Carolyn Hax Live: Mandatory Wedding Attendance and Chronic Lateness (Friday, Aug. 1)

Aug 01, 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. Since it's August, I've sent my consciousness to the beach, and my shell is doing the chat.

For the umpteenth time this week, I have been told by colleagues how much they appreciate my calm, level-headed approach to some of the chaos that is going on in my office (moody CEO, incompetent CFO, annual meeting in a month). My friends have noted that I seem much more "zen" recently. The truth of the matter is I am none of those things yet all of those things. I can barely hold it together on a daily basis. I just have been through some things in the past year that have changed how I react to things now. I am talking to a psychologist about this. Still, I am wondering how much of a non-reaction in a work place situation or with my friends is healthy or can be taken as a sign of not caring. Thoughts?

If there is such a line--I'm sure there is--it sounds as if you're clearly on the right side of it. People are saying they appreciate you right now. Accept the compliment.

If you weren't already talking to a psychologist, then this is where I'd advise you to have some kind of outlet. (Consider others, too, be they of the yoga-type healing variety or the cheez-you-need-some-fun-to-balance-this-out type.) Just because it's hard and you're roiling inside, though, doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. My advice is to keep on this path, at least till you get through the annual meeting--then, when you can, take a step back to see whether this is how you want to keep operating. Good luck. 

I feel strongly (and I speak from experience) that the problem may be a lack of mindfulness. It's not that she needs to quit her job and spend more time with the kids -- it's that she needs to really focus on them when she's with them, rather than planning the grocery list or worrying about a work email or whatever. So hard to do, but I find that if I'm not mindful I don't remember anything.

Thanks. I do agree it's possible this is it.

I still think, though, that there's no one answer that fits a parent in this situation. One person in her spot could carry on just fine after taking a deep breath and reminding herself that everyone feels this way, and another person would rightly see this as the epiphany moment that leads to wholesale change in the way she runs her life.

This is, again, why it's so important, or at least just incredibly useful, for people to know themselves well before they launch into the heavy commitments of life partnership and parenthood. There are going to be times when you feel overwhelmed and will have to rely on your ability to read your own signals. It's not a place where I or anyone else can pinch-hit.

Happy Friday Carolyn! I've been seeing someone for about a month, and overall things are going great. But almost every time we get together, he is late. And not just a little late -- three times he's been 45 minutes late and other times he's been 25-30 minutes late. He has only been on time once - our first date. I've told him that it upsets me, but he just makes excuses about how what made him late was out of his control (work, traffic) and promises next time he will be on time. Which of course does not end up to be true. Unfortunately, I've learned the hard way about trying to get people to change -- I had a very painful divorce after being married to an alcoholic for 10 years. I don't want to be a nag and I don't want to give false ultimatums. I also don't want to spend mental time thinking up ways to "make" him understand. For example, some friends suggest I show up 45 minutes late once I know he has arrived. No thanks, it's not a game. How do I deal with this? Thanks so much.

Please call him on the BS. "You've been on time once--our first date. I'm not an idiot; I've grasped that you aren't punctual. What I'd like to know now is how you're addressing this yourself, and how other people in your life have adapted to it."

If you're just not one to let this go, though, then get while the getting's good. You need to be accepting of the idea of telling him X o'clock when dinner's really at X:45. 

Hi Carolyn, I have two weddings coming up soon back to back. Both are far away(as in I'd have to fly). I've more or less committed to going to one. The other one I could afford to go to, but I'm not sure I want to given the cost of the two combined. Is it bad form to go to one but not the other? Both friends are sort've same friend "level" and know each other(both are invited to each other's weddings). I feel like hurt feelings, or an empty wallet, are inevitable.

You're probably right. So which would you miss more, the money or the friend(s)?

I do think friends owe it to each other to be gracious about taking "no" for an answer with attendance, be it airfare-required at weddings or even the occasional local event, since we all have lives and since friendships are better judged on effort over time vs. on one event.

I also think milestone events like weddings deserve a different approach than just, "I'd rather have the $400 in the bank." I'm well past the wedding bulge, when I went to as many as eight in one summer, but looking back on it now I am glad I rallied, even when it left me broke and tired. It's a moment and it passes. If you're talking real economic hardship (or flat-out-impossibleship), then, okay, stay home. Otherwise consider that investing in your friends and in this moment will carry you further than the cash ever would.


Please Answer today 8/1/14 I start law school in a few weeks and I am having trouble deciding what to do about housing. I could live at home with my mother approx. 45 minute commute with no traffic. However, my mother and I don't have the best relationship and between the emotional cost of living with her and the real time and commuting costs I am not sure its worth it. On the other hand if I don't live with my mother I will need to take out additional students loans to pay for housing. I honestly don't know whether taking out more loans is worth it or not.

Can you try out the Mom plan and then bail if it's not working? I.e., is the housing option now or never?

Leaving in under 20 hours for a 4 day stay at my MIL. I can't win. If I stay out of sight (and hearing) so she can have private time with the only child that really listens to and acknowledges her then I am being standoffish or rude. If I stay in the room to participate then I am nosy and inconsiderate of "her time" with son. Ditto for being in the next room and add eavesdropping to the list. Just smile and countdown till we leave? No grandkids, no pets for distractions - just 3 adults in her small retirement home that offers no private places to hide out besides the bathroom!

You know what? Who cares. Who cares what she thinks of you. Be in the room when you want, leave the room to go read a book when you want, help out by cooking/doing dishes/running errands when you want, go off and do your own thing when you want. When you can't win, yes, you can see that as always losing--but you can also see it as freedom from having to play.

FWIW, I suggest mixing up the way you handle it and her. Be in the room sometimes, be out at others, help her sometimes, and go do your own thing sometimes. Be a moving target. Not because she can't hit you that way--she'll find a way, surely--but because you'll feel as if you did what you could. That way you won't have to add self-doubt to the list of annoying things about this trip. Cheers.

Strong opinions on law-school housing, from one side, the other and the middle. Posting sans comment:

Unless you're going to Harvard/Yale and are guaranteed to be the top of your class, live with Mom. Do not take out more loans. There is a very good chance you'll be unemployed at graduation and you'll be regretting every dime you borrowed. I know that's not what they told you when you applied, but as someone who works with temporary attorneys all the time (many from very good schools), the reality is the job market sucks.

Honestly, I hate to say this, but whatever the loans are for living are probably a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost anyway. Having an oasis is important in law school, and 45 minutes is not a small commute. If you had picked a law school out of state you wouldve had to take out the extra loans, and it doesn't sound like you picked this law school so you could commute. You do not want to be dealing with a housing search and move during the first semester

Live closer to campus. Late night studying, weekend study groups, and even the networking associated with law school mean that you want to be close by. Think of it as an hour and a half each day that you will be able to devote to your studies instead of your car.

I agree with Carolyn that your best bet might be to try living with your mom, because of the substantial savings. However, you need to establish boundaries. One I'd suggest is that you regard law school as a job -- one where you leave home early in the morning, stay all day on campus (and perhaps into the evening studying at the law library), then come home in time to sleep. Likewise, try to spend as little time at home on weekends as possible.

Keep in mind that law school -- especially first year -- is not a walk in the park. If it's going to be difficult w/Mom, I think she's better off just sharing an apartment closer to school.

Don't take out more loans! If you can't find a job after law school, you might end up living with your mom anyway because you can't afford rent and loan payments. And that could last a lot longer than law school. Minimize your debt burden as much as possible.

Is it possible to pay some kind of rent to mom? It may cost you something, but might help set new expectations about your relationship - or at least give you the opportunity to talk about what she should expect if you board at her home.

There. Clears things right up.


One thing worth trying that I haven't seen anyone suggest yet: Price out the gas money for the 45 min commute, and see whether that's in the ballpark of the cost of renting a room (assume roommates).

Two more on other topics:

Where is your spouse in all of this?

Why not ask the MIL what she wants? "Would you like some one-on-one time with son, or would you like me to hang around? I'm flexible and can do whatever if it will make you happy." Who knows, maybe the MIL wants different things on different days. DIL is not a mind-reader, so why not ask?

Get out now. In a month of dating you have already spent hours waiting for him to show up. Let him fix his issues on his own time or find someone who doesn't care about being kept waiting. My mom is like this guy. Ask my dad: it doesn't get better.

He likely will not/cannot change this. I'm saying this as a chronic late person myself. Despite my best efforts I underestimate how long it takes to get somewhere, how long it takes to get ready etc. I usually plan to leave early (by my estimate) to hope to get there on time. My family developed a strategy where they tell me we have to leave say at 7 p.m., when really its 7:15. Works for us.

Set your limits of what you are willing to tolerate, inform him, and then stick to it. I didn't and the slippery sliding scale of "sheep in the road!" turned into not showing up at all, and often not calling, including for a special holiday dinner I had cooked at my place the night before I had to leave to see family. I am tolerant and patience but don't burn my daylight unnecessarily.

What kind of work does he do? If he's a corporate lawyer, for instance, it's not that "he's not punctual," it's that work inevitably cuts into his social life, and dating him means accepting that.

I hope the frustrated grandma is reading this as a follow up. To briefly elaborate on the societal vs individual expectations--- I can totally understand her frustrations at having the phone constantly out; it used to drive me nuts when my husband would set his phone on the table a restaurant and only half pay attention to me while checking the ever-running updates from his ESPN app (luckily this has ceased). That being said, her whole “respect for one’s elders” bit rubbed me the wrong way. I believe that everyone is entitled to a baseline of respect, but don’t think you get some sort of endless respect/obedience because you’ve got the oldest birthday in the room. I have one widowed grandfather and a set of grandparents on the other side of the family. With the solo grandfather, who makes few noises about people respecting their elders and enjoys listening to others (he also let’s go of the occasional smart phone check), there is both respect and general pleasure in his company from all the grandkids involved. He is included and sought out in conversation, and we enjoy his input and his reminisces about the past. For my other grandparents, who yammer on and on about having respect for your elders and how they are “the matriarch and patriarch of this family!” and believe everyone should agree with their opinions/experience and only want people to listen to them instead of the other way around (and yes, their hearing is fine),---- well, no one wants to spend time with them or their presumptuous, patronizing attitudes (did I mention they also sprinkle in a truckload of unsolicited advice on marriage, child rearing, and weight loss at every visit? As well as some delightful observations on minorities and non-Christian faiths). Their inability to reciprocate genuine respect and interest in other family members' lives and opinions has lead to their exclusion. I hope frustrated grandma takes some time to find out where she falls in this spectrum to see if there’s any respect/interest she’s failing to display that’s causing the teenager to retreat to her phone every visit.

Thank you for this--I was concerned my point would get lost. 

For those who missed it, here's the bit of today's column (link), second letter, that we're talking about:


"It’s not then (respect for elders) vs. now (no respect for elders) anyway; it’s then (societal expectations) vs. now (individual expectations)."

Dear Carolyn, Thanks for taking my question. I have been dating a guy for 5 years, we live together and plan to get married. He just sold his house and moved in with me. I just found out from a former girlfriend of his that on their first date they went to a really expensive restaurant ( a restaurant that in the past I have expressed an interest in going to, but he always said to was too much money and we have never went there). On our first date we went to a mediocre but ok restaurant. For some reason I feel like crap ever since I found this out. It makes me feel like he thought she was better than me and really wanted to impress her. If I knew this after our first date I would not have seen him again. I mean I am just as good as any other girl. What did he think I was chopped liver? How can I get over this? I feel like I am putting my self-worth on this fact and hate myself for it. I know you are probably thinking I should just ask him, but I feel he will just give me some BS answer to make me feel better. FWIT, he and this girl did not last very long.

Seems we all have some unpacking to do.

You would have dumped him after the first date, not knowing or bothering to find out why he did this?

You automatically assume it means -you're- (seen as) less impressive, and not that he learned the hard way that expensive restaurants don't impress him? Why couldn't it be that he though it was a waste of money and doesn't want to go back?

You've been with this person for 5 years and you haven't gathered such an overwhelming amount of information--on him, on your relationship, on his feelings about you and the relationship--that it has reduced this concern to a dust mote?

And the best for last: You're living with and planning to marry someone you don't trust to tell you the truth?

My shell is figuring out how a keyboard to the forehead feels.




Please learn how to talk to your boyfriend before you marry him. The first step is to tell the truth. The second step is not to freak out on a person when he or she also tells you a truth, particularly one you don't want to hear. Just listen and give yourself time to figure out what it means. It sounds as if both of you are holding back and spinning what you say in one way or the other, based on what you predict the other person's response will be, and that's both an intimacy killer and a good way to introduce serious misunderstandings. Say what you have to say, and let the other person respond, then see what you have.

If you're not even sure where to start toward a more transparent way of communicating, then consider some form of couples counseling--pre-marital or otherwise. Consider it even if you are sure, actually, unless you have a breakthrough 



Spouse is a great guy. He knows she's difficult. His preference is that I stay and participate and then he'll take her heat later when she complains about the lack of time together. I think CH's advice to be a Moving Target (great book by J. A. Jance btw) is good. It is a vacation, I can't be what she wants so I'm going to concentrate on balance for both all 3 of us. I'm lucky to have a hubby of 18+ years that truly values his difficult mother and his quirky wife.

Sounds good to me, thanks. I hope there's a vacation-vacation coming at some point, though. It's too easy to spend it all on exhausting relatives and deem that the virtuous path.  

I think at some point during the history of this chat someone suggested the game of annoying relative bingo as a coping mechanism. I actually played it during my wedding weekend to handle my in-laws. I made a card with boxes containing things like "complains about the food", "made a passive aggressive comment about my appearance", and "pouts because she's not the center of attention". I would go into the bathroom and check the items off as they occurred. Sure enough, I got bingo. It actually made things kind of funny and gave me a little emotional distance.

Good memory. I also remember a few drinking games along those lines, with sloppier results.

At the risk of being the study hall monitor here, though, I want to offer one caveat. When you start looking for reasons to find people annoying, you'll always find them, and "emotional distance" can quickly become "not wanting anything to do with these people because everything they do is offensive." Sometimes that's where things are headed, at no fault of your own, sure--but sometimes, too, looking at difficult people in a deliberate, -charitable- light can help you form some kind of relationship.

Maybe you can do both--bingo as a means of getting through a tough event, and a concerted effort to see the good as a means of getting through a lifetime that now includes these people.

Thank you for your answer about attending weddings (and other milestones) even if it is a short-term hardship. My son is getting married next month, and his cousin says she can't afford to go because they are building a (4000 sq. ft.) house. I even offered to chip in $500 (which would be about half the cost) but she won't come, even though my son is one of her only two cousins. How do I set aside the resentment? I don't feel like going out of my way to any of her future milestones, even though I've been there (along with my husband and 2 kids) for hers and her siblings.

No no no, -please- don't use my words to justify your resentment of someone who chooses to say no! And the snark about the 4000 sf is so over the line. 

I was talking to someone who is on the fence about attending, and saying there is a long-term benefit that isn't always hard to recognize in the moment.

That is very, very different from judging someone harshly for what is entirely a personal choice. The applicable advice on this issue isn't my observation about the importance of milestones, but instead the rock-solid baseline truth that you don't know how anyone's life is unless you're in it yourself. This cousin could easily be overwhelmed by the construction (few aren't) and financially overextended, even if just temporarily. While offering to help with the expenses was fine, even generous, it is decidedly not generous to decide for other people that they can afford to spend $500--on what you think they should spend it on, no less.

So, here's how to "set aside" the resentment: Realize it's inappropriate to judge this cousin. Period. Her not going is a bummer and anything you label it beyond that is gratuitous--and ultimately bad for you.

You can also scan up to the paragraph preceding the one you cited, and see that I also noted the importance of evaluating a relationship "on effort over time vs. on one event" and on taking no for an answer with grace.

Did she ever think it could be that from the moment he met her, he felt comfortable, right? That he felt he had finally found someone with whom he could relax and not spend all his energy into presenting a "edited" version of himself to try to impress her. Or, maybe if he had said that the restaurant wasn't worth the money, she would jump on him to tell her when and with whom.... and then go all nutso. Just like she is doing now.


Picture it: (Sicily..) Boyfriend grew up in a family where you express negative emotions and then you get over it. He does not get angry often - certainly not directed at people, animals, living things, etc - he might get frustrated with technology, home repair, traffic. He gets frustrated, swears, etc and then he is over it. I grew up in a fairly idyllic childhood, save that there wasn't much patience for grouchiness, etc Think: WASPy. I tend to be a very happy person by nature with a very long fuse. Unfortunately, I also tend to bottle negative feelings - product of not wanting to upset my parents during their very civil and polite divorce, I wanted to be 'the happy child' they had and not make them feel guilty about the divorce. My parents divorced because they never fought so they never worked out negative emotions, resentments etc. They loved and respect one another, but too much little stuff built up and the marriage dissolved. I am doing well with expressing my emotions in this relationship - he is great about getting me to feel safe opening up and not feeling 'guilty' about having a bad day or 'burdening' anyone with my negative mood. The issue is my reaction to his negative mood, or frustration. I freeze. I have no idea how to handle it. When I bring it up he says I handle it wonderfully, but inside I feel twisted up and by the time his bad mood has past I'm still vibrating from all the negatives. I want him to be able to have a bad day without having to immediately "fix it" or resenting him for not being 'happy' 24/7. He's not an anger-ball, he's a mostly happy person too ... but he's human! How do I reconcile this and not make HIS bad mood about ME? Thanks

Here's a simple thing to try: When he's in a bad mood, ask him, "Is there anything I can do, or do you just need me to listen?" 

You're breaking an old, deep habit, so you're more likely to be successful if you keep it simple and attempt only one change at a time. Just the act of saying something will help untwist you inside, and this question has the added benefit of letting you know what comes next--to do something concrete, or to ride it out.

It doesn't sound like I need to add this disclaimer, but just in case (and since people often apply answers to their own situations): It's easy to go too far in blaming oneself for discomfort with another's anger. Yes, it does sound as if your childhood environment didn't train you well to handle anger--but that's a reason to be extra careful you don't blame yourself for discomfort with all anger. Some anger is over the line, even abusive, and there will be times your discomfort with it is alerting you that the other person is in fact the problem. Reading "The Gift of Fear" (Gavin de Becker) might help you get a better feel for what's "human" vs. what's problematic.

I'm curious to know what you and your readers think of when you learn someone has attempted suicide. I attempted suicide over a decade ago. I suffered from serious depression. I got treatment and medication. I'm fine now - more than fine. I'm happily married, have a wonderful child and am productively employed. I do a lot of volunteer work, but nothing directly related to suicide prevention. I've been thinking about "coming out" so to speak, so that others know that the hopelessness is not forever, because I sure didn't feel that way over a decade ago. My concern is what people will think of me. I was a mess back then but not now. I think my employer would be very supportive but what about the general public? What do people first think when they learn that about someone?

I think it would be helpful and brave. It is arguably the most difficult thing about depression, that it's almost impossible to imagine getting better, so you could help people by serving as proof that treatment can work. Plus, the more people are "out," the harder it will be for bystanders to draw blanket conclusions about those who have made a suicide attempt.

As for the general public, it will do what it always does, and serve up some people who will break your heart with their intelligence and generosity--and others who will drop your jaw with how rude, ignorant and thoughtless they can be. And, of course, there will be people who represent every point in the spectrum who never let on what they think.

It's entirely up to you whether you take this on. If you think the message is more than worth the risk of stirring up some ugliness, then do it. If you decide you don't need, or your family doesn't need, to risk that ugliness, then you are entitled to make that decision without apology. 

It might help you as you make this decision to talk to people at, or 1-800-950-NAMI.

Thank you for pointing out that I was letting my disappointment in my niece not coming to my son's wedding turn into resentment. She did express regret, and I will be disappointed, but accept it with grace.

You're welcome, and thanks for a gracious answer to mine, which was a thumping. 

I'm in a relatively new relationship (6 months) and I can't shake the feeling that we always do things on "his time." If he suggests a time to get together, I typically say yes unless I have other plans, and he does always honor that time. But generally, unless I suggest something well in advance, he typically declines when I ask him to spend time with me, even if he doesn't have anything specific going on. A couple of times I've said that it was important for me to spend time with him in the next few days or something like that, when I just really wanted to see him, and he's gone along with it, but I have gotten a little business from him about it while we are spending that time together. He's super busy (as I am... as is everyone, right??) and I really do get that down time is important. I don't think I could be accused of trying to monopolize his time. I feel a little icky that we seem to be operating on his schedule. Would love to know if I am missing something here stuck in my own perspective. Thanks!

" A couple of times I've said that it was important for me to spend time with him in the next few days or something like that, when I just really wanted to see him, and he's gone along with it, but I have gotten a little business from him about it while we are spending that time together."

This job has beaten out of me just about any rigid notion I might have had about how things are "supposed" to be between two people, but there is one little thing that has withstood the, what, 17-year assault of differing viewpoints: You want the person you're with to want to be with you.

The text in the fancy yellow highlight up thar does not say "wants to be with you" to me. I'd feel icky about that too.

Any minority reports out there?

Dear Carolyn; 6 months ago, a good friend died of cancer. 4 months ago, my beloved dog died. 1 month ago, another good friend died of cancer. 4 weeks ago, our beloved rescued-from-a-puppy mill 3 year old dog died from cancer. 2 weeks ago, a much-loved close relative tried to commit suicide. 1 week ago, I found out I'm being laid off from a job I love and have been very good at for 16 years. I'm 60 years old, and the thought of looking for another job fills me with dread. Yesterday, we had to have another elderly dog put down. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I know these things happen to everyone. I tell myself that I've got a good life - we can live on my husband's salary, our house is paid for, we have enough to eat, we won't be destitute or even suffer much from the loss of my salary. My husband is wonderful and very supportive. But I can't logic myself out of my grief. How do you tell when grief becomes just feeling sorry for yourself? A week for a dog, a month for a friend, a couple of months for your career? How do you make it go away?

First, I'm so sorry. That is a staggering number of losses and trials on a short period of time. Of course you're reeling.

Second, you don't "make" grief "go away." In my experience, at least, it doesn't work that way--and the idea of a set time to feel bad (and its companion idea, that there's a time past which you aren't supposed to feel bad) is anathema to grief. It's more like weather, where you just experience it until it eventually passes ... and you know it's going to come back sometimes when you least expect it. It's perfectly normal, and healthy, to feel a wave of grief out of nowhere years after a loss. Not only will some part of you always miss the person you lost, you will also always remember how you felt about someone's death. Not every waking minute, but when you're reminded somehow, sure. Or just when your brain decides to go knock-knock, remember this? 

Third, it sounds as if you've so far tried to go it alone, armed with logic and an inclination to be hard on yourself. Please know that grief is something you have to feel and deal with individually, but you can work through collectively. A grief support group might be just what you need, a place to feel that it's normal, and not your fault, to be filled with dread. It sounds as if your husband is understanding and patient with you; consider taking his cue and being more patient with yourself.

It's only been 6 months and your gut is telling you this isn't right... trust your instincts! If he wanted to spend time with you, he'd squeeze it in whenever he could and not make a fuss about who planned it.

Yep, exactly where my mind went. A couple of other responses:

Could be that you're making him a priority, while you remain an option. Alternatively, does he show signs of introversion? I'm squarely in introvert territory and see myself in this situation. Being social is much more palatable to me when I schedule it around my own schedule/energy level. Could be that he is giving you the time when he feels energized, rather than submitting you to an emotionally/physically drained version of himself.

It seems to me that he is controlling. I dated a guy like this. He told me when I would see him. He was often late, too, but heaven forbid if I be running late! He would talk about how he "gave me all that time." (I pointed out that he could not give me time, he could only take my time.) When he wanted me, he monopolized my time. When he didn't, I didn't have access to him. I ended the relationship after a while.

This sounds super clingy to me. If he wants to spend time with you, then he will. That's the foundation of a good relationship, you just wanna be with that other person alot. (but this goes both ways). A relationship doesn't just *happen*, it is built.

I hate to bring up a very negative possibility, but that kind of schedule control suggests that the LW might not be the only woman in his life.

Smells like The Rules or one of those bogus 'systems'.

Do we have a date yet? I have a doozie.

Yes--we have a date, Aug. 15, and a link specifically for doozie submissions: (Doozies Only Link).

Oh yeah, and I'm not chatting next week. I knew this a while ago but it snuck up on me anyway.

Carolyn - your first question from last Sunday's column. While your answer was of course very well thought out, the question to me read like something out of the SAT: "Hi, Carolyn: I am 44 with five children, 12, 11, 10, 7, 6. I am the youngest of four siblings. All of my brother’s and sisters’ children are 16-32, some with children of their own. My dad passed away about four years ago and everyone sort of went their own way, even though we all live within 15 miles of each other. My nephew is getting married on New Year’s Eve. They are inviting 80 people..." I was told there would be no math in your column!!! I was expecting her to ask about a train leaving from New York at 50 mph and a train leaving Philadelphia at 60 mph next....


If it's a Northeast Regional, then it's going 50, then 17, then 42, then stopping an extra 10 min in New Haven, then a giddy 65 through Rhode Island.

BTW, I think of all of these questions as word problems like that. (But I won't bore you with my issues.) 

Hi, Carolyn. What's the best way to deal with friends who expect immediate replies to emails and phone messages? I don't have kids, but I am very busy -- full-time job, I run an arts program on the side, I help care for my elderly parents, and my husband and I are in the middle of a home renovation we're doing ourselves. When friends get in touch with something urgent, I try to respond right away. But if they're just saying, "let's get coffee, when are you free?" sometimes it can take me a week or two to reply. Most of my friends seem okay with this -- I suspect it's because they have toddlers and are so busy they don't always notice my delay. But my friend "Sara" gets very upset when I don't reply within a day or so. I try to get back to her promptly, but I'm not always successful. Am I being horribly inconsiderate? Or is it okay to occasionally not reply right away when there is nothing urgent at hand?

If you value Sara, then you have a choice: Make a special accommodation just for her and reply sooner, or sit down with her and explain that you will always be erratic, if not outright negligent, about replying to non-urgent emails. Tell her it's not personal, it's just the way things are for you right now--then ask, is this going to be a problem? (I didn't mean that to sound like something from the Sopranos.)

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have 2 children (5 and 7). We also own a few firearms, both for sport and personal protection. As far as gun owners go, we are shining examples of how to do it right! We have attended safety courses, have passed background checks, and are fully permitted. We also keep the guns safely locked away at all times. Without the code to the safe, they are not accessible. In addition to this, our children know exactly where the guns are stored (not that they could reach the safes anyway), they know not to go near guns, and they know exactly how dangerous guns are. Enter the problem: my 7 year old apparently told his best friend (who has been to our house many times) that we own guns, the child told his mother who called to inform me that her child will not be allowed in our house and that I should be ashamed of myself for owning guns in a house full of kids. Knowing about guns and how dangerous they are is good for kids! My kids have never been tempted to tamper with the guns, because they know the dangers. I don't want this mother spreading gossip that I am a crazy gun owning bad mom all over town! Am I doing something wrong? Am I a bad mother? What can I say to her and her child?

You can invite her over to show her your setup, in order to allow her to make a more informed decision. 

She's not the only one making what sound like politically motivated, unfounded assumptions, by the way. She is assuming the guns are stored or handled irresponsibly, and didn't even bother to ask how you handle them. You, meanwhile, can't say your children "know not to go near guns, and ... know exactly how dangerous guns are." You can know you have -told- them this, but you can't know they have absorbed it, or will actually be responsible. That's the whole point of locked safes; the idea that a 5-year-old will do exactly as taught is ludicrous. Some will, but which ones? Nobody knows except in hindsight, when often it's too late. So, you get a safe and lock it.

Since it sounds as if both of you could stand to tone down your certainty that you're the one doing the right thing, issue the invitation. Have her come look for herself. Then, discuss the gun issue as two adults who both believe you are protecting your kids, vs. two adults looking to protect a viewpoint.

The date scheduler hit a nerve. A few more:

...kind of He wants to be with you unless something better comes along, he likes you OK but he likes the rest of his life more, he likes you just fine but it's a power game...does the exact tenor of his feelings and intentions matter? A man who dates you for months but then gives you [stuff] for expressing a desire to spend time with him? That is world-class BS. He's unfeeling, he's busy, he's working through middle-school rejection explanation matters as much as actions. You will always be on his schedule. Walk away.

I really feel, based on experience, that two people who are dating need naturally come together joyfully at intervals that suit them both. Having to compromise at the start on such a fundamental issue seems to create a foundation of resentment. If one person is forcing themselves to be with the other out of obligation, love cannot grow there, and love is either there or it isn't. And being the one who is uncertain and pining? That's a hell I hope I never find myself in again.

Oof. I was you about a year ago. Former bf of about 6 months had a truly insane work schedule for a job he loved. I was generally a good sport about it, especially as my job allowed me greater flexibility. But I knew the end was nigh when I had to work over Memorial Day weekend at an event about four hours' drive away. (So, a significant trip but still manageable.) He was having a rare lull at work, and had no Memorial Day weekend plans. I asked him if he'd come along to the event with me, because it was a weird mix of a few high-stress blocks of time interspersed with a lot of boring downtime. He said no, because he didn't feel like driving that far. Didn't have other plans. Didn't care that I would have really appreciated his support and company. It was crushing to realize he wouldn't go out of his way for me. We broke up later that night. It absolutely broke my heart to realize he didn't care as much about me as I did about him. I've been pretty lonely as a singleton as a result, and I haven't liked anyone since as much as I liked him...but it's still better than being with someone who didn't realize I'm awesome and worth making time for.

Wow, I just teared up at my desk. I'm so sorry for your losses. You sound like such a generous person, rich in love - anyone who helps that many dogs surely has a heart of gold. I don't know you and can't really do anything for you (unless you wanted to send up a fundraising page, which I would gladly donate to even if I weren't a fellow shelter-dog lover), but I hope it helps to know that I'm thinking of you and wish you well. I'd imagine a lot of the 'nuts are too. Sending you virtual strength and hugs. - M


This is a much warmer note to end on, so end I will. Thanks everybody for stopping by today, and see you in two weeks for the now-we-can-call-it-annual wedding slapfight.

Also, thank you to Ryan and Bethonie for producing so ably in Jess's absence.

Oh, and send Ryan your suggested headlines for the transcript ...

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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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