Not Step-friend, Just Friend: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, January 24)

Jan 24, 2014

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

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Hi everybody. I'm a minute or two late thanks to an update that I was so happy to read. Here it comes ...

Dear Carolyn, I was the first question that you answered on this chat from May 2010. I wanted to let you know that it took two more years, but I did finally move back to my home state to be nearer my family and I am doing much better now. The major difference is that I have tweaked my medication to something that gives me much less horrible side effects. I am engaged and living with somebody who has been my friend for 15 years (who I had actually been dating at long distance when I wrote to you that embarrassingly long screed, I'm surprised he didn't merit a mention). My family is healing (with lots of pain along the way) from our losses. Things aren't perfect of course. My job is awful, but whose isn't. I deeply miss my friends back in my old city, and living in an urban neighborhood. But still, moving home was the best choice I ever could have made for my mental and physical health. Thank you for your help at the time. I was flabbergasted to see my question published, it helped me to feel less alone. Now, how to figure out the ethics of if I am too sick to bear or raise children. That is still something hanging over me that I am afraid to face. We'll see.

Seems to me you've faced scarier things, and come through them admirably. Thank you so much for checking back in, and congratulations. 

Hi, Back in November 2013, I think, you ran a piece about a guy who broke up with his girlfriend because she blocked his way when he said he needed to walk away during an argument for time to cool off. I wanted to cut it out and give it to a friend, but now I can't find it. Can you give me a link? Thanks!

Here's the piece you're looking for. The question was (in part):

What do you suggest one does when a couple is fighting and one partner tries to leave the room to go cool off, and the other refuses to let them leave?

Carolyn, This is probably not the most earth-shattering issue you've ever encountered, but I'd appreciate your insight. I'm expecting my first baby in early June, and a good friend (non-family member) has offered to host a baby shower. I honestly would prefer not to have a baby shower, mostly because I'm stressed about the guest list - there's a bunch of people whom I like very much and would enjoy celebrating my impending motherhood with, but I don't know if we're really on gift-exchange terms, and I wouldn't want them to feel obligated to give me a baby gift. Actually, I don't really want ANYBODY to feel obligated to give me a baby gift - I would truly, honestly, not feel the slightest bit offended if nobody gave me a baby gift, even people to whom I've given baby gifts. But I also recognize that baby showers are pretty common, and I don't want to snub the friend who offered or sound sort of sniffy and superior in a "I-think-baby-showers-are-a-crass-materialistic-custom" sort of way. Also, I don't want to sound like I'm judging the friend, since I attended this friend's baby shower, which was modest and appropriate, and I was happy to attend. Is there a way to gracefully decline, or should I just suck it up and accept and stop stressing so much about it? Thanks! Love the chats!

We've been round this block before--and there are many fine ways to have baby showers that aren't shakedowns. My favorite is the "bring your favorite childrens' book" theme, but you can also make it an advice theme, a donate-to-needy-moms theme, etc. Fellowship is good, and there are ways to keep it from going commercial if that's your concern. Congrats and good luck. 

Dear Carolyn, My good friend "Abby" got pregnant by accident when she had only been with her boyfriend for a few months. Early on, they talked about abortion, but Abby never wanted to go through with it for emotional reasons and because at her age (30), she did not think she could live with it if she never had the opportunity to have a baby again. Things have been very rocky for Abby and her boyfriend, and her many childless friends, including me, have struggled to know just how to be there for her. About a month ago, she miscarried at 24 weeks. She went completely dark for about 2 weeks after that, neither answering nor returning our phone calls, not acknowledging anyone's expressions of sympathy. Little by little, she has returned to the land of the living, but I don't know how to treat her. I imagine she is partly relieved and partly upset, but we haven't talked through her feelings at all. I worry that it would seem like I'm trivializing to invite her to things like my upcoming birthday happy hour, but I also don't feel equipped to do things like sit with her while she cries, if that's something she needs right now. I feel like the fact that this pregnancy was unplanned makes it hard to know how to respond to her loss. Do you have any thoughts, general or specific, on how I can make myself useful during this time?

Make plans with her for something one-on-one--coffee, lunch, a walk. Give her a hug, say you're sorry for her loss. Listen to her. If you're not sure what to say, say you're not sure what to say--it's so much better than a swing and a miss (even though those are okay, too, when your heart is in the right place).

Just a thought--I expect she's upset, doubt she's relieved, and suspect she feels a little guilt, too--not because she should, but because that's what I've seen happen with people who had mixed feelings about a pregnancy that they then miscarried. It's heavy to carry the memory of not being sure they wanted the baby.

So--be present, and listen.

I just got a call from my kids' school--5 min. Sorry.

Okay, all is well. (When it pops up on the Caller ID, I never assume ...). Thanks for your patience.

Dear Carolyn, I've recently (two months) started dating a man whose company I enjoy. I would like to continue to see him and see where this goes. The hitch: he is incredibly regimented and attached to his daily and weekly routines, and it's a bit of a challenge to get on his dance card. I shrink from proposing weekday meetings because Monday is Yoga Night and Tuesday is Football Night and Wednesday is Down Time Night, etc... He does typically make a point of seeing me once or twice on weekends, but occasionally weekends have filled up too. I really enjoy the times I do spend with him, and we communicate frequently via text/email in between, but I find it difficult to really get any relationship momentum seeing each other only once a week and I HATE the feeling of being the girl who waits by the phone for his call when it's convenient to him. So two questions: 1. is there a diplomatic way to communicate my desire to see him a little more often/nip this pattern in the bud? And 2. is this even worth pursuing or should I cut my losses on the premise that a man so wedded to his habits is not really relationship-ready?

He might be perfectly relationship-ready, as long as the relationship is with someone who has a similar preference for order. If you're a fan of more flexibility, then he's not your guy. That's the answer to 2.

If 1 weren't a moot point, which it apparently is, the answer would be: Speak your mind. If he's okay with that, great, and if he runs from that, that's great too. Being "diplomatic" just postpones the moment where you figure out you and he aren't compatible; being yourself always works.

Hi Carolyn, I'm a 29 year old straight lady. Every time I go out w/ a guy, I wonder/hope/wish, "is this the one?". And I find that this creates so much pressure on me and on the guy. Do you have any recommendations for how I can lessen the pressure I place on myself on finding a husband? Thanks!

How good are you at changing your internal dialogue? Try this: Every time you wonder, "Is this the one," force yourself to say, "No--don't ask that, ask this: Was this date better than staying home?" Yes means you remain open to another date, no means no and you saved yourself some angst. One date at a time. 

The one qualifier is that your own company has to be something you enjoy. That's what makes it work as a baseline and your baseline is what makes your judgment sound (or unsound, depending)--so, if you don't enjoy it, then that's where your attention needs to be directed for a while.  


"Thank you so much! Your offer means a lot to me. However, I'm not really comfortable being the center of all of that attention, and I actually do not need a thing. Could you and I plan to have a nice meal together before the baby comes?" This makes it clear that a. you don't want a shower and b. really do not want to rebuff your friend.

Yes, this is great for someone certain about saying no, thanks. As we discussed last time we were 'round this block, though, a community is a good thing for a baby and (non-grabby) showers help build a child's community, so I advise the shower-shy at least to give this a good think before opting out. 

Thanks so much for this line, which you directed earlier this week at the hostess who didnt' want floozies at her party. It has changed my outlook and my daily choices drastically in just a few days--and led me to be much calmer and more at peace than I've been in weeks. I'm the one who's been writing frantically to you each week looking for advice on how to wait gracefully and patiently for major life changes that cannot be predicted or controlled. They still can't be, and I'll still be anxious about that now and then, I'm sure. But your line forced me to take responsibilities for, basically, all the opportunities I was creating for myself to stress about additional things I wanted and wasn't getting (e.g. sending emails asking for updates when I know there aren't any, and then stressing about why I'm not getting a reply). The big picture is out of my control, but a lot of the small picture(s) are fully in it, and I needed a flick to the forehead to stop torturing myself and everyone around me. SO, thanks.

No no, thank you--there's nothing I'd rather be than useful. Good luck, and I hope your wait is as short as it can be.

Hi Carolyn, Happy Friday! My sibling and I have never really gotten along; we're two very different people living two very different lives. This lack of a deep relationship bothers my parents a great deal, but I try not to let it get to me. My sibling recently sent me one of those "send an item to the top person on this list and then send this letter out to 10 people" type chain letters. My instinct is to roll my eyes and throw it away, because, really? However, I am feeling guilt about not responding to this effort extended by my sibling. I really, really don't want to bother my friends with this chain letter, but I don't want my sibling feeling like the sibling can't make any headway with me. Can I just buy Sibling the item directly and not participate? Is there another good solution here I'm not seeing? Thanks!

Delete the email, say nothing about it. Chain email does not deserve acknowledgment of any kind, and it was not "effort extended by my sibling," unless your idea of effort is, say, regifting white elephants.

Instead, extend a real effort. Email to say hi, I was thinking of you. 

Hi Carolyn, concerned mom here. Our daughter is in her junior year of college. Like lots of kids, she gained the so-called Freshman 15, but she was a pretty skinny teenager and could afford the extra pounds. A couple years later, her weight gain has ballooned out of control. She doesn't seem depressed, and she has an active social life and a steady boyfriend. It may be that she feels just fine with her weight, but she would be more attractive if she slimmed down a little, and i's definitely way too early in life for her to lose control of herself in this way. I promise I'm not some hypercritical mom who needs her child to be perfect - my concerns didn't set in till she had added an estimated 40 pounds to her high school weight. I am, however, hyperaware of the danger of SEEMING like I'm criticizing her, so I haven't mentioned this to her directly yet (but have made an effort to serve only healthy food when she comes home for visits). What else can I do, or what else should I do, to do my part to help my daughter manage her as-yet-unacknowledged weight gain?

Nothing. It's impossible to live in this country and culture without being aware of extra weight and what it costs a person, real or perceived. It's also hard to imagine she doesn't know what healthy food is, what smaller portions are or how a treadmill works.

Here's what is hard to come by: Acceptance of who we are inside without the taint of judgments about our appearance. It would be the height of wonderful if you could just love and accept and support your daughter in whatever package she arrives in. 

Hi Carolyn, A while back when you suggested having a shower with advice or having the guests bring an item they found indespinsable while raising a baby, you said your item would have been Sharpies. Since then i've wondered why Sharpies?! Please solve this mystery for me! Thanks!

Ha. Because when you're out and about with kids, it's pretty common for them to come into possession of something--be it a juice box or a souvenir T-shirt or a gift from Gramma. And since little kids do not retain  possession of anything for long, especially when in the company of other little kids, it can be a real tantrum-saver to be able to put Kid's name on the juice box/T-shirt/Gramma gift right away. My kids aren't that little any more and I still use one regularly--water or Gatorade bottles, for example.   

A few years ago I attended a baby shower for a friend (I am childless). What struck me was the knowledge the other attendees gave to the mom-to-be (those with kids and without). I remember one person gave a gift of a special set of nail clippers and the woman explained how regular baby nail clippers don't work and she should use these. I thought what a great piece of advice that a new mom wouldn't know (and where would you read it)? And everyone gave helpful advice, not scary (oh labor is terrible) or judgmental. This experience made me see the true value of baby showers and changed my mind on them. Also, other fun non-gift oriented baby shower activities we did was paint/draw onesies for the baby (which is nice, and everytime you dress you baby in one you think about the person who made it for you) and a mad-libs game where we made up and drew a children's book for the baby. It was interactive and much more exciting than baby gift bingo (no offense).

Thanks--a good illustration of the community I'm talking about.

Dear Carolyn, I realize this is a silly and/or immature question, but what makes people decide they would rather be friends than lovers? My male friend and I have amazing chemistry, have kissed and hooked up a few times, and have been on a few dates before he told me he didn't want to continue dating, as he was afraid it would destroy our friendship. In my opinion, a relationship is like a friendship but even more awesome. I don't THINK my friend was just trying to let me down easy; I think he really does believe that preserving our friendship is a valid reason not to get in deeper romantically. What am I missing? If we have the chance to be friends and more, why would someone turn that down?

It's not silly or immature, but it's not really for me to answer, since only his answer is relevant to your situation. Did you ask him outright: "Are you just trying to let me down easy, or do we have very different ideas of friendship?"

It sure sounds like the former to me, but, again, I can't assume he thinks the way I do. And there are reasons for people to prefer friendship to a relationship, including lack of physical attraction; lack of shared vision of the future (including any deal-breaking differences like geographic separation or religious difference or kids/no kids); or presence of traits that one or both of you can handle only in the smaller friendship dose than the wake-up-to-it-every-day dose. 

For what it's worth, I suspect that your wanting to be more than friends and his not wanting to be will ultimately unravel your friendship. Depends on how distracting his presence in your life turns out to be.

Hi Carolyn, I feel hurt when I don't hear from my boyfriend during the day, but he maintains that we should be fine just re-connecting when we both get home from work. He usually works till 9 or 10pm, though, leaving me feeling lonely and unmoored. A simple check-in text would be enough. Is this too much to ask?

Apparently it is to him, because you asked and he said no.

So, now you have to decide: Is this important enough to you--or an indication of an important enough difference between you two--to warrant breaking up?

I'm actually not nudge-nudging you one way or the other. It's entirely up to you how you prioritize this. Just don't rationalize, and, for the love of snow days, stop shopping around for validation that you're not asking too much and therefore he "should" do this for you. Nuh-uh. he is who he is, and are you okay with him that way? That's the only unit of measure that makes any sense to use.

One more thing. When you are in a healthy relationship, you will not feel "lonely and unmoored" on a daily basis. The question you need to tackle right now is what the source is of your relationship's poor health. Did you choose a guy who doesn't suit you, leading you to crave validation? Or is your baseline such that you're needy, and any man will fail to suit you because you're looking for men to fill a vacancy in your life that only you can fill?

Tough questions, but if you're both honest with yourself and attentive to the context past and present, you will get to the answers.  

In addition to what Carolyn said, please reframe your concern: it's not that she'd be more attractive if she lost 40 lbs; would she be happier? Concern yourself with her well-being, not her appearance.

Right, thanks. Then take it a step further and ask: Would she be happier if I made her weight my business, or if I trusted her to handle it?

(There--an example of where I am nudge-nudging toward one answer over another.)

I lost a baby at 23 weeks that was planned, but that I was, honestly, ambivalent about. Everyone is different, but I can honestly say that I realized how much I loved that baby as soon as I saw him, and by then he was already gone. I never could have imagined how painful an episode it was; I've never felt so sad in my entire life. I also felt horribly guilty because I'd voiced my ambivalence many times--and it seemed as though I was being punished in some way. I'm wondering if your friend might feel the same. In my case, people strained to say the right thing. There really is no right thing, except "I'm so sorry." Then be there-- bring some food, clean her house, do some laundry, whatever. I promise it will help.

Thank you for your honesty, and my condolences.

I was kind of like that regimented guy once. I was single, and I established my schedule. I started dating a woman I liked, but kept my schedule. Finally, she said, "Hey, dummy, how about making time for me?" It was the slap upside the head I needed -- I was sticking to my single schedule, and forgetting that schedule was set because I didn't have a hot babe to hang out with, and now I did. Tell him how you feel, and see what happens.

We're all for upside-head slaps around here, thanks. 

I know you mean well They're not. I understand that there is no "right" thing to say during times of crisis, but I will never, ever forgot the crappy and insensitive things people said to me. Those stung far worse because those people are supposed to support and care for me. Sometimes saying nothing is better. Because I don't know which is worse: the crisis or horrible, crappy thing say in response to the crisis under the guise of "support." There is no one right thing to say, but there are PLENTY of wrong ones!!!! Please don't tell me I'm projecting either. I hate that. A crisis doesn't take away my ability to legitimately find fault.

Thanks--I don't think you're projecting. Or wrong.

I do see it differently though, and here's why: The menu is not limited to just (a) Say right thing (b) Say wrong thing (c) Be present while saying nothing. There's also (d) Avoid grieving person like plague. A lot of people who fear saying the wrong thing just vanish, and that to me is worse than the swing-and-a-miss.

So, while I agree with you within the narrow limits of what we're talking about, and while I was certainly subjected to some lousy attempts at "support," I look back on those now as people doing their best--usually people to whom I wasn't that close to begin with, and the huge gap between what they thought was comforting and what actually comforted me was pretty good at explaining to me why we weren't that close. (Not that it had necessarily been a mystery until then.)

I'm a 34 year old woman; a wife and mother with a good job and a drinking problem. I suffer from depression and anxiety and have been in some type of therapy or on medication since I was about 19. I'm currently in therapy again and one thing that's become terrifyingly obvious in the last few months is that I have no idea how to live without alcohol. How do people have fun without drinking? What do they look forward to, if not the weekend and the beer (drink of choice) that comes with it? Is it possible for an alcoholic to learn healthy drinking habits like a "normal" person or is permanent abstinence the only option? I do talk to my therapist about this, but sometimes it's hard to say what I'm really thinking when I'm looking her in the eyes because I'm so ashamed. I've thought about attending AA meetings, but the shame and uncertainty are just too much for me to handle right now. So, to you and any of the readers out there who have been there, done that; Is there hope for me?

There is hope, a lot of it, but you need to stop withholding the truth from your therapist. Print your question out and hand it to her, if that's what it takes. Ask to face away so you're not derailed by eye contact. You admitted things here, and that's huge, but you're anonymous and I'm faceless. You need to go the next step and bring your truth out into a more open ... open. 

Here's why: until you get past your shame and start being your genuine self, any discussion of "healthy drinking habits" is premature. It's of a piece, and your hiding--as in, your attention to appearing "normal," even to the person you've entrusted with your problems--is the very thing that's resigning you to the dysfunction of alcohol abuse.

I'll tell you what I just told my kids recently: We're all weird. Some people wear it for all to see, and some people tuck it away at home in horror that anyone will discover it, and most are somewhere in between. Please make up your mind just to accept yourself and your weird, and do the hard work of figuring out your own answer to the fun-without-drinking question. Starting with, telling your therapist the truth. 

Hi Carolyn - I wrote in a few weeks ago for advice about telling my folks that my "happy" marriage was ending in divorce, it was just something we both decided we needed to do and while still under 30 would enable us to start over. Well I am happy to say that I survived telling them but am SO disappointed in their response. They needed someone to blame and chose me, their kid....In the weeks (2 or 3) since I've told them they have really had very little communication with me. When I've spoken to them they have repeated that they cannot believe that I would do this, that they raised me to be this way, or just ask about various things we are getting rid of (who is taking xyz?). I just dont resopnd to their texts or calls anymore and can't get over their lack of support, sympathy or just desire to protect their daughter... I'm obviously very hurt and explained that I needed their support to which they immediately accused me of not understanding why they are shocked and hurt by this news and why they need time. I want to hit them over the head and scream that I need more support because this is actually happening to me. At this point I've just started waiting for them to text, responding to direct questions and nothing more. We were a very close family and I cannot be more hurt about this. How do I try to explain what I need, what damage they are doing to our relationship and how I really don't want this to be the norm? My soon-to-be-Ex was even shocked at their coldness and stunned taht they seem to be more concerned for his well-being than mine... Thanks!

I'm sorry they kicked you in the teeth. I can see that as being harder than the divorce itself.

Please hold of on any attempts to "try to explain," or to get anything different from them than what you're getting. The only step that makes sense for me to advise now is for you to start trying to fit all these pieces together into an honest picture of your family. You described your family as "close" in your original post and "very close" here ... and you said you hid from your parents the unhappy parts of your marriage ... and now you're divorcing ... and your parents have shocked you with their self-interest just as you need them at your side. 

That says the family picture you had in mind wasn't accurate. Close families don't hide their frailties or turn on each other when they're revealed.

So, what's really going on here? What is that honest picture, and why did you see it as something very different from what it was?

These are great questions to take up with a therapist, if you're so inclined, but you can also tackle them on your own with 1. an open mind, and 2.  an eye to who they are (and you are) instead of what you want them to give you. I also strongly suggest, as you go through these two difficult processes (divorce and family reckoning), that you find a source of comfort, be it a close and nonjudgmental friend, a healthy outlet of some kind, or ideally both.

There ARE ways to cope with depression and anxiety without alcohol. But do anticipate that as you cut back, you'll have to deal with those more directly. Sounds like there's self-medicating going on. And please don't feel shame. I lived with an alcoholic for ten years. The only shame is that he would never try to learn to live without alcohol. You've already started - he never could see that it was necessary. You're already seeing that. And you'll be surprised how many people you know will be able to relate to you if you can open up about what you're going through.

Thanks for this. It's also important to point out that cutting back on alcohol after heavy use can itself trigger depression, so honesty with both one's therapist and doctor is essential.

I'm a social alcoholic. I used ot party with friends and drink and thought that if I stopped drinking it would be weird. And I have to say it is. I had drinking buddies get mad at me and tell me that I didn't have a problem. They didn't want me to stop drinking because it affected their good time--or their self perception. The bottom line is that I can't drink socially...because for every five times I have a couple of glasses of wine and then stop, I have one time where I drink to excess sometimes to the point of blacking out. Since I can never predict at the first drink which will happen, I don't drink. So I don't hang out with my former drinking buddies. And I have new friends who can have a beer or two (while I drink club soda) and we have a great time because their focus is on unwinding--not getting wasted.

More good stuff, thank you, and congratulations.

Love your advice and would SO value your opinion on this. Boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years and are in a graduate program where everyone's job hunt occurs at the same time. We have the option to link our applications -- i.e. institutions can either accept both of us, or neither of us. We have worked very hard to this point, and the institution at which we get our first jobs will matter a lot to our careers down the line. He does not think, at this point, that it is worth either of us sacrificing the prestige of the place that we end up simply to be together -- he would like to apply "un-linked," and if on each of our own merits we end up in the same place (we have the same preferences), fantastic. Part of me agrees, but feels that this is a comment upon our relationship and that, if we are to end up in the same place by chance, it's probably a bad idea to continue in a relationship that wasn't "good enough" for this sacrifice. It is such an awkward, confusing time. I would love to know what you think...

I think what you think. He has said pretty clearly that landing at the most prestigious institution possible is more important to him than being with you. That's his decision to make, certainly.

You are just as entitled to make your own decision on the same point. Would you pass up your first choice to stay with him at, idunno, your 7th? "No" is a fine answer for you to come to as well.

If your answer is "yes," and you would have dropped a little prestige to stay with him, then you have another decision to make: Are you okay staying with someone who is your top priority when you aren't his? It may seem like an obvious "no way," but it's better to choose it actively and thoughtfully than to assume.

You see what I'm doing here: Picking your way through each logical step is a much better way to deal with the confusion than to just read an answer into his decision and then react to it. Make the decision yours. It'll sit better that way, and pre-empt relapses of confusion. 




Hi Carolyn, I'm the one who submitted the troubled mom question that was featured in the 1/22 column. We called the hotline but they didn't have much for suggestions. My parents' marriage has now gotten rockier and my Dad is begging my Mom to go to counseling with him. I continue to ask that she see a therapist on her own as well and again have offered to do the legwork of finding therapists who are accepting new patients. She cries and says she'll look into it and then the next day she acts like nothing was ever wrong. She accuses us of saying there's something wrong with her when she's just "blue". I told her that crying for a week and lashing out at family is not a sign of being blue, but of depression. Being blue lasts a day--depression lingers. Regarding menopause, I can pinpoint that this all started when she began going through menopause, but she refused to address that as well and wouldn't talk to her doctor about treatment. I recently had my first child and she stayed with us for a week after my emergency c-section. She was so passive aggressive with my husband that I had to intervene and tell her that her behavior would not fly in our home. I was then accused of not being grateful and that she "is only trying to help". I don't know how else to reach her so my relationship has gotten even mroe superficial. Christmas was painful with my Dad tiptoeing and me feeling defensive for my own little family. Do I just keep holding the line? I'm being firm and I immediately disengage when she oversteps boundaries. I wish I could say my relationship with her has gotten better with the birth of my son, but it's just the opposite.... Thank you so so much for your advice, your time, and your ear. Stay warm.

I'm sorry you hit a wall. Do you think you or your dad would make more headway if the destination were her regular doctor, as opposed to therapy? There could be strictly medical explanations for her mood spiral, anything from thyroid to dementia, plus you or he could tip the doctor off beforehand about what you're seeing at home. The doctor can't give you information, but can receive it.

I expect NAMI would have suggested this, but just in case.

Otherwise, yes, you keep holding the line. One of the hardest problems to deal with is one that resides in someone else who refuses to recognize it.  

I know a lot of people would consider this a non-problem, but I have Paul Rudd-itis. I'm in my mid-40s but people tend to assume I'm 32 when they meet me. I guess it doesn't help that I don't dress my age or act my age (I'm not trying to, I just like clothes and doing fun stuff), but then when they find out how old I am, they flinch, stare, gasp, and even sputter, and then it's like they immediately shift gears a la "this is how you talk to an older person" way. Granted, there are a select few that don't care and I treasure knowing them, but would it be totally insincere to lie about my age if my only aim is to avoid awkwardness in social situations?

I don't "dress my age," I wear clothes. I don't "act my age," I just live. Why such consciousness of the way you act and dress?

And, yes, it would be totally insincere of you to lie about your age. The best way to avoid awkwardness is to avoid trying to be someone you're not, regardles of what direction that effort swings.

I am the stepmother to two young adults, a 26 year old boy and a 30 year old girl. They are both married without children and their mother is deceased. I have 5 kids of my own, they're all over 35. The problem is every year my children come up for at least one holiday with their spouses and families. My stepchildren have not visited for the holidays in the 4 years my husband and I have been married. When they visit they are polite but aloof. I really want to be a good stepmother to both of them, however, they don't seem to have any interest in being parented by anyone. My husband is depressed that his children don't care to be a part of our blended family. He said he has had problems with both kids in the past but he figured they would grow out of their dislike for him. I confronted his daughter about this issue and she simply told me that although she is willing to forge friendships with my kids and I, she's not terribly interested in having new siblings or a parent/child relationship with me. What does this leave me as? Step-friend? Step-acquaintance? I already invited both of the stepkids for Christmas 2014 and they have both declined. Neither has plans lined up. As the now matriarch of this family of 7 adult kids how do I bring them all together?

Not step-friend or step-anything, just friend. The daughter spelled it out pretty clearly, I think. Certainly it's something you can work with, since "friend" is a lot better than "person whose threshold I refuse to cross." Right? She doesn't have to be "a part of our blended family" to visit--she just visits, and the same with the son.  

So why isn't your husband inviting his kids himself? Starting with non-holidays, and nurturing new bonds gradually and respectfully from there?


Hi Carolyn, My best friend of over 10 years has recently started dating a new guy. He is great, leaps and bounds better than any guy she has dated before. And she can't stop talking about him. I am happy for her but lately it's been difficult for me to continuously hear about how happy she is. My own love life has fallen flat. I've only dated a few guys, nothing serious, and I have a hard time meeting new people. And I know it will be a long time before I start dating again- between work and grad school I barely have time to sleep, let alone start a relationship. I've accepted this as the way my life will be for at least a few years, but still I feel lonely at times. It's been very difficult constantly hearing about her happiness when I feel so bad. Should I say something to her? Or is it my duty as a best friend to just smile and nod?

Certainly you want to be happy for her, and certainly she would want to be a friend to you as well, which means knowing you're in a lonely place right now.

The problem I see here is that you're tangling up things that are separate. Her emotional life has nothing to do with yours, does it? I mean, if you're more lonely because she's less available, then that makes sense, but assuming your time spent with her remains unchanged, her happiness isn't actually making you any more lonely than you were before. And, your lives aren't binary, where she Has and you Don't Have. You're just in your place right now and she's in hers, and they happen to differ---at the moment. That doesn't mean they'll remain locked in this place eternally, or even next month for all you know.

So please unhitch your view of her happiness with your view of your own life. You made your choices for reasons, probably good ones--and those haven't changed just because your best friend fell in love. Live your life, and cheer her on in hers--and if you want her to cheer you on (or up) in a way that she isn't doing right now, then don't be afraid to ask for that. Take care not to be the wet blanket on her happiness, yes, or come across as jealous or resentful of what she has, but also don't automatically assume that your feeling in a not-so-happy place is in any way a statement on her happy place. You're just two friends with different, unrelated things happening in your lives and with different, unrelated needs of each other. right?

I was 25 when my dad remarried. (My parents are divorced.) She was never a step-mom or anything of the kind; she was my dad's wife. And that's not intended as a diss--she made him very happy and brought out a side of him I hadn't seen when he was married to my mom. Quit trying to be a mother figure to people who were grown adults when they met you. Just be you and let them be them, and let the relationship become whatever it organically is meant to be.

Well said, thanks.

Over twenty-five, I think we're getting out of the realm of young adults here, and the fact that she used boy and girl rather than man and woman says something about how she views them. Time to try on an adult to adult relationship, rather than one with an authority figure. And that's a question for Dad too: Has he adjusted to his children becoming adults?

Good Q, thanks.

I don’t agree with Carolyn’s assessment of your situation, but of course only you and your BF can know for sure. If this is a field in which where you get your first job gives you a lot of power to pick your second one, you really may both be better off getting the best job each of you can get and then negotiating your way to togetherness later. In other words, do you want to be together forever at Podunk College or be apart for a few more years and then together at Pretty Good U.? Also, does this kind of sacrfice make sense at this point in your relationship?

Now that makes complete sense to me, thanks. I didn't think of the possibility of a near-future second job. Thanks.

No one expects you to actually look at your therapist the whole time. Between looking at the ceiling, my hands in my lap, the spot on the wall above my therapists head, and just closing my eyes I was able to get the most difficult (but vitally important admissions) off my chest. It makes a huge difference and is so worth the effort and awkward feeling

More good stuff, thanks.

I also surprise people when they find out how old I am. I don't try to dress or act younger, it is who I am and have always been. It's not something I'm conscious of until someone is shocked that I'm "that old." I'm not painting my hair blue, or tattooed everywhere, or unmodest, or inappropriate for a woman my age. I get to wear jeans and tee shirts to work, so our casual environment lends it self to a different look than other settings. I do take pride in the fact that I appear younger than I am, since I also know that'll change soon enough without my doing anything but living. :)

This goes with what I was thinking, actually--you surprise people, but you're not generating awkwardness or trying to remedy it.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say, but it is 3 pm, and I'm not sure of much at this point on most Fridays.

For the love of all that is holy. . . why do people think that just because two adults-with-children marry, that makes their ADULT children an instant family? My sister and I have struggled with this the entire nearly-25 years my father and stepmother have been married. We get along fine with our stepmother, but she is not our mom, and her sons are not our brothers. . . we were all grown and out of the house when the marriage took place. Just because the parents decide to marry is no reason why a new family MUST be formed. Cordiality is all that can, or should, be demanded of the adult children in such a situation.

I think it reflects more what they want than expect, but I don't disagree with you.

Also--unsolicteded but related, to parents in this situation, please be willing to spend some time with your adult children without the spouse present. Even if you don't actually do it, the openness to it is a gift.  Thanksyew.

hookay, time to go. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and type to you here next week.

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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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