Unconditional nerd love: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, May 16)

May 16, 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.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Past Carolyn Hax Discussions

Way Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

Hax Philes discussions

Just discovered that I'm addicted to reading the Friday chat when I get home from work every Friday. Just wondering what happened to last week's chat, May 9th? Usually it's mentioned if it's cancelled. I keep trying to find it to no avail!

Definitely wasn't canceled. Here's the link: http://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live-140509.html

If you can find this week's, too, Jess, I can just catch up on "Nurse Jackie."

Hi, Carolyn. Earlier this week you had a question from a woman whose SIL had a long time BF. Ths SIL supports the guy, etc. There were a lot of comments about him taking advantage of her. Had the genders been reversed, would the comments have been the same? I am married and have been a SAHM for all the years we have been married (4 kids). I know that my husbands family thinks I am a gold-digger because I have never "contributed" to the family. I don't even garden/can/preserve! My MIL has dropped many hints, like she is sure I could find SOMETHING cleaning houses, etc. My husband is a computer engineer and has done well, and he prefers that I stay home and cook, etc. I do not feel like a gold-digger, but I wonder if there is something wrong with me. Help!

This is just bonkers. You're equating stay-at-home parenthood with going into debt playing poker?

(a) This has nothing to do with gender, and (b) your husband's family is gaslighting you. It's about time your husband put an end to it on your behalf, even if it means they don't get to see him or the grandkids until they treat you, and by extension him, with respect.

Hi Carolyn, love the chats. I am getting married in five months to a wonderful man and could not be more excited. He and I both want to have children within the next few years. The thing is, I'm not great with kids; I was even adamantly against having children until I began to change my mind a few years ago (before we started dating). I didn't grow up around them, my friends don't have them, and the only exposure I had was as a camp counselor to 9 and 10 year old girls. My future sister-in-law has two kids, 8 and 13, and I get along with them pretty well, but often find I don't know what to do or say around them. Do I need to find a way to spend more time around kids so I'm ready for my own?

Only if you think you need that to settle your nerves (and if you can find a way to do it, because adults with no connections to kids can't exactly start milling around playgrounds).

I for one am not terribly concerned, though. A lot of people who are flummoxed by kids do just fine with their own. You know them so well and/or experience so much together, you always have something to say or ask or giggle about. Plus, you're in at the ground floor, so you can--to the degree they cooperate--influence their interests in order to guarantee some shared ones.

Which reminds me, I need to get my kids watching more "Monty Python."

Hi Carolyn, In a couple hours I'm heading out for a very stressful weekend. I'd love any words of wisdom. Here's the short version: weekend with immediate and extended family 1000 miles from home (i.e. far away from support system). Coming together due to a recent and unexpected death in the family. Several extended family members don't want me there - they think it should be just one generation, however, I'm going to support my parent. My parents are in a very rocky place right now and one of my parents is leaning on me. I've encouraged this parent to see a counselor/therapist, but all the rocky-ness had just come to a head this week (been building for years). I really, really don't want to be in the middle of my parents' relationship. Unfortunately no siblings so it's just me. Aside from bringing a couple good books and escaping to talk walks whenever possible what do I do? I can handle long term changes (separation/divorce), but need help getting through the next 48 hours. For what it's worth, the seriousness of my parent's issues was made clear to me just a couple days ago. Extended family is not aware. Thanks!

I'm sorry, it sounds like a real stress dump.

My main advice is what you're already leaning toward: meticulous self-care. Get fresh air, eat reasonably, sleep well, bring or queue up reliable sources of comfort (music and video, say, to supplement your books).

For dealing with the turmoil, have a mantra to keep yourself steady. You want to listen more than you talk, stay calm more than you react, give affection more than you show anything negative--so try condensing these goals into a few words you can repeat in your mind. Even if people react badly to your presence, you can pull off all three, listening-staying calm-showing affection--by using reflective listening techniques: "I hear how upset you are." You can always nod to them and excuse yourself from the conversation at that point.

When you do have a moment to yourself, don't be afraid to let your emotions spill over. 

I hope this helps, and that your experience is not as bad as you fear.


I'm finally re-entering the dating world after a horrible divorce 10 years ago and trying to focus on my now-teenage son. I've gone out with a couple of potentially interesting guys, but I feel so out of my comfort zone. I haven't really dated in 20 years, I guess, and I know the rules are different these days. Any advice on having fun, managing my expectations, navigating the do's and don'ts of 21st-century dating etiquette?

Keep it simple: "Is this worth the trouble?" Yes/No. Assess as you go.

And, rules shmules. You are in charge of yourself, which means behaving both honorably and as a competent representative of your own wants and needs. The other person is responsible for managing his honor and his wants and needs. If the combination works, great, if it doesn't, oh well. 

What do you do when your child is determined to marry someone you believe is utterly wrong for her? There are multiple red flags: he is 31, chronically unemployed, addicted to video games; she doesn't seem like herself with him and has moved three times so he can pursue jobs that he gets fired from, while she dismisses her own dreams; he is financially dependent on her and his relatives. We have run the gamut from trying to talk her out of it, to suggesting she wait (they were engaged very quickly), to trying to get to know him (he barely speaks in person, doesn't answer texts we've sent), to making neutral statements because she's legally an adult and it's obviously her decision. Yet every approach we've taken has made her defensive to the point where she's stopped speaking to us. The wedding is in June and we were invited before the communication lines were cut (we've sent e-mails, but no replies). Do we go? Is it hypocritical to go when we don't support this match? Her anger toward us has gotten to the point where our relationship is damaged no matter what, so in some ways, attending almost feels masochistic (attack or ignore us and we'll keep showing up for more). Yet if this marriage collapses, we would want to be there for her, and if we don't attend, she might hold it against us forever.

What was the content of your most recent emails to her? I.e., were you being conciliatory, or were you still trying to pull her back from the edge of the cliff?

Carolyn, what do you do when you realize the person you are dating is a poor communicator? I'm normally a hyper-processor: when I feel there's a problem, I like to address it head-on and talk it through, no matter where the conversation ends up. My goal is for everyone to be happy, whether it is together or separately. My partner of one year--I am coming to realize--avoids these conversations by falling asleep, denying there's a problem, or otherwise redirecting the conversation in a way that turns it into a tit-for-tat. She rarely apologizes for anything and she is sometimes hot and cold. Our last such conversation where I described feeling unwanted ended with her falling asleep and my going to sleep on the couch. The next day she was sweet as pie without acknowledging anything had happened. Is this a case of "figure out what you can live with or leave," or are there more targeted ways of communicating with someone who is probably as opaque to themselves as they are to the outside?

You can certainly try to pry loose some self-awareness from her when the topic isn't a problem that's bothering you. That way you can see whether she's got hair-trigger defenses that wall her off from you the moment she feels accused, or whether the walls are just there all the time.

If theyre there all then time, then you get to decide whether the promise of some vague mystery about her soul behind the walls is worth the crushing boredom of being with someone who has no apparent insight into herself or anyone/thing else. 

If they're there just as a defense, then you can talk about--again, when there's no specific problem being discussed--being a safe place for each other to be vulnerable. You can say, and model, that you won't get punitive when she says something you don't want to hear--say, to use your example, that she sometimes doesn't want you the way you'd like her to.

About that "feeling unwanted": That can be the upshot of a useful concern to express, or it can be so fuzzy as to be of no practical use to her. I'd need to know the context to tell what's going on here, but, just in case, do make sure you're being specific when you bring something up. Being tired on the couch and being told "You're so distant lately--I feel unwanted" can be hard to respond to, whereas, "When we're together at the end of the day and all I see is the back of your laptop, I feel unwanted[/lonely/irritated]." Make sense?

The short answer is to approach her at non-emotionally-charged times, to be very plain-spoken and to be open-minded about what she says. If even that gets you face-to-face with a wall, then  this a case of "figure out what you WANT TO live with," and then stay or go accordingly.

Most recent e-mails were 1/2 making one last attempt to pull back from cliff, 1/2 "we're worried about you, you don't seem like yourself"

Okay, that helps. I think it's time to be conciliatory. "I never meant to alienate you, and am sorry I pushed things to that point. I would like to see you, and patch up what we can. You are an adult and it is your right to live as you choose; I feel my role is just to have your back, which I've tried to do, but obviously mishandled. When you're ready, I hope you'll give me another chance to get it right."

That way, you're taking responsibility for your share of the estrangement, affirming her right to make her own choices, reminding her that you will be there if and when she needs you to be, and yet making no hollow-sounding declarations of joy for things you're still not happy about.

Something that I suspect will help: Jess, can we kick this to Philes with this as the bottom-line question?:

"To anyone who has been on the other end of this, and who withdrew from communicating with a parent who interfered to one degree too far: Assuming the parent was ready just to shut up and be there for you, what would it take for you to be willing to accept a peace overture?"

Or if it is successful, you want to share that joy with her.

Yes, that too. It can be really hard to see that possibility through the red-flag equivalent of a ticker-tape parade.

"...when I feel there's a problem, I like to address it head-on and talk it through, no matter where the conversation ends up." Is it possible that the OPs partner cannot process all the words the OP is directing at her quickly enough? I have learned, with my BF, to state my problem in few words, and as calmly as I can. Then I shut up and wait for him to process what I am saying, and I give him time to respond. (This takes incredible patience on my part.) We can resolve most problems that way.... And I also am addicted to your chat. Thanks!

Certainly possible, thanks.

And thanks for the kind words. It's those occasional, endless gaps between answers--the classic "random rewards" model. I'm actually not thinking, writing and revising during those times, I'm looking at cat videos and trolling my own comments under a pseudonym.

I noticed a few mentions of the woman falling asleep after you brought up important topics. I am going to assume, then, that you're doing this late at night, perhaps in bed or right before bed? If so, please stop! Just because you want to hash something out at midnight, doesn't mean it's the right time to do so. If you're someone who likes to "fix" things immediately, it can be a hard adjustment to tell yourself that it's okay to wait half a day to bring it up. But please give it a try to see if you get better results.

Yes, don't dump complicated things on the exhausted mind (or the freshly awakened one, pre-caffeinated one, about-to-be-late-for-something one, etc.).

And throw in this for some pre-talk rumination: Very few things need to be complicated. Try simplifying your needs first, in your own mind, then see whether you're more successful when you bring them up--if you find you even need to say anything at this point.

I would send in your RSVP as attending with a very nice note saying that you were sorry if you came off questioning her judgement before. You are thrilled she found someone who made her happy and you realize you were wrong for constantly questioning her judgement. You will support her 100% and the lines are open if she wants to talk. Her marriage may not work out (or it might be just fine), but the only way to get your relationship back with is by realizing you crossed the line with the number of times you brought it up.

I like this a lot, thanks.

I wrote in last week to ask for some last-minute advice as I was going to my hometown for my dad's final days, and I wanted to check in and let you and the nuteratti know that I am doing well--Dad went peacefully earlier this week--and your advice to emulate water, and the additional advice from a reader to REST, has been my constant support through this emotional time. It's tough, but thank you all so much for the kind words and solid advice.

You're welcome, and I'm sorry for your loss.

It's gratifying to know that you were able to be there and that you're doing well, so thank you for the update. Don't be afraid to keep streamlining your life as you grieve, even when you feel like you're "supposed to" be beyond that.

The day my daughter started quoting the Princess Bride in conversation was one of the proudest days of my life.


A few similar thoughts on kids kids kids, which I'll post without comment:

I'm not great with kids in general. I don't have a lot of experience with them. But, I'm great with my own kid. I can figure out what she likes. I get ideas from other people with kids her age (and now I know other people with similar aged kids) and I get ideas from our daycare provider. Now, I feel like I'm good with kids her age and younger, but I still don't know what to expect from older kids until we hit that age.

I didn't have any experience with kids either, especially not newborns or infants. Zero. When they handed him to me, I looked at him and said, "I don't know what to do with you." And now my baby is nearly eight months old and thriving, and I could (almost, not quite) write a manual for his care. Babies actually start out pretty simple and ease you into the whole thing. Read books, ask plenty of questions, you'll be fine.

The nice thing about parenting is that babies come up with a pretty basic set of needs. There are only about three things they tend to need at any one given moment. As they grow up, you get to group up as a parent and understanding their needs and how to interact with them ends to happen organically. Until around the age of two, you can say pretty much anything you want. If you're talking in a soft tone, they'll be cool with it. Even if you're having a rough day and all you want to say is "Why do you keep pooping all over your clothes?" as long as it's in a singsong voice and followed by a little tickle, your baby will be like "Awesome this person is nice to me!"

MY MIL has told others that I am a bad wife because I don't stay home cooking/cleaning like she thinks I am supposed to. And she really disapproved of the way we divide our roles in the family: I am an analyst so I work long hours and I do the banking/finance stuff (which I like), he is a writer/creative type so his schedule is flexible and he does the cooking (he loves cooking), gardening, and household organizing - we share cleaning, laundry, homework checking etc. My MIL keeps trying to tell me how to boil water - as if not being home to do something, or not wanting to do something, is the same as not being capable of doing something. Sometimes you will just never win the battle so I focus on winning the war - my amazing family totally works for us.

An astonishing, staggering amount of potential affection is squandered just by thinking one's own way needs to be everyone's way. Sad. It's not just women who end up on the wrong end of this problem, of course, though I do think the ideas about the kind of life available to a woman have changed the most dramatically over the past generation, and so there's extra tension there. (Runner up: The way kids are raised.)

Good for you and your family for tuning out the noise.

I am married to a hyper-processor and while I spend a lot of time professionally drilling down into the reasons and motivations that organizations and entities have for their behavior, that doesn't mean that I want to do a lot of it on my own time. We have more or less reached detente on this. I understand that I owe it to him to talk things through to a level that he feels comfortable with. He understands that in order to be fair to me, "a level he feels comfortable with" will sometimes have to be modified lest he start beating a dead horse. And sometimes it means that I say, "Listen, this has been one hell of a day and once we get the kids to bed I'm going to need forty minutes of staring slack-jawed at my laptop;" that I don't derive comfort or satisfaction from rehashing my day out loud; and that's okay.

Good example of how succeeding at this might look, thanks.

When I am hanging out with my friend, she will sometimes take calls from her mother or grandmother and talk for 2-5 minutes. These are not emergency calls. She thinks this is not rude because the calls are short. I violently disagree. Resolve this for us?


I'm on your side, but I'm wearing hockey pads.

Can any good ever come from telling someone they were the one who got away? I'm figuring usually not...so why is it so tempting?

Is it possible even to know that about someone? It's a counterfactual. 

It's tempting because you want to see what it'll stir up. Do resist, though, unless you're both free agents. Thanks.

New Hax Philes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/05/16/hax-philes-bringing-a-relationship-back-from-the-brink/

After the lines of communication have been cut, assuming the parent was ready just to shut up and be there for you, what would it take for you to be willing to accept a peace overture?

A friend of mine has a BF of about 2 years. They are pretty serious, she has mentioned they have discussed marriage. A couple of weekends ago I saw her BF kissing another man outside of a bar. He saw me as well but at the time I just kept walking. He called me a few days later and asked that I not share this news with my friend as he was not ready to come out of the closet yet. I wasn't sure what to say at the time so I agreed but told him it made me uncomfortable. She is a very close friend. If this were a situation with another woman I would have given him the chance to tell her but if he didn't I would let her know what I saw. I am sensitive to not outing someone who isn't ready but I don't like withholding this kind of information from my friend. Especially since she thinks he's the man she is going to marry. Do I give him time to tell her? If so how much time? Keep my mouth shut?

You call, you say, "You asked me to wait, I've waited. You have till tomorrow if you want to beat me to it."


How do you ensure that your kid DOESN'T share of any of your interests? My husband and I both pursue fairly nerdy interests, but the last thing I need is ANOTHER nerd in the house. I don't care if they discover Monty Python as a college student, I just don't need them practicing their silly walks and reciting the dead parrot skit to their friends in eighth grade and being the class weirdo. Is it even possible to keep kids out of their parents' interests?

This breaks my heart. How bout we bury the idea of "class weirdo," one set of parents at a time.

I believe in introducing kids to all kinds of constructive or cultural things and then watching their faces. Where you see joy, you keep feeding them whatever brought it about, even if it isn't what you would have chosen for them. By supporting and validating what brings them joy, and encouraging them to run with these things in their own ways using their own ideas and resources, you help create a strong kid. A strong kid will be on a better path than a popular one, always, even if the path sometimes is steeply uphill.

Thanks to everyone for the reassurances, I feel more confident about it already. Looking forward to the new adventures and learning as I go - luckily I have an awesome support system and a father who has the magic touch with babies (the second he holds a baby, it will stop crying). Thanks again!

Oh my goodness, he can make a living off that if he ever needs to. People with The Touch are so rare. People who just think they have it, not so much, but I digress.

Glad to hear you're feeling better. The power of a parent is an awesome one. And while you can't count on that to correct every mistake (abuse of that power, for example, is often beyond fixing), you can count on it to smooth over or outright erase the well-meaning mistakes you make just trying to be a good parent.

Good luck. Check in sometime if you do have kids.

And don't forget that you DON'T have to "fix" anything. You don't have to come up with any ideas about how to change anything. You don't have to come up with any answers this weekend. Taking that pressure off yourself can help.

Agh, yes, how could I leave that out, thank you. That's the whole point of listening more than talking.

Related to today's theme: what do you do when your friend suddenly announces that she needs your reference for adopting an infant? Said friend has never - in the 20 years I've know her - expressed any interest whatsoever in babies. In fact, she flees from them. This all will be just fine, right?

Her past interest in babies is irrelevant, yes. All that matters is her character.

I will be having lunch soon with an old friend from high school. We are both in our mid 50s now. Long story short, our friendship went by the wayside about the time I got married, almost 30 years ago now. We recently (a few years ago) reconnected via Facebook, and she has recently made a few subtle comments that make me think she is interested in knowing more about why we ever fell out of touch. I am over it and don't really want to make her feel bad about what I saw as slights at the time. How much should I say if she brings it up? I really anticipate she will. (The gist of it is that some of her comments at the time made me question whether she really knew me. She was very dismissive of things that were important to me. Not Bridezilla things.)

I typed out a general response for you, but then it occurred to me that the level of detail has everything to do with the tone of your actual conversation. In the moment, you might want to clear the air entirely--but just as easily, I can see that idea striking you as silly, when you both agree that the details of a rift just aren't important three decades out. 

So my advice is to get straight in your mind a brief account of what happened, noting that you harbor no ill feelings now, just to have handy in case she asks--and then go into the lunch with an open mind. You can't lose by showing a genuine interest in your old friend.

I am not sure what to do, my boyfriend (year and a half) and his sisters grew up in a dysfunctional family. Dad was an alcoholic, mom turned alcoholic when my boyfriend left for college (he's the baby) sounds like the kids were left to fend for themselves mostly. They are all mid to late 40s now and the oldest sister has what I consider a very unhealthy emotional outlook on life, and as much as I sympathize on their upbringing, I have noticed how destructive she can be towards others. I don't like it and want no part of it. I have asked my boyfriend to draw some boundaries when it comes to her. Is this unfair? He is taking it as though I am asking him to stop loving and caring about her and gets pretty defensive. Now I am questioning his outlook on life. It also has me questioning whether I am just cold hearted. FWIW, I have no problem drawing some boundaries with my own very very fundamentally religious family. (took me some time to learn that) But I still love, care and enjoy my time with them.

"He is taking it as though I am asking him to stop loving and caring about her and gets pretty defensive." Sounds like the dysfunction of alcoholism is doing the talking. He also sounds like a prime candidate for Al-anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, and I suggest you say so, though obviously how he responds to that is up to him. 

So, yes his outlook on life is possibly skewed, and no you're probably not cold-hearted. What took you some time to learn, he likely hasn't yet learned. Now it's a matter of whether he's willing/able to see that.

LONG story short; married 4 years, get into epic blowout, decide to separate. Spouse completely cuts off anyone on "my" side - read as: people close to me; not people on 'my side' about fight...fight was kept between spouse and me. We go to counseling and are slowly reconciling. When we got married, my parents completely and fully accepted spouse into the fold. Spouse has no parental relationships and a not-too-close sibling relationship. Spouse loved this new family of his. However, since epic blowout, spouse is no longer interested in a relationship with my parents. Spouse effectively has cut them off. Only after repeated calls and texts and finally a very direct "WHAT IS GOING ON?" did spouse respond to parent and the tone was disrespectful (yes, my father called this out). Spouse is completely and utterly disinterested in any casual talk about said people (which includes close friends, parents and siblings). I've mentioned it and got nothing (literally, ignored). I'm frustrated, angry and a little hurt that my parents and family accepted them so and now that means nothing (yes, especially since I was not accepted so fully into their family-2nd marriage; I was long after that marriage ended but of course...I am the "bad guy")

I've mentioned it and got nothing (literally, ignored). I'm frustrated, angry and a little hurt that my parents and family accepted them so and now that means nothing.

I understand the hurt, anger and frustration, but they're not helping you here. Please look past the emotions you're feeling and take an analytical gander at what he's doing. He's blocking out an entire group of people from his life, being rude to them, and giving you a non-response when you try to approach that topic. These two things are very important indicators of who (and where) he is emotionally.

Until he's able to interact with them--and you--in some kind of constructive way, please treat the reconciliation effort as incomplete. It's a coal-mine canary. 

So, no, it' s not about you (unless and until he progresses to the point where he's able to articulate to you that it is).

"Class weirdo" (I balk at even typing it) responses coming in, posting sans comment:

I'll give you the counter-example. My parents were totally normal and didn't expose me to nerdy things because it just wasn't in their lexicon. I grew up being part of the "popular" crowd and never feeling comfortable there or like I had anything in common with those kids. If only I'd known about Monty Python and Star Wars and Doctor Who at the time so I could have found my people and been with others who I could relate to! Forcing your kid into a mold that doesn't fit them would make them just as unhappy as what you're imagining will happen if they're allowed to become nerds (probably more! Not all nerds are also social outcasts). Let them find the things they're into and then encourage them in those interests, whichever end of the spectrum they fall into!

I sense from this question that the OP was bullied in school for being the "class weirdo." You can't protect your children from everything that could hurt their feelings, but you can teach them to treat themselves and others with respect by not sending the message that being a nerd is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs.

You know, they'll probably find something of their own on their own. Along the lines of what Carolyn suggested, why don't you alternate introducing them to things you like and to things you've never tried (tried and failed). Who knows? Maybe the kid will be the popular lacrosse player that brings surrealist humor back into vogue.

How else are they going to make friends with people who accept them as they are?

This thread reminds me of a conversation I had with my kids about being weird that I talked about in a chat this past January (link), in response to a very different kind of question:

"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."

Hi Carolyn, I'm a 32 year old relatively successful professional who is about to begin an intense school program full-time in the fall. This sounds silly, but I've never really studied before. No, really. Great marks came easy to me in high school and I coasted through university with good grades. I regret not making the most of my education. The reason for my lackadaisical approach can be a year's worth of therapy sessions. Let's say it's a combination of never having been taught how to, an aversion to the anxiety of pusnishment of possible failure, and general laziness (who actually wants to study?!) But now I'm faced with a program that will no doubt require the kind of serious self-disciple that I've just never practiced. No shortcuts here. I get that school isn't for everyone, but I have no doubt I can and want to do this. Any advice to just nudge my butt into gear? Thanks so much for what you do.

Maybe I;m being dense, but it seems to me that you can approach the program the way you do a full-time job. Most "successful professional"-type jobs involve a mix of tasks, some immediate and some with long deadlines that require some planning and adherence to artificial deadlines along the way. Whatever strategy you used for those would apply here--for example, clearing away immediate tasks first and then dedicating at least X hours of your time toward the longer-range projects, making sure you have completed Y amount by Z date.

Another thing to plan for: Find/form a study group. There's research to indicate that students get a more solid grasp of the material when their knowledge is tested along the way by peers. Students who study alone often aren't aware of what they don't know until a bad grade comes in.

My husband and I don't have kids and don't plan to have them, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy hanging out with the children of our friends. One set of friends has a daughter who is turning seven this summer. While we don't see her super-often, I enjoy hanging out with her and seeing what's new in her life. I would really like to spend a day with her this summer in New York City, where I live (she's in nearby Jersey), just the two of us. I'd like to take her to Central Park or a museum and get lunch and go shopping and I feel that she would really be into the idea as we get along very well. But I feel like that's more of an aunt role than a family friend, and I don't know how to even begin bringing this up with my friends. "Can Susie come to the city and play with me?" is obviously what I'm asking, but I don't know how to frame it the right way. Do you have any suggestions for how I could propose this?

"Do you think Susie would enjoy a day of museums and shopping in the city? I'd love to take her--give you a break for a day."

a couple of FWIW's:

1. I'd love it if a good, trusted friend offered this to my kid;

2. It's not as odd as you think;

3. Maybe it's an "aunt" role, but sometimes friends make the best relatives, if that makes sense;

4. There's no such thing as having too many people who know and love and care about your child.

5. A full day might be too long for age 7. The mom will know her limits, so do talk about what will fall within the child's attention span.

Do I have a responsibility to tell a new partner that I cheated in the past? Here’s the context: I was married, as was the person with whom I cheated. We discussed we were cheating mostly for the sex that was lacking in our marriages, but leaving our marriages for each other was never on the table. As a result of the cheating and examining my own marriage, I decided to end my marriage. To our knowledge, neither spouse ever knew. I never told another soul. The person with whom I cheated did not divorce, although we agreed that now that I was divorced, we should cease our relationship… and subsequently did. I realize how wrong of us it was. Years pass. I recently got a cryptic message from the person with whom I cheated that her spouse now knows, and they are working to save their marriage. I hope they do, although I don’t see any way I can help except by staying out of it. I feel like I learned my lesson, and I’d never cheat again because I know first-hand how destructive it is. I’ve started dating again. I don’t feel a particular need to bring up the cheating with a future partner. However, the person with whom I cheated and I work in the same small industry, and she holds a fairly public, prominent position. If word were to spread that we cheated, it would be quick and could be destructive to our reputations, even though it was years ago. And I would want my future partner to hear it from me rather than through press or rumor. But I also don’t want to tell someone about past indiscretions unnecessarily. Which brings us back to my question: do I have a responsibility to tell a new partner about my past cheating? If so, at what point in a relationship? My inclination would be not to tell, except I would if I knew or felt they would find out some other way. I would want them to hear it from me.

I think it's important to tell some quantity of the truth if and when cheating comes up in conversation with a new partner (NP). For example, let's say NP admits to having cheated, and wants to tell you in the interest of full disclosure. What are you going to do, pretend you haven't, let NP twist? Or if NP says cheating is a deal-breaker, past or present, what then?

You don't need to provide any context, except that you were in a committed relationship and learned your lesson. You can explain to anyone who wants details that there's no mitigating information--you did a bad thing and hurt people, and you're not withholding any details to make yourself look better. Telling more, though, would involve cutting into a part of the story that is not entirely yours to tell.

That's more truth than dodge, especially in this case. Let's say you share with NP enough detail to identify other information; then, let's say NP turns out not to be trustworthy. That would be potentially harmful to your ex-affair partner, more harmful than it would be to you, yet NP wouldn't gain much from having the detail (except, in the worst case, leverage). 

So, you have dueling responsibilities both to disclose and withhold. (Good luck with that!) I think saying that you did, without specifying exactly what you did and when you did it, is the appropriate balance to strike.


We're married 30 years and have raised two boys to adulthood in a supportive environment complete with a stay-at-home mom, involved parents, and fully-paid college. I worked two jobs to support this lifestyle and to address an uncertain medical future so my wife was frequently the primary caregiver. Both boys are beginning their careers and appear to have good futures. My wife and I are crushed by the boys' lack of appreciation for their mother's birthday last year and most recently Mothers Day where neither gave her a card, gift, email, or phone call until I texted and asked them to call her. Admittedly, my wife and I were out of town on each occasion. (I received a card and gift for my b-day and Father's Day last year from one son.) We spoke separately with each boy last year after wife's b-day with one reacting positively, sincerely atoning, and sheepishly stating that the disparate treatment of me vs. my wife was unintentional. The other boy refused to acknowledge the importance of my wife's (or any other's) important occasions on any level. I usually nudged the boys during their adolescence to remember their mom's b-day and Mother's Day but wonder how long to continue nudging and in general what if anything to do about a married 27-year old son's and 24-year old son's behavior toward their mom who gave so much of herself for their futures.

This is like half of a couple bereft that the other half ignored Valentine's Day. Is the ignored day truly dismissive behavior of the love they supposedly share, or is it merely a sign that one person values greeting-card occasions and the other doesn't?

If your boys treat the two of you warmly and make efforts to stay in touch, by twentysomething male standards at least, then I hope you and your wife both will take that as ample thanks for a job well done. Truly. While I believe that a good way to show people you care is to express affection in a way they appreciate, I also believe a good way to show people you care is to accept their affection however they choose to give it.

And, speaking only for me, I'd rather have children who were well-adjusted, independent, productive members of society to my credit than a bouquet. (Both would be nice, too, sure, but assuming I had to choose only one, which we all must do sometimes.) 


I love doing this kind of thing for my friend's kids. Sometimes one on one and sometime just me and all four of the little ones (even an overnight with an extra friend of theirs). I started this as a holiday or birthday "present" for the kids. Usually a show for the holidays and lunch and a pedicure or museum for the birthdays.

You mean a "present" for the parents! Actually, a gift for all, thanks.

Always did very well in school very easily, even college. Law school was another matter. School becomes your job, and here are some tips that helped me in a concrete way: (1) You need to spend 2 hours preparing for every hour of class time. That means if a class is 75 minutes (an hour and 15 minutes), spend 2.5 hours doing your homework and going over the material (really). (2) Have all your homework for your classes done at least 2 days ahead of the class day. This way if something comes up or if an assignment is harder than it seems initially, you still have plenty of time to finish all your work before it is due, and you're almost never doing work for the morning the night before. Then, the evening before the class, spend 15 -30 minutes refreshing/reviewing. (3) make a schedule for the whole week of how many hours per day you will spend on which class each day. (4) only applies if you are going to lectures and taking notes - hand write! It really makes a HUGE difference in retention and understanding. When I brought my laptop to classes just a few times, the lecture would go into my ears and right out my fingertips to the keyboard, without stopping for even a second in the brain. I will advocate hand writing till the day I die no matter how far the technology goes!!

Study groups are great, and if you already practice time management at work you can apply the same techniques. Also check out the resources at your school. I hit a wall partway through college where I couldn't coast anymore, and found they actually had staff to help walk me through the study/organization concept.

I've been in the same place as this poster. I would say that the biggest surprise is the widespread prevalence of believing that it is okay to break up or end relationship by email or text. Or for a date to just ignore a text or email as a way of signaling there will not be a fourth or fifth date. I'm in my late 40s, and my age cohort and older did not grow up this way, but an astounding number of "mature" adults seem to think this is socially acceptable.

Growing up, there was a close friend of my parents who was very much like an aunt to me, and who was very explicitly a chosen member of our family. She remains an incredibly important person to me, and I feel much closer to her than I do to most of my "real" aunts. I am thrilled to be watching a similar relationship develop between my toddler and a close friend of mine who has no desire for kids of her own but loves heaping her love on niecephews and my kid.

Yes, I was the class weirdo and part of not wanting a weird kid is that I don't want to have to watch someone grow up feeling like they don't belong. I fully embraced my nerdiness as a kid, but it was so lonely. Even now as an adult-- and one who has friends, even-- there are moments when my friends will bring up the things they did-- trying pot, going to prom-- and I just sit there, twiddling my thumbs with nothing to add to the conversation. Even dumb things like a group of girlfriends talking about how hot Ryan Gosling is and then turning to me, to which I reply, "I mean, I *get* why people find him attractive, but he's not my type. I'm more of a Chris O'Dowd fan..." and having them look at me like I have two heads because I'm not attracted to the man 99% of the population agrees is attractive. Sometimes I think it would be nice to raise just a completely average, run-of-the-mill kid who likes things other kids like. My husband's cousins are like this and it's just so refreshing and inspiring.

I know, and I get it--but did those cousins' parents create that through their choices as they raised their kids, or was it in the kids' natures to be that way? 

I think about this a lot because I find families fascinating, and pay attention. There are social mismatches all the time between parents and kids, where the parents are nerdy but the kid isn't or vice-versa. (And of course plenty where cool-kid parents have cool kids and nerds have nerds.) Maybe it's another Philes topic?

Of course my hope is that "nerdiness" is already on its way to being destigmatized, though obviously there's a long way to go.

Anyway, this is where I silly-walk off into the sunset. Have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by, hope to see 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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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