Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, July 13)

Jul 13, 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.

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

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Hi everybody, hope your day is going well. (Because that would be swell, and there'd also be nothing to talk about. )

I really hurt my friend of 20+ years when I backed out of a group vacation at the last minute. I e-mailed what I thought was a truly apologetic explanation, offering to try to make it up. I should have called, but I feared a bad reaction on my friend's part, which is exactly what happened. She flipped out and became very emotional, quickly sending a very raw e-mail and voice mail that frightened me in their intensity. I've apologized again, asked to get together to talk about what happened, tried to have some light communication, but I'm being shut out. It's been 6 weeks. This vacation excepted, I have always been there for this friend through many trying times. Now I'm the one who's hurt by not having my appeals for forgiveness accepted. Am I still in the wrong, or is my friend being as irrational as I feel she is? I just can't go along with her feeling like I have broken our friendship. Thanks.

The email was a truly terrible idea, so that's on you. The "light communication" is probably a "don't" as well.

Her refusal to hear you out, especially after all those years of friendship--that's on her.

You knew this about her, that she has an unreasonable/emotional way of responding to bad news, so even though this friendship is a terrible loss for you, it's probably not entirely surprising. I could even argue that it was inevitable, unless you somehow managed to do and say all the right things for the rest of your shared life with her.

So while I can see why you feel hurt, I don't think that places the blame in the right place. "Hurt" suggests she's harming you personally and with intent, where I'd argue this is about her more than it is about you, specifically about her need to have everything go her way.


I don't know what that means for your friendship, but I do think a one-last-time call is the next step. That's the one where you explain to her (or more likely to her voice mail) that you regret telling her by email, since you should have called; that you're sorry you let her down on the vacation, though you didn't do it lightly; that you value this friendship; and that you believe the 20 years you and she have shared warrants at least one chance for you to say your piece. Say you hope she'll grant you that much, you'll gratefully take her call whenever she's ready, and you will stop trying to contact her now.

My nephew has a longtime girlfriend that I adore. He's a great guy, too--he's always been so sweet to my husband and me. They just got engaged (they are mid-20s). Recently she confided to me a lot of worries she has about the marriage. She told quite a few stories that make him sound like a control freak (ie he "won't let her" keep her maiden name) and I know she's already made sacrifices (career choice, living near his family rather than hers) in order to support his choices, though I've not seen similar sacrifices on his part. After she shares her worries she sighs and says she's "stuck with him." Both sets of their parents are very traditional and thrilled they are getting married; so much so I worry this is a big reason she said yes. Neither has ever had another serious relationship, and I think she's terrified to be alone. I know I can't tell her not to marry him; I know people have to make their own mistakes; I know they may end up very happy and my worries may be groundless. BUT--I am worried and I wonder if there's anything I can say to her to help her think about whether this is really the best thing for her. When I hear things that alarm me I do say "is that okay with you?" or, "it's okay to say no", etc etc. That's when she sighs and says that she's stuck with him.

And that's when you say, "No, you're not. I love my nephew and I think you're wonderful, but you're a grown woman and you are free to do what you think is right for you. Without apology."

She needs to hear this from someone who believes it, and it'll be even more powerful coming from someone in his "camp."

Then she can go off and mess her life up all she wants.

As regards the friend question just now... good rule of thumb, people: if you have a good reason to be terrified of someone's response to bad news, then that is NOT a person you want to have a close relationship with. Period. All-too-often people keep coming here and saying, "How can I stop x, who always reacts badly, from reacting badly?" Simple. Stop interacting with them unless you absolutely have to. And try not to keep any lit powder-kegs in your house while you're at it.

Works for me, thanks.

I have a whole column on this coming--the person pouts vs explodes, but those are just different degrees of the same problem.

Submitting early. I am hoping you or the peanuts have some advice on how to explain a miscarriage to a sensitive seven year old girl. We told our daughter about my pregnancy earlier then we had planned because my morning sickness was rather bad and she was very worried that I was sick. Unfortunately my pregnancy is most likely not viable, but it is a slow process as we wait for further tests and let nature take it course. I am blessed with wonderful husband and supportive family and friends and a kind, compassionate OB, but the process is grueling and more emotionally exhausting and heart-breaking than I ever imagined. We've explained to her that things are not healthy with pregnancy and that I am being well taken care of, but I feel like we are overwhelming her with my grief. While I can explain that miscarriages are common and fetus is not developing correctly, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of the baby inside me slowly dying. I feel like I let my daughter down, she was so excited about another baby and now she is trying to take care of and comfort me (bringing me glasses of water and reading me stories) which is what I should be doing for her. And since everything is still in process I can't really say it's over and we can grieve and move on yet. How do I survive this and be strong for my kid? How do I help her grieve without overwhelming her?

Sounds to me as if you're not letting your daughter down at all, and in fact you're doing exactly what she needs: allowing her to be involved, useful, compassionate. The thing so many of us get wrong about kids (I'm guilty of this myself) is that we put so much earnest energy into taking care of them and being responsible for them that we forget how badly they need to care for and be responsible for things, too. It's the key to so many things--their sense of purpose and therefore self-worth, their developing social and fine-motor skills, their understanding of family and communal responsibility, their judgment. Really, everything that will equip them to be strong, independent, civic- and family-oriented adults.

Obviously you don't want to load them up with the volume of responsibility better suited to a parent, but her bringing you water and reading you stories is exactly what she's prepared to give at her age. Tell her how thankful you are, praise her compassion, and always make sure you go out of your way to take care of her when you feel up to it, to balance out the times you don't.

As for helping her understand what's going on--which is so devastating, I'm sorry--it also sounds as if you've done a good job. To help her put it in perspective without desensitizing her, I suggest you get a copy of "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (warning: I blubbered when I read it at a similarly sensitive time). It explains nature so beautifully that it explains the science and the pain and the acceptance all in very few words and images--perfect for age 7.

Even though you're still not sure if grief is where this story will end, you might want to consider grief counseling, so you have a place to cry without worrying about its effect on your girl--and so you can disabuse yourself of the notion that you;ve let her down with this troubled pregnancy. I don't think there's anything wrong with showing emotions to kids, but it also makes sense to find a safe haven so you don't feel like you're always at your worst when you're home. 

Take care, and good luck.


I agree 100% that you don't want friends who can't handle being let down, but sadly it seems to me that instead many people put more energy into maintaining those high-standards friendships. As a laid-back friend, it really bothers me when some people start to assume that because I don't throw a hissy fit, it's okay to cancel on me or otherwise not come through. So don't chose friends who punish you... but also don't be someone who needs the threat of punishment to do the right thing.

Nice point, thanks.

I'm surprised you didn't ask the reason for the last-minute cancellation. To me, it matters. Your answer seems to assume that the friend is overreacting. And, if the reason for the cancellation was truly solid (e.g., family emergency, recent job loss and lack of funds, etc.), then I think you'd be right. But what if the reason was something a little fuzzier? What if she found something better to do? Or, just decided she didn't feel like it? What if she has a history of bailing at the last minute? It just seems that, depending on the circumstances, the friend could be totally justified in being upset...

... but her way of showing it would still be out of line. 

For example, this option was available:

1. Read punk-out email.

2. Call friend who punked out.

3. Say, in calmish voice: "You know what? Unless you have a better reason than you put in your email, you're doing a really crappy thing here. And to let me know by email is just weak."

4. Wait for response.

5. See if response passes the sniff test. 

6. If yes, forgive; if not, say: "I'm going to need time to cool off here, because I just don't want any part of this friendship right now. Not if I can't count on you."

If that kind of emotional restraint isn't in your repertoire, then there's always:

1. Read punk-out email.

2. Hit "reply," type: "I am really disappointed, and angry as hell. We need to talk about this, but not until I cool off. I hope you have a better reason for doing this than you said in your email--which was weak, by the way. You can't call me with this?"

I.e., you can be highly PO'd and still not scream at someone on the phone, send a raw email and refuse--for 6 weeks and counting--to let the person explain. Doing these things doesn't mean you agree to remain friends, it just means you agree to act like an adult while you sort through what really happened. And if you decide you have no interest in remainign friends after this, you say so, and why. 

So, yes, the reason matters, but the friend was still overreacting.



Provided you apologize sincerely for canceling a wedding on an unsuspecting groom first. I get that the guy is probably very wrong for her. But she's an adult too. She consented to this marriage, and she probably engaged in wedding planning -- two details that would, you know, lead this guy to believe she wanted to marry him. She needs to bow out of this as best she can WITH apology. To do otherwise is egregiously self-indulgent. Then she can do what she needs to do.

yes, of course, good catch. She would need to apologize for breaking an engagement. What I meant was that she's not in service to her parents or his parents or him or anyone else; therefore, she doesn't need to apologize for wanting things from her life that differ from what others want of her. 

Hi Carolyn, I got married last year and am entering the second trimester of my first pregnancy. Both of these blessed events have hit my sister "Kate" pretty hard. Kate is 37 and very discouraged by not having found The One yet; she is starting to make comments about how worried she is that she will never have children. I am 34 and met my husband online. I've encouraged Kate to try online and other non-obvious forms of dating; she rejects every one because she believes dating should be organic. I see where she's coming from, but I know she's closing off countless opportunities for herself. She is not happy about my pregnancy. I feel sorry for her and don't know how to help anymore. What do you think?

I think she's not asking for your help. With her comments, she is asking for a response form you, and it's a hrad line to walk. She's essentially saying, "I want what you have," and you need to say, essentially, "Bummer, but it's not that simple."

Because it isn't that simple. As you've pointed out, your sister has consciously declined to take some paths that could lead to spouse and child. That doesn't make it her fault she's without these things, of course, but it does make her more of an architect in her life than maybe she wants to see right now. She wants certain things a certain way, and that's always a gamble in life--particularly is mate-selection, since  50 percent of the control is in someone else's hands, but it's still true no matter what you're talking about, from perhaps the biggest things--who your family is and what their socioeconomic circumstances are--to what you study, to what you do for a living, to where you live, and so on. All of these things have an element of, "You get what you get and you don't get upset." (Thank you, preschool.)

This is all to say that the two reflexive answers--"Poor you" and "Start dating online or stop complaining"--are off the mark. I think closer to the mark are answers along the lines of, "I'm excited, but I worry too that things aren't going to work out the way I hope. I suspect we all do."  Get the conversation out of the conceptual rut that a good life looks one way and a disappointing one looks another.


Hi Carolyn, I adore your chats. Here's my problem: My husband and I carpool to and from work, and he has a bad habit of screwing around on his iPhone as he drives. We also have our toddler in the backseat and I'm 7 months pregnant, so I see these brief, momentary distractions as hugely threatening to my family's safety. He does not. When I ask him to stop tinkering on the phone, he dramatically sighs, acquiesces, and puts down the phone. Within seconds and without realizing it (I really don't think he knows he's doing it), that phone is back in his hand and he's checking the weather, sending himself a reminder, or whatever. This morning, I got so fed up that I grabbed the phone from his hand and threw it into my door pocket. It was rash and immature, so I tried to recover civility by calmly (I swear!) telling him that I resented him blowing off my fear of a car crash and that I'm out of ideas to get him to hear me. He didn't respond and it was a tense ride in. We've never had a close call, but I can't bear to wait for a close call. I've argued that an accident with minor injuries to the rest of us could be catastrophic for our unborn baby. Any injury -- or worse -- to my toddler would be devastating, as would harm to somebody else. After many conversations, where I've ranged from nagging to begging to calmly talking, he gets it...but he does't. I want to either drive separately or take over the driving responsibility. How do I do this in a cordial way that doesn't scream "PUTTING YOUR NEED TO KNOW THE FORECAST AHEAD OF YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY'S SAFETY FORCED ME TO DO THIS"? I don't want to start a war; I just want to get to and from work safely.

Thanks for the kind words.

These "many conversations"--have you always had them in the car, or have some of them been at home at the kitchen table, during the course of a pleasant evening?


Found out teenage son has experimented with drinking and pot. (Found out from a 3rd party and revealing this confidence would cause big problems for my son.) He seems no worse for the wear -- ending the school year with great grades, high ambitions for the future and in good spirits. I have been told that it is better for kids to go through this as teens, when they are living at home and there are built-in limits to how far they can go, rather than at college. I've been told its a typical developmental stage. I know from -- ahem -- personal experience that it is a typical developmental stage. But what I want to do right now is lock him in a room with a little trap door so I can send in food. In other words, how do I trust him when he is out with his friends? How do I not trust him? By the way, it seems like this is something parents of teens don't talk about it. I've never heard my friends discuss a similar situation and I know I won't be breathing a word of this -- I don't want to be seen as the parent of the druggie. I miss the days when we could all share that our kids were having tantrums, or won't potty train, or whatever. I don't think my son is a druggie. I don't want him to become a druggie. Help?

Ah, good times. 

You do need to talk to him. But first, you need to figure out what you're asking him to do. Ideally you'd like him to stop experimenting, but you also know that's not likely. So that's item 1. Item 2, you'd like him not to drive under the influence or ride with anyone under the influence, right? You'd probably also like him not to get arrested, so that's 3. Since you don't want him going down the druggie road, you need to focus on the strongest predictors of addiction: brain chemistry, peers, parents. So those are 4a, 4b, 4c (though you're covering 4c by having this conversation with him in the first place.

I can't speak for you, but I can see filling in the list as follows, and opening the conversation with, "Anyone your age is faced with drug and alcohol choices, so I want to talk about it whether you have or haven't said "yes":

1. Saying yes has consequences. Some of them are major and some are minor and no one can say for absolute certain which ones they'll be dealt. One person will walk away unscathed, one will die. 

2. I don't want you to be the one who dies, so I'm going to ask you for a couple of things. If you ever indulge too much to drive or your driver indulges too much to drive you, CALL ME. I will get you, with full amnesty if you tell me the truth.

3. Don't get sloppy. People who get away with something once tend to get braver by increments until their luck runs out. Don't be that person.

4a. Addicts often get that way because of their bodies as much as their choices. Don't assume you have full control.


Literature is helpful here. Some mainstream publications (i.e., written for the layman) have done special reports covering the latest research on addiction. You can also read, and have him read, this (link). 

4b. If your friends aren't looking out for you, then they're not real friends. This is hard because bonding over a "party" is so damn attractive. But, people who want to navigate every edge and want to take you with them--thereby validating as good a choice they know is bad--are the most dangerous people you will meet. If a friend is never content to do something "boring" like hang out without breaking any rules, then be very afraid. Or, even better, say no to this friendship. Difficult but so smart in the long run.

Of course, this is a lecture, which is the surest way to send your kid off to the woods with a joint. The smart move is to put at least some of this in question form so it's more of an exchange.

Most important, though, is the advance thinking about your values, your expectations and your limits. Parents ar the anti-drug (do I need a TM after that?) but first they need to make sense.


Would it help for the wife to remind him that what he is doing is illegal as well as dangerous? Frankly, I'm so much on her side in this question, I don't know how to see what his mindset is. It's damned dangerous and totally unnecessary.

I agree, but if it weren't irrational, then it wouldn't be here in my queue.

Oh. These many conversations have been in the car, NOT during a pleasant evening at the kitchen table. (Guiltily covers faces with hands.)

No no, no self-flagellation. (Leaves no flogging for us.)

Do have the conversation when emotions aren't high, and see if you can come to agreement--say, you drive, hold the phone, whatever. He doesn't have a leg to stand on here, but since he has chosen to defend his right to be dangerous and stupid, your best of the bad choices is to find a rational bypass of his irrationality. Good luck.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. I sent a message to a friend I haven't seen for a while this week to see if she wanted to get together soon and she responded that her husband now has his own apt. They have two young kids, and this comes seemingly out of the blue. Husbands have been friends since jr. high, I've known them for about four years. We're getting together with our kids next week (and I'll presumably get more of the story then), but I'm totally at a loss as to what to say or do. These our our first friends to get divorced and to make things worse, this is her second marriage (first time she was very young and the guy turned out to be abusive), so I'm worried about any fallout from that, too. Any advice?

The best, best, best thing you can do is not bring an agenda with you. Not pro-reconciliation, not pro-husband (or pro-her), not anti-multiple-divorce, not pro-divorce-is-the-end-of-the-world. If you need an agenda to orient you, make it pro-friendship. Listen, don't judge, and see what she needs based on what you see.

Not the OP but as the parent of 2 boys who just became teenagers, thanks for the advice on the drug talk. The problem with parenthood is that we're all newbies. By the time we have mastered the job description, the kids are all grown up.

Well, my kids are 9, 9 and 8, so I'm more of a newbie than you are. I just get paid to read a lot on topics like this, have access to years of excellent feedback from people who have been through it, and have cringe-inducing memories of what I needed to hear when I was 14.

I sympathize with the LW, because my husband also thinks he's somehow better than all those other people who crash their cars while driving and browsing. But she has to put her foot down here. Stomp it if necessary. No more "conversations." Refuse to be in the car or allow your children to be in the car with him until he agrees to stop 100 percent. Offer to drive. Offer to hold his phone. If he refuses, he rides the bus.

I think this is what it will take, thanks--but, -after- the one, calm, not-in-the-car conversation.

I've been trying for a few years now to maintain a friendship with my ex from high school. We're in our late 20s now. He's not a bad guy and he talks a lot about how much I mean to him, but in practice, he seems completely uninterested in the "being friends" part. He does things that really bother me, seemingly on purpose (he makes uncomfortable comments about my appearance, starts arguments with my husband, attacks our lifestyle, takes my picture when I've explicitly asked him not to). The couple times I've confronted him about how alienating his behavior is, he won't acknowledge any wrongdoing but also refuses to give me any distance because of how "important" I am to him. I'm at wits' end. It's like he views my friendship as a trophy for how nice and well-adjusted he is as opposed to a relationship requiring work and respect. Is there any way to fix this?

Yes. Stop pretending you're friends.

My husband has been working very hard on several different work related projects. He is an admitted workaholic and he's quite burned out, which I totally get. I'm trying not to take things personally, but I feel so lonely and sort of abandoned because even when he's physically present, he's really not "there". He's always thinking about other things, or even working on his projects while I may be trying to talk to him. This applies even to important stuff. I will tell him something important and even e-mail it and he acts surprised later to learn of it. It just seems that we are so distant at the moment. I have brought it up with him, but he just says he's pre-occupied. That doesn't resolve anything. What should I do?

When these several work-related projects wrap up, will there be more to replace them? First thing you need is to assess honestly whether this is "at the moment," or the way it's going to be.

If it's the former, you hang tough. If it's the latter, you either develop resources to keep you steady without him during big work pushes, or you re-think this marriage.

after 30 years an old high school "girlfriend" ( mostly hook-ups) has contacted me expressing her regret we never "had that opportunity to further our relationship" we have emailed for a month now and I find hersmart, funny and interesting but I have a concern. She is 3 x divorced. Is it possible that her repeated failures in that department were not her fault as she says? (Her ex's were substance abusers and adulterous by her claims.) I am wary of getting involved with someone with 3 ex's. Am I being too judgemental? should I run for the hills or be open that she just had bad luck? Btw- I am divorced once and at 50 do not want to waste my time on someone who is unstable. would you get involved someone with 3 ex's ?

Gene Robinson nailed this once at an office Christmas party: "Three, you're under a cloud of suspicion; four, it's on you."

So, to answer your question, I won't say yea or nay to getting involved with someone thrice divorced, but I sure would want to know the stories. For example, one youthful oops, one with someone who became an addict, one that lasted decades until the spouse had an affair or something ... well, running away would almost seem punive of someone who gave a good-faith effort to get it right.

If it were 3 x a very similar story, then I wouldn't stick around unless I felt darn sure the person had had the "Eureka!" moment and done the hard work of breaking unhealthy habits. 

Since you're talking about someone who apparently married the same pathology three times, and who is not accepting any resposnibility for that, and who is fishing in the electronic waters of 30 years ago, I'd urge you to write  your next email without the input of any organ south of your brain.


Hi Carolyn, as someone who's been there, done that, when do you and the 'nuts think that being a parent gets a little easier? We have a wonderful 15 month old and he is the light of our lives, but those lives are harried, missing sleep and grown up time, and filled with attempts to balance parenting and life (including work travel and moving, along with some physical challenges - my husband is an amputee). We would in theory like to have another baby, but sometimes its so hard to see how we could 'handle it." But I know we'll regret not doing it, just trying to figure out when is the right time. Any advice? We're looking to try and outsource things, and maximize flexibility for work, etc. but could just use some wisdom.

I never do this, but I'm going to do this: 5. That's the age when your wonderful 15-month-old starts to show signs of being a kid vs. a toddler, someone who can actually help out a little bit, listen more reliably, amuse you more regularly, and just fry your brain less. By the time you get to 7, you'll find yourself caught up in some school social drama with him and realize, wow, it's a school social drama and not a tantrum or a peas-up-nose incident or a need to walk around someone's house stooped behind your kid so he doesn't break unsecured knickknacks.

It's okay for your next baby to remain a theory indefinitely as you get through this time, or even permanently. There are advantages and disadvantages to onlies, where often you hear only of the dis-.

My nephew, who is 10, is a passionate athlete; he plays at least one sport per season and has practices and games several nights each week. His parents (my sister and BIL) indulge him in this completely, to the point where the entire family is unavailable pretty much whenever nephew has a sports engagement. I get that the kid is really, really into sports, but I don't think it's right that at age 10 he lets this dictate his entire family's activities. The reason this matters to me is because it affects my family on a regular basis. For instance, my sister and her family skipped both of my children's graduations (high school and college) earlier this summer, because my nephew had practice on those days. Our other sibling is getting married out of town later this summer, and Sis will be skipping that too because she has to pick up her son from soccer camp. Most infuriatingly, I have taken my aging parents to countless doctor's appointments and other engagements, with no help from sister, because (she claims) she has to be close to home in case her son is injured while playing one of his sports. I'm frustrated and starting to believe my sister is nothing more than a classic responsibility-shirking jerk. Please help!

Just based on your examples, it's not the sports; she does sound like a classic responsibility-shirking jerk. 

Problem is, if that's true, there's still not much you can do about it besides write her off as someone you can't count on. With the appointments, you can first document all the ones you have done (mostly for your purposes, but you might need it later), and then call your sister for a calendar session: "In the next two months, Mom and Dad have [this], [this], [this], and [this]. I think it's fair to split these; I'll let you choose which two you want." You can even volunteer yourself as the backup emergency contact for her son, though you will feel ridiculous for validating that excuse. 

And, it still might not work, but when she refuses to help, you will then have a larger refusal on the record, vs. the small,  individual "sorry, can'ts." And that will allow you to say, "Do you believe you have no responsibility to help with our parents?" See what she says about that.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I are starting to get into a sticky situation with my stepdaughter's mother. Our daughter lives with us pretty much most of the time, seeing her mother a few weekends a month and occasionally longer over visits when school is out. Our differences in parenting is obvious at every step, but since we make most of the decisions, it's not a huge problem. The little details are starting to cause a stink now. For instance, her mother thinks makeup, midriff baring shirts and high heeled shoes are appropriate for a 7 year old. While I get nervous when her shorts are too short or she's wearing spaghetti straps. Her decisions seem beyond wrong to me, but I'm sure she thinks I'm some crazy conservative who's not letting our daughter express herself. I can't give concrete reasons for why I think some of these things are wrong, its more my reaction when I see them. I know you have boys, but have you seen some of the stuff they sell for little girls? My husband tends to agree with me, but he will point out when I'm making a bigger deal than he thinks I should. Before I was on the scene, he made some concrete lines in the sand with his ex-wife about makeup and hair color (?!?!), but never saw too much in the clothes. I'm wondering if I'm putting some of my own self esteem and feminist issues on to my daughter and thinking too much about her shorts. I know I'm not going to find anything to say, yes, this is what a 7 year old can and cannot wear, but is there anyway for us to refer to something to help her mother understand. I will point out that I don't think her mother dresses appropriately (yes, I hear how judgemental that is) and the clothes she buys for her reflect this shared style. And yes, I look like I stepped out of a J.Crew world with a slight chance of Polo.

I have seen what's out there for little girls, and I agree a lot of it is disturbingly sexualized. There's your concrete reason.

There's another interest here, though, that you have to take seriously, and that's the interest of not undermining this girl's mother. In some cases, where a child's two homes have different rules, one household has to take a stand against another. I don't think short shorts are one of the battles worth choosing, though. You can instead be your modest self, subtly convey the message of modesty in your words (when she's old enough, stuff like, "I think what you don't show can be sexier than what you do"--say, when you're watching someone on TV), and save your objections to her most over-the-top clothes. If she wants to put on makeup in your house, you can say, no, not in this house till you're XX years old--and besides I think you're so pretty just as you are.

 Because there's a tug-of-war emerging, you might consider talking to a good family therapist--more than anything, to develop a relationship where you can set up a time to talk when things like this crop up.

By the way--since you have your daughter almost full-time, you will be the primary influence. If you try artificial means to gain more influence, particularly by undermining her mother, then you'll force your step-daughter to "defend" her by siding with her style. Give her some leeway in trying on your two personas--she's going to, just accept that--and she'll be more likely to decide that yours is the one she prefers. Not guaranteed, but, if she does go all in for provocative clothes, there will be only so much you can do to stand in her way, and then she'll be in her late teens and free to dress as she chooses. Making an issue of it won't stop the skin show but will kill your relationship.

I have a friend who is on the hunt for a date. She really wants to be in a relationship, and I sympathize. However, sometimes it can feel like social situations are only interesting to her if there's a potential to meet someone, so she's constantly scanning the room or instantly bored (arms crossed, yawning) if it's clear there's zero potential. I'm single and in my 30's too, so I get it, but also, don't like feeling as if my only social draw is as a connector to someone or something else. She has been a good friend in the past, but lately I really don't enjoy our interaction. Does it make more sense to talk to her about it or disengage until it feels like things might change?

Or (c) choose to do things together that don't provide room-scanning opportunities. 

wow. There's yet another consequence of putting this kid's sports schedule above every thing else: this boy will miss his cousins' graduations, his aunt's (or uncle's) wedding, and most importantly, and opportunity to spend quality time and help take care of his grandparents. All once in a lifetime opportunities to feel part of his extended family.

I know. It's not our call, though. 

And when he asks me why I'm not keeping in touch anymore? I would love to cut off all contact but it's going to be awkward, we have a lot of friends in common and he's not one to just let things die quietly.

"Well, Fred, I haven't called because the last three times you've been over, you've gotten into an argument with me or Phil. I look forward to seeing you out and about, but more than that doesn't seem like a good idea to me."

If he raises a ruckus when you see him out and about, you can say, calmly, that if he's trying to change your mind, then it's not working. 

My reason for not going was a combination- the vacation was initially billed as an intimate gathering of friends and in two months morphed in to a grab-bag of people I didn't know, my expression of doubts about this weren't met with satisfying assurances (my kid was coming, so I needed more confirmation of what kind of vacation this was- a chill few days at the shore or a beer blowout), and I'm in an unusually stressful spell at work and the trip was requiring a big investment of time and planning that I simply didn't have the resources for. Are these reasons emergencies or something I couldn't just suck up and deal with? No. But I felt like I had earned an opportunity to say that this time I need to take care of myself instead of my friend, as has been the case for years and years. I admit to keeping up this friendship for reasons of nostalgia (I have wonderful memories with this woman) and because I worry about her (she's got a lot of bad stuff in her life). Not the best foundation for a friendship, I guess.

Well, I've seen worse, and it does sound as if you were well within your rights to cancel, since the Trip A you initially agreed to morphed into Trip B.

I'm sticking with my original answer: Apologize for canceling by email, say you'd like to salvage the friendship, and you look forward to when she's ready to talk.

Unless my Internet pipes are busted, I don't understand why a married couple allows an ex to visit so much that the ex feels free to humiliate her, argues with the husband, etc And why does a married woman keep company with a man who keeps telling her how important she is to him? ?????

Because she doesn't want to tell him to [buzz] off.

5? Really? No way. I think kids peak in being a pain at about 18 months -- they are fast, they don't listen at all, they can't do anything for themselves. My kids are 3, 5, and 7, and I think 2 years is about the right spacing. Your lives are already ruined, you can't do anything (as the OP has noticed). If you wait longer, you start to get some semblance of a life back and then it is frustrating to lose it again (so I've heard from friends who have spaced them like this). If OP gets pregnant now, they'll be coming out of the darkness when #2 comes along and even though the baby will be a ton of work, the first will be doing a lot more for him/herself each day. My husband travels a lot and I stopped crying every time he left when the youngest was about 21 months.

Another view, thanks. And you make an excellent point about adding the next kid while you're already up to your neck in it with the first kid, in the interest of getting out of this stage in one extended blast, but that's only when the parents feel they're up to it, and/or when it's more important to have another child than it is to restore harmony. If harmony is a higher priority, then, yes, maybe they will get out of the woods and never want to go back in, but that's often just fine.

Our first turned two 2 weeks after our second was born. We decided on that timing for sound reasons, but we did wonder if we were crazy. When the toddler was just shy of two, though, it started to seem do-able. He could communicate fairly well, was much more physically able, had a consistent routine, could play independently for 20-minute chunks of time. Yes, we're still tired, the way you are with a newborn in the house, but it's not as daunting as it was when we took the plunge. Give it another 5-7 months, and then see how you feel. It's a different ballgame.

A couple of people have written similar, that 2 is much better than 18 months, which it is. But it also depends on the kid in question. Some are ultra willful, for example. Ours just became faster runners and higher climbers. 

I guess what I keep trying to say is that it's really really okay to make this decision based solely on what you have and what you think you can handle.

Hi. I'm really sorry you're going through this. I just wanted to say, I have a sensitive daughter around your age and I notice that she's at her very best when she feels like she's doing something vital to help someone she loves, and when someone in her life really needs her. (There's a Mr. Rogers quote to this effect: "I don't believe that children can develop in a healthy way unless they feel that they have value apart from anything they own or any skill that they learn. They need to feel they enhance the life of someone else, that they are needed.") Please don't beat yourself up--none of this is your fault, and this will not traumatize your daughter in the long term. It sounds like you're a wonderful mom who is taking great pains not to get too enmeshed with her or to make her your confidante in a way that doesn't take her maturity into account. And I hope your tests come out well and you get a better outcome than you're expecting.

Beautifully said, thank you.

I thought you had triplets. *scratching head*

might as well have. We call the third one the time-release triplet. 

I've lost almost 30 lbs. Yay! I am proud of myself, but there was no trick. The ol' fewer calories in than you burn trick is the only one. So, what's the appropriate response to "How'd you do it?" questions? Portion control and exercise don't seem to be the answers people want to hear, but that's the "secret". I don't want to get into therapy and medication helping me get over depression hurdles that were making me emotionally eat, etc. So can I just say "portion control and exercise" and sort of repeat that for follow-up questions?

Sure. You can also add, "breaking bad habits" to cover the rest, though you're under no obligation to answer personal questions.

And, congratulations on having your hard work pay off.

My mom keeps making snide comments about my wedding because it was a huge disappointment for her. I didn't marry the type of guy she wanted me to marry, I didn't have the type of big blow out wedding she wanted because I didn't want to go into debt to pay for it, I didn't invite the extended family because we chose to keep it simple, blah blah blah. It's all underneath the surface. I usually just ignore it or change the subject. But I grow weary. advice?

"Mom, when you say things like that, I feel like leaving the room/hanging up the phone/screening your next call/etc. You've been clear about your disappointment in my marriage and the wedding, so unless there's something you'd like to add, I'm asking that you just stop."

As needed: "I don't want to have to distance myself, but I will if this keeps up." And then do, if i does.

The OP might also want to back off placing blame on her nephew - "I get that the kid is really, really into sports, but I don't think it's right that at age 10 he lets this dictate his entire family's activities." Maybe he really is super demanding about his parents being there always for him, but guess what. He's the kid, and they're the adults. They're the ones who should exert the authority. But I also doubt that's really the situation. This definitely sounds like parents who use their kid as an excuse. That's entirely their fault, not the nephew's.

Important distinctions, thanks. Another poster called out an anti-sports bias, which also rang true.

I finally had to straight up tell him -- I am not interested in being your friend anymore. Of course, he reacted like a baby ("fine. I'll pretend not to see you if i pass you on the street"), but that just confirmed that I wasn't missing out on anything by cutting him out of my life.

Don't know if I could keep a straight face if an adult said that to me. 

And speaking of straight faces, mine is listing a bit, so it's time to go. Thanks everyone for stopping by today, have a smashing weekend (just not via texting while driving), and I hope to see you here next Friday at noon.

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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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