Shared, generalized joy: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, May 9)

May 09, 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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Hello, everybody.

As a follow-up to my follow-up in last week's chat (to my previous question about how to keep from going crazy from living and working alone), I went to last weekend's meetup and I think these things may just save my sanity. I feel So. Much. Better. after interacting with some other human beings over the course of a few hours doing something that I love to do. And I thought of what you said when I got nervous and thought of backing out at the last minute, that the best way to make new friends as an adult is through repeated meetings with the same people through a common activity, like through school and work, which just clicked for me. It even became a little mini mantra that I actually repeated to myself a few times in the car on the way there, and gave me that last little push that I needed to follow through. Now I'm getting a little weepy just thinking about it. Thanks SO much, Carolyn.

No no, thank you! You're the one who did it, and took the time to update us. Thanks so much.

For perspective, my boyfriend and I used to live with housemates who never cleaned the house themselves, frequently including their own dishes. We did everything. We also handled all of the maintenance problems on the house, and there were many. After all this, our housemates would then ACTUALLY COMPLAIN TO US that we were not keeping the house clean enough. We talked to them pointed out everything we were already doing, and THEY STILL COMPLAINED TO US. Your housemates do not believe in the "cleaning fairy"-- they realize that cleaning needs to be done and that they need to make it happen, and the way they want to accomplish this is by throwing money at the problem. This is fine! There are plenty of people for whom free time is legitimately more precious than money. If you don't want to pitch in for the cleaning service, work something out where you pitch in your time instead. We would have LOVED to have had your responsible housemates.

Thanks for this. Your housemates sound like lovely people.

I got many reader suggestions on this letter, and of course all of them depend to some degree on how cooperative the roommates want to be, but the one I thought had the most potential was for the sloppy roommates to split the cost of a weekly professional cleaning, and for Momica to contribute her share by taking care of things that have to be done daily, like dishes.

I'm just going to assume that today's letter was satire. People just can't be that clueless. Right Carolyn? Right?

If that helps you get through life without constant involuntary screaming, okay.

I suspect LW1 from today's column is going to take a lot of (deserved) flack in the comments, so I wanted to acknowledge one good thing she seems to have done. It sounds like she actually did abide by her sister-in-law's wishes not to blab and not to post pictures on Facebook. She did it grudgingly and with a negative spirit, but still she did it. Since she recognizes that boundary, she might be able to adjust it easier than if she recognized no boundary whatsoever.

And whatever you're drinking is half full, am I right?

In the letter in today's paper, do you think she was being controlling by saying "Please don't put a picture of me on Facebook"? I hate even getting my picture taken but I also don't want to be the person who opts out of every family photo. Why does everything have to go on Facebook. I'm happy to stay out of the photo if you want it on Facebook or I'll be in it but don't don't want it on Facebook. Besides my own vanity/insecurity/whatever you want to call it - I don't want people I deal with in my professional life to see my personal life. Is that too controlling?

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, on a case-by-case basis, I am always going to side with the person who asks for image privacy. Every single time. If you don't want it up, then the photographer ought to respect you enough to deny Facebook this one stinkin image.

On the other hand, one of the guiding principles of my advice is that life is hard enough without fighting difficult, doomed, low-stakes battles. To keep your photo off all forms of social media, you have to be vigilant, you won't be 100 percent successful, and the cost to you when you fail will be ... what, a twinge of humiliation?

What drives my on-the-one-hand opinion is that I understand the humiliated feeling and sympathize with anyone who wants to avoid it. But I also believe that the degree to which you care about how you look in a shot is about 356738227 times greater than how much anyone else cares. In fact, in pix where you think you look hideous, I'm willing to bet people who know and love you think you look beautiful--i.e., you look like you. 


This is an essay by a mom about moms, but the point is excellent, relevant, and I believe applicable beyond the parent-child calculus: The people you love want you in their records of happy times. ("The Mom Stays in the Picture" link.)

Now, the other part of your question gets a different answer. I also relate to not wanting your professional circles to see what's going on in your personal circles. But, you'll be much more effective if you take the controls on that yourself by creating lists on Facebook that divide your two (or more) groups of online friends. You can set it up so that your professionals don't see that you're tagged in photos by your personals. You can also arrange it so that none of your friends sees when you're tagged. (The photos will exist still, but the fact that you're in them won't be beamed by your page to your friends.)


Finally, as for the connection to today's column, I think there are different issues here. A pregnant person was trying to control who knew about her pregnancy before it became general knowledge. I don't think she was being controlling in that instance, at all. Same goes for when people ask not to have their kids' pix posted.

In general, again, I think all requests should be honored, even the ones from people who merely don't like how they look in pictures, but when the requests have a reason behind them that's more than just self-consciousness, it's particularly douchey to ignore the privacy request and/or pressure someone not to make it. 

My grammar program underlined "douchey" as a non-word, but I beg to differ.

So, I'm pretty sure I'm the pregnant SIL mentioned in today's column. The words, perspective and version of events from the LW sound exactly like my husband's sister. She turns everything and anything into something about her. However, we only waited to tell her the news b/c we wanted to tell her face-to-face. I wanted my husband, her brother, to be able to hug her and share his joy with her in person. We waited to tell the nephews until I was out of the 1st tri. The youngest isn't even 5 and I couldn't imagine having to explain bad news later had it happened. Also? The kids didn't care at all. Their only comment was "you don't look fat. yet." Ah, things to look forward to! My husband and I are not big on sharing intimate details, which we consider this pregnancy to be, on Facebook. Indifferent to those to who, but it's just not the preferred outlet for us. Those who needed to know, we told personally...

This riff just came to mind: (YouTube link.)

And in case that Gen X cultural reference gets lonely: Be careful out there.

Thanks for writing in.

a couple of months ago I asked my husband of 8 years to move out in response to another dumb argument. he did, he packed a bag and went to stay at a friend's place. we are in daily communication (now) and see each other on weekends, we go out for dinner, or out for drinks, and truth be told, I much prefer this arrangement as does my teenage son. our arguments were never that bad, mostly silly over our own personality differences, but its so lovely having my own space back, and its so nice and quiet in the house. my son and I, with whom I have always been really close, have our own quiet routine, and I now feel I am at crossroads. my husband and I actually do get along and enjoy each others' company, but when he asks when he can move back in, I have no proper answer. I have joked perhaps we could sell the house and buy a duplex, or a house with a basement suite, and he of course disagrees. I am not sure where to go from here. I don't want to get divorced, but I am not keen on living with anoher adult again.

 "I have joked perhaps we could sell the house and buy a duplex, or a house with a basement suite, and he of course disagrees."

Easy for me to say, but this looks like your solution, except that neither of you is ready to treat it as such. You didn't suggest it, you "joked," and "of course" has no place before the fact that he disagrees. No doubt he also disagrees with the idea of remaining separated or divorcing, but if you're not willing to share your home with another adult again, then it's either the duplex or separate lives, right? And maybe then he'd take more serious interest in the duplex.

Certainly it's worth talking about the possibility that you're both slow to take it seriously because it's offbeat, and you'll feel like a curiosity in your social universe. But, I suspect a lot of couples would do better this way than they do by choosing from the standard, binary menu of  "sharing a kitchen" or "legally separated."

I'd wrap it up here, but I think your next step includes not only talking seriously about the duplex option, but also looking about for a suitable, competent marriage counselor.  While this appears on its face to be something you can work out together on your own, by nudging yourselves and each other toward more honesty and more open minds, the fact that you and your son are the bonded pair in this scenario, and that you and your husband are arguers over stupid things, add complications that I think would be best served by a talented referee.

Thanks for making me cry at my desk!!!! you need a disclaimer on that or something!

Sorry! I usually post a Not Safe For Mascara alert. It has been a while since I read that essay, so I forgot it was a weeper.

As social media becomes all that much more invasive, we need a whole new set of societal courtesies. I tend to be someone who posts a lot to FB, Instagram, Vine, etc. Still, unless I know the person well, I routinely ask if it is ok for me to post a group picture on social media. If time allows, I'll take one "FB" and one "non-FB" pic. Some of my friends don't liked to be "checked in" at places so I don't do it. Perhaps it is because I have friends and family who work in sensitive positions for certain agencies that will remain nameless and who I enjoy seeing socially. Even if they just don't want pictures published publicly, I'm good. My preference is to ask or have someone say something. My thought is that people who get annoyed at people who don't want their pictures on FB are, well, selfish. It is so easy to work around this!

Maybe it's just because I agree with (and applaud) you, but I think the same set of societal courtesies will do: Don't assume; think of how others would feel; make people feel comfortable. We simply need to value them above our own interests.

My step-dad was moved to end-of-life inpatient hospice care last night after seven years of debilitating terminal illness, and I'm going back to my hometown (several hundred miles) tomorrow morning. I had an opportunity to spend time with him just after we found out we were in the final months, but before his health deteriorated past a point of having a meaningful period of time together. He met my fiance, we talked through our remaining regrets, and I feel at peace with that end of things. While I am already in the midst of this and have tried to prepare myself the best I can, I'm not sure I'm actually ready. Do you have any last-minute advice to steel myself for the emotional roller coaster that the next couple of weeks promise to be?

I'm so sorry. If it's any consolation, the steps you've taken to this point have been wise and loving and will serve you well, even when it doesn't feel that way at all.

The only thing I have to add, in fact, is that steel isn't the substance I'd choose to emulate going into this. I suggest instead thinking of yourself as water. Just flow, and don't be afraid to take the shape events dictate. You'll hurt but you'll be okay.


Hi there! I've been noticing that the chat doesn't refresh in my browser any more when new responses are posted. Any tips on getting it to work? Thanks!

It's not you. There's some sort of technical issue today. It's not great, I know. I'm really sorry.

We're looking into it on this end, and I'm afraid all I can do is ask for your patience until we get it figured out ... and that you hit the refresh button every once in a while.

NYTimes has published several articles in last several years about this idea: married/committed couples living in separate spaces. It is not that uncommon! Make sure to read all the comments, as many readers write in about their solutions (different condos in same building, separate single family homes around the corner from one another). Absolutely agree that the traditional binary just doesn't work for everyone! And that husband's biggest concern might be 'what is everyone going to think?', a concern best left in one's youth. and

Thanks! Good stuff. 

Rest, rest, rest. Your physical energy will take the same kind of hit that your emotional energy will, and you need to give in to that. This is the best advice a friend ever gave me, after I lost my beloved father quite unexpectedly.

So true, and compassionate, thank you.

I see a lot of people post about in-laws. Maybe I'm getting mellow as I get older, but I truly think that 90% of the time, it's just about different family dynamics (which is also why the spouse seems oblivious sometimes - he/she grew up in it). There are definitely poisonous people who should be addressed, but many aren't. I know my in-laws think that I'm reticent and uptight. And I think that they are self-centered and disrespectful of others' time/lives. Both are true to some extent, at least in comparison to each other. But neither of us is doing it to damage the other - we just come from different places and neither place is dysfunctional. As I start to understand that more, I start to be more accepting of these situations, which is better for my relationship with them, and easier for my husband.

I need the Talking Heads clip again. Thanks.

I'm the only mother of school aged children in my social circle so I don't know who else to ask this. I just found out today that my child's kindergarten teacher withholds the daily snack and juice from any child that misbehaves - examples she gave were talking too much and not paying attention. This is wrong, right? I'm angry that food is being used as a punishment tool

Talk to the teacher. I'd have a problem with it, too. But don't go in with your verbal guns blazing; be calm and ask if this is in fact what s/he's doing, and then ask for the reasoning behind it, and if you remain unimpressed, that's when you say so. If you get rebuffed then you talk to the principal. 

I.e., there's a process. Teachers deserve the respect you show by both giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to replace any doubt with facts.

It's tangentially related... For years I avoided being in pictures because I gained a ton of weight and cringed every time sometime tagged me in a post on FB. Then my dad passed away very suddenly and no one had any recent photos of the two of us together for the 5 year period leading up to when he died. Of course it changed my perspective on opting in or out of photos, but also showed me how destructive my body image was and gave me motivation to unlearn that.

I love this, thank you.

But nothing beats walking the walk:

Hi Carolyn, I'm a late bloomer weathering my first breakup, and am genuinely curious to know your take on breakup etiquette, not for the dumper (person initiating the breakup), but for the dumpee (person on the receiving end). What consitutes good dumpee conduct in terms of what is expressed to the dumper, and when it's expressed? Is the question even relevant when (sometimes justifably) hurt/angry feelings are involved? Thanks much!

I think it's at its most relevant when there are hurt/angry feelings involved, since we need far fewer civility guidelines when we're feeling calm and at peace.

It's hard for me to say what "good dumpee conduct" (a fine dark horse for a band-naming contest) looks like when I don't know what happened between you. But, I think you'll be okay if you stick to the simple guidelines of not trying to score points (which includes lashing out, trashing Dumper to anyone who will listen, seeking any kind of vengeance); saying thank you for any candor that isn't plainly intended to wound; and for the love of bloomers never drunk-dialing.

Anyone have anything to add?

My partner's children (15 & 18) ignored my birthday for the second year in a row - even though one of theirs is two weeks before mine and we hosted a large, enjoyable birthday party for them at our house. (They live with the other parent the majority of the time, because of school location). Our six-year relationship is generally good; I do not act parental or interfere, however they know they can rely upon my being there for them, sometimes in ways that their parent is not , when they need me. Am feeling hurt and cannot tell if it was deliberately rejecting behavior or just major unconsciousness. The question is this: ought I or their parent to confront them about it ? If so, to say what exactly?

No, please don't. It never advances the cause of a thankless job to go around seeking thanks. Just keep investing in the things that matter to their well-being, with the understanding that their stability is your reward. (And a fine one at that.) 

FWIW, I don't think it would be too hinty or pathetic to say, "I'm taking everyone out to [favorite family treat here] for my birthday," or even bringing home said treat, to minimize the chances someone has plans or something due the next day and can't come--whatever you know you can count on to get a good response. Shared, generalized joy beats waiting for joy to come to you.

Hi Carolyn, I have recently started a job with an amazing paycheck, and since then have enjoyed spoiling my boyfriend at holidays and birthdays, something I was never able to do before. However, he is the type of person that doesn't take care of material items very well. He'll spend a lot of money on something, and then never clean it, or leave it outside in the rain. I bought him a 600 dollar GoPro for christmas and he has lost/found it more times than I can count now. I love to see how excited he gets when he receives something from me that he's not willing to spend the money on himself, but it's hard to watch him treat items badly that I spent a lot of time and money picking out for him. It's his gift, so I feel like I can't tell him how to treat it, so should I even bother getting him nice presents anymore? Is there an alternative you can think of?

Nope. The only option is to buy only what you can stand to watch him neglect. Or, spoil him with experiences, since he can't dent or misplace a trip or leave it out in the rain (as long as you're holding all the tickets and passports).

Or just spoil your future self by socking most of this excess away. Consider yourself noodged.

My daughter and wife (daughter’s stepmom) both work in the same creative field. While Wife’s career has been bumpy as of late – she’s struggled with the same project for years and can’t seem to finish it – Daughter’s has really excelled. She was recently nominated for a few awards for her work. I know Wife feels insecure about her professional accomplishments. Whenever I mention something Daughter has done, usually in response to an acquaintance asking about my kids, Wife is visibly upset and touchy for several days after. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to “like” Daughter’s Facebook posts, or publicly display parental pride. How should I balance between supporting my wife and cheering on my daughter? My ex (Daughter’s mother) recently told me that Daughter confessed she felt I wasn’t proud of her.

I wrote a whole answer and then deleted it. For this:

What's with all the need for praise here, both given and received? Why does your daughter need your attention to prove to her that you're proud of her, why can't your wife handle her frustration with herself with at least a minimum of grace and without making it other people's problem, and why are your daughter's professional accomplishments even on the table as a possible answer to a friendly "How are your kids?"-type query?

I could make a bunch of smaller suggestions, but it sounds to me that you'd all be better served by spending more time together for the sake of it, and valuing each other and yourselves with much less regard for how you make a living.


These kids are high-school aged -- 15 and 18. I think there are many, many adolescent children who are pretty oblivious about their parents' birthdays, step- or otherwise. Considering the emotional lives of adults is just not on their radar at that age. If you want them to be involved somehow in acknowledging your birthday, you need to get your partner to do some of the orchestrating: "Hey, let's do X next weekend to celebrate my birthday." That's assuming you can find a time when everyone is free -- if they are anything like my teenagers, they are busy.

Sounds right, thanks.

The best advice I ever got on this was from my best friend's mother: you can act in a way that makes them glad you are gone, or you can act in a way that makes them think of you fondly and with appreciation. Stake out your ground on the high road, and do not let it go.

Nice, thanks.

It IS okay, though, to calmly call BS on them if it is justified. For example, the "It's not fair to you/I don't have enough time for you/You are too good for me" type-lines. It is totally okay to say, "I'm happy in this relationship; if you are not, that is on you. Don't put it on me." FWIW, I was almost always the dumper. The first time I was the dumpee was the greatest, most freeing, least painful breakup I'd ever experienced. It was awesome. I'll take being dumped any day.

It is not always so painless, but there is something to be said for not being responsible for rejecting someone. Guilt-free, maybe, is the term for it.

Yes, something to add: Facebook makes the temptation for bad dumpee conduct much greater. If you can, take a break from FB for a couple months, or at least make use of the "I don't want to see this" feature. When you're feeling better, then you can catch up with your ex (if desired).

Also good thx.

I would avoid looking to the 'dumper' for validation and closure. Sometimes, they do help you feel like matters are settled. Sometimes, most times I find, the relationship doesn't feel like it ends with finality. It just stops. Sometimes you have to get closure all by yourself, and it's healthy to do so I think. Also avoid asking "why". That never ends well, and usually it's just a mix of things, not One Big Thing.

This about covers it, I think, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, I have a somewhat awkward and verging on awful question. My aunt is coming to visit this weekend. She will be staying with my grandmother, as per usual. I rarely see my aunt (she lives 5+ hours away and is very close with her step-children) and I really enjoy her company. I would love to do something with her. However, if auntie is invited grandma comes too. This is a huge pain. My grandmother claims to be not very mobile. She lives alone, still drives and goes to the gym 2-3 times a week, FYI, so I think this is crap. But she doesn't like: crowds, sitting outside, walking long distances, etc. I would like to spend some time with my aunt doing fun things that we wouldn't be able do with grammie in tow. Plus I have to filter myself when my grandmother is around, often to the point of silence. That's not who I am but it's not worth the side-eye from my family to be any other way. My parents, grandmother, and I all live in the same city so I see them weekly. I know its selfish but how do I get some "me" time with my aunt?

There's a false logic in here: "lives alone, still drives and goes to the gym 2-3 times a week" does not mean she's ready to take on a day at the Paris flea market. The grandma you describe could very well be mobile -within her comfort zone-, which is very common, and it's also common for crowds and a lot of walking to define the land beyond the zone. Walking and the outdoors mean fatigue, not knowing where to find a bathroom, not having an easy escape hatch from the day, etc. Crowds mean jostling, potential confusion, and a ratcheting up of the "unknowns" element.

So. Cut granny a break. 

And, if you want to see your aunt separately for a different kind of activity, then run it by her as just that: "Hey, would you like to ______? I know it's not Grandma's thing, but maybe the two of us can go after dinner when she's in for the night."

I don't know if this is related to whatever is causing the chat not to refresh today, but I just noticed that the date/time stamp on all the posts shows "mei" instead of "May". It would seem that the chat gremlins are tweaking things in Dutch, Afrikaans, Indonesian, possibly Swahili...

Nah, the date thing is an unrelated, long-standing problem ... or more like a fun game. Every once in a while it appears and we get to play guess the language.

But, UPDATE. Auto-refresh is working again. I just got the word from the tech team. Thanks for sticking with us while we worked it out. 

I just wanted to thank you for linking my post above. My friend alerted me -- we're both excited! And for the record, I now try to stay in pictures, but I do not post them all on Facebook! And I also have my privacy settings set so I am alerted if someone tries to tag me in one. There is a happy medium. :) -- Allison Slater Tate

Hey there! You're getting a nice response, I'm excited to say.

sorry for the delays, btw--my cable modem is down for some reason, so I had to switch my internet access on the fly.

Hello, I have been dating my boyfriend for almost 4 years. When we met he told me he was separated and I later learned that although he was 'separated,' they still lived together due to financial reasons. Reportedly, the reason for the separation was that she had a years-long affair. The first couple of years were ridiculous where he wasn't completely honest with me, I accused him of lying to me about being separated, etc....  Since he moved out 2 years ago, our relationship has been GREAT. We get along, have a lot in common and always have a great time together. I am at the point of wanting to move forward with our relationship--after all, it has been nearly 4 years. When I recently asked him when he intends to get a divorce, he was very defensive (although my timing was terrible--we'd been out drinking). A couple of weeks later, he (unprompted and out of the blue) vowed to 'work hard' on getting the divorce done so "we could be together all the time" (we do not live together). So far, I have seen no evidence of his 'working hard' to get divorced. I think he feels bad because he carries the medical for his wife and she has no insurance avail through work. But she can get Obamacare now! What do you make of this? Fear of commitment? Not wanting to deal with young children again? Embarrassment because (he probably knows) I make more than twice what he makes or maybe he has a lot of debt and he doesn't want to have the "financial discussion"? Thoughts/advice? Is it time for an ultimatum--I hate to pressure him, I want him to WANT to marry me!? Thanks!

So, he lied--not a while lie, a marital-status whopper; he gets defensive about sensitive topics; you need a couple of belts before you can broach a sensitive topic yourself; you know nothing certain of each other's finances; you haven't talked about or don't believe what he's said to you about having children; you haven't received any insight from him about why he's moved so slowly on dissolving this marriage ...

... but you have a lot in common (I'll say) and have a "great time."

This is coming out as mean-spirited and that wasn't my intent, but you just sound so achingly unprepared for marriage. 

Before going in, you need to trust each other implicitly, and feel comfortable saying what you need to say--because cooking up various scenarios to try to figure out what the other is thinking, and relying on that as your primary mode of communication, is a promise of some major misunderstandings--at the least. -Find a way to talk to each other,- about everything and anything, then write to me about wanting to get married.

Hi Carolyn - I think I am experiencing my first heartbreak, and I am not sure what to do - or if there is anything I can do. SO and I have been dating for several months. While I have dated consistently through the years (am ~30), meeting SO was the first time I really felt that "YES!" and spark. The problem: I was recently accepted into a highly-regarded, perfect-for-my-interests, out-of-state PhD program (I applied before SO and I met). My SO had spent over 2 years of his previous relationship in a long-distance relationship and pretty much said that he will not do another distance relationship. Also, for him, just the fact that I got into the program changes the game, because if I turned it down for him, it would be too much pressure too soon, but going is a deal breaker, too. I understand his concerns, but at the same time, I am willing to do the heavy lifting to make this relationship work, if he'll let me. I will travel back, I am happy to take a more "flexible" approach to our relationship... but for him, the idea of me going away puts him back into a really dark place, and he has has a pessimistic view of any attempt we might make at distance. So, finally, the questions: 1) Is there anything that I can do at this point to help him deal with his distance demons? 2) Is there anything I can change about the situation now, given that the knowledge of the acceptance to the program has already been a game changer? If he hadn't said that staying for him was a no-go, I would seriously consider trying to just find a new job where we are or something... 3) How do I deal with this huge gaping hole in my chest cavity and/or the non-stop waterworks that prevent my appearance in polite company? - 399 Miles of Heartache

Hope you're there--can you defer the program a year? 

Here's what I'm thinking: He can decide not to move with you and not to date long-distance, but he doesn't get to decide that you are applying pressure to him just by rethinking the grad program. You are a grownup and you get to decide what your priorities are, and if you decide that you'd rather decline/postpone the program--even knowing you could break up a week after you do that--than spend even a moment wondering "what if," then that's on YOU and no one else. You wouldn't be "staying for him" (obviously, since he doesn't want you to), you'd be staying for you. It does not confer any obligation onto him--as long as you are genuine in your readiness to live with this decision if your relationship ultimately derails. 

So that's the scenario I have in mind. You seem mature enough to handle it; the variable is whether he's mature enough to handle it as well.

It just seems like insanity for you to slump off to a grad program you no longer really want to attend just because it would freak him out if you didn't.


My boyfriend loses everything and it drives me crazy. After he left the digital camera I bought him in a coffee shop on a trip to NYC (and honestly, as angry as I was, he felt 100x worse) I came up with a gift category of "Things he won't take out of the house." He has not managed to lose the flat screen TV I purchased for him. I also agree on experiences - those are a huge hit. Just, you know, keep track of the tickets yourself...

If he does manage to lose the flat screen, please send a detailed update, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, my adult brother and I are not close, despite repeated attempts from me to connect. He lives in the same town as my parents, and used to have a closer relationship with them. It's gradually gotten to the point where he only contacts my parents if he or his family needs something. His wife, an only child, is very close to her parents, and my family seems to have become an afterthought. He does not acknowledge birthdays, goes weeks without calling, but then will contact my parents if he is in a pinch. My parents have told him that it's hurtful only hearing from him when he needs something, but it hasn't made a difference. My mother recently confessed to me that she does not know where she went wrong in raising him, and it was difficult to see her blame herself. With Mother's Day coming up, along with a milestone birthday for one of my parents, is it worth me contacting him to see if he plans to call our parents?

It probably won't accomplish anything close to what you hope, if anything at all, so the real thing to weigh is whether contacting him will cost you anything--will it set back your cause, will it cause you pain, will it damage what little relationship you have. If the answer to those is, "Well, it could hardly get worse," then, sure, let him know a call or card would mean a lot to your mom. 

While I know darn close to nothing, the little you have provided doesn't rule out the possibility that his wife is abusive and that you're on the business end of a long-term effort to isolate him from his support system. (Obviously this is among countless other, far less dire possibilities, so please keep what I say in its proper perspective.)

Because of that, I caution against throwing up your hands completely. Keep what little lifeline he allows you--send the occasional hey-howaya email even if he never responds, leave a "Miss you, just checking in" voice mail, etc., even if it's only once a quarter. Don't sound angry or sigh heavily. Be the person you would call if you needed to lean on someone but you'd fallen out of touch with everyone you could hope to lean on. You never know.

Oh--and remind your mom as needed that it's not just her and likely not about her. This stuff does happen, sadly, way too often.

I'm here - and no deferment for me (the school said they had allowed it once for a sick parent, and then the student came a year later and dropped out...). Our situation is further complicated by the fact that his job ties him to our current area (work visa), so moving is out of the question. I think the "staying for me" way of putting it is helpful, but I would be staying for me because my desire is to be with him and try to make our relationship work. I think I am mature enough to not blame him if we do derail and I have stayed, but I think it will be a challenge to forgive myself, as much as I try to look at every choice made as the "right" one for where I am. Until I met SO, getting into this particular program would have been a dream come true (one that will hold many challenges, but a dream nonetheless). I really dislike being a grown-up right now.

That just means you're doing it right. 

Sounds as if you're not in a peaceful enough place to chuck the grad acceptance for this, but, only you know. At this point all I can advise is to decide but don't tell anyone you've decided, then see how well you sleep. Good luck. 

Oright, that's it for today. Thanks Jess, thanks everyone who stopped by, thanks transcript readers. Back here next week, barring calamity.

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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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