Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, June 29)

Jun 29, 2012

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

Carolyn was online Friday, June 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.

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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Hello, everybody. The weeks before and after the 4th of July are usually the slowest of the year, but with everyone seeking a/c shelter who has that option, maybe this will be a chat  like any other. 

As always, if you want to take this brawl beyond the scope of the chat, a la the finale of "Blazing Saddles" through the sound stages, go to my Facebook page (link). I realize this requires a FB account, which some people don't want, but it's the best of a bunch of imperfect solutions for hanging out after school.

And don't forget to get your links delivered by Twitter every morning for my column, @carolynhax, and Nick's cartoon, @ngalifianakis.

But enough about me. Let's pick someone else apart.

Hi Carolyn! A very close family member "Hank" passed away very suddenly and tragically one month ago. Needless to say, we are all devastated and dealing with the grief in different ways. Recently, Hank's mother has begun to post comments and updates via Hank's account on Facebook. Basically, making it seem like he is still around posting status updates and commenting on posts. This makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Is there a sensitive way to let his mother know that this isn't the best idea? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

I'm sorry for your loss, and I do understand your distress.

I don't know that it's your place to tell Hank's mother what to do, though. You can block updates from his account so you don't see his mom's handiwork, and you can--and I think should--see this as a sign that Hank's mother could use some healthy support, but I wouldn't advise any mention of the Facebook posts unless and until you are already doing what you can to help her across the board. In fact, approaching her just on this is a bit like saying to someone, "I need you to change the way you're grieving because you're making me uncomfortable." And I say this as someone who would be similarly creeped out by what she's doing.

Carolyn, Is it unreasonable to ask a spouse to drive you to an airport 2 hours away for a 3 hour flight? I would normally drive myself and leave my car there, but I'll have our toddler with me, and dealing with parking shuttles and luggage and a kid with unpredictable moods seems like an awful lot to take on by myself. I'm going to this airport instead of a closer one because it would save a lot on airfare and we can get a nonstop flight. my husband loves me, but he sometimes balks at even minor requests. On the other hand, I'm not sure this is a minor request because I'm basically asking him to make two 4 hour round trips. I feel like I"m bean counting, but I need an objective viewpoint here. Thanks.

If I were scripting the perfect scenario, he would offer to take you (to spare you the toddler- and luggage wrangling hassles) and you would refuse the offer (to spare him four hours of driving just to help you with, if you just suck it up and deal with it, what amounts to an inconvenient 30 minutes at each end).

I imagine if he had a good record on helping out with the small stuff, you wouldn't even think of asking him to help you here: You'd feel the natural obligation of partnership to shoulder your share of the weight. But, since he has been fussy about his share, you're annoyed at having to go out of your way to spare him of anything. Fair?

If so, then no matter how you decide to handle this situation, it sounds as if you need to address the bigger issue of your feeling as if you're hauling more than your share.


When my first baby was born, we had my well-meaning but clueless family come to "help" us but it was exhausting as it was more like having houseguests than relief as I struggled through recovering from a c-section and grappling with breastfeeding. Now, with baby #2 on the way, my husband wants the grandparents - his family - to be there to take care of Toddler #1. I am opposed to anyone being in the house because of the previous experience, which has strained my relationship with my family. What do you think?

Before I answer--if his parents aren't in the house, who will watch your toddler while you're off having the baby?

I have a cousin who is 16 and is going through a really tough time. I mean really tough. His mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year and is laying on her deathbed, she's expected to die at any time now. His mother is not married to his father, my uncle, but she is married to another man, and there is a bit of a custody battle about to go on. My uncle and the stepfather are both trying to gain custody of my cousin but neither are suitable guardians. My uncle is a drug-user and dealer and has been arrested and served jailtime in the past 5 years for dealing drugs. The stepfather is verbally abusive, cheated on my cousin's mother (while she was battling her brain cancer), and beat her and his own daughters, leading to his own arrest back in March. None of this drama is going well for my cousin, he's been caught with marijuana and has pretty much distanced himself from a lot of people, and I doubt that he is getting any of the love and support that he really needs during this time.


I want to help my cousin. I have yet to reach out to him because I'm unsure of how to reach out to him. I feel guilty is just letting all of these people use him and mistreat him, and I'm afraid of what will happen in the near future when his mother dies. I know that because of his age and of the laws in his state he could gain emancipation, but I feel like there is more that I can do. My cousin is a wonderful, smart, young man and I know that if he is given the love, support, and respect that he needs then he will go very far in whatever he decides to do. I love him very much and I just want make sure that he is ok. What can I do and how can I go about this?

Are you in any position to be his legal guardian? That seems like the obvious course. If not, then I think the next best choice is to make yourself available as a source of stability and acceptance. But, to do that, you have to get off the sidelines asap and get in touch with him. Just tell the truth, that he's on your mind. Ask if there's anything you can help him with, and make practical suggestions--does he need a place to stay, help dealing with his mom's care, someone to stock the fridge, etc.

You said "his state," so I'll assume you don't live nearby; if you live close enough to visit, tell him you're coming to town and would like to take him to lunch/dinner. If you're not within day-trip or quick-overnight range, then gauge the situation with his mom, and, if it makes sense, invite him to visit you. If it's truly any-day-now with his mom, then save the invitation for after she's gone. 

Hi Carolyn, What do you do when you want to help a friend who's in a bad place but you're advice is unwelcome? When do you know you should just listen, as opposed to stepping up and helping a friend get out of a bad situation? No one wants unsolicited advice, but sometimes just listening/supporting may not be the best thing you can do to help your friend. Thank you!

You can ask, "I have a suggestion I'd like to make, but you haven't asked my opinion. Would you like to hear it?" If the answer's no, then you bite your tongue.

If it's an emergecy, then you can speak out of turn--but even then, if the other person doesn't want to listen and if it's not a situation where an innocent person is at risk of harm, then you're still stuck watching the bad situation unfold.

I've been married a little over a year. My husband and I are 28 and 29. My problem is my father in law keeps making jabs about us having kids. I will be the first to admit, I'm not a child person. I'm awkward around them and I believe our lifestyle is far too selfish to think about bringing a child into it. We love sleeping in and being able to pack up with our dog and go do things on the spur of the moment. My problem is that my father in law is getting worse with this jabs about us having kids. When at a recent family gathering he was very intoxicated, he shoved my youngest cousin (barely a year old) in my arms and goes HOLD THE BABY! It was obvious that I was uncomfortable with the child and unsure of what to do. How do I politely tell him to stay out of my reproductive system's business?

Where's your husband in this? 

There are plenty of ways to deal with such an intrusive relative--the full range, from ignoring to confronting--but the more important element here is whether you have a unified front with a partner un-cowed by the intruder. Do you?


Dear Carolyn: The letter about the boyfriend who pouts when told no reminds me of one of the hardest things about living with someone. What counts as "pouting"? People who know each other well will identify disappointment or irritation in a partner's facial expressions, vocal experessions, and body language even with any effort to punish or manipulate. The best relationship of my life didn't work out because it was hard for each of us to keep our reactions and emotions private until each sorted them out. Saying "I need time to think" is a great idea, but it's hard to pull off smoothly in the first flush of things. Especially when accused of pouting. Any nuanced suggestions or strategies?

To start with, I have a thought perhaps too obvious to be called a strategy: Choose someone who doesn't irritate you very often. 

Sure, anyone will get under your skin eventually, but if it happens regularly enough that you need a three-point plan for managing your irritation, then there's an excellent chance you're not as compatible as you need to be to spend your lives together.

For those eventual and inevitable conflicts, if you're both mature, then it should (evil word) suffice for you to use your words: "I get what you're saying, but this is an area where we just fundamentally disagree. I can live with that but I'm going to need some time to deal with my anger." Meaning, you articulate honestly that 1. there's an impasse and 2. you're willing to live with an impasse, and the other person 1. takes you at your word and 2. is similarly, honestly willing to live with an impasse as well.

If instead one of you isn't willing to live with an impasse--or both of you aren't--and the agree-to-disagree pact is just a fig leaf, an expedient way to end/avoid an awkward confrontation, then you're going to have problems with sulky faces. You'll both know there's a problem lurking that you're not dealing with.

So, really, what it comes down to is whether you genuinely get along, and are genuinely able to get past any negative  emotions the relationship churns up. If you have those two things, then the occasional long face won't to be a point of contention, but instead the minor cost of living honestly.

Spend a little of the money you saved on airfare to ship your luggage ahead. That way you just have a carry-on and your child to deal with.

Great solution to the practical problem, thanks. (Which will presumably free up energy for the emotional problem.)

any reason the mom with toddler can't spring for a car service?

Dunno, but it's blissful. I wish I could use it for all trips.

Foster care...somebody make a call to the Child protection. Seriously, we ended up with my daughter's BF just past his 17th birthday because mom was doing drugs and prostitution in the house. Dad is never married mom, and didn't support the kid, however he does see his son. We are his foster parents and he thrived his last year of HS and he is placing himself in voluntary Long term foster care while he goes to college (which he had no desire to until this year). He turns 18 next week. Mom is in court ordered rehab, and dad loves the situation. Not all foster care homes are horrible. CPS also will get the cousin counseling and help him.


LW with the pushy FIL: there's no real reason to cite your lifestyle as selfish; there are plenty of people who like traveling and spontaneity and still plan on kids. You don't like or want kids. Your FIL's opinions aside, it's perfectly okay to not like or want kids, even if you stay home and bake cookies and make beds for fun every day.

As I've said a squillion times, selfish is to have kids when you don't want to, just to please a spouse or get Society off your back or whatever else.

In fact, as long as you're not mooching, breaking laws, or corrupting innocents, the best contribution people can make to society is to live in the way they find most fulfilling. Why? Fewer neglected kids, less self-medication, less road rage, fewer divorces, less absenteeism, less pathology in general.  

Agree? Disagree?

Is it tacky for me to have an "I'm not a F*$@ing temp anymore!" party? I've been at my current job a year and a half and FINALLY got made a permanent salaried employee. I'm really pleased to finally have my first legit post college job (and not be making $9 an hour), and so glad not to be a temp anymore. My friends are all about mid 20s, and we're a mixed bag career wise. Some are still in school, others working service jobs, two have dream jobs, and some are still looking for stuff. So I don't want to rub anyone's nose in my success, but on the other hand I am really excited, and want to buy everyone booze and pizza and have a great party to celebrate. So should I have the party and say what it's for, or just have the party and not mention what we're celebrating?


I tend not to be offended by people who want my company in consuming booze and pizza that I don't have to pay for, but I can't speak for your friends. 

"We're waiting for the previous generation to grow up before contemplating bringing any more immaturity into the world."


Another way of looking at it is that it's an opportunity to spend an extra two hours with his family that he wouldn't otherwise have. Blessedly for me, my boyfriend represents the other end of the spectrum. He's voluntarily gone two hours on public transportation to meet me when I get in, and he's volunteered without any provocation to see me off just to spend more time with me, even knowing he'll have to go the reverse trip alone. My parents walked on eggshells with each other, and I grew up thinking it was normal. Then, through therapy (+ more confidence), I learned it's a huge red flag to be afraid of asking basic things of someone for fear of upsetting them. I love your advice here, and I think the eggshell issue is one she should also think about, whether her fears stem more from her own anxieties or more from her husband's past reactions.

Another way to look at it more broadly, thanks. (If anyone needs dot-connecting, this is in re: the airport ride. It took me a second, but maybe it's just me.)

I'm in a committed relationship. We're on the path to marriage and a long term future. The problem is his parents - they don't like me - at all. They're also highly critical of everything. He tells me they've had issues with everyone he's ever brought home or discussed with them (he's prone to share a lot with his family). I don't need validation from his parents. I also know my boyfriend cares about me deeply and wants a future with me, though I do get worried when he says our future could be in jeopardy if I can't get along with his parents. I want to figure out ways to better cope with the situation since I'm potentially facing years of ostracizing his family just for being me. My boyfriend's strategy with his parents is to answer their every beck and call no matter how outrageous.

" My boyfriend's strategy with his parents is to answer their every beck and call no matter how outrageous."

This is a HUGE problem. Huge. Towering even, and it would be even if his parents liked you (though I'm not sure that combination can occur in nature--domineering parent who approves of child's choice of mate ... anyone?). 

This is where I usually type out a bunch of warnings to look for and thinking points to consider, but, call it the heat, I"m just going to say this relationship is DOA. Until he is enough of an adult to tell controlling parents where to stick it, and to tell his life love that he, and no one else, chooses where his loyalties lie, then he's no good to anyone. Not even himself. 

And, until you can recognize "Our future could be in jeopardy if you can't get along with my parents" as the last thing a lover says to you before you say, "Bye, it's been swell, call me when you grow up," you're not ready for a life commitment either. 

Dear Carolyn, Rationally I know I have to break up with my boyfriend of almost 3 years, but I just can't bring myself to do it. He's been there my entire adult life and it seems scary to cut all ties with him. I also know breaking up with him will be a hard conversation to have because he won't take it well at all. He'll start with calling me names, then move to pleading and threatening suicide perhaps, until he starts apologizing and saying he'll change. I guess I'm just scared of us both being unhappy. Where do I start?

No, you're scared because you're with someone emotionally manipulative who knows how to make you pay and is not afraid to do it.

Which is all the more reason you need to pull the plug, cleanly, calmly and decisively. You will also likely need some backup to help you with your resolve, so don't be afraid to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). That may seem like an overreaction, but verbal abuse ("calling me names") and emotional abuse ("threatening suicide") are within the scope of its services.

It might make even more sense to call, pre-emptively, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a k a RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), since that one will route your call to a local center, allowing you to set up a consultation before you break up, to help prepare you for the kind of volatile response you think you might get.

Hang in there, and stand up for you.

My mother in law treats the son from my husband's first marriage like a king, while pretty much ignoring our daughter from our marriage. The children are siblings as they share the same father. I have tried ignoring the behavior, biting my tongue, etc, but when his mother expects us to fund cruises and trips for her to take with the son that she won't even invite our daugther too, I believe it's getting out of hand. My husband says he is through with her, but I think he needs to articulate how this looks and what will happen when my daugther gets old enough to relaize that she is definitely NOT Grandmom's favorite. Also, it is clear that she treats all of the other female grandchildren completely differently than she treats the lone male grandchild. Is there anything that I can/should do?

Your kids don't need this. Deny her access to both of your kids, except in carefully measured and monitored doses. She expects you to -fund- cruises to take with the son? That's so easy to prevent it's hardly warrants advance planning. "No, MIL, you can't take one of your grandkids on a cruise, not even at your expense." I'd add, "... unless you plan to offer each of them the same opportunity,"  but I couldn't imagine sending one of my own kids anywhere alone with a grandparent who had demonstrated a clear preference for his sibling. That just sounds awful.

You do have a sliver of good news here, in that it appears it's not that she loves just this one granchild above the others but instead has a thing against girls--which, in turn, makes it easier to explain to your kids later, believe it or not--but that doesn't change the fact that any access to your kids has to be predicated on her behaving herself, as much as you can realistically expect.




I think this person ought to think about doing this break-up in a public place. At least there will be some protection there. It will keep her calm while also most likely keeping him calm. Just a thought.

An excellent thought, thanks.

But you're already unhappy.

There's that, too, thanks.

Change the name of the party to "Thanks for supporting me through my sucky job." Slight change in focus (celebrating friends, not you), big change in how it will be received.

Simple, brilliant, annoyed I didn't think of it. Thanks.

Hello from the comments section! Some of the 'nuts and I were really disappointed that you advised today's LW to talk to the "husband or husband poacher." Because from the letter we don't know who "poached" who and second, people can't be poached if they don't want to be. It just came across as blaming the woman in the case.

It's a fair criticism, thanks. I didn't mean anything by it. Just trying to identify everyone clearly, not assign blame.

The other day, a visitor to the office left a perishable gift for a co-worker. At the time, we didn't know that our co-worker was not going to be in the office that day or the rest of the week. The gift would not last until our co-worker returns to work. What is the appropriate way to handle this? If left on the co-workers desk, it will spoil and eventually smell up the office. If tossed out, it goes to waste. If taken by other co-workers, it can still be enjoyed, but it is not their for the taking. It seems like there is no good solution to this potentially smelly problem.

Call the co-worker to ask how s/he wants you to handle it?

Hi Carolyn, Am I wrong to feel guilty about the disparity between how much my boyfriend loves me and how much I love him? He loves me "so much", I "have his heart", etc. I really really like him a whole lot, but am not sure it is love. My mom said relationships work better when the man loves the woman more, but there's a big gulf in my relationship. He's a great guy and I want the best for him. I don't want to hurt him. Do I end it now or wait to see if our feelings grow closer? Complicating matters is the fact he lives in another country so we only see each other once every 6 months or so, but we speak every week. Our relationship has always been long distance. Any advice would be appreciated.

Listen to your heart and mind, not your mom, please. 

I have a friend who is a genuinely thoughtful and generous person. However, after doing you a kindness, large or small, she lets the world know about it, saying something to the effect of, well, yes, it was inconvenient; but that's just the kind, generous person that I am. Recenty she helped me move my Mom to an Assisted Living facility. I sent her a nice (snailmail) thank you note and took her out to dinner,which she says wasn't necessary. But she still tells everyone I couldn't have managed w/out her, which is stretching the truth. Am I wrong to feel a bit irritated by this? I, too, try to do nice things for people, but unless it's something really major, a mere "thanks" is sufficient.

You're right to feel irritated; you might be wrong about her being "genuinely thoughtful and generous," since there seems to be a self-aggrandizement pipeline between her actions and her self-image; and you'd be nuts to ask for her help again, unless you're quite sure her help brings more to you than her crowing takes away.

Getting married in a few months. Despite best intention by my fiance and I to keep things somewhat simple, it's becoming a production, much of it due to prodding by our mothers. "Centerpieces for the rehearsal dinner!" "Goodie bags!" "Send-off brunch! We couldn't possibly let people leave without feeding them again!" Pointing out that the hotel already has, in fact, a free breakfast doesn't seem to be a good argument, apparently. And don't even get me started on the shower, which I really didn't even want but gamely went along with to avoid hurt feelings. You would think that day is the biggest day of my life rather than the wedding itself. Part of my irritation with the other wedding weekend activities is that even though they are the moms' ideas, they don't live here- so ultimately even if they are paying for those extra things the planning would likely shift back to me. Any ideas for getting them to tone it down?

"You're kind to offer a brunch, but I'd rather not have one--I've maxed out on wedding plans. I won't stand in your way if having one is important to you, but because of aforesaid maxing out, I won't contribute to the planning."

Then stick to it. This is less about brunch than it is about being able to live with yourself, and if you don't like the way your wedding and your family relationships are playing out, then it's (past) time for you to assert yourself. Your mothers are asserting themselves without apology, no? And it's not even their party.

My father is giving me the silent treatment and I am close to being able to share news of my pregnancy. Good old dad isn't very mature and is punishing me with the silent treatment because I asked him to stop doing something that was upsetting to me. He claims that during silent treatments he deletes any texts and voicemails and tosses letters without listening to them or reading them (but I have my suspicions). My parents are divorced and I don't want to get my brother involved. Do I owe him a communication attempt? I think it will be hurtful if I reach out and get no response. At the same time I think it will anger him even more if he hears it through the grapevine (and if people catch onto that there will be talk which I would like to avoid). Your thoughts and advice are appreciated.

Oh my goodness. If he complains about hearing through the grapevine, then suggest he not give you the silent treatment next time.

That should buy you another stretch of peace from his criticisms.

But dealing with your dad is the easy part. The hard part is still waiting for you to attend to it: The heavy lifting of detaching from your father any expectations that your relationship will be healthy or rewarding. From your remark that "I think it will be hurtful if I reach out and get no response," it sounds as if you still harbor those expectations--i.e., you're still taking his behavior with you personally. 

It's not personal. It's about him. You know this intellectually, and peace awaits you if you can embrace this emotionally as well.

My grandma lives in a retirement home she can no longer afford. My parents are moving, and would like her to move with them to a place closer to them and less expensive. She is very against moving. She has visited the new place many times and always find some new problem ranging from the pattern on the carpets to the view from her apartment (i.e nothing non-superficial). Whenever we push her about discussing the possibility of moving with us she gets angry and defensive and I feel like we are moving further away from it every time we talk to her. How can I start a discussion with her about how bad her financial situation is and the necessity of this move without it becoming a huge fight?

I'm not sure I understand; won't she eventually run out of money? And won't she be evicted? So there's a natural, if traumatic, end date to this, and she can't remain in denial forever?

Also, does the current retirement home have a social worker on staff, or does it refer out to one? That's one place to start.

If the money situation is black-and-white and coming soon to its end game, then I suggest that you have a designated messenger (the person who gets along with her/through to her the best, family or non-) bring her the facts of the situation: She has $X left, her current home costs $Y, and that means she can remain where she is for Z months. She can choose to wait Z months, but then she will have $0, and that will bring [consequence]. Or, she can move now and prevent [consequence].




Tell him, via whatever method you choose, and expect nothing back. Do it to be respectful and mature. Not because he deserves it, but because you deserve the comfort of your own integrity.

Ehh, much better answer, thanks.

I am on the receiving end of what the earlier poster wrote. I am in a relationship where it seems I am the one who is more into him. I am not the type that worries I am wasting time with him but have begun to wonder. What kind of questions should I be asking myself to determine if I should continue or pull the plug?

Why not just step back a bit, to see both what happens and how you feel about it? If you're the one who's more enthusiastic, then chances are you're the one making more overtures; that allows you to give passive choices a try before committing to active ones, which you don't sound sure enough to try at this point anyway.

I'd avoid saying they can do it by you're maxed out. There will be calls and 'it won't take a moment and hard feelings. It would be better just to stick to the - how kind of you to offer, but we really wouldn't like a wedding brunch at all'. You did compromise over the shower and I think you are entitled to stand fast on the brunch.

Certainly this couple is entitled, I agree with you on that completely. They were entitled to stand fast on the shower; there's no need for give-and-take.

But I don't think there's any one right place to draw the line. If it's more important to them to keep their moms happy than it is to go brunchless, then there's no reason they can't hold the line firmly at not helping with the brunch, no matter how few moments it would take. It is, again, about being able to live with themselves, and where that requires them to  bend and where to hold fast.

Tell the whole world before she does, and make a BIG deal out of it. Sing it to the mountaintops. Talk about how she's your personal hero. Then tell everyone that if they ever need help for anything, anything at all, they should go to your friend, because that's just the kind of person she is. (Am I mean to think that there is some fun to be had, here?)

Yes, terrible, mean and awful, and I won't be associated with the dissemination of your evil ideas. 

But, it's the same job, just the status has changed.

"Thanks for supporting me through my sucky job status."

We have opposable thumbs and the power to extrapolate.

Um. no. I mean, sure go ahead and do it that way. Especially if it means that you feel that you can "leave" the situation easily and safely. But do not have any expectation that he will remain calm. Somebody who would react in the manner that the OP describes may have no issue at all with having a full on meltdown screaming tantrum in public.

True--important distinction to make, thanks. But I do think it's important to stick with the public place if people feel any sense of risk--that is, beyond the risk of a scene.

I think the reason the mid-to-late-20's is rife with disappointment and letter to Carolyn is that it is the first time peer groups move at radically different paces. Growing up in traditional school settings means that everybody graduates and moves on at the same pace; after college graduation milestones change and move for different people. Rest assured, you will attend a wedding when you are single and miserable; attend a baby shower when you want children yourself; or have to muster a "congratulations!" at a job offer when you are secretly jealous. It is part of growing up. As long as you offer to pay, having a casual outing for something you worked hard for is perfectly acceptable -- as long as you reciprocate in the future.

Such an excellent point, thanks. Throw in there a wedding when your own relationship is foundering or divorce is pending, a baby shower when you had difficult kids yourself and you want to scream HOO HA HA better YOU than ME!!!, or when your marriage and kids are fine but you're just so done with stultifying overfussedover events.

In other words, good sportsmanship is a life skill well worth maintaining. 

My long time boyfriend asked me to move in with him. The problem is that his house was decorated by his ex-wife before they divorced and it is something of a Victorian brothel. Think bright pink and purple walls and purple wall tile. He tells me I shouldn't care about the colors and he doesn't want to spend the money to repaint the entire house. I've offered to help re-paint the house. I love him but don't want to live in that house. I offered my apartment but his house is much larger and he doesn't wan to move Am I being unreasonable?

Hey, you don't want to live in brothelly pink and purple, then don't live in brothelly pink and purple. You are the boss of you. If you are willing to help paint, then he has to be willing to help, too. If you're willing to paint it yourself and pay for the paint, then he has to be willing to get up and move to a different chair when you need to move the one he's in. What matters isn't what's "reasonable," but what's in the overlap portion of the venn diagram of what each of you is willing to do to reach the goal of sharing a home.

I work in an open office space. Everyone always comments on what I am eating at my desk. Usually along the lines of, "That salad is HUGE!" I never comment on other's people food, and these comments aren't really negative, just annoying. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. For me, to feel full on just lettuce, I need a decent sized salad. It isn't extrordinarily big, but the people around me subsist on donuts and candy, so I think my fruit and veggie diet is genuunely shocking. Any helpful responses??

A blank stare, "Wow," "And it's all for ME," "You should see the cheeseburger I have growing at home," "There's a donut at the bottom," "Did you know pandas can eat 80 pounds of bamboo a day?" "I've sworn off moderation," "Did I forget to take down my 'Please comment about my food' sign?"

Or, you could just not give a crap about what people say, eat, or say about eating.

I live 500 miles away from my only brother, his wife and their new son. I really want to be a part of his life growing up, but I know we're never going to live near each other and I can only really afford to visit once or twice a year. Do you or the 'nuts have any tips on good ways to be involved with a kid far away? Regular Skype time when the kid is older comes to mind, but my brother and I have never been chatty so I'm worried that might not be the only solution.

Your chattiness with your brother will really be independent of your relationship with his son--or, at least, most likely it will be. A parent has a lot to gain selfishly from having an uncle/auntie be willing to video-chat with his kid for 10 minutes here and there, and also, besides facilitating, it doesn't really involve a conversation between you and your brother. 

Other ways to stay involved--since it's going to be a while before you can really hold two-way conversations--are to send things that the son can associate with you. Books, for example, or a special stuffed animal, or little photo albums of you and other family members or of things you do with him when you visit. make sure the pix  are replaceable copies, since they'll get destroyed by the blender of toddlerhood, but keep em coming. Memories are born of repetition, and if you remain even tangentially in this child's life through the early years, you'll have the foundation upon which to build in the years when he becomes more independent, and can talk of the phone/Skype/email etc.

My 15-year-old little brother called me this morning, really upset. His longtime best friend (a guy) got drunk for the first time, and emboldened by alcohol, called my brother and told him that he's in love with him. My brother is well-meaning but sort of clueless, and he was totally caught off guard. Now he's unsure what to do--the guy is his best friend, and he doesn't want to lose that, but he doesn't feel the same way. Any big sister advice I could pass on?

Oh gosh this is painful, for both of them. Big Sister advice of the day would be for him to treat his friend as he would want to be treated if he had made himself that vulnerable to someone like this. That presumably will dictate that your brother is honest, kind, forgiving, doesn't run away and doesn't tell a soul besides you or someone else safely outside their circle. They can remain best friends but the friend might need to step back a bit to reestablish his footing. 

They both have to watch the alcohol, too, duh, though the friend especially because he's at high risk of self-medicating. 

I'm dying to know what the perishable gift is, that's going to spoil and stink up the office. A live goldfish? A gigantic basket of fruit that won't fit in the refrigerator?

Or lilies. Ever smell those when they rot?

And on that note ... I gotsta go. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend, and type to you here next Friday.

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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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