Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, November 16)

Nov 16, 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, November 16, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

I'm a newlywed and sometimes I get unnerved like today's LW1. Is it stupid to ask how not to end up in that kind of situation? I love my husband very much and I would really like him to tell me something is wrong, rather than be miserable for years. I would like to think I could pick up on his unhappiness if it ever happened, but after reading the comments, I wonder if that is possible.

That depends on how good he is at concealing feelings and how good you are at spotting them.

What you can control, though, is your own response to honesty about unpleasant things. If you respond to any challenge--by spouse, friend, family, colleague, loyal family pet--by pouting, grilling for more information, going silent, counter-accusing, getting defensive, etc., then certainly you can't expect a spouse to come to you with something so fraught as, "I'm struggling with feelings for Bathsheba, and it doesn't seem fair to you to pretend I'm not distracted." And I'm not just talking about your response to the Big Challenges like doubts about your marriage; I'm talking about when a friend doesn't call you back right away, or when you  misread a comment as an insult when it was intended to be neutral, or when your spouse is crabby and you freak out instead of giving a little leeway, etc. The easier you make it for people to be honest with you, the more honesty you will receive. It's an attitude worth cultivating from the moment you meet someone, but if you haven't established that precedent yet, there's nothing saying you can't start now.


Carolyn - Have you set a date for the annual hootenanny chat? (I figured becuase one of the DC radio stations started playing all Christmas music today - it was fair game to ask about this).

Yes, we seem to have broken out in Christmas. How about Friday Dec. 7?

Dear Carolyn, Recently, my husband and I have had a few friends and family members give us gifts that carry an obligation, e.g. tickets to go to a show with the gifter. This might be my cynical side talking, but I sometimes suspect they do this because we are otherwise very busy and a little tough to make plans with, and this is one easy way to reduce the chances that we'll decline (if the tickets are already paid for). I don't want to be totally ungracious, but is there a polite way to ask people not to do this to us?

I sympathize, but--no, not really.

Maybe my imagination, though, is too limited to figure out a way to say, "Would you please give us something that doesn't force us to spend time with you?" that isn't rude. I'll open it up to ideas just in case.

I have a baby on the way and a set of unhelpful in-laws who have offered to help when the baby comes. We have not accepted this offer, but instead suggested they visit a few weeks after the baby is born and stay in a nearby hotel for a few days. Their tone indicates they are not thrilled to be staying at a hotel but they aren't fighting it. I also think we need to indicate that we'll have daily visits with them (one or two a day) but they won't be at our house for most of their waking hours. My husband said that he's mentioned there are restaurants and theaters in walking distance from their hotel and this should be indication enough. I disagree and would like him to be direct with them and get agreement BEFORE the baby comes so there isn't conflict or tension during the visit. Thoughts?

How, exactly, are they unhelpful? This matters a great deal in how you deal with them. A baby is a big deal and you are in charge, but a baby is also a big deal with grandparents. The more compassion you can bring to your limits, and the more you can arrange things to draw out their strengths, the better this whole relationship will go.

A co-worker of mine passed away suddenly a few days ago. It came as a complete shock to everyone. She worked for our company for a long time, and a lot of past and current employees really want some way to say goodbye. However, we just learned her family has opted to not have a funeral service or visitation. We want to put something together for ourselves but are not sure how it should work. The best I can think is to gather at a bar - but what should be the focal point? Should someone give a speech? It also feels weird because we usually order flowers and a card, but that seems to be nixed in this case. The best I can think is to make a donation to a charity we think she would have liked. Any suggestions?

I'm sorry for your loss. It sounds as if the "Irish wake" is the template you want, sans body of course, where people gather to remember the deceased by telling stories. It's really a kind of goodbye party.

Dear Carolyn, Do you have any advice about managing one's nerves in the run-up to visiting critical and sometimes controlling family? I don't see my family frequently, but when I do they are often very critical of me, from everything from my haircut to how often I talk to certain friends to my plans for the next few years. I often feel pressured into second-guessing myself and apologizing for things I felt confident about before I walked in the door. I picked up Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear from the library, but I don't have time to read it all before my flight. Are there any chapters you can point me to, or any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

I'm not sure GoF is on point in any specific way, such that there's a chapter dedicated to telling critical people to stuff it, but I think you might get something out of Chapter 8, "Persistence, Persistence (Dealing With People Who Refuse to Let Go)." It helps point out the ways an impulse to be polite or respectful can only encourage people to ignore boundaries.

I also think you can get a lot accomplished on this trip by finding, fixing and hanging onto a useful tone or perspective. For example, just reading your question, I had the phrase form in my mind, "[Stuff] your opinion of my haircut. You look like a dork on a good day." Spoken only in your own mind, this can be very ... elevating.

Now, simmering hostility is rarely useful in any context, but it sounds as if you can use a little from the black-humor strain. It's NSFW and uses language that isn't allowed at The Post, but for some reason a particular Tumblr came to mind that I think will get you in the perfect frame of mind for walking into a den of insufferable critics. I'll post it on my Facebook page (link) right now, and those not on FB can email me to request the link.


Hi Carolyn, Stress, anxiety, depression, bouts of illness, and crazy work schedules have all led to about a year without sex between my spouse and me. We are in our 30s, no kids, married seven years. We love each other very much, cuddle and kiss every day, but neither of us has initiated sex and at this point it's been so long I think we both feel awkward about bringing it up. I've recently begun therapy on my own and mentioned this, and my therapist wants to bring my spouse in for joint sessions. I'm fine with that as our communication could use some work (obviously), but I want to just ask my spouse for intimacy, or just initiate, which I believe would be reciprocated. It feels like pulling off a band-aid. I know I need to do it, but I'm afraid it's going to hurt. This weekend seems as good a time as any to reconnect. Any advice?

Amazing how a run of ugh-not-now stresses can transform into a not-ever situation, even when you know it's happening.

I think the band-aid analogy is apt, so my advice is to rip away. As for the phrasing/gestures you use, it depends on your styles. Do you two like being blunt, poetic, serious, silly, crude? Look to what comes naturally to you and doesn't have a history of grating on your spouse. 

Almost more important than what you do or say is how you receive a response other than the one you're hoping for. If you get rejected and take it badly, then you're going to set things back significantly. Only go into this (outside therapy) if you think you're ready to be a good sport no matter how it turns out. good luck.

I can understand being irritated at, and feeling pressured by, this sort of gift from a family member with whom one may not really want to spend extra time voluntarily (it's just the sort of "gift" my MIL would conjure up) but am not sure why it's irritating from friends. Are these really "friends" if going to a nice event with them feels like an obligation?

I can't answer for OP, but I can give you my perspective: If the "nice event" goes late on a school night and forces me to conjure something nice to wear, then, yes, I might dread it as an obligation even if I loved spending time with these friends.

I wrote in a few weeks ago asking why love isn't enough, as I struggled with the decision to break up with my boyfriend, who I love more than anything. You asked why I wanted to break up with him. Well I'm not really sure why. I just don't enjoy being with him or talking with him as much as I used to. I'm sorry I don't really have any specific answer. We've grown apart, maybe? I actually broke up with him a couple weeks ago and I felt horrible cause it was difficult to articulate exactly why I was doing it. But at the same time I'm almost completely positive I made the right decision. I'm still confused by why our love wasn't enough though. That was his question as I broke up with him-if I love him so much, then why am I breaking up with him? I didn't know what to tell him. Any thoughts? I would really appreciate any insight you have. 

Maybe you loved him once, still love the idea of him, and care very much about him, but it doesn't sound as if you love him in the way people want from a long-term relationship.

What it does sound like is that you were once very attracted to him, but are less so now, and he doesn't provide you the kind of easy, rewarding comanionship that keeps good relationships going after the initial attraction starts to fade.

It's a theory.

Even assuming that the givers are people with whom the recipients might enjoy spending time, I wonder if one problem is that the givers are trying to control the recipients by choosing the date and time, which might not be to the recipients' liking.

Thanks, certainly possible.

I'm a person who does this and I do it for a few reasons: 1), I want to spend time with the person 2) it's something fun the person enjoys (like getting my best friend Symphony tickets for her birthday--she has her Masters in Clarinet performance)--I let the person pick the show, I buy the tickets 3) I think experiences are better than more stuff she doesn't want cluttering up her house.

This idea seems to take away the inconvenience element, thx.

I am similarly impossible to make plans with (travel frequently and sometimes unexpectedly for work) so I can relate, but when I can make it work, I love 'experience' gifts because it is so much more valuable to me than stuff. If it is genuinely a scheduling problem, perhaps something like "I love that we go to plays/concerts together, but given our schedule I worry because we can't make firm plans months in advance. Is there a way to keep things flexible?" it just a scheduling conflict? why is it exactly that you don't like this? If you want to see friends and family, and the events are generally OK (e.g. not hockey games if you hate hockey) and you can in fact plan to be there, what's so bad about it? Do you not really want to see these people? Do you dislike anyone trying to 'control' your schedule? what specifically bugs you about it?

Good stuff to think about, thanks.

Pick the relationships that mean a lot to you and nurture them. Let the other ones go. It is far kinder than constantly responding "would love to get together but am too busy!" when you don't mean it.

Hi Carolyn - Five months ago I met the guy I think I am going to marry (hooray!). We are really great for each other in so many ways and we have a great time together and I love him. He's even talking about our future together (marriage, kids, etc). There is one issue that is upsetting me, and I am not sure if I am overreacting. He is divorced (two years) and shares custody of his beloved cat with his ex-wife. This custody arrangement does not bother me. However, his ex-wife calls a lot to talk about the cat (we are talking several times a week with several texts); sometimes calling in tears because she has trouble with the responsibility of taking care of the cat. This drives me insane. He said that she has issues and is on medication, but I can't help but feel like this is an intrusion into our relationship. I've talked to him about it several times and offered to help him take care of he cat if he took it on full time, just so we could avoid this. He has also told me that he hates confrontation. For what it's worth, she apparently started calling him more often when she found out we were dating. She even told him that she thought that they would get back together in five years, and then the next week said she wanted to meet "the girl who made him happier than she could" (I said no way). I am in love with this guy but this situation is making me very uncomfortable. Help!

Please give yourself a long cooling off period before you commit to this guy, so that attraction isn't making your decisions and pragmatism is.

It's so easy to make it all about the cat, or all about the issued/medicated(!) ex, when in fact someone who is in good emotional health would be able to handle both of these problems well enough for them not to become your problem.

Be very, very careful and deliberate in entering a relationship with people who are okay with having their problems become your problem. It's an exhausting road, and it's one you'll be traveling with a person who's either too self-absorbed to recognize that you're starting to carry his baggage, or who recognizes it but is too chaotic or selfish to do anything about it.

By the way--the response to "I hate confrontation" from a chronological adult? "Everyone does. That's not an excuse." Cheez.

If you listen to what s/he's telling you, then I suspect you'll be very thankful for this cat.

I'd say you say very nicely that you enjoy these things, but as you know, you are very busy and difficult to schedule, so it would be helpful if they'd collaborate/check dates with you BEFORE they purchased tickets. But you then have to be really good about being available for most of the dates they suggest. If you never do it, then they're going to feel like your busy is so you don't have to hang out with them.

I thought I was done with this topic, but I think this is the winning answer. Thanks.

If they are offerring to come and help, how is that being 'unhelpful'?

I could fill the rest of the chat with ways helpers can be unhelpful. One story a reader sent to me recently: The in-laws came to "help" after their grandchild was born, then proceeded to dote on their son and ignore (or even give orders to) the still-recovering DIL. Totally credible story, too, sadly.

Anyway, I think the OP wrote back; I'll have a look.

At the risk of wildly oversimplifying, love may not suffice if there's not enough "like" there as well.

Wildly oversimplifying is underrated. Thanks.

That is good advice already. To answer your question: They are unhelpful in that they are have health problems, mobility issues and one is very impatient around kids. Neither cooks. Helping to them would be holding the baby not helping around the house or running errands.

Got it. That does leave a few chances for helping out. Holding the baby, for one, is lovely for them and the baby and gives you a chance to take a hot bath. They can do laundry if the units are on the ground floor and fold it if they aren't. They can plan, order and clean up after delivery meals, or they can reheat and clean up after meals you or others have prepared ahead of time. They can take pictures. If they have decent computer literacy, and if you aren't set up for this already, they can check out and set up a photo sharing system that allows them to share in their grandchild's progess when they aren't able to visit.

It's not much, but each one of these gives you a break and gives them a way to matter.

"Be very, very careful and deliberate in entering a relationship with people who are okay with having their problems become your problem." I would add one should also be careful and deliberate in entering a relationship with people who are okay having your problems become theirs. New people willing and eager to insert themselves into my problems and 'help' me or 'fix' things always make me wonder if doing so is a way to suggest (and ostensibly force) a greater intimacy than there is. Doesn't necessarily mean they're manipulative, could just be desperation for that intimacy, for whatever reason, even though it only comes with time.

Well argued, thanks.

The tales you guys are sending me of unhelpful helpers are horrifying, to the point where in sequence they're actually getting funny. It's like a Hootenanny, Medical Edition. I will post a string of them at the end of the chat--nag me if it's getting close to 3 p.m. and I haven't sent them out yet.

I hear you, brother/sister. I have a similar family. What helped me is the black-humor moments inside my head during the event, coupled with reading Children of the Self Absorbed: A Guide to Narcissistic Patents by Nina W Brown. While your family may not be truly narcissistic, it gives you a good look at how it's about them not you, and some coping strategies. I dread family events, but I tried last time to observe them and their behavior as if I was an outsider seeing them for the first time. It was amazing - it was like looking at zoo monkeys. You can see their [stuff] as being about them, and it really does get easier to make inside-voice snarky remarks about.

A lot of useful stuff, and it would fit on an index card. (Do those still exist?) Thanks.

The fact that they cuddle and kiss every day might offer a low-risk opportunity. "Mmm, this is nice. Wanna do a little more?" Even if the reply is "Not now," there's an opportunity for "Rain check, then? I've been missing it." And, depending on the response, try again, but always with the attitude of "This feels good, I'd like to do more."

But don't miss the important difference in the first way you phrased it--"Wanna?"--vs. the second way--"I'd like." It's invitation vs. order, and especially people who have trouble with intimacy need to stick to invitations. Even those can become a problem if they're issued too frequently without being reciprocated.

BTW, it probably bears mentioning that this initiation is not likely to solve everything all at once. I'm offering it just as an opening attempt to stop the drifting, which is what they've been doing for at least a year, if not more.

In a recent conversation with my SO, we started talking about baby names we like (no chance of kids yet, just one of those odd conversations you stumble into). He mentioned he one boy's name he really liked and really wanted to use. The problem, it is the same name as one of my ex's and I am really opposed to using it for that reason. He thinks it shouldn't be a big deal since I didn't date the guy for long but I have a problem disassociating the name with the guy. In fact there are a few names (boy and girl) I wouldn't want to use because they remind me of people I really do not want to be reminded of. What are your thoughts?

My thoughts are that each parent has veto power over a name, and also that thoughts of a non-significant ex will be quickly erased as your someday baby inhabits the name. If the association is a particularly bad one, then it's not even a discussion.

Over the weekend, my sister-in-law attempted suicide. I don't know the full extent of her problems, but there is more than just depression at play. My trouble is that I come from a family who largely takes the position of things like, "don't baby a 28 year old, she needs to learn to cope and be responsible for things on her own." This however, is from a family where (luckily) nobody suffers from mental illness. Are there resources that I could read etc. that can help guide me through supporting her as she deals with the aftermath and gets help she needs? I find myself often thinking things like "she just needs to stop spending all day in her room" but I know that it's not that simple. I want to be both supportive of her and of my husband, who is deeply concerned for her. Luckily she is living with their parents and we only live 30 minutes away, so the support system is in place, I just don't know how to play my part. Thank you!

Scary times-- I hope she's okay. Please read "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide," by Kay Redfield Jamison; she's a wonderful writer who knows this topic from both personal and professional angles. Also keep the number handy for the NAMI help line, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), so you can direct your questions to someone who isn't emotionally invested, and therefore not worry whether you're being insensitive.

I have a friend who shuts down when he's angry, insists on being left alone and refuses to discuss the matter at hand. Though this may work for him in that he gets space to think and be mad, it does not work for me because I am left unable to express my frustration at whatever it is that brought us to that place to begin with. I push and he revolts and inevitably the situation worsens. Any advice on how to placate us both? I find it grating that an adult thinks he can go silent for as long as 3 days for the most trivial issues i.e. being interrupted when talking then come back when he's ready as though nothing happened.

Why are you still friends? Genuine question, not rhetorical. thanks.

Dear Carolyn, What advice do you have on staying healthy for people who have recovered from bouts of suicidal depression? I have a four-month-old baby and a history of depression. Lately I feel like I am barely holding off the demons of my illness. I know from experience that exercise (among other things) is crucial to my well being, but it is very hard to find time with a new baby. Heading into winter, and with a whole new boatload of responsibilities and a body in post-partum chaos, I fear falling down that old hole again. Any advice is much appreciated. Don't Want to Go Back

Please get your obstetrician involved, since you are at such high risk for PPD. That's nonnegotiable if you haven't done it already.

It's hard for me to recommend other, specific strategies not knowing your schedule, location, climate, etc, but anything from a jogging stroller to a mommy-n-me fitness class can secure your emotional footing. Classes or other programs especially can help because they force you out of the house and into the company of others. If you're motivated enough, exercising in-home with DVDs or game systems, like Wii Fit, can keep you moving while you're at home with your baby.

Also don't be afraid to recruit friends/family or pay professionals to help you eat well, get some sleep, and keep your home relatively clean (amazing how a mess can feed a sense of being overhwelmed). It's a good cause and you can vow to return any friend/family favors when you're through this high-risk phase.

My husband just landed what we both acknowledge as his dream job, a high level appointment that rewards years of hard work with excellent pay and prestige. The problem? It's out of state and in a totally different region of the country. I run my own business, and I'm dependent upon not only our current location, but also upon a regional base of established customers. While I do not earn anywhere near what my husband does, we live a comfortable existence. And after two other big relocations for my husband's career over the past decade, I find myself unwilling to uproot and sacrifice what I feel I've worked hard to accomplish in my own admittedly modest profession. However, I fear that if we stay put and he doesn't accept this offer, then he will become resentful because his career is very important to him. We don't have kids, just our jobs. He has said I have "veto" power, but I hate to be cast into the role of crushing his opportunity when it's clear to me that this new location is not a good fit for me and my work. Any advice on how to resolve this?

It's a tough one, and I don't have a magic answer for you or even a solid strategy, but I do wonder: Did your husband, when he swept you into those two big relocations, mind being cast in the role of crusher of your opportunity to stay put?

I'm not trying to vilify the guy--my point is just that it's so easy to fall into roles without mentally reassigning each to the other person to see whether you're both approaching this from various angles. You're rightly worried he will resent you, so wouldn't it follow that he's rightly worried you'll resent him?

When you both come at it from that solid, equal footing, then I think you'll at least trust each other, which is the start of any good decision within a marriage.

I would like to propose to my girlfriend. We're both in our 30s, have no kids or ex-spouses, live separately but spend a lot of time together, and are very much in love. But. I always thought that when I met the right girl, I would propose, there would be no doubt about her answer, and we'd get married. But, honestly, I'm not sure what she would say if I proposed right now. I have no doubt that she loves me, I trust her completely, and I'm sure she sees us spending our lives together. But I'm not sure whether she feels ready to get married now. Does she want me to do the whole talk-to-her-parents-first-thing before I propose? I don't know. Does she want to have a series of conversations about it first, or be swept off of her feet with a proposal, then figure out the logistics later? I dunno. Does she want to look for a ring together, or would she rather be surprised? Beats me. Honestly, I don't know. What I DO know is that all this means we have some talking to do. I'm not sure, though, how to actually start this conversation. Or conversations. Suggestions?

A lot of these things depend on her personality and preferences, so you are in a much better position to say whether she'd want a lot of these things.* The father's-permission dance is a great example, since some women find that so insulting they'd possibly dump you for doing it. Other women find it sweet. Same goes, though possibly with less fervor, on the sweep-off-feet proposal. Some want that badly, some don't appreciate being put on the spot and would rather discuss it as equals.

The snappy answer is that if you're not sure where she'd fall on these things, then you don't know her well enough to propose.If instead you do know her well and you're just thinking of all this stuff for the first time, then take a moment to ask yourself whether you're missing some obvious answers.

Short of those obvious answers: For a 30-something woman who possiby isn't ready to say yes, I recommend the conversation, sans pre-bought ring. How to start the conversation? Tell her you want to marry her and ask what she thinks.

Hi there - I wrote in last week about an ad appearing on top of chat content. It's back this week. It's the same ad - the one for Lord & Taylor - and it appears on top of the 6th question and answer (which seems like about the same placement as last week, though I didn't count). I've tried refreshing the page and it doesn't help. I'm using IE 8. Just wanted to let you know - one more bug to file with the other chat software challenges! :-)

Sorry you're still having trouble, but thanks for the note, which I will pass on to our tech folks.


As a temporary fix, (if you're able) you might try downloading Google Chrome. It's a free download and usually what I use to view our chats. 

Thanks. Those are good suggestions. Do you think we need to be direct about not being at the house all day, every day of their visit?

Pretty off-putting, I think, to spell that out in advance--unless ... argh, I'm losing it, these are in-laws, right? ... unless your spouse has the diplomacy to say, "We are also going to want some alone time with just the two of us and the baby, so I'm happy to find some things you can do during those stretches, if you'd like. Sound good?"

My parents are getting divorced, which wouldn't have surprised me 10 or 20 years ago, but by now I thought they were fine with the status quo. How do I begin to build a (long-distance) relationship with my dad, who was physically present but completely emotionally inert throughout my childhood? He is clearly trying to address the lifestyle issues that caused the surface issues for the past long while (hopefully for himself, because my mom is well past the point of reconciliation), but it will take a while to see if any of the changes last. We had our first 'real' conversation that involved honest, emotional give-and-take in the weeks after my mom left. Where do we go from here?

Sounds as if it's at least possible that you're already there. Your first "real" connection occurred after your mom left the scene. Coincidence? Maybe, but there's a strong possibility that your mom's availability to have this relationship for him allowed him to remain at arm's length from his kid(s) all these years. Now, he's faced with the reality that he'll see or talk to you only on the strength of your direct relationship with him. That can be a loud wake-up call.

This isn't to encourage hopes that you and he have officially established a close connection that will prevail ever after. Neither of you has changed, so he's probably still going to leave you a bit cold emotionally and you're going to spend a fair amount of time wondering when and whether to call, what to say, what to expect from him, etc.

But as long as both of you are committed to the idea that it's up to each of you to create and maintain a relationship now that your mom isn't doing it for you, then I htink you'll find the answers coming to you pretty much as they arise.

I read the chats on Google Chrome and this happens constantly to me too. Refreshing helps about 1 time out of 5.

I'm passing on all the notes I get about the ad problem. Thanks!

Online only please. My husband and I have a very small home and as his family has grown over the past few years, it has been impossible for us to host the holidays (we only hosted it once in the past six years before six more kids were born). We've all agreed on a date, but it's between the only two homes that are big enough and that doesn't include ours. FWIW, we all bring dishes to share so no one family has to cook, and my husband and I help with the cleaning up and child wrangling (which now includes our kid), as well as bring a hostess gift. But one in-law keeps bringing up that we should get a bigger home so we can share in the hosting duties. It's awkward because we're not planning to get a bigger house any time soon. How do I respond?

Seriously? "Sure, when you're ready to buy, heat, cool and  maintain a big house for us, we'll take it." Don't repeat the mistake of taking this person seriously.

My husband has this infatuation with a woman we both know. She is pretty and available, and I can understand why he's drawn to her. I don't believe he would cheat on me, and I don't even think he knows how aware I am of the way he responds to her (staring, paying extra attention when she talks, going out of his way to include her in things, other "crushing" behaviors). What should I do about this? How do I keep my sanity without blowing this out of proportion?

Deal with it head-on. Apparently he's giving you plenty of opportunities to note his behavior, so when the next juicy one comes up, say, "I don't mind that you're going out of your way to include Crushious, truly, even though I do see you're infatuated with her ... no, don't bother denying it. All I ask is that you not let it get out of hand." Being open about it will allow you to stay close, perhaps ironically--and maintaining the intimacy of your marriage is what will preserve it against outside temptations.

Hello Carolyn, My husband and I recently made a significant move for his job (military). Next month, a close friend of mine is coming for a 4-day visit with her baby son. I'm really excited to see her and meet her baby. I just found out that my husband's office holiday party has been moved to the first night my friend is here (she arrives around midday). Full disclosure: I was looking forward to the party as a way to make some friends since we're new here. My husband has to go - it would look bad in his office if he didn't - but the question is if I should make an appearance. I've been told I could go for an hour, make the rounds, and then leave....but would that be rude to my friend? I know if she'll say it's fine, but is it rude to bring up in the first place? I've never been in this situation.

There's no universal "rude/not rude" here. If I were the houseguest, assuming I had a comfy place to spend the time and a good snack supply, I might even be grateful for the chance to regroup from traveling with a baby. As usual, it depends largely on your friend. If (and only if) she'll say it's fine and actually mean it, then tell her about the party. Just make sure you explain right away about the new date and why you were hoping to go, and also say that her feelings are paramount and you'll only do this if she's sincerely okay with it.

This is the whole point of close friends, isn't it? To be good for each other based on the reality of a situation, vs. a script, and to trust each other to be honest about what you need?

Dear Carolyn, My wife is an avid reader and enjoys a lot of different types of books. Among them are series usually geared towards teenagers, like The Hunger Games or Twilight. Before the premier of the latest movie, she re-reads the series and then goes to the midnight showing with a group of girlfriends. I am not talking about teenagers here, or even people in their 20s. We are in our 30s and both professionals. I think my wife's interest in these books and movies is juvenile and I don't really understand it. I feel mildly embarrassed that she can talk (in detail!) to my nieces about these books at holiday gatherings. My wife thinks that her reading selection is her business only and that these books provide a nice relief from everyday problems. I can see her point, but on the other hand, I'm not sure why she can't get the same thing from adult literature. Who is the odd one here, me or my wife?

There's no odd, there's just snobby with a chance of insecure. Why do you care so much about what she reads?

Specifically, what are you trying to prove to others by having her appear too smart or sophistiated to enjoy the occasional YA potboiler--and why do you feel the need to prove this urgently enough that you're "embarrassed" when she goes public with her down-market tastes?

Not that it would change the answer if it were otherwise, but, cheez, she's an avid reader and likes all kinds of things, which means the lights are surely on for all to see.

I'm also wondering now (that I've discredited myself my using "cheez"?) why it would be okay if the potboiler-to-screen, gaggle-of-girlfriends escapism were adult fiction vs. YA. What's the difference besides the ages of the protagonists?


Thanks for taking the question. Very helpful. I doubt that any of the below changes anything you said but ... The thing about your "snappy answer" is that I would have said the same thing before I met this woman. But she's kind of a series of contradictions, in an endearing way. She's traditional and old fashioned in a lot of her values, yet also fiercely independent and feminist in some unique ways. I'm sure she wouldn't dump me for asking her dad first-- I'm sure she would consider it really sweet. But I'm the sort who'd rather not do that (I think it's sorta ridiculous and I think her dad would think so, too), and I'm not sure if she would be disappointed if I didn't do that. Here's the other thing: She does know that I want to marry her. I have sort of, in a fumbling way, tried to raise the issue once or twice. She tends to demure. Is that because she thinks I oughta man up and just buy the ring, go see her parents (in secret) and then propose? Or because it's a conversation she's not quite ready to have? Dangit, I don't know.

Feel for you, bro. (45-year-old minivan-driving reading-glasses-wearing advice writer channels Harper. Embarrassing? Hope so.)

Here's what I'm thinking: She is who she is, in all her contradictory loveliness. So, honor that not by trying to figure out exactly what you should do, but by doing what you -want- to do. Own how whacked you are over her, and just go where it takes you. Even if it doesn't work out between you, you'll always know you gave it all you had.

Then report back :D


Okay, I'm going to go out in a blaze of uselessness. Here come the stories of the great unhelped:

Didn't cook. Didn't clean. Didn't hold the baby. Didn't do laundry. Went out when the baby was sleeping so I could "rest," when what I needed was someone to stay with him so I *could* rest. My husband worked, shopped, cooked, cleaned and did laundry for all of us while I made my way into insomnia and post-partum depression. They did gaze adoringly at the baby though. Good times!


When my second child was born, my father-in-law and his wife came to "help," an event which happened to coincide with what turned out to be massive acid reflux for the baby. Although the wife spent time with my oldest, she eventually got tired and retreated to the basement for a nap, leaving me with a toddler, an infant who couldn't sleep, eat, or be put down, breasts that desperately needed to be pumped, and my father-in-law, who kept asking me to do things like help with the computer or get him something to drink while I was juggling the two kids. He departed for the basemet eventually, only to reappear while I was trying to make dinner for the toddler one-handed. He proceded to prepare a delightful looking cheese plate and pour two glasses of wine before dissapearing down the stairs again. We ended up at the ER with the baby that night, so my husband let me sleep inthe next morning. At that point, he finally understood why I had been so angry the night before -- while he was juggling breakfast, two kids, and a dog, his dad asked him to go get the newspaper because he didn't want to get his socks dirty. Did I mention they are coming for Thanksgiving next week?


Don't know which was worse after my first son was born - my MIL and FIL who stayed with us for a week and who wanted me and my 2-week-old to accompany them out to do tourist-y things while my husband worked during the day. Or my BIL, who came into town the next weekend to "help," which = taking my husband out for 8-hour rounds of golf two days in a row, while I was home feeling awful for not adequately entertaining my SIL and their two kids, ages 4 and 2. The only help I truly wanted at that point was no more visitors.

One time my MIL decided to unload our dishwasher. She was so proud of herself when she let me how she had helped. The problem: they were dirty dishes. I spent the next hour trying to figure out which dishes she had put away and then washing anything and everything.

The helpful who are unhelpful are my in-laws! They arrived two weeks earlier than we asked - the day the baby and I got home from the hospital - didn't book a hotel as we requested, then proceeded to sit at our kitchen table, make rediculous demands (they wanted us host a party for their former neighbors and allow any who drank to spend the night -- the helpful part of the party was that the friends would bring baby gifts) and order my husband and me around. My husband asked them to leave after a day and a half. That was seven years ago and they still don't get just how terribly they behaved.

When I had surgery several years ago, my mom took it upon herself to reorganize, well, most of the house. Kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, closets, etc. It was aggravating to ask my husband to get me something from a specific place (because I was immobile) and have him not be able to find it.

I had a c-section last November. Had some complications, was in the hospital for a week, baby was in the NICU almost all of that time. Came home same day that in-law arrived. They came in, grabbed the baby, and my husband's mom looked at me and said "so what's for dinner?"

True story: When my son was one week old (and I was recovering from a C-section) my mom brought over dinner. Which sounds nice, doesn't it? It was raw ingredients for a complicated meal that involved timing of several dishes. She "helped" by holding the baby while I made a gourmet meal for her and my husband kept her wine glass full. (At least she brought the wine). I was more exhausted when she left than I was before she arrived.

My mother offered to come take care of me after leg surgery. I told her no, that my friends were taking care of it. She came anyway. She sat on the couch the entire time, even once asking me to get her a soda (you know, on my recently sliced and diced leg and crutches). She also kept trying to get me to take my Percoset well before I was due for another pill. Just because people want to come to seem helpful, doesn't mean they ARE helpful (or even just neutral).

Sorry for the delay, I just had to take a call from kids' school ...

That's it for today. Since we're in the gratitude season and I won't be typing to you again until the Friday after next: thanks for stopping by; for offering up such consistently interesting, funny, thoughtful and smart material; for sticking around through long silences while I take urgent phone calls/answer doors/try to un-crash the chat software; and for educating me on a daily basis. Have a great next two weeks and happy Thanksgiving (though not so great that you don't generate any Hootenanny material) .

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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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