Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, November 30)

Nov 30, 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 30, 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.

Dear Carolyn, Our son's 5th birthday is next week. A birthday party and the upcoming Christmas holiday make for an enormous amount of presents. This year, I would like to have our son donate at least half of his birthday presents to a charitable organization. My husband thinks our son is too young to appreciate charitable giving so we should instead just hide some of the presents and then donate them ourselves. I agree that this will be difficult for our son; I expect tears and resistance. Should I push the issue? How can we age-appropriately convey that others are truly in need and that giving to others is the right thing to do? Thank you for your thoughts.

I don't think it's right to force anyone to donate their gifts--and it's certainly not right for a 5-year-old.

I think it's much better to unlink the charitable giving from the receiving of gifts, and instead approach the two separately. The promotion of giving is the easier part. First, make sure you include your son in the giving of gifts (to each other, friends, relatives, when he has birthday parties, etc.). If he picks things out, he learns that it's not all about getting and also he can experience early on the fun of picking something out for someone. If he flips out in the toy store because it's not all for him, back off for a while and try it again when he's a half-year to a year older, repeat as needed.

Second, get him involved in charitable giving. That can include volunteer cleanups, donation of outgrown clothes to charity, donating a set part of his allowance when he starts getting one, whatever works for your family.




The other half of the equation is the gift glut--and that is better dealt with on the supply side. There's no reason your son should be getting 20 gifts because you invited his whole class to his b-day party. You can control this! You can:

--institute a grab bag, where everyone brings a small gift (give a $ amout limit) and everyine takes one home.

--specify "no gifts" when you invite people and instead make the party itself your gift to your son. Kids grasp this, I swear.

--don't have a party at all, and just invite one or two of his favorite people to one of his favorite places.

When it comes to Christmastime, you can also try to get word to relatives that you want to rein things in, though in my experience the receptiveness on this is spotty; some people ignore it, welcome it, get offended, etc.

Anyway--larger point being, there are lots of ways to avoid spoiling your kid that don't involve yanking his gifts away.



My husband and daughter have always had a very nice, very close relationship. He is a terrific father. Whenever our daughter comes to visit, she spends more time with him and, while she sometimes promises to do things with/for me, they often get overlooked in favor of something she prefers to do with him. I suffer from PTSD and depression and have made a huge effort to get therapy and be "normal." I kept the family together when he cheated on me, so she would not have a broken home. She does not know this and does not know how depressed I have been because of that situation. She only sees that I am "difficult" and "angry." I do not want her to know the reasons why I am this way, but my husband gets to be the golden boy, the fun, easy-to-be-around Dad, while I'm the mother with a dark cloud over her head. What can I do to get over this resentment at being misunderstood?

You can own your choice.

I realize that will come across as frosty-cold, and I don't mean it to be. It's just that stripping your question down to its bones leaves us with this: I gave my daughter a secret gift and I'm pissed that she doesn't appreciate it.

And as much as I get the thanklessness of your position, you have made choices at ever step of the way into this position. You didn't choose for your husband to cheat, of course, but you chose to see it as a huge betrayal/repudiation of you instead of a human frailty of his (assuming here); you chose to stay with your husband; you chose not to tell your daughter; you keep choosing and re-choosing to hold out hope that your daughter will show enough warmth toward you to validate these other choices.

It's time for you so take just as frosty and bare-bones a look at your current options and start considering a different path. Is it time, for example, to stop looking to your daughter to be closer to you as something you earned? Is it time to tell the truth? Is it time to leave your husband? Is it time to say, "Enough of waiting for other people to validate my choices; I did what I did as a gift to my daughter, and knowing I gave that is my renewable source of peace."

Full disclosure, I think some items on this list would be a mistake to choose--but I think you need to put all possibilities in playm in yoru imagination--these and others--just so you go through the process of thinking your way down all pathways open to you. Doing that will allow you to see plainly why you've chosen this or that, and it will affirm -you- in a way your family hasn't.

And, more important, it will call you out of that "difficult" and "angry" place you've staked out for yourself. It isn't doing you any good, or your daughter, so resolve now to get to Plan B.


Dear Carolyn, in your experience, what do you think it takes for a person with a history of cheating on partners to be able to maintain a long-term, monogomous, committed relationship?

Impulse control, plus resolution of whatever chaos was underlying the infidelity choice, plus a firm conviction that life is better with nothing happening on the side.

I.e., you need the person's self-interest solidly on-board. Cynical as that sounds.

Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my question. I had a good friend in college, (I'll call her Lucy) we were inseparable and were in each others weddings ect. However, over the past 2 years we've had somewhat of a falling out and I've kept my distance from her because of a number of reasons. Well, I just found out Lucy's mother killed Lucy's father and then tried to kill herself and is now facing murder charges. How do I even respond? I knew her parents fairly well but I haven't spoken to her in months, and the last time we spoke it was cold and unfriendly. Is there even a way to reach out?

Wow. Of course, yes, there's a way to reach out--with genuine grief and concern for her. You just need to do it without the strings of expectation attached. Lucy might throw your gesture back in your face, and that's something you can't prevent. Don't protest it if it happens, either. Just make your overture and  follow Lucy's lead.

Carolyn, just a quick thanks for mentioning in today's (Thursday's) column that the very worst part of being in a place you're not happy with is the self doubt. You mentioned anger and envy as by-products, but equally (or more) pernicious can be the endless self-criticism--"what am I doing wrong that I don't have X that I want so badly?" I am not a regretful person, but I DO hugely regret the many years I wasted endlessly criticizing myself to figure out why I wasn't in a relationship. Now that I am--and it's so wonderful and also so very different than I'd envisioned--I see I could never have gotten to such a great place at an earlier time. I needed those years on my own; I just wish I had actually trusted in life/myself/the way things work and enjoyed them, rather than constantly worrying.

"I just wish I had actually trusted in life/myself/the way things work and enjoyed them, rather than constantly worrying." So well said. thanks for weighing in.

Is there a date set for the HHH? Dec. 7? Dec. 14? Other? Chevy Chase chatters champing at the bit...

"Chevy Chase chatters champing at the bit...": That works with the tune to "The 12 Days of Christmas."

Dec. 7 is the date--start typing up your horrors now. Haley, when will the submission link be up?

If hosting the holidays didn't always fall primarily to women, I bet this question wouldn't be so popular this time of year. Where are the men in this scenario? Why do none of the women here even bother to consider that? I really wish you would have addressed male roles in holiday hosting. No wonder the women are exhausted. I'd be irritated too! And no hosting a chili cook off or manning the grill for one day is NOT the same as doing the big holidays. Those take days to plan.

I noticed that, too--and you're right, I should have taken it on.


I'll be building the Hax Hootenanny chat right after this one ends, so you can start submitting questions over the weekend.  Keep an eye out for it on  We'll also be bringing back the holiday turntable room, so start getting your music ready!

Hi Carolyn. I teach at a small high school and one of my co-workers is VERY nice, constantly thanking people for the everyday things they do. Every day. Within the 'thank-you' is often a put-down of himself ... for example, if he's thanking me for my work with my math class, he will say something like, "Now if I weren't such a crappy math teacher/coach/whatever, maybe our team/my class would do better."  What should I say here? I think I know what he wants ... for me to say, "NO! NO! You're WONDERFUL!" So ... should I say that? The eighth time, and the fourteenth, and the thirty-second time get a little old.

It might help you figure out what to say if you keep it firmly in mind that, beyond being a bit of a nuisance, this guy's problem isn't really your problem. Not yours to solve, at least, be it by giving him the compliments you think he's fishing for (a strategy I don't think has ever worked in all of human history), or by trying to get at the deeper insecurity.

For what it's worth, I think you might be able to make a small difference by responding (once) that he'd probably call out a student for talking down on himself that way, right? So why would he want to model it?

From then on, if he persists, you'd be free to either ignore it, or "There you go again" it, or whatever denies him traction without being cruel or insincere.

I agree with you that this woman needs to own the choice she made. But would it also be fair for her to approach her husband and get his help on this? The daughter might not know what the mom did for her, but the husband sure does, and he should be very thankful for it. It doesn't seem out of this world to ask the dad if he could help encourage a relationship between the daughter and mom. It would be easy to do - make sure mom is included in whatever they do! And if he doesn't agree to this, well, that to me seems like a pretty clear statement about how he feels about his wife. Why keep fighting to give him a good image with your daughter when he doesn't care much about the daughter sees the mom?

Excellent point, thanks. This also applies in a more general way to situations (all too common) where one parent is the party and the other is the law. It is such an unfair setup, and the solution has to include the party-parent's full cooperation in assuming responsibility for law enforcement. Without that, the family usually breaks under the weight of the unfairness.

It's been in my experience that when people go through a tragedy as awful as this one, the little squabbles of their past are put into perspective. CH was awesome to point out that Lucy might not respond, which is certainly possible. But also consider that you know all the parties involved in this, but you are not *involved* in their lives. Which makes you a great person for Lucy to confide in and a presence she might really appreciate.

It is a possibility and I hope it turns out to be true. Sometimes, though, the awfulness makes the little squabble into a more manageable place to put all of the anger and sadness people are feeling. I still think the OP has to try, but with no fixed hopes on the type of response Lucy has.

Hey Carolyn, Just wanted to say thanks for your response to "Good Dad, Bad Mom". I'm a daughter with a Mom who is in a similar situation to the OP, give or take a few challenges/life events. I fortunately have the distance from my parents to see what is going on, especially the stuff happening in the wings. Its that exact entitlement to my affection that turns me off, and I hope that OP takes the time to really look at herself, and better herself FOR herself. Again, thanks.

You're welcome. I hope, too, that you're doing your best to forgive your mom. Think of her as a car stuck in the mud--it helps if you all get out and push in the right direction.

When my kids were that age, we'd triage their *existing* toys for donation items before the birthday, Christmas, or whatever celebration. We explained that they were going to be receiving a lot of really cool new things for X occasion, so it was time to give rarely-used or outgrown toys to kids whose families couldn't afford to give them as much. If you can, make the kid a part of the sorting process (I confess, I always did a second round after our went to bed to get rid of the things I knew they wouldn't miss but objected to for some reason). Even better if he can accompany you for the drop-off. Kids that age *do* understand that others live in less fortunate circumstances. Humanizing it by forcing them to think about how another kid might feel made it much easier to get our kids to participate.

Yes, thanks, this works really well. When doing the after-bedtime sort, though, we would box things and put them in the basement for a while to make sure these toys wouldn't be missed--then we'd donate them.

All I have to say is: Clark W. Griswold. Seriously, whoever values the Christmas traditions most does the work.

All I have to say is: fictional.

My knowledge of this is purely anecdotal, but I witness, hear about and read about (in my mail) mostly women as martyrs to merriment. 

BTW, my response to that post got wiped out somehow. Haley is restoring it.


Some of us readers did pick up on this gender divide, but I also was surprised that more did not. My opinion, women have difficulty giving up this type of traditional domestic role of "holiday hostess" to the point of near martyrdom like this LW. Women tend to assume men are not capable of active participation, in the kitchen, Christmas shopping etc. or will not perform these activities to a standard that they find acceptable. I'd imagine this carries across the year and not just holidays.

Interesting. I'm going to kick this to Philes. (and if I forget, someone kick me, please.)

I'm retired, with a limited income. I have asked my extended family not to buy gifts for me this year, and have asked that I be allowed to only gift the children of the family. I have a beloved nephew who refuses to allow this and is now "threatening" me with the gift of an expensive electronic device which I had idly mentioned at a family dinner. Help!!

You stated your preference, all you can do is act on it yourself. If your nephew ignores your wishes, that's his prerogative. (Though I would advise him not to if he asked me.)

Hi Carolyn, Thanks so much if you get to this question, love your chats/column. I have been engaged for a few months and my parents disapprove of my fiance. An extended family member is very sick and will probably not make it to the holidays. When I was talking to my parents, my mother explicitly told me that my fiance was not welcome at the funeral stating it should "be family only." It is worth noting that the visitation and funeral will be published in the local paper and open to anybody. My fiance is incredibly hurt by this, but he respects my mothers wishes. I will be attending the funeral, but I am unsure how to deal with tensions between my parents and my fiance given this incredibly stressful/emotional event. Of course I am deeply upset about this death in the first place, and I feel really overwhelmed with the vehemence my parents dislike my fiance. I am not sure how to navigate this difficult situation.

What is their reasoning for their dislike?

While I think your fiance is making the right choice by not going (unless it helped you more to have him there, in which case he goes), I hope you also stood up for him when your mom said this. A la: "We're all grieving, and I want to do what I can to help the family, but Fiance is my family now, and shutting him out is not an option." Optional: "It's also ridiculous, because the funeral is open to the public with details published in the paper."

Unless the answer to my opening question is one that calls your fiance's character into question, -I- don't respect your mom's wishes, and I don't think you should, either. If you're going to make the decision to follow through with a marriage to someone your family treats as an outcast, you have to insist on inclusion or, if they refuse, cast yourself out with him. There's no playing this both ways.


I have to break up with my boyfriend of 6+ years. We've lived together for a year and a half. I broke up with him once before and he took it very. badly. Veiled suicide threats, coming to my house with bullets in his pocket, begging me for an explanation. I did the classic cave-in, thinking I never really told him why I was unhappy and I should give him a chance to make things better before giving up on the relationship. It was a mistake, and I knew it practically from the get-go, but I did it anyway. Now I want out, but I am so scared; scared he will react so badly again, scared of hurting him (I do love him and he's not a bad man, just not the man for me), scared of the anxiety and awkwardness and dealing with him moving out of my house and and and... and scared isn't the right word. I'm TERRIFIED. How do I get through this? I know it will be better on the other side, but right now the terror is paralyzing me.

You need professional guidance here, the kind that is available to you at every step of this potentially dangerous breakup. I urge you to call RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). I realize it's possible that main threat of violence is his against himself, but what you have is someone who shows signs of being unstable, so you can't be too safe. Get informed and prepared, and also get rid of the notion that leaving = hurting him. Staying, at this point, hurts him too.

One of my friends has asked me to set her up with a guy friend of mine. I happen to know the guy friend is not looking for the same things she is looking for and will probably (though not definitely) wind up blowing her off, even if he seems interested at first (which he probably will). Is it my job to share this with her, or should I just set up the initial contact and then butt out?

Interesting. I started to type out an answer to the effect of, "No harm in mentioning his pattern," but then I disagreed with myself before I finished. It's up to the two of them to find out about each other, and as long as there's nothing glaring that you're withholding, to say too much is meddling. 

But then I could keep going and say, why do two adults need you to set them up anyway? Why cant' she approach this guy without you? I see matchmaking as something to do when two people you know (and suspect would hit it off) don't know each other yet.

I was friends with a woman in grad school who was engaged and eventually married. Now that we're both working, we occasionally see each other socially. She's going through a rough time, though, because her husband cheated and they've now separated (about four months). I try to be there for her, but the last couple of times we've hung out, I got the impression she was hitting on me -- dressing more provocatively, touching my arm, playing with her hair. She has definitely been more aggressive about spending time together. Because she was always involved, I never considered her in romantic terms. She's a wonderful person, but I don't know what to do. I'm worried she's acting not out of real romantic interest in me (especially so soon after everything), but because of her husband's betrayal and I don't want to take advantage of her. How do you broach that conversation without coming off as patriarchial? Or should I just keep my distance for the time being and make excuses about not being able to hang out? Or am I ignoring something with real potential?

Sounds as if you're not sure what you want, much less what she wants, so why force yourself to take any one path? You don't need to back off, you don't need to "broach that conversation," you don't need to flirt back. You can just decide to see her when you want to, not see her when you don't want to, and let her precipitate a conversation when she's ready to graduate from playing with her hair to saying what she wants.

If and when it comes to that, then be honest about your concerns--even if it's just to say you're intrigued but not inclined to get involved where there's unfinished business still.

Dear Carolyn, As I research kindergarten programs for the youngest of my three children, it's only just occurring to me that a few months from now, we will no longer need the services of "Linda," the sweet, nurturing, reliable woman who has cared for my kids full-time since the end of my first maternity leave. For some reason this realization is hitting me like a sledgehammer. Linda has been like part of our family, and, as far as I know, doesn't have anything lined up for later, though she too must realize we will soon be letting her go. What's standard in this situation? I have recommended her highly to everyone I know, but most of my close friends (who would actually take such a recommendation) are done with the little-kid stage. Is it enough to thank her sincerely and give her a huge parting gift (e.g., a beautiful piece of jewelry or a trip)? I'm at a loss!

While Linda I'm sure has no illusions that hers is a job and it will eventually end, the bonds are real. Would it be realistic (for her and for you) to have Linda work for you part-time still? That would be best for your kids for sure, for her not to just stop coming one day.

Instead of "what's standard," I think the best aproach is to try for what feels right, then take it from there.

Carolyn, Last year, right after the holidays, my husband asked me for a divorce during his third year of law school. I got a job right out of undergrad as a nurse and supported our living expenses while he was in law school (although he did take out some loans for tuition). This was devastating for me because I did not see any warning signs or indication that our marriage was on the rocks. He is already engaged to a girl from his law school class. Here is the issue: his new fiance was interviewed for position in the legal department of the hospital where I work. I am certain that she knows I work there because we were casual acquaintances before we divorced. While we would not be running into each other regularity, the chance that I might see her is obviously much higher if we work in the same building. Part of me wants to write a note to the hiring committee explaining how difficult it would be for me to work with this individual should a situation arise where I needed the legal department. But another part of me thinks the adult thing to do would be let this go and deal. FWIW, I have been job searching since the divorce, hoping to find something in a new city, but no luck so far. Any advice for dealing with this situation?

It sounds truly awful, I'm sorry. but I think you need to listen to the part of you saying to do the adult thing and deal. A note to the committee would draw attention to you that you don't want.

I realize this will be singularly unconvincing, but your divorce wasn't about this woman, it was about you and your husband. If she hadn't come along, then somebody else would have, and keeping that in mind might help you detach a bit if you ever have to work with her.

"Bring back" the turntable room? It never went anywhere - there's a hard-core group of about a dozen or so who show up every Friday, share music, and chat about the chat. We'd love to have y'all (re)join us - to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail - "we're not dead yet!" - mission control


Thanks for correcting me! I should have said - we'll be heavily promoting it again.  Here's the link for anyone who wants to join in now:

My husband and I just found out that we're going to have a baby. This is a surprise pregnancy - although we've always talked about having kids, we were hoping to wait until we were established financially. Right now, we're living with my mom and I'm unemployed (just earned my degree though, yay) and my husband is working. We have a lot of resources in our favor - family support, a solid relationship, a commitment to each other and our family, the fact that my mom has so generously allowed us to live with her, etc - but I can't help feeling some sadness because this is not how I wanted to do this. I also have no idea how I'm going to get a job now, or how we're going to afford a child. And finally - I really wanted to move out on our own, and I know that's going to be delayed now by probably at least a year. So...I'm trying hard to be excited, but right now I'm mostly just terrified. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Congratulations! This is one of those times where it's a great thing that babies take so many months to be ready for the world. You have a lot of time to get your nest ready, in whatever sense applies, and I can even argue that living with your mom when you have a newborn isn't the worst thing as long as you and she are compatible. Having a new baby is labor-intensive and isolating, and there's a lot to be said for many hands and many people to love your baby. (Again--as long as you don't battle hourly over every little care decision you make.)

So, start taking whatever steps you can toward the kind of setup you want--job-hunting, saving money, setting goals for moving out, etc. Not only will that get you closer to where you want to be, it'll be great practice for having a child, since watching things go one way when you were hoping they'd go another is pretty much the signature sensation of being a parent.

Hi, Carolyn! My mother-in-law has a big milestone birthday coming up. Her three sons and their wives (I'm one of the wives) decided to go in on a gift together. My husband and I suggested one amount for each contribution (we'll say X dollars), but one of the brothers came back and said they could only do half of X. My husband and I have more disposable income than the other families (no kids yet, both working) and we don't want the others to contribute more than they feel comfortable with. But if we wanted to give mom something more, is it OK for us to put a larger amount in the pot? Should we chip in the same amount, and get her a separate gift, or is that kind of showing up the others? Hub & I just feel like we should do more for his mom for this big birthday -- she's really wonderful.

Which would your MIL appreciate more, a big gift, or one that represented equal participation from her kids?

My husband has a close group of friends whom he has known since his early 20s, and they communicate with each other daily in a group format (group texts and groups emails). When we first started dating in our early-thirties, I found out that some of the guys would send naked pictures of girls to each other or pictures of girls they were sleeping with. I found this so tacky, especially considering their age. Fast-forward five years and I just found out that they still do this. I think this is very juvenile behavior (they're all in their mid-30s now and half of them are married), and the feminist in me just wants to scream. I've made it clear to my husband that it bothers me, but he says he can't control what they send. I know that's true, but I'm disappointed -- both with the guys for being so juvenile and with my husband for being so close to such juvenile guys. Sometimes I feel society gives a free pass to poor / immature behavior ("Oh, guys will be guys"). I don't have a question here other than, what do you think?

I think what I think isn't relevant, and you have to decide how far you're willing to go to protest this behavior. It's not "Guys will be guys," it's, "This is who your husband is. Can you live with that?" Once you figure out your limit to how far you're willing to go, then honor it. The pickle you're in--feeling you have to fight it, but being unwilling to go beyond saying, "This is so juvenile!!"--means the issue is always present and never resolved. Bleah.

I return to work on Monday after a two month absence. What was supposed to be maternity leave turned into a nightmare-my son was born stillborn at 34 weeks and I suffered a number of serious complications from a very difficult delivery. I needed the time away from work to recuperate and although physically I am doing much better, emotionally I am anything but. I am anticipating that some of my co-workers, although well intentioned, may ask awkward and even inappropriate questions regarding the events that lead up to my son's birth and death, and my subsequent healing period. My nerves are raw and the last thing I want to do is discuss what happened with people who I hardly know. No matter how many times I rehearse a polite, "Thank you for your concern, but it's too painful to talk about" I feel like people with no doubt intrude on my space which will set me off into a crying spell. What advice do you have to preempt the questions and conversations I am anticipating?

That's horrible, I'm so sorry. Please ask your supervisor to let people know in advance that you'd rather not have anyone approach you at all. Asap--you want him/her to catch people before they go today.

I don't know that you'll be able to avoid all crying spells, so don't waste any dread on that. Tears will come, and you'll deal with them, and people in the office will understand. In a way, tipping off everyone beforehand will let them know how they can help you, since no doubt that's all they'll want to do--help somehow. I think we all wish we could.

I am a sucker for a stray or abused cat and as a result, my husband and I have taken in nine cats. It's not that I ever meant to adopt nine cats, but rather some of my cats have medical or behavioral needs that make them unlikely to ever be adopted (we are able to care for their veterinary needs). I work very hard to maintain my home and keep it clean and cat odor-free -- an appropriate number of litterboxes are in the basement along with two air purifiers, and I vacuum floors and furniture regularly for cat hair. I have asked friends and family members for their honest opinions and they tell me they can't believe we have nine cats and that our house looks and smells fine. Even family members with cat allergies do not seem to have issues visiting our house. My question is how to react to people who, when they ask how many cats I have and I respond honestly, react as if I am a pathological hoarder with a filthy house. I could simply lie about the number of cats I have, but it makes me feel as if I have something to hide, which I don't.

Let them think what they like; it's their loss, since you sound like a pretty cool person. What lucky critters you have. 

How do you judge when differences between two people are incompatible ones, or merely ones that any normal couple has to work out? It is perhaps inevitable that the same differences that attract us to the other person are the same ones that cause friction. I understand that some work to accomodate & adjust to each other's differences is necessary to sustain a relationship, but how do you know when it has become TOO much work?

When the person drains you, vs. restores. It's usually pretty clear when you start thinking about it that way.

I am hoping you will be able to give me a pep talk / slap upside the head. I just accepted a job with my dream company which took me over a year to get. The position requires relocation, which is fully paid for and facilitated by the company; I am finding myself quaking inside at the prospect of starting all over meeting new people, finding new friends and living in a new area. Deep inside I know this is the right move, I'm just having trouble shaking the jitters. When I was younger (I'm 47 now) I had no problem picking up and moving with just a suitcase now it seems so much harder.

That's because it is! Don't be so hard on yourself; your jitters come from a rational place. Not that you should cave to them--I merely propose that you validate and respect them, instead of looking at them like some hideous new byproduct of age or a personal failure of courage.

I think the more useful way to look at it all is as a longer process requiring more patience than when you were younger. Accept that it's a bigger deal, prepare to be annoyed sometimes at having to start over, prepare to have to be patient, and plan in advance to take specific measures against self-pity or couchside ossification. Day trips to get to know your new area, for example, or joining a [your interest here] group, or weekend travel to people you really enjoy, etc.

I have a December birthday - Chrismas day, in fact. While I was growing up, my parents shared OP's weariness in the face of having to organize yet another celebration and deal with a child's "double" presents during the holiday season. They also struggled with the fairness of my siblings having their "own" day, while my birthday was necessarily overshadowed by other family events. They resolved both these issues by holding a birthday party for me to in the early autumn -- gifts were spaced out, my folks weren't frantically overtired, and I felt special. Win-win.

Half-birthday works great for this. Thanks.

Hilarious that she thinks "society" gave the free pass to her husband when she's the one who married him with full knowledge of his behavior and his friends.

There's that.

Not sure I agree with your answer to the matchmaker. If female friend is looking for a serious relationship and male friend is only interested in dating girls casually right now (and has a history of using/blowing off females), then I think female friend would want to know this before proceeding. It can be really painful for someone (of either sex) who is looking for a lasting relationship to be blown off. I think female friend should be informed if male isn't looking for something long term right now...then she can make her own decision on how to proceed.

Okay, but does the matchmaker actually -know- what the male friend wants? That's part of what stopped me--the idea of presuming to be messenger when the male friend had ample opportunity to deliver his own message.

If he has a habit of not delivering that message, then the onus on the matchmaker friend changes--namely, to being responsible for being friends with someone who uses women. In that case, the warning would have to be along the lines of, "We're friends, but don't take that as an implied character reference; he treats the women he dates like crap."

Can't the OP tell the women her husband's friends date that they could end up naked in a group email? Caveat emptor, yes? Or tell the guys that emails like this become public very easily? Haven't we learned that from recent very public email stupidity?

I'm all for warning the women, but that can't be the end of it for the OP. She needs to figure out where she stands, act on it, and live with it.

Lotsa Linda comments. I'll post a few sans comment.

I, too, had to let my babysitter go when my little one started kindergarten. I placed an ad in the paper saying that our babysitter was fantastic and to please contact me for her contact info and a reference. She ended up landing a new job that she's been very happy with. I think the best way to help Linda is to help her line up her next gig.

In this economy I doubt anyone wants to continue to pay a nanny that isn't necessary, even when there is a personal attachment. And I mean Linda is going to need a living wage. Occasional babysitting, maybe, but I think LW was asking more about how to appropriately show her appreciation. I say give her a long lead time about the date, a cash bonus, and maybe some letters/pictures from the family to thank her.

Some can, and do, and schedule it around other work for another family. Certainly worth a try if it's possible--and if not, then you go to the long lead time and cash bonus (and effort to help secure her next position).

A dear friend of mine cared for a couple's 3 children for over 20 years - when they started school, she did more housework, and was there when they got home from school or during the many school holidays and half days. Eventually they paid her a couple months severance when they let her go. She still took it hard. Please give Linda good notice and make sure she has the time to find something else.

Ideas: write her a sincere, glowing thank you note, offer to be a reference should she need one, and invite her back for milestone things, understanding that she may accept or decline these invitations as her schedule and volition permit. If she is okay with it, help your kids write her letters/emails/etc. after she leaves.

Just suggestion--Consider making the parting gift money instead of a trip or jewelry, especially if Linda doesn't have another job lined up. This could be a kind of severance package for Linda to spend as she wishes. Also consider writing a nice letter from you and your children, and enclose some sort of small personal gift you think she'd enjoy.

If OP is on Facebook, she could mention something along the lines of youngest-in-kindergarten so she'll no longer need the incredibly good caregiver she's been blessed to have for the past X years. There could be some one of her FB friends who might see this and need the caregiver's services (or know of someone who does). Nice gift would surely be appreciated (and she's known Linda for a number of years, now, right?) as well..

Dear Carolyn, I'm a 30-something single female and have been basically since college. I'm emotionally exhausted from years of rejection and non-starters. I connected with someone recently, who I'm head over heels for, but there are so many red flags I don't dare to get my hopes up. On the other hand, hope is the only thing I have left. I've got a great career, wonderful friends, and I'm genuinely happy with my life -- but I also know I don't want to spend the rest of it single. I'm not looking to get hitched tomorrow, but just to meet a partner, and take advantage of my sexuality. Red flags - younger, doesn't live here, recently divorced... I don't think any of those things are defining, but when they add up, am I just setting myself up for disappointment again?

There's only one red flag here, and it's your conviction that your life will have somehow been a failure if you go through it single. That gives you powerful motivation to make a relationship out of any attention you get from nice-enough men, and that in turn gives you powerful motivation to ignore signs that a man isn't right for you, good for  you, happy with you, etc. That is the bad neighborhood where the sharpest disappointments hang out.

Everyone who has feelings for someone else will suffer at least some disappointment--be it in learning he's not as great as you thought, or learning he's not as into you as you thought, or learning that even when you love each other a lot the days can be harder than you thought. Everyone, everyone is set up for disappointment, again and again, just by getting out of bed in the morning. (I do motivational speaking on the side.)

But that's a much more tolerable, less daunting--dare I say even more interesting--process when you're open to getting your joys and disappointments in whatever form they happen to come.

Right now, you are -so- focused on getting your joy from a relationship, and -so- spooked by getting slapped by your disappointment a week after that joy, that it's likely to the point of self-fulfilling prophesy.


Of course, identifying this is the easy part; solving it puts you in the realm of "Don't think about elephants"-type advice. You can't just not think about having a partner, and just not want sex.

But you can be attentive to how this urge has grabbed the wheel of your life and started driving. You can consider therapy, so you have a place separate from your day-to-day life to figure out why this has become such a Thing. You can recognize the voice in your head that's telling you to give up too much to make things work. You can feel the huge pull to someone and overrule your urge to give into it.

It sounds a lot like a diet, all self discipline and no cupcakes, but getting mastery of your craving--from ID'ing the source to adopting new behaviors--is the only happy ending I can see here (besides a stroke of great luck in man form, which is not a reliable plan).

I never thought I'd get married. Early in adulthood, I resigned myself to the thought of being single forever (just in case!), and I built a life I loved. Then I moved cross-country, fell in love with my husband, got married, and have a totally different life. I adore my husband and am startled and delighted at how lucky I was to find him.But I just don't really love being married. I loved living by myself, deciding by myself how to run my household, buying what I wanted and saving what I wanted, being the beginning and the end of every conversation about how to live my life. ... am I a freak? How do I reconcile this?

Can you and prior OP do a Freaky Friday kind of switch?

Since it sounds as if you love your husband, I suspect what might work for you is more time to get used to your new life (just guessing, since you don't say how long you've been married), plus some adjustments to your marriage to give you more room. There's nothing that says you have to be Ward and June Cleaver. As long as you're honest with your husband about both how lucky you feel to be with him and how deeply ingrained your autonomy is, there's a good chance you can tweak things that make you both happy, or at least hapier, even if it makes the neighbors go, "Hmm."

Carolyn - love your chats and your "every-day" wisdom. I was wondering if you or your readers might know of a way to get a 12 y-o girl to take baths and generally keep herself and her surroundings clean. it's been a tiresome futile fight ever since she was old enough to be responsible for these tasks. Nothing works. She makes promises and breaks them. She insists that i do not understand how dificult it is. you name it, I've tried it. Any ideas? I've talked, cajoled, trained, punished, taken away privileges, bought books, included dad, solicited her ideas. warned her. Nothing works. Oh - and she stinks - to high heavens. When I leave my bedroom in the mornings, I can actually smell her from the hallway. i'm becoming desperate and not as polite about it as I used to be. It's driving a wedge between us.

I don't see a child psychologist in there on the list of things you've tried. I think you're at that point; it has become a power struggle, and it appears your daughter is hanging on to her right to be herself to the point that it's harming her. And that's before considering a possible underlying condition to explain "how difficult it is."

My boyfriend of 1 1/2 years and I are in the middle of a break-up. Our big fights have turned into WWIII and he was tired of me being upset because I caught him lying to me a half dozen times. The kicker is that none of the lies were deal-breaker issues or worthy of the brawls they caused. He feels like the lies might keep a fight at bay and I feel like lying over insignificant matters just adds fuel to my fire. We have a great time together outside of the fighting. We've been talking about dating more casually in hopes that a little space + no relationship title = less pressure and accountability to each other. We want to keep spending time but without the commitment. Is this a terrible idea? I love him and I'd like to find a way to step back in order to move forward with this man. Your advice is always so great and I hope you can help me get my arms around things! Lover not a Fighter

One thing worth trying, if you're going to hang on to this: He practices radical honesty, and you practice radical laid-backedness in the face of a radical truth.

I actually think fear of telling the truth is one of the more deal-breakery of deal-breakers, but, again, you seem to want this so there's your path. If he has a golden zone of safety paved for him to allow him to say what he really thinks, and if he doesn't actually do it, then he's not going to do the growing up necessary to make him a good bet. It'll be good for you, too, to see if you can act on truth and lies instead of just fighting. If you think about it, there's no fight to have here--there's just, truth you deal with whatever the truth happens to be, and lie you leave. Fighting is just a way to try to rewrite what's happening into something more palatable for you. Time to grow out of that, too.

In discussions I've had with my boys re: sexting and other inappropriate online behavior, I've brought the issue a little closer to home by asking them to imagine they had a sister and then think if they would like to have a naked picture of her being passed around electronically. For these older guys, you could use a sister or a daughter reference, since some of them are or may become dads. This is not to say you can stop their behavior. You can't. But at the least, you can use this to help explain to your own husband why you find this practice so objectionable.

Worth a try, thanks, though I'll keep my optimism in the drawer.

Actually, I want to crawl into a drawer myself, so maybe that's a sign it's time to quit.

Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and start touching up your Hootenanny submissions. (Pops is hard at work on The Night Before Christmas, by the way.)

Yikes! I almost forgot--Nick has reduced the price of his signed cartoon prints for Christmas.


Join Carolyn for the 2012 Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, a Washington Post and Hax Christmas tradition, on Friday Dec. 7 at Noon ET.

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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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