Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, October 19)

Oct 19, 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, October 19, 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. Pretty fall day around here--gray skies are bringing out the color in the leaves.

Hi Carolyn - I was going through your archives and noticed that in 2006, you weren't a big fan of online dating. In one instance, you urged caution to a woman looking to meet a man she'd been talking to online for 4 months. One writer talked about the stigma of meeting someone online, which I don't sense exists anymore. Six years later, has your opinion changed?

On only one count: The mushrooming popularity of online dating has made it less of a place of outliers (outright liars?). The other reasons for caution haven't changed. For example, that the woman from 2006 that you mention was going into meeting someone as if the two of them already knew each other, when they didn't.

Our senses aren't always perfect, but they're our best screening tool. By taking in someone's inflections, mannerisms, eye contact, etc., we learn a lot. And meeting people online puts people together before that crucial sensory-screening stage.

Not that that's a deal-brealer; it just has to be factored in to people's choices.

Related to Wednesday's Column: When do you disclose a health issue that doesn't really affect the other person? I have had a couple of health issues that are part of my history, but aren't a big deal any more. I usually don't think to mention them, because it doesn't occur to me. But if a relationship goes beyond a few dates, it feels dishonest not to tell. Is there a timeline of when you tell stuff like that? Thanks!

This is anonymous, and knowing the specific health issue would help me figure out what to advise. "Doesn't really affect the other person" leaves too much room for interpretation. Thanks.

Hello, I read your chat last week about how you should compliment effort and not beauty. I have 2 daughters under 4, and I was wondering your opinion on compliments for the toddler set. I compliment my daughter on her skills, effort, sharing, etc, but I also tell her she is beautiful, has lovely eyes, etc. Is that wrong? My reasoning is that a 3 year old should think everything about them is amazing. Personally, my self esteem is in the tank, so I really want my girls to like themselves. I feel that it is ok to compliment ones eyes or hair, which, while external factors, have nothing to do with weight, because that is my frame of reference. My scale went up and down, but my eyes stayed the same, you know? I guess I was just wondering what your opinion is on this. Thanks so much, I really enjoy your chat and column.

Thanks for the kind words.

I suggest you read "Nurture Shock," or at least the first chapter, "The Inverse Power of Praise." There's research on this and it's fascinating and persuasive.

I realize you want your girls to "think everything about them is amazing," but, the thing is, toddlers are wired to think they're the center of the universe. Sure, tell your girls sometimes that you think they're beautiful, but be careful not to make it even close to your predominant message. If they internalize their looks as important, then that puts them on a path toward a couple of things that you clearly don't want for them: 1. if they grow up to decide that they're comparatively less beautiful than the average girl or woman, then they'll get a sense of being less valuable for that; 2. they'll be less inclined to take risks that might jeopardize their looks or try things that aren't considered traditionally feminine or attractive.

Certainly a mother's opinion that a child is beautiful is part of life; the cliche, "a face only a mother could love" doesn't come out of nowhere. That creates an automatic markdown on anything a proud mama says. But, as I said, make sure "you're so pretty"--i.e., -anything- related to external beauty, is a side note and not the theme of your message.


Dear Carolyn, My dad and I have a great relationship, but there's one thing he does that is beginning to undermine it. Occasionally, about once a month, I will hear from him regarding religious matters (his religion, that is) - he'll forward an e-mail, send a book, mention how wonderful his faith has been for him, suggest that one day I too will wake up and "come around." I do not share his world view, religiously or politically, and I was not raised to share it, as he become a more devoutly religious person only about 10 years ago, long after I had left the house. I love him dearly and respect his choices, I do not criticize or mock, I give him space and time to pray in our home, I've invited him to take my kids to church so they can make up their own minds, and I do not make any attempt to change his mind. I would like him to afford me the same and for this communication to stop. It is not heavy-handed or hateful, but geez, having a parent send repeated messages to you that you just don't quite have the life that he thinks you should have just doesn't feel so good and makes me mad. Am I being unreasonable?

Persuasively argued. How much of this have you spelled out for your dad?

I'm writing this early because I really hope you can answer on Friday. I am a high school junior and I hate it. I am not bullied, but I don't have a lot of friends and the whole thing is just ridiculous. I am already taking a few AP courses and finally talked to my guidance counselor today about graduating early. He said if I really buckle down, take on some independent study and do one GED requirement class on-line, then I can graduate this spring. School is pretty easy for me and I don't have any other distractions. I also need my parent's permission, but I don't think they'll let me. They know how unhappy I am, but keep saying how this is the last carefree time of my life, and I should enjoy it. I'm not, and I won't. If I graduate early, I can work and start classes at community college. My plan is to build up enough credits that I can transfer to a 4-year school as a junior and save a lot of money. Then I won't have huge debt. I realize my plans could change, but I still want finish high school and get on with my life. How can I convince them that these aren't the best years of my life?

You don't "think" they'll let you. Hm. I see the same trail of breadcrumbs you're seeing, but that's still not the same thing as knowing how your parents will respond.

That's point 1. Point 2, you have a guidance counselor who knows at least the outline of your situation. Any chance you can fill in some details and get more guidance on the parent-management side?

Point 3, possibly through the guidance counselor and otherwise from another source, what about looking into gap year programs? That might walk the line between what you want--the heck outta--and what they want--to make sure you don't exit your youth prematurely.

Point 4, one of the most powerful tools of persuasion is to understand and acknowledge your parents' concerns. If you approach it by dismissing each of their points, then you're just playing into a perception that you're too young to know what's best. If you say, "I understand, you're afraid I'll look back someday and wonder why I was in such a rush to stop being a kid. And you might be right about that--I won't pretend I can see the future. The thing is, though, I'm not enjoying being a kid at this time at this school, and I'm hoping you'll help me find another way to finish out these years--even if it's not what you've had in mind for me."

If you set up a great "business plan" and present it to your parents calmly and humbly, only for them to remain unmoved, then one option is to request that they let you satisfy the graduation requirements anyway (if it's possible to do that and still remain for your senior year), even though they plan to keep you in for another year. That way you at least gain huge academic flexibility.

I'll cross my fingers for you--I get what you're feeling and you sound more than capable of charting this other path for yourself.


I think the general rule of thumb for disclosing health issues should fall along these lines.

Transmissable Diseases (no matter how unlikely): disclose before transmission is possible.

Serious Health Issues - non-transmissable (potentially damaging to quality of life, financial security of a couple): Before getting serious

Minor health issues (food allergies, non-life threatening conditions): Before getting serious, but no reason not to tell ealier

Old health issues (not likely to recur): Before marriage/kids

Reproductive issues: before getting serious.

Good start. Everyone, what do you think?

Hi Carolyn, Does anyone else feel a sense of guilt when disclosing health status to a prospective partner? For some reason, I always feel guilty when I do so just for the sheer fact of having to blight the perfect courting period with something negative. Is this a normal feeling or is it just me? Thanks!

"blight the perfect courting period with something negative"! I hope you're not always this tough on yourself (but I suspect you are).

To my mind, the only way to blight the courtship phase is to present an idealized front.

Hmmm. I don't know - I met my now-husband in the paper way back in the day (2003). I would hardly call either of us an outlier. However, I think people often confuse online dating with online meeting. In other words, it hardly matters where you meet someone, whether it's at the grocery store or in an online forum. How your transition your relationship to the real world is what makes or breaks it. You wouldn't keep your relationship "online only" any more than you would confine your dating of to the produce aisle.

That would be something--four months of meeting in the produce aisle before taking it to Joe's Java.

Only a bit once after he sent me a book that I had no interest in and I told him I'd rather use my very limited reading time for topics I'm interested in. But not the bigger picture.

I think it's time for the bigger picture--even if it's just the last part of your argument. How did you put it ... "having a parent send repeated messages to you that you just don't quite have the life that he thinks you should have just doesn't feel so good." Preface it with, "I'm happy you've found such joy in your faith." A slightly longer version could include, "I understand that you want me to share this joy," before you hit the doesn't-feel-so-good note.

It's a long shot, but it's honest, and fair.

My mother, who is an extraordinary person, never told me I was pretty. Perhaps she would say I looked "nice," but never pretty, attractive, or beautiful. I dressed in baggy clothing, or else she would say it was too tight (now i know there is a difference between fitting properly and tight). I am almost 30 and am slim, work out, have a healthy body image, eat right, and have a supportive fiance. But it took a lot of work getting there. I never thought I was capable of being pretty or attractive. Even today my mother literally never comments on how I look, even with a significant weight loss. Parenting is not a win/lose game and everybody has their vanities. When at all possible, stay away from extremes in any direction.

Well said, thanks.

My younger sister was tentatively diagnosed with a degenerative autoimmune disease several years ago. When the tests started to indicate what it could be, her partner of several years decided to end their relationship (they'd been talking marriage before the diagnosis) because they couldn't handle the idea of caring for her should she really have the disease. It was devastating on top of a devastating diagnosis, but it also showed her how important it was to establish a bottom line with the next person she started dating and felt she could get serious with. She told the next one fairly early on in their relationship and they've been together for a couple years now. She didn't want to put herself through the pain of not disclosing until they'd gotten serious and then losing something else she loved.

Also right on point, thanks.

At work, we have several rooms set up with cubes. The water cooler happens to be in the same room as my cube. I am usually one of the first people in the office and as people trickle in, they all seem to stop at the water cooler or microwave. When they do, they seem to have a need to say, "Hello" to the room. I guess they are saying, "Hello" to me and anyone else who happens to be in the room. Sometimes they will add needless things like, "Just getting water for my coffee..." The problem is that I find these "announcements" to be annoying. There is no eye contact, so I don't know who they are talking to or if they actually expect me to stop and respond. It would be different if they were walking over to my desk to say, "Hi." but they aren't. Once half of the cubes in my room are occupied, the people seem to stop saying, "Hi!" to the room. I don't get it and I am not sure why it annoys me so much... maybe it is just that it happens 10 times each morning, five days a week. I don't want to come off as rude and ask them to please stop saying, "hi" but not sure how to overcome my little problem.

I have to disqualify myself from answering this because I actually think it's funny, in an absurd kind of way, and the only answer I seem to be able to generate is just to say "hi" back without looking up from your work. But where I see oddball charm you obviously see water-cooler torture, so I'll throw it out to more sympathetic (or just more limber) minds. 

I have a wonderful girlfriend, and we've been dating for two years now. There's only one thing about her that makes me worry about the future of our relationship: Her political views. I'm liberal, and she's conservative. I tell myself this isn't a deal breaker, but when we discuss politics, it usually gets pretty heated - and it's usually because I think she lacks empathy/comes off cold, while she thinks I'm TOO empathetic to people's situations (subject example: collecting unemployment). I'm at the point in the relationship where I want to take it to the next level, but is this going to be a big problem in the future? Are our polar opposite political views a sign of polor opposite values that will make it hard to be married or raise a family? For what it's worth, I'm not the most politically savvy person, and at the risk of sounding condescending I think the reason I get so upset when we debate politics is because she doesn't really pay attention to the news, so her opinions, while strong, are never as informed as they could be. If they were and she disagreed with me, I could take comfort in the fact that she really knows what she's talking about and we just disagree. Everything else about the relationship is great. She doesn't seem to think the political differences are a big deal, but every time we greatly disagree on a political topic I find myself worried and doubting the relationship.

Couples can survive political differences, but they rarely thrive when one half doesn't respect the other.

A year or two after high school, my brother joined the military, he has just finished his time with them and is now talking about going to college on the GI bill. I think it is a wonderful idea, except he wants to take a full course load (maybe more) right off the bat. The problem, he barely, and I mean by the skin of his teeth, graduated high school. Needless to say, he didn't do well enough to get into college right out of school. My suggestion to him has been to start off taking one maybe two courses tops at first to get used to the workload. He believes that because he finished B and C school for his job with the military that he can handle the full course load. However he has never been good with self scheduling and I think military courses are MUCH more regimented than your average college course where a professor can give you a syllabus at the beginning and not say another word about the tests, papers and homework. I understand his desire to get in and get out before he is 30, but I know how hard it was for me to juggle a full course load and I didn't have 7-8 years between high school and college. He also doesn't handle crashing and burning well. What else can I say to him?


Unless you can honestly say, "Okay then. As I've said, I think college on the GI Bill is a wonderful idea, and I'll be rooting for you."

Your brother is a grown man, one who found an effective and honorable solution to the problems created by his so-so high school performance. Show him a little respect.

And even if he takes on too much, as you foresee, and "doesn't handle crashing and burning well," as you foresee, it's his job to prevent a problem and his job to solve one. Just as you have no business meddling beyond one, "Hmm, maybe you should consider starting slowly" suggestion, you also don't belong in the middle of any fallout from any bad decisions he makes. Even if he invites you in, tries to suck you in, etc., the healthy extent of your involvement for him is to help him help himself.

I could go so far as to speculate that his difficulty with high school, with self-scheduling, with bouncing back from crashing/burning, and even with assessing how much of a workload he can handle,  could easily all extend from being over-meddled with when he was in his formative years. To know how to stand alone, people need to learn gradually throughout their childhood.

In cases where there's a diagnosable reason for difficulty in self-management, such as ADHD or developmental delays, the attention of the child's nurturing corps still needs to be on promoting self-sufficiency.

H emight have some catching up to do still, but coming late to it is better than not coming to it at all. Respect his autonomy and let him learn to stand alone.



How do you cultivate respect for a person under the circumstances where they decisively and firmly argue uninformed opinions? If a person is plowing forward (in an argumentative manner) with opinions that aren't based in fact, where is the place you go in your head to conjure the empathy and therefore respect for them under those circumstances? I agree that a relationship cannot survive a lack of respect, but what if someone is displaying behavior that isn't exactly making respect a walk in the park?

Then you don't respect the person, at least on that count; there might also be areas of life this person handles with grace, and challenges s/he seems to master while you struggle. There are lots of ways to even the balance.

And where there aren't those mitigating elements, you go exactly where you suggest: empathy. Generally you can think of areas where you've been off-base, right? Or you can consider that there are emotional reasons people choose the positions they do, and argue them with the fervor they do, and close their minds to contrary facts as they do. It's hard to say, wow, I'm full of it, and I've been spouting off for years about X when there's readily available proof that X isn't true. 

I do think that, while a quest for mutual respect is good for the soul and necessary with people who are un-chosen parts of your life, like parents or neighbors, it's best not to work that hard when you're looking for a mate. Hold out instead for mutual respect that comes from sources that are natural, abundant and enduring.


and how this effects your view of money and child raising is important. Is it important to you to give to charities that support the less fortunate, but does she see it as a waste of money? How will this effect things when you move from your money/my money to our money? Are there personal values that these political views express - would it bother you if your children were taught hers over your?

More good conversation starters, thanks.

The question I always ask myself when faced with political differences in a potential relationship: "Is this person sufficiently kind?" I find that political differences that turn out to be dealbreakers are evidence that the person is not kind enough for me to want to spend time with them.

Another good one, thanks.

If it is actually true that the gal has strongly held but extremely uninformed beliefs about politics, then be prepared for her to have strongly held but uninformed beliefs about other things--marriage, parenting, child care, etc. And yes, I'd say that if the political affiliations and/or genders were reversed.

Such a great point and, yes, it works no matter how you shake up the specs. Stubbornness is a pain in the butt anyway, but when it arises from a place other than facts or reason, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to deal with. It's especially painful to watch when a child is involved, and This or That myth is applied with extremist zeal to some consequential element of childrearing, while the other parent wrestles with the following choice: watch helplessly or touch off epic fights. Awful. Seen it up close.

Where you say, "I think military courses are MUCH more regimented than your average college course," I say the military teaches you to be organized and meet your schedules and commitments because if you don't, there are consequences. To a person, everyone I know who has been in the military has retained those organizational skills after leaving the service. Don't visit your own struggles in college on your brother. Being older and having learned the benefits of organization while in the military means your brother is starting with the advantage.

Yes, yes--I thought the part about learned discipline but missed the part about "visit your own struggles in college on your brother." Bravo. Thanks.

Many universities have veterans' resource centers that can provide advice/assistance to these non-traditional students. You might add a sentence about being sure to check out that office to Caroline's response.

Missed this too, thanks.

I think it's more a sign of people trying to be polite and not surprise you if you're in there alone. "Hey, not trying to sneak up on you... not being creepy-stalking-around guy... just here for some water... please don't scream." I don't know about anyone else, but I can personally be snuck up on in my own home when I know that I'm not the only person there. :)

Makes sense, thanks.

wear earphones, even if you're not listening to anything. Then you can ignore everyone, and they'll just think you can't hear. On the other hand, as someone who's worked at places where I'd say hello to people and be met with a blank stare, it's nice that people greet you and acknowledge your presence.

Thanks. One more:

I don't see a way to stop this -- I can totally understand the urge to say "hello" when walking into a mostly-empty room; it's just acknowledgment of the other person. Not saying anything might seem odd. I think the OP can feel free to ignore.

Thanks. If anything different pops up, I'll send it along.

I think your advice was mostly correct Carolyn, but I think you missed exploring Point #6: you need to do some work to more deeply explore why you aren't happy. You are focused on one "solution" (graduating early) that may not address the real problem. You mention that you have some friends and that school is easy. But do you feel really shy, awkward, or isolated? Those issues won't be solved by graduating early, they will just follow you into your next phase if you don't address them. Some soul searching is warranted. But you could just be ready to surround yourself with a more mature crowd. That happens too, in which case graduating early may feel better to you.

I won't argue against soul-searching. For what it's worth, though, as I read the chatter of my college class as we approach our 25th reunion, there's a common theme that people arrived freshman year and noticed immediately that they felt at home socially for the first time in their lives.

It is possible, and possibly even common, for people to feel out of place in their hometowns or schools or their chosen social groups or even their families for no deeper reason than "not a good fit." It seems like the case here, too--but, again, a reality check couldn't hurt. Thanks.

I have the exact same issue with my mother except it doesn't bother me. I guess I'd ask, if you have an otherwise great relationship with your father and it really is about once a month, why not just ignore it. It's what I do. Maybe her father pushes the issue more but my mother sends me books and emails about once a month, I throw them away or delete and it's a non-issue.

Ideal for those who can swing it, thanks.

I didn't mean to sound as if I don't respect my girlfriend, because I do. I often go to her for advice, and she's genuinely a nice, caring person. But maybe you're right - maybe I'm not giving her the respect in the area of politics that I should. Thanks for pointing that out. Also, when I say "heated," I don't mean that we scream at each other, act sarcastic, etc. We just get noticeably frustrated. I guess I'm just worried about what will happen down the road, and how politics can affect child rearing, finances, and other major life decisions.

What would happen if you were both to offer the other something to read that supports your view--the equivalent of bringing in a neutral third party (emotionally, not politically, though getting it from a bi- or non-partisan source would be aces). And not in a "See?!" way, but almost in an anthropological way, where you offer something new and see how the subject reacts or responds to it.

As for the "how politics can affect child rearing," I think the nutterati have argued well that it's about values, kindness and the willingness to reconsider a position in the face of new information--which applies to both of you, of course, and not just to her.

Hi Carolyn, My boss is a bad guy. There's not much more to it. I'm looking, diligently, for another job - not an easy thing to find right now, especially in my field - but while I do that and cross my fingers that I find something soon - how do I maintain my sanity? We're a tiny workplace that he runs, there's no HR department, and quitting is not an option because getting hired while you're unemployed is SO much harder. And yes, I attend to hobbies/friends/etc., but I work long-ish hours, and this has been going on long enough that it's hard to control the bleed into my personal life (especially because he can be very personal). Thanks.

Speaking of anthropological, how are you at distancing yourself, as if what you have with your boss isn't a relationship, but instead a thing you watch as if from behind glass? You have to do your job, yes, and no doubt that involves his input, but let's say you regard interacting with him as nothing more emotional than going to a store to acquire something you need--and there's traffic to navigate but you gotta get what you gotta get. It's essentially a decision that none of this is any more personal than bad weather or traffic, and just as far beyond your control, and just as necessary to get through. Would that work? Or are you already there, and it's the traffic/weather that have worn you down, figuratively speaking.

How does one take the steps to get the help she needs? ... I'm stuck and the dark voices are taking over. I can't seem to tell my counselor but my world just keeps getting darker. The things that used to work (exercise, friends, mental exercises, my worksheets) don't work anymore.

You were able to write this down for me--so please copy-paste this and email it to your counselor. If yours doesn't offer or trust email for privileged communication, then call his or her voice mail and say, "I posted this to an advice chat today," or something to that effect, and then read your words aloud.

I'm advising this on the assumption that conveying something already written is easier than saying it cold, but if that's not true for you, then please just call your counselor's voice mail right now and say how you feel. Don't think, just do. (And check back in please, thanks.)

Carolyn, what can I say when my father starts talking about how he will be dead in x number of years? (Usually by age 65--seven years from now--but once he predicted that he will die at age 68, the day after his 50th anniversary with my mom.) There is nothing wrong with him that lifestyle changes wouldn't fix, but his father was in ill-health for several years and Dad is afraid of that. I don't expect to change his mind, but I am looking for a respectful response that lets him know I think he's spouting "horse biscuits" (as he himself would call it).

Not sure I understand why you need to be respectful where he'd say "horse biscuits." The first response that comes to mind is, "You probably will, if you keep ordering food like that." Is he a holdover from the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do era? Is he used to being king, and commanding attention accordingly?

Honestly, I think it's a combination. Partly, the weather and traffic have worn me down. Partly, I slip sometimes because it is so very hard to remove oneself when the criticism is so frequently personally framed (e.g., "You did a terrible job writing this" as opposed to "This is poorly written," except multiply that by 100, and you'll get the idea). Does that make sense?

It does. It sounds like forcing yourself to think in a clinically detached way might help, as might some quickie internal reality checks. For example, when Boss says, "You did a terrible job writing this," your inner voice follows up with, "And you have the leadership skills of a dung beetle." (Here's where I find out whether my readership includes anyone who knows the social habits of dung beetles.) Two ways to keep your self-doubt in check.


Husband comes from a large family, one of the DILs seems compelled to one-up everything. Funny / interesting stories from the family are trumped by stories from her family or people she only knows, for example, but there are lots of other ways too. She is condescending and can turn downright rude if someone threatens her sense of superiority. She is almost despised in a family where everyone otherwise enjoys gatherings. I always though she'd grow out of it, but we are all grandparents now, so there isn't much hope of that. Is there a way to handle it, to 'help' her see what she is doing to alienate people? I've tried various things over the years... redirecting, trying to be a friend and listen to her, veiled mild sarcasm, even confrontation once when I lost my temper as she became rude. Nothing made the slightest difference, so I gave up and avoid her as much as possible, which is what most of the family does. But it feels like an uncharitable cop out. What am I missing?

That giving up and avoiding her as much as possible isn't a cop out, it is a legitimate option--and has been all along. Whatever you tried was to serve your own interests, not hers, not unless she asked for your help, so please don't muddle things by thinking otherwise. You felt that it was important to try other means of dealing with her.

There's nothing wrong with that. And when you found that a satisfying way to deal with her was apparently beyond the limits of your imagination, you stopped trying. Nothing wrong with that, either.

Maybe she wanted to alienate everyone. Some people just want no part of families or gatherings or "polite" conversation.

Actually, no--he has always encouraged us to speak our minds. I guess the timidity is coming from ME, not him. Guess next time I'll say some variation of "Or you could try quitting smoking and taking a walk around the block now and again. Oh, did I tell you about that cute thing the baby did?"

Sounds good, but skip the buffer.

It's probably worth making the distinction here that this is in response to his comments. I don't think it's your place (or productive) to initiate any nags about his habits.

Can you shift your schedule to be around him less? I had a bad boss (like, eventually served time in federal prison for embezzlement bad) and I arranged a four day work week with longer hours under some other pretense while I got through the year. Three day weekends went a long way towards helping me deal. If that's not possible, maybe try a flexible schedule so you're only in the office together for six hours a day rather than eight. May be a long shot and not always manageable but thought I'd put it out there.

Out there it has been put, thanks.

Is he a "bad guy" because he's demanding and insensitive to the point of cruelty, or is he a bad guy who expects his employees to do unethical things? Are you saying that OP should use emotional distance to justify wrongdoing, or just to develop a thicker skin?

"Are you saying that OP should use emotional distance to justify wrongdoing": I would never say that.

I think you've hit the nail on the head comparing what happened with his father. He's probably scared - as many men are when the approach the age their father died. Can you get him do healthy things with you - like a father-child walk a couple of times a week? I don't suppose he'd open up if you said - why do you say that ... .

Or, since (last week?) we were just talking about applying the concepts of childrearing books to adult interactions: "It sounds like you're afraid that what happened to your father will happen to you." That is, validating him by reflecting his feelings back to him.

Hi, Carolyn, Many of our friends and neighbors have kids (we don't) and have now reached the age where they or there parents are trying to fundraise; mostly for private school tuition (the latest request is from a friend whose 18 month old is in some kind of preschool). We can afford to buy whatever they're selling, although we almost never want the stuff. The thing is, we all live in an upper middle class community, and our friends could afford to just give the schools more money themselves. I resent feeling like I have to buy this stuff to fund my friends' kids' private schoold education. Am I being a grinch and do I need to suck it up? I am wondering if I stop buying, maybe these parents will think that fundraising is more trouble than it's worth and they'll just take on the added financial cost.

Stop buying, please. You're under no obligation to.

And while you're stopping, stop assuming anything about your friends' finances, and also stop blaming your friends for your feelings. If you feel you have to buy the stuff, then work on that internally till you get to the point where you feel just fine saying no. Just as it is their prerogative to spend themselves to near insolvency on private schools, it is your prerogative to decline to chip in.

Full disclosure, I want no part of these fundraisers myself. If I'm already planning to buy, say, wrapping paper or a wreath, then sure, I'll buy from someone's school, but otherwise I say no. I also don't let my kids sell stuff, and write a check to the campaign when I'm flush enough to. FWIW.

Hi Carolyn, My daughter was supposed to get married the first weekend in November but, upon finding out about several affairs, she has canceled the wedding. My daughter is devastated, but has an excellent support system. However, we have issue with her ex-fiance's family. My family put down non-refundable deposits on numerous services like the venue, florist, photographer, etc. I think, given the circumstances of the split, her ex-fiance should reimburse us for the deposits. Her ex-fiance caused this wedding to be cancelled, and now he is just walking away, leaving thousands of dollars in his wake. My daughter is adopting the attitude of just wanting to get over him and move on, she would rather not get involved with his family. Since about half the deposits are mine, I do want to get involved. My son is a lawyer and told us that we have absolutely no legal recourse for this money and we should assume it is gone. I understand what my kids are saying, but it is hard for me to let this money go out of no fault of my family. Any advice?

Pick your method--yoga, punching a pillow, throwing darts at a photo of the ex, Zumba, a cocktail at 4 pm instead of 5, a mock funeral service where you bury thousands in Monopoly money--and use it to bid farewell to the cash. Wanting people to behave as you want them to is a great way to waste a good chunk of your life. Better just to accept that your daughter is the luckiest person on earth right now, and that if this money is what it cost for her to reach this mountaintop, then it was well spent. Or well set on fire.

Besides, you don't want to get into the "out of no fault of my family," since, for example, your daughter may well have ignored signs she was with a cheater that could have helped her dump him before nonrefundable deposits were involved. I actually don't believe in such finger-pointing unless it's as part of a process of self-examination--but I'm putting it out there as a caution against such black-and-white, me-good-you-bad thinking.

In a few months, I will be traveling with my boyfriend to a family event where he will get to meet a lot of my relatives for the first time. Unfortunately, some of my local relatives are poisoning the waters by spreading nasty rumors regarding the fact that he's disabled. For example, they assume that he can't be independent, so they report that he is living off my dime and that I do all the housework. Even worse, my parents believe them over me! Boyfriend is aware of what's going on. What can I do to help the weekend go smoothly?

Stay home. Seriously--these people don't deserve your or your boyfriend's company, and I strain to imagine why you want theirs.

Nice resistance of black-and-white, me-good-you-bad thinking! I applaud myself.

Someone asked that once and your answer was no. I agree with that, but why -isn't- love enough? I'm struggling with the decision to break up with my boyfriend, who I love more than I ever thought I could love anybody.

It's all in why you want to break up with him. There's obviously something wrong that you think is serious enough to make breaking up a possibility.

Are you willing to post it here next week? I gotsta go.

That's it for today. Thanks, have a great weekend and type to you here next week. As always, if you have something to add or want to keep a topic going, try Facebook,,


or email me about a topic you'd like to see on Hax-Philes.

Can't do activities with him as I live too far away. So if I try, "Sounds like you're afraid that what happened to Grandpa will happen to you" and he reiterates that his solution to that problem is to die (he has actually been pretty explicit about that), then what? I ask, "Can you think of any other way around it?" He says something about how it's too hard to quit drinking and smoking. Then I'm back to saying "horse biscuits" and changing the subject because it makes me uncomfortable and I'm not getting anywhere. Anything wrong with that?

Ooh, just saw this. 1. Do what you can to get comfortable with it. Death is awful, but it's inevitable, and being able to talk about it, prepare for it, voice your fears of it, and generally just face it, will help you deal with it. 2. When he says "it's too hard," then you can say, "Okay, yes, it's hard. But obviously you find it hard to think about dying, too--as I do. I guess I'm just hoping you can be comfortable with whatever choice you make, whether it's to keep your same habits knowing they might kill you prematurely, or to try to improve them knowing there are no guarantees." Be an adult about it, and maybe he will, too.

To clarify: no, we're not being asked to do anything ethically (or legally) wrong. If that were the case, I would actually quit. He's (just) a terrible/abusive manager who is also a not nice person, to put it politely.

Thanks. Sigh.

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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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