The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, October 26)

Oct 26, 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 26, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

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

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Hi everybody.

I was going to make some comment on the coming storm, but I think the cliche stock has already been depleted. That's how serious this is.

Hi Carolyn. You took my question last week on bringing my disabled boyfriend to a family event where people might be less than friendly. I thought I'd write in on why we're attending and see if that changes your answer: 1. Not going feels like letting the bigots win because it means that we're letting them cut me off from the family for being with him. 2. We don't actually know how far the prejudice extends (it could be a regional or a generational thing), and some relatives have actually reached out to us to express support. 3. Attending allows the family to see that the rumors are BS; not attending gives more ammunition to the rumor-machine. 4. The event is the wedding of a cousin who is also one of my best friends. FWIW, my boyfriend also says that he's coming to be with me, not with them.

I'm so glad to hear it's just a few corrupt people and not a whole-family problem. Isn't that usually the case, though; I should have assumed as much in my answer.

I think in this fact about your family lies the answer to how to "help the weekend go smoothly," which was yoru original question: Seek out the company of people who embrace you, and don't worry about dealing with or educating or shielding yourself from the rumor-spreaders. They are their own problem, not yours. Simply by going and having a good time with the people you love, as you would have done had their been no rumor-spreading issue, will make the only statement you need to make. If someone has the nerve to confront you, just drop a Wow and leave the person's presence.

FWIW, I don't think 3. unto itself is a reason to do anything. For the rumor machine, you have no responsibility whatsoever. The only responsibilities you have are to you, your boyfriend and the cousin.



Hi Carolyn - I've fallen into something of a professional mentoring relationship with a young woman 10 years my junior. She is incredibly smart, hard-working and self-motivating. At 26 she's already started her own successful side business and has gotten on the radar of some impressive local politicians (our field is public health). However, she's also somewhat prickly, defensive and often (needlessly) exaggerates her own accomplishments. She comes to me a lot & seems to trust my opinion - I have been a strong advocate for her while also (softly) trying to guide her towards being a little more open to working with others as I know she's capable of doing. And in general, I chalk a lot up to her being young, insecure and having had to deal with a lot of tough stuff in her life already (cervical cancer, divorce) and just don't take it personally. But I recently learned that she has been badmouthing me to some of our colleagues. Nothing too damning, just saying that I think I'm more qualified than I am and that she's had to clean up a lot of my work (untrue). These people came to me because they wanted to make sure I knew - none of them particularly care for her so I'm not worried about her actually damaging my reputation. On the one hand, I hear her say these kinds of things (about other people) casually all the time and I don't think she even quite realizes she's doing it, so it's easy for me to let it slide. On the other hand, I'm pretty irritated that she would say these kinds of things about me particularly after I've really tried to boost her up. I don't think the relationship has been one-sided - she has continually sought me out and our connection seems authentic. Should I say something to her directly? Or do I let it go and chalk it up to the follies of inexperience?

You're a mentor, so you can approach this as a provider of guidance. Next time you hear her say casually dismissive things about other people, call her on it calmly: "Be careful with such criticisms. People are quick to assume that whatever you'll say to them, you'll likely also say about them." Ahem.

Then I think you should revisit your "I don't think the relationship has been one-sided" assessment. Seems to me it's very one sided: She takes, you give. When a taker decides she has used everything you have to offer, then she likely will move on. If you're in the path to her moving on, then there's a good chance she'll try to run you over. Don't sever the tie, necessarilydon't trust her, and be very careful about what you share.

When should you start worrying that someone is mad at you vs. just busy? I start worrying the next day or two. I know that this is unreasonable, but I have gone through friend break-ups (not more than a couple, but enough to make me a little paranoid), and they start the same way. First a few days go by with no response, then a week, then 2, then you call them up to chat and you get voicemail, no response for a few days. Then you start worrying and right about when you start worrying, it turns out that your friend is on vacation or their mom had surgery. But sometimes it turns out that they hate you for some weird reason. I know that you can't make someone like you back, but when we're talking about a close friend of 10 year's vintage, at what point can you call and say, "Are you mad at me or are you just busy?" or does that always come off as looking crazy? If it helps, my husband is on a business trip and I'm pregnant and home with our toddler and dog so probably more prone to being a little paranoid/bored/lonely. So of course I'm emailing and texting and calling all my friends and one of my closest is not responding. Ack! I am not particularly political but she's a Republican and I am not (though not a Dem either), so I'm a little worried that she's avoiding me until after the election? Or is this also crazy thinking?

If I say it's crazy thinking, then your friend will pop back up after the election and say that stress over politics drove her underground, and if I say it's legit, then you'll float this by her and she'll look at you like you're from the moon.

Whatever the case with this particular friend, I think it's pretty clear that 1. people are just getting worse and worse about staying in regular contact--it's not just you; and 2. because of that and because at-home parents are unusually susceptible to isolation/feelings of, you need to, ah, get out more.

I realize you're trying, what with all the calls for social help, but I'm thinking more along the lines of setting up ways to get out that aren't dependent on havign a friend return your call. Think places, not people. A park, a kid-friendly coffee shop, a child-care co-op, a kiddie music or dance or gymnastics class or drop-in play gym, etc.--anywhere you feel comfortable that will come with a steady supply of people. Not only will this feed your need for non-toddler human interaction, it will also give you less time to fret about friends' reasons for not calling back.

Hi Carolyn - How do you know how much weight to give to friends' opinions of your SO (and vice versa)? After 16 months of admittedly rocky relationship, friends practically did a happy dance when SO and I briefly split last week. We reconciled this weekend, but given the initial reaction I'm kind of scared to tell them that. SO has picked up on ALL my friends' lukewarm attitude towards him, but chalks it up as their being lukewarm to me as well and just wants me to dump them and "make better friends". FWIW, SO fell head-over-heels for me, his family think I am the best thing since sliced bread and are making plans to have me meet their extended family over the holidays. I'm more on the fence about the long-term viability of us, and while my family is supportive and welcoming to him, they've made it clear that they share my doubts. I've tried several times to have the breakup conversation but just. can't. pull. the trigger., which makes me ever more confused and unsure of how to proceed. (Which brings me to part 2 - have any spines for sale? I seem to have misplaced mine.) -In need of a backbone

-Why- has it been so rocky? -Why- can't you pull the breakup trigger?

These, I suspect, are everything.

The happy-dances alone aren't conclusive. Your friends could have been celebrating the end of the guy, or they could have been celebrating the end of your complaining. I don't like the "Make better friends," but I can think of situations where he'd have a point. So, more info, please, if you can.

We are a group of women that has supported and celebrated each other for 10+ years. One member is clearly suffering from increasingly frequent symptoms of mental illness, unable to work and hold a job, complains a lot about insomnia and sometimes a desire to kill herself - though she always insists that she won't do it. She has been in therapy but always has a problem with the therapist and changes frequently. Lately, she's been saying it isn't worth the cost and she will just rely on our group. This expectation feels overwhelming and beyond what we can do for her. I am avoiding the group lately because of her overwhelming issues - and really miss it. I want to talk to the others and get a sense of how they feel about the situation but am afraid she will find out and feel ganged up on. We've held together through some tough situations and the last thing I want to do is create any kind of a divide. Any ideas as to how to handle this situation?

You do need to talk, specifically about not being available to this member as a replacement for therapy. That message needs to be clear and your resolve to stick to it solid.

Of course, you can't talk for any other member of the group. However, you can create a situation where you set a standard--and, as a bonus, completely bypass the issue of ganging up on her. You can do this by responding to "what she's been saying" with a statement before all group members: "I am not a mental-health professional, and I am not qualified to replace your therapist. Out of love for you, I will not be the place you bring things that are rightly brought to your therapist."

If you're not sure about this or want to feed your resolve with more specific guidance, call the NAMI help line, (800) 950-6264.

I (female) have a very good friend (male). He's a great guy and we really enjoy each other's company, the friendship works well. I do know, through conversations with him, that he's pretty much a jerk to women he dates/sleeps with, but our friendship doesn't revolve around this so I don't really care. I have another friend (female) who was interested in him romantically. I said my piece to her about while he's a good friend, I think he'd be a lousy boyfriend and gave some specific examples. She claimed he'd be different with her, and I stayed out of it, already having said my piece. Well, 6 months later, he was a jerk to her too, and she's mad at me (not him) for not stopping her, and insists I can no longer be friends with him. How do I deal with this? I would really like to keep them both as friends.

That's not up to you, unfortunately. What you can do is take or leave the terms your female friend is offering you, and then she can decide whether to end the friendship. I do think you have a right to say that you didn't feel it was your place to stop her, only to warn her--and then say nothing further, because that already takes you to the very edge of the told-you-so cliff.

That's about it for this part of the situation with your two friends, but what about the other part--that you're friends with someone you know treats women badly. Have you said anything "through conversations with him," to the effect that what he's saying sounds to you like he's mistreating these women? Seems to me that passes both the boundaries test and the I-probably-should-stop-enabling-a-jerk test. 

If my husband goes home during the holiday break, do I have to go with him? We spent actual Christmas there (Austria) last year, plus we visited them in spring, plus his mother spent 2 weeks with us in summer. We're spending this Christmas with my family (DC), but then he's flying to them and I REALLY don't want to. We've been married 18 months, his mother always drinks more when I'm around (addict, whole other story), and the holidays at his family are so formal, chilly and strained. We always split Christmas before we were married (3 yrs of both going home, then spending New Year's together). Hubby is mostly fine with this, but am I giving up the chance to learn to love his family?

It seems to make so much sense that you stay home this time (the number of visits in the last year seems ample, couples benefit from a little time apart, adult kids benefit from alone time with their parents, your presence stresses your MIL apparently as much as her presence stresses you, etc.) that I wonder why you're not just going with it. Is it in the "mostly," of "Hubby is mostly fine with this"?

Carolyn: When I was 16 I came home to my mom sneaking out of our house with her belongings and my younger brother. I got home early and she was leaving my step-dad, and me too. She actually left us a note on the kitchen table. I was already the step kid with the "horrible" dad my mother bashed repeatedly so this crushed me and truly altered how I feel about myself, life, and relationships. The note didn't specifically say she left me, but after months of not hearing from her and watching my step-dad go through the motions of moving out and not asking me to go with him, it became clear I was on my own. I called relatives and the general consensus was it was none of their business. After years of no communication, I called my dad and he let me move in with him. Come to find out we were very similar and he was a nice person that made me feel wanted for 6 great years until he died of a heart attack. I called my mom crying after I got the call from the coroner and she said "good, he got what he deserved." My boyfriend stood up for me to her and she hung up the phone and never contacted me again for 9 years. Now, after seeing me at my SILs baby shower, she texts me sporadically as though nothing has happened. She didn't even come to my wedding but now every few months asks what I'm having for dinner or something random. I reply only to what is being asked and offer no more. I have such emotional scars that have been such work to deal with that I think I need to just stop being in touch with her. Over the years I tried to work on our relationship but she refuses to acknowledge any possible negative feeling I have. She says I was abusive to her (I wasn't) and has even gone so far as to tell relatives all these lies about me. It's ruined my life and has left me without any family support. I think I need to move on and just stop all contact with these toxic people but I've been made to feel guilty and at fault for so long my mind is cloudy. I have gone to therapy but they don't tell you what to do and i'm stuck. I'm asking you this b/c I've read of your loving relationship you had with your mom and figure you'll give me the most stern response and I want to see all angles of this.

This is painful even to read, and you lived it for your entire childhood. I'm so sorry.

I've said this before about kids who were abused, which you plainly were, and I think it applies here: The adults in your life were responsible for nurturing and protecting you. When they abdicated this responsibility, it conferred to you. Of course as a child you were in no position to act as your own parent/protector, and that alone explains the scars and the pain you carry with you. You were betrayed.

Now, though, as an established adult--in your early 30s, about?--you are in a much stronger position to act in the role of parent on your own behalf, even with the terrible example of parenthood these adults modeled for you. In a way, what they all failed to do on your behalf is probably very clear in your mind. You don't say whether you have kids of your own, but if you don't, I bet you can still list pretty quickly all the things you'd do for a child, and never do to a child.

Take that list, and follow the steps for you. For example, let's say No. 1 is, I will always be there for my child. How would you define "be there for"? And then: How does that definition apply when you're talking about dealing with your mom?

Maybe a less fuzzy example would be if an item on your list were, "I will never negate or minimize my child's feelings." Applying that to your situation is a straight line: "I feel bad when these people are in my life, and so I will not allow them into my life anymore." Or: "To feel guilty is to let other people tell me how I feel."

Does thinking about it this way work for you, or make sense?

About my mom--it was a loving relationship because she took care of me when it was her job to, and she let me take care of myself when it was her job to. There's a lot more to it in the details, obviously, but her not breaking that fundamental contract was the foundation upon which everything else was built.

Your mom broke that contract, which means it's okay to write your own and honor it. Just the fact that someone is technically your mother means nothing if she broke all the underlying promises.

My mom died recently after a relatively brief, but tumultuous battle with cancer. After several months of rushing back and forth to my hometown halfway across the country to take care of her, deal with my horribly contentious family and make final arrangements, I'm way behind at work and really need to catch up. My coworkers have been very kind and sympathetic, for which I'm grateful. However, since I've been back, in addition to the general sympathetic expressions, I also get several visits, phone calls and emails per day from people who themselves get emotional, talking about the loss of their family members or even how people they know died agonizingly from the same cancer that took my mom. I really don't know how to handle this at work. It's really taking it's toll, and I'm facing an exhausting weekend working to make up for lost time. As a PSA - if someone at work suffers a loss or some tragedy, I really advise expressing your sympathy briefly and sincerely, but please don't ask for details or make them relive the experience. I've really appreciated simple condolences, as I'm grateful and touched by everyone's kindness. But work isn't a funeral, ok?

I'm sorry for your loss, and the stresses accumulating around it.

An acquaintance who suffered a similar loss sent around an email thanking everyone for their support and requesting, in the interest of remaining glued, that people not talk to her about it at work. It was admittedly unusual, a bit jarring and would probably offend the never-say-"no-gifts"-type etiquettists, but I also thought it was brilliant. And I didn't say a thing, not even, "I'm sorry for your loss." It was one of the rare times I knew exactly how to handle someone else's grief.  Something to consider.

Hi Carolyn, I was supposed to go on a holiday trip with some friends that, not by design but by fate, just worked out to be a couples trip consisting of four pairs sharing a house. Then I broke up with my boyfriend, unexpectedly, this month. A trip with friends is probably just what I need, but (perhaps I'm being a baby) I'm nervous about how I will feel being surrounded by all those happy couples, watching everyone go off to bed together at the end of the night while I sleep alone. What do you think - go, or bail? (If I bail, I'll still pay my share.)

Being the single around a bunch of couples can also be liberating. They go off together at the end of the night while you get to leave your reading light on, fall asleep watching stoopit TV, or do whatever other kind of thing you like that can be a sensory nuisance to the person on the other side of the bed. Also, if the couples are all pretty happy together, their company can create a relatively tension-free environment, where you don't have to worry about a whole lot of distracting social undercurrents.

It's really a matter of your state of mind. If you're still feeling too raw to enjoy yourself, sure, opt out, but otherwise I'd say to look for the advantages and go.

Carolyn, my husband and I thought we were ready for a second baby and went ahead and conceived. It seemed like the thing to do. But the further along I get in this [miserable, morning-sickness and fatigue-plagued] pregnancy, the less excited I am about redoing the sleepless nights, spit-up, diapers, etc. Moreover, our first child is 2 and I am really struggling to be a good and patient mom. I worry the second baby is going to send me over the edge. We have no family in the area for support and all our friends already have 2+ kids, so I don't feel like I can ask them for help. I kind of want to terminate the pregnancy while there's still time, but I have no idea how to bring this up with my husband or to explain why I've changed my mind -- plus terminating seems so unfair to a child who I once wanted. And of course there's all the guilt about us having a baby when so many who would love to can't. What would you do, if you were in my shoes?

Get in treatment for depression, asap. Your body chemistry changes alone can account for a bout of clinical depression, which in turn can account for your change of heart about the child. You were ready enough for the baby when you chose to conceive--that is, before the hormones and sickness and lost sleep affected your emotional health--so please see that you will most likely be up for the challenge again when your health returns.

So, tend to your emotional health, as soon as you can get yourself to your OB-GYN's office. Also tell your husband (also asap) that you're on the brink and need help--both medical help and child-care help. The latter alone can bring you a lot of the way back. Being sick-pregnant while chasing a 2-year-old is not just difficult; it's something that was accounted for when the women of an extended family would help care for each other, and that is now unaccounted for in our more isolated, do-it-yourself times. Bring the village into this, even if it means paying some people to serve as villagers--and take care of yourself.


Is there something to a long engagement? I've been with a guy for about 8 months now and we're starting to talk marriage. I'd like to get married as soon as possible-partly because I'm getting older, don't want a big brouhaha, and want to be with this guy like NOW! I know getting married inside a year will seem sudden to most people, but I've been through the relationship cycle many times and at this point in my life (mid 30s) feel I have a good grasp on what I want in someone I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. But I know issues come up during wedding planning that can bring out differences that will damage a marriage. And I guess I'm just not looking forward to all the questions about me being sure of what I'm doing and not rushing into things. Thoughts?

Thoughts: Your letter toggles between sounding like you know who you are and what you want, and sounding like you're 17. I mean, who cares about planning a wedding or what other people think?

And, possibly not relevant: Issues that come up during wedding planning don't -damage- a marriage so much as they expose problems that would have been there regardless.

The concern I have about your 8-months-let's-go marriage impulse is not that you don't know what you want; no doubt you do. It's that it can still take time to see whether someone is all the things you believe him to be. At least give yourself time to outlast any wishful thinking.

Add that to the aforementioned concern that you're letting yourself get distracted by superficial things, and I think it makes sense to have a moderate-length engagement. Not so you can plan a complicated event,* but so you can tame any sense of urgency. Spring? Next Labor Day-ish?

*Big favor to yourself: Keep it simple, so you're able to focus all your attention on the quality of the man and the quality of your relationship.

Just letting you know, my chat software hung up so I had to reboot. That's the reason for the long silence. The Q and A I just posted seemed to work, so things I hope will be better now.

I'd add to Carolyn's advice to take the personalitites of your paricular friends into account. For some people, not returning a call for three days means they're ready to sever ties; for others, it means they're an introvert waiting until they're in the right mindset for a phone call. Since this is a long-term friend, you probably know whether this behavior is uncommon for HER.

Right, thanks.

As someone who was in a similar position, though not quite as bad (and my heart aches for you), I felt as you did and walked away. It was the best decision I ever made. I will say I was helped by therapy and a good meditation class, both of which I'd recommend. They helped me sort everything out and I have no regrets.

Thanks for this.

I'm reminded that there's a huge range in the quality of therapists out there, as with anything else--and it sounds as if the OP may not have gotten quality care. It might be worth another shot at it, preceded by a careful selection process and a lot of questions about what s/he can reasonably expect from therapy.

What she does with the guy depends on what she means by "jerk." If she means he's physically or verbally abusive when he's in a relationship, she needs to question the friendship. If she means he's always looking for the next best thing, well, is that really any different than the guy whose looking for the perfect romance and breaks up as soon as he finds a flaw?

Right, good catch on the abuse contingency.

It's also possible he just thinks romantic relationships have a different set of rules, where you don't need to communicate your intentions and feelings as you would with a friend--which is a common takeaway for people whose main example of a love partnership is his/her parents' rocky marriage.

These are actually the people who probably can and will help. They already know how hard it is, and they have the skills to help. If you were my friend, or even my neighborly acquaintance, and you told me the story you just told Carolyn, I would take your kid home for supper, a play date, or even an overnight right this minute. I already have the booster chair, the dishes, and the diapers.

Another good catch, thanks.

I'm wonder if the "Mother" who has acted like a child her entire life: abdicating adult responsibilities, bad-mouthing those around her, in short, failing to be accountable, is now looking for her child to be her mother, to be the person she goes to, and the one she complains about to her friends. As the mother ages, she may be completing the circle on the role reversal--responding to her texts is probably more than she merits.

Interesting take, thanks.

For what it is worth, from an outsider's perspective, you did NOTHING WRONG. You were a child. The adults in your life let you down, and that is NOT a reflection of you. I'm sorry that happened to you, and I hope you can see that's unfair and bad luck, but it's not because of something you did or how you are.

Yes, yes, thanks.

I am also one of those paranoid people who often thinks people are mad at me if they don't respond to an email, text or phone call. This is easier said that done, but a little mindfulness can help. When I realize I'm going down that paranoid path, I actively stop myself, and ask myself (sometimes aloud!), "What evidence do you have that so-and-so is mad? Are you making an assumption and operating like it's fact? You don't HAVE to worry about this- wouldn't it feel better not to?" For me I sometimes think that worry serves as a talisman- if I worry about so-and-so being mad, they won't be! However they are mad or not, and my worrying isn't going to change that. Being mindful about my paranoia doesn't completely rid me of it, but it is a huge help.

Aside from the fact that it encourages someone with cabin fever to start talking to herself, I like this, thanks. And I guess even the talking-to-self is fine, as long as the furniture doesn't respond.

Carolyn, in light of this latest poster with an awful parent, do you want to reclarify the comments you made about obligations to a parent, especially a mother? I feel like you made a fairly strong comment about acquiescing to a parent's request when you don't want to (wedding dance for attention seeking mother) and since then a large number of commentators seems to have read it to justify abuse and neglect. I think that's because the tone of your comment (though not the intent) is very similar to that used by abusers to justify their abuse. That obviously was not your intention but maybe you would like to just underscore openly that this isn't the case. I hate to think that people are still feeling judged about your comment.

I'm not sure I even understand this--that advice was about a dance, the major concern was that the bride hated the song, and the mom, if memory serves, was described as loving but attention-seeking. Seems to me that extrapolating information from that answer and applying it in cases of abusive parents is where the problem lies.

Hello Carolyn, My husband and I have recently moved closer to our families after several years far away, and a problem which was minor has now become larger. When I was growing up, my mother assigned "roles" to me and my sisters (e.g. the good student, the social butterfly, the independent one), which were somewhat based on our personalities, but frankly I believe they were a shortcut for her to figure out how to deal with us. Weve all spent a lot of times as adults breaking out of these roles, and in many cases, when my mother's ideas have clearly been superseded, she still will just not give them up (example, I was always the chubby sister, and now even after I have lost a ton of weight and kept it off, she still treats me that way). She is now doing this to my children, and it's driving me nuts. She will tell me often how much my oldest son is like me and will be good at anything requiring concentration, and my younger son will be charming and a social butterfly, and she'll say it in front of them (they are 4 and 3). Most of the time I cannot formulate an immediate response and then the moment is gone. What do I say to her when she does this? Do I draw a line, do I gently tell her that I don't want her saying things like that in front of the kids? Am I am being petty here, and is this just something that grandmas get to do? I just don't know.

It's not petty, it's important, and though a grandparent's impact won't be the same as a parent's--it's diluted for sure, just by virtue of hours of exposure and importance of the role--a sick way of sorting people still has the power to become a sickness of self-image.

So. For the immediate response to comments, develop something you can say every time, such as, "There's no 'focused one' or 'social one'--they both have many dimensions." When the children aren't within earshot, spell it out for her: "I realize it's tempting to assign identities to people, like 'the social one' and 'the smart one,' but when people do that to me, I feel [defensive/minimized/etc.]. For that reason, I ask that you take care not to do it around the kids."

After that conversation, your "Actually, they both work hard on projects/they both have a lovely way with other people/etc." comments will have important context.

Something else to consider: Just as people are tempted to do this "to figure out how to deal with us" (I thinkyou're right about that), they also, perhaps just as unwittingly, are tempted to define themselves--to figure out how to act. That's a lot of the reason it's a big deal. Your mother's comments aren't just being dropped on pavement, they're being planted in fertile ground. Understanding that might help you do the harder work of encouraging your kids to think broadly about who they are, vs. settling for easy definitions.

Hi there! Just wanted to let you know that I'm using Google Chrome on my Mac (10.6.4, I think), and the screen is super shaky again :( Thanks! -Alex


Thank you, Alex!  Chatters: if  you're still seeing this issue, will you please write into this chat and let me know? We're working on this problem, but I need to know if people are still seeing it and what browser they are using. 

My son, a delightful and thoughful young man, just started college. After inviting me to be a Facebook "friend", I discovered that his girlfriend of a year has started using his last name (quite distinctive) on her profile. While I understand that an acrimonious divorce in her family is causing her discomfort, I am very uncomfortable with her choice. When I spoke to him shortly after the discovery, I mentioned that I was surprised to see the change in her profile, and asked him how he felt about it. His answer was non-committal. Other than suggesting that he figure out what to tell family members and friends who assume that he got married, is there anything else that should be considered? Of course, I'd like to remain anonymous in this online discussion.

Are you sure they didn't get married?

Either way, there isn't a lot you can do about this. Yes, it's concerning, either way--if they didn't marry, the name change is creepy, and if they did marry, then your son is too immature to own it, so it's not just their ages that say they're too young.

Still, they're presumably not minors, which means your only say over him now is (also presumably) the money you're paying toward his tuition. And, history is clear on this: The harder you push against this union, the harder you can expect him to push for it.

What this amounts to is advice that you do whatever you can to remain close to your son without the even the appearance of crossing over into trying to run his life. If they aren't married and if the GF is just using the name, then what you want is for the relationship too run its course--which, for college freshmen, is akin to a salmon's journey to spawn. If they are married, then you'll need to consider taking steps to launch him more fully on the adult journey he has chosen to undertake. That can mean the "You're old enough to marry, you're old enough to start assuming financial responsibility" conversation. Obviously you want him to be able to continue his education, but full underwriting after such a move would send an enabling message, I think. 

Any helpful tips for a coworker/friend who is constantly glued to his Blackberry? He's openly admitted to a compulsion with it because he can't stand unopened emails. But every happy hour, party, road trip, etc. turns into his face glued to that screen. What's more annoying is that the conversation will continue, and then he'll ask all these questions to "catch" himself up in the discussion. For example, if we all bust out laughing, he'll FINALLY put down that BB and ask, "Wait...what's so funny?" We have said to him, "Can you please get off that thing?" And it's always, "One more email." and then ten minutes later it's back in his hand but this time under the table. Seriously I don't even know why he even bothers to socialize with us. The one good thing is he never does it when the big boss is around so at least there's that.

Why do anything? I realize it's annoying, but it's not an intimate relationship, and you all seem to be having a fine time without him. You can, and I hope you do, refuse to answer his catch-up questions, since answering only insulates him from the consequences of his choice to give his attention to his phone.

And the thing about not doing it around the boss says it is plainly a choice, and he's aware that the consequences of insulting Boss (job risk) are not acceptable but the consequences of insulting you (___, because you all keep absorbing them) are acceptable.

Dear Carolyn, I'm always looking for the next thing: next job, next steps to what I'm going to do for the week, etc. Let's call it an "itch". Well, I've started dating the love of my life for the past year. He's an amazing person, and I can't see myself without him. But, that itch is knocking again. I want to leave the city we're in and move on. he's meanwhile bought a condo and is finishing up with renovations, a year later. I know he wants to stay here for at least a couple of years. But I have this itch, and not sure how to kick it to the wayside. Advice? Stay with the love of my life, or leave the country for an adventure to I don't know where.

Sounds like you need to figure something out about yourself: namely, which do you want to commit yourself to, your wanderlust or your desire for a "love of my life"? Because while you can try your best to balance both, ultimately a partnership is going to commit you to treating your partner's needs as equal to your own--and that means you can't act on your urges to move unless your partner is game for it.

So, it sounds as if it's time to accept that your next-thing urges are too strong to make you long-term relationship material, OR you need to find ways to satisfy you next-thing urges within the limits of a relationship. Whether that means you agree that you'll take a big solo trip once a year/every other/etc., or restrict your job hopscotching to local employers, or redirect your newness jones to education or causes or interests you can pursue without moving--or find someone who shares your urge and will agree to a life of restlessness with you*--that's all up to you. But you're at this crossroads, so don't just try to "kick it to the wayside." Face it and figure it out.

*Even this will involve compromise, though, since you'll have to agree on where you're going and when, and also you'll both be at high risk of getting restless with your togethernesss.

Hi Carolyn, I have a friend who I thought was a really close friend. I backed out of being a bridesmaid in her wedding (I apologized profusely and gave 7 months of advanced notice) because I am due to give birth that same month. I have gotten the cold shoulder since then. She has a long history of being extremely passive aggressive to others (have witnessed on several occassions) when they "wrong" her in some way that normally, after some time, she gets over. Despite her saying that "everything is fine" between us she has not accepted any of my invitations to do things together, nor has she invited me to do anything with her whereas before we would have gotten together somewhat frequently. I know that in my heart of hearts its time to stop thinking about her and just cut my losses from the friendship but I'm having a hard time doing it. What do you think? Time to just get over it?

yes. She sounds less like a friend and more like a narcissist. I'm sorry.

Okay, well past time to go. Thanks for your patience with this balky forum, and for stopping by. Hope to see you here next week (living in coastal New England these days, like, right-on-the-coastal, so who knows. Wish us luck).

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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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