Carolyn Hax Live: Fur-children; Baby 'bait-and-switch'?; Birthday drama; Resentment-o-meter and much more

Apr 08, 2011

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, April 8 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.

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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. A reminder, you can now get my columns sent to you via Twitter, @carolynhax. I forgot to mention last week, Nick is on Twitter, too, digging into his archives and sending out a cartoon a day: @ngalifianakis.

As always, my Facebook page is, and offers links to cols, Philes posts, chats, and that's where I run updates from readers. I might soon be having Nick post his cartoons there, too ... you don't have to be on FB, it's visible to all.

Husband and I had always planned on having kids till about a year ago, when he announced he was no longer interested. Now, he says, he wants to focus on our marriage, our careers, and our two passions: travel and food/wine. I get where he's coming from re: the hobbies--they are expensive and time-consuming, and probably prohibitive of being good parents, at least at first. I didn't really see a choice, so I gave up on the baby thing. Husband was apologetic and tried to make it up to me with some pretty lavish trips and splurges, which wouldn't have been possible if we'd gotten pregnant instead...yeah, I get it. Anyway, what I'm finding is that now that our hobbies have gotten in the way of starting a family, I'm finding them utterly unfulfilling and self-indulgent, and I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life focused on these things. But husband is as happy as ever and is firmly dedicated to this choice. What should I do?

You know he "is as happy as ever and is firmly dedicated to this choice" because you said straight out that you're no longer fulfilled by your shelter-mag way of life?

If that's not the case, then that's where you start--with the truth, although stated in kinder words than the ones I used.


My friend has been married for a few months, has decided it's not working (moved out, no divorce yet) and promptly has taken up living with another guy, who showers her with expensive gifts, promises of marriage and babies, and attention that she was lacking in her (current) marriage. It's all looking rather fast and red flags are flying. What can I say to her? Is it better to stand by and watch this train wreck, or do I risk losing her friendship by speaking up? I've already said "honey, don't you think this is going a bit fast?" to no avail. Anything else I can do? Thank you so much.

This isn't really about keeping or losing her friendship, is it? It sounds as if you're worried about the high risk of her getting hurt (vs., say, the moral implications of her actions), and if she dropped you for that, then you'd know she wasnt' much of a friend to begin with. 

This to me is a what's-the-point? question--as in, given the facts at hand, would there be any point in tying her to a chair and making her listen to the list of signs indicating her current path is a hazardous one.

Given that you've told her plainly what worries you, and given that leaving a marriage after a few months in order to shack up with another man isn't exactly subtle in its signs of dysfunction, and that neither of these has caught her attention as an indication that she should question her own actions, I can't imagine she'll snap awake when you present to her the evidence of trouble in juuuust the right way.

Do answer honestly when she asks your opinion, don't hide behind reassuring euphemisms, and do keep in mind that a dysfunctional start isn't a guarantee of a dysfunctional relationship--but, most important, don't regard it as your responsibility to save her. Look out for her in the ways she allows you too, and hope she's a better captain of her little ship than she appears.




Dear Carolyn: I QUIT! So I have decided to leave my job at the end of the month to go into business for myself (solo practice of law). Got the space all picked out, took care of leases and health insurance and malpractice insurance. I have the support of my friends and family. My issue is with my current employer. I work for Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. You never know which one is going to be there and it changes like the wind blows. I've worked for him for years and it's finally taken a toll on me emotionally and physically. Prior to me, he went through 6 employees in 2 years. So it's a well known fact that he can be mean (profanity, throwing things, etc.). But it's been swept under the rug by our firm for the last 10 years. I think there's a good possibility that when I tell him, he will fire me on the spot. He definitey believes in paybacks (when I got back from a scheduled vacation last summer, he was apparently so annoyed that I had gone that he cut my hours by one-third as payback). Do I tell him that he's a large part of the reason why I'm leaving? Or do I bow out gracefully and say it's because I can no longer afford to work only 25 hours a week?

Long situation, short answer: Never burn a bridge. This was a great opportunity for you, you're excited for the new challenge and you will remain grateful for what working for him has taught you.

I just read the "Birthday Drama" column from Thursday about the girl who was upset by her sister's inaction on her birthday despite celebrating with her roommate and BF. Like most people (I assume), I'm uncomfortable with the amount of entitlement oozing from my screen after reading this. My question is, how do people like this act towards others in their everyday life? My judgement stands if people like this don't show the same attention to others they feel they so richly deserve. However, what if they do? Do you think there are people out there who rightly deserve attention because they dole it out themselves? Is there ever a time when a two-way street is rightly deserved? Also, if 'Birthday Drama' is out there, I'd love to know what she planned for her sister's last birthday. Maybe it would change our hostile opinions...

This can get tricky, because I don't think that lavishing attention on others for their birthdays entitles the lavisher to the same treatment when his/her birthday rolls around. Regarding our bonds to others as, essentially, currency exchanges isn't good for anyone involved.

On the other hand, today's column (I think it was today's) shows how the resentment can build up when you're half of a couple and you watch the other half distribute attention to just about everyone but you.

So there has to be some fairness to the exchange--no, even better: mutual satisfaction--and some recognition that someone who does give generously does deserve also to receive.

What works most reliably, I think, is when people give each other what they need, which includes being eager to receive what the other is comfortable offering--vs. what you both want or think you deserve. 

Now, someone who feels neglected may well deserve a certain kind of treatment s/he isn't getting. And, certainly, the first step when that happens is to articulate your need for the other person, to allow a chance at correcting an imbalance.

But if the correction never comes, then you have to go back to the template that seems to work: Figure out what the other person is comfortable offering, and see if you can find a way to get that to meet your needs.

If that doesn't work, then you have a choice: accept the reality of getting less than you think you deserve, or leave the unsatifsying relationship and set out to find someone else who actually does offer what you're looking for.

When this happens after a few kids and a house and all that, it can be a huge mess that leaves you open to charges of selfishness. That's why I will flail my little fingers numb urging people to note and respond to these ... deficits -before- you get too deeply invested in someone. I.e., if you're with someone who isn't very physically affectionate and you ache to be touched, or if you feel your birthday should be marked by a parade (and you will duly mark your mate's birthday in your mate's preferred style) but you're with someone who doesbn't ever remember the day, then it's OKAY to see that as a dealbreaker BEFORE you commit in any hard-to-reverse way, and leave.


Kinda ran with this one, didn't i. 




Hi Carolyn, I seem to find myself in relationships more often than not. These are healthy, long term relationships, but I don't always take a lot of time off in between. Usually just a few months and then I'll find someone awesome. I take it slow for a few months with the new person, but generally end up in a committed relationship with that person. I can sense this is happening to me yet again and I feel like there's something wrong with it. Like I should be dating a bunch of people instead of just one, or that I should take a full year off of dating just because I haven't been single a lot. I like being single. I have a full life, lots of great friends and hobbies, have no problems going to the movies by myself etc. So it's not like I'm looking for a relationship just so I can find some contentment in my life. Am I making something a problem that's not a problem? Thanks for any insight.

How do you feel after these relationships end--kinda hung over and regretful that you got involved with someone too quickly  even though you swore you wouldn't do that again? Or you take away warm feelings and feel better for your time with these people?

Dear Carolyn, The other night I was out with my boyfriend and we invited two of my closest friends (a married couple) along with us. After they left, he made comments about how much he didn't like them, that they didn't greet him "appropriately," and how condescending they are. My friends are reserved, but they're great and his comments hurt. The last time they came over to our house, he didn't even stand up to greet them, he just sat on his computer and worked, and basically ignored them. He's been saying this stuff for a while, but the other night he just went all out. If I'm going to be honest, I'd say that my boyfriend is the problem; he takes things personally and is pretty negative about most people. I'm very social and it seems like he has mean comments to make about a lot of my friends. I've been really uncomfortable around my boyfriend since his recent attack on my friends. He's entitled to his opinion, but his reaction to my friends is actually making me feel nauseous. Any thoughts?

Just that you seem to have answered your own question, no?

It's 10:17am and the link to your chat is not visible on the front page!! Good thing I'm procrastinating and searched for it. Otherwise I would have thought you were on vacation and missed it.

Not hiding purposefully! Still working out a few bugs - but I added a link to the homepage, just for you!

Thanks, Jodi. Eds are also working on ways to make my columns, archives, Philes, etc., easier to find. If you run into any problems--links that don't update, for example--then please continue to send them to

Thanks for your patience--I know people have been saying it everywhere, but it bears repeating that this wasn't just a design change but a change to the way the whole site is published.

I really liked your advice about how not to be a pushover. I've been fighting pushover-ness my whole life. Could you elaborate on one point? Whenever I heed my own resentment, I have to fight the feeling that my resentment is not normal self-defense, but a feeling of entitlement. Intellectually, I try to remind myself that because I've always been a pushover (basically, whenever I wouldn't do what others wanted, I was called selfish), this is probably not the case. But any tips on how to tell the difference between standing up for yourself appropriately (No, I will not do X for you when I have already done ABC and you haven't ever even done the one Z I asked you for) and laziness/selfishness/entitlement (I won't do X because I don't feeeeeeeeeel like it)? Thanks for helping ease the way on this!

You know, it's okay to choose not to do something just because you don't feel like it. I don't advise making a habit of choosing this option, but if you've baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it's okay to say you're sorry, this isn't a good time, and you'll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of "isn't a good time" could really, justifiably, be that you've been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.

I see getting comfortable with the word "no" as a multi-step process, especially if you're starting from a point where there's a sense of personal risk attached to every "no"--as if everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down. The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful--that's the advice you're referring to, I assume--and recognizing that's your body's way of telling you that you're giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.

Once you get comfortable with that process, I think you'll start to make out patterns--of things you like to give and don't, of people you like to give to and don't, or situations when it's okay to extend yourself and when it isn't. The second step is to put those patterns together: You'll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You'll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you. Seeing these clearly will help you say "yes" and "no" to things based on anticipation of how you'll feel, instead of just reacting to how you feel in the moment. That means you'll be able to make plans--and decline them--with a growing sense of confidence.

Sometimes you'll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or blow off a worthy cause there. But even those aren't the end of the world, they're just life.  One lazy /selfish/entitled decision does not a lazy /selfish/entitled person make. That's step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. As long as you're at peace with the cumulative result, you're fine.






Hi Carolyn - I dated a guy several months back who I fell for - kinda hard. For reasons that are not really important, it didn't work out, and we've made several attempts since at "being friends". I admit that I kind of still LIKE this guy, but I also just like him as a person and really would like to think that I can get over him (and myself) and make the "friends" thing work. Problem is - I feel as though hanging out with him is at his whim, or his suggestion. When I call, when I ask him to do something with me, I get ignored, or I get shot down. When he asks, I find myself sometimes even cancelling other plans to go see him. I HATE that I'm doing this and I just don't know what to do to stop. My logical brain tells me that he's taking advantage of me, but that part of me that still LIKES him is saying, "How are you ever going to date him again if you don't spend time with him?" And it wins every time. I need help. What do I do to silence that part of my brain that keeps chasing this guy, see this for what it is, and actually act on it? Thanks...

You can start by not gracing that part of your brain with the "logical" title. It's your Rationalizing Brain that's providing you with excuses for seeing this guy when you know it's not really in your best interests. If he were both calling you and responding eagerly to your calls, I'd say to keep at the friendship, but he's just calling you when it's convenient for him. Not good for you. Say no.  

My husband and I recently found out that I am expecting our first. We were a bit shocked as it happened essentially the first time we tried, but we're happy, have good jobs, a good home and are ready for this change in our lives. Alas I have two problems. The first is a dear friend who is dealing with major fertility issues, seeing a specialist, etc. She knew that we would be trying soon, and asked me to tell her via letter/email when we succeeded. I will not tell her for a while, until I am out of my first trimester, but I still am not sure how to tell her as I am just about her only childless friend at the moment. The second problem is my mother. I am incredibly close to my mother, but she has never been interested in children, never actually wanted any of her own (although she loves us dearly), and has expressed dread at being a "grandmother". I know she is dreading the day that I tell her I am pregnant because any time I call to tell her that I have some sort of news (not baby related) I hear her gasp for air on the other end of the line. I have to see her for a family event, honoring my brother and his wife, over Memorial Day weekend when I will be nearing the end of my first trimester. I am not sure how to tell her, how to not take away from the celebration of my brother and his wife, etc. My mother was early to show with her pregnancies, so I may too, and I know she'll have radar about holding out until after Memorial Day Weekend is probably our of the question. Any advice would be welcome on how to handle these situations :) Thank you!!!

As difficult as the situation is with your friend, she made it easy for you: "Tell me by e-mail." Perfect. Time it so she can read and react in the privacy of her home, and phrase it plainly and with love. Say you and Husband are expecting, and that you're so grateful she showed you the way to tell her.

As for your mom, well, ugh. I get that she's not a nurturer, fine, and she clearly did something right in the way she raised you because you're "incredibly close" and you know she loves you despite her open bias against kids.

But her "gasp for air" (!) tactics and your fear that your news will dent her ability to enjoy a family event? That says no wonder she didn't want kids, because Mom is all about Mom. The best thing you can do when you share your news is say to her, gently and with a smile, "We did this for our joy, not your dismay." Antisocial translation: STHU. I hope she surprises you (and herself) and is a great sport when you tell. Congratulations.

Hi Carolyn, I adopted my daughter from Kenya four years ago when she was an infant. Since then it has been just me and her, until my second adoption went through and I brought home my 10-month-old son last month. My daughter does not like this baby. Her rage at having to share me with him is the most powerful emotion I have ever known her to express. It has caused her to regress verbally and to act out in some major ways (biting, hiding, wetting her pants on purpose). Part of the problem, of course, is that as a single mom I can't exactly leave the baby behind on a regular basis to take her on special mommy-and-me outings. Also, instead of giving her the chance to grow accustomed to a newborn, I forced an older infant--complete with personality, strong vocal chords and teeth--on her. Any suggestions?

Have you asked the adoption agency you used for the names of social workers/programs tailored to helping families adjust to the newcomer? That's the logical first step, I think. 

So the short version is: my husband is currently deployed and his grandmother was recently in a very serious accident. When it first happened MIL asked me not to say anything until they knew more, which I agreed to because we both didn't want to worry deployed husband when Nana's status wasn't so clear and there's nothing he can do about it anyway. Now that we know more about Nana's prognosis, MIL still wants me to keep it from him so as not to worry him, and I now disagree. I can see that she wants to protect him but I think when he finally finds out that he will be hurt that he wasn't told. Also I think it's important to our relationship and his peace of mind in future deployments that my husband is able to believe me when I tell him "everything's fine." So do I go against MIL's wishes and tell hubby what's going on here at home or do I play along since it's her mother in question and its true that he can't do anything about it? Thanks for any input!!

Have you said to his mother explicitly: "It's important to our relationship and his peace of mind in future deployments that my husband is able to believe me when I tell him 'everything's fine'"? Because that is a concisely stated, soundly reasoned argument for overruling her on sharing the news. And you will have to overrule her, but ideally you will get her on board with the idea before you have to insist, and the  way to do that is to give your argument -before- you say why you're making it. E.g.:

You:  "I've given this a lot of thought, and I believe it's important to our relationship and his peace of mind in future deployments that my husband is able to believe me when I tell him "everything's fine."

She: ...will either get where you're going with this, in which case, yay--or she won't, in which case:

You: I'm sorry, I will not keep this secret any more. I agreed in the early stages, but now I just feel as if I'm lying to him, and I can't do that.

Then you share the news with your husband--and also tell your husband about the whole transaction with his mom, so he can contact her to assure her that he's grateful he knows the truth.

Have fun storming the castle ...


Is this thing on ...? Just crashed, will try to re-post the answer that got stuck.

What should be done about someone who insists on referring to a dog as a person/child/baby when it is done without any indication that its a joke. This person is fully aware that other people are expecting actual real children, and these people don't like the equivalency the dog-person is creating. Grin and bear it, or say, Please stop equating your dog with this baby?

Do you really want to be the one who puts a value on this other person's attachment to his/her dog? Leave it alone. Be happy for anyone who feels love, and be patient with and forgiving of  well-meaning people.

Maybe this person's  attachments/passions/values don't add up, in your opinion, but unless you're at the gangplank of the Ark and the rain is coming down, there's really no practical purpose in prioritizing your affections.

Hi Carolyn,

Today's column really hit home for me. My fiance and I are in a tight financial situation right now so we're not going out that often. However, I have asked him recently to think of "cheap" dates we could have together, as sitting on the couch night after night, playing on our computers is getting old. He seems like he hears me but when I push him for "time together" he comments that we see each other every night, go everywhere together, how could we possibly spend more time together? My point is more date type I being unreasonable? Thank you!!!!

No unreasonable, no, but it does sound as if you're not communicating your thoughts in a way he understands (or he's just choosing not to understand, a whole other issue). Try framing it this way: "Okay, yes, we spend time together, but we're not trying anything new together, developing interests together, going on adventures together,  and I miss that about when we were dating."

Just make sure that 1. you're ready to do the heavy lifting on ideas and planning; 2. you realize that you can't expect "dating energy" to propel you both into regular weeknight adventures after a long day. Being able to regroup together in a heap at the end of the day maybe isn't something you cherish 7 days a week, but a few days a week, it's a gift for people of normal energy levels.  sprinkle your free time with a few carefully chosen pursuits, and see where that takes you.

How do I prevent the bait and switch in this question and in today's column? How can you ever trust people to keep their word?

You can only trust people to be human--and to grow, evolve, change one's mind, is human. If you put a high value on being able to see what you're going to get, all you can do is choose people who are comfortable with being transparent,  and whose interests seem intuitive and organic (e.g., a guy who says he wants kids -and- shows an obvious interest in being around kids, vs. a guy who says he wants kids -but- has non-kid-friendly interests and habits and avoids the kids who are around). Neither is a guarantee, but there's a good chance these qualities will allow you to see a reversal coming and prepare yourself for it.

Which brings us to the other thing, besides humanity itself, that you can trust: You. If you can trust yourself to handle it if someone promises X but delivers only Y, then it won't be as big a deal as of you gambled your entire being on getting X as promised.


I married into a family that's very close-knit and deeply into each other's business--a thousand times worse than Everybody Loves Raymond, because in addition to meddlesome in-laws there's also a strong occurrence of depression across the family tree, as well as some pretty tragic events in the recent past. I think it's a stifling, unhealthy dynamic and I want to move far away for that reason alone--I don't want to raise kids in such a claustrophobic and negative environment. Husband believes this is callous of me and that I would never dream of moving away "just because" if I weren't so distanced from my own family. (For the record, I don't consider myself distanced, I just think we have slightly healthier boundaries than my in-laws.) Is there a happy medium that doesn't involve my going crazy OR taking my husband away from his support system?

You might be able to find one in the office of a good marriage counselor (hint: both of you need to work at finding something to love and respect in the other's view of family, and then find living arrangements that honor those elements you love), but, until then, I think you're going to have a hard time going against the current at this point in your marriage.  

You've presumably agreed to living on his turf and on his terms to the extent that he hasn't even considered being somewhere else (tho maybe I'm reading that wrong?), so you're the one bringing non-agreed-upon change to the arrangements. Not that you aren't entitled--you have 50 percent say--but given the limited info we have here, it does seem as if you're the one changing the terms.

In the past 9 months, I've had a lot of good changes in my life -- I've gotten a promotion at work, gotten engaged to a great man, and am more financially stable. The problem: my two best girlfriends are taking the changes as a bad thing. Due to the longer hours of the new job, and my attempts to save up for a down payment on a house, I have less time and motivation for some of my former social activities, like weekday bar nights and expensive weekend trips. Every time I do see my girlfriends, I get guilt-tripped about how they never see me. My fiance is stressed about it because he feels like he's getting blamed for "taking me away". It's gotten to the point where I feel like I'm constantly defending myself and my life choices to my friends, and it's not enjoyable to spend time with them when I do have the chance to see them. What can I do to ease the tension that these changes have brought about? Is it time to find new friends?

Maybe, but before you do anything drastic,  you might as well start proposing things you do have the time and money to enjoy with them. See if they're really missing you the person or just you the member of a like-minded group.

Thanks so much for taking my question. I agree with you that Mom is quite often all about Mom (and my husband would definitely agree), but I think this issue stems from the fact that she really wants what she thinks is best for me. Mainly, she knows that this will set back my career which she knows have worked hard for and wnt. She gave up several careers to have/take care of us and while she realizes it was her decision to have kids, she was strong armed a bit into her current life and her marriage was/is always about what my dad wanted trumping her needs/wants. So I think she thinks I'll be making her same mistakes. Also, I don't think this will dent her ability to enjoy the event, but I think it will make the focus of the weekend on me instead of my brother and his wife. My brother often feels that the focus is on me and I fully admit he had to live in my shadow for many years, so I don't want to make him feel less special as he's earned his celebration in many ways. Maybe I should write them all (Brother, Dad, Mom) and email 2 weeks before we all converge and tell them, but say I don't want this to take away from Brother's big weekend? Thanks so much.

If you're showing, then, yes, tip them off beforehand. If you're not, then tell them at the end of the weekend if at all.

Even if you announce your news there, woo-hoo style, that doesn't mean the weekend has to become about you. You can deflect the attention, steer it back to your brother, change the subject, etc.  And it's not like you're showing up with a newborn, which can change the focus of the room instantly; you're expecting, which a lot of people greet with "congrats" and then move on to whatever else they were talking about. It's a huge deal for you, but not a huge deal for mankind.

As for your mom, just state this clearly, once: "This is my choice, and my eyes are wide open. Choosing kids over career to fulfill your hopes for me would be no different from what you had to do--kids over career to fulfill dad's or society's expectations." Done, ya?


My ex and I have failed miserably at keeping things civil between us for the sake of the kids. I'm past the point of wanting to lay blame on him, and now just concerned about whether I've done irreparable damage to my daughters (14 and 17). They're both in therapy and have great lives, happy friendships, and good self-esteem, but understandably don't show much respect to me or their father and have both expressed that they can't wait to leave home for college. Is there any way I can get them back, or is this the price I have to pay for erring so grievously for the last few years?

You can't "get" them "back," but you can choose not to challenge their lack of respect, admit your errors freely and without expectation of anything return, and start living in a way that restores your self-respect. That plus time and consistency and steady support for your kids is your best chance of re-establishing a relationship with them.

Hey Carolyn - I get the entitlement that the writer in your column expressed when she was angry at her sister for not bringing a surprise cake (or something). But I was a little taken aback with your wholesale dismissal of the importance of birthdays to adults. Surely there is an allowable middle ground between how the writer felt about her birthday and how you (seem to) feel about yours. I LOVE birthdays - it's a way to remember exactly how thankful one is for the people one cares about, just because they were born, and still here to raise a glass of something with bubbles. I don't make a parade of it (mine or anyone else's), but what's wrong with a card, or a phone call, or a dinner invite, or a small gift?

Nothing! I thought I made clear (but I guess I didn't), it's expecting it that's the problem, except from a select and well-prepared few. Receiving these things from others is a happy bonus, and should be welcomed as such.

What I take from this is that you really can't ever trust anyone. So if you want kids, then you should go ahead and adopt on your own because you could very likely end up with someone that will won't want children after all and end up with a huge heartbreaking mess. Ugh. How do I change perspective so that I can get out of the idea that its better just to go it alone if you really can't depend on anyone?

It's a long way from "people are subject to change" to "you can't really depend on anyone." I absolutely believe in trust, and in fact trust many people implicitly--it's how I get through the day, and you do, too. There's trust in transactions--the ATM will spit out money and debit my account accurately; there's trust in strangers and the institutions they represent--the bus driver and the city transit authority; there's trust in colleagues--they won't torpedo the project and blame it on you; there's trust in friends--they'll listen to your woes and not broadcast them network-wide.

When it comes to the stuff you're talking about, like whether people can make big promises re the future, it's less reliable for sure. There's the growing and changing I mentioned in that previous answer, and there are surprises (guess what! he fathered a child in college!), and there are illnesses or injuries that lay waste to all plans in one stroke. None of this is new. 

But all of this is--or at least can be--reduced to a low-percentage possibility, based on setting your priorities and acting judiciously from there. I cited the person who claims to want kids and also has, say, many years of babysitting or camp-counselor experience to prove this knack for being with kids. That's a good thing to look for if having kids is your priority. If you want to live in a rural area, then choose someone who is invested in rural life--career field, roots, hobbies--vs the city-dweller who talks a good game. I could churn out examples all day, but the point is a basic one, that you can't define "trust" to be a 100 percent guarantee of anything, but you can reasonably count on someone who walks the walk. That's as good as it gets, sure, but it's pretty good--just look around you at all the people who have successfully had families with someone, or remained in a happily-childless-by-choice couple, or who have dug into a location for decades with neither half of the couple clamoring to get back to wherever. Plans may go out the window more often than coffee at a DnD drive through, but people make it work, solo and in partnership, with the same kind of regularity. 

That's where flexibility comes in. When you spend time in  a forum like this, it'll seem like a  common problem for half of a couple to go back on a deal to have kids, but, really, it's just common in forums like this. Still, when it does happen, people have to draw on their own priorities and resources and deal with it--which they do, because the alternative is to shake your fist at life for not coming through for you. That's fine for an initial reaction, but it doesn't make for much of a life.

Not to downplay the negative effects of incivility following a divorce, but let's be clear here: these are not the first 14 and 17 year olds to express that they can't wait to leave home for college. They're both teens, more or less on the cusp of being able to take a big fat leap into a more independent phase of their lives. That's exciting, even if there haven't been years of parental crazypants going on at home. Don't read too much into it.

True. Thanks.

Somehow, parental crazypants sounds like a lot more fun that what this parent was describing. Though I can see it scaring the teenage kids out the house all the same.

Kids don't have to set back your career. Yeah, maybe you can't have a career where you work 12 hour days, but is that what your mom really wants for you? Carolyn, I'm surprised you glossed over that. Tons of working moms prove it can be done every day.

I didn't gloss over it or even consciously avoid it. I actually believe that someone going into the childrearing business--male or female--should go into it -prepared- to backburner the career, and then be pleasantly surprised if and when it turns out not to be necessary. See what your reality is, then decide what level of career attention that reality supports. I think we owe that much to kids. 

Can we also not forget that the woman had already received or had planned with her sister a phone call, or a dinner invite, or a small gift. And yet she still felt her sister didn't or wasn't doing enough. This is a woman who is impossible to make happy. Here friends surprise didn't do it, because they didn't add the sister. The thoughtfulness of her sister didn't because she didn't rush over with a cake. She not only took birthdays to a new level but she keeps moving the bar up so no one can make her happy.

Better answer than mine, thanks.

If the brother might be upset by a preg announcement on "his weekend" (FWIW), sis might consider emailing JUST HIM about a week prior and asking what he thinks. He may be thrilled and make it part of the party. Or he could ask that she say something afterwards. I know I'd be happy if my sibling chose to announce at my party, but I would appreciate a head's up prior as it could seem like a cry for attention ME!ME!ME! moment.

Sounds good, thanks.

I'm still upright and breathing (and so is the chat software)--I've just hit a vein of long questions that take a while to read. If you'd like, I'll hum a tune, kind of like on-hold music.

My husband and I are in counseling. Together 9 years, 4 married. Does it make any sense that I want him to go out in the world and flourish, possibly without me? He was just shy of 20 when we met and I'm hoping some of the counseling for us will help with some of the damage left by his childhood. I feel like it sounds like I'm making excuses to end things, but part of me does want him to grow past what he's always know and take a stand for himself in the world. I don't want him to feel tied to the past by our marriage.

It makes perfect sense to me. It might sound less like a breakup excuse, though, if you were able to come up with a go-out-in-the-world plan that both of you could do together. Peace Corps, for example, if you were both up to that level of commitment. Just something to mull.

In this club I belong to, we have a saying that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. The best way for me to curb my resentments is to cut off the source and try to let go of expectations. When I am asked to do something - say, provide for a bake sale - what are my expectation from the sale-hosts? I need to go into those situations saying, "I'm making a pan of brownies because that's the right thing to do," not "I'm making a pan of brownies so those catty SOBs finally treat me like a decent person." The latter is my instinctual reaction, and I have to talk myself into the first reaction in order to avoid the resentment.

Interesting take, thanks.

And, wow it's late. Lost track of the time. So this is goodbye, and thanks, and hope to see you here again next week.

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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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