyfriend? I would find that unacceptable. I think, though, that communication is absolutely key in situations like this. (As is not putting up with that [stuff]; your suggestion on how to avoid being a miniscule part of a crowded weekend is very classy.) But I'd suggest an honest conversation about expectations-- his and yours. If you expect him to carve out a little bit of time for you and be on time for dinner, he needs to know that. I'm not saying you should be absolutely unwilling to waver on them, but it's unfair to hold him to expectations that he's unaware of.

"but it's unfair to hold him to expectations that he's unaware of."

That. Thanks.

I'd just add, if he's unhappy about his boring desk job, law school is probably not the best scratch for that itch. Go to law school if you *want* *to* *be* *a* *lawyer,* not just because you're angling for a change. Otherwise you'll find yourself three years older, a bazillion dollars in debt, and in yet another boring desk job (which, let's face it, practicing law often is). At least, before you commit to law school, find a boring desk job in a law firm and see what you think of what the lawyers are doing.

I can vouch for the last suggestion--thinking I was law-school bound, I worked at a law firm for a year just out of college. You all can piece together how that story ended.

Carolyn, What are you supposed to do when you meet someone who so clearly highlights everything you've been missing in your current relationship? I recently started a new job and have connected on a serious level with one of my co-workers. He's in a 5-year relationship and I'm in a 7-year relationship (5 years married). He's 8 years younger than I am, but we often find ourselves in these intense conversations and seem to relate to each other on just about everything under the sun. No topics have verged on the romantic or suggestive, but I'm strongly attracted to him, and I suspect he feels the same about me. Also, we seem to be finding more and more excuses to spend time together outside of work. I've never had such intense conversations with my husband, and after becoming friends with this co-worker, I realize how much intellectual stimulation I've been missing out on in my marriage. And it doesn't seem like something you can simply "reignite" or "recapture" -- it seems like that mental spark is either there between two people or it's not. I don't know where this leaves me. Does this sort of thing end marriages??

Often it does, yes. Sometimes it doesn't. The important thing is to decide right now that you're not going to surrender yourself to the laws of unintended consequences. That just leaves a swatch of casualties and collateral damage. Instead, make choices.

That includes paying attention to your marriage and seeing whether you're being fair to your husband (you've got the lust goggles on, and that means you're not getting a fair or accurate look at your husband or Sparky). That also means you quit playing footsie with Sparky, and stop with the "finding more and more excuses to spend time together outside of work." Next time he suggests something, you say, "No, this is getting out of hand, I have to go home." Do it even though your every cell wants to play footsie. (I wish I had a Velcro-ripping sound effect to throw in here.)

Once you're back on a path of deliberate choices, take  a hard look at your marriage and see if you'd want to stay in it even if Sparky launched himself to the moon tomorrow. If the answer is yes, then do the work your marriage needs. If the answer is no, then still stay away from Sparky and give yourself some time to live with the idea of leaving your marriage. If it still feels like a necessary thing (and by necessary I mean if you don't think you can feel or show love for your husband anymore), then start thinking about a separation ...

Without imagining Sparky waiting for you on the other side. You don't know that he wants that, for one; more important, you don't know yet whether you really want that. Ever have a crush burn out? Happens fast, doens't it? Leaves you wondering what you ever saw in the person? Yah. Imagine chucking a marriage for one and then having that what-did-I-see-in-him sensation.

So, answer recap: As impossible as it seems right now, put the idea of this new guy down and back away slowly, and then assess your marriage on its merits alone. It will take some mental and emotional discipline but it can be done.

Hello Carolyn and happy Easter, I have come to realize that women friends who I would describe as smart, open minded, forward thinking, feminist - you get the drift - think that because I have a male best friend 'there must be something going on" or that there "should be" (because we are friends?) or we will just eventually make it happen. I never would have expected to be the subject of gossip on this or now asked every time I see them what the status of our relationship is. It sickens me.

"Sickens" you? That seems awfully strong. These are friends, they presumably care about you, and it sounds as if they're picking up on chemistry between you and your friend (smart feminists are allowed to acknowledge sparks between a man and woman, right?).

If they're  not backing off after you ask them to back off, then they're crossing a line in that sense, yes. But, "I would never would have expected to be the subject of gossip"? The lady doth harrumph too much, methinks. I won't venture a guess as to why, because I can think of a few reasons, but it might be helpful for you to ask yourself why your dukes are up so high in response to (imho) relatively harmless provocation.


Hi Carolyn -- My upstairs neighbors had a baby three months ago. I've met him a few times, he's adorable, etc. Due to a whole slew of issues, daycare is not an option so the two parents alternate working vs. taking care of the baby. As a result, they don't see too much of each other (he takes some 2nd shifts, she waitresses). I'm mid-20s, never had a baby, and am feeling like I should offer to babysit so they can have a few hours off some night. Problem is, I never babysat much, and I don't know that I've ever changed a diaper on my own. Maybe I filled a bottle once? So my question is, is there a way for me to offer to babysit and maybe ask for a primer on "teach me how to care for your child"? And is it rude for me to offer once but not want to sign on to be "on call"? I'm sure the 'nuts will weigh in!

Since you're not sure of yourself around babies, you can start by offering to help out in a "parents' helper" way--that's when you care for the baby with one or both of them still home, so they can have hands free to do housework/paperwork/etc., and you can learn the ropes with a parent there to answer your questions as they arise.

If both of you are comfortable with that, then you can try on the idea of babysitting for them. You can even say at the outset that you're envisioning doing this once a month to give them a night out.

BTW, I;m answering this on the assumption that you know this couple, they know you and you really want to help out. If it's not something that appeals to you and you just think you "should" do something (its' a very genrous thought either way), then consider helping out in some other capacity, like dropping off an oven-ready dinner occasionally, one they can use right away or pop in the freezer to save for a particularly tough day. 


Hi Carolyn, I have a dear friend who is not a good conversationalist. Just isn't. Always focuses on the same few topics, has a hard time interacting with new people, and awkwardly interjects in conversations when she tries to jump in (of course, always trying to turn it back to those few topics that she's comfortable with). What's a friend to do? How do I work to keep things moving but not on those tired old topics? Or do I give up and only create social settings in which my friend can excel? Thanks

If you have those alternate settings available to you, then, yes, set this friend up to succeed with  you and stick to those limited settings. Or (if these aren't what you're talking about) invite this friend to enjoy you at movies, plays, concerts, and whatever else entertains you while limiting conversation.

Recently two friends of mine had a falling out. One of them is close to me, both personally and geographically, and one is more distant. We were all three joining up for dinner when Close wildly overreacted to something Distant said -- you could say she picked a fight -- with the result that both bailed on dinner and neither is speaking to the other. Close is pleased to have Distant out of her life and seems to believe she's standing on principle. Distant is angry and hurt, especially after Close rejected an apology. From my own selfish standpoint, it would frankly be easier to visit with them each separately anyway, and so far there hasn't been too much badmouthing in my hearing. So, am I obliged to tell Close that she was out of line?

Not obliged, necessarily, but if a close friend of mine picked a fight with another friend of mine, in front of me, I think I'd be curious about what else was going on with my friend's state of mind, since the situation alone didn't seem to warrant the outburst. So, I'd ask, vs. tell. Along the lines of, "I don't want to get in the middle, but your reaction to Distant caught me by surprise. Everything okay? Was there more to this that I missed?"

My husband is very low-key about birthdays, holidays etc. I get much more excited, especially about birthdays. I accept that we see things differently and that if I want to make a big deal out of things have to do the planning myself. However, before my 30th birthday I told my husband that I really wanted this birthday to be a big celebration. In the months leading up to it I threw out ideas, offered to put together an email list of friends, etc. I was horribly disappointed. Did I set myself up or should he have pulled something together for the one birthday I made clear was important?

I'm going to split the mylar balloon and say that he should have acquired a clue and rallied, and you should have spelled out for him explicitly, "I realize you don't do birthdays but for my 30th I want -you- to throw -me- a party."


Good morning Carolyn - My boyfriend of nine months and I have started to talk about the possibility of getting engaged in the next year, and recently decided our families should meet. When I told my parents about this and asked if we could invite them to a family holiday gathering in the next few weeks, the reaction I got was, to say the least, odd. My parents reacted in a very strongly negative manner, saying that the house is a mess (which admittedly, it is) and that until they are able to replace the carpet, re-paint the walls and buy new furniture, they would not be willing to host my boyfriend's family. (FWIW, my boyfriend has been over several times, so I'm not buying it.) They did offer to set up a dinner at a restaurant halfway between our homes, but I know my BF's mom is already planning to invite them over (which they were equally unthrilled with - my mother's reaction was "do we have to?"), and I'm deeply worried that my family is going to embarrass the living hell out of me by the time we are able to make arrangements to suit everyone. My mother also asked if we "were really that serious" and telling me I'm too young to know whether or not marriage is a good idea (I'm 25), which makes me wonder if there's another discussion we need to be having. How do I go about making them feel more comfortable (or at least less vocally displeased) with all this?

Let them make the plans they're comfortable with, at the halfway-there restaurnat. That's just fine. That  your BF's parents have invited you all to their home is immaterial.

And, let your parents be themselves without the strings of your self-image attached. You think your boyfriend's family will judge you through the lens of your parents, but any opinion that lumps you all together without regard for your value as a person will be their fault, not your or your parents'. And even then, that only matters if the worst happens--if your parents behave rudely and your boyfriend's parents are self-important. Each of these is far from a given.

Feeling recappy today: Inhale, exhale, release all expectations. Resolve to greet with good humor whatever you happen to get.

Don't do it. There's a reason they call it the seven year itch. It might help if you tell you Best Friend you have a "crush." Crushes often dissipate when you say them out loud or laugh about them. I am in year 25 and had at least 3 7-year itches now. They pass. Your long lasting good thing doesn't.

The question does come down to, "Is your marriage a long-lasting good thing?" Thanks.

A few times I've accidentally found myself playing the Sparky role with female colleagues. (About once per decade -- I'm now in my 50s). It invariably happens when I'm in good situation with my existing partner -- so comfortable that I don't even think to look for the possibility that my work colleague is confusing my genuine friendship and interest in her career and well-being for romantic interest. One of the most painful moments in my life was when a wonderful (married!) colleague suddenly expressed romantic interest after a business dinner and I had to find a way to politely say "sorry but no" -- a pain redeemed six months later when she sought me out to give me a big hug and say "thanks for saying no". All the more reason to assume that Sparky may not be waiting.

I love this story, thank you.

Check with your local Red Cross chapter - I'm pretty sure they still offer babysitting classes. You may be in a class full of teenagers, but they cover all the basics and do CPR certifications.

They do as of a few years ago, thanks.

This is an admirable desire on your part, but be warned, babies get progressively harder to take care of. A three-month-old will eat & sleep; a six-month-old will cry from teething; a nine-month-old wants more attention but doesn't know how to express it except by screaming...etc.

Yes, yes, this is so true. They also get progressively more interesting, if you like and/or grow attached to the child. 

How nice! A couple of tips - if you wait until the baby is a little older to offer, then you can just offer to come after the baby is in bed (by four months, our son was reliably down for six hours or more by 7 p.m.), and then you won't have to do any actual childcare. Also, be prepared for them to say, "that's so nice, thank you" but never take you up on it - some people feel really nervous about having others babysit their kids, some people feel really nervous about accepting generosity. Just don't be insulted if they don't accept. And honestly, bringing them a homecooked meal is worth just as much as babysitting, in my opinion.

A round of applause for the "don't be insulted if they don't accept"--but be careful about the offer to come after the baby is sleeping. Stuff happens, sleeping kids wake up sometimes--in fact, when they pop up at a time when they normally sleep reliably, it can mean they're sick or have night terrors (possible in older infants).

I am on the other end of this very issue. Husband and I have been together for 23 years (since high school), have two young kids. He met someone in the office 1.5 years ago and almost immediately felt that 'spark" with her that the last writer mentions. They talk for hours, both at work and by phone (although never in front of me). He calls her from family vacations, on weekends, and during business trips. He feels a "connection" with her that he no longer has with me. To know about his relationship and to witness first-hand how destructive it can be to a marriage, I implore LR to make a choice -- whatever it may be.

Painful. Thanks for giving your side.

This is right up there with Bacon Pants.

But if you wear both, you need to keep the rest of your outfit simple. 

Also, (I'm unmarried, so take this with a grain of salt), intellectual conversation does not make a marriage (or any relationship). Sure, it's important, but so is supporting each other, trust, managing the day to day, dealing with each other's families and flaws... Your coworker doesn't have to wear any of those hats with you. One more point-- If you decide the lack of intellectual spark doesn't mean the end of your marriage, consider seeking out friends who can provide this kind of conversation you seem to crave.

I don't see any need for added salt. Thanks muchly.

I was a chronically I'll child with a smothering mother. I'm now 54, a homeowner, with a national reputation in my field. My mother still asks, in twice weekly calls, if I feel ok. She panics if she does not hear from me every three days. Please don't hover over your kids. It will only destroy any meaningful relationship you might have in the future. I have spent my adult life trying to escape my mother.

Nothing like an excellent writer with an excellent point. Thank you.

From a pediatrican with 2 lovely spirited young adult children with completely different temperments, an oldie but goodie: How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk. Model the behavior you'd like to see, including an inquiring mind, and a gentle sense of fun, don't be afraid to set loving consistent limits, and respect your child's individuality. Link:


Hi Carolyn, love your column! My younger sister, who's a junior in college, met and started dating a great 21-year-old guy four months. When they came to visit me and my husband two weeks ago, they told us they had started talking about marriage, but wouldn't pursue it until after she graduates next year. Out of the blue, my sister's BF drove to my hometown this week and asked my parents for "their daughter's hand in marriage." My parents were totally caught off guard by this, and (according to them) gently told him that they really, really like him (they've met him once before), but they're concerned that things are moving too fast. He was very disappointed. My sister just left me a voicemail, asking me to call her. I, like my parents, am concerned about the speed of all of this, but I recognize that if I handle this poorly, and they end up getting married, that could permanently damage our relationship. What do I say to her?

Nothing, yet. Listen listen listen. The way things are "moving too fast" is really important; it can be two nice people who are nutso for each other and eager to share that with the people they love. Or, it can be that the boyfriend-driving-to-see-parents gambit was the work of a controlling person trying to make it hard for your sister to listen to the little voice that's telling her to back away.

Whichever it is, you're likely to hear it in your sister's words. If you hear her rationalizing, or responding as if there's pressure (mentioned or un-), or mentioning that he comes from a troubled background, then you'll need both to use and advise caution. If instead your sister sounds like the happy and confident architect of her own choices, then it's okay to file this under "Krazy Kids--Pending" and watch things play out from a step or two back. If they really mean to wait till she graduates, you have a lot of time for everyone's concerns to resolve themselves.

Hi,Carolyn. Yesterday as I was walking into the grocery store, a woman walked up to her mother, who was standing by their parked car, and started screaming at her. The elderly mother had apparently gone missing in the store and eventually went out to wait by the car. The daughter used the F word ("WTF were you?!") and other derogatory language. I was shocked but I didn't do anything. Other people noticed (it was LOUD) but also did nothing. I stood at the entrance to the store until they left, with the daughter tossing me dirty looks, though she had no reason to think she was the reason I was standing there. I memorized the license plate and thought about calling the cops, but I didn't. Can't stop thinking about this. What do you advise in a situation like this?

That's awful, I'm sorry--it is so common to freeze in these situations. I do it myself. 

You can call an elder abuse hotline (here's a listing by state) to see whether this warrants further response. 

Just to give an anecdote from the other side, I ended my marriage because of my connection to someone else. It was not without it's own pain (understatement), but my Sparky and I are now happily married, with a kid. Meeting my Sparky and feeling that connection did make clear what was missing from my first marriage. But, in my case, it was clear that those things (the connection, the passion, the respect) had never been there. I am certain my first marriage wouldn't have survived over time, even if I had never met my Sparky.

Thanks for this side, too. Again: Strength of the marriage in question is the key, and assessing it on its merits alone.

The parents are worried. Whether that is right or wrong, please try to look outside yourself acknowledge what they are going through. Really, it will be good practice for marriage.

Great point, thanks. (These are the meeting-halfway-at-restaurant parents--since there have been other worried 'rents in the interim, thought I should clarify.) (Unless I'm wrong, in which case it's, thought I'd muddify.)

Seriously, was that worth posting? This person had the generous desire to help her neighbors and of course someone has to write in to crap all over it.

Or, I could argue that someone offered useful info to a hesitant baby-care novice, and someone had to write in to crap all over it.

Ugh, 3:24, walk away already ... BYE thanks, thanks again to Haley, have a great weekend everyone and oh crap I forgot--I have to cancel next week's show. I'm sorry. I will be back on April 20 as usual. Hope to see you then.

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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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