Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, Dec. 30)

Dec 30, 2011

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 on vacation Friday, Dec. 30, so Washington Post producers and the Peanuts -- Carolyn's loyal fans and readers -- had a Best of Hax 2011 chat in her stead.

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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While Carolyn is on vacation this week, she's been running some advice from her readers to her readers. So, along with sharing some of the best and favorite pieces of Hax wisdom from the past year, I'll be posting a few reader questions and asking for your helpful suggestions. I can't promise to keep up with Carolyn's three-hour stamina, but we'll go for as long as we have questions coming in. Let's begin!

Despite going through dozens of questions each chat, Carolyn's never too busy to learn from her readers (or her mistakes):'t-D (which was a response to a reader's original Don't Do It List)

Sometimes Carolyn's advice can downright laconic, but every bit as helpful as her multi-paragraph answers:"Needy"-Person

theselfishsibs thread gets my vote.

Good call.

Here is the original question and answer:


And here is the follow-up from a couple of months later:

Carolyn gets a lot of questions about very sensitive issues such as domestic abuse, rape and stalking. In September, she advised one parent on how to help her daughter (who had been raped) by not helping too much:

And this woman, who had been stalked at work? Carolyn's advice helped convince her to do what it took to put an end to the harassment:


I loved the thread involving the woman who was essentially asking Carolyn for permission to have an affair (or, at least, that was the impression that Carolyn and the peanuts got).

Is this the one you're talking about?

I was reading it earlier and nearly included it in today's chat,  so I'm glad someone else was thinking along the same lines!

i know beggars can't be choosers but it stinks to open all these links...could you copy and paste the text of what you are referencing so it shows up on this page?

I wasn't sure if c/p was a better experience than clicking through to each chat (especially since sometimes there are follow-ups I haven't linked to), but how about both from here on out? :)

Well, both when the amount of text in a question and answer allows it. I'll excerpt the really long ones.

Questions about Thank You notes have been a staple of Carolyn's chats for years. As someone who has a bad habit of putting off writing them, I really this bit of advice:


Anyone else have a suggestion on how to handle belated thank yous?

Reader: I'm three months late on a thank you that I said was in the mail a month ago...any advice on what to write? I'm losing sleep over this and it's getting worse every day.


Dear X:

Thank you so much for Y. I struggle to put my feelings into words sometimes, so I'm sorry this has taken me so long to write. I'm glad for the chance to tell you, though, what Y/your gift meant to me. It's [exactly what I hoped for/needed/wanted] (or) [a memory that will stay with me] (or) going to remind me of you whenever I wear it/use it/see it/open it/watch it/read it/you get the idea.]

I hope this finds you well, 


[Your name]


If it's not a personal thank you, but instead a business one, well, maybe a Nut will pitch in because I've taken enough time on this and it's almost bye time.

No more followup? I thought the LW didn't come off as really caring and concerned - as Carolyn noted in her original response and as a nut said about her followup.

Not as far as Carolyn or I could find:"Selfish-Siblin (and nothing I remember or have been able to find by searching since this linked October chat, either).

Does anyone recall if that was this year or last year? My vague recollection was that all the bridesmaids were supposed to chip in $ to make that happen...

That doesn't sound familiar to me (though maybe it was from back when Jodi was producing the chats?), nor does a quick online search seem to find anything. Any readers remember this and have better sleuthing skills than I do?

Why do people write Carolyn? Well, maybe sometimes it's because they're hoping for an easier route than they know they need to take:

Reader: Carolyn, For the last couple of months I've been dating a wonderful guy, and we're both happy, infatuated, etc., etc. The problem: For professional reasons, I'm moving halfway across the country in January. What to do? We've talked a little about him moving with me, but it just seems crazy to consider that when the relationship is still so young. We could date long-distance for awhile, but it doesn't really give the same sense of regular couple-dom, and I'm still afraid he'd eventually move out and the relationship would go sour. Or do we end a potentially great thing when I move just because the timing was bad? How do we decide?

Carolyn: You don't. You go with it, whatever "it" happens to be when you get there. Hard advice to follow, but, most of it is, or else people wouldn't write in looking for alternatives.

And sometimes people write maybe because they want confirmation of their spouse's insanity (or is that glass bowl-ness?):,-R.I.

Reader: Hello Carolyn, What do you think about an open marriage? My husband is pressuring me to agree, since I'm seven months pregnant, and he's frustrated that I'm not fulfilling my "wifely" responsibilities. Granted, our sex life isn't as fulfilling to him as it was when we were trying to get pregnant, but he's really laying a guilt trip on me.


Carolyn: I think open marriages are a  great idea when the two people in them both think it's a great idea.


I think the idea of them is offensive when one spouse is pregnant and under pressure to agree because the other spouse can't deny himself for a few months. I hope you have your finances in order, because I have no reason to believe you aren't married to a taker of epic proportions, and that rarely ends well.

Do any of the peanuts have input? Have you tried it, did it help? I'm suffering from trauma issues and at my wits end but this stuff is very expensive for me...

Passing this along to all of you in case anyone can share.

search for PAY TO PARTY

Thanks! Here's the exact question in question:


(You don't even want to know what search terms I used trying to find that, and our IT/HR staff probably doesn't, either.)

Meditation is a great technique for reducing stress and trauma. You don't have to pay for it! Search for a community that help you with your meditation practice (I like the Mindfulness community). Meditation in a community and forming a good community around you is very helpful. They can help you find free help with meditation - and there are a lot of good videos/podcasts/books to help with meditation. You should be able to do this at no cost.

Standard Carolyn "I can't vouch for this" disclaimer to be on the extra-safe side, but this sounds like a good possibility and a good place to start. Thanks!

Meditation classes can be found on line, through your local county Parks & Recs dept, and a myriad other places. Go to the library and find a book on it. There's no reason it should be expensive unless you're being courted by a money-grubbing guru.

Sounds like another solid suggestion.

Here's one I could use some help with: My mom lies. A lot. She lies to me, to my sisters, to my friends, to her friends, to my husband, etc. Often, the lies are to cover up when she has done something wrong (taking something without asking and then breaking it) or when she's trying to get sympathy and folks don't immediately support her (telling family friends that my sister called her all kinds of horrible names when, really, my sister only told her to butt out of an argument). The problem is that now she's lying to my kids and encouraging them to lie. For example, we ask her "Please don't let Jane have any chocolate while you're babysitting her -- she's being punished for eating her brother's candy without asking." We get home, my mom says everything was great and that no, Jane did not have chocolate. Late, late that evening, Jane bursts into tears because she can't take the guilt of lying any more. It turns out that my mom did give her chocolates (Lots!) and then instructed Jane not to tell me. In that particular incident, my mother actually introduced the concept of a "little white lie." As the kids are getting older, this gets more serious. The lies are about bigger things, and I don't trust her with them at all. I know that I should eliminate unsupervised visits, but I just can't bring myself to do that. First, it limits my dad's time with the kids (he doesn't lie, but he doesn't always witness the infractions). Second, I never knew my grandparents and I really want my kids to have some sort of functional relationship with theirs. I don't want to get the kids in the middle of this, but I don't know how to deal with ensuring they understand this is NOT acceptable, nor do I know how to communicate to them that my mom's a big fat liar without actually saying that. After all, I know that the way I treat my mother may affect how they treat me when they're older. Help!

Ouch. That sounds awful. Anyone able to offer any suggestions?

I personally love I card I once used. It had a mouse standing, viewed from behind looking round sheepishly and the card said: 'Sorry I'm so late in thanking you - I'm a little behind. Yup it's hard when you're late - but it's as simple as 'better late then never'. Having paper/cards in the house and stamps really helps because then it really only takes a couple of minutes. They don't have to be Nobel Prize winning - don't let perfectionism mean it never gets sent.

I love it (both the card and the advice). Thanks!

Maybe boob job for the bride was last year, but this one was a favorite wedding question from earlier this year: ( (search for "Bridesmaid-zilla?")

This was before my time here, but I agree that this is great (and awful. Or is that *because* it's awful?).


Reader: Hi Carolyn, I think I have a new one for you: As a bridesmaid in my future sister in law's wedding, I just got an email from the maid of honor assigning me certain dates on which to send the bride gifts (trinkets? a bottle of wine? who knows?) to "encourage her." I'm buying a dress, dying shoes to match, traveling for the wedding, and no doubt shelling out for a bachelorette party. Am I being a grinch or is this over the top? Also- the whole "encouragement" thing rubs me the wrong way. You're marrying the love of your life then having a party with everyone you love- this sounds like a good deal to me; "encouragement" implies that this is a struggle to be gotten through. She's getting married, not running a marathon or going through chemo. (My dirty lens on this is that I have in fact done both those things- the chemo while planning my own wedding. And I didn't insist on 6 months of weekly gifts from my bridesmaids. Sheesh.) So, two questions I guess: 1) Am I over-reacting, or is this actually reasonable?, and 2) If it is over the top, is there any way I can say so without totally offending everyone or do I just suck it up? (Technically, we can afford to do this, I just don't want to.)




Carolyn: 1) there is nothing reasonable about this request


2) Please respond to the MoH that "encouragement" implies that the bride is going through something terrible, and that if this is so, you'd like to help in some more significant way. (The dyed-to-match shoes support the argument that there's something dire going on, but don't include that in your note.)

If she responds in earnest that all is well and the gifts are just about showing the bridesmaid love, then please say clearly that you're going to decline--no reflection on the bride, you just feel you're giving enough for the cause already.


BTW, I can't tell if you're genuinely wondering whether this is excessive or if you know full well and are baiting me to say horrible things about wedding excess, but, either way, the answer is, yes, this is wedding excess, and the risk of giving offense is not a legitimate argument against saying "no."

My mother is bipolar and also lies a lot. I have small children and have a similar problem, particularly with snacks ("I gave them apples and crackers!!" when it was ice cream and Starbursts). I started putting her in a time out of sorts - she has to take a break from seeing the kids, usually one or two weeks. I also unequivocally tell the kids that it's not ok to lie. That seems to work, but we have to have a time out every few months. My kids adore her, and I'm not ready to cut out contact, so this is working for now.

A possible solution in the middle ground.

You have to accept that this is not possible, with your mother. She's already damaging your kids and your relationships. Don't let your mother babysit them, basically don't let them have any alone time with them. Harsh, but necessary. And please see a good counselor about how to deal with this situation, which is only going to get worse.

And one that's a bit more tough love.

No advice, just a thought, that a relationship where your daughter is lied to, told to lie, and cries over the guilt, does not sound like a functional relationship to me.

Fine point.

It sounds like your kids already know lying is wrong. So you're on the right track, right?

Another good point.

This sounds similar to a situation that I have dealt with in my own family. I feel the best way to approach it is to be straightfoward. Don't make excuses. "(Grandma) loves you very much, but sometimes she doesn't tell the truth. In our family, we always tell the truth. I want you to know that you can always tell me anything and I will still love you." Rephrase, repeat.

More sound advice.

I did a lot of Yoga to deal with my PTSD. Especially the classes with the 10 minutes of meditation at the end. My gym membership of about $30/month included free access to all of the classes that they offered, so it was a pretty inexpensive venture. Might not work for everyone, but it definitely helped me.

If it helps one person, it'll probably help many (hopefully including the reader who asked earlier).

I've never thought of stepping outside my SO before, but all of the sudden I find myself filled with lustful thoughts. These thoughts are all concentrated on a single person, a casual friend. I've had repeated dreams about this person and find myself thinking about those dreams throughout the day. I don't want to cheat, so I won't. I suppose that is the easy part. But where is this coming from? Why is it so specific, so constant, and so sudden? How do I stop these dreams?

Any advice, readers? Or do we more info to make a good suggestion?

(And I swear this came in before the mention of the person who had asked for permission to have an affair!)

If you stop letting her see the kids, the kids will think they have to lie in order to see Grandma. Don't put that on them.

Another consequence to consider.

Most readers looking to Carolyn for advice are grown adults, with a healthy dose of college students and teenagers in the mix. Sometimes, though, she ends up helping toddlers now (and down the road):,-Plea

Reader: I love to take my toddler to the playground, and he super LOVES it. The problem I face is figuring out how to deal with unsupervised children at the park. We are working on the "keep your hands to yourself" lesson, but other, older (maybe 4 to 7 yo), kids are all over my toddler, trying to play with the "baby." I don't think it's my place to reprimand someone else's kid. Short of telling them to keep their hands off of him, how do I get them to leave him alone? I feel mean writing this, but kids are germy! And I don't want them touching my kid! Is that so bad?

Carolyn: Yes, actually. 

Unless your son has some condition that compromises his immunity, the exposure to germs is a normal part of life that builds his immunity. Don't take my non-licensed word for it, talk to your pediatrician. 

And that's just the physical health aspect. There's also a mental health angle here. You can't bubble wrap your kid or control every aspect of his environment, and even if you could, you would do a towering disservice to your boy--and to yourself--if you walled him off from all the unruliness of life. That's how people learn about themselves and learn to navigate their environments. Your toddler needs challenges, supervised by you of course but not to the degree that you fight all his battles for him. That will make him the kind of sick that has nothing to do with a fever.

I see you are in training to supplement or replace Hax. ;-) This could have come straight from her fingers.

Awww, shucks. Thanks! Definitely not trying to replace her, but it's hard to produce these chats for months and not have some of her advice-giving mojo rub off.

Some of my favorite Carolyn responses come when the writer is trying every which way to keep a relationship alive--ones where folks end up rationalizing very unkind, difficult or terrible behavior--and Carolyn always wonders why "break up" isn't one of the writer's stated options. I think that she does an excellent job of pointing out where reasonable boundaries and efforts have been trampled beyond recognition.

I couldn't agree more. I found a number of these when looking back through old chats for today's, but couldn't decide on any particular one that stood out above the rest.


One example:'s-



Kudos to the kid you're bringing up. It seems to me that you've raised and then dismissed the two only really possible options. Personally, I think your best way forward is to explain in age appropriate language that we all love grandma but she doesn't have a good relationship with the truth - in fact grandma will encourage Child to do the same. But that's not the way we do things in our family. In fact, Child should say that to grandma if something like the chocolate incident occurs. For your thinking - how did your dad handle this with you and your sisters and was that helpful? Is talking to him about this problem helpful?

Good questions for the OP here at the end.

Maybe you're having these thoughts because there is something you're missing in your current relationship? Why not try spicing things up with your SO? Try new things with eachother, spend more time with each other, create that spark again. (Assuming that's whats missing?)

It does sound to the untrained ear like this might be at least part of the issue, OP?

How can you judge how narcissistic you are, and what can you do about it? I read where the mentally healthy consistently overvalue themselves, while the depressed are quite accurate.

So it's healthy and incorrect or depressed and correct? Neither of those sound like great options. Anyone else have thoughts or suggestions?

Tell mom the way she's encouraging the kids to lie is distressing them, lay out the consequences for what will happen if she does it again, and stick to your guns. Don't let guilt guide how you deal with this. While the kids are young, you're in charge of whom you let influence them. Be the grownup in this situation.

The sound advice and options keep rolling in.

The OP also said that she felt badly that Grandpa wasn't getting to spend much time with the kids. Maybe you can set up outings for just him and the kids doing things that Grandma doesn't like to do - if she's not a sports fan, take them to a baseball game, etc. You might also want to sit down with him and discuss this problem. I'm sure he's aware of his wife's behavior after being married to her for so long, and he might be willing to make sure he's within earshot of the kids and Grandma the whole time and to step in if she crosses the line.

This one, too.

In addition to telling your kids that lying is wrong, the parents might also want to show that what it's like to take your lumps rather than lie. For instance, one adult apologizing to the other when a mistake is made rather than lying about it, then having the other person thank them for not lying. Do this in front of the kids so they are used to seeing this behavior.

Learning by example does seem to be one of the best ways.

Actually, we are very open with our kids that if Grandma and/or them lie about an outing, the consequence is that they are put on restriction (that is what they call it). My therapist recommended it as a way to draw boundaries with my mother. I've been very proud with how my kids have handled the situations, and how they take personal responsibility for their own choices. I think it's easy to be black and white about this situation, but in the end dealing with mental illness in a family member is challenging, especially with children. Therapy has been helpful.


Looking for an excuse to do something that others might see as selfish? Sometimes that's OK. But sometimes, you're going to get called out a bit:

Reader: CH, I need an opinion and advice. My only nephew is getting married next Spring during the Memorial Day weekend. My husband and I have a long-standing tradition of enjoying Memorial Day weekend at our lake cottage. Each destination involves about 500 miles of travel from our home here in DC. We don't want to skip my nephew's wedding but we also don't want to break our own tradition. I haven't seen my nephew in at least 8 or 9 years and I've never met his bride-to-be. We're big fans of marriage but we're really not into weddings. I know that if we don't go to the wedding, my sister (nephew's mother) will take it as a personal affront and it will cause a rift in the family. I also firmly believe that it's none of her business what we do with our "vacation" time and personal traditions. I'm torn. What do you think?

Carolyn: Memorial day at the wedding, preceded or followed by a long weekend (with vacation days off work) at the cottage?

You seem to be shopping for permission to blow off the wedding. While that's certainly your prerogative, and, yes, it's none of her business what you do with your vacation time and personal traditions, and her best response to your no-showing would be to square her shoulders and declare it your loss--still. Your righteous opposition to your -sister's- major milestone seems a bit overstated. She's marrying off a child, and she wants her sister there. Would it kill you to be flexible this one year, and go?

I hate to refer to another famed advice columnist, but I found this piece of advice from Dan Savage to be very helpful to gain perspective when I was having a make-me-wobbly-in-the-knees crush on a coworker (I'm married with two kids and adore my husband):


This is a point you hear people "advice columnists, couples counselors, Drs. Laura and Phil" making all the time: Married/partnered people who are happy at home don't experience inappropriate or awkward crushes on others. The eyes of happily partnered people "to say nothing of their genitalia" never, ever wander. So if you're having a crush on someone you're not supposed to, well, that must mean something is very seriously wrong with your relationship. It's a symptom. Of something. Something dire. Diagnose the illness, treat it, and you'll be cured. This, of course, is complete and total [male cow manure]. Happily married/partnered/boyfriended/girlfriended people have crushes on other people all the time. Not because we're unhappy or because there's something wrong with us or because our relationships are somehow diseased. It happens because "I hope everyone is sitting down for this" however attracted we are to our spouses/partners/boyfriends/girlfriends, other people are also attractive. Crushes are normal, and our relationships "closed or open" would be less stressful if we weren't expected to go around pretending that we never find anyone else attractive. And our relationships would be more likely to survive the inevitable, normal, natural crushes-on-others if we weren't led to believe that attraction is a zero-sum game, i.e., that finding someone else attractive means you must find your partner less attractive.

Carolyn was on an advice panel with Mr. Savage once, so I'm going to consider that tacit approval for using his suggestions and answers when she's gone. Thanks!

A friend in a not-so-distant city visits our home 2-3 times a year. Her birthday is the same as my husband's. After a recent visit to her home & with her friends, she asked if she could visit our home again, bringing a friend, to celebrate the two birthdays. Since we have limited space, seven pets, and no guest room, we suggested that another time might be best. She then asked if they could come & stay in a motel -- my husband was not enthused, but told her I wasn't into the idea. I avoided emailing for a couple weeks, now conversing again, telling her about all my problems over the holidays. Now she is asking if we want to come to her house again "for the birthdays". We are retired, and tired, especially after December. My husband doesn't care about celebrating his 75th, and I am annoyed. What do I say now?

Peanuts, what do you think? Is there a nice way to tell this friend "no"?

How much do you make everything about you. Do you listen, reply in kind or do you turn the conversation back to you? I personally I think it's healthy to know your good aspects and also where you should strive to do better. Not only that, but then work on those areas where you're not so hot. Enjoy doing better where you need to do better and enjoy the areas where you do excel - but don't lose sight of the fact that to be human is to be flawed. I think, then, you'll have a pretty healthy self image.

Sounds like pretty sound advice to me, especially that first line (as a direct response to the OP's question).

I love how we all show up to this chat even though Carolyn's not here. Hardcore peanuts, I feel like you're my people.

Amen to that!

Maybe the OP meant the mentally unhealthy consistently overvalue themselves? And, personally, I think those who are depressed consistently undervalue themselves. I say that as a person who was depressed and lived with a narcissist.

This strikes me as closer to the truth, but I'm certainly still open to other interpretations, thoughts and experiences from other readers.

There are times Carolyn surprises even herself:

Reader: My husband of eight years recently decided that he shouldn't have to knock before entering the bathroom in our house. Consequently, he has barged in on me several times while I'm using the toilet. I am a private person, and I have asked him repeatedly to knock and wait for a response before coming in. He says I should lock the door if I don't want him to come in. I don't lock the door because we have a toddler who drifts in sometimes and gets quite upset when he can't come in, and also because I'm being stubborn and don't understand why my husband can't just knock. ... I suspect we're both being jerks about this, but I do think it's pretty screwed up that my husband thinks he can just barge into the bathroom whenever he feels like it. By the way, we have three bathrooms in our house, so he can always use a different bathroom. FWIW, this is not the first of his "Things shall now be THIS way" pronouncements that come out of the blue.


Carolyn: I can't believe I'm going to give this answer to a question about locking the bathroom door, but you two need marriage counseling.

And you need to lock the door. Your toddler will manage. Don't bring a magazine.

"I'm sorry, we don't feel up to traveling after the exhaustion of the holidays. Best wishes for your birthday, and we'll be thinking about you." Repeat as needed, as both Hax and the great Miss Manners prescribe. Is this woman more your friend than your husband's? That's the impression I get.

Now who's training to replace Hax? :)

Transcendental Meditation is a trademarked system and expensive. Other forms of meditation are not. One thing, though, if you live in "flyover country"-- not the hipster/urban parts, you may find it a lot harder to find free resources. A CD might help, but be careful---some people get worse when they meditate--the tendency to ruminate takes over.

Tendency to ruminate? Get out of my head!


But, seriously, more good advice/information.

Reader: An etiquette question. I went into use the facilities at the office, sat down, and noticed the smell was HORRIFIC! I was hoping the whole time nobody would walk in, thinking it was me. Sure enough, as I was washing my hands, someone walked in. I wanted to tell her "It wasn't me!" but I decided to just walk out, thinking she wasn't going to believe me anyway. What should I have done?


Carolyn: No doubt you've left a few special calling cards in your day. Did you hang around the wash basins with your hand up, saying, "Mine," until the air was clear? I think not. You left them for your stall successor to own by default. Write this one off as cosmic payback and forget about it.


It's not an etiquette question, it's philosophy.


Follow-up reader: And so what if she did think it was you? What's she going to do, have you fired? Tell everybody you stunk up the bathroom? She won't even remember tomorrow, so just forget it. (Plus, I guarantee you, she's stunk up a bathroom or two in her day. Everybody does.)


Carolyn:Dogs have the right idea. They seem genuinely startled, and then thrilled, by what they produce. Dogs and 6-year-old boys.

Everyone puts a foot in their mouth at one time or another (some of us even do it so often it's a surprise we're able to walk). Here's some solid advice on how to handle it next time (and the time after that, and the time after that...):

Reader: Hi Carolyn, We recently moved into our first home, and I was talking with our neighbors. They had purchased their house a bit earlier. Well, knowing that prices have dropped tremendously, I stupidly started rattling on how about we paid some extra because of the features that came with the house. Instead of immediately realizing my faux pas, I just kept blabbing, even sharing the price we paid. After the conversation, it finally dawned on me how ridiculous I'd been. I did a quick bit of research online and discovered that they had paid just a little bit less than us - and without most of our features. So, what should I do? Apologize for being an idiotic nitwit? Carry on as if I hadn't said anything silly? I know better than to mention my follow-up research but I don't want to think I'm always this rude. Thank you.


Carolyn: Generally I think that once you've put your foot in your mouth, it's best not to revisit the topic; self-conscious follow-ups so often lead to a bunch of new or repeated mistakes.


The exceptions are when the topic comes up naturally and you can drop in something quickly--"By the way, I'm so sorry I prattled on about house prices the other day, I totally forgot my manners"--or when the topic is a very big deal. E.g., "I can't believe I went on and on about Mother's Day when I know you just lost your mom, I'm so sorry for my thoughtlessness."


The not talking about house prices is a good idea at all times, by the way, not just when prices have suffered historic drops. Just as on airlines, people who paid next to nothing and people who got hosed can easily be next-door neighbors under any economic conditions.

Carolyn, We go through this every year at the holidays, because we're all concerned about my brother. He's nearing 30, lives at home, is broke, quit his job, and just generally can't figure things out. Whenever any of us try to "help" he gets really defensive. Every year around the holidays we all try to be positive and supportive that this is the year that he'll make a change, and then that change never comes. I've always felt that he was lazy and lacked discipline (hence living at home rent-free). He, and my parents, have alluded to the fact that it might be depression. But he's not in counseling, not taking any medications, and I think we all fear the worst but don't know what to do or how to help. I feel awful, angry, and helpless in this situation and know it is affecting my relationship with him and with my parents. I don't want to be negative or resentful, and could really use some advice on how to sort this all out.

Carolyn's obviously not here today, but does anyone else have any advice for this reader on how to keep a good relationship with her brother (and parents) but also get him the help it appears he needs?

Everyone gets old. How you deal with it (and how you make sure you're properly dealing with it) is what matters:

Reader:Maybe you are too young to understand this but what does one do when getting old? It seems I don't have the energy that I once had. My quality of life is going down. I need to find a better job but I am getting nowhere. I look at the future and it seems so bleak. There is nothing to hope for. There is nothing to look forward to. How do I cope with the next 20 years of misery?


Carolyn:Please get screened for depression. I do know what getting old feels like--if not to be old, then at least to be aging, since my arms aren't long enough for me to read fine print any more, my first few steps after getting up from a chair are mincing followed by limping before it turns into walking, and my metabolism disappeared one day without even leaving a note. But while my body is a disappointment, the future if anything looks more interesting than it ever has--and that's not because what faces me personally is exceptional. It's because the longer we occupy earth, the more knowledge we have about what it has to offer. A lot of it is painful, sure, but a lot of it is [stinkin] brilliant. You have this knowledge too.


It's hard to take advantage of what the world offers when you're under a cloud of hopelessness, one that's quite possibly a medical condition. So please address the hopelessness you're feeling as something not related to age (and therefore inevitable), but instead as an independent problem that needs your attention.

It isn't a cure-all, but here is my suggestion: think about what it is that attracts you to this person and try to find it somehow in your SO. For instance, while in a relationship I was suddenly finding myself attracted to older men. Close analysis of the situation led to the fact that I was unhappy with my SO's immaturity and instability. We had some conversations about this, he stepped up, and the attractions slowed dramatically.

Again with the "what works for one..." line here.

Thanks for taking my question. For what it's worth, I'm not asking for permission to cheat, nor will I do so. I am mostly struck by how sudden this has come on, with repeated, vivid dreams and severe attraction to this person. Our sex life is somewhat boring and infrequent, but the thing is, it's been that way the entire 4 years we've dated. So it's not a sudden change or drop off, it's the same it ever was. My crush is fit and good looking, but not typically my "type" and there are lots of great looking friends I haven't had these feelings for, so why now and why this person? Finally, I would certainly end the relationship before cheating. I would never hurt my SO like that.

Thanks for writing back. Sorry if my original response made it sound like you were asking for permission; I was just trying to tie a couple parts of today's chat together.

As for "why now" and "why repeatedly", maybe one of the Peanuts has a thought?

A young friend is lonely and thinks that a girlfriend will make him happy. Can you find one of her answers that clearly states that you first have to be happy with yourself before you can expect to have healthy relationships with others.

Quickly searching for "happy with yourself" or "love yourself" or "know yourself" doesn't seem to be returning anything, but I certainly remember the kind of answers you're talking about. Anyone else able to help out this reader?

Don't you hate it when people treat you like a child? Even if you are acting childish, you don't want your siblings constantly telling you that you need to be someone, even if you say it's in positive, encouraging terms. It's up to your parents to set rules about your brother staying with them, but at this point I think you know nothing anyone says will motivate him. You can't make him want to get better and I think you need to come to terms with that.

More advice from the straightforward crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The brother may well have depression or other mental issues. Carolyn suggests NAMI resources often. You can't fix your brother--what if he were an addict, a diabetic who wouldn't take care of himself--sometimes you just have to let go and let God. Get some help in dealing with your guilt, if you need it, but realize you can't "save" someone who doesn't want to be saved. The light bulb has to want to change, right?

More advice about OP's brother, and here's the NAMI info that Carolyn usually passes along: -- 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264)

Nope, depressed people are supposedly very accurate --although not fortune-tellers--they often don't see that things can get better--while mentally healthy people think overly highly of themselves--it's not a new concept, but there is a new book out about it.

The fortune tellers part makes sense. I would question the idea that overvaluing something makes you mentally healthy, but maybe I'm just getting that term mixed up with "correct" :)

A followup reader says, "She won't even remember tomorrow, so just forget it." But, in this office there is a woman - mid40s but acts like a Jr Hi Mean Girl, who announces that the Ladies' Room stank and X was walking out!

Double ick. Anyone have suggestions on how to handle this? My first thought is to give her a taste of her own medicine, but that's probably not a legit WWCD answer.

It started with a shopping trip with my MIL when I asked the salesgirl for size 8 pants and my MIL looked me up and down and said I was much to big for that size (and yes I do wear a size 8 and have for years) and ended with this same woman sexually propositioning one of our friends (our age, not hers) at the dinner table - telling him what she'd do to him if she was younger and didn't have a bad hip. And let's not forget where she refered to her son (my husband) as her husband. Talk about a case study for Freud. I don't drink, but I may start next year.

OK, this may be more of a Hootenanny story than a question that needs advice, but I thought you'd all get a kick out of it.

I have several friends who are similar. One of the simplest things to do is say "Thanks so much for your invitation, but this year we are going to do X for hubby's birthday. I look forward to getting together with you this spring!". This only works if you mean it (the looking forward to getting together) and if you put something concrete as your birthday plans, such as "we have tickets to X" or "we are going to spend it with our children". Something else to think about, she may be lonely and it may be that just really wants to have something to look forward to on her birthday. So if you don't want to spend the birthdays together, that is fine, but be sure to send her a card and follow up with a call.

Sounds like solid advice to both keep from having to go visit your friend and to keep on her good side.

First, thanks for taking the question about my mom. THe Peanuts have given me a lot to think about -- I appreciate the help! Second, for the person attracted to someone else "suddenly and repeatedly": Forgive my projecting, but this sounds familiar. In my case, it was during a time that my husband and I were not communicating much -- or, not effectively anyway. Is this new crush of yours someone who listens a lot, shows interest in you and what you're doing, etc.? For me, that kind of interest in *me* is a big turn-on from my husband. When I wasn't getting it, my mind wandered to the others who were providing it. Maybe a real, intellectual date-night with your SO is in order, with meaninful conversation and an effort (by both of you) really engage with one another on a topic other than the routine household/office/family/day-to-day.

Speaking for them, which I don't think they'll mind, we're happy to help!

It sounds like the Fairfax OP doesn't think she's no longer getting anything from her boyfriend that she used to get, but maybe nudging her about it again will spark something she's forgotten about.

I think that this calls for Carolyn's patented "wow" response. Seriously. Because... wow.

See, if I really was in training to replace Carolyn, I would have remembered this!

My favorite was the person who was genuinely nervous about telling her fiance that she played the tuba in high school. It was an especially hard chat and this question came up and was such a breathe of fresh air. And funny because everyone thought it was a joke.

Oh, how could I have forgotten this one?! Sorry for posting all the actual responses, but start here -- -- and look for "tuba" on the page, then go here -- -- for the OP's follow-up the next week.

Sometimes the best antidote to junior high is more junior high: "She who smelt it, dealt it." Accompany with a gnowing juvenile grin.

Now you're thinking like I'm thinking.

Cool stare at Mean Girl, followed by "why would you draw attention to that?" Followed by, if necessary, "I suppose you don't [poop]?"

As are you.

Few chat questions have stirred up the number of reader replies since I started producing Carolyn's chat a few months ago as this one about a lawyer driving on a suspended license. Let's just say Carolyn's opening suspicion was far off base (as was this associate, as far as the 'Nuts were concerned):

Reader: I've just learned that my fiance, a 28 year old up-and-coming associate at a major DC law firm, has been driving on a suspended license, which means, of course, that he also has no insurance. If he's stopped for any reason, or is involved in an accident, he could be arrested or jailed! I think that it could also get him fired. He says this is "no big deal;" all his violations were speeding tickets (no DUI's or other more serious offenses) and that this is a "rite of passage" for many men his age and younger. I am so horrified that I am thinking of ending the engagement. (Fortunately, the wedding is still over a year away.) While I don't plan to report him to the authorities, I also won't let him drive my car, nor will I be a passanger in his when he is driving. Am I "seriously overreacting," as he claims? I was completely stunned to learn this.


Carolyn:I suspect there will be a lot of disagreement on this, but I'm on the side of taking this very seriously. His casual disregard for the law, as well as his responsibility to other drivers, has me wondering what else he thinks he's too important/special to care about. If I were to pull together a list of things to watch for in people, it would include this entry: Trust humility; don't trust casual arrogance.

Um - you haven't said no yet. You just suggested another time and now haven't answered her letter about staying at a motel with 'I'm not into the idea'. Now you haven't e-mailed. You might think you're being clear, but say no. Take a leaf out out of Miss Manners 'So sorry, but getting together for The Birthdays won't work at all this year.' Do not explain, but repeat. If you actually want to see these people, suggest another time. Interestingly enough, Miss Manners recently addressed this issue.

And if Miss Manners says it, you should do it. Thanks for this!

there are, in fact, several reputable studies that show that those with depression are more accurate in their personal assessments.

I will take your word for it (not being glib, I swear).

This question about a vegan roommate with a proclivity for throwing away leftovers came close, though:

Reader: Hi Carolyn, I just got a vegan roommate. I have nothing against veganism, but it's almost impossible to meet all her standards of purification. She uses a separate set of dishes (her choice, and what I think she did in past living situations), but she complains about the smells of whatever I am eating. Many times in the past she has thrown away my leftovers just because she didn't want to look at them. This seems like such a petty reason to disrupt a living situation, but it's not working for me. (I lived in the apartment first and found her on Craigslist, not sure whether that entitles me to "evict" her, as it were.) Any suggestions I may still be able to try, or are we doomed to keep bickering over this till the lease expires?


Carolyn:When she throws away your leftovers, she owes you money, no? Try framing it that way when you talk to her: "I realize you and I have different beliefs about what is suitable to eat. But, when you throw food away that I bought and that I was intending to eat, you're essentially throwing my money away, and that's not just wrong--I also can't afford it. Since I'm sure you don't want to pay extra rent, I'm going to ask that you leave my food alone, and in return I will do my best to be courteous about the way I package it. Deal?"


Also, whether you're entitled to evict her is a matter of leases and agreements.

I suffer from depression myself, and it took me months to get myself into therapy because I get so easily overwhelmed and anxious. I ended up calling my EAP and having the representative there take care of it all because I could not face the stress of researching and calling around. Even though he's being defensive, he seems to recognize that he might be suffering from depression. Go to him and offer to help, but don't generalize - it's overwhelming when someone just says "How can I help?" Ask specifically if you can set up an appointment with his doctor or a therapist for him. If you or your parents are able and willing to chip in money to help pay for appointments and medications, make that clear. Just be careful about how you approach him. You say you've always felt that he was lazy and lacked discipline, and he's probably picked up on that. Give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute those flaws to the disease rather than the man. Maybe he really is terribly lazy and mooching off your parents, but he also might not be able to help himself. Approach him without judgement, as if you would if he had any other disease.

Glad to hear you ended up taking the steps necessary to help yourself out. Sounds like good advice for the OP, too.

Carolyn did not get to this in her last chat, and it is no longer imperative, but I'd appreciate the peanuts' input. I am one of 5 grown siblings with 9 children. I am single without children. Some in the family want to stop the practice of giving gifts to adults at Christmas. I am all for reducing holiday stress, but I do not like this idea because that would leave me buying for 9 kids and getting nothing (and my poor brother with 1 child buying for 8 kids). I do not like that and the message it sends to the kids. [I am very generous throughout the year with my nieces and nephews--presents, one-on-one outings, gifts from my travels, letters/postcards.] I would rather we keep gifts very modest (family picture, favorite recipe, paperback book) or go with one present for each sibling/their family. The idea of a lottery to pick one name has been rejected by one sibling. I feel like I am being pressured to go with the kids-only because some siblings cannot just go with modest presents and put pressure on themselves to get a 'big' or 'great' present for each family member. Do the peanuts have suggestions for how to resolve this?

Carolyn didn't get to it in the chat, but she did post it as a Hax Phile! Hopefully some of  the reader answers in there are helpful.

You mentioned that your sex life was boring and infrequent - maybe you're experiencing a high in body chemistry that's leading to increased libido. I've been married for 10 years and dated for 5 years before that and experienced these highs (and lows too). It often is related to some change I've made - diet, exercise, or change in exercise routine, job change or even just a change in routine. My husband goes with the flow. Honestly, the person you describe seems just close enough to be attractive and just far enough away to be abstract. Carolyn's advice (repeated several times with questions similar to yours) would be to pay more attention to their unattractive qualities.

More good advice.

Unfortunately, I have to end today's chat now and let everyone get back to their pre-holiday Friday afternoons. Thanks all for taking part in Carolyn's absence, and after flying solo on this one (even without trying to dispense real advice) let me never even begin to say that what she does here is easy. An early Happy New Year to you all, and see you back here in two weeks.

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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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