Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, July 6)

Jul 06, 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, July 6 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. I'll be getting started in about 3 minutes. I was about to get under way when I realized I need (er, would like) another cup of coffee, and Billy is no darn good at fetching it for me. Thanks for your patience.

All better.

Is it just me, is consistent hot weather pretty bad for a relationship? As we're getting ready to break a heatwave record around Washington and much of the country, what do you suggest to defuse rising tempers and cool heated discussions?

I saw this when I can scanning the questions earlier today, and noodled around a bit looking for research on heat and tempers and crime. It's such an accepted belief that I figured there must me an element of urban myth to it.

Turns out there isn't a clear answer. When it's warm outside, the obvious does happen: People get out more, interact more with more people, and drink more. Heat also makes people crabby. Crowds of hot, crabby, drunk people get into more arguments. This is the duh portion of the program.

The amusing part is that there's research to support the idea that this effect tapers off at a certain heat level. When it gets too too hot, people go back indoors in languid heaps. 



That takes away the drunken brawling, but I imagine overheated take the crabbiness indoors with them; it's just a kind of listless foulness. Here's a great quote from NPR's Talk of the Nation on this topic: "... people go out and interact when it's warm. But then it gets so hot we all just stay inside with the air-conditioner on and don't assault anything."

To answer your specific question, I'll defer to a decidely non-scientific approach: Mine. It doesn't really matter if it's everyone or it's "just me." If you're crabby in the heat and want to be left alone, then respect that and ask for some space. If you find it's just one person who has that effect on you, though, then don't take the easy way out by blaming the heat.

Fortunately for your personal science experiment, it looks like you're going to have plenty of opportunity to test any theories over the next few days.


I'm dating someone my parents don't like. I'm an independent person and definitely do not plan to base major life choices on their preferences, yet I still feel slimy about things like bringing him around on holidays. How do I stand my ground without feeling so gross about it?

What don't they like about him? 

Specifically, I'm looking for a reason you used "slimy" and "gross" vs. the usual, say, "awkward." Those are loaded words you're using, as if on some level you realize you're imposing someone unsavory on your family? Or exposing your innocent boyfriend to an unsavory family, though it sounds less that way than the other ... or is it something else? More information, please, if you can.

Carolyn: I am the LW from last week's chat who rationally knew I had to break up with my boyfriend of almost 3 years but couldn't do it. Well after reading your answer Friday night and sobbing for a few hours I found the strength to end my almost 3 year relationship the very next day. Thank you, for giving me the push (and wake-up call) I needed to end the relationship. I didn't realize how scared I was of his reaction till I read your answer. During the break-up he definitely used emotionally abusive tactics to make me feel horrible. I am sad some days but most days I feel like a huge weight has been lifted and I am free. I encourage everyone in my situation to end their relationship as hard as you think it might be you will be happier in the end- I know I am! So thank you again.

Thank you, too, for writing back, and congratulations on doing what you felt you needed to do.

One caveat for applying this to other relationships: If you have any sense that the person you're breaking up with can be dangerous, call a domestic abuse hotline first to learn some best practices: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Dear Carolyn, The love of my life was killed last weekend in a car accident. I am lost. What do I even begin to do? Everyone's asking me what I need and I don't even know. My head is full of questions that I don't have the answers to. What am I going to do now that the future I planned is gone? Where do I even sit at the funeral? His parents are beyond kind, but there is no official role for the girlfriend. Everytime I even think about any of this, I lose it. I'm losing it now as I write this. And I'm afraid to think about him or my future. I'm afraid that if I let go I'll fall into a deep, dark well that I may never come out of. I can't actively participate in the chat today, because it's at the same time as my first meeting with a grief counselor. I assume that she will talk to me about future options for therapy. Any thoughts on books from you or anyone else, or things that have worked for people, are much appreciated. I don't know what else to do. Thank you. Bereft

Oh, no, I am so sorry.

The only answer to "What do I even begin to do" is this: Get by. You don't need to accomplish anything, answer anything, figure out anything right now. You just don't. Right now is for raw grief; anything else can wait until you feel ready to take it on. When your friends ask what you need, don't be afraid to say, "I have no idea." When you get to the funeral, you will sit where someone steers you to sit, and if no one steers you, just choose a seat somewhere. As for your future, your future right now is this evening, and this evening, your future will be tomorrow morning, and so on. Shorten it into something you are capable of managing, even if your future becomes "an hour from now."

The fact that I'm typing this as you talk to a grief counselor says you are indeed functioning, and that's something you can count on as you get through these days. That's where you set your bar: function.

When you feel you're ready, you might find comfort in Kay Redfield Jamison's memoir, "Nothing Was the Same." It's about the death of her husband, and her challenge to grieve for him while managing her bipolar disorder, which required her to be meticulous about her self-care. It's moving and grounding at the same time.

I get cross and depressed during heat waves, too, and being without electricity doesn't help (we're back now, thank heaven). I suggest you practise, hard, these lines: "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you; I'm just so hot and miserable." "Please don't take it personally that I"m not good company right now; I'm just so hot and miserable." "Can I make you some iced tea? I think we both need to cool off." Fake it til you make it.

Sounds good to me, and I don't even like iced tea.

Actually, in the course of my noodling I saw somewhere that offering a cold drink was proven to be effective at cooling arguments. (I don't know if that applied if it was somebody's 9th beer.)

If heat made people break up, everyone in Phoenix would be single.

heh, true. Though acclimation has to factor in somewhere--physical, cultural, architectural, etc.

Hi Carolyn- Like so many other DC-area'ers, I was without power for several days this week (4 very long nights), and my next door neighbor was without power for an additional 24hrs after mine was restored. When ours was back & theirs wasn't, I extended an invitation for them to come over to cool down & recharge devices, and to spend the night if they so desired. I also invited them to store any new food there (as we'd both long passed the time window where existing fridge/freezer food was salvageable). They turned down my offer, but countered with a request to run power cords between our homes so they could connect power strips and reconnect their fans/fridge/lights/etc. I was not comfortable with this for several reasons, the largest being the cost I'd incur by the extra electric drain (also the need to keep windows/doors cracked for the cords). If their fridge contents were still 'save-able' I'd have felt differently, or if there was a significant reason the offer of my home wasn't suitable (none of us have children, no hour restrictions as I work from home, & have multiple spare guest rooms so wasn't offering a sofa), but as it stands I felt like I made a more than generous offer and they tried to take advantage. Now they are furious that I said no to running the cords, and I'm hurt and feeling incredibly disinclined to make future offers. Was I wrong to refuse their request? What is the etiquette when you have power and your neighbors don't?

1. I think you handled it just fine. Getting creative with power/extension cords is generally a bad idea anyway.

2. I think you have two reasons to forgive the neighbors their ungracious response: they're next door and so you're stuck with them, and they're hot and crabby (see above).

Hi, Carolyn! A friend of mine wants to set me up with men, and that's fine. Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain friend will pick guys who are completely incompatible because friend & I have very different values. I don't mind going on dates with people whom I don't expect to want to date--new people provide new perspectives, but I'm not sure if I'd be abusing everyone else's time and effort. Do I go along with it, or do I put in the mountain of effort it would take to stop friend?

The interesting things here are between the lines of what you're asking: 1. Why the huge concern before you've even gone on Date 1? 2. Why would it be a huge effort to stop your friend? 

Sounds as if this "friend" is a handful,  you're not comfortable with your handful-handling skills--and these are the real issues here.

If it's truly just about your friend's taste in the men she chooses for you, then you go on a couple of dates that she arranges and you decide then whether to say no to any more.  

Currently reading The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke. It's about the death of her mother. I highly recommend it.

Thanks for the suggestion.

It's been less than a week since this break up and she's feeling strong right now. "Most days" in the context of a week is just a couple of days. I encourage the LW to remain strong when the inevitable feelings of loneliness creep up and she starts thinking she should have stayed in the relationship. As someone who once worked in a home for abused women, I saw a pattern. Woman leaves abuser and feels strong, can't believe she put up with it, etc. Then she gets lonely. He wants her back. Says he's changed. She believes him. It's great for little while until he starts abusing her again. Then she's back at the shelter. This would happen countless times before the woman would really leave for good. Do not go back to him.

Bears repeating, thanks. 

I am so sorry. I can tell you, from personal experience, that you will never ever be the same, but life will eventually go on. Think of yourself as a tree whose best branch was cut off. Eventually the wound grows over and you get other branches, but that branch never comes back. Still, you have a future, just nothing like what it was. Beyond the grief counselor you might want to try support gruops. Even if you think you're not the type, you can talk with others who have the same unbelievable unbearable loss. It actually helps. Again, I am so so sorry. but you will eventually live. Really. The world is still the place it was, just emptier.

This is a lovely way to look at it, so I feel a bit peevish suggesting an edit--but I think it's important enough to risk it. No one knows whether it will turn out to have been the "best branch." A beautiful branch, yes--but no one benefits from assigning value to any one branch of their love. They're all different, they all matter in different ways, and that's the most anyone can say.

If it helps, I'm writing this from the following perspective: I lost my mom, who was a huge part of my life, when she was only 61--but had she not set certain events in motion by falling ill, I would not have my three little boys. So, the future changes in ways we can't imagine, but also can't usefully compare.  

The blurb in today's column about "passive, obedient, perfect behavior" being good for school but not real life hit home with me this morning. I was/am that student. I've been avoiding facing it (grad school straddles the line between the two types of behavior) but for those of us who did fall into that mold, how do we break out of it. I know, intellectually, that it's ok to fail, but I'm still paralyzed by the idea of it actually happening. I'm almost done with grad school (6-8 months left) and I'm not excited about it, really, mostly just terrified.

It's a long process, so don't bring your perfectionist habits to it and expect to get it right overnight. Fortunately, it's also, conceptually at least, a straightforward process: You need to replace parents/professors/peers as the people you work to please, and replace them all with you. You're the one you answer to, from now on. 

If it helps, it's a little like starting an exercise program: It feels sluggish and painful at first, but very quickly, the effort starts to make you feel better, and you end up sticking to your program just to keep getting that feeling. Answering to yourself is awesome! Doing what feels right to you. Not pretending to like something you hate. Saying no to people who ask you for favors you don't want to do. I get giddy just thinking about it.


I'm the original Pennsylvania poster. The only reason my parents have articulated for their dislike of my boyfriend is that they don't think he treats me well, or at least not as sensitively as they would hope my partner would. He is a blunt, somewhat no-nonsense person and I'm fine with that, but whenever we are under outside scrutiny I see him through their eyes and imagine they are judging him as callous and cold. I don't like that feeling and my response so far has been to avoid inviting him to family stuff, which gets lonely for me.

Hmmm seeing some danger here. Are you comfortable with this BF around your friends, or has he become someone you feel comfortable with only one-on-one? 

You could just be with someone blunt-but-misunderstood, yes. But, then, wouldn't you trust his charms to become visible to your parents over time--as they presumably did with you?

The alternative is that you're with someone who is verbally abusive and already doing a pretty good job of isolating you from your support network. 

Please consider these two possibilities, and proceed with great caution. Also take a good hard look at his support network. Does he have friends you like (or friends at all), a good rapport with his family, or at least a good perspective on them if they're dysfunctional? And, for grins, read "The Gift of Fear." And Domestic Violence: The Facts, which is a quick but good read.  (See esp. pages 12-13.)

From one who had a similar loss about 18 years ago. Don't forget to mourn the little civilization the two of you built together, not just him. And accept what his family offers - you are so lucky they are being kind but that just reflects on what kind of person he was, right? YOU WILL LIVE, and the world will be there when you are ready for it. The Kay Redfield Jamison book is good. and CS Lewis' A Grief Observed if you either like or can look past the Christianity of it.

Thanks so much for this. The "little civilization the two of you built together," yes.

Hi Carolyn, My boyfriend and I (both men) are getting married later this year and are in the process of setting up our online registries, sending invitations, etc. We recognize that we're fortunate to live in a state that allows same-sex marriage, so we've decided that in lieu of gifts we'd like to ask guests to make a contribution to a gay rights organization. We both have fairly conservative branches of our family and wonder if we need to offer an alternative. My position is that we don't; my boyfriend thinks it would be considerate. I'd rather have a guest who doesn't support gay marriage skip the wedding altogether or not bring a gift than get some bogus coffee maker and tacit disapproval. Maybe I'm just overanalyzing everything. What do you think? Thanks!

If I put on my happy hat, then I want to advise you to back off the buyers of the "bogus coffee maker" (makes fake coffee?). When someone who comes from a conservative part of the culture and opposes gay marriage actually goes out and buys a coffee maker for a gay relative's wedding, that could just as easily be cast as progress to be encouraged, vs. insufficient applause to be swatted down.

If I put on my justice hat, then I can see that incomplete gestures--"I don't like gay people, except this one I happen to know really well, he just happens to be cool"--are begging to be called out for the hypocrisy they are.

If I put on my etiquette hat, then I recoil (imperceptibly to the naked eye) at the idea of forcing your guests either to pony up for your chosen political cause, or to stuff it. I mean, what are you going to tell people: "Either donate to this cause as a gift to us, or don't come"?

Fortunately, the sheer impracticality of your idea trumps all. You can't make the donation a condition of attending your wedding, so don't. Either don't register anywhere and quietly put out word that the couple have requested no gifts--"or a donation for X cause ..."--or set up a small registry to make it easier for those who expect them, as long as you aren't opposed to them on principle.


We are still without power after last week's storm and won't have it back until Sunday or later. We have taken refuge at in-laws but it is not home. After a week of poor sleep my special needs young child's behavior is miserable and I know it will not improve until he gets a few nights of good sleep, which requires that he be at home. Family vacation is supposed to start Saturday; child won't sleep any better in a different location that is not home. I begged the power company to help us and they totally blew me off; it is obvious they could not care less about the impact their decisions are having on their customers. I am at the end of my rope. I now face a week of poor behavior in front of other family members and a vacation that is ruined already as at least a couple nights of good sleep is required and now it is too late. I know it is just a vacation and not life or death but I am still miserable over this ruined vacation not only for us but for the rest of our group, and dreading a week of tantrums, crying, misbehavior and constant yelling, with slim chances for all of us to enjoy ourselves on what is supposed to be a nice vacation that we had been looking forward to. But since it is paid for and involves other people it cannot be rescheduled until a time that Pepco can get its act together. What to do?

I'm sorry--I completely feel your pain about the effects of poor sleep on behavior. It's not just special needs children, it's everyone, adults included. Ugh, and the judging eyes of those watching a kid melt down.

You specified that only home will do, I see that, but does that truly rule out a good quality hotel? I've found them to be sensory-deprivation chambers, very conducive to kids' sleep, as long as there's no environmental noise (elevator, etc.) and the mattresses are good.

It might be worth a try for tonight, in an attempt to get the vacation off to a decent start. If nothing else, it gives you 12 to 18 hours out of sight of your in-laws, which will give you chance to regroup. 

Either way, you also might consider canceling the vacation or cutting it short. Yes, you paid for it, other people, high hopes, etc., but if it really will be sleep-deprivation hell, it's better to take the loss upfront than to stretch it out over several days of misery for all involved.

Carolyn, we are planning a tiny, no-frills wedding ceremony next month and, a few weeks later, a casual party for friends/family. We are fully independent and happy with the state of our material possessions (we'll actually have to sell a lot before moving in together). Still, I suspect that not having a gift registry will seem odd to certain members of my family and their social circle. Can we say anything to dispel any worst assumptions (i.e., that this is an unstated "cash only, please" request)?

No, that will only make it worse. Just be your natural, non-greedy selves and that will suffice for those whose affection for you is paramount. Those who put a premium on finding things to complain about will think what they like no matter what you do, so any effort to pre-empt their "worst assumptions" will go to waste.

If you're trying to overcome fear of failure, having a low-stakes hobby can do wonders. I've always liked cooking and can get ambitious about it, but I know in the end, if it's terrible, I can order a pizza and I haven't ruined anyone's evening. If you like playing sports, they are all about failure and recovery. Certainly you don't hit every shot you make, but it doesn't stop you from trying again.

Dead on, thank you, especially the first half (sports can be problematic for some people--just watch a perfectionist pick up golf).

Some registries have a thing where a percentage of the purchase is donated to a cause, and my (straight) friends chose lambda legal as theirs, regardless of their conservative families' wishes.

Yes, forgot about this option, thanks.

When evaluating you parents' reaction to your boyfriend, consider the source and their reactions to previous relationships, and your relationship with them. Do your parents act with your best interests at heart? Have they generally been accepting of your dates, or find tend to find fault with anyone you bring home? If they objected to boyfriends in the past, how accurate or well-founded were their were their concerns? The fact that you first mention how independent you are, and that you use words such as slimy and gross tells me that you're young, maybe recently left the nest? Newfound independence can be heady stuff, use it wisely, and judge the situation through the aforementioned filters.

Agreed, the context is so important, even if OP isn't fresh from the nest. Thanks.

Hi Carloyn - Love your column! I'll try to make this brief - ex-husband is in jail, we have two children (11 and 12), one with autism. His mother lives near us and has expressed (not to me, but to her lawyer...who then passed it on to me) that she would like to see the kiddos while her son is 'away'. I'm OK with that. I've given her my email and cell number - but have heard nothing from her. It's been more than a week and I've sent the info twice. She's gone long periods of time without seeing her grandchildren before, even though she lives minutes away and has no physical or monetary impediments. Her involvement with her grandchildren has mirrored that of her son's...and he has ranged between no contact, court-ordered supervised and limited visitation. She's not spoken to me in years - blames me for the divorce and our children have asked me not to pursue a relationship ("but mom - she hates you!" ) I'm torn on how much I should 'push' this - I mean, she has my info...she knows where we live, she's a grown woman.....and my children aren't begging to see her....but I struggle to find the balance between encouraging and forcing it. Any thoughts?

Make sure her lawyer has your contact info and your permission for her to contact you--i.e., make sure you have proof that you have cooperated-- and then drop it. Let her come to you if she means it. She has your info ... she knows where you live, she's a grown woman ... and your  children aren't begging to see her. Why encourage it, much less force it? Allowing it strikes me as plenty. 

I'm sharing an apartment with my best friend this summer. I love living with her, but have discovered she's a slob. I'm definitely no neat freak, but do generally like to wash dishes with some soap, instead of just running water over them so the crumbs go away. I don't even mind doing the majority of the housework since I'm the one who cares about it, but how do I ask her to either do things "right" or not do them at all? Or do I just lay low and re-wash dishes before we have guests over for dinner?

It's just a summer, right? Get by and then get out.

"I begged the power company to help us and they totally blew me off; it is obvious they could not care less about the impact their decisions are having on their customers." Its clear this has been one mighty tough week for that family, and I am very sorry for them getting the short end of the stick this time, but I can't imagine having a system where the power company decides who the worthiest resident are for restoring service.

I took it as the exasperation talking, but you're right to call it out, thanks.

The vacation is paid for, so in economic terms, it's a sunk cost. Gone. Spent. Can't get it back. You've already spent it, so if going on vacation will make your life even worse, then consider cancelling. I know it goes against human nature, because you paid for it, people think they have to get what they've paid for. But if you've already spent the money, there's no point in torturing yourself if you think going would just make everyone more miserable than skipping. Do what gives you the greatest pleasure under these circumstances. It's like a bad movie - yes, you paid for it, but you don't have to sit through the whole thing if it's just going to irritate you.

Love the bad-movie analogy. So true.

Just for perspective, I'd love to read a letter from the family member of a repair person who's been outdoors in this health-threatening oppressive heat and humidity, working overtime to the point of exhaustion trying to get debris cleared and other people's utilities reconnected -- perhaps while their own power is still off after a week.

A round of applause for all of them, yes. Imagine the crews from Canada; a body adjusts to extreme heat and humidity over time, and these folks just parachuted into it.

What do you do when you feel like the problems a friend complains about are above your pay grade? It's gotten worse in the last six months: at least once a week, I'm listening to how her life is "ruined" and nothing will ever get better and her problems are so bad that the therapist she's finally started seeing can't possibly help. The other problem is that after years of listening to the same thing, I've come up with a few thoughts on how my friend could improve her situation. It's hard to keep my mouth shut, especially when I'm asked to give not only a sympathetic ear but also affirmation that she is right about everything that bothers her and right in how she approaches it. My friend is in a pretty bad place - underemployed, terrible self-esteem, single when she desperately wants not to be - but I feel like I am caught between being a busybody if I offer suggestions or an enabler if I do nothing more than listen and offer platitudes.

"What do you do when you feel like the problems a friend complains about are above your pay grade": She has a therapist, yay, so now you can say this: "This is above my pay grade, Friend--you really need to talk about this with your therapist." And: "As I said, I'm not qualified to help you, this is beyond sympathetic listening. I'm rooting for you but we need to talk about something else." Repeat as needed.

I got this guidance from a psychiatrist. The hours of sympathetic listening impede your friend's progress. Even if it feels cold or rude, you need to extract yourself as kindly and clearly as you can.

My husband has to wake up several hours earlier than I do each day. We both work, but my schedule is far more flexible than his. He is not a morning person and he resents this terribly, to the point where he is grumpy and rude even if I wake up early to see him off. This seems childish to me and it hurts my feelings that he holds my schedule against me. What can I say to him to help fix this?

It surprised me at the time, but one of the column topics that attracted the most passionate disagreement I've seen was one on a mate who was crabby in the morning. There aren't just two camps, though these are the most prominent: the "it's physiological and they can't change it" camp and the "it's rude and inexcusable behavior" camp.

Given that you're in the position of asking someone else to change--usually a loser--I think treating it as a practical, vs. emotional, problem is probably the more productive route. Try putting in place any available aid to his morning routine (coffee machine with timer, for e.g., or suggesting he set out his clothes and pre-pack whatever he takes with him to work), and then get the heck out of the way.

If this isn't just a morning problem, and he's pissy to you at all times over your flexible schedule, then it's lay-it-on-the-table time. As in, "I don't know what you want from me here. Is there something you want me to change?" If he can't articulate anthing, then: "Okay. You're agreed that there's nothing either of us can reasonably do to change this? Then I'm going to ask you to give it a rest before it pollutes the air between us." 


Dear Carolyn, I'm really striking out with my boyfriend's friends. The last three times I've seen them, I had (1) horrible menstrual cramps that had me cross-eyed with agony, (2) a work crisis that I had to keep running outside to keep phone calls for, and (3) a major beef with my boyfriend for forgetting to tell me we were meeting up with the guys for drinks. So it's no wonder that his friends' impression of me is that I'm antisocial, uptight, and snappish. As we are probably going to get engaged soon, I'd like to change their impression, but I doubt I would buy it if someone apologized to me for being rude on three separate occasions. How do I change my image?

Stay home from social events when you feel that uncomfortable,  don't let your fights spill over into other people's time, and let time and good behavior create a new image of you.

I've kind of buried the middle one, but that is a honking big deal. A major beef over a forgotten piece of information? Really? And it spilled over into the evening? Any impression of you that witnesses took away from this is accurate, I'm afraid. And if you want their accurate impression of you to be a good one, then you're going to need to learn to manage your anger. 1. it has no place when something has gone wrong by accident; save it for when people do harm with intent. 2. It has no place at an occasion you're sharing with others. Step aside and try to resolve the problem quickly. If that doesn't work, then agree to talk about it later and shake off your foul mood. If you can't get your mood under control, take yourself for a walk.

This might not apply here, but so often does: 3. If the fight was a small piece of a recurring argument, then put in a good faith effort to come to peace, or at least some sort of sustainable agreement to disagree. If you can't do that, then consider ending the relationship. Recurring fights are like jealousy: They're trying to tell you something is seriously wrong. They're not acceptable as chronic conditions that you write off with something like, "All relationships are work." All that says is that you two aren't mature enough to either settle your differences or pull the plug. 

Again--don't do any damage control on your image, just be a kind and flexible person. If the "major beef" count is up there, then no amount of polishing will get rid of the tarnish.

Dear Carolyn: I am faced with yet another dilemma about disclosing a friend's potentially harmful secret vs. keeping my mouth shut. The friend in question cheated on his current girlfriend, "Amy," with his nearly-ex-wife, "Sally." The incident happened at my home, which is how I know it happened. My friend claims it was a one-time thing, but I would bet a million dollars they have been hooking up since their breakup. I would definitely stay out of it, as I have no particular loyalty to Amy, except that I happen to know, from a conversation I had with Sally earlier this year, that Sally does not want to follow through with her split from my friend, and that she very much hoped she would get pregnant before he moved out, incentivizing him to stay. End of story. What should I do?

Ew. Find new friends. I don't have any fix on Amy, obviously, but both Friend and Sally sound like they deserve each other. The one who doesn't deserve either of them is the potential child. This--"hoped she would get pregnant before he moved out, incentivizing him to stay"--borders on evil. 

Someone wanted to hear from the family of an electric company worker- my dad has been working 17+ hour days since last Friday when my parents lost electric. They were scheduled to go on vacation tomorrow to celebrate my mom's retirement, but have to push it back or cancel completely because he's been at work all week. And to top it off- their power was out for 6 days as well. There isn't preferential treatment for anyone, and you're not the only one missing your vacation.

Sigh. Please pass along my thanks, and I'm sure many feel the same way.

What if everyone else leaves for the vacation on time, and you and child stay home for a day by yourselves? You could get the much-needed sleep and join the rest of the group in a better frame of mind.

Good suggestion, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, When I was a teenager and in college, I was a slob. No two ways around it. I am now 28 and own a condo. Over the past few years, I have started keeping my place significantly neater and have a cleaning service to do the heavy lifting. Nobody who comes to my home in years comments on the condition negatively. Except one person: my mother. She makes comments about small things (the glasses in my cabinet were not arranged according to size) when she visits and alludes to the fact that I am slovenly. At family gatherings, like a recent wedding shower when the bride received a vacuum cleaner, my mother exclaimed "Good thing you didn't get that, you wouldn't even know how to use it!" Yes, I was a messy teen and college student. But I am now a gainfully employed professional with a clean condo. Any tips for pointing this out to my mother? I thought over time, being in my clean place, she would see the difference. But that isn't happening. I don't want to sound petulant, but I need some advice on how to discuss this with my mother constructively, because it really bothers me.

This is actually pretty typical--not the cleaning arc, though that's common, too, but the Mom-won't-let-her-image-of-me-grow-up problem.

I suggest a two-pronged attack (how many electricity images can I use today?):

1. Have the Conversation. "I can think of many occasions lately when you've made an issue or joke of my cleaning habits. Such as, [example or two here]. I know I used to be a huge slob, but I'm not any more--I take pride in the way I care for my home, in fact--and so I'm mystified that it's still an issue. Is there something you're trying to say, or something that's bothering you?" If there is something, hear her out and do your best to respond charitably, vs defensively. Defensiveness is a brick wall.

2. No matter how she responds--be it defensiveness of her own, or lip service, or genuine change--be prepared to let the subject drop. People hold onto things for all kinds of reasons, many they can't articulate. For example, your mother might be harboring significant anger that you were a slob on her turf but magically reformed on your own (she'd have a point, actually, no?), and, more important, lack the self-awareness to form this into words. So, she jabs and snarks and swipes.

Whatever the case, you'll have said your piece, and heard her out. Once you've done that, the next step is to assure yourself you've done what you could, and any remaining obnoxious behavior from Mom is just part of the deal.


My girlfriend sometimes seems annoyed by my close relationship with my sister (who lives far away from us). She says that I cater too much to her opinion and feels that she manipulates me. (I don't think so). She gets annoyed when I talk on the phone with her (usually an hour or so, on weekends). When we do spend time with my sister, my girlfriend gets peeved by her tendency to dawdle and run behind schedule. She says she wishes that I would take a tougher line with her, and not give in to her so often. I'm not sure that there really is a problem. But I would like to nip it in the bud. (I'm pretty sure that my sister has no issue with my girlfriend).

Context, please. Is your GF controlling/possessive/particular in other ways? How is she with/about your local friends? 

Or, maybe more telling and much higher concept, how much have you altered your life and lifestyle to make room for her, and how much has she had to do to fit you in?

The reason I'm focusing on your GF and not your sister, who might very well be manipulative, is that I am disposed to question the people who don't move on from a recurring problem. If your GF has such a big problem with this, then she needs to face it, and if it's not that big, then she needs to get over herself. Getting annoyed over something once a week is just bad emotional management on her part. And, possibly, yours, if you don't address this in a decisive way. Thus my focus. 



Hi Carolyn, The declaration "I don't want to leave my kid with strangers" makes my blood boil. It seems really combative and judgmental to me, and ignores the economic/geographic reality that many people HAVE to leave their kids with caretakers. Now that statement is being applied to my wedding by locals (!!) and the combination is making it really hard for me to be gracious when I tell people that I'm not able to accommodate their kids. Because, really, I want to say "Then don't come. Please. Do me the favor." I've been graciously dealing with this issue with our multitude of out-of-town guests for the last six months because I think their concerns -- kids with an unknown babysitter in a hotel room -- are really justified. But in-town people? Are you effing kidding me? I don't have a question, but maybe you and the 'nuts have some words of wisdom.

I do agree that it's a loaded declaration, and a howler from locals. I also think that it's perfectly fine to give a sweetened up version of your "Then don't come" response: "Hey, if you're not comfortable coming without your children, then I understand completely, though we'll miss you."  

I'm in therapy to work through some issues I'm having with my marriage and I'm discovering a tendency to omit things about my relationship that embarrass me. I'm not hiding abuse, but more like pre-marriage signals that he wasn't as into the idea of marriage as I was. It's like I don't want the therapist to think poorly of my husband, or more accurately, poorly of me for being a chump. Any suggestions for working through this tendency? Obviously this is less than helpful for a situation that is supposed to be about honesty... Thanks!

Say this to your therapist: "I am having a hard time overriding my impulse to omit things. It's like I don't want you to think poorly of my husband, or more accurately, poorly of me for being a chump. Any suggestions for working through this tendency?"

If you chicken out, then write it down before you go in, or, even better, read it into the therapist's answering machine. Admitting this will be the hardest part, so don't be afraid to force yourself over the barrier a bit just to get the therapist involved in the process.

This week's readers-give-the-advice columns reminded me of something I've wondered. Where do those contributions come from? Emails that come after a column runs? The comments section? Chat outtakes? All of the above? And: do you always agree with the advice? Just curious how those vacation columns are compiled.

Emails after a column and chat outtakes. The comments section, to my mind, has already been published and I want these to be new to all eyes. Though I could certainly fill the four weeks with that material--so much thoughtful stuff.

I've said this before but it's worth saying again, I don't always agree with the comments I publish. Many I do, if not most, but some I put in just because they're well argued or they stir the pot. It's extremely valuable, I think, to keep in mind the thought process of people who have a different view from your own, even if you think the process is flawed. 

I just realized I forgot to explain why I'm here today when I'm "away" in print. I normally take this chat off, but I have a busy August and will need to be genuinely away then, possibly more than the usual one week. 

Hi, Carolyn. I'm a long-time fan of your columns and chats. My husband and I have two small children, ages 8 and 6. My husband has been married before. His ex-wife lives in a different country so we do not see her. It's not a secret he has been married before, but I'm not sure how and when to tell my children. I read in your column once about someone who found out at 25 years old that their dad had previously been married. I don't want that to happen, but I'm not sure of the appropriate time, place and manner to tell my children. Any advice?

Now's fine. 8 and 6 are good ages--they're old enough to get what it means but young enough to feel, when they're adults, that they've known all along. You can use a life situation as a springboard--a couple you know who is divorcing, or a movie or book--or you can just say, hey, we've been wanting to tell you this and you're both old enough now to know. Assure them that your marriage is solid, this is just something in their daddy's past that they deserve to know. Let them ask questions--on the spot, a week later, whatever---and assure them they can ask anything. Good luck.

Be prepared, I should add, to answer the "why" question in a way that doesn't scare them about your marriage and that doesn't trash the ex. 

Thanks for pointing out that I was a slob on her turf, but not my own. I am sure, even if subconsciously, that is part of the issue. And she absolutely deserves an "I'm sorry I was messy in the late 90's."

Sure thing--and good thinking on the apology. If  you catch her off-guard she might not respond in the fence-mendingest of ways, but it will still be the right thing for you to have done.

Agree with everything CH said. Could it also be possible that you just aren't comfortable opening up to this therapist? I've had a couple and I just didn't click with one - I didn't feel like I could be honest with her or that she was accepting of me. So I found someone else who was much more helpful. Best to consider the entire context though - don't use it as an excuse not to talk about it.

Good thought, thanks.

Owright, must go. Thanks for stopping by today, have a great weekend, don't melt, and I'll type to you here at the usual place and time next week, unless I spontaneously combust while walking the dog tomorrow.

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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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