Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, April 20)

Apr 20, 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 20 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. Getting started just now--a little trouble signing in.

But first the usual reminders, to keep the conversation (and music) going on my Facebook page--subscribe for multiple updates daily.

Also available, a single update (for now) with my column on Twitter by following @carolynhax, and also a Nick cartoon daily via @ngalifianakis.

I don't know where the writer looked but it IS possible to receive those pesky eHarmony emails without actually posting a profile. I am not sure what I did but I know I never looked to make any connections on eHarmony and I started getting those emails all the time and had a hard time unsubscribing. I think I might have filled out one of their personality questionnaires in a pop up ad or something that required a live email for the results but I am happily married, not looking, not even daydreaming about someone else and it happened to me.

Thanks. I've heard from a lot of people today who are getting spammed by dating sites, some of whom never had a profile on one. A couple of people have signed into them to serve as  counsel for their friends, which is a scenario that hadn't occurred to me. Some have pointed out the emails and the reasons for them to their partners, which I think is a good idea.

That still leaves the suspicion/communication issues for today' couple, but I hope a prompt and open exchange between them takes care of both. 

There I go again, hoping.



Carolyn, I wrote in on March 23 about being invited via text to a birthday party for my husband's cousin and some of her friends, none of whom we know, at someone else's house. Thanks for the advice. I left it in DH's hands - and he decided to let it slide. We tried contacting her later, no response. Then I managed to contact her on FB. (I know, I know, but she wasn't answering our calls, due to the fact that her phone doesn't work where she is.) One of the first things she typed was that maybe we could get together when she gets back, if we (DH, kids and myself) could fit it into our schedule. Did I mention that we only met her last December? She and DH had met as children, but there is an almost ten-year age gap? (She is his cousin's daughter.) And we have only seen her about six times total? After the first visit, she was insisting on spending all of our holidays together, pouting when I explained that we have standing plans with others for New Year's Eve for several years. Does that make any difference on how to handle the situation? Thanks so much! - Banging my head against my iPhone

All I get from this is that she'd like stronger ties to family, and that you don't like her. Am I missing something? Anyone?

Hi, Carolyn: I read with interest Tuesday's letter about the family who wanted to keep in touch with an ex-sister-in-law. My fiance was married once before. His ex had a sexual and emotional affair, and was physically abusive to him. They managed to part on decent terms; he responds if she contacts him, but doesn't initiate contact with her. He was/is deeply humiliated by her betrayal and didn't tell his family a word about why they ended their marriage, so they keep in touch with her, are Facebook friends, etc. Would it ever be my place to ask them to limit contact or the amount of information about him that they share? I sense that it isn't, but I don't like to see him hurt. Thanks.

No, it wouldn't be your place, I don't think, since your fiance is an adult capable of advocating for himself. He is simply choosing not to. 

It's unfortunate that his reticence with his family stems from feeling "deeply humiliated." While there are certainly women who feel ashamed at being the victim of abusive partners, and while I am jumping to conclusions somewhat, it sounds as if those feelings come from his being a male victim of abuse. If indeed that's the case, it's a strong argument for his saying out loud to his family that she was physically abusive to him and he would appreciate if they took that into account when choosing to stay in contact with her. It is your place, if you agree, to run this possibility by your husband (once).

Otherwise, you're really just in a position to hope that your fiance and his ex were particularly volatile together, that the ex has since gotten help and that everyone has moved on to a better place in life.


My kid has to make her final decision about which of two (very good) colleges to send her acceptance letter to. Her dad and I want her to go to one place, will be fully funding this education, and have the perspective to see it's the smarter all-around choice for her future. She is leaning slightly toward the other, but we recognize that pushing her at all will probably backfire. So, my question: Is it unreasonable for parents to simply decide they're going to make the final decision, when it's a decision this major that she will have to live with?

It's totally unreasonable to impose your decision as the final one, unless one of them is offering a full scholarship and the other will set you back $45k x 4.

From your own description, it doesn't seem as if the one she prefers is Wake Up Daily on the Edge of a Cliff U, or even a stupid all-around choice. The one you prefer is merely the smart-er all-around choice. Allegedly. That doesn't strike me as nearly compelling enough to warrant parental strong-arming.

Now, if you'd just like to express your preference and ask her to sleep on the idea, then that's fair. But first: Consider giving your argument the eye-roll test by running it by us. What do you see in School 1 that makes it superior than School 2, and that your kid is not in a position to see for herself?

Without this, and with an equal financial hit presented by both, the answer is to be proud of her hard work in getting two offers and to trust that you raised her to make the best of whichever choice she makes.

Hi Carolyn, Normally, I love your chats and look forward to Friday's recap before bed since I'm a number of time zones behind you. Last Friday, I find out that you cancelled. I don't have big issue with it except that I know very few people (ok, no one) who gets to cancel work. Delay , yes, set for Saturday or Sunday, or double time next week--sure--. but cancel my work altogether? I'm afraid that's not possible. Could you please explain why cancellation and not rescheduling is the answer? Thx, Working moms everywhere but Washington

Seriously--you never miss a day of work? What if I were sick? And why the gratuitous shot at Washington, which on the whole is the hardest-working city that I've ever beheld?

I was giving a speech at my alma mater, planned since last summer.  My new producer didn't know that and set up the auditorium as if I were going to be there. Which I never was. 

I also didn't take a vacation day for it, if you're interested--I worked Saturday instead.


My old high school, btw, not college. For what it's worth.

My next door neighbors (we're in townhouses) have a dog that barks all day long. We can't hear it through the walls, just when we open a door or window, even though the dog is inside and their windows aren't open. We know its alone all day, and I think that it belongs to the roommate that just moved in (we moved in at about the same time) and is probably just not used to its new surroundings. My SO is very sensitive to noise, and is also very sensitive to the slightest indications that an animal may be mistreated. He's asked me to go over and talk to them, primarily because I tend to be better at being diplomatic in dealing with situations than he is, but I'm not 100% sure what to say. Do I just say that we're concerned that the dog is barking all day when you're not home and something might be wrong with it? Do I say its driving us nuts? I don't want to go the anonymous note route, and I obviously don't want to pull the "we're going to call the HOA/animal control" card unless they respond poorly or it keeps up, but I'm not totally sure what to say. Help?

1. I'm sensitive to the idea of sending someone else to do one's own dirty work. Not that it's never okay--people divide labor in all kinds of ways that make sense to them--but if there's a pattern to this "I want it but I want you to do it" world view, then you might soon be the human equivalent of the stressed out, cooped up dog.

2. The way to approach this is with the humane angle. If my dog were home freaking out while I was away, I'd certainly want to help him, but I'd have to know about it first, right? So, the opener is, "I thought you'd want to know that your dog is very stressed when you leave, and barks all day." If Neighbor expresses helplessness, you can say there are ways to help dogs with separation anxiety, even if you don't know personally what they are.

3. Convenient convergeance! Since it's about the dog's well-being, the need for diplomacy is much lower than if it were strictly an issue of noise. So, seems to me your SO can handle this one himself.


I have a sister who is about 10yrs younger than me (she's 28 am 37), when she comes to me with an issue seeking advice and I give it, the advice usually requires her to get out of her comfort zone and try something different that she may or may not have seen done by friends or colleagues at work (if it is work related), she then doesn't take/implement the advice but continues to complain about the issue not being resolved. How should I respond? it very frustrating and sometimes my response sounds like a parent speaking to their child which i know isn't good. Thanks in advance for taking my question

You're welcome. 

I think you encapsulated the issue so well here that you've written your own answer. When your sister continues to complain, explain to her that you're sympathetic, because all people find it tough to leave their comfort zones--but that it's usually what's required for making changes. So, like everyone else, she can either leave her comfort zone or accept the unhappy status quo.

Then you can change the subject, and/or make sympathetic clucking noises when she complains, then change the subject.

BTW, this could be happening exactly as you describe if you were 28 and she were 37. If that helps. 



I have a happy marriage to a great guy with two fantastic kids. I am also having an affair with a man that I have fallen in love with. I really don't know what to do, I am stressed out by the crushing guilt that I feel for cheating on and betraying my husband and fear that my actions could lead to the breakup of our happy family. But, I just feel like I cannot end the affair. I really love this other person and I feel caught in a terrible situation that is 100% my fault. I don't want to leave my husband for the other man, but I know that the current situation likely can't last forever. I am lost and confused as to how I ended up in this situation. Should I seek counseling? Would it do any good given my rock and a hard place situation? Please help, I can't talk to anyone about this and I feel like I'm going to explode!

Yes, counseling, ASAP. You seem to think it won't change anything but I wager it will--in part because yours is a situation that's very hard to own when spoken out loud, and also because the answer is to get your emotions under control, and also you need to swap out your fatalism for willpower. All three of these are realistic outcomes from therapy with a skilled provider. Get moving, for your poor kids if no one else.

The biggest argument my dad and I ever had was over my choice of colleges. I won and have never regretted it at all. He agrees I made the right decision. If your child does decide she made the wrong choice, she has the option of transferring. This is not a one-time decision that could doom her forever. Of course if she does end up transferring, you do not get to say, "I told you so." The correct words through this entire process are, "This is your life and we trust you."

Yes to all, especially the "told you so." They'll think it, but it has to be purely internal if they ever want to spend quality (vs. grudging/dutiful) time with their grown child, not to mention potential grandchildren. 

As a higher education professional who works in the academic advising area, I can tell you that unless there are serious reservations about one college over the other (Carolyn mentioned a significant price tag difference as one example, but there are others - accreditation, etc.), the decision needs to be the student's - she is the one who will be spending the next 4 years (or more) there. If you strong-arm her to choose your preference and she isn't happy, she may not thrive there and will hold it against you. Also, she may still transfer to her first choice - and it is a difficult transition to go from one college to the next, even under the best of circumstances. Let her be the adult you have raised her to be and make her own life decisions.

Thanks for weighing in.

My dad tried to bribe me into going to the collegecloser to home. He offered to buy me a horse. I am/was horse crazy but even that didn't persuade me. If anything, my dad's desire to get me to go to one school pushed me more into the other one. I don't know what your daughter is like but I bet you're better off keeping quiet. She'll be fine at either school, right? And ultimately who knows whether she'll stay at the same school or not.

The buy-you-a-pony gambit, for an 18-ish-year-old! I love it. And thank you for bringing up the law of parental-pressure physics: The harder you push for what you want, the more the pushee leans toward what you don't want. 

It is totally possible that the dog only barks when it hears doors and windows open or someone walks by which is why that is the only time you hear it. Given I am in a single house with a good sized yard but Sara (my dog) barks whenever she sees people walk by or hears weird noises. She's protecting "her" property.

ooh, good point. If someone heard Billy the Dog only when a UPS truck was in the neighborhood, they'd think he was rabid.

Not sure if this is a universal or not, but in my experience, when someone comes on that strong, and "pouts" upon meeting resistance to their togetherness plans, it is good to listen to your instincts and back away slowly. If the person can adjust and do a fresh start at a less-scary / less-intense pace, there's a chance. Otherwise, (and again this is just my experience, yours could vary) if you ignore the initial red flag, it comes back later, only this time it is wrapped around you, and the other person is a charging bull determined to make contact.

I agree with this, with a caveat--the OP seems to have a resistance to this cousin disproportionate to the cousin's overtures. "Seems" is the operative word, but I'm not the only one seeing room for doubt here.

Maybe you don't like her or have objections to some aspects of her personality, but from this reader's viewpoint you are coming across as unnecessarily mean and anti-social. The only way to become closer with someone is to spend time with him/her. She's reaching out to you to do so and you seem to be saying you don't want to spend time with her because you're not close to her.

Thanks. One  more coming:

It's okay not to like someone. But I still don't see passive-aggressive in any of it. Just a distant relative who isn't your cup of tea wanting more from you than you're interested in giving.

I'm not posting these to urge family togetherness against anyone's better instincts, but instead to argue for subjecting those instincts to sufficient scrutiny. Seems fair to rule out the possibility that you're needlessly on the defensive against someone who just wants to barbecue with you on Memorial Day.

Carolyn: I usually agree with everything you advise, so I'm not trying to be snarky, but I was a little surprised that you didn't ask up front how the husband found the eharmony emails on his wife's phone. Usually if the genders are reversed, you preface with the snooping caution--you may not have printed all the letter and know more than we read, but it struck me as a little ommission I usually see you bring up when it's a wife/gf in the same boat. I got a little bit of a red flag about the husband that perhaps a niggling suspicion was there already--would that be fair to say (again, maybe he found it innocently and said that in the letter and we just didn't see it)

I see stuff on my husband's phone (and email) all the time, without even trying. Given the way it was written, it was possible he saw it innocently, so I left it alone. Nothing to do with genders. 

I love your column and trust your advice so while I'm not sure if there's a simple answer to this, if there is, I'm sure you'd have it. The short version is that my older sister (of five years) flirts with my boyfriend. Not giggly, bouncy flirt. An attentive flirt (has a friend who witnessed them on a couple of occassions said). Leans in, ignores everyone else, and never lets me have two seconds alone with him while she's around. It's a pattern over the years. Flirting with guys I'm either dating or like and she does it to our other sisters as well. I HATE IT! Makes me sick to my stomach to watch. Do I avoid her? Do I talk to her? She gets very angry and defensive at any criticism so I no there will be retribution of I do. I really want it to stop. Thank you!

It won't stop. You can speak up and invite her defensive wrath, you can avoid her, you can warn the men in your life, but nothing will change the fact that your sister apparently has insecurities so deep that other considerations (dignity, decency, loyalty) all defer to her need to persuade herself that she's special.

For dealing with it in the future, I suggest a combination approach: Anticipate her antics and set the bar high for being annoyed by them; talk to her when you have a specific example to give her, and say you'd appreciate it if she were more aware of the hard feelings she's creating between her and her sisters; avoid her as much as possible without estranging yourself from family; let your partners know this is her deal; and, when and only when these four aren't sufficient to keep her from her "Leans in, ignores everyone else, and never lets me have two seconds alone with him while she's around" routine, go up to her and quietly say something along the lines of, "It used to bother me that you did this with all of our boyfriends, but now I just think it's sad."

Hi Carolyn, How do you know if the therapist you are seeing is the "right" person? Lately I've been feeling kind of bored by going, and get stressed trying to think of topics to talk about. Thank you!

Short answer, say as much to your therapist.

Longer but still short answer, are you sure you're not just ready to leave therapy? It may just be that you've talked yourself as far as you can, and the rest is up to you now to execute, perhaps with the occaisonal appointment for touch-ups.

If you believe you still have problems that are eluding your efforts to solve them, then that's actually what you need to say to your therapist: You feel as if you're digging for topics and yet the ones that moved you to seek therapy are still bothering you as much as ever.

I found out this morning that my uncle - my mother's only sibling - has been touching his granddaughter. I believe the accusation because other family members have since come forward with corroborating stories. His wife is leaving him, and the family has filed a policy report. My mother is absolutely falling to pieces, and my sister and I are worried that our uncle will commit suicide. Obviously we support the family members who were injured, but we still love our uncle and are worried about how our Mom will take it if something happens to him. I literally don't know what to do, or who to try to help first. Any suggestions?

Please call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453), and tell the hotline staffer that your family is in the midst of a child-abuse-related crisis, and that while the police have been called, you're at a loss for what to do next. If nothing else, the family members of the accused are in need of local counseling resources, and Childhelp can connect you with people who have the training and experience to handle this. I'm sorry. I hope the granddaughter is also getting expert care.

Hi Carolyn, I have a problem where I get too emotionally attached too quickly. I meet a guy, we have a few great dates, and then I project onto him these fantasies of marriage, children and the white picket fence. I'm not sure if the guys I date are picking up on this, but I seem to get through a few dates and get a polite email from them saying we're not a good match. What are practical steps I can take to manage these emotions/ behaviors? I intellectually know I need to take it slow, but when a good guy comes along, it all goes out the window. Thank you!

I know this is turning into the therapy portion of our program, but if you're in a position to get some counseling, I do suggest it.

If not, then your take-home assignment on this is to figure out why you're so heavily invested in the fantasy. Which, if you think about it, is often just a reckoning with what's letting you down about your life the way it is. Urges to get swept away from your status quo are so much more powerful than any intellectual arguments for not falling for Guy du Jour--the only way to master them is to address the source.

It's not that I don't like her, I just don't know her well enough. I am more cautious, I guess and to suddenly fill up all my weekends with people I barely know is rather daunting. For Christmas, she insisted to DH that we go to her house with her husband's extended family - this was only the second time I had met her. She then started on New Year's Eve, pouting because we already had plans. I have asked her to go shopping with me, filled out some paperwork she needed as a reference and had her come see how I was painting my living room, so I have spent time with her. Her comment to see if we could 'fit her into our schedule' made me take a step back. It's not that I don't want to see her, but we have sports, church and other things we need to do, too. I cannot be at her place every weekend playing cards, which was the next thing she tried to get us to agree to. I guess I will just have to understand that she and we have different needs.

Yes, that's true--but also you included more information here that makes your hesitation make more sense. I think the best approach in light of these details is to figure out, with your spouse, how frequently and on what terms you'd like to see her, then offer that and no more. If you get pouting and "ooh-you're-so-busy" swipes, then so be it. Even say that out loud: "Hey, the way it is." 

At the same time, your details also indicate a fair amount of social reticence in general; I see nothing odd about the Christmas invitation, since all anyone had to do in response was say "no, thank  you" if the offer wasn't appealing. 

And, too, I see you said "we" have different needs. Maybe you are legitimately speaking for your husband, but it also seems possible that you're trying to frame this as a normal people (you et al) vs. pushy people (BD girl). The way to show genuine understanding of "different needs" is to treat them all as equally legit, and favor yours simply because they're yours.

A very good friend of mine since childhood moved to town about 6 months ago. We've been friends for a very long time, but haven't lived in the same city since I got married a couple years ago. I've invited her over a lot. However, she recently confessed (to both of us) that she's "in love" with my husband. I'm not sure what to do. We've been friends since we were kids; I don't want to cut her off! My husband is upset, he says that he never intended that (he's never spent time with her outside of dinner parties where we're all there) and it makes him uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that we've expecting a baby and you have defensive hormonal me. What I really want is to pretend she never said that, hope she meets someone (I honestly think she's just lonely and not really "in love" with him, she had a bad break up about a year ago) and this all blows over. But I don't know what's right to do; it seems like either I cut her off (don't want to), hang out with her without my husband (seems like I don't trust her), or continue as is (not what my husband wants to do/seems like flaunting).

That's a fine mess. 

One way to approach it is as an elephant-in-room gambit: Maybe your friend spoke up in an affort to make her awkward feelings go away. It's not unheard of, and while it's not exactly the easiest method for everyone, it can often be very effective, to the point where all that's left now is for everyone to get through the awkward stage and get back to being friends.

It's also possible you misread her. Maybe she's a hyperbole girl and just blurted how great she thinks he is--without romantic intent.

My advice regardless is to talk to your friend and say, okay, what now? That will either yield a truth that's easier to take than "My good friend wants to steal away the father of my in utero child," or it will help you become a lot more interested in the cut-off option than you are right now.


Hi Carolyn, So, final verdict--is it, or is it NOT, ever okay to reveal a gender preference while pregnant? I'm expecting a surprise in July, and several friends know (because they asked) that I want a boy (but will be thrilled either way, of course). Even though all I'm doing is telling the truth, I always feel a little squicky saying it out loud--but is it really so bad?

If you feel squicky saying it out loud, then don't say it. It doesn't have to go beyond that.

In case you need persuading, put yourself in the position of being your daughter, and answer people's (bizarro) questions accordingly.

Not that what you say to your friends  while pregnant will get back to your child years from now; it might, it might not, and it might not matter--but why even tempt fate for idle speculation in the service of idle curiosity?

Dear Carolyn, My bestest, bestest friend is getting married this summer. The wedding coincides with my fiance's birthday, and he has said that the only present he wants to mark the event is not to have to go to the wedding. I'm not going to insist that he come with me, but I was pretty taken aback by this attitude. I wish he would be there because my friend and her husband will likely be in our lives for years and I want him to be part of this memory. It's local and will cost us almost nothing to attend. I get that not everyone enjoys weddings (and my fiance is particularly impatient with them), but isn't this bad sportsmanship?

He sounds like a weenie. Marrying him is a good idea, you're sure?

Dear Carolyn, What's your take on deciding whether to share hard-to-hear information with a friend who will eventually learn it one way or another? My close friend N made the difficult decision to end her marriage because she wanted children and her husband said he didn't. I just found out he is engaged to another woman, who is pregnant with his child. N is still single and becoming very impatient about starting a family of her own. I hate to pile onto her stress with this, but if I don't tell her, she is likely to find out soon that I have known about this for some time and haven't told her.

Assuming you're correct that she'll find out you knew, and if you have reason to believe she'll be upset with you for not telling, then clearly you have to tell her. 

Not to get too wild with speculation, but there could actually be good news in this painful package. If any of your friend's stress arises from second-guessing herself about leaving her marriage, or beating herself up from failing to see that her husband didn't want kids, then this development will let her off both hooks. It wasn't about his not wanting kids; it was about her being married to the wrong guy. And, she didn't miss anything; she saw that he was the wrong guy and did what she had to do.

Of course, it could be that the pregnant fiancee got that way in spite of efforts not to get pregnant, and the guy still doesn't want to be a dad, but that's their problem now. (Here's hoping they solve it before it becomes the kid's problem.)

Hi Carolyn. I am the original poster from the chat recap in yesterday's column about my friends not liking my boyfriend. Your answer was helpful at the time, but there's one area it doesn't help with - the things they see me as "putting up with" that they don't get, but I see as compromises I make because I love this guy. (That word "compromise" is so loaded... it seems like it's always either evil or sainted, shouldn't it be neutral sometimes?) I'm talking about stuff like how often he calls when he's traveling on business. My friends will just casually ask, how's Boyfriend's trip to LA going? I don't necessarily know if he's only been gone 2-3 days, but that sounds weird to them... and would have sounded weird to me too before I was able to disconnect "calls every day" and "cares about me". So sometimes I find myself getting defensive or even pretending we do things more like my friends do in their relationships... 90% of the time it's fine, but when I do feel defensive, is that a sign that I'm not as okay with his style as I think I am?

Possibly. It could also be a sign you're not as okay as you think you are with the sense that your friends are judging your relationship negatively. One thing that hinges on: Your respect for your friends' opinions. Are they usually pretty astute? Or do they have a tendency to see the world their way, and everyone else either lives up to that or becomes an object of scorn or pity? 

Hi, Carolyn! Over the past several months, I've come to suspect that my younger sister prefers an arm's-length relationship with me. We live in different states and rarely talk. Both of us are busy, but if I contact her to talk, she often has to go within a few minutes. She rarely shares anything of substance about herself with me. I would like to know if I'm being a glass bowl in some way that makes her want to talk to me less, but I don't want to be a glass bowl in asking wrong and disrespecting her boundaries. We don't have a history of abuse, and I've apologized for the sibling-things I did when we were young (mostly not letting her play with me and my friends). Oh, also, I'm really socially inept. What's the protocol here?

Any chance she's just not a phone person? Have you tried other ways to keep in touch besides talking?

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Mother's Day and on the day itself, I am miserable. I have a volatile relationship with my own mother and see all around me mother's being praised even though they are barely competent (e.g. lost custody to the dad or relying on others and the state to raise their child.) I am by no means a perfect mother, but I try my best, love my children to death, and enjoy them immensely. I do not feel, however, that I should be celebrated for this or that being a mother makes me more important than women without children. Why celebrate motherhood at all? My family has been invited to a mother's day celebration for mother-in-law and sisters-in-law and I do not want to go. I don't want to pretend to celebrate something that in fact makes me miserable. Should I be honest when sending my regrets or just say simply that I cannot attend? My husband and kids most likely will want to go so I would stay home by myself or find something else to do. Or should I just suck it up and go?

I don't mean to minimize your difficulties with your mom--that's a lot of weight to carry--but it sure sounds like you're making too much of this. We celebrate birthdays, and what did anyone do to deserve that? We don't choose to be born, we don't even help our mothers push (au contraire). At least Mother's Day celebrates some actual hard work, even if a lot of shirkers still manage to help themselves to the brunch.

Society looks for all kinds of ways to say, "Yippee, yay us." Valentine's Day sends the message that coupled is better than single; Fourth of July says Americans are better den all youse udder guys, Thanksgiving says people with close families are better than those without,  Christmas says solstice celebrations matter more when they're all about Jesus, and New Year's even tries to make the argument that Dec. 31 is more fun or significant than, idunno, April 21. 

Repeat after me: Yippee! Cake!

Dear Carolyn, My fiance and I are very private and nontraditional. We're getting married in a small ceremony (only parents), and are trying to steer clear of the whole wedding-industrial complex. We did not realize until we got engaged how hard that would be. We've already received several offers from family friends to host showers, parties, etc. What is a polite and gracious way to let them know that we really appreciate their offers but we just really don't want all the gifts and fanfare?

"We really appreciate your offers but we just really don't want all the gifts and fanfare." You can add, "We are very private and nontraditional." If someone presses--in the we-really-love-you-and-want-to-take-part way, not in the we-are-judging-you-and-not-backing-down way, then you can suggest a celebratory dinner/drink/brunch with -just- them in the weeks after the ceremony.

Hi Carolyn, My brother-in-law passed away three months ago. This has been a very difficult time for my sister and I have tried to be there any way I can. My nieces and nephews are still small children who need rides to school, constant supervision, and have countless activities. My sister's job is rather unforgiving, so I am trying hard to help her look for a new job. There are also a lot of administrative duties (Social Security, estates, etc.) that my sister needs help with. All of this is in addition to my responsibilities to my own family and my part time job. My husband and kids have been great helping out around our house, but lately they have indicated that they miss me. I feel torn, like everywhere that I am I am not giving enough. Any suggestions for dealing with this? At what point (and how do I phrase it) do I start to pull out of my sister's life? (Also, I've gained 10 pounds. But I don't think you can help me with that.)

Actually, I kinda can. These are horrible and extraordinary circumstances, and the needs they are creating are acute. They won't always be that way; both you and your sister, and even your nieces and nephews, will adapt to their new normal, probably sooner than anyone can envision right now.

In the meantime, you will have less of you available to your family and to your willpower and to whatever else constitutes your normal. And that's okay--your family is in a much better position to miss you for a while than your sister is to go without your help. Again, a new normal is already on its way, and things like the administrative duties will all be finished eventually, and your sister will find a way to get her kids to school that doesn't involve you, and she'll find child care that doesn't involve you, and all that. It's just stuff that takes time under the best of circumstances, and when someone's grieving it's going to feel insurmountable.

As much of a bummer as it is for your husband and kids to see less of you and to take on more housework, it's life, and they can handle it. Tell them you miss them, too, and you're so proud of and grateful for the extras your kids are doing to pitch in. Tell them their aunt needs you now and, therefore, you need them. Tell them that even though this time of need is temporary, it's still a timeless example of why family is so important. Build them up and wedge in a lesson while you're at it. You'll be back soon, and stronger kids will greet you there. (You can worry about the extra 10-spot then.)


Hi C, I really hope you can take my question. I realized this week, like a bolt of lightening, that my husband is showing signs of depression. It's very obvious now after the birth of our daughter, but looking back I'm realizing this has probably been going on for years. If I had to pinpoint a time it started, it would be about the time his career started not going the way he had always pictured it. At the same time, we moved away from him best friends. He doesn't make friends easily, so he hasn't really made friends in our new home. Of course I'll encourage him to get screened, but that's going to be an uphill battle. I mentioned my observations to him, and he agrees that he's probably at least a little depressed. What else can/should I do? What amount of hand-holding is appropriate and healthy?

This is a question you'll be answering not in one big take, but instead as you go. A good resource to get you started is NAMI's help line. From the site: "The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 am- 6 pm, Eastern time."

This weekend I'm headed on a family "vacation" to visit distant relatives and friends of my dad's who I have met once or twice in my life, if at all. (The trip is at Dad's request to take my sister and I to his old stopming grounds; he's very excited.) Last time we went on a similar trip ~ 5 years ago, I was asked on numerous occasions if I was "dating anyone" -- the notion of a woman in her late 20s who is single is apparently a confusing concept. Well, I'm now 32 and still single, so I anticipate their heads will explode. How do I handle the "are you dating anyone" question from virtual strangers? The question always makes me uncomfortable, but I can never think of a response that doesn't make me sound like a bitter single person. (FWIW, this question comes up in other situations too. Is it rude or am I being oversensitive?)

Depends on what other interest people show in you. While I do wish so very very much that people would be more careful with their personal questions, there also has to be license for people to get to know each other somehow--even those who might not be as deft as others at posing get-to-know-you questions. 

I also think we all have a responsibility to know our own hot buttons for what they are. Some people bristle at the seeing-anyone questions, while others dread being asked whether they have/want/plan to have kids, while others think it's rude to be asked what they do for a living, and so on--sometimes because the person asking is clearly nosy or judgmental, but sometimes too because the askee feels self-conscious about that topic for one reason or another.

So, to get to your question before the Rapture, try to reset your dread-meter to, "People just want to know me vs. treat me like a freak," and try to answer their questions with minimal information on your dating life and maximum interest in -their- lives. At worst you'll be deflecting their attention off you, and at best you'll be steering the conversation in a direction that allows you both to come away caring more about each other than you had hoped. 

I'm a 42 yr old divorced woman with no kids. I've got a debilitating, rare & progressive disease that has no cure or treatment. I have no family. I've got PTSD from the time I was raped by a serial rapist/murderer. I'm on my own & unable to get a job. I've been getting alimony but I'm on my last month. I'm facing the very real prospect of homelessness & starvation. I'm in pain 24/7 & have nowhere to turn. There's a bridge not far away with my name written all over it. I don't know what to do. I'd rather not jump but my illness thwarts me at every turn. I'm suffering. What now?

I'm sorry your obstacles are piling up, and I don't doubt that you're feeling that things are hopeless. They rarely are, though, and too often there's help available and within reach. Please call 1-800-SUICIDE  (1-800-784-2433) to get you started on finding the help you need. Take care. 

Whenever anyone asked me about my baby gender preference when I was pregnant, I would always say, "A healthy one." I really don't get people's preoccupation with this issue. Aren't you going to love your child regardless? I know everyone has his/her own opinion about learning the sex of the child before delivery, but if you have a strong desire for a boy, do yourself and the child a favor and find out now. If you are carrying a boy, you can have your "yay" moment. If you are having a girl, give yourself time to get adjusted to the idea before she's born, so your first response to "it's a girl" isn't "oh, bummer."

Thanks. That's why I threw the "bizarro" in there, because it mystifies me, too (yeh, i get the need for conversation--see "are you dating anyone," above--but, really).

Of course, "a healthy one" can send you down a  rabbit hole, too, so maybe the answer is just, "a happy one."

Please tell your friend. I was in that situation, and am forever grateful that a loved one pulled me aside and told me in private. I went through a range of emotions and eventually ended with the realization that it was the wrong guy, not the baby-making, as Carolyn says, but can't imagine having had to process that in front of others. As luck would have it, I heard the same news from a malicious gossip shortly after. It would have been even harder to take.

Great point, thanks.

"Nobody special" covers all the bases. You're not lying, nor are you the "bitter single" since you're apparently trying but just haven't met that special someone, but you can still be "too busy" if they try to set you up with some weird third cousin.

Weird third cousins, everbody's whipping boy.


Can you handle dating two (or more) guys at the same time? This is what I did, and after about four months I realized that while there was a rapid rotation for one of the guy-slots, the other turned out always to be the same guy. Long story short: we just celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary!

Interesting--thanks. Would like to hear of another road test of this idea.

It sounds as though others knew about this uncle's issus before the news came out about the granddaughter and, given the LW's concern about her mother falling apart and her uncle's possible suicide, I'm left wondering if this poor little girl isn't collateral damage to a family trying not to rock the boat. How can this little girl NOT be everyone's primary concern? Or whoever were the victimes in the "corroborating stories"? There's an undercurrent here that I find very disturbing.

I took it that the person writing was somewhat removed from the child's life (not all would know an uncle's grandchild), and was tending to the part of the disaster that was close to her life. However, I see from your post that I had no grounds to make that assumption. The child of course (and possible other victims) should be everyone's primary concern, including of the OP, if it's within her power/reach. Thanks.

Carolyn - do you think there is anything the boyfriend's can do specifically? The sister's actions cant be changes, but the boyfriends could get up when she leans in, make extra effort to cling to the girlfriend when sister is around, etc.

Certainly if the boyfriends wrote in, I would advise them to take deliberate steps to be inclusive of others in their conversations where the sister is involved (and save walking away for when she makes that impossible).

That's it for today. Thanks everyone, have  a great weekend, and hope to see you here next Friday.

Please, please, PLEASE don't give up. Life can get better. I'm living proof of that. Just two and a half years ago, I was in a wheelchair and we didn't know if I'd ever walk again. Now I am. I'm piecing my life back together. I'm sure you can, too. Can you qualify for social security?

Encouraging, thank you, and something I see in some form with startling regularity--that the inability to envision better doesn't mean that better isn't possible. 

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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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