Carolyn Hax Live: Godless addiction help, courtesy flush, bored at work, MomZilla, too much of a good nanny and more

Apr 29, 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 29 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.

I am not on Facebook so I would rather submit my update here. I wrote in last week about a mystery harrassser at work (the one that left me a sex toy as a gift and HR was no help even though we have cameras everywhere). I ended up meeting with our CEO on Monday, and thankfully, he took me very seriously. The very same day, he and our security director went through the tapes together, and lo and behold, one of the chatters that wrote in with advice hit the nail on the head. It turns out that the HR guy was protecting one of his buddies. I'm happy to report they both got fired (escorted out of the building) and won't be collecting severance because of the nature of the offense. I'm relieved because I think the creepy guy is actually harmless and his wife found out so I doubt he will be bothering me again (that poor woman). He has no idea where I live and my work gave me a new cell phone number so he won't be able to text me. Thanks to you and the peeps for your advice - I think I would have chickened out re going to the CEO if I hadn't written in.

This is good news, thank you--but I hope you do still allow for the possibility that the guy isn't harmless and that he's quite capable of finding out where you live. This isn't to promote paranoia, just to discourage you from dropping your guard completely. 

Carolyn, what is the schedule for your daily columns that feature new material? It used to be Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, with the rest being adapted from your chats. But that schedule doesn't seem to work anymore. I follow all your chats, so I am interested in just the columns with new questions.

The schedule is the same as always. The problem is, with the new system, the columns often appear with the date they were posted to the Web vs. their official publication date (i.e., the day it appears in the newspaper). That gives us the pleasure of seeing sometimes three columns in a row with the same date.

I have made the case to the powers that be that changing the dates to reflect the newspaper pub date is a useful service to readers, and I'll try making it again with your comment at my back. Thanks and sorry for the change-related frustrations. 

5 minutes into telling my mom I got engaged this past weekend, she informed me my dad (her ex) will have to die before the wedding or she will have to be tranquilized and drunk. 24 hours into my engagement, I am sick to my stomach over having a wedding, knowing that she can't let go of her divorce and will ruin it for me. She's already demanding that he will have to be at least a hundred yards away from her, etc. Instead of being happy for me, she is turning it into a pity party for herself. She didn't care when I told her it would be my day, not hers. I can't imagine getting married without my mom, but I'm barely engaged and already dreading it. She will not listen to me or my siblings when we tell her she needs to set her anger aside for this. If she won't listen to reason, what can I do?

Ignore her. She wants to make this about her, so, she can go right ahead. I realize you don't want to throw a party with the prospect of a big scene hanging over your head, or with your mom in your ear constantly about where your dad sits or who he brings or what he's allowed to do or say--but it is possible just to know and accept she's going to be the mosquito that gets inside the screened porch. Annoying, absolutely; painful, possibly; surmountable? Totally. Just do your thing, have a few noncommittal phrases ready--"I'll seat Dad at a table across the room from you but the rest is up to the two of you"--and let the freakouts fall where they may.

Hi Carolyn, My wife and I are parents to two beautiful, wonderful kids, aged six and two, both adopted at birth. I am estranged from my family, who did not want us to adopt an African-American baby (FWIW, my wife is Caucasian and I'm Asian-American). So, for the past six-plus years, other than a couple of phone calls that have ended poorly, I have not seen my parents nor have they met their grandkids. It's not as awful as it sounds--I've never had a happy family life and in many ways my life is better off this way, as cold as that sounds. My wife's family has been superb and has really stepped up to the plate in providing a loving, nurturing environment for our kids. Anyway, my son (aged six) is now getting to the point where he is starting to ask questions about my parents. It hasn't really come up yet, but I think it will soon. I would really appreciate any advice or insight you might have on how to approach this. My biggest concern is that my son somehow does not take away from our talk that he was the cause of the estrangement between myself and my family, that it's his fault. Thank you for any help!

The cool thing about a young kid's questions is that they may touch on very deep and difficult issues, but the answers don't need to be deep and difficult. Not yet at least. Your answer need only be true and sufficient to satisfy your son's curiosity. 

So, if he asks why he doesn't know the other set of grandparents, you can say that you and your parents have chosen not to spend time together. Then you wait for the next question, and answer that one with another small piece of the whole answer.  And so on. 

Often there isn't even a follow-up question because the piece of an answer you offered was enough. Because a small child's ability to comprehend your answers will eventually hit a limit, in most cases you won't have to answer the Big Question until many years of small-answer groundwork are behind you. 

Because the punch line of your story is so emotionally fraught, it is a good idea to figure out what you're ultimately going to say to your kids when they're old enough to hear the whole story. Even then you're going to need to be very clear that the estrangement was a choice -you- made for your own benefit and one you'd make it again. 

Dear Carolyn: As a working parent, or as someone who hears from lots of working parents, do you have any insight into signs your child might be getting too attached to your nanny? I have a happy, healthy 2-year old, and we have been lucky to have the same wonderful, caring nanny since he was three months old. She lives with us, so often she is around even when off-duty and, because she is not a U.S.-native we include her, when she likes, on family outings evenings and weekends. Its been great in many ways because my husband and I leaving for work causes our son no stress; I think it is all very natural to him because she is a part of the family; and he is in great hands while we are gone. He went through a brief seperation-from-mom anxiety phase at about 16 months, but it passed very quickly. We've noticed, lately, though, that at times he wants to play with the nanny rather than us, or asks for her when she' s not around. A part of me says this is good -- I have so many friends whose kids cry when they leave for the day or drop them off at daycare -- but the other part worries he doesn't understand who the parents are. Is it possible this is just a phase, or is it something to be concerned about?

If the caregiver were Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie/Uncle, would you have this same concern?

As long as you have a nanny, I think it's vitally important for the nanny to be someone your kid loves, trusts, enjoys and looks forward to seeing. As you said, the alternative of having your child pining for you all day is not appealing (though, fwiw, the crying at dropoff rarely equates to pining all day; it's usually just a transitional blip. But anyway ...). 

There's also some chance of a phase being involved, because all kids go through times where they prefer one parent to another, say, and show it without filtering to account for anyone's feelings--"No, I want DADDY!!"

And there's also little chance your child will grow up to sue you for emancipation so he can be adopted by the nanny. Over and over and over throughout history it's the parents who accompany their kids through life no matter how many others play how big a supporting role.

All that being said, there are plenty of adults who can tell stories of the person they regard as their true parent--and who is not a parent. Your bond with your child isn't about the nanny, it's about you and your child. As long as you're not leaning on the nanny as a fill-in mom, it's not going to have long-term repercussion for you if your son leans on her that way during the hours she's "on."


Carolyn, I am bored to tears at my job. There are times when I am so busy I could drop, but today, as in every day this week, I have finished all my taskings by 11am. I do ask for more work, and have been given extra duties, but I still sit, every day reading facebook, googling this or that, planning my menu for the next week, etc. I've done my taxes, written thank you notes etc. This has been going on for years. I'm well thought of, often given difficult tasks to complete. But the on going boredom is insane. I'm over paid for this job, and can't afford to leave. Do I have an option other than sucking it up and drinking lots of caffeine each day?

Online courses? Charity work? There have to be things you can do on the computer during your dull spells that have a long-term benefit. Normally I'd qualify that with, " ... if your employer allows it," but since you've already set a  precedent of burning the time on personal things, I can't see why there would be a problem suddenly if those personal things served a larger purpose. I mean, hell, get a syllabus for an interesting course and assign yourself all the reading. There aren't many limits to the possibilities.

Hi Carolyn -- I'm 7 months pregnant with my first baby (and first grandchild), and my family is throwing me a baby shower, which is lovely. I have also had some friends mention in passing something about throwing me a baby shower, but nothing has been planned. I'd like to make sure all my friends and family are invited to one or the other shower, but since I don't know if there will be more than one, I'm inclined to invite most everyone to the family-thrown shower. Here's my question -- if my girlfriends want to throw me another show (which would probably be more "grown-up" = no games, etc.), is it tacky to invite some friends to both? I don't want to come across as gift-grabby and would like to extend the invitation, assuming there is a second shower, with some kind of statement like "I would really just enjoy having you at the shower. Please, no gifts." (Of course, that could bring up another problem if they don't bring anything but everyone else does.) Right now, there is only one shower in the works, so I don't know if this will be a problem, but I also don't want to assume there will be a second shower and leave people off the invitation list of the one currently being planned. How do I deal with this? I just want to celebrate with everyone without coming across as greedy.

Your family technically shouldn't be throwing you a shower at all--it's considered an etiquette "don't" because it equates to soliciting gifts for yourself--so one way to go at this is to invite just family/family friends to the family one. (This is where your mom, for example, can round up all the friends she's swapped kid stories with for years.) 

Your friends might not throw you a shower after all, but that's their prerogative--and if they do throw one you won't have to worry about hitting them up twice.

I don't think you really need it here, but in cases where there's a risk that you are hitting people up twice, you can make one of the showers a "bring your favoritre children's book" party, which are a winner all around--cost, meaning, value to parent and child, goodwill among friends ... 


Confidential to the poster whose stalker got fired--would you be willing to post your email address to me? I won't reveal it, I just need to get you some information (I'll know it's you.) Thanks.

My advice based on my own Asian grandparents would be to send them, the grandparents, periodic updates on your kids lives, especially as pertains to academics, sports, etc. and hope they finally come around before your kids hit their teens. It takes awhile, but I think the issue is just time making them accustomed to something they didn't originally like.

This may not be true of these grandparents, but the best part of your advice is that there's no harm in doing it; if the grandparents never come around, then no one is any worse off for the effort of sending the updates. 

Psych major update, still working on the relationship recovery (emotional/physical cheating) - we both want to work it out, are doing counseling, but curious about some general "rules".... should the person that cheated be in touch with the affair-girl, chat,email or otherwise, at all (person lives 10 hours away so not passing in a workplace or anything)? Should be an easy answer, I know. And if I see that he's chatting (innocently he says), is there a way to say "stop" (you idiot) nicely? WWCD?

If he's still in touch with other women online, after cheating on you with women he met online, then he doesnt' "want to work it out." At least not in a way that costs him his hobby of messing around with women he meets online. I'm sorry. The person who will be true to you is the one who doesn't need you to establish and enforce a set of rules for him to live by. 

Hire a wedding planner. Seriously, this is why we were invented. You would be amazed at the difference it can make. A. She's not related, so your mom (might ) be on better behavior for her B. You'd be amazed at how often this happens, and there are absolutely ways to deal with it. C. With a wedding planner, it'll enable you to enjoy your day, and the wedding planner can run interference. "Your Dad's too close".. "Talk to the wedding planner Mom". Plus, a truly good one will just miraculously keep her away from you when she's gripping and she'll appear when she's being happy. Congratulations!!

Can't argue with the pragmatism of it, thanks. 

I flush very easily. Pretty much any time I have to speak to someone I don't normally interact with, I feel the color rising in my cheeks. These are not embarrassing conversations, so I'm not sure of the cause other than being slightly uncomfortable talking to someone I don't know well. And, of course, turning beet red makes me even more self-conscious. Do you or any of your readers know of a strategy to stop blushing???

I don't know of one, but I'll post it in case someone does.

Actually, I don't know of one other than just giving up and knowing you'll do it sometimes. Involuntary actions in general are a much bigger deal to the people who have them than they are to the people who witness them.


hi carolyn. BF and i are both 29, have been together 10 months. 2 weeks ago he asked if i wanted to move in together. i said i wanted to wait until we were on a more definite marriage timeline (are waiting for him to finish grad school in about 2 years) but after talking for a few days we decided we are on the same timeline for marriage, kids, etc. and that we'd plan on moving in together this fall. earlier this week he shared that he's started to feel very anxious about the marriage part of it, similar to the anxiousness he got during a prior engagement before he ended things. he insists he is very much in love with me, that he still wants to move in, and that plans to find a therapist to discuss this anxiety with as he identifies it as "his issue" and something that he doesn't want to affect "us". and he feels a lot better now that he shared his anxiety with me, which i appreciate, except that now i'm the anxious, stressed one. i'm feeling a little rejected, definitely deflated, and am not sure how to cope with this. can you put things in perspective for me? thanks.

Actually, he gave you a huge if backhanded compliment--his telling you the truth means he trusts you. He didn't just disappear on you, as so many people do when they start feeling doubts.

What you do now is really important. First, I think you need to postpone the moving-in plans until you're both ready to get engaged. Neither of you needs the kind of pressure right now that living together would create. You share an address when you're ready to say you're sharing a life, and no sooner.

And, I think you need to summon the strength not to feel sorry for yourself and instead be grateful his doubts are out in the open--and, again, that you were the one he entrusted with them.

And, you need to wait to see what he does now. Will he find a therapist, go regularly, do the hard work? Whether he's good to his word is so important, and not just on this, but on everything you might face if you remain a couple.

The one possible hitch in this approach is that he might see your change of heart on moving in as punishing him for admitting his doubts. You'll need to be careful to say that you're not punishing him, you're grateful he told the truth, and you're trying to make the decision that gives your relationship the best chance to  succeed--and that gives you both room to figure things out as he addresses his anxiety. It's a big deal, both his having anxiety and admitting it, and it's right to treat it as such.

I don't see a link to last week's chat. was the stalker discussion from April 15 (I assumed you took last week off for the holiday) or am I missing the link? Thanks in advance!

Sorry, just added it.  Being producer Jodi is hard! Here's the original stalker question.

Hi Carolyn, I know I'm being unreasonable but I also know there is a deeper issue here and I need help separating the two. My new husband announced to me a couple of weeks ago that he is going to the beach with his parents for Memorial Day weekend to help them get the place ready for the season and hang out. He has a history of making plans on inopportune days like, for instance, Valentine's weekend and our first anniversary. I asked him to do it another weekend because I want to do something together for the long weekend. I should note that I don't get along with his father and can't, for reasons of sanity, go with him for the weekend. I am very upset, and I know rationally he should go and its not that big a deal. However, we do most everything together and he would be very hurt if I left him hanging in this way. In fact, I hang out much less with my friends now than I did before him, which is a separate issue. To make this all worse, I thought we had agreed he would move it to another weekend and just found out he was planning all laong to go and was trying to go around me to avoid the conflict. He's not big on conflict. I see this as the much larger problem. Sooo, which parts of this fight do I pick and how do I handle this rationally? Thanks!

As I read this I started forming an answer to the inopportune-plans part ... then I mentally chucked that and started forming an answer to the part about his double-standard for the way each of you budgets your time ... then I crumpled up those thoughts and started on an answer for his deceptive tactics for getting his way ... and lit that on fire a couple of words into it because of the bit you tossed in at the end about his conflict averson.

So here's my answer now: Marriage counseling. (With the usual disclaimers--find someone reputable, capable, compatible.)

And over Memorial Day weekend, go away with these friends you don't see as often any more. Sounds as if you need the perspective that only a few days with your old self can bring.

Why should the adoptive parent send his folks updates on his kids? He said he's much happier with them out of his life. How could that possibly make the situation better?

Because it doesn't hurt him to initiate a one-way conversation, and it props the door open for the grandparents to find their hearts. They're already fully estranged, so the parents have no reason to welcome the grandparents back except on terms the parents dictate--should it ever come to that. And why make it final? Why can't it just be "final as long as you take this unacceptable position"? 

I had nannies practically until I went away to college, due to two busy working parents. Some were great, and some were terrible. Think about it this way- your child will one day be grateful to you for leaving him in the care of someone who understands him and who he gets along with, rather than someone who doesn't. You're the one hiring his nanny, and having one who he connects with indicates that you know and understand him. He'll realize that when he gets older.

Nice way to look at it, thanks--though I can't imagine she's seriously considering hiring a less appealing nanny just to keep his loyalties in line ...

Can you explain to me why a shower thrown by your family appears to be soliciting for gifts your yourself, but one thrown by friends doesn't? This has confused me for years. My husband's sister threw our wedding shower a few years ago. Nobody seemed to think this was out of the ordinary at all. A recent baby shower I went to was thrown by the mom-to-be's mother. In my opinion, it doesn't matter who throws the shower - the point of it is to bring gifts.

I think it's based on the idea that money runs within families but not between friends. So if your mom or sister wins the lottery, then your family just got richer, but if your friend wins the lottery, then you're no better off (unless you wear the same shoe size and she likes to purge stuff from her closet). 

Pick something related to your field, and let your boss know you're doing it. Or pick something you've always been interested in. Get into the habit of filling slow/down time with useful stuff, it'll pay off in the end.

It has to. Has reading something interesting or thought-provoking ever felt like a waste of time? 

This is a small matter but I would really appreciate your advice. I just found out the hard way that one of my friends is pretty crazy about her birthday. Last week she called and let me and 3 other friends know that we were ruining her birthday by not having anything planned, mentioned that we did this last year as well. She is in her 30s and didn't ask the 4 of us prior to the email to plananything, nor has she ever planned anything to celebrate our birthday's in the past few years, not a big deal to us, apparently a huge deal to her. Long story short I capitulated and helped whip birthday plans into shape, dinner yes, drinks afterward, yes, invited friends, yes: then she wanted "to make the whole day fun" so I planned a salon visit per her request. Sigh. I know it was my choice to not put my foot down with her, but I just kept saying yes and making whatever she wanted happen. Other 3 friends are feeling a bit resentful like me as well, and this celebration will be going down starting in a few hours. How do I shake the pissed off and resentful feelings i have toward her, her demands, and my involvement now and just try to enjoy the fact that it will be fun(hopefully) to be all together tonight?

Turn the po'd feeling on yourself because, you're right, you made all these choices yourself; no one made you do it. Then decide what you want to do with your po'd feelings--pout through your pedicure, or extract something akin to pleasure out of your abject capitulation? You said yes, so, with apologies to Thoreau, go suck the marrow out of that yes. Pleasure sounds like the better bet.

And since spa/salon treatments tend to be sequential exercises in tedious imprisonment, you can use the time to compose a toast--with, say, the specs for the party you'd like her to plan for you on your birthday, or the announcement that you're considering yourself officially off the hook for her birthday until 2021.

Tomorrow you can reserve for a private self-tutorial on the beauty of saying "no." 

I wonder if I'm just being too uptight about this, or if some of my office mates are just rude. I work at a shared-office space (ie, think of an office that rents out cubes/space to entrepreneurs, freelancers, etc.). The kitchen is a common area, but I find that sometimes I'll be in the kitchen with an office buddy, engaged in conversation, and then a 3rd person will enter, and jump into our (somewhat private) conversation. Ex: Yesterday, my friend joe was telling me that someone had stolen his credit card and racked up charges. Joe and I were in conversation for awhile; at this point, Dave, sitting nearby, says to us (even though we weren't making eye contact or including him): "That happened to me once! And it's so hard to fix, blah blah blah..." Part of me wanted to snap at Dave, "We weren't talking to you," but then a tiny, tiny part of me thinks, "You're in a common area." What are your thoughts, Carolyn?

"Entrepreneurs, freelancers, etc.," as well as, ahem, people who primarily work from home, often struggle with a sense of isolation, since work takes up the bulk of the typical adult's waking hours five or more days a week, and the solo flier often doesn't have meaningful (or just pleasantly meaningless) interaction with anybody throughout long spells of those days. And, yes, you're in a common area. So when someone parachutes into a conversation that's not deeply private, please consider erring on the side of humanity and welcoming others in. 

I am too. I've brought it up with my supervisor a few times and I've still got tons of time on my hands. One problem is I don't want to keep reminding them that I'm underworked. So I've been keeping my ears open, listening for any word about new projects coming up and sure enough I've found one I can jump in on. I spoke with the person in charge of the project and she's glad to have me on board. In fact, it looks like this could springboard into a new position for me even after the project is completed. So look for opportunities and speak up with something interests you, but keep it on the down low that you don't have anything to do.

This applies even if you're not bored, thanks.

Maybe you are too young to understand this but what does one do when getting old? It seems I don't have the energy that I once had. My quality of life is going down. I need to find a better job but I am getting nowhere. I look at the future and it seems so bleak. There is nothing to hope for. There is nothing to look forward to. How do I cope with the next 20 years of misery?

Please get screened for depression. I do know what getting old feels like--if not to be old, then at least to be aging, since my arms aren't long enough for me to read fine print any more, my first few steps after getting up from a chair are mincing followed by limping before it turns into walking, and my metabolism disappeared one day without even leaving a note. But while my body is a disappointment, the future if anything looks more interesting than it ever has--and that's not because what faces me personally is exceptional. It's because the longer we occupy earth, the more knowledge we have about what it has to offer. A lot of it is painful, sure, but a lot of it is [stinkin] brilliant. You have this knowledge too.

It's hard to take advantage of what the world offers when you're under a cloud of hopelessness, one that's quite possibly a medical condition. So please address the hopelessness you're feeling as something not related to age (and therefore inevitable), but instead as an independent problem that needs your attention. 

So a friend of mine had the opportunity to meet my future FIL in all his childish, sexist-joke-making, benignly obnoxious glory. Within five minutes she was totally offended by him--I used to feel the same way, but have basically grown desensitized and now just sort of tune him out. But my friend was really annoyed by his behavior, and was also offended by the fact that I didn't jump in and censor him for her benefit. In her mind, if I really objected to the way he expresses himself, I would jump in and protest whenever he starts up. I just don't see it that way; it's not worth correcting people all the time, particularly not older ones who aren't likely to change. And if I have to be around this guy on a regular basis for the next who-knows-how-long, I might as well do what I've already done, which is to develop an armor against it. Right?

It sounds right for you, and that's the standard that applies here, I believe--you see him as childish and benign. Nuff said. For which I'm grateful, since his being caustic or powerful would require a more activist answer involving careful line drawing. 

In the future, though, it couldn't hurt to give people like your friend a brief tutorial on the way your FFIL is and the way you've chosen to deal with it.

BTW, your friend is right in one sense, that "if I really objected to the way he expresses himself, I would jump in and protest whenever he starts up." You very well might, because in this case you don't "really object." You see him as an anachronism best brushed off without fanfare. That's a calculation a lot of people make, and it's often a legitimate one, though it does tend to expose fault lines with those who feel drawing a harder line is appropriate.

After my divorce, my ex-husband refused to see our son. He told me he's never see him again. He was punishing me obviously. I very carefully answered my son's questions to try to minimize his hurt and to the extent possible not make his father sound like a jerk. I sent my ex school reports, photos, letters with updates about my son's activities. I avoided judgment, accusations, ugliness. Finally, after 15 years, my ex contacted my son on FaceBook. They are building a relationship now and my son never had to know what an a-hole his father was. I'm happy for my son and very proud of the way he has graciously allowed his father back into his life.

Believe me, he knows. But he didn't hear it from you--and that's huge. Thanks for this.

Not exactly the same situation, but I used to lead an international group at work, I used to make cakes for everyone's birthdays. Inevitably, sometimes I would forget someone's birthday and feelings would get hurt, plus it was a lot of pressure. Finally, we decided that we would have celebrations in what we called the "Siberian" way (in honor of own Siberan colleague's method), that is, when someone has something to celebrate, *they* plan the celebration. I would suggest adopting this among your friends- tell her that, once you hit 30, birthdays should be celebrated the "Siberian" way, and if she wants a day of fun, she can plan (and pay for) it, and you'll be delighted to make the commitment to join in. And the rest of you can do the same on your own birthdays.

This is a thing of beauty. Thank you!

Hi, Carolyn. I'm finishing my graduate degree, and I've been applying for jobs. Hooray! My problem is that my boyfriend of three years will only move if I go "someplace cool". I understand not wanting to move right away since he owns his place and would need to find a new job. But this declaration has me thinking that this is a relationship of convenience for him, which really hurts. Am I missing something?

This is funny (interesting, not ha-ha, though there's a little of that, too). On the one hand, you have the two of you in mind as a couple, and so you're probably thinking, "What happened to 'we' and 'us' and 'Home is wherever I'm with you'?" On the other hand, in a practical sense, can you really expect him to get excited about moving someplace dreary or remote or lacking in something he values?

What's missing here isn't the right phrasing or attitude from him; the omission is a couple of steps back, before you started applying for jobs. That's where two people who are -both- committed to a relationship talk about the possibilities for your job hunt. You talk about cities that have something to offer you, he weighs the idea of moving there, and together you decide if that's a place you'll apply. 

The way things are now, you're both acting as independent agents--at least that's the way it looks from here.


An etiquette question. I went into use the facilities at the office, sat down, and noticed the smell was HORRIFIC! I was hoping the whole time nobody would walk in, thinking it was me. Sure enough, as I was washing my hands, someone walked in. I wanted to tell her "It wasn't me!" but I decided to just walk out, thinking she wasn't going to believe me anyway. What should I have done?

No doubt you've left a few special calling cards in your day. Did you hang around the wash basins with your hand up, saying, "Mine," until the air was clear? I think not. You left them for your stall successor to own by default. Write this one off as cosmic payback and forget about it.

It's not an etiquette question, it's philosophy. 

My ex-husband's wife got in touch with me saying he pushed her into a wall and she suffered multiple fractures on her knee cap and a wide gash on her forehead. My marriage with him had ended when my ex fractured my elbow after I found out that he was cheating on me. She wants to know what happened between us. I'm not sure if she has left him. What should my response be? Should I tell her, or should I for the sake of my safety and my son's not respond?

Please call in a seasoned abuse counselor to help you figure this one out: 1-800-799-SAFE. Call now, get the step-by-step.

Hi Carolyn, in the last 2 months a sibling has passed away after a long illness, I discovered my SO is an alcoholic, and one of my parents has been diagnosed with MS. SO doesn't think he has a problem--he has dragged his heels on getting into counselling--and after a 3 weeks dry period he started drinking again this week. I'm juggling grief over my sibling's death and concern over my parents with an incredibly stressful job situation at the moment.....I cannot take on my SO's issues with alcohol if he's not committed to recovery. Am I a bad person if I tell him I need a break from him and his drama until he is in active recovery?

No, you have to do what you need to do--not adjust your actions to suit his alcohol dependency. If he weren't drinking, but you were upset with him for another reason as all this other stuff was going on, you'd probably just go ahead and take your break, right?

Al-Anon might be a useful place to sort all this out, including the grief, believe it or not. I'm sorry about your sib.

I think I have a substance abuse problem, but I don't want to go to NA because I'm an atheist and don't think I can "let go and let God." What should I do instead?

Go anyway. If the meeting you attend is God-centric, ask about other meetings, or switch to AA and shop those meetings for one that's more your style. The "higher power" isn't God, necessarily--it can be goodness or reason or whatever you regard as an entity that's bigger and more enduring than you are.

Think of it this way--when people have big things to wrestle with, often they take comfort in seeing mountains or skylines or the beach. Why? Because these monumental things make a person feel small and impermanent. So all you need for the higher-power process is the idea of something that makes you, by comparison, small and impermanent. It's about bringing your problems down to size. 

A friend sent me kind of an awkward email asking for help with bills before she starts a new job. It's a large amount of money and I'm not comfortable getting involved in her financial situation. I responded "sorry, I can't help" without getting into details -- I'm not really comfortable getting into my financial situation by way of explanation to her, either. Why do I feel so guilty about this? Do I just need to toughen up and learn to say no?

Well, you said no, rightly, so all you need to do is toughen up. But even then, feeling bad doesn't mean you're weak, necessarily; it could just mean you have a heart and feel bad for turning away a friend in need.

I'm not trying to compound your guilt; you could just as rightly feel annoyed with her for putting you in this position. The middle is the best place to be here--split the blame in half, let the halves cancel each other out, and just feel bad that your friend is up a tree.

Hi Carolyn, I've decided I don't want to get married, now or ever. The reasons for this are numerous and serious, and I know that I'm not going to change my mind. The problem is I'm not sure how to reveal this to my girlfriend, whom I've been dating for one year and two months. I can easily imagine her interpreting this as my wanting to break up, which I don't. What do you suggest?

Tell her straight out, this weekend, and include both your "numerous and serious" reasons and also your fear that she will interpret this as your wanting to break up when that's not what you want.

Just know that she might want to break up once she finds out marriage isn't in your future. That's her prerogative, and loving and caring about her mean you have to let her choose what she needs. In fact, you owe it to both of you to be completely transparent about your plans and goals, because postponing the reckoning till later will only make it worse.

No, she wouldn't have believed you. A few weeks ago another woman who was already in the restroom DID go out of her way to tell me the smell in the bathroom wasn't her. I wasn't even associating it with her until she said that. Then I totally thought it was her. And you know what? I still like and talk to her even though she did a stinky in the restroom.

What if she blushes? Or jumps into conversations? Happy embrace-our-humanity day.

And so what if she did think it was you? What's she going to do, have you fired? Tell everybody you stunk up the bathroom? She won't even remember tomorrow, so just forget it. (Plus, I guarantee you, she's stunk up a bathroom or two in her day. Everybody does.)

Dogs have the right idea. They seem genuinely startled, and then thrilled, by what they produce. Dogs and 6-year-old boys. 

Carolyn, I loved your answer above about aging (and agree the OP sounds depressed). My issue: I have a few friends who lately are complaining A LOT about how old they feel, on their own and whenever we're around younger people. We're all the same age, early 40s, but this is just beginning to depress me to hear that so repeatedly. Any response I could give them, besides, "Well, growing older is better than the alternative?'

Why not embrace it? Stick up for your age the way you'd stick up for an absent friend who was being complained about in your presence.

Thanks. I have tried to get him involved in this, even before I began applying. He said that he didn't want to hold me back, that I should just apply for everything and we'd discuss it what I had an offer. Now I'm doing interviews, so still nothing is decided. I thought then that we weren't on the same page, and this just confirms it.

It's okay to come up with the response now that maybe wasn't at your fingertips then, for various reasons. Remind him that he said, "You should just apply for everything and we'll discuss it when you have an offer." and then say you've thought about it, and if there's a city he wouldn't consider, you'd rather know it now. Explain that he wouldn't be holding you back, and instead he'd be helping you avoid spinning your wheels, and maybe even prevent some tough decisions.

If he still declines to engage, then you need to choose a job/city as if you're going alone, and see how that sits with you. 

Just let go. "Letting god" means accepting that whatever's going to happen will whether you throw a fit about it or not. I don't know if I believe in god, but I believe the world revolves on an axis that isn't me - something I didn't grasp before recovery. God's existence or lack thereof has been a miniscule part of my recovery.

Thanks for weighing in. It's letting the chips fall where they may, if God-free cliches make it easier to accept. 

The woman concerned about the nanny might want to think of her kids like dogs. Their love isn't finite. Love for the nanny doesn't take away love from you. Nanny isn't a threat, just another vessel.

Great stuff, thank you.


That's it for today. Thanks all, have a great weekend and type to you here ne ... actually, I just realized I have a conflict next Friday. I'm going to have to check with Jodi to be sure, but let's pretend I'll be on next week on Thursday at noon; I'll post the confirmed date/time to Facebook,, and make sure the Live Online schedule reflects the change, too.

Also, on the social media subject, don't forget Twitter: @carolynhax and @ngalifianakis

Aaaand, finally,  we've been working on a group page that allows readers to interact more, and also includes a page where I (and others) can post resources that I mention a lot in the column. The URL is, and it's still a work in progress, but have a look and let me know what you think.

Try Rational Recovery. Same idea for atheists....

Yup, thanks.

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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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