Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Dec. 2)

Dec 02, 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, Dec. 2 at noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got 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. Just a reminder, today is NOT the holiday chat. That's next Friday, the 9th. Today is when you ask questions in hopes of preempting holiday incidents that wind up in next year's Hootenanny. 

As always, look for more stuff on Facebook or @carolynhax and @ngalifianakis on Twitter.

BTW, there were sitewide problems this morning at, so if you couldn't get the column or weren't able to comment, then please try again, all is well now.


Hi Carolyn-- I recently got married, and days after our wedding, a good friend lost his job. My husband and I are givers, and we were totally willing to let our friend stay with us when he moved to our town to look for a job. Now, having been in the unemployed boat, I understand how difficult it is to be looking for a job. Problem is, it doesn't seem like he is actually looking, and its been almost a month since his last day of work. I would be more okay with everything, but he isn't even cleaning up after himself and I'm starting to feel like a maid in my own house. This morning I stumbled to the bathroom and fell into the toilet (seat was up) and discovered there was no toilet paper left. Ahh! How do I encourage this friend to get his act together without seeming like a jerk? We aren't asking him to pay for anything, and we are even helping him out with the parking situation at our house (temporary street parking permit). Help!

Oh my goodness. This is your friend, right? You sit down with him and say that you've felt really fortunate that you were in a position to help, but that you need him to do his part, too, which iuncludes cleaning up after himself, chores--have him choose a few as part of this conversation--and actively job-hunting. If he treats you as if you're a jerk for drawing some lines he should never have forced you to draw, then he's the jerk here. This applies not just to your friend but universally--call it the anti-pushover code. 

If this is more your husband's friend than yours, then he gets the honors of having the talk.


My brother's soon-to-be-ex girlfriend is coming to the family Christmas celebration at my parents' house. It's a dysfunctional relationship that is no fun to be around, and why she is coming is anyone's guess, and yes, my brother should just pull the plug, but luckily for you and me and the peanuts, that is out of our hands. Here's the thing: She hates dogs. My family has, since last Christmas, acquired a dog, and my parents invited us to bring the dog back when we thought brother's GF wouldn't be coming. Mom says dog invitation stands. Kids want us to bring dog. Is it obnoxious to do so knowing GF won't be happy about it? (She's not allergic or phobic, just views them as overly friendly gallumphing furballs, which is what we like about them.)

This is between you and your host, so, bring the dog (unless you have any reason to believe the ex will mistreat your dog when no one's looking; then it gets more complicated).


Hi Carolyn, Love your work. I wanted to add a comment related to the recent letter about the mother-in-law buying "trivial" family gifts possibly with money from the son & daughter-in-law. As one who is financially responsible for my own in-laws, neither my husband nor I believe that providing the money gives us the right to say how his parents spend it, unless of course, they were gambling addicts or mentally incapacitated, but that is a different issue altogether. Once we give the money, it is their money to save or spend as they choose. And yes, sometimes we do receive unwanted trivial gifts that come from the funds, but so what? We believe it is more important to allow someone to live independently. By the way, I should point out that this may be a cultural difference. My husband and parents are from a collective society in Asia, very much "all for one and one for all." So the concept of "ours" is much more prevalent than "yours and mine". As an American, it was not a world-view that I was familiar with at first but now understand and support.

Thanks for weighing in. 

I think this can be a deceptively complicated issue, and the details of the letter I got didn't open up the more interesting passageways of the labyrinth. Mainly, it's easy to defend a dollar-store gift. 

But what if the details of the letter had included expensive gifts--or, alternately, dollar-store gifts in such a quantity as to involve past bankruptcies and a current collection of maxed out credit cards? That to my mind vaults it to the gambling-addict ranks.

I'm not sure the answer changes, in that the fundamentals don't change when the details do: This is another adult's choice and therefore not yours to control, and the decision you do control is whether to keep giving the spendthrift parent money for bills. And whether to accept gifts that are so tainted by bad judgment.

However, even when the answer stays the same, the level of anguish associated with it goes up dramatially. What jumped out at me from the letter I did get (instead of the hypothetical complicated one) is that the writer was treating it as the bigger problem when in fact it was well within the ugh,-let-it-go range. 



I have become a master of wasting time. I thought not having the internet at home would fix this, but it hasn't helped *at all*. I mean, if I'm going to be this good at something, I'd rather it be my job. Help?

There are as many approaches as there are reasons you don't focus.

ADD/ADHD? Get professional treatment (

Depressed? Get a different kind of professional treatment (

In the wrong line of work? Contact your school's career office for ideas on evaluating and applying your strengths. Or just see whether your time-wasting habits contain any interests or skills you can parlay into a payday.

Not cut out for a work-at-hom environment? See if you can get back to an office; if you don't have access to one through your company, look into cooperative office spaces.

Not getting enough sleep and/or excercise and/or not eating well? Clean up your habits and see whether that sharpens things up.

Disorganized? Plop yourself in the section of a bookstore or library that offers books on organization strategies, and see if one of the approaches pops for you. Or, use the library's Internet connection to check out, which some readers over the years have told me they swear by.

Just don't put off parsing this list until Monday.

Also make sure your brother knows you're bringing the dog so he can warn her. She might not come and then everyone wins!

Right, right, thanks.

This raises the question of why there isn't a post-holiday chat dedicated to the holidays and situations such as this one.

Just think of all those situations people won't submit because they haven't aged enough to be funny yet. Distance is our friend here. 

I suspect the friend is depressed. Not an excuse for boorish behavior, but basically you'd be doing him a favor by giving him a gentle kick in the butt. Don't walk on eggshells around him or hide your expectations.

Yep, unemployment and depression are so often a twofer. Another thing that will help, paired with the butt-kick, are clear expectations. The loss of structure (job) is part of the problem, so offering some reasonable structure is one way to keep the problem from getting worse.

In one of your chats (I think it was yours) you mentioned a few software programs that would help limit surfing time while on the computer for work. Would you mind re-posting? I have the same issue working from home and am in a slump.

Here's the chat you're remembering. There are a few programs/browser extensions listed in it.

can we talk more about this brother who is planning on dumping the girl after Christmas - but has already told his family??? He needs to grow a pair and get it over with BEFORE the humiliating holiday experience. Why do so many couples insist of having a Dead Man Walking holiday? If it is time for the relationship to be over, get it over. You think you are staying in it so as not to ruin their holiday, but you ruin it anyway because the other person can tell something's wrong.

This is up just as a PSA, because I'm not sure the question was clear on how much the s-t-b-e-GF actually knows, and, also, the writer openly lamented that this is out of her hands.

Tho, LW, if you do have knowledge that s-t-b-e-GF is in the dark, then, please please harangue your brother. This is one of the very rare cases where badgering (i.e., shaming) someone is appropriate.  Just don't use "grow a pair," because I get complaints every time someone uses that expression and we don't want to detract from the excellent point Mr./Ms. Reindeer Poop is making here.


I think I sounded completely nuts on that last one. Or, CNOTLO.

It's actually

Yeah, that. I'll pretend that's why I didn't put in a link.

I found that I was miserable at working "from home" on anything (in my case, a thesis), because there was entirely too much stuff to distract me. Sometimes finding a place to go that is not in the house (local library, bookstore, coffee shop) can be a lifesaver.

Or, you can be a complete maniac like I was for years and ride Amtrak round-trip to a city 2 to 4 hours away, day trip, just so you have zero temptation to do anything but work and eat honey roast peanuts. But now they have WiFi so I need to find a new sensory-depivation canister to work in.

Libraries, bookstores and coffee shops are decent alternatives because, once you set up camp, it's a PIT[B] to get up for various time-wasting things. Just make sure you aren't camping someplace where seats are coveted. Then you become a PIT[B] to the management of your chosen establishment.

i haven't been screened for add/adhd but i have been working for a year solid on fixing up eating/sleeping/exercise habits in order to combat prolonged severe depression (which i think in part was brought on by years of not sleeping in college). anti-depressants forced me to sleep for a solid 8 hours a night, which i think helped my mood and anxiety a lot, but it hasn't helped me concentrate at all (which would have been the best outcome of the pills) and now that i don't feel pressered (by anxiety and guilt and panic) to do anything...i just don't do anything.

Do get the ADD/ADHD screening. A depression diagnosis actually is known to accompany an attention-related disorder--kind of a "wait for it ..." in kids with ADHD. You may just have gotten your discoveries out of order. Your "years of  not sleeping in college" could well have had attention-related origins.

This seems like a good time for the disclaimer that I'm not a medical profession of any type. I've just sat here long enough to see stuff ("here" not being in the literal sense, given the whole Amtrak thing).

Carolyn, how would your answer change if, instead of trivial gifts, the recipient of the monthly support money took herself on an annual vacation trip, while the giver of the money hasn't had a vacation trip in years because they can't afford it? This is in addition to the unnecessary Christmas gifts, which are the least of the issue IMO. This is what my MIL did with part of the money my husband and I give her that is supposed to be going toward bills. I can barely look her in the eye at this point.

I'm not sure if you sent this before or after my follow up, but this definitely busts open a labyrinth passage that no one wants to see. I have been in a similar situation, and stopped the support the minute all prior promises had expired. I was fortunate, though, because the person was out of the direst straits and didn't need a whole new round of help anyway. So, I was spared the true anguish of cutting off a loved one's supply of utility money just because I was bent out of shape.

Here's something else. You've been given a great opportunity to revisit your priorities. Since you have money to give your MIL, you also have money to go on a vacation. You're -choosing- not to, for, I'm sure, a lot of reasons: You don't want to rack up credit card debt, you're saving for higher priorities, you're putting your would-be luxury money away for retirement so you don't have to count on other people's money as your MIL has. Close? 

Chances are, then, that you can "afford" a trip in the sense that your MIL could afford it, but you choose not to. And that is something you need to tell yourself as you recite the Adult Code--"Adults are free to make their own choices about what's best for them"--and the gift code: "Once given, any money I give to a fellow adult is theirs to spend as they see fit."

If you'd like to give less to your MIL and state your reason as your decision to save some of it for a vacation, then, assuming she's not a complete hypocritical harpie, she'll llikely say, "Finally, you guys need to live a little." I wish, back when I was in your shoes, that I had regarded vacations as more of a necessity than I did.

I've submitted this before, so it might be unwelcome, but I would suggest the procrastinator check out iProcrastinate Podcasts. They are free and put out by a research psychologist who specializes in academic procrastination. I've found them helpful. One thing he emphasizes is that you have to be strategic about the changes you make and that everything won't change at once - you have to work at it, but that doesn't mean you stop trying. I've found him helpful in my struggles. He basically tosses out a lot of different ideas about the many underlying causes of procrastination and the things that have helped some people.

Thanks. People are submitting other resources, too, so I'll post a few now:

I didn't see a list of programs on the linked chat, beyond a plug for one that costs $10. There are a ton of free programs out there. A few that I'm familiar with include Leechblock (a website blocker for Firefox), Temptation Blocker (for games and programs like computer solitaire, or your entire web browser), KeepFocuesd, which times your activity, and Cold Turkey (another website blocker, harder to beat). All free and open-source.

Coolness. I can't vouch for any of these (feelin disclaimery today) but here they are.

There are several apps that allow you to block the internet for a set period of time, or block certain sites, or only allow certain sites, etc. I have StayFocusd installed on Chrome, although I haven't gotten around to figuring out how it works yet. But my roommate uses a similar app and finds it really helpful.

Now I want everyone to set their work aside to explore these procrastination-prevention methods. [evil laugh]

Does your answer regarding breaking up with someone and not waiting for the holidays to be over still apply if children are involved? I've acknowledged (to myself) that the marriage is over and dead. We've been going to counseling, but some of the fundamental conflicts run too deep. I've been telling myself it's kinder to wait until January to let him know that I want a divorce, mainly because I can't imagine taking the kids away from home and then negotiating the holidays, and all the other inherent drama. Am I kidding myself and should I pull the trigger now?

Even though dragging out a relationship you know is over is rarely a good idea, you also have this: This is a marriage with children. What do you have to lose from taking another  month or two of counseling, hard work and contemplation before doing anything you can't take back?

Throw everything you have into the counseling this month. Your gift to your kids, and to you. 

I did that one year, except the boyfriend was the only one who knew, and the families were kept in the dark. Still wrong or acceptable?

I am not St. Peter. (Disclaimer Day Special.) You know whether you chose the best course from the options you had.


Friend is actually more of my husband's friend than mine, but I know my husband is too nice to do approach his friend. There is also a bit of a "cool factor" thing going on. Friend has always had "cool" fast paced jobs, is a genuinely funny person, makes friends easily, etc. I'll have to chat with the husband tonight about how to handle this. This may be a case when I'm willing to be the jerk!

Fair enough, but, since this is my chat I can answer a question you didn't ask: Your husband isn't being "nice."

If he truly doesn't care about landing on a cold rim and facing an empty TP roll, then he's just being his laid-back self.

If he thinks the friend is takign advantage and just doesn't want to look like the bad guy, then he's being spineless.

If he's not bothered by the slovenliness or freeloading because he has left you , wittingly or un-, to absorb all the inconvenence for him, then he's being disreprectful or obtuse, depending on where he falls on the awareness spectrum.

If he has begun to think the friend is abusing his and your generosity and he's just struggling with whether, when and how to say something so that he doesn't udnermine the help he's trying to provide, then he's being human, and you would both do well to talk about this with each other before saying anything to the friend.

So, have that chat, and don't "nice out" on the true depth of your frustration. If you're cheesed, say you're cheesed. (Yes, cheesed.) 

Oh--and those "cool jobs" are so not your concern, except as they relate to a temperament that requires higher stimulation than others might need. In that case, if you do talk to him about  things he can do around the house, you can also throw in that he has a go-go-go history, and maybe he'll feel better if he also does something fast-paced to keep him occupied while he looks for work. But that's only if the conversation has moved past TP and he has invited you to comment on ways he can not go out of his mind.

Ah...the depression screener indicates I am still suffering from severe depression.

I'm sorry. Please still explore the attention-disorder option, since one can appear as the other -and- one can give rise to the other.

Even if you don't have ADD/ADHD, it's possible there's some other co-condition in there, and leaving it undiagnosed and untreated would definitely render your depression treatment less effective. 

The great thing is that you're on this; you're willing to take steps to get better. Depression so often takes that away--you're at a huge advantage here.

A theme has struck me that I think we can carry forward to next week's chat - a lack of Christmas Balls. These balls are not always pretty but they are very helpful in preventing most of the troubles people are struggling with this week. Please lets all of us hang our Christmas Balls in a visible location right now and display them proudly throughout the season and into the new year. Thanks -Nancy

Nancy, I weep with admiration. And if your name isn't really Nancy, I weep all the harder.

Anyone else? Submit here for next week:


Do they need to be Holiday Balls, in the spirit of inclusion? Or would that be makeup on the Mona Lisa.

My best friend and I have known each other for over 20 years- and we have been through many ups and downs. For the past 5 years she has been in an abusive relationship, and even though I express concern, have been her "emergency shelter" and encouraged her to go to counseling- I am afraid she will never leave him. In the mean time I have been through a divorce, several health problems (me and my children) and money woes. Whenever the conversations strays from her "good-for-nothing boyfriend" to me and my "problems" she tunes out, changes the subject, or tells me she needs to go. I feel like I am always there for her...and she does not reciprocate. I love her but I feel this friendship has become one-sided. What do I do? I have talked to her about it and she says she is sorry and she'll listen to me more -- yet, never does.

The good news, you have all the info you need: the friendship is one-sided, you had the ornaments to speak up, she heard you, and nothing had changed.

So, with that information, what do -you- think is the right decision? Obviously you want your friend to have an epiphany and start caring about you, but that's not something you can count on. So, you either end the friendship, keep it going with the knowledge that it will remain one-way, or keep it going temporarily (until she's safely out of her abusive relationship) and reevaluate as you go.

About that "abusive relationship." Is it genuinely abusive, and you're giving her a safe place--or is it just high-drama, and you're enabling her by rewarding her unhealthy choices with you nurture and attention? If you're not sure, consider talking to an abuse counselor yourself to see whether your read on your friend's situation is accurate, and whether your "help" is helpful. 

Is Reindeer Poop in the running to be the next Bacon Pants?

Reindeer Poop is the holiday edition of Bacon Pants. Like a seasonal menu.

I've been dealing with the fact that I am attracted to men who are emotionally unavailable. A part of me wants to "fix" things, and thinks that if they'll just love me, everything will be all right. That's something that I really don't like about myself, and I see it as a pattern that I have been doing for years. I found myself doing this last week, and had to really talk to myself about it for a good bit, to realize what I was doing and how it wasn't going to be good for me. How do I move forward and develop mutual romantic relationships with men? I don't want to keep doing what I have always been doing, I want to find someone who wants me back.

Well, you can keep up the great thinking and self-awareness that has gotten you this far, try to figure out what emotional nutrient you're seeking from this type of "fix it" relationship, and either work on eliminating the need or in fulfilling it in a healthier way.

Or, you can decide you're at a point where an outside perspective would be useful, and find a good therapist. What you typed out is exactly the type of stuff people find therapy so useful in addressing. Yours is not an uncommon problem, and other people's experiences can probably help you with yours.

Hi Carolyn, Completely fell for a friend of mine a few months ago, and with the exception of the issue below, things really have just been great and lots of fun. The one thing that gives me pause is that we don't have fantastic conversation. When we're together, it's not like there's dead silence or anything, but we rarely have that excited give and take either. I want to stay with him, because what we have is all around solid, plus there's plenty of chemistry to boot. When do you know when you're ignoring something important, versus just realizing that no relationship is going to be perfect?

Wait out the early relationship combustion, and see if you still like him and look forward to spending time with him when your physical attraction has cooled. Also see if getting to know each other better spurs better conversation, or leaves you with less to talk about.

And if you're a few years in and the attraction hasn't cooled, then, well, enjoy? Or write back and we'll try something else.

My father is getting remarried in June to a woman I have met one time for an hour and my sister has never met. I was introduced to this woman as a "friend" of my father's. I believe that they have been involved for less than a year. I am old enough to know this woman was not just his "friend". She is from CA, so I know scheduling can be difficult between both my sister and my jobs and the fact that my sister living in GA. But I feel like I show know this woman more before she officially part of the family. My mom think I should tell my father my feelings, but I don't know where to start. I don't think he needs my approval of his new wife, but I do think I should know her more. I don't even know her kids' names or genders!

Then do what you can to get to know her better. Ask your dad questions, ask him to suggest ways you and she can get to know each other, or invite them to come visit you.

But here's the don't: Don't advance any further your  notion of her not being welcome in the family until you decide you know her well enough.

Your dad is family, and he has chosen her, so she will be family. You would want nothing less from him if you, say, lived on the other side of the earth for a year or two and came home married. Time to reach out to your dad as you'd want him reaching out to you.

Thank you for answering my question...and yes I do believe a lot of what my friend describes is drama, and actually I believe she likes the drama. (to me, I just don't get it. When my life is boring, I am quite content!) but her BF is an alcoholic and verbally abusive. Actually, your drama comment gives me a lot to think about becuase my current beau thinks much of it is DRAMA and I might be enableing her (not sure if that is the right use for that word) Ironically enough I have my masters degree in Community Counseling, it is just so different when it is your own life. Thanks again!

Sure thing. If nothing else, your friend has a set of issues that won't be solved in the single stroke of her leaving the verbally abusive alcoholic. Might help to talk to her from now on in ways that you think will be helpful for the situaiton, vs. helpful for the friendship. I do think it's an important distinction.

Is next week's chat for Christmas horror stories of years past, or Christmas horror stories in the making.

Both! The Hoot does not discriminate. Horrors of other holidays are also welcome. 

I am envisioning a holiday special. Preferably with claymation.

They can be visited by their neighbors, the Fat Balls, which appeared in HHH 2010:



Carolyn, What is the difference between an abusive relationship and a relatiohship that is high-drama? Is the latter an OK relationship whereas the former is not so much? Why would a high-drama relationship be alright? Is it a functional one? Thanks

Actually, abusive relationships tend also to be high-drama. HighEST drama. What you're really after is the point where  benign dysfunction (if there is such a thing) crosses over to fit the definition of abuse.

It's not an easy flag to plant. Some people create drama where there needn't be any, just because they like being at the center of attention--and others put up with textbook abuse because that's where the "normal" bar was set for them emotionally--which means perception is a huge factor in sorting these things out.

So, I'm going to steer you to a resource that, in my opinion, teases out so clearly the various elements of a truly dangerous relationship (vs one that's just needlessly conflict-driven). It's a PDF, in case that matters:

The "money pages" are 12 and 13.


I serious question I swear. I'm a confident, intelligent, direct 30-something woman. I look for the same qualities in a mate. What I've found (oh so recently) is that the men I date proclaim to want these things too. I was duped because my ex did a good job of being direct and all that about other things. But when it came to relationship-related issues, he was passive-aggressive, timid, silent at times, wishy washy, etc. I would ask direct questions, and he would be the exact opposite of these qualities. How do you ever know if someone is telling the truth about who he says he is? This guy snowed me. And I should say it's not just him. I've had other men act like this too. They talk the talk but not much more. Why on earth would you claim to be all these things when in reality you're a spineless wimp when it matters?

Um. Given the sensation of hot lights radiating from your question, I suspect I'd develop a sudden timidity problem in your presence.

If you're as in touch with your own frailties as you are with those of your recent beaux, then I retract that, with full apologies.

However, many--if not most--people struggle with expressing their feelings. It's just not easy to make yourself vulnerable to people, and the reason is in the expression. If you're vulnerable to someone, that means you're in a position to get hurt. And while it's true that everyone gets hurt, it's part of life, that doesn't change the fact that when a fastball is hurtling at you, the common response is to curl to protect your soft parts.

Men only have the added hurdle of socialization, away from direct dealings with feelings. (Channeling Cole Porter all of a sudden).

So, if you want people to be honest with you, then you need to be comfortable with the idea that everyone is flawed--you and everyone you date, most relevantly--and you need to be someone who can handle it when people reveal their flaws to you. That doesn't mean you have to keep dating someone to reveals a flaw to you that you find un-dateable; it just means being patient enough with people's truth-telling for them to tell you even stuff they think you don;t want to hear. That, in turn, will help you decide whether the flawed person you're seeing has flaws you can or can't live with, as they will be doing with you. 

What does this patience look like? Not calling people spineless wimps, for one, or treating them as if that's the way you see them. Not laying out a set of standards they have to meet to please you is another, and instead letting them speak for themselves. That's what brings out a more honest self-assessment, if that's indeed what you want. 





When I'm the one making playdates -- "Well, I can't believe another two months has passed by already!" -- with my kids' "friends," when does it become one-sided? It would be nice if the other parents reciprocated. Our invitations are always welcome, but it's become tiresome on my end to always be the one to initiate.

Playdates don't -quite- follow the same rule as regular, reciprocal socializing, because it's not as if you're two adults on equal footing, scheduling your mutual free time. Whether parents work, how many sibs there are (and how easy or hard they are to manage), whether there's a nanny or day care involved, how scheduled the family is on weekdays or weekends--that all comes into play. For example, my kid can be free on a weekend day while we ( the parents) are not. When you call to invite him, then he goes with you. When you don't call, he gets dragged around with us. Do you really want us to call to have your kid dragged around with us, too?

So, pay attention to the details of the families of the kids you're inviting iver. If you suspect they're freeloading, then, okay, be annoyed--but still decide if your kid benefits (and you do by extension) enough to make it worthwhile to keep calling. If they're just not in a position to host as much, then see if there aren't other ways they can hold up their end of the friendship that are just different from your way.

My husband and I are in an argument about a car repair bill. His brother owns a garage (250 miles away from us) and he gave our teenager a car for free. Two weeks after we were assured that he'd let his own wife drive the car and it was sound mechanically the ball joint broke and we had a repair to make (we asked him about the crunching noise he said it was ok). We fixed it at home and went back up a few weekends later to get the other side done because its an older car. Now BIL charges only for parts -- which is a blessing. Three weeks later that recently replace ball joint broke because of not properly installing the part. We had a bigger bill this time because we ended up towing it to a garage to do the work instead of towing it to the house to do the work. Teen and I want my husband to say something...and I don't want to pay for the original parts bill because of the TWO incidents. Husband says well he GAVE her the car. Teen is mad because her dad isn't thinking about her wellbeing and I am with her. What do you think?

Teen needs to step back over the line here. Yes, it's a safety issue, but that still doesn't make it okay to stomp back to the giver of a free car to complain that it doesn' t work right.

Instead, her parents need to talk to her about the age-old problem of doing business with friends and family. There's a reason it's not considered ideal. Getting good work is easy, getting nothing is easy, but getting shoddy work? That's a mess on a stick.

So, as in all these situations, you and she have a choice: Do you prioritize the family bond, suck up the price of outside repairs and make a mental note not to take BIL's word for it when he says a "crunching noise" is okay? Or, do you treat it as a straight business transaction and demand to be made whole (for your problems with the car he -gave- you. not that I'm dropping hints).

My suggestion in this case is to stop dealing with your BIL as anything but a BIL for a while. As for the car, decide how much value it has for you. Is it not worth another 20 bucks in repairs? Is it worth $500, $1,000, more? Figure out what your pain limit is on repairs -and-maintenance. Then, with that number in mind, take it to a local pro with a good reputation, and get it looked at from top to bottom. See what this free car really costs, then decide if you want it at that price.


In the case of the non-vacationer, couldn't you pay the bills directly e-bil and computer banking make this so easy now and it would avoid the allocation of the money to non-necessities.

When it's doable, that's great, but there's still the possibility that the recipient will allocate other money (or credit) toward a vacation. Giving money to help someone will always involve accepting that person's autonomy as part of the package (and, in many cases, poor-judgment-fueled autonomy). It just has to be part of the financial and emotional calculations you do going in.

I like my job, but if I won the lottery tomorrow I'd quit, it's not like I'm saving the world. I love my house, but if I could afford it, I'd move to a warmer climate. I loved my wife, but I wish she'd just marry the guy she's shacked up with to stop the alimony payments (fat chance). I'm healthy, employed, have great friends, travel some, it's an ok life. So why do I daydream about blowing it all up and teaching scuba on a beach in Tahiti?

Because you're sane?

You're having an "Is this all there is" moment, and, idunno, I think they're useful things to have. Midlife, teens, 20s, I don't think they have an age. I also think people teaching scuba on Tahitian beaches have them.

So, use yours, and try to figure out toward what purpose you're making all the choices you're making right now. "If I could afford it I'd do something else" isn't a real (or, I should say, complete) answer. You have a lot of latitude that you're not using, so be totally honest about the reasons. For example, you're not blowing it all up and moving because you ... actually like the security of feeding a retirement account. Or whatever. These aren't ball-and-chain obligations, they're choices.

Once you see your choices for what they are, it becomes easier to say, "I work at this job because experience tells me I don't do well with a lot of risk or uncertainty." Or, alternately, "I stay with this job because I tell myself I can't afford to quit it, but that may be an excuse to keep me from trying the line of work I really want to try" ... which you now might want to venture into on weekends, since you're being honest about your true desires as well as your risk aversion.

Or something else entirely. Just, again, identify your actual choices vs. places you're really stuck, and see how you can rearrange those pieces to better suit who you are now, vs when you took the job, etc.




I'm having a small party and my college roommate "Liza" has asked to bring a couple of her friends that I don't know. I want it to be a fairly low-key event and my apartment is incredibly tiny (hence the very limited guest list). The invitation stressed that it was a small affair, and I'm a bit put out that she's even asked. What should I say? I want to be welcoming, but I really wanted it to be an intimate party, not one where I have to entertain perfect strangers.

She asked, so, say no. "Under other circumstances I'd love to have your friends come, too, but I'm keeping this a small party on purpose."


I'm about to post an apology for taking so long, scrolling through the queue looking for my next question to answer, and lo, my eye catches the time. I really do enter some alternate Chat Universe during these things. Sorry.

Anyway, bye, thank you as always for stopping by, and see you here next week, I hope. I haven't called Pops to see how The Night Before Christmas 2011 is coming along, so I'll do that after I sign off, even though he hasn't blown a deadline yet. 

Have a great weekend! Don't forget to submit your horrors to the queue.

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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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