Outrageous Behavior Day, a chat baby and other breaking (up) news. Carolyn Hax Live: Friday, June 21

Jun 21, 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, June 21, 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 tellme@washpost.com.

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. I think I've mentioned problems I've been having with my laptop lately; since I'm still working on a solution, I'm using a temp today, one that's unfamiliar to me, so please pardon any bumps and bruises as I figure this one out.

I'm today's LW. I should say we have openly and honestly discussed our wedding issues and he is willing to put aside his distaste for a wedding ceremony if its really that important to me, he doesn't care if my reasons for it being important are rational or not. And he's been completely honest with me about his issues. We haven't made a decision yet, but I did want to update and answer the main question of openness you voiced in your response. Also, I should mention, BF and I have gotten along for 10 years (we were friends first).

Well that's good news, thanks. You sound like candidates for a really pretty, intimate, simple ceremony and reception. Good luck. 

Hi Carolyn! Hoping you can shed some light on a growing annoyance in my marriage, which I fear may be unreasonable on my part. So my husband was a little overweight (carrying an extra 20 lbs or so) and went on a diet about six months ago, near the end of my second pregnancy. I have never cared about his weight, but it bothered him a lot and I do care about his good health, so I tried to support him when he began a 7 days a week, 90 minutes a day exercise program. Now we have a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old and he has started going to the gym twice a day. On the one hand, he's lost all the extra weight and I know he is using exercise to combat depression, which he has particularly struggled with since the birth of our second child. On the other hand, I really resent the free pass he gets to walk away for three hours of the day. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and he doesn't give me three hours away from both kids in a WEEK, let alone a day. I hate the extra laundry this generates. I hate that his libido is now through the roof right when mine has taken a post-baby nose dive. I hate the feeling that he is quietly judging me for not being "fit" enough, despite the fact that I am borderline underweight. (That is not my imagination. He made a comment to my sister about how I wasn't even *trying* to lose baby weight). I am at the point where I grit my teeth every time he announces he's going to the gym. Am I being selfish about this? Overblowing things? I feel like we need help, but he refuses to see a marital counselor.

Ugh. There are about 6 layers of problems here, most of them neatly represented by the trio of his criticizing your baby weight(!), that "doesn't give me" hours away BS and refusing marriage counseling, but you've got these little ones crawling around and you've got to start somewhere.

I suggest you exploit the gaping contradiction in his choices right now: Say you'd really like to work out twice a day, too, to lose the baby weight--times during which he will care for the children, right? If/when he says no, then you have an opening to discuss the distribution of freedom and labor in your household, as well as the unrealistic expectation that you both carry the full child-care load and be fit and rested for him. 

If/when he stonewalls you, then I suggest you go see a marriage counselor without him, with the goal of either learning strategies for talking to him or encouraging him to join you. 



My family is vacationing later this summer with my husbands brother's family and his parents. It's their 40th anniversary and they're taking us for a week to Boston and Cape Cod. My brother-in-laws 4-year-old daughter gets hysterical when they travel if they do any sightseeing, so they've agreed to come only if they can stay in the hotel the entire time. Her main activity is to swim at the indoor swimming pool, she won't use the outdoor one. They've also told us that they expect us to keep our kids at the hotel and not leave for any activities outside of the hotel - they don't think it's fair to their daughter. We have all kinds of things scheduled for my 8 and 12-year-old to do (all of the historical stuff in Boston, whale watching on the Cape, beach, etc.) I told them there's no way we're spending our entire vacation at the hotel and they told me that was unacceptable. My in-laws are furious at them and we seem to be at an impasse. Is there any way to salvage this vacation?

Not really. It may be "unacceptable," but what are they going to do, duct tape you in your hotel room? All you can do is open your activities to all, warmly; say, "Sorry you won't be joining us!" as you carry on without those who choose not to go along; and leave the ensuing hissy fit in your rear-view mirror. 

I hope they're getting some help, these parents, but I know that's a mightly long shot.

I'll try to keep this short. My MIL is an alcoholic. A couple of years ago, she drove drunk with SIL's kids, and SIL cut off all of her contact with them. Since then, she got two DUIs and lost her license (but still has a car). To her credit, she has made -some- inroads to getting sober. I am pregnant with our first. Another sibling has been pressuring my husband to let MIL watch our kid on occasion, unsupervised. Husband is caving, despite knowing of my concerns, saying "well as long as she doesn't drive kid, and stays sober." I am completely not okay with this. What do I do? FWIW, SIL gets no pressure to re-establish contact...

You put your foot down. You say absolutely not. You say this is your child and his, not his sibling's. You say you will physically stand in the way of his mother's caring for the child unsupervised. The whole Mama/Papa Bear image is overused, and raising kids is normally a lot more routine than such overuse suggests, but there are in fact times you have to get up on your hind legs and roar. This is one of them. Welcome to the den.

Hi, Carolyn, I'm looking for some advice on how to respond to my sister's five-year-old daughter's obsession with being pretty. She refuses to wear anything other than dresses (a skirt and top are not the same and are not pretty enough), her hair must be combed and adorned with clips or ribbons and she must wear several pieces of jewelry - at all times. She will sob hysterically if any of the above is not perfect in her eyes. I realize this may sound overly dramatic but I've seen it happen and her reaction floored me. She was inconsolable for several minutes and finally ended up pulling a dress from the dirty clothes hamper because nothing else was available. And this was to go to the park on a weekend to play. I know she's getting these ideas from her father's mother and sister - they are both very much like this and are constantly buying her clothes and jewelry and praising her looks. I understand there are two drastically different family dynamics going on here that are part of the problem - my sister and her husband seem to be on opposite sides most of the time which is hard for me to watch. My concern is for my niece and her well-being, especially as she gets older. What can I say to a five year old whose only question when I see her is "do I look pretty?" I want her to understand beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body.

That's a bummer. But, too, there's some mitigating stuff to consider--for example, it's not unusual for kids that age to put on three outfits in one day to get it just right, even without the warping influence of ancestral beauty queens. This is a big moment for self-awareness, and clothes are the most accessible medium. Also, while the princess brigade can expect a low barrier to entry into the imagination of the smallest children, over time her mother will be a much more present and powerful influence.

Instead of grabbing a handful of taffeta and joining the tug-of-war, please just be a loving, grounded, inner-focused presence in this child's life.  Do activities with her that require her to think, be resourceful, be creative, etc. A quick primer for an approach to use is the chapter in "Nurture Shock" that discusses Carol Dweck's research--or, longer form, read Dweck's book, "Mindset."

I know this is last minute but I need to make decision by 5 pm today and I could really use some help. My family has been planning a vacation for over a year. My adult siblings both live on different continents, so this is a HUGE deal for my family (mom especially), having us all together for a week. However. My husband has just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This week, he hit an all-time low both physically and mentally. Without going into details I am terrified of what will happen if I leave him alone for a week (he refuses to go on the vacation, saying he's too far behind at work). But if I don't go, my parents (while being understanding) will be crushed. HELP.

What is he saying--is he urging you to go or begging you to stay? Or is he hinting but not committing? And, what are you "terrified" he'll do--get sicker, hurt himself. etc.? How much of that terror is founded and how much is the product of a runaway imagination? Are you susceptible to the latter, or are you usually slow to declare an emergency? Is he one typically to be brave and this "all-time low" is a marked exception, or is he a tugger of people's strings or seeker of attention? 

Lots of variables here. I'd say off the cuff that your duty is of course to your ailing spouse, but that's only if it's really a matter of his coming to harm if you go or his asking you to stick by him where he'd normally be the first to urge you to go ... and that's where the variables come in. 

Dear Carolyn: My friend "Emily" dated "Andy" a few years ago. They broke up spectacularly. Emily has always said that Andy was the most controlling and insecure boyfriend she has ever had, which always surprised me because that does not come across at all when I interact with him. Andy and I have gotten close over the years and have recently been on a few dates. I think there's something percolating here (Emily has totally moved on and is fine with it), but it really bugs me that I feel like I'm waiting for these negative traits, controllingness and insecurity, to suddenly appear. Is this something I should talk to him about, or do I just discount Emily's opinion until given a reason to do otherwise?

Seems to me there's a lot Emily can say that will be useful to you. For example, did she see these traits in Andy early, or did they blindside her as things got serious? Were there signs she didn't recognize at the time but that his later behavior explained? Were there specific triggers (that might help you divine whether their problems were a mismatch issue vs. an Andy-is-bad issue)? 

I realize some people might be uncomfortable with this level of kiss-and-tell recon, but "controlling and insecure" are serious stuff. Yes, you have your eyes open, and that's good when you're in potentially hazardous territory, but borrowing a map would just be smart. 

Regardless, I do think this is something you can talk to Andy about, but I don't think it's right to say, "Emily told me this and I'm wondering if it's true"--mostly because that doesn't strike me as the most productive path; it could make Andy both defensive and unwilling to plumb his own opinions in a useful way. Better to talk about life, love and hypotheticals, and see who both of you reveal yourselves to be.

Hi Carolyn, I love your chats. They've been immensely helpful to me in the past. My housemate and dear friend just got very bad news about his mother--cancer returning, this time advanced. I've been following his lead in terms of bringing it up, etc. My question to you is, what tips do you have for helping someone through a very difficult time? What works? What, in your own experience, was most helpful? I don't want to ignore it, make it dominate our conversation, and alternately don't want to treat him like he's fragile or make "sympathy face" all the time. Any thoughts?

What a good friend your housemate has.

Since you're right there, you can be really helpful by just absorbing some of the little day-to-day hassles we all have. Assume some of his chores, grocery shop for two vs one, add an errand of his to your list when you can. 

You can also make distractions available, since those can be just as useful as a sympathetic ear, depending on his need at the moment. Get used to the phrasing, "I'm going to _____; want to come along/can I get you anything?" Mix it up, too--a movie, a bike ride or walk, an errand.

My own experience, at least, was that sometimes I needed to get dressed and go out, and sometimes I needed to go fetal and let calls go to voice mail, and the people toward whom I feel the most gratitude are the ones who offered what they could and didn't take "no" personally. I had two friends who called almost weekly who had never called that much before and who have all but stopped calling since. I will never forget them--they just got it, that "normal" was off the table.

In addition to Carolyn's spot-on advice, it couldn't hurt to go with your husband to Al-Anon meetings. If he's even considering caving, he needs a cold dose of the reality of his mother's illness. Because no *bleeping* way should his mom be with your child unsupervised. Full stop.

Completely apt suggestion, thanks. 

I'm agog.

Anyone out there gobsmacked? Feelin' match-makey.

He's a big boy; he can manage this.

Yes, of course, thanks. 

Surely, I am not the only one who noticed that theGym Rat's behavior is failry consistent with someone who is, or wants to be, cheating...the sudden desire to lose weight, the above-average participation in gym activities, the denigration of the current partner's physical state, even the increased libido (especially if an affair is "on the table" but not yet consummated).

Certainly has the hallmarks, though it could all be just endorphins with no specific plans.

If he is cheating, and if he's as self-absorbed and dismissive of her as her description of the situation suggests, then arguably he'd be doing her a favor. I realize how cold that sounds, but someone who puts his best self into himself vs his wife and kids is a Band-aid waiting to be ripped.

...or take kids to child care at the gym and be the parent on call if needed. Working out and taking care of kids don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Another good idea for the surface problem, thanks. Maybe enough of these will put a dent in the underlying one.

Go on the trip! Have a friend/family member keep tabs on hubby and maybe even have your friends bring some meals to the house to check him. Or, shorten the trip, but at least go for three nights to spend time with your siblings and parents. I think you are probably feeling guilty about leaving him in less than optimum condition and over-thinking this one.

Again, depends on the variables, but if there's room for compromise, then this is a good one, thx.

Carolyn, My sister just turned 21 and has just started dating a 30-year-old. I think the relationship is inapropriate given the age difference, but when I bring it up with her, she becomes defensive and the conversation almost always ends with one of us hanging up on the other. To add a little context, she met this man at college. They are both undergraduates, but he has preiviously been in the military and is getting his degree at an older age. Am I right to be suspicious of an older gentleman's intentions, or am I overreacting? How can I approach this productively with my sister?

1. Overreacting; 2. Bite your tongue. She's 21. Stop hovering, stop thinking you can or should cushion her world for her, and go to the window to say hello to 2013. "An older gentleman's intentions"? Click.   

Recently my husband and I (and two young kids) settled about equal distance from our parents, about two hours away in different directions. Our parents have very different attitudes toward our visits. His parents say, oh we'll get all this baby stuff for our house to make it easy for you to visit! My parents say, why should we get stuff for our house when you're not here very often? Not that I expect either set to go out of the way for us, we are perfectly capable of traveling with what we need. But the attitude goes on to the visits themselves - his parents have kid-friendly food, wake up early to play with the kids, etc., while mine sleep in late (so we feel we have to keep quiet), don't buy anything extra, don't do much playing. They are very different people, I get it, and honestly I have a fine, but distant relationship with my parents while my husband is very close with his. My mom definitely notices the difference in how much time we spend with my in-laws, and I'm not sure what to say to her. I enjoy my in-laws and spending time with them a lot more than with my parents, and so do my kids. We do split our time at holidays and major events as equally as possible. Any advice on how to handle my mom's increasing hostility over this?

"Mom, I love you and I would love for you to be closer to the kids, but I'm asking you not to see this as a competition. The in-laws' home is very young-kid friendly, and yours is not. I understand and respect your choice, and expect we'll correct any visiting imbalances as the kids get older and more in your comfort zone--I'm taking the long view here."

Then: "If you're not okay with that, then I'm happy to talk about ways we can start shifting it now." Mention equipment, kid food, early wakeups, willingness to play. She says, "Why equip the house if you don't come," you say, "we'll come if you equip the house." Establish cause and effect, and repeat as needed--it's not personal, it's merely logistics. (The only catch--you do need to visit more if she agrees to these changes.)

If she balks at the changes, then suggest working on the imbalance with having them visit you more--an imperfect solution but one that at least handles the setting.

We have had houseguests for a week. They are (thankfully) leaving today. It's my husband's friend and his wife. They wanted to visit the major US city we live in. I expected our place to be a crash pad, and that we would hang out in limited amounts. But instead they have wanted to hang out almost every evening after work. I have bowed out approximately half the time and let my husband deal with them on his own. I don't really click with the wife, and have been actively avoiding being stuck one-on-one with her. The two of them don't get along, and towards the end of the visit they have been arguing with each other pretty badly. I feel like I did my part by agreeing to let these nearly strangers stay in my guest room. I was not interested in playing tour guide or entertaining them for more than one or two evenings. I thought we made it clear when they planned their trip that we would be busy with work during the week and would have limited time to hang out with them. I think that the husband has been leaning on us because he really hates spending time alone with his wife, but frankly I don't view that as my problem. I am struggling with my resentment and irritability towards them. My husband is more generous and sympathetic, especially since his friend is stuck in a terrible marriage. How would you parse this? Is my perspective reasonable or am I being a (w)itch?

I've found that it's almost impossible for people who are not in this moment with you to judge how nuts you can feel in this moment. Nothing brings out the crazy quite like having someone up in your grill too long, especially under circumstances where you need to be sociable--just ask your houseguests.

If you don't feel any sympathy for the husband, then maybe you can feel sympathy for your husband, who just cares about his friend. That bit of conscious warmth plus relief at getting your house back might be all you need to keep you from turning your resentment on your marriage, which I'm sure you know doesn't deserve it.

Given your irritability, btw, bowing out for half the festivities was the right call.

My brother and sister-in-law are fostering their first foster baby with the hopes of adopting. I volunteer as a child advocate for kids in foster care and know how the system works and the chances of them adopting this baby are slim for a variety of reasons. Bro and SIL have had the baby for only a few weeks and are already signing Father's Day cards from baby and telling the family about the bio mom's drug status with comments indicating they strongly believe her rights will be terminated. They also schedule doctor's appointments strategically so that bio mom can't attend. Even if things go their way, the earliest they would be able to adopt the baby would be in two years, but they want us as a family to treat the baby as if the adoption is already official. Obviously, our family will include and love the baby as one of our own, but I do not feel comfortable referring to baby as my nephew until the adoption is complete. I've tried to refrain from dashing their dreams with how the system really works, but at the same time, it's hard not to bring them back down to reality. Should I let them continue in bliss or offer input on how I've seen the system work ?

Because you do have specific, applicable knowledge; because you need to sustain a long-term relationship with this couple; and since there is potential for things to get messy but it's not life and death; I think averaging it all to find the middle is the way to go.

Specifically, don't step in with your concerns. Merely say you have some--to your brother along, ideally--and ask if he'd like to hear them, or of he would prefer that you stay out of it. If he does say yes, then keep it simple and pro-brother. Something along the lines of, "I'm so excited to see you become a parent ... I've just seen a lot of couples get their hearts broken, and hope you're aware that adoption isn't a given here. Again--if you are, then I;ll go back to staying out of it." 

Most important, whether he accepts or declines your offer to weigh in, you really do need to stay out of it thereafter. 

Another update: We just found out we're expecting our first baby in March! :)


Growing up down South my papaw used to say he was bumfuzzled, if I could ever get that in Words with Friends it would probably crash the whole system.

Now Agog and Gobsmacked don't need to argue over what to name their firstborn. 

Oh, do I feel for this wife. My husband is deeply insecure about his own body, and he projects those fears on to me, to the point where he says he is "grossed out" by watching me eat a bowl of ice cream or some nachos (I'm 5'4" and 110 lbs, by the way, and healthy according to my doctor). Please follow Caroline's advice and see a therapist. I spent years feeling like I must be slovenly and gross until a counselor made me realize that I'm the normal one -- husband is trapped in a prison of self-hate. (And please: sign up for a weekly yoga class or running group or macrame club or something. It will be harder for him to deny you leaving the house when it's a set date that you've already paid for. You deserve a break).

I now have a mental image of people doing macrame as they run. I'm losing it, too. Thanks for weighing in; your take on it makes sense, and I've certainly seen it before.

I'm a young professional with a decent office job. I generally like my co-workers. At work I am cheerful and friendly and, at least to the eye, a picture of perfect health. But I'm also a recovering rape survivor who is battling an increasingly debilitating PTSD. Recently things have gone downhill and I find myself at least once a day crying in the bathroom like a bad eighties prom night. I am working with a therapist, doctor, etc, but things have become so overwhelming on a daily basis that I've decided I need to take a leave of absence from work to focus more intensely on my therapy and learn how to self-care again. I've talked to my boss about this and she is wonderfully supportive. The question then becomes what to tell my co-workers? My boss said she'd be fine with just telling them I'm burnt out and taking a long vacation, but I'm not comfortable with that as my leaving gives everyone else more work and I don't want people to think I'm making things harder for them just for a bit of R&R. FYI, we're talking about five weeks here. The other option is, of course, to say "Medical Leave" but I feel like that's going to invite a lot of questions I can't bear to answer. Also worth noting that a lot of my co-workers are around my age and we are friendly outside of work to the point that I know intimate details of their life. I just can't deal with sharing this one of mine. Help?

I'm sorry you're going through this. It does sound, though, as if you're handling it with strength and grace.

"Medical leave" is the way to go, and it's the only explanation you need for mature acquaintances, who may have questions but will also have the sense not to ask them. From those who aren't there yet, yes, you will get questions, but the only answer required is, "Thank you for your concern, but it's a private matter."

As for the more-than-acquaintances, "inimate details" crew, you can say you're sorry to be cryptic, and ask that they humor you on this and not press.

Some assurance that you're not in stage-4-cancer-type danger would be appropriate too, if there's a way you'd be comfortable wording it. Take care.

I wrote in about feeling like I was the one always waiting around for my wife's unpredictable work schedule. And I have to say, I'm completely stunned by the wild speculations about my marriage that commenters assumed as fact -- and by the large percentage of people who said the marriage was clearly not working, and we should get divorced. (Get divorced? Two people who both actively want to spend time with each other?). Ironically: Since I wrote in, I've entered a hellish period at work, while my wife's job has gone through a slow period. She's been great about picking up the slack at home and not making me feel guilty for working late or unexpectedly canceling plans. I think we both feel like we're in each other's shoes a little more. And it doesn't hurt that I've taken up running -- a solo, flexible activity that can be done any time, and is a hobby I have of my own. (First 10K is next month!)

It's Outrageous Behavior Day, not Awesome Update Day. Cheez, people.


(& thanks!)

Oh, I almost forgot--I have a new home page (link), even though it is so not New Home Page Day.

Almost two years ago I moved across the country to be with my serious boyfriend and to fulfill my dream of living on the other coast. Found a great job, a good group of friends, spent time with boyfriend's family, but always thought that we would make our way back to the other side of the country for grad school or the next job. Then, a few weeks ago, we suddenly and unexpectedly broke up. Unfortunately, our chances of reconciling don't seem great. I'm trying to be practical and wait until emotions are less raw, but I'm aching to pack up and move as soon as my lease ends in four months. I'll be at a good transition point in my work, the majority of my good friends and all of my family are across the country, and my closest social networks here are tied up with his. I'm torn between feeling like a wuss for "running away", and thinking that it is really the most logical step, considering that a move was on the distant horizon any ways...any thoughts on how to approach this decision?

You were expecting to go back, you want to go back, and now you have an opportunity to go back that is imminent but not rushed. I think my only thought is not to overthink. 

Hey Carolyn! So I work in a small office with a large network in town and around the world. I have always been sort of the second in command. However my boss just promoted someone else, a good bit newer (and younger) to be his co-boss. I actually suggested this (he's a difficult dude and there is NO WAY I want to work any closer with him) and it's working fine. The problem is the broader team and network...everyone keeps coming up to me with that serious look on their face like "Are you...ok?." How do I handle this? If I am enthusiastic, they think I'm being a good little soldier and faking it, and if I'm not extremely enthusiastic they think I have sour grapes. How do I answer elegantly, when my instinct is to say "I'd rather scoop my eyeballs out with a melon-baller than take that job!"

I'll turn this over to the nuterati for better phrasing ideas, but I think some version of "Thanks for your concern, but I'm right where I want to be," would cover it.  

Can't she just say she's coping with a reasonably serious but non-fatal illness, and needs a bit of time to get well? Has the advantage of being true, but doesn't raise the spectre of people's wrong assumptions about trauma or mental illness.

That works too, thanks, though I hope you didn't mean to imply that any biases against mental illness should be catered to. 

Totally agree with "medical leave" on this one, but more importantly, just wanted to give you a shout out of love and support. We've never met, but your post was touching, and I've never been raped nor do I think I know anyone who has been. I think it's great that you know yourself as "recovering" and a "survivor" and are taking this time off for yourself. If you were my coworker, you'd have nothing but my support and I'd gladly take on a little extra if it meant I could help in some small way (without even knowing why, even just knowing it was "medical" and you needed the help). Take care of you right now; you'll always have a chance to do something kind for your coworkers or someone else down the line. All the best to you and your continued recovery! I hope you find peace.

This is lovely, thank you.

Hi Carolyn, I love your chats and advice, so I was excited when I found out you were going to be a guest on the Diane Rhem show. Due to a hectic month, I only recently listened to the show. Thank you for talking about such a difficult subject. My first marriage ended for a variety of reasons, only one of which was infidelity. In my current relationship, we talk about expectations, infidelity, what that means to each of us, and how to talk about our attraction to other people and experiences. Believe me, it makes a HUGE difference when the people in a relationship don't treat infidelity as something that just happens out-of-the-blue, but as a reality that should be faced together, long before it starts. Thank you for being so frank and honest in your discussion of this difficult topic.

Thank you, too, for the kind words and for remembering to listen. This topic is one of the reasons I look forward to chances to be on Diane Rehm--the format is so respectful that I don't feel as if I'm racing to get a word in edgewise or cover everything in a few just-right phrases, and that allowed us, I think, to give at least some of the nuances of infidelity their due.

How about "I appreciated when Mr. Melonballer asked for my thoughts on the position and gratified that he agreed with my suggestion that he consider Johnny Thickskin"

I don't know if i'm posting this for its political grace or the pseudonyms. More important, I don't care.

Hi Carolyn, I found out recently that a good friend of mine is having trouble getting pregnant. She's miscarried once and has had fertility problems since- this has been going on for two years but she's a pretty private person and just told me a couple months ago. I felt awful that she was going through this and of course told her that she was welcome to talk about it with me anytime. Since then, she hasn't brought it up on her own and I've had a hard time knowing when and how to ask how it's going- we meet for lunch once a week or every other week generally. The last time I asked, about a month ago, she was going through an in vitro cycle. She hasn't brought it up since and I don't know how long it takes to determine whether it was successful or not. When we met for lunch yesterday at one point there was a lull in the conversation like she wanted to say something but didn't, and I couldn't find a way to bring it up without just coming out and saying, "so how's the baby thing going?" Help! Any advice for being a supportive, but not overbearing, friend?

You're soooo close here--you're listening, you care, you're attuned to her feelings. That's going to carry you most of the way, so trust that.

The one thing I'll suggest is that instead of the, "So how's the baby thing going," you considered at the last lull, use the next one to say, "I think a lot about you and wonder how your fertility efforts are going, but I'm not sure how or even whether to ask. Is there a way you'd like me to handle it, that makes it easier for you?"

Love Carolyn's response - here's a second for going back. Last year, I went through a divorce knowing we would both be moving back to the area we lived before (lots of weird/interesting timing involved with jobs, but anyway...). It was rough; within one month, a house was listed, sold, closed on, cleaned up, and left... and left within 48 hours of the divorce being final. You're not running away, you're moving on, and sometimes life hands you those opportunities. It's all in how you view them. They're not always easy to grab, but have faith. And if you're still feeling too raw to embrace it fully, then wait a week or month. You have the time. But more important, have faith. The timing may be a gift.

Thanks. This brings to mind another point about breakups and big moves and other life transitions: There's always going to be some sense that you're picking up your carefully built life and shaking it, hard. Feeling that does not automatically mean you're being rash or overcorrecting or running away. I think knowing there's no way around a sense of upheaval can actually help people see more possibilities.

I fell in love with my best friend in my early 20s, and we dated for a while before he left me for a more girly girl. But somehow, he has decided, now, almost ten years later, that I'm the one after all. (After I spent years in therapy to come to terms with the fact that it was really over!) This is the guy I always wanted - it took me years to get over him, if I ever did. I'm ready to settle down and start a family, and I'm (recently) single, having just broken up with a younger guy who wasn't ready to commit. So do I give it a shot? We were great as friends, but not very happy in a relationship the first time around - I was needy, he was ambivalent - but we're older and more mature now. Am I rationalizing? I can see his flaws more clearly now, and I feel like I've pretty much moved on. On the other hand, I feel like I COULD fall in love again, and it's up to me whether to choose the happy ending or not. Will I kick myself forever if I don't give it a shot? Will I fall back into a bad-relationship trap if I do? I don't want to waste time, since I'm not getting any younger. I feel like there's an obvious answer here, but I can't see it. Thanks Carolyn!

The only obvious thing I see is that 32 is not 22.

Well, okay, there a couple of other things, too. It's not "up to me whether to choose the happy ending." A relationship, good or bad, is always half up to the other person. Plus, even if you have a good relationship on this second try, that's not an ending at all. It's beginning-ish, but, really, it's all just middle until the EKG says otherwise. Older and more mature is good stuff, but you've still got some Cinderella dust pollution.

And, the ONLY time to be "ready to settle down and start a family" is when you meet someone with whom you feel mutually eager and lucky to start a family. Horse, then cart.  

I'm perilously close to advising you to pass on this new opportunity at least until you can be calmer and more rational about it and families and not getting any younger, but you like the guy and that matters more. So, I'll say to give it a shot if you want, with your mind anchored on this: For all practical purposes, you are new to each other, and you have a future not if he fits your story, but if what you create together day-to-day fits each of your temperaments. 

My 5 year old has been asking a lot of questions about dying such as what happens when you die, do you see God, how old are you when you die which eventually results in a question whether a young person can die. Is this normal for the age? I never experienced this with my older child. We have not had a recent death in the family that might trigger these questions.

In my experience it's normal, but, as always, if you find your concern persists, then it's better to as someone "on the ground" (your pediatrician, say) vs. someone in the ether like me.

I think "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen is an excellent way to explain death to a child.

The way I see it--and the way I dealt with it with my kids' relentless grilling--is that death is an ordinary, natural and often sad part of life. I did tell them that everything that lives does eventually die, that people die, that most people live lives of more than 70 years, but some die sooner, even children, though that's very very rare. I told them that some people believe you see God and some don't, some believe in heaven and some don't, and that no one who is alive can be sure--we can only believe.  

I also see these questions as completely sensible and appropriate for even a young child, since they're going to see death, even if it's just a mosquito or a squirrel in the road. But, different kids process things differently, so not asking is normal, too. 

I have five siblings. Our widowed, elderly mother lives in a retirement community that requires our financial support to supplement her retirement income to help pay for it (it's not luxurious by any standards, but clean, comfortable and safe). One sibling was unemployed last year. So, we let him out of financial support until he was on his feet again. He and spouse are working again (for several months now) but are not providing financial support despite direct requests to do so. Brother has not even acknowledged my most recent request. I am angry and resentful because, of course, the rest of us have financial obligations, too, and yet we all manage to provide support (BTW, the amount is far less than $100/mo). What can I do to encourage brother to start paying again?

Drop it. It's not right for your brother to duck this without explanation, but he's doing it, so your choices are either to suck it up or shake him down. Leave it to his conscience and be right with your own.

It's helpful to know why. (I've dated a couple of dudes who hit Marriage O'Clock and it wasn't pretty.) What's different now? Why now? Why not five years from now? What's so important about you now that he wants back? Why children? Why with you? Why note date someone new? Etc. I'm not trying to be difficult, but he left you for something fleeting and empty. Fair enough. But just because he got a taste of what's out there (and he doesn't like it), doesn't mean you should just fall back with him because the timing is right in your world. When someone wants back in, question, question, question, question it.

All good, thanks.

I could be your friend, I am in almost the exact same spot. Like anything that is full of emotional landmines and grief, sometimes you want to talk, and sometimes you don't. But I am never offended if someone asks how things are going. If I want to share things, I do. If I don't, I give a quick answer and change the subject. Carolyn's advice is good, ask her how she wants you to handle this. The process of invitro is a very hard road. It's full of hope and if it doesn't work, the grief can be enormous. Just continue being a good friend, which it sounds like you are.

Thanks for weighing in, and good luck. 

I personally ask people how I can be most helpful to them. When my sister was going through her divorce, I told her that I could be there to be her sounding board, or I could just let her not talk about it if that's what she wanted. That's typically what I try to do with my friends that are having a hard time. Let them know that you are willing to be a safe space, whether that means a place to vent, or a place that they can not think/talk about it anymore. Also, let them know that they can change their mind about it anytime they want, that's fine.

I like this too, thanks.

That's it for today. Thanks everybody--oh, and if anyone's in the mood: As part of the new page, we're going back to putting headings on the chat transcripts, because a stack of Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems is just no fun to behold. If you have a headline nominee for this chat, tee it up now for Bethonie by posting it through the submit-Q path before she shuts it down, go! 

Pick me, pick me: "Outrageous Behavior Day, a chat baby and other breaking(up) news"


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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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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