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

Apr 19, 2013

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, April 19, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

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

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Hi everybody. Glad to be here on this sad and strange day, in this sad and strange week.

Hi Carolyn Not a question, but a plea to chat participants. I am stuck inside for who knows how long while law enforcement conducts searches. Some might be hesitant to share their personal dilemmas during this stressful day. As a Boston area rep, I want to say: please share your personal problems. I want to read about the dolt you know you need to dump, your annoying coworker, or a family issue that makes your clan seem like embedded aliens. Help us out by reminding us that life, in all its annoying vagaries, goes on.

Well said. Sorry you're stuck but glad officials were able to get the public tucked away while they dealt with this. 

(I do live in Massachusetts now, but I'm not near the affected zone.)


I'm in the process of divorcing. The proceedings are taking much longer than we had originally expected... I have recently found someone new, and we have begun dating. I really wasn't expecting to date right off the bat, but I really am falling for this guy. The whole situation makes me nervous though - I'm worried that I'm simply attracted to him because of the timing, and that he's someone who's making me feel good during my time of need - so we've slowed down our relationship quite a bit. I haven't told my soon-to-be-ex husband that I'm dating someone, due to the fact that he's mentally unstable (that isn't just ex-wife talk - he has told me he's going to kill himself when/if I find someone new), and that dating could potentially make me look bad in the court's eyes. I don't like the sneaking around. I really do think I like this guy, but I want our relationship to be on firm foundation. He says he'll wait for me, but I'm scared this might be my only chance to be with him. Is it best for me to let him go, or is it ok for me to be with someone who makes me feel good during this time of crisis?

Trust him to wait for you. If this relationship is good for both of you, then pulling back will be best for both of you. Specifically, treat him as a friend and treat what you have as a friendship until all those things that are holding you back--each of which is significant--become a moot point. That list includes your rebound worries, your fear of complicating the divorce, your fear of your husband's volatility, and the sense that you both need to sneak and shouldn't be sneaking. Three of these are temporary, and the fourth--the volatility--will become something you can't center your life on and can't assume responsibility for, just as soon as the other three are resolved.

Hi Carolyn: About a year ago, my cousin asked if she and her husband and baby (who will be just over a year old) could stay in my home while visiting my city for an event. I don't get to see her as often as I'd like and was delighted to invite her to stay. However, my husband and I have recently found out that we're expecting ...and it's twins. We've informed our families, including my cousin, and everyone has been thrilled for us. The problem is that my cousin has said on several occations how excited she'll be to visit us. Carolyn, her visit is scheduled for 2 weeks before my due date, and of course with twins due dates are often much harder to predict. We only have one guest room (which I plan to offer to my mother) and one full-sized bathroom, and (whether I've delivered yet or not) I just don't think I'll be in any position to host any guests. I know I need to bite the bullet and tell her she can't stay, but I'm struggling with the words. I feel badly because I know her family has been looking forward to this event for some time and probably cannot afford a hotel for the stay. I keep telling myself that she'll eventually realize that the visit is at a bad time, but so far no dice. Any advice on how to broach this subject?

Can -you- afford a hotel for their stay?

Not that it's necessary, but it would be a generous way to get out of this jam.

Even if you can't offer her this out, I think you're treating this subject as way more sensitive than it is. Okay, your cousin is excited, but your circumstances have changed dramatically in ways that will affect Cousin's visit and that you could hardly have planned.

You call her, you say you understand she's looking forward to this visit, you say how excited you were for her visit, too, but you're thinking that one way or another your pregnancy is going to derail their plans to stay with you. Say you stand ready to work with them on a Plan B. Then see what she has to say. 

Hi Carolyn, I could use your advice on how to respond to my coworkers who often talk about their supposedly impoverished childhoods even though in less guarded moments they reveal things that make it clear they didn't really grow up poor. It's like some weird contest to see who was the poorest. None of them grew up in worse circumstances than I did and I wasn't poor. Usually I ignore them, but I get annoyed when I have to listen to "You wouldn't understand, Jane, because you didn't grow up poor like Mary and I did." How do I let them know that I know they're full of it?

Why do you need to? I get why you want to, but that alone isn't justification for getting involved. 

There's also the possibility that they were indeed worse off than you were and you're drawing incorrect conclusions from the parts that are "clear." (Not that this would justify their who's-the-poorest contest; just being thorough.)

These are sufficient arguments alone for not saying anything, but shoulder-devil has one, too: Watching people profess things you know aren't true, and also know they don't know you know aren't true, inspires some of us to make popcorn and grab a seat. 

Or you could interject that you had to walk to school uphill! both! ways!, and then leave. That's universal code, right?

Hi Carolyn, After years of infertility, I'm expecting my first child. When my husband and I told them, my parents were super excited (great, right?) but my mom immediately mentioned something about holding a shower in my hometown. Sigh. Why the sigh? Well, when my sister-in-law (from across the country) was pregnant, my mom threw her a baby shower in our hometown, too. I have always understood that an immediate family member should never do that, as it looks unseemly to invite people to come to a party and give your family gifts. The guests were all my mom's friends - none of them even knew my sister-in-law. When I mentioned this to my mom, she got some of her friends to "host" and put their names on the invitations, but in fact she was the real hostess behind the scenes. Which seemed even more icky to me. I mean, if these friends wanted to host a shower for my sister-in-law and brother, they would do it on their own accord, and not because my mom asked them, right? I do realize that my mom does this out of excitement and love. My question is, should I just resign myself to this breach of etiquette (does anyone care about etiquette any more but me?). Or should I express my discomfort at her plan to basically invite her (not my) friends to a party where they would then be obligated to give me gifts? I hate to get tangled up in this seemingly minor problem, but something about it just rubs me the wrong way. I'd rather not have a shower unless it's truly something someone else wants to do for me, and not because my mom asked them to do it. What's your take?

I agree with everything you say here, but you might be missing one possibility: If your mom has a regular crowd of friends, then it might be that they all do this for each other, and they'll all see this as your mom's "turn." Meaning, it's more about celebrating her milestone than it is yours. 

That could bring on another round of interpretation, from, "Ick, she's making this about her?" to, "Okay, that's sweet, I'd be happy to go wave the flag for her and her friends," to, "Come to think of it, these women all watched me/my brother grow up, so I love the continuity and I'd be honored to be there," but to keep it simple you might want to choose either the most positive spin or the one that best fits what you know about your mom. 

As for the etiquette breach, it's your mom who'd be putting her good name on the line and she doesn't seem to care--for what it's worth.

Congrats on the long-awaited pregnancy.

Make absolutely sure that, if your husband's threats were made over text message or email, that your attorney has a copy and you can get a restraining order if need be. I was a family law attorney for years and this sort of thing happens more often then I would like to admit. The more you can get written down of his mental state the better off you will be -- regardless of who you are or are not dating.

Excellent point, thank you. 

Maybe the whole family could chip in for a room for the cousin and her small family. Or does the poster have a friend who could let them stay in their home? It seems like a special enough situation that friends might be willing to help the poster by putting up the cousin, especially when many people want to help new parents, especially those having twins, but don't know how. Another idea is to have a friend's place or the hotel as a backup depending on the twins' ultimate arrival date. These are all assuming everyone in this situation is fairly sane, of course. If all else fails, I think the cousin would understand even if she's disappointed.

Good stuff, thanks. I like assuming sanity.

Hi Carolyn, I was thinking about what makes a successful marriage/relationship the other day and this came to me. When you think about all of your own flaws, you should be able to add onto the end of the (sometimes long) list "but he loves me anyway." And then, of course, it should work the other way, too: when you think of all of your partner's flaws you should be able to end with "but I love him anyway." Of course, If you stop being able to add that ending to the sentence, it may be time for some changes.

... or just some reflection on why you loved him or her anyway and why that changed. Sometimes drift can be caught and reversed with just a gentle nudge. Thanks.

Ooh--Nick just reminded me to post this. He will be at Awesom Con D.C. (link) this weekend at the Convention Center. 


My 13-year-old niece is in the process of interviewing family members about their religious beliefs for a school project. Niece wants to talk to me this weekend. I am an atheist. Niece's mom is uncomfortable with this fact. Is there anything in particular I should say to make clear that I respect the beliefs of others while not shying away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of ) beliefs?

"I respect the beliefs of others while not shying away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of ) beliefs." That is, if she asks you a question that warrants this answer. Otherwise, just answer her questions truthfully.

Why does this need to be spun? Any discomfort her mom feels is the mom's problem, and if the niece wants to talk to her about it or vice-versa, nothing's stopping them.

On my birthday, my girlfriend gave me a "birthday spanking", which would have been fine, except that it occurred in front of her kid. I was fully clothed, but it still seemed inappropriate. Should I tell her that I wasn't comfortable with that?

What does the context tell you? It's possible for the scene to have been over-sexualized, which would be a real problem. It's possible, too, that the scene was just playfulness between adults, which would be healthy; pretending you live a sexually sanitized world doesn't equip kids for real life. 

So, that's why the context is important. Is the kid often a witness to more adult things than (in your opinion) s/he should be, or is this the first time you've ever felt something was off?

The whole point of this exercise is to tell you not just whether to speak up, but what to say when you do. If you don't have a larger concern, either drop it or mention you felt a little awkward in front of the kid. If you do have grounds for more serious concern, then you need to trat it as much bigger than a swat on the butt. 

I'm writing about something that just happened yesterday. I'm still in the initial stages of processing it all, and am hoping that your insight will help me along. My boyfriend of over three years is a former smoker who until yesterday, would have the occasional cigarette but not smoke regularly. Then yesterday, he told me that he wants to do what he wants with regard to smoking, and plans to smoke as much as he wants moving forward, which seems to be about once an hour. I am highly averse to smoking (which he knows) both in finding the smell disgusting and for health reasons. I feel like he is being selfish and not only disregarding his own health, but also mine and that of the children we plan to have someday. He feels like smoking is a character trait and that if I cannot accept his constant smoking, then I don't really love or accept who he is. Am I being unreasonable? I certainly never would have started dating him if he was a smoker - I don't even want to be physically close after he smokes! - but now we are already in a committed relationship. How to move forward from this? Or not? Would your response be different if we were married?

Maybe marriage would change the stakes of my answer, but it wouldn't change the fact that if you don't want to be around a smoker, and if your boyfriend intends to smoke for the rest of his life, then you need to leave the relationship. Sad and maddening and a real waste, but at least he is being honest instead of making a string of promises to quit that he doesn't intend to keep.

BTW, I could argue that the relationship ended not with his decision to smoke, but with his declaration that "if I cannot accept his constant smoking, then I don't really love or accept who he is." I mean, can't you argue that if he can't accept your preference for clean air then he doesn't really love or accept who you are? People who take the argument down that road are betraying poor emotional health, and it's best to treat is as such, not as a legitimate point. I'm sorry.

Also, this could be your mother's "pay back" for all the wedding/baby/graduation/etc gifts she has given her friends' children over the years.

Yes, that's what I meant by its being her "turn," thanks. As long as they all look at it that way, it's not a shakedown so much as getting what is collectively seen as her due.

BTW, my intent in presenting this whole theory is more anthropological than anything. It's just something I've seen, and I don't mean to condemn or endorse it.


"Dating while divorcing" should consider contacting the National DV Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 to talk about safety planning. Ex-husband's threats to kill himself (especially as a way to control her behavior) are a serious risk factor in intimate partner homicide. (It can sadly be detrimental for victims to bring up intimate partner violence during divorce proceedings, but she should at least be aware that she's looking at some risk factors and investigate whether there are other risk factors present she should be concerned about.)

Another good suggestion, thanks.

I've heard that other parents have kids who think the opposite sex is gross until they're pre-teens, and I am jealous. My beautiful 7 year old daughter had her first "boyfriend" in preschool. Her best friend's mom was always joking around about how cute this boy or that boy is so that's my best guess for where she got the idea. Now I find out she gave notes to her latest "boyfriend" in school saying that she can't wait to get married and have his babies. I know she doesn't understand what she's saying, but I still think it should be addressed now. We've talked previously about focusing on just having friends now, and leaving boyfriends for when she's older, and how being in love is special and for when you're older. How much stuck, I don't know. Any advice from you or the peanuts on how to handle this? I don't think I'm doing it well.

Eh, you're probably doing just fine, as long as you aren't harping on it as something you need to fix NOW (or at all) and aren't pointing and screaming at the best friend's mom like it's a scene from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Keep an eye on any boy-craziness, sure, and even talk about it with someone you trust at her school to help you figure out when to be concerned and when not to, but otherwise it's okay to treat it as a phase. I'm answering not from expertise in child development (thus the due diligence advice of talking to someone who has it) but from experience. I watched kindies/1st graders go through a phase of marrying each other off, and it went away as quickly as it came on. My boys also (fwiw) never stopped being friends with girls, even in the peak opposite-sex-is-gross years. 

I got married five months ago. People often ask if I'm happy with married life or if it has surprised me. I know they're just making conversation, but my honest answer would be that it's been completely anticlimactic. Nothing changed since before we were married. I've given this answer once or twice with a smile and finished it off with "...exactly what I was hoping for", but people still seem a bit uncomfortable and as if I've answered in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Is there an implication here that I should be aware of (all I can think is that it suggests we lived together before marriage - gasp!)? Should I just say something empty and get back to work (my answer took maybe 35 seconds). I'm not a romatic and I didn't buy into the whole bride thing. Is this one of those times where I fake it?

How about, "I am happy/I'm not surprised, that's why I married him." It's the same answer, just a bit sunnier than "anticlimactic," and it has the most polite little touch of , "... but thanks for the stupid* question," which we all know it is, despite coming from a good place in most people. It also, if anyone's reading hard between the lines, a great way to make the point that you married because you were happy, not that you're happy because you married, a fine point that migh appeal to the non-romantic in you.


*Stupid because it puts people on the spot: If you're happy you sound like you're deflecting, especially if you're forcing cheer through annoyance at the question, and if you're unhappy, is that what you really want to say to someone who's just trying to make conversation?

Three good responses to boy-crazy 7-year-old coming:  

I had crushes on boys starting in second grade and that didn't hold me back in the (very) late bloomer department. In my experience, there is a big gap between having a crush on someone and actually acting on it. I would say keep doing what you're doing, gently.

LOL! I "married" my boyfriend in 2nd grade -- he even carried me across the classroom threshhold ! Caught up with him on FaceBook a year or so ago (some 45 years later) --- and we had a good laugh that he is a bigamist now since he eventually married someone else.

I don't recall a time when I wasn't "boy crazy," and around the age of the OP's daughter, I took the bull by the horns and my (4 years older) cousin. Thankfully it's just a fond family story now, and when I got married last year, cousin and his wife were there to witness the blessed event. OP, your daughter sounds absolutely delightful. While you're understandably cautious, please don't worry too much.

Seconding the last sentence, thanks.

As a reformed smoker married to a recently relapsed smoker (sigh) it strikes me that your boyfriend's smoking didn't really start overnight.. I know all too well how the "occasional" cigarette quickly leads to the daily and then hourly cigarette... it is a slippery slope. But the way in which he confessed -- dukes up -- suggests to me that maybe he's not as comfortable with his relapse or with himself as a smoker as he wants you to think. I love my husband dearly, and hate the smoking with a passion, especially since we do have kids. But suddenly proclaiming that he's going to smoke until the day he dies would seem like less an ultimatum to me than a cry for help. Talk to him about setting a firm quit day and trying methods he hasn't tried before before you give up.

Fair nuff, thanks.

"Well no, if who you really are is someone who wishes to smoke, I don't love that piece of you, and I'm not willing to live with it." Part of not being guilted by this kind of line is admitting it to YOURSELF. He's right. You don't love and accept him IF that is who he is. It's okay not to, especially when it impacts your day to day life.

There's that, too, thanks. Those guilt goggles really make it hard to see straight. 

I must say I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one in the middle of a who had it worse competition. It is annoying, and I did go the route of just letting them go and make fools of themselves. But if you take Carolyn's advice, do be careful of things you mention from your own childhood.I recently involved myself in it without realizing. I just mentioned that I would love for my daughter to have horse back riding lessons as I did as a child (to one co-worker in a relevant discussion of children's activities) and now I am the Queen of Sheba. I get comments about my charmed upbringing and how wonderful it must have been and they all act like I'm loaded now. Why is this a contest, I really don't get it? And I can't tell if I'm the winner or the loser.

You had a pony. That makes you the winner of all things to every 6-year-old on earth and/or in your office. 

I'm hoping you can help. A friend and I were discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of apologizing to someone for long-ago wrongs--namely SOs. I argue it's a bad idea. If I got an apology from a certain jerky ex, I'd think it was pretty arrogant of him to think I'm still thinking about him and he only wants his conscience absolved -- both of which aren't about me. You shouldn't do that to someone else and your guilt IS your punishment to carry. My friend argues that not everyone would respond that way. Some might be happy or feel more closure. It's good to hear it and it might not always be a wound that reopens. I don't know. It depends on the person, but if my ex did that, I'd probably respond with, " just miss the cooking, sex, and a date to parties. If you appreciated ME you wouldn't have left." My friend says she'd be thrilled if her crappy ex did that. Thoughts?

How does this--" just miss the cooking, sex, and a date to parties. If you appreciated ME you wouldn't have left"--have anything to do with an apology? I can see thinking (but not responding) that way if he tried to reconcile with you, but just apologizing is something different. That's either about conscience clearing, as you say, or about assuring people that they weren't rubes or undesirable or at fault in any way.

The latter can really be liberating for people. When people are jerks, the victims so often go into a spiral of, "Am I an idiot?" "Do I smell?"-type questions. A sincere apology from the jerk can put all of those to rest.

So, of course, can time and experience, so to me the biggest risk of an apology for long-ago wrongdoing is redundancy. A lot of people don't need apologies for things they got over or forgot about years ago. 

And, yes, being treated as if you do need such reassurance can feel a bit as if you're being patronized, and the reflex you describe is pretty common: "What, you think I still think of you? How arrogant."

But wouldn't world peace, or grace, or decency, whatever other good cause, be better served if you just said, "I'm fine, but I appreciate the gesture"? 

For those considering making such an apology, all i can advise is to weigh the potential costs and benefits. Many people do urgently want to be left alone, and some too want to hear that they weren't wrong or stupid or unworthy of love, so there's no sure way to get it right.

Dear Carolyn, Last night, I sent a friend of mine (10+ years) an email with our usual fare of inside jokes and some irreverent comments that only good friends would share, including stuff about our husbands and other friends. She texted me this morning saying "Sometimes [Husband] reads my email, so be careful with the husband jokes." Should I be concerned? It's unclear whether she means that he occasionally peeks at it over her shoulder, or whether he's monitoring every word, but either way that feels like an enormous invasion of privacy--hers and mine. I would never dream of reading my husband's email or vice versa. What are your thoughts?

Talk to her about it, when you are face-to-face. Don't put her on the defensive, just say you're not sure what she meant by her text, and then leave enough room for her to answer.

Dear Carolyn, My boyfriend and I just moved in to a new place together and would like to throw a housewarming party to celebrate. We are planning to invite pretty much everyone we know, open-house style, including his parents, who have been nothing but delightful toward me our entire relationship. The question is whether to invite my parents, who vehemently opposite cohabitation before marriage and have lectured me endlessly on what a mistake I'm making. They're still my parents, and I would feel weird not inviting them, but it feels a little fake to invite them, at the same time. Care to be the final arbiter?

Invite them and let them sort it out. It's so much easier--and more appropriate--than making decisions for them. "I expect you won't come and I'll understand why, but I hope you do come."

Dear Carolyn, My mother placed a child for adoption in the mid-1960's when she got pregnant still in high school. She was one of the "girls who went away visiting an Aunt" and returned to school the following year. After high school, she went onto college and eventually became a teacher, married my father, and had 3 kids. When we were out of the house, she told us all about our half sibling and explained why she placed her for adoption and how closed adoptions work. Last week, my adopted sister contacted my mother, who said she was willing to meet my sister and answer any questions she may have. At that meeting, my sister said she really wanted to meet the rest of us. Carolyn, I understand how she may need this moment. If I was in her place, I would probably want the same thing. But my siblings and I are not sure how to approach this situation, my oldest brother in particular is convinced that her expectations are bound to be so high that nothing we do will be right. I can see where he is coming from, but I don't want to deny her meeting us. How do I approach this meeting?

"... her expectations are bound to be so high that nothing we do will be right."

That's possible, sure, but that's no reason not to try. To ease some of your concerns and to anticipate some of your half-sib's, consider talking to someone who regularly works with families in your situation, like a social worker. A local adoption agency would have resources like this handy.

Hi Carolyn, I live in a suburb of a large Metro area with good public schools. About 2 years ago a mega church moved a satellite branch into our area. We are lapsed Catholics, mostly providing our kids with enough Catholic education to give them a foundation and encouraging them to examine religious ideas and come up with their own beliefs. However, the daughter of the pastor of the mega church has started numerous prayer groups (before school, in accordance with policy) and a lot of students at my daughters high school are attending the church and talking about it at school. My daughter has a few close friends, but is not part of this clique. However, after the Boston Marathon bombings, this girl has starting ramping up her prayer group to include homeroom, as well as discussing group prayer in conjunction with current events. My daughter told her yesterday that prayer was personal, and she doesn't want to hear about it in school. The girl told my daughter that her church will "offer up a prayer for her soul." Last night, the preacher called us to tell us she was "concerned our daughter doesn't care about the victims." My daughter is not in school today, as we are giving this situation some breathing room. Of course my daughter cares about the victims of this terrible event and she has been following the events as they unfold with the rest of us. But I feel like this situation is a mix between Mean Girls and Jesus Camp -- and then end result will not be good for anybody. In light of the recent horrific events in Boston, how do I guide my daughter to handle this girl? How do I handle her parents?

Daughter lives life on her path and accepts that that will mean incidental contact with this girl (which isn't worth going out of her way to avoid); and you skip handling the parents and go straight to the school. The principal needs to step in to make sure the prayer group stays where it belongs, before school. 

" just miss the cooking, sex, and a date to parties. If you appreciated ME you wouldn't have left." This actually makes her sound like she has been thinking about it and isn't over the ex. Which it sounds like is not what she wants to project. A simple thanks, I accept your apology or no response at all is the way to go.

Exactly, yes, thanks. Fresh-sounding anger is a dead giveaway. Other responses:

Probably worth pointing out that even apologizing can still pick at a scab. Even a pretty well healed one. Even one the recipient of the apology thought they were over long ago. I feel like people get to understand whatever jerkiness wasn't about them in time anyway, and if they haven't gotten to that point, an apology will only further aggravate things. I got the most tied up *this is not remotely about you* resolution I could have ever imagined, and a recent apology reimergence just kicked up dust that I still need to deal with for myself, but I would have much preferred dealing with on my own timeline.

Yes, I'd like an apology from my ex. Maybe I shouldn't care anymore but I would like to know that he finally "gets it."

If a person I apologized to sent me back that answer, I'd see that they were clearly not over it. And if she is over it, wouldn't it be in her best interest to allow the other person to move on by accepting the apology? I have a hard time believing that the offended party would respond with a, "No, you're going to get to carry that guilt forever". If she did, then I would think it wasn't ever my fault to begin with.

If my violent, mean and manipulative ex did send an apology my way, yes, it would give me closure. That, and the hope that there may be one more reformed creep out there.

Thanks everybody.

My brother, sister and I are all in our 40s. When I was a teen and started dating, my mother became absolutely irrational, hated my boyfriend passionately, and a household war ensued for the next two years until I moved across the country minutes after I turned 18. My brother was late to date - post college - but he endured a similar if less extreme version of the same thing. He was living at my parents, and my mother wouldn't talk to him for days if he spent the night at his girlfriend's place. She's now his wife, and all that has been forgotten. My sister was also late to date, went through something similar with her first boyfriend. That relationship lasted 20 years, and Mom eventually came around; but when they broke up she went back to maintaining that she was right all along. Now, a few years later, sister is dating again. He seems like a nice guy, but they broke up once over some serious lies on his part, about previous marriages, and employment or the lack thereof. Now, months later, they've reconciled, and he is temporarily living with her while he looks for a job. I might not be optimistic about this relationship, but my thinking is that even if it's a mistake, it's hers to make. Nothing in what we know about him suggests anything illegal or abusive, so I'm friendly with him because he is my sister's boyfriend. The problem, of course, is Mom. She despises him and has basically decided he's an evil man. She will not be in his airspace, will not even let my sister mention him in conversation. I've told her I think she's being both unfair and counterproductive, as has my brother, but she only digs in deeper. Both mother and sister have expressed a similar sentiment: "If she wants to cut me out of her life over this, so be it." The question: What do I do about Mother's Day? Usually we all come to my place, about an hour from the rest of the family but big enough to host everyone, and for work-related reasons, I need to be at home on that particular day. I don't want to leave my mother alone on Mother's Day, but I don't want to exclude my sister from the gathering, and she will bring the boyfriend unless I specifically say don't - and then I doubt she'll come at all. If Boyfriend is there my mother is not at all above incivility. What to do? Online only, pls.

This is turning into a theme chat.

It is not your job to insulate your mother from the consequences of her choices. If she objected to just this boyfriend, and if it were based how he acted vs. how he was born, then I could see trying to strike some sort of balance, if possible, out of respect both for her and for the source of such exceptional discomfort.

But since freaking out over her children's partners is apparently her thing, it's important that you not allow it to drive your decisions. Invite everyone. Tell everyone you are doing just that. If everyone comes and your mom resorts to uncivil behavior, then you step in and insist that all guests in your home be treated civilly. If she refuses, then you need to ask her to leave. 

That bit of fun-fun-fun is Plan A. Plan B is to talk to your sister and ask how she'd prefer Mother's Day to go. Let her know you're willing to use Plan A but only if that's what she wants.  Who knows, maybe she has zero interest in "the usual" this year and will take herself out of it. 

There's more going on here with the mega church than just making sure the principal keeps prayer group in the mornings. This is a none-too-subtle form of bullying -- all in the name of what's good, of course. I'd also have a chat with the principal about its anti-bullying policies and reining those girls in.

True, thanks. Even if the daughter is well equipped to handle it herself, that doesn't mean everyone is. 

Hi Carolyn. I am on extended bed rest, which has really placed a lot of domestic burdens on my spouse. My in-laws are local and want to see us ALL the time. The thing is, they offer to visit (or invite us over, which I can't do) and chat and have a meal together: it's a half-day of entertaining and neither my spouse nor I have the energy. What would be wonderful and welcome would be for them to come do a load of dishes or laundry, visit with us while it runs, and then go. I have no idea how to ask them to do this, and my spouse isn't comfortable with it either. Any ideas? We certainly can get by without their help, but we can't do so while visiting with them all the time.

You are on bed rest, and you have a spouse presumably in good health, and the problem stems from your spouse's parents, which means your spouse needs to be the one to stand up for your health and your needs. Sure, it's not a "comfortable" situation to be in, but who ever promised us comfort? 

Your spouse needs to explain to your in-laws that, as much as you enjoy their company, the two of you are not in a position right now to host these long visits, though if they'd like to come over for just an hour at a time, and/or to help out with dishes or laundry, that would be met with eternal gratitude.

When people learn to express their needs and preferences clearly, things get easier for everybody. 

Carolyn, I'm in a relationship that might need to end. We dated for 2.5 years, broke up for about a year, and have been back together now for 3.5 years. She's awesome, but I can't seem to pull the trigger on committing to her for various reasons. One complication is that we are in a long-distance relationship, so we only see each other on weekends. After 7 years, I feel a breakup over the phone won't do. In fact, I feel I need to drive to her place in order to break up with her (we try to alternate weekends). We also have made plans through the beginning of summer, and she has different things going on on weekends that I wouldn't want to spoil by breaking up. How do people time breakups to be most sensitive?

The ideal timing is the overlap among these elements: when you're sure, when you can get there, and when you won't be wreaking havoc on something important (e.g., the day before a major test or project deadline is a bad idea, but that doesn't mean you have to tiptoe around every entry on her calendar). 

That's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week. Bostonian friends, hope you're out and about soon. 

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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 New England with her husband and their three boys.

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