Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, July 20)

Jul 20, 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 20 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.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Follow @PostLive on Twitter

Hey everybody, sorry I'm late. Stupid reason, too--I was just sitting there, eating my lunch, when I caught sight of a clock that read 12:05. oops.

Hi Carolyn, I'm the OP from last week, who wrote in about my distracted driver husband who kept messing around on his iPhone with our toddler in the back and my pregnant self in the front. You really steered me (like the driving reference?) right when you suggested I talk to my husband NOT in the car, AWAY from high emotions, before doing something more drastic like driving separately. I'm always so irritated when nagging him in the car (which I'm sure he picked up on), and he's so focused on scrolling and Being Right, that we were just doomed and making zero progress. So, I talked to him at home, after the daily grind was done, our child was in bed, and a pizza was on its way. For the first time, he really heard me on this issue. Yes, he still thinks he's a better driver than everybody else, but he understood my concern and why the stakes were SO high. I offered to take over driving (we carpool to work) so he could tinker to his heart's content on his phone, but he instead decided to put his phone in his pocket - and kept it there. All. Week. Long. I feel much safer in the car, and my desire to throttle my best friend and partner in life has disappeared, so THANK YOU.

Hot damn--so happy to hear it.

How do I tell if my husband is an alcoholic? He likes to start drinking as soon as he gets home from work and early in the afternoon on weekends. I haven't kept track but I would guess he probably drinks 2-6 drinks a day (although he is a BIG guy). In the past he has seemed to drink more when he's a bit depressed (a couple times in recent years). However, he doesn't get sloppy or angry or even seem drunk, just talkative, jolly, or "in the mood." He is successful, reliable, and driven in his career. My biggest concerns are the expense (but that's another issue), safety (what if something happened to me or the kids and he needed to drive somewhere), and, well, just, it seems like a LOT. So how do I know if I need to worry?

You are worried, so don't ignore that.

There's no need for guesswork on this issue. Check out the Web site of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (link), and do your homework. Then talk to your husband about your concerns, and make sure you pick a time--once again--where you're both relaxed and not keyed up about the issue at hand.

If it helps, I do think that for a big guy, 2-3 drinks a day is not alarming in certain contexts: one with lunch, one Welcome-home-honey and a glass of wine at dinner. Six at a clip is an eyebrow raiser (but, again, go to the NIH literature, not to the Friday opinionater.



Should the live-in SO of one of our siblings be included in a family wedding photo? The picture would include the parents, the siblings, their spouses and the grandchildren. The cohabiting pair doesn't have an opinion nor do the bride or groom, but the matriarch feels strongly that the SO be a part of it, and another person strongly opposes that the SO be in the shot. What do you think?

One with, one without. Too awkward?

Hi Carolyn, I'm in my first relationship where I have to do most of the pursuing, and I don't like it (even though I thought it would be a welcome change from being pursued, as I have in past relationships). Where does one draw the line between showing interest and being a pest? I find that I do at least 75% of the reaching out, which my boyfriend seems fine with, but part of me feels like if he really liked me, he'd be reciprocating in kind!

I think this one just works by feel. When you have the sense that you're putting in all/most of the effort, and you don't like it, then put in less effort and see how that goes. 

The relationships that work tend to find an equilibrium fairly quickly after the get-to-know-you pursuit stage. If yours hasn't shifted into mutual yet, then that's not necessarily the end, but it should at least be the end of the status quo.

My father is getting remarried this winter, and has asked to use my 3-year-old as his flower girl. Before this, I had already decided personally not to attend the wedding--I don't agree with the marriage, as it's to an extremely unpleasant woman who carried on an affair with my father while my mother suffered from extreme depression. Dad knew and had accepted that I would not be there for the wedding, but still wants his granddaughter present. In my heart of hearts I know that I should not prevent them from having a loving relationship just because I disagree with Dad's choices, but letting her be flower girl would basically mean I would have to attend, too. Please help me out of this dilemma.

Why are you being tougher on the woman he's marrying than you are on your dad? I can see why emotionally, but logically it isn't fair. 

The way out of the situation is just to say no, your daughter won't be his flower girl--but I do think the bigger issue is the one you want to resolve. You're in a difficult spot, yes, but I suspect directing your anger at the Other Woman is a dodge, because she's the dispensable one in the scenario. Being angry mainly at your dad would cost you a parent, and that's too high a price. 

You might find it useful to talk to other spouses of people with "extreme depression." If I had emails at my fingertips from people in your dad's position, I'd post them. Much anguish and desperation. You might be able to find a support group through NAMI (link).

I offer this not to excuse what your father did, but in hopes you can come to a better understanding, which might then help with reconciling your "heart of hearts" with your understandable sympathy for your mother.

It might also help to think in terms of alcohol abuse or excessive consumption (at least at this point). Sometimes the word alcoholic is so loaded with stigma, blame, judgement, etc... it gets in the way of the questions which really are: Is the use of this substance under your control? Is using it at the level you're using it compromising your ability to fulfill important roles in your life? Is using it at the level you're using it short changing you or other people? (e.g. are you forgoing doing things that you could be doing & enjoying or that would matter to you or others to use this substance?) If the answer to any of these is yes he needs to consider why he's not consuming less? He may not be an addict, but that doesn't mean that his alcohol use isn't having a negative impact on his life.

Thanks. This is one of the reasons I like the NIAA site. It makes clear distinctions between "low-risk" and "at risk" drinking, which means it can be a tool to promote moderation, and not just a catapult to a 12-step. 

In Thursday's column, you re-enforced the writer's objection to a pink, strapless bridesmaid dress by suggesting she ask for another role in her brother's wedding or asking for alterations to the ensemble. I'm not inclined to support a gaggle of bridesmaids and don't like the matchy-matchy outfit that rarely flatters all, but it's just a dress. She could throw a shawl over it as soon as the ceremony is over. The important thing is that the woman marrying her brother is trying to include her. The writer said she's not close to the brother, who is 5 years younger. By participating in his wedding and getting to know his bride she can build a closer relationship. The bride is offering her a gift, and I was surprised you endorsed her issues with the dress over encouraging her not to look a pink strapless dress in the mouth.

The important thing is her inclusion, yes, but I don't agree that the dress is a nonnegotiable element of the most important thing. Anyone who feels uncomfortable in a bridesmaid's dress--not just "ew, pink washes me out," but moved-to-withdraw-from-the-wedding-party uncomfortable, as this woman was--should feel free to say that to the bride.

Because if we're going to talk in "most important thing" terms, I have think not humiliating someone is way up there. If a bride doesn't care that someone feels humiliated by her assigned costume, then inclusion in this bride's inner circle isn't that wonderful a thing after all.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't agree that this "re-enforced the writer's objection to a pink, strapless bridesmaid dress":

'You are you and you have inherent beauty, and any pounds plus or minus, here or there, are just life mileage. Life mileage used to be valued before the nitpickers and narcissists took over the machinery of popular images. Do what you want regarding the wedding, but please do consider striking a one-woman blow against the tyranny of superficial values."


When nobody directly involved particularly cares, I advocate going for inclusion and defining "family" as "people who matter in our hearts and minds" rather than "shares blood relationship and/or signed a piece of paper"

I agree. And when people do care, take different versions. Someone else posted in favor of a bunch of different configurations, and that's even better--as long as it doesn't take all day.

But one argument for keeping full attention on the road is because of all the other bad drivers. You don't wear a seatbelt because you think you are going to cause an accident, you wear it because someone else might.

Right right, thanks.

And there's the whole arrogance thing. People who think they're better at something than everyone else are at risk of cutting corners.

Long, long ago, Roommate X bought a bag of potatoes. This bag of potatoes ended up in the pantry, where they were forgotten for a long time and turned into a rotting puddle. We're not sure how the potato bag ended up in the pantry. It might have been Roommate X or Roommate Y; nobody can really remember. Roommate Z, however, had nothing to do with it. In any case, this rotting puddle stained the floorboards, and will likely lead to a deduction from the security deposit. Who should be responsible for paying for it?

Z was using the pantry, using the food and therefore missing the fact that food was rotting in the pantry, right? And not chasing down the origin of a funky smell? Because of that, I'm inclined to say the deposit charge gets split three ways. Especially if you all like each other and want to stay friends.

If Z was away at that time or a dedicated eater of takeout who never used the kitchen, then I'd say X and Y split the charge. 


Dear Carolyn, You never seem to have a slow week, but I'm hoping you'll get to my question. How do I force myself to be happy for my friends? My friends are all doing thing such as buying house and taking fabulous vacations, while I am stuck in a studio apartment with no savings and 9 more years of student loans. I feel so jealous and angry that I can't fake happiness for them and my only proposed solution is to avoid them until I feel better?. And no, trying to be grateful for what little I do have has not helped me feel any better. Thank you.

It needs to be a slow week for me to care about your question? Are you always this quick to negate your own value?

What you're dealing with is a legitimate and fairly common problem, no less worthy than the others that appear here every week.

Part of that is its prevalence; there's always someone who goes home to a better house in a better car, except when they're off on a more fabulous trip than you can imagine. Part of it is the impact: People who get into the why-not-me cycle do start to feel worse about themselves, which drains them of the resource they need most (a sense of self-worth) to fight off the why-not-me feelings, which means the feelings of envy, anger and self-loathing start to accrue and put  a chronic drag on your mood.

It is possible to get out of it, but you can't use the avenue of what you have or where you live. It has to be through what you do. Such as, be an excellent friend/sibling/child/auntie/uncle, or a hard-working employee, a dedicated and compassionate volunteer,* a nurturing pet owner, an expressive artist, a fierce teammate, an uninhibited playmate/singer/dancer/performer, an insatiable reader, a generous host or cook-whatever taps into your best. The rewards available to you by these means are the kind that make people's material successes seem thin by comparison. When you're in a position to share your gifts, that's when you're in a position to say, "Yeh, nice house, but would I trade my life for that person's? No." That's the self-worth that inoculates you against envy. Is it perfect, no--you're still going to see a great view from a wealthier person's home and say, "Wow." But it doesn't eat at you for a month afterword. (Just, like, an evening or so.)


I used to live the DC area and had my own business...was barely making enough to pay the bills, but it worked. Moved in with BF a few years ago. Underestimated starting a new life in a new location. Not making enough to pay my bills and am going through savings while I job hunt. BF is cool, but he takes an island vacation EVERY winter and that's never been my practice and I just don't feel ok spending the money. One year he agreed to Miami instead. Last year he paid for the whole vacation. I don't know how else to negotiate this other than saying "what time should I drop/pick you at the airport?" It's not fair for him to pay all the time and I don't want him to. It's not fair for him to not have his vacation. What can I do?

If he wants his island vacation, and would rather have you there than not have you there, then you accept the gift. You can even resolve to pay him back when you're employed again. Offer not to go, of course, and encourage him to go without you, but then pay attention to what he wants, too. 

Also, since you're living with him and underemployed, you can contribute to the household in ways that save him money. (Unless you're in 12 part-time jobs, in which case you at least have proof of your good faith effort not to be a freeloader.)

I have a friend who only dates people who would be considered less attractive than they are (if that makes sense). This has been pointed out and their response is something along the lines of, "I feel safer; they won't leave/cheat/etc. because they feel lucky to be with someone attractive." I pointed out this methodology hasn't resulted in what they say they want (long term relationship), however, it has resulted in lots of dates until either one of them "move on." True they responded, "but I'm having lots of fun." I think this is just game playing. It is sort of like dating a paper cut out of a person than actually dating a person. Thoughts?

Besides being an incredible insult to the people s/he dates, your friend's condescending attitude toward the homely also invites gleeful reactions from his/her friends when one of these safe ugly ducklings cheats on him. With George Clooney, if that can be arranged. And then drops him like a bag of dirt.

So while it's not really your place to tell this friend whom to date, you can and should point out that s/he's being a complete [poop]head. To heck with "hasn't resulted in what they say they want."

Hey, "Dirty Old Man"--any chance you can re-post without ID'ing the video so well? It just seems ironic to discuss objectification in an answer that sends a herd to YouTube. Thanks.

(Have you ever seen such cruel-tease?) 

My boyfriend gets squicked out if I don't follow a long list of cleanliness/hygiene related things. Some of it I don't mind, but some of it is uncomfortable, seriously impractical, or starts to eat away at my self-esteem. I'm sure his intent is not to control me, since these things sometimes hurt him, and he's aware of it. How do we work out some kind of compromise?

You don't, because someone that rigid is not going to do his half of the giving in. It's stay or go, and from the direction "stay" is headed, "go" appears to be the only viable choice. That is, unless he's "aware" enough to acknowledge that he has a psychological issue that warrants an appointment with a reputable specialist.

If you're not ready to break up, then please at least let him know that this is who you are and you will not scrub it to oblivion, and then decide your next step based on the consequences.

This may be out there, but, if you're female, it's possible he doesn't have a psych issue, and instead is gay but trying not to be. Thus the discomfort around the female body. 

Seeing as how weddings are a part of today's conversation, I really don't know what to say to my daughter. Intellectually she has no problem with not having a big, expensive bash but then a good friend just had a a huge wedding and my daughter is making comparisons. We've talked but I just don't know how to help her past feeling that her guests will make the comparisons. Weddings are such an emotional drain, I really wish my daughter and her fiance would just go to the courthouse and get it over with though I am looking forward to the families getting together.

Maybe I'm just crabby, but the first answer for your daughter that came to me was, "Grow the [heck] up." This is about sharing the rest of her life with someone, and she's caught up in party-envy. Are you sure she's ready for the responsibility of marriage?

If so, and if this is just an out-of-character blip, then you can point out that 1. Speaking only for me, I've found the big expensive bashes to be among the most soulless parties I've ever attended (one was awesome but you don't need to tell her that; plus, it's 1 of about ... many); 2. Big expensive bashes actually put pressure on a  couple, because announcing their arrival into marriage with a huge fanfare can make it really embarrassing to hit a snag. The size of the fanfare is irrelevant to that, of course, but emotions aren't always that rational; 3. If her friends really do comparison gossip about weddings, then who cares what they think? Are they critics worth killing herself to please? 4. You can tell her that if the party is still of primary importanceto her, after all this, then she should postpone her marriage and save up for it (bluff-call).

Good luck.

Hi. What do think about someone who hides their relationship status from others? Example would be a person who has been together with someone for 3 years and live together. But at work they never correct co-workers who think they are single and try to set them up on dates. They didn't want to tell family or friends when they moved into the same house together. I understand them not wanting to be an over-sharer, but it seems at some point they'd acknowledge.

What I think depends on my proximity to this couple. If it's a stranger in a question I receive online, I think, "Hm. Weird, but, whatever." If I'm close to one of the people in this relationship, I ask out loud, "Wha? Explain..." and I decide whether to meddle further based on what I hear. If I'm in this relationship, then I'm thinking, there'd better be a good reason for this, because otherwise I'd rather be single. 

Hi Carolyn. In 2007 I loaned my cousin $1000. I didn't do the sensible thing and ask for a written agreement of understanding. We left the timeframe at "a few months". When he didn't get the check fast enough he sent me a flaming email and I didn't put a stop payment on the check. So, it's 5 years later, and he hasn't taken my calls since. He's gotten married, his wife is a successful sales rep and wins a free vacation every year. They've bought a new car. He has his family over for steak bbq's. It's making me crazy that he won't pay it back, yells at me for asking for it and assures me he'll pay it back "when he can". I'm beating myself out because I can't solve this problem.

Well, you can solve it, it will just cost you $1,000: Accept that you'll never see a dime of it again.

He probably still would have stiffed you if you had a written agreement, if that's any consolation. Not stopping the check was an oops, but, certainly a kind- (or mush-)hearted oops is so much better than a greedy, angry oops like your cousin's.

Have you said anything to his wife, assuming you ever see her at family events? A la, "Were you aware that Cousin still owes me $1,000 I lent him in 2007?" It'll be the death blow to your relationship with your cousin, but it's bleeding out anyway, and it might mean you actually get your G. (If that's the outcome you want most now.)

One of my best friends recently became involved in a whirwind romance. There are a lot of red flags. He is putting a full court press on her to marry him ASAP, he is emotionally unstable, he has children with whom he has no contact by choice, a string of ex-wives. My friend is now engaged to him, but I hear no joy from her. She sees all the red flags, but instead of turning and running, she gets enmeshed in his manipulation, and stays. Here's another facet - she also seems to be getting increasingly unkind towards him and others. This is so far from the Friend I know. I don't think she is abusive physically or emotionally, but I do think that his constant clinginess, tears, neediness etc brings out her more aggressive tendencies. In short, it's a train wreck. I know I can't stop a train wreck, but what does a good friend do in these circumstances?

A good friend tries to stop the train anyway: with reading material--Gift of Fear, Domestic Violence: The Facts (pdf link)--and with a request that she allow you to hold her hand and take her to a counseling session with a provider experienced at handling emotionally volatile relationships. A call to RAINN (link) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (link) can get you local resources. You can also talk to the staffer who answers to get more detailed suggestions on how you can help.

If that doesn't work, then your best option is to be her non-judgmental friend, the one she's not afraid to tell the truth when she finally is ready to admit she's living a mistake. She will likely need someone's help when she gets there, and also have alienated a lot of other candidates with her current unkindness.

Please tell the LW with the husband who is drinking 2 - 6 drinks each day to inform his primary care provider. If he stops drinking he may face alcohol withdraw which can be deadly. Note, I am not saying to reduce his consumption, just to be honest about it. If he ever needs to stop drinking, abruptly for any reason, this may be a concern.

I can't vouch for the "can be deadly," but can for the wisdom of truth-telling with one's health-care providers. Thanks. 

Have you considered asking him to set up an installment plan? i.e. "Well you seem to spend quite a bit on a number of other things, so if the issue is just that you're having a problem saving it all up at once, I'm quite happy to take it in installments. Why don't you just send me $100 a month for the next 10 months? I really do need to be repaid."

Worth a try, thanks.

There are probably fewer things MORE controlling than forcing someone else to clean their bodies to one's specific standards at an "impractical" level. It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again! Let Bubble Boy go.


Inspiring post, thank you.

In recent months, I have started to acknwoledge that I no longer wish to be friends with a woman I know. We used to be very close, but due to life changes on both fronts, we've drifted apart. If I finally decide to officially call it quits, should I a) send her a note letting her know and wishing her well or b) letting it naturally drift (the way it's going) and I see her post occassionally on Facebook.? I feel like I 'owe' her an explanation or a goodbye at least, but not sure I wouldn't hit some judgement or a holier-than-thou response (some of the reasons why I don't wish to be friends anymore). Thank you.

What's the harm, though, of getting "some judgement or a holier-than-thou response"? Sticks and stones and all. And since it would be Step 2 of ending the friendship anyway, you can simply say in response, "I thought you might say something like that. I can't change what you think of me, but I can choose to go my own way. Thanks for your candor." Goodbye, seeya, have a nice life.

That is, if it turns out to be necessary to spell out that you're exiting the friendship. If you've done some drifting already, then you might just be able to let go and let it drift away. Wait and see. 

You're not alone! For nearly a decade I lived in a studio and had a lot of debt. I felt like I was barely treading water while my friends were off living fabulous lives. I resented them. How I dealt with it: I just forced myself to focus on ME. I focused on getting out of debt, trying to earn more money to pay the debt, etc. I did avoid some of these friends. I just said I was going through an introverted phase and it wasn't personal, just needed time alone. During this time, some interesting things happened. That great big house my friend owned? Foreclosure. That luxury car? Leased or 8-yr car loan. Overseas vacation? All on maxed out credit cards. That six-figure job? My friend got laid off. One of the other friends actually told me he wished he had MY life. Other one fiiled bankruptcy. Truth is, you just don't know what goes on in other people's lives... you just have to focus on your life. So that's what I did. I chipped away at the debt, moved into a nicer 1 br, and got a job I like that pays me enough to live okay. When you set and achieve smaller goals, it makes you feel more optimistic, which makes you appreciate little things. Just takes time. I won't lie - it took me a lot of time, but eventually I got to a less envious/resentful place.

Love this, thanks. Sometimes the luxury car is actually paid for and the six-figure job is secure, but, even then, your answer still applies: Set goals that make sense for you, work toward them, derive satisfaction accordingly.

Has the mother flat out told the daughter she would be okay with a trip to the courthouse or another minimal, low-key celebration? Maybe the daughter is verbalizing her concerns and is really looking for reassurance that it is okay to break tradition. (It sounds like the mother just may be trying to alleviate her fears that guests won't make comparisons...not actually saying that she won't disown daughter for not having a big blow out wedding.)

Also worth a try, thanks.

Nowhere in that letter does friend indicate the gender of his/her friend. In your response you behave like it's a man. It could easily be a woman!

Seriously? Three tortured s/he-his/hers constructions didn't impress you? Tough customer. 

Here's some more advice, from someone who is in your situation: Do something that scares you- something adventurous, perhaps something that people who are taking care of lovely houses and beautiful children can't do. For me, that means I have a crazy adventurous job while giving up the stability to have home and family (right now). But for you, it could be something else- a vacation where you work for Habitat for Humanity, or a week-long camping trip, or a trapeze lesson. The adventure helps you in several ways at once, I can say by experience, and can help knock you out of the negative thinking cycle.

Also excellent advice, thanks. (Unless the foofy friends have a trapeze in their backyard for their private circus lessons. Then it will just seem creepy.)

"When you have the sense that you're putting in all/most of the effort, and you don't like it, then put in less effort and see how that goes" And then what do you do when your less effort results in less hanging out or spending time together, and you don't like that either?

You see your two choices for what they are: Stay in a relationshp where you are in fact the only one working to keep it alive, or break up.

Sometimes the path to a likable option goes through a bunch of options you don't like. Until there's some way to make other people want to be with us, that's not going to change.

The people I know in recovery (and I know a bunch) usually say it's "how" the person drinks as opposed to how much - i.e. are they drinking to cope with life, are they drinking despite the consequences? Also, there's a whole range - people can abuse alcohol without actually being an alcoholic. There are lots of self screening quizzes out there on the web. One of the questions on them is usually if a loved one has expressed concern about your drinking, which suggests that maybe there's a bit of a problem if not a full blown one.

Good stuff, thanks.

My boyfriend is aware of the situation, and has been willing to compromise and even dropped a lot of things out of his own initiative because they sounded stupid and controlling even to him. Still time to leave?

You're the one who has to be in this relationship (or shower, or autoclave), so you tell us. But, he's asking you to clean yourself so you don't squick him out. That squicks -me- out, and it's far enough beyond the pale that I can't in good conscience type, "Well, he's trying, so go for it." 

Certainly there are women who ask men to tend to woolly backs or shave beards that hurt, and there are men who aren't thrilled with woolly women, but that doesn't sound like the case here; it sounds like scent-removal or (if you're female) femininity-erasure to me. If I'm wrong, please do write back. 

Carolyn, I'm struggling with a question that I find really hard to discuss with any of my friends/peers. My 3yo daughter is a smart, sweet, loving, adorable girl - except when she's mad about something she wants, in which case she turns into a screaming, kicking maniac who is smart enough to be very sneaky and manipulative about trying to get her way. She's the child we describe as "when she was good, she was very good ... but when she was bad, watch out." Sometimes I think this is normal 3yo behavior. Sometimes I think, if I were describing an adult this way, say in your chat, we would call her emotionally abusive (at best). Our other daughter (age 5) is your classic oldest girl, very compliant, rarely needs redirection. Saddest part is I see the 5yo giving in when the 3yo starts screaming, because she doesn't want to listen to it. What do you think - is this normal behavior for a 3yo, something she'll likely grow out of? Are we blind to the fact that we're raising someone who will be emotionally abusive one day?

Could be normal 3-ness (which makes the strongest among us tremble); could be the foreshadowing of serious problems; could be the former that, if handled improperly, turns into the latter.

What I do feel confident saying is that judging young children on an adult scale is pointless. They're all emotionally abusive little narcissists to some degree, by adult standards, because they just don't have the cognitive ability or emotional skills to regulate themselves, or the language skills to express themselves, in a way that's often necessary for a satisfying outcome. They just burn hard and then, mercifully, go to sleep.

Since you're worried, and since your older child is so different, and since the best parents are the ones who can be the parent each child needs, I hope you won't rule out talking to a child-development expert. That can be anyone from your pediatrician to a school counselor to a child psychologist in private practice--the important thing is having someone with years of perspective and training, and a relationship with your family so you can ask questions like htis one occasionally.

If you don't feel that's necessary (yet?) or it's too cumbersome or expensive, then hit the books. "The Explosive Child" (Greene), "The  Kazdin Method" (Kazdin), "1-2-3 Magic" (Phelan), "Parenting With Love And Logic" (Cline/Fay) and "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" (Faber/Mazlish) all have their knowledgable fans, and each brings perspective and pragmatism to the task of getting kids out of toddlerhood without need for parental self-medication.

Nah, it's not femininity erasure, it's mostly being yucked out over clothes and body parts that have come into contact with public toilets and Metro seats, no matter how long the string of causality. And not wanting to come into contact with them or have them on his clothes/furniture.

Oh, okay, that's important. That sounds more in the OCD family, which I say with the usual disclaimer that I'm not a trained or licensed anything. Well, I'm a licensed driver. But I don't think that counts here.

Anyway, since you say he's cooperative, he might be open to getting screened, to see if disordered thinking is next to cleanliness.

Even if he gets a diagnosis and treatment, though, that won't mean his concerns go completely away, so do think carefully about how much accommodating you think you'll be willing to do over a lifetime. There are plenty of people out there who are highly attuned to germs, and it could be that you'd both be better off if you freed him to find someone more naturally fastidious than you are.

I once had a guy tell me he thought my skin smelled terrible. I don't know how you stuck around, but as soon as I heard that I couldn't even get close to him. I realized, if I can't even snuggle up next to him without feeling terrible, then I just couldn't do it. By the way, no one else has ever had that complaint. Ever.

Well, now we know why the person stuck around--it was publicpottophobia, not disgust with a natural body. Which does happen, like you said, sadly. 

Speaking of daughters, my daughter (age 23) lives about 500 miles away (stayed in her college city). From time to time she calls me to ask for advice. Recently she called about leaving a job she's been in for only 6 months. It's a great job with wonderful benefits, but she wants to go to this other organization because it's a younger atmosphere and she thinks she'll have more opportunities to branch out. I told her I was concerned about her leaving so soon and that, if the new job doesn't work out, she'll appear to be a job jumper. She got really angry and said she didn't want to discuss it and hung up. I waited an hour or so and called her back, said I was sorry she was upset, but that she began the conversation by saying she wanted to discuss it. I'm trying to discern when she really wants my opinion and when she just wants me to be supportive, but I think we're both a bit irritated by our last conversation. Advice?

After this cools down, if she does resume her practice of using you as a sounding board (not a guarantee*), then make sure you ask before you respond: "Do you want me to give an opinion, or would you rather just talk your way through it?" 

If that doesn't work--or even if it does--you might also consider not giving your opinion unless expressly asked. She's 23, she's used to talking to you about stuff, but you both want her to break this habit eventually, and you can help her get there by not being so quick to weigh in.

*She might decide not to call you for advice anymore, which might not be the worst thing. Stay in touch but stay off the her-life-decisions topics. 


At least I'm consistent--I also didn't notice that it was almost 3:30. So, bye, thanks, hope to see you here next week, and have a great weekend. 

Also don't forget to subscribe to me on FB: ...

And to Nick as well, for a Cartoon of the Day feed:





In This Chat
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.

Carolyn's Columns
Past Chats
Way Past Chats
The Hax-Philes
Recent Chats
  • Next: