Carolyn Hax Live

Oct 07, 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, Oct. 7 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.

Think you know a thing or two about giving advice? Enter the Post Magazine's @Work Advice Contest and tell us how you'd deal with that annoying co-worker or overbearing boss. We are accepting entries through September 18.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hi everybody. I see Karl Alzner is chatting now too, right Levi? Cool.

I took a new job a year ago with a pretty drastic pay cut for more flexibility and to be closer to the kids. This has made life for my husband easier and he is doing better at work. Additionally, I do have more flexibility in terms of staying home with the kids when they are sick, etc. But my boss, who also has young kids, expects me to work as she does - late at night after the kids are asleep, to get work done, which is, frankly, unnecessary. I can't have a conversation to change this because she is a perfectionist. But I'm pulling 1 am nights often enough that I'm starting to feel really burnt out by this "flexible" job. At what point does your sanity override how much better the situation is for your family?

I should kick this over to the @Work Advice Contest crew ... but I have an idea that might appeal to your boss's perfectionist nature. Explain to her that the 1 am work sessions don't align well with your work style, and that you're much more productive during the daytime. Also point out that you have proactively (see? Worky word!) set aside enough daytime hours in your schedule to accomplish the work she needs from you, with room for more if necessary. Then, if needed, suggest ways you can make your opposing schedules compatible for her needs. 

Hi, Carolyn, I dread going over to our relatives house for dinner. Not only is their house a mess, but their kitchen is so dirty, I am always surprised that we all don't come down with food poisioning. They have three small children so I know that contributes to the mess, but I honestly can't stomach eating meals at their house. They live close by and I can't keep coming up with excuses forever. What can I do?

Suggest a potluck, or just say you're bringing X (which is technically rude, but so is expecting your guests to enure filth, so you cancel each other out). Then, eat X and any other things that don't skeeve you, like packaged food or anything that's been cooked to near oblivion.

I will probably take fire for this, but I also think our systems are tougher against skeevy kitchens than we give them credit for. That's not true with some bugs, obviously, since stuff like E-coli and listeria  can be lethal--but these are largely about food-handling practices, which may overlap with dirty-kitchen practices but aren't the same thing.

How much dependency do you think is healthy in a relationship?

Dunno. Define dependency. Feeling as if you couldn't be happy without this person in your life is where I'd draw the line for unhealthy dependency, if you're speaking in emotional terms. 

My daughter is in the awkward phase all 12-year-olds go through. My mother-in-law loves to give unsolicited critiques of her (and everyone else). I've tried asking her nicely not to--my daughter doesn't exactly have the best self-esteem right now and internalizes everything anyone says to her. My mother-in-law seemed to understand but I think it's such a deeply ingrained part of her communication style that she can't completely stop herself. How best to handle this? I've tried intervening in the moment, but that only seems worse--it's not like I can delete whatever was already said, and it tends to draw more attention to my daughter, who hates that more than anything.

Talk to your daughter. "Grandma means well but she has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It took me a while to get used to it myself and not take it personally, so if you'd ever like to talk about something she says, please know you can come to me." And keep Grandma at arm's length, if possible and if needed, during this fragile time in your daughter's life. It's just a temporary adjustment.

Finally, don't give up on the on-the-spot interventions. A lighthearted, "Oh, Mom/Nancy/whatever you call your MIL," in response to an inappropriate comment of hers, is a good way to show your daughter you have her back without making a huge scene.

Good luck.



Dear Carolyn, Last week I took my son to play group and was told by one of the other mothers that he has been biting, hitting, and otherwise being too physical with the kids. I would be alarmed if I believed this were true, but my son has exhibited none of these behaviors at home, and as one of three kids, he has every opportunity to so. Furthermore, I don't know how this other mother could even have this info (moms don't stay at play group, they drop the kids off with one mother and leave). Not sure what to do at this point. I feel the maternal instinct to deny, deny, deny, but if there's a problem I want to correct it. So far I haven't gotten corroborating details from any of the other moms.

Get corroborating details from the other moms. That's the only way you'll know, because kids are notorious for having different sets of behaviors for different environments; just ask the dismayed parents who have watched their stubborn kids magically fall in line with the rest of the class when they enter a school or day care environment.

If you learn that your son is hitting and biting, then you're going to have to stick around at play group for a while to intervene on the spot, and guide him to new ways of dealing with his frustration. A lot of kids do hit and bite, it's not a Bad Kid rubber stamp on his forehead; it just means he needs to be taught how to channel his emotions in a more productive way--which is, if you think about it, the most important assigment a parent has with kids, and you'll need all 18 years (+/-) you're allotted to accomplish it . 

Here's what you -don't- do, possibly more important than what you do: DON'T become the parent who refuses to acknowledge any negative information about her child. That's tantamount to insisting on raising your kids while handcuffed and blindfolded. All kids make mistakes -and- (AND) have shortcomings compared with other kids. Tehy just do. And if you get mad and defensive with everyone who tries to point out where your child needs extra help, then 1. your kid will never get hte needed help, and 2. people  will stop telling you the truth about your kid--that is, until it's too late and the problems are out there for all to see, after years of missed opportunities to correct them early.


How much time is appropriate to mourn the end of a serious relationship? I had been with my live-in boyfriend for 6 years when we broke up this summer. Friends were there for me at first, but they have quickly started encouraging me to move on and seem impatient when I say I'm still adjusting. This is the person I thought I was going to marry! Doesn't that warrant a pretty substantial goodbye period?

Yes, it does, and you need to take the time you feel you need to make whatever adjustments you need. It's a big loss, I'm sorry.

But, you also have to accept that with a lot of (most?) friends, there's also a statute of limitations on talking about it as if it just happened. There just comes a time when you have to process most of your crap on your time, and if that's not working, then to take it to the office of someone you're paying to listen to you and who is trained at a more sophisticated level of emotional healing.

This isn;t to say that your friends are letting you down or failing to acknowledge the complexity of your grief; they may or may not be. I'm just saying that when the intesity of your struggle outlasts your friends' enthusiasm for listening or helping, that also tends to mean that the job is beyond a friend's (i.e., a lay person's) ability. Nothing wrong with that.  

Give this theory a try yourself by treating your grief as a kind of emotional homework, something you do on your own time, and limit what you share with your friends to need-to-knw stuff: Spare them the incremental updates, say you're fine and you're working on it all (not mutually exclusive, after all), and save the details for when you relaly feel you need to lean on someone. If that happens often, then use that as a signal to call in a pro.

Hi Carolyn, I just got a vegan roommate. I have nothing against veganism, but it's almost impossible to meet all her standards of purification. She uses a separate set of dishes (her choice, and what I think she did in past living situations), but she complains about the smells of whatever I am eating. Many times in the past she has thrown away my leftovers just because she didn't want to look at them. This seems like such a petty reason to disrupt a living situation, but it's not working for me. (I lived in the apartment first and found her on Craigslist, not sure whether that entitles me to "evict" her, as it were.) Any suggestions I may still be able to try, or are we doomed to keep bickering over this till the lease expires?

When she throws away your leftovers, she owes you money, no? Try framing it that way when you talk to her: "I realize you and I have different beliefs about what is suitable to eat. But, when you throw food away that I bought and that I was intending to eat, you're essentially throwing my money away, and that's not just wrong--I also can't afford it. Since I'm sure you don't want to pay extra rent, I'm going to ask that you leave my food alone, and in return I will do my best to be courteous about the way I package it. Deal?"

Also, whether you're entitled to evict her is a matter of leases and agreements.  


Hi Carolyn, I'm on an unmoderated site at another newspaper and it's become kind of a nasty free-for-all. Yet I can't seem to break away. What's wrong with me...obsessive? procrastinating about other activities? love drama?

Why not all three? 

...and when you talk to your 12-year-old, help her come up with things *she* can say in response to those critiques (e.g., "Grandma, I know you mean well, but that really hurt my feelings").

Excellent point, thanks.

Could you explain this more? I definitely feel as if I would be devastated if I lost my wife and it's difficult for me to imagine what life without her would be. That makes me overly dependent?

I see a difference between being devastated by someone's loss, and being unable to recover from it. You can be devastated and still recover the capacity for joy, affection, laughter, immersion in a hobby or cause--all while missing the person, and even while feeling as if a piece of you is gone. If you trust that you will eventually recover your happier emotions in the event of a loss, then I think your investment in someone is deep but healthy.  

I'm making it sound so easy to pin down when it's not, but I hope that at least makes sense.

Carolyn, My husband and I are accidentally pregnant with our second child. (I said "Later," he said "Absolutely never.") Two days ago, at six weeks, I had a scare and we spent several hours in the ER. I told him I was really frightened. He was very quiet and not particularly good company, but illness and hospitals don't bring out his best, and at least he was there and helping occupy our eight-month-old. The next day, he made a point of telling me that he was disappointed that everything turned out to be OK with the pregnancy. He said, "You got my hopes up." So I guess in theory I want him to share his feelings, but those are pretty ugly feelings and I have a general sense that he's been a giant [glass bowl]. Am I wrong? If I'm not wrong, what can I say to him?

Does he believe entirely that it was an accident? (I will continue this answer, I just want this piece first, thanks.)

Carolyn, did you take down your Facebook page? It doesn't come up any more when I search for it, and I used to follow it.

Thanks for reminding me. I've converted to the "Subscribe" system, which means you can go to my Facebook page and subscribe instead of using the Like button. When you do that, you'll get anything I post that's marked "public," which is what I'm doing with my daily links. 

Unfortunately, I didn't know when Facebook was converting me and I didn't realize the page would be unavailable for so long, so I wasn't able to warn anybody it was coming. Sorry about that.

Is anyone else unable to find me by searching FB? If so I'll visit my settings. Thanks.

One of the most poignant comments I'd read in a long time was from a farmer. He said he hated seeing people waste meat because it meant that the animal died for no reason.

I hear you. I got  a lot more careful about what I bought after reading a similar comment: "What a waste of a life." I try to use less and buy only what I'll use. Thanks.

If she throws the food away, wouldn't that just make the person buy more meat! Seems counter productive.

Another way to frame the same idea, thanks, though I doubt the roommate sees it that way, but instead probably thinks, "If it keeps disappearing, then maybe she'll realize that if she wants to eat what she buys, she'll have to stop buying animal products."

Well sure, I'd agree that feeling like I'd die without my partner would be unhealthy dependency. I'm worried more about subtle entanglements, such as the fact that in our current living situation, I have financial commitments that I couldn't meet were he to suddenly walk out on me. Or that he's included in plans I have made over a year in advance. Things like that. Thanks!

I didn't say die, I said be incapable of happiness. Different beasts.

But, okay, you're talking mainly financial commitments. If you're feeling uncomfortable with the fact that you're committed beyond your means, then you need to find a way to pull back from some of the entanglements, or at least insure yourself against losing your partner (be it to breakup, injury or death). Talk to your partner about downsizing commitments or signing documents to protect (both of) you, and bring in a lawyer as needed.

Better answer for you?


You might also want to figure out what it is your boss *actually* wants. Does she want you to be online and responsive when she is? Or is she spotting mistakes or weaknesses in your work and assuming that burning the midnight oil is the best way to address them. If it's the former, you may be stuck, but if it's the latter, try redirecting your efforts to those weakness during your daytime hours. And if you don't know why your boss needs you online, ask : "what is it that you'd like for me to address after hours? I'd like a chance to show you that I can address that during the day."

Nice, thanks.

As far as I know, he does entirely believe it was an accident. We both know exactly what happened and it was a joint error!

okay, that's important, because it takes away a reason he might feel justified in his expressing his "ugly feelings."

Now what you have is a child for whom he is equally responsible, and whom he openly wishes didn't exist. It's hard for me to say there's a road here that doesn't lead to very good marriage counseling, but I think to start--and while you hunt about for a good family therapist--it would help if you found a way to validate his feelings. I know, I know, it sounds like a horror movie. But a parent can love a child deeply and still not want another, and feel awful about not wanting another, and when another is coming, what then? Having those feelings is so taboo they can't be spoken? You speak them and you're a monster, or you hold them in and have a whole new problem to add to your original one.

So, find a way to say, "I do appreciate you're in a terrible position, and I do want you to feel safe talking to me about it." Then you point out that it's nonetheless difficult for  you to hear him wish ill on your baby--and you, since you're carrying--and move on to the matter of sorting out your feelings and finding a way to wrangle this terrible position into something good. That's the least you owe the child, to find a way to give him or her a good life with loving parents, and not a going-through-the-motions life with grudging parents. 

Does this answer only apply to romantic relationships? How much dependency is healthy in a friend/best friend relationship? How much dependency is healthy for sister/brother/mom/dad relationship?

Seems to me it applies to all--and to prized possessions, pets and jobs, too. Beware when the source of your happiness lives outside your body. That's all.

I used to be able to read your Facebook page just fine. Now (I just checked) they want me to sign up for a Facebook account before I get to see it. I have no interest in a Facebook account. There must be a way to let non-Facebookers see the page, I would think, for the purposes of promoting businesses, charities, etc.

I'll look into it, thanks. That too might be a matter for the settings dept.

You can't live with a person who thinks they have the right to control your life. Thow away your food. Sell your car. Donate your clothes. It's your life and if she can't live in a meat-eating house, she needs to move. You can't let her control your life.

That's step 2, concisely put, thanks.

HI Carolyn, I wrote in almost a year ago when I was haunted by (what I have learned are) intrusive thoughts. I started therapy, as suggested, and was tentatively diagnosed with OCD. Then Generalized Anxiety. Now we are back on OCD. I am frustrated. Is this normal? Should I go to an MD to try to figure out what is wrong with me? I am doing better than I was when I started therapy, but feel very confused. PS it is a hallmark for anxietyers and OCDers to fixate on uncertainty, so the irony here is not lost on me

Sure. Tell your therapist you'd like to get a psychiatric consult, and ask him/her to give you a few names. Also ask your regular doctor for suggestions, since the ideal case is when the two lists overlap. 

Also keep your skepticism close by at all times. You've seen firsthand that there's some art to the science, so you want to make sure you're a well informed advocate for what you need.

Maybe I'm misreading, but it sounded to me like some of this could have been self-imposed. Does the OP think the boss expects her to work at 1 am because the boss said, "I expect you to work at 1am," or does the boss just send emails at 1 am, and the OP feels guilty about not responding to them? If any part of it is the latter, then she should start with, "I notice we seem to each be most productive at different times during the day. Can we have a discussion about how quickly you need responses from me, and what I can do to be accessible without abandoning the schedule that allows me to do my best work for you?" I'm a night owl; my boss is an early bird. She would send emails at 6 am that I wouldn't answer until 11. I really worried about it, until she told me that it didn't actually matter.

Another good angle, thanks.

What is the correct response to a 5'2, 110lb sibling who goes on and on about how disgusting she is, when you're 5'5 and 185 lbs? I know I should just feel sorry for her, she has to have a seriously warped view of herself to say the things she does, but I can't help but feel like she's insulting me while she's insulting herself. She'll even do it explicitly, saying "we" need to do this this and this to be thinner and hotter, but I have enough self-hate without adding hers on there too. I've tried to tell her these subjects are off limits, but it doesn't get through. What to do?

First, you don't just tell her the subjects are off-limits when she talks about you; you walk it, too. You hang up the phone, you leave the room, you change the subject, you put on headphones, you turn up the volume in the car. Lay the groundwork first, of course, but then prepare a goodbye-topic line and use it with a firm hand. "I said I wasn't going to talk about this. Excuse me, I'm going to leave/hang up/change the subject/put on my headphones." Then Do It.

Second, for dealing with the way she talks about herself, please avail yourself of the resources available at the National Eating Disorders Association. Body image issues are notoriously difficult to address and the people with them are notoriously resistant to people who want to help them, so it's particularly important to go into these situations armed with good information. Since it's part of a family culture that you're also dealing with, there might also be good resources for you, too; the stronger you are, the better chance you have of being a positive influence in your sister's life. 

Son is in senior year, finishing up the very work intensive International Baccalaureate program. Although there is a lot of papers and projects, he will effectively be finished instruction in early February and then they prepare for the exams in May. We are trying to be as supportive as we can, and yet son flames us for seemingly inconsequential things (like asking how are things, or how an assignment is going). I realize we are probably facing a bad combo of being 17 and stress, but I don't know how best to respond. Ignoring it only frustrates him, arguing back is totally wrong, and trying to question to find out root cause leads to exasperation. He can't seem to fathom that he is facing short term pain for long term gain. Suggestions?

Okay, the micro approaches haven't worked. That means it makes sense to think macro. How invested are "we" in his success? Has he internalized these goals as his own, or is he jumping through the flaming rings because he thinks that's the son you want or expect to have? If he sees it as facing short term pain for -your- long-term gain, then there won't be much you can say that won't grate on him. 

I'm not suggesting this is the only possibility, I'm just starting with the result you describe and backing into a possible cause. But if his alienation from his goals is the cause, then you're going to have to go heavy on listening, light on queries that sound like  veiled pressure to perform ("How's X project" being chief among those), and sensitive to life outside of school. If you have a common interest, like a sports team or a type of music or a food, then use those as your conversation prompts. Don't push it, but instead prop the door open gently and wait. 

Hi Carolyn, I've been together with my boyfriend 1.5 years, we live together, it's a supportive, affectionate relationship. Lately, we've been talking about marriage and children (his initiative, and I'm on board). However, we were on a trip together recently and I noticed him emailing with a woman, this followed an incident a few months earlier where we ran into another woman he knew who I hadn't heard of. This week, I read his email, and he's been keeping in regular touch with 3 ex girlfriends, and seeing them behind my back. It doesn't sound like he's having an affair, but... I'm very upset. I confronted him, told him what I'd read, and he's been apologizing profusely since. He says he's just friends with them and didn't want to deal with my reaction to the whole thing, ergo he hid it from me. I don't know. We're in our mid 30s. Who operates this way? How can I figure out if I can trust him?

It's not that he's possibly having an affair so much as his thinking it's necessary to hide something that might bring a bad reaction. It's fine to keep some things private; people sometimes need to sort out their feelings before they air an opinion, for example--but this wasn't a thinking situation, this was regular, ongoing behavior that he concealed. Grownups share such  routines and habits with their partners and deal with the consequences. Your "Who operates this way?" says you're on this thought path already.

So, explain this to him very clearly. "I find it disturbing that you prefer hiding your actions to facing the possibility of uncomfortable consequences." See how he deals with that.

While apologizing is good and necessary, it leaves unaddressed the main question: Is he mature enough to tell you who he is and what he does when he knows it's possible it will cost him something? That's what you need know before you decide whether you can trust him, i.e., stay with him. 

Keep in mind that the husband may feel betrayed by the depth of his wife's attachment to a pregnancy that, by my math, she would have said 2 weeks ago she didn't want. Feeling "terrified" by a loss at 6 weeks , when in the abstract you said you didn't want a child now, would likely feel a bit like you weren't being honest with him. I say this as a woman who has been through both miscarriage and "scares." I know that many women feel they love their babies from the moment they discover they are pregnant, but it can't be hard to imagine that that's a difficult attachment for a man to understand.

interesting perspective, thanks.

Glad you liked my heading....but do you have any advice? :)

Wow, this has come close to happening in this new format but this is the first time it happened--I meant to click a different comment to post and posted your question by mistake. Strangely, your heading would have worked on that post. I'm going to go through the queue to find your quesion again (as well as the comment I meant to post) and give each its proper response. sorry about that. (This format is -not- user-friendly on the host's side.) 

Booty, your re-answered question should be appearing now in the old one;s place. (Levi, pls let me know if it's not there, thanks.) Now to find the comment I meant to post.

Someone that inconsiderate of your space and posessions is bound to have other issues. The vegan thing is a red herring - know plenty of nice vegans who would NEVER be so rude. What if she decided to throw out $400 leather boots? Take it from someone who's had more than her fair share of bad roommates - get her out. It doesn't have to be mean or talk of eviction, just a conversation that acknowledges the fact that the two of you seem to have different values and maybe it's not working for either of you.

This is the comment I thought was titled "Bootylicious." See? It had a boot in it, and they were consecutive. Apologies for the mis-click. 

I'm the addicted commenter. Thanks for your answer. You made me look at myself and laugh. Too true. The question I have for Stung is why her husband doesn't want any more children. It would seem to me that the solution will have to address the basic issues. If he thinks they can't afford another child maybe they'll have to rethink who works, how much money they can bring in, their spending patterns and so on. If he's not getting enough attention from her then they could work on getting more child care and having more date nights. There must be a reason he doesn't want a second child.

I'd tell you this was good, but then I'd be enabling you.

To add to your list, there's the possibility that bay care is just sleep-wrecking, peace-shattering hard work, and they could address that too by getting more child care, or just by helping him see that it's a phase. Not only does it pass, but there will come a time where the sib will actually mean less work for the parents, at least when it comes to play time.


Carolyn, thank you so much for taking my question. Your suggestion for how to discuss it with him is also helping me frame my own emotional reaction to his words. I've suggested marriage counseling before, for other issues, and he seemed quite opposed. If he won't go, I could go by myself--but what then would my goal be?

You just got a miniature (and amateur) version of it here. Counseling will help you figure out what your and your husband's feelings are and where they're coming from, by guiding you to different ways to look at and interpret the information you have. You can then use that different perspective to change the way you view yourself, your husband, your kids, and the problems that arise among you. It doesn't magically erase problems, of course, but having different approaches available to you increases the chances for a satisfying outcome. 

Staying together for the kids: bad idea, or astronomically bad idea?

Ergh, we did a whole exploration of this in a past chat--I'm going to guess a year ago last spring? But that's on the wild side of guesses. If anyone out there remembers it and can throw me a link, Alex. and I will be in your debt. 

It's actually better if we find this than if I answer your specific question, Alex., because what I published then was a bunch of testimonials that really illuminated the importance of the details in each situation. Some people were able to argue persuasively for staying put as others were just as persuasive in their arguments for splitting, and seeing what tipped the decisions--or their perceptions of said decisions--was the useful part. 

If it doesn't turn up today, email me at and I'll try to find it for next week.


Hi Carolyn, not sure how to ask this without invoking the wrath of some of the more judgmental peanuts. How do I "fire" a mean-spirited, seemingly miserable bridesmaid without (a) seeming like a Bridezilla, (b) alienating any other bridesmaids (all friends of hers), or (c) inviting any other negative consequences?

Don't fire her, talk to her. "You seem to be really unhappy--maybe with me, maybe with something else, I don't want to make assumptions. But am I reading this right?" If you get a yes, then it's likely she'll keep going with the whats and the why, and you can decide from there whether you want to offer her an out (note the phrasing). 

Even if you get a denial, you can still offer to release her from her obligation. "Okay, I'm glad to hear you're fine--but if there ever is something bothering you, I hope you'll tell me--I want being in my wedding to be something you enjoy, and if for whatever reason it starts to feel like a chore, you can tell me, no hard feelings."

Judgmental peanuts--sounds like something you find in your bowl when you haven't left the house in a few too many days.


"Not only does it pass, but there will come a time where the sib will actually mean less work for the parents, at least when it comes to play time." I thought I remembered you saying that each additional kid multiplies the work of parenting rather than simple addition. Did I remember wrong, or have you revised your opinion, or is this a "glass half full" situation? (The fate of my hypothetical family depends on this answer. So really, no actual people involved. Feel free not to answer.)

No, it's okay. I almost put in a qualifier that this applies to a second child, and that going past two for a two-parent family (i.e., exceeding the number of parents) can quickly negate the benefits of the sibling as extra playmate.

It also depends on the temperaments and the needs of the kids, the spacing between them, the parents' access to help (paid and familial), even the kids' interests. So, if you have four kids close in age, family all live far away and one kid apiece is interested in gymnastics, swimming, travel soccer and ice hockey, you're not enjoying many of the economies of scale available to big families. But if you have two close in age and they don't have backbreaking energy levels or hobbies, then they're actually going to get to an age where they entertain each other enough (and don't pull enough daredevil stunts) to let you read a magazine at the park years before another parent might hit that milestone. 

That work?




I graduated from the IB program, while working a part-time job, being active in extra-curriculars, and somehow managing a social life. Until now - when I'm returning to work for the first time as a new mom - I have not been as busy in my adult life as I was then, or had so much of my day accounted for and pre-programmed. College and graduate school were not as stressful. Be there for your son, listen to him, let him talk and lead the discussion. Don't push. The biggest gift my parents gave me was encouragement without any pressure. I was already pushing myself hard enough.

Thanks. Any examples you can offer?

I should say, examples of ways they encouraged you without implied pressure. 

Hey there, My husband (married 4 months) needs to make a dental appointment (regular cleaning) and an appointment to fix his truck. I have asked him regularly whether he has done either of these things. At this point I realize that nagging him is not working, so what do you suggest I do next? I will not make the appointments for him. Maybe you can publish this even if you don't answer it and I'll print it out for him to see how irritated I am!?!

Well, wait a minute. Maybe verbal reminders don't stick. Do you have an inkling how his memory works?

If you dont'--have you framed it for him as, "I don't want to be a nag, and certainly you got stuff done before I was in your life. So, what's the best way for me to work with that--what's a useful way for me to suggest or remind you about something? Sticky note, email, a joint online calendar ... ?"



and call it "making it work for the kids." Yes, I'm having a Tim Gunn moment. Staying together is just so....prison sentence-y and doesn't really address what needs to happen "for the kids." It's slogging through instead of rising to the challenge.

Excellent. Now what to do about "kibosh" and Tim Gunn.

I have been doing some reading on this (also is a question of mine), and found some interesting longitudinal studies that, briefly, stated how there were 3 types of marriages: 1) those where the partners were overall happy with their marriage (and hence, divorce almost *never* happened with this group), 2) where overt abuse was going on (physical, emotional, etc.) and when divorce did happen in this group, the kids fared better (as they could see how the parents being divorced helped the situation), and 3) where there was no overt divorce, but one partner wasn't happy. When divorce happened in this group, kids didn't fare better -- and once I read it, it made sense -- as the kids couldn't see that there was a "problem", and thus, they had the most trouble accepting the divorce. Sorry, I can't recall the researchers, but, the results made me step back and think about what was most important for me, my child, my marriage...

You mean overt abuse, but I get it--and it makes a lot of sense. If you ever find or recall the study, please let me know. Even as a paraphrase of a memory, this view is an interesting starting place for people to think about staying vs going. thanks.

I'm just sayin... I don't know your situation, but take this as an opportunity to reflect on whether you are tasking your bridesmaids with bridal-industrial complex craziness. Remember, it's a wedding, not the invasion of Normandy.

We hope, at least. Thanks.

My father in law passed away after a 6 month struggle with cancer about 4 months ago. While we are all sad we also feel such a huge relief to know that he's not suffering anymore and watching down on all of us. My husband is an only child (daddy's boy) and we've been married for 8 years. Our "sex life" has always been a bit on the slower side and I'm ok with that however with the passing of my father in law it's stopped completely. I have talked to my husband about it and everytime the response is the same "I'm just not in the mood". I've suggested he talk with a therapist to help with the issues around the death but he's indicated he doesn't need it. Do you have any suggestions for me? I would like to get our intimacy back.

It's hard to suggest things for people who deflect suggestions, but you might be able to bypass his defenses by directing your energy to higher-percentage ideas, like going to a movie with you, or on a day trip, whatever taps your mutual interests. 

Specifically, try to think of exercise related suggestions.Talking about sex is fraught; suggesting that you, say, take a walk together puts less pressure on him. As would a hike, a bike ride ... excercise is a known depression-fighter, and these forms of exercise are also some nice couple time for you two. And, meanwhile, using his body for that hike or ride is one way he can eventually re-establish connections to his physical self. Those get broken or neglected sometimes. Certainly grief can do it, and stress, and a sedentary lifestyle, among other things.

So, try (gently) to get moving and get closer in the process.

Dear Carolyn, My daughter, 23, is dating a 40-year-old divorced guy with a child. Yes, she is an adult. Yes, I have met the boyfriend and he is a perfectly decent, polite, seemingly quality person. I have tried to fight my feelings with rationality, but it's not working. How do I get comfortable with the fact that some guy who is nearly my age is leeching off my daughter's youth?

So much for rationality! 

Isn't it possible he just likes her for the content of her character?

This is definitely possible, if not certain: If you want them to stay together, fight her on this, or just get a light-lipped expression when you're around them. That can extend a relationship months, even years past the point where it would have ended on its own.

Focus on his quality qualities and find a smile, plus whatever else it takes for you NOT to be a factor in your daughter's thinking about this man. (Unless you sense abuse, but that's a whole other thing.)

Health aside, it's an appetite-killer to see filth or other things you associate (rightly or wrongly) with grossness. Some people's filth is other people's fine-by-me. Just make your dates non-meal get-togethers or only at your house - she may be overwhelmed and love the invite. My in-laws make fun of me because I will make my kids wash their hands before eating because they'd been playing with the dog. My FIL will scratch the dogs ears and then dig into chips. Doesn't bother them; drives me insane. I shut up, don't eat at their house (nobody notices), and invite them over more often than not.

Just seeing this--i like it, thanks.

Who is Karl Alzner?

You have checked the Live Online schedule by now instead of waiting for me, I hope--or that newfangled Googley thing--but, Caps defenseman. Did a video chat (cop out!cough cough) earlier today, with John Carlson.

I'm also interested in what Sally Jenkins has to say about sports as a college major. 

That does it for me. Thanks all, have a great weekend and type to you here next week.

"our systems are tougher against skeevy kitchens than we give them credit for. That's not true with some bugs, obviously, since stuff like E-coli and listeria can be lethal--but these are largely about food-handling practices, which may overlap with dirty-kitchen practices but aren't the same thing." huh? sorry I'm so dumb but please explain/expand what this actually means?

I just saw this--and don't need to answer, because someone else weighed in and saved me the typing:

From a food safety standpoint, messiness is not nearly as big a problem as the stuff you can't see, even in a clean-looking kitchen. Do they wash the pots and pans, the cutting boards and the dishes? Do they wash their hands while preparing food? I'm just saying - it's important to distinguish between piles of paper and homework and mail and that sort of thing, which can look messy but is harmless, and real kitchen bugs, like Salmonella from raw chicken and pathogens from unwashed hands.

That's it. Thanks. 

I'm all for studies, longitudinal and otherwise. But as a child of divorce whose parents were squarely in the third category, I'd just like to say: It depends on the kid. I was so tuned into my mom's emotional state that I knew (as early as first grade when I learned what "divorce" was) that my parents needed one. My brother was totally blind-sided, and maybe the divorce was harder for him. But for me, it was a huge relief, as if all the emotional tension just melted away. Not that it was easy, but it was way easier than watching them not be the right people for each other, and continue to hurt each other unintentionally while they were "trying to make it work" for us.

Good point, which brings us back to why the several first person accouns were so useful. It's not categories, it's specific families, which always mean more than a category (and why the remembered study is a -starting point- on thinking about this, not a prescription). 

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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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