Carolyn Hax Live: Use the china (Nov. 20)

Nov 20, 2015

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody, and happy Friday. 

For those of you planning to set a turkey on fire next week using grandma's Aqua Net*, here's the link for the Hoot:



*Kidding. Do not do this. This is a joke.

My husband and I have different views on what is an appropriate office relationship with someone of the opposite sex. One of us thinks that appropriate behavior is to be friendly in the office but otherwise keep it all business, the other thinks that it is okay to e-mail one another (not business related) in the evenings, on weekends, and when traveling. I wondered what your thoughts are.

My main thought is that if you both felt good about your marriage, then you wouldn't worry about disagreeing on this, and in fact might not even have gotten to the point where you notice that you disagree.

So, instead of talking at each other about the non-business-related contact, please talk to each other about your concerns about marriage. Listen a lot, too. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn! Love the chat and hoping you can point me in the right direction. I'm in my first year of a medium-sized graduate program: big enough that I only have classes with about a third of the program, but small enough that you tend to know a lot of the class and see them a bunch. I have a bunch of mutual friends with one guy, and I've been seeing him out and about. I've gotten vibes that he's interested me, and I'd like to ask him to grab a drink once finals are over.. The issue is that multiple friends who do know him well/have classes with have mentioned to me that they think he has serious anger issues. This is based on things he's told them (a fun story about the time he got into a physical fight with a guy in a bar) and also some experience (a group of them were driving together and he exploded when he thought someone spilled a drink in his car.) I haven't experienced any of this first hand, so I'm wondering how much I should let this info influence my decision to go out with him.

This is the answer I've come to (B):

 Why would you -not- walk away now, when you have nothing invested? I believe in innocence until there's proof of guilt and all that, but this is a zero-stakes proposition. And do you really want to be with the guy who flips when someone spills something?


And this is the answer I typed out in full (A) before coming to the answer above:

I take it "seeing him out and about" means you don't really know him that well? 

If that's the case, then what you have is an attraction, not a compatibility, and that's important. Attractions are things we all should be good at saying no to, because our Department of Attraction is arguably the least reliable and productive office in our entire brain. The Compatibility Dept., on the other hand, does make mistakes as well, but generally its work is pretty dependable. If nothing else, getting along really well can help you through the difficulties created by his--and your--less appealing traits.

So if I've gotten the wrong impression and you've already gotten to know him well enough to have some compatibility, then the answer changes a bit. A known anger issue is a dealbreaker; a rumored anger issue is more complicated. I think we'd all hate to be the one who gets declared undateable by one's entire grad-school population based on a couple of told and retold stories.

In this case, my answer is to wait to see for yourself. Get to know him a bit without acting on your impulse to invite him out.

For what it's worth, you're new to this grad program and you're probably going to be stuck in it for a while, which means you . probably want to imagine what it will be like to be in a program with an ex with anger issues and "see him a nuch" till you graduate.


What do you think--A or B?

Context is everything here. I email my coworkers about stuff on weekends, like a bad movie coming out, because we both love seeing said movies. Is that what's going on here, or is it something beyond that? Must be, because these seem to be awfully arbitrary boundaries otherwise. Side note: kind of tired of everyone saying it's inappropriate just because it's opposite sex. People can be friends with the opposite sex, even close friends, w/o it being inappropriate or an affair. I mean, are bisexual people just totally out of luck, no friends at all?


So it's a marriage issue.

Before you took your well-deserved break this summer, there was a column in the works about people (women mostly, I think) who genuinely like their mothers-in-law. I hope that is still forthcoming; I've been looking forward to hearing people say nice things about people, and this seems like an extra-good time for it.

Thanks for bringing that back up. I was going to use them for a reader-advice column next time I'm off, so having used old columns for my August break, they got pushed to the Christmas/New Year's break. 

I actually hunted around for it a few weeks ago in preparation for those columns, but it didn't pop up on the first couple of tries. Anyone remember offhand what date that chat was?

(I hope that's the laziest I ever get.)

Hi Carolyn, My parents gave me my grandmother's china. It is very much the polar opposite of anything I would buy. Think pink + delicate flowers + gold. I'd never seen it before as it's been in storage for 20+ years. I already have a very special piece of jewelry from my grandmother, and that is enough for me. Would it be bad to sell it? Should I just ask my cousins/sibling directly if they want it instead? Do I say anything to my parents or grandmother (who probably has no clue that it was given to me, but certainly wouldn't care much either way)? What's the protocol here? Signed, Not an heirloom collector

Unless the market for old china has changed dramatically since I last checked, it's highly unlikely you'll be able to sell it, and good luck fobbing it off on your cousins or sibling. Check out this report by my colleague Jura Koncius on the millennial distaste for Stuff (bad news for your china at this LINK). And this is just making official what started with a bunch of Gen-X-ers playing hot potato with their grannies' china sets. (I've got two more if you want them--no flowers!)

All of this is to say, yes, ask your other relatives if they want it. If they don't, then, sure, put out feelers on selling it, if you have the time to burn and/or if there's some chance it's special. Otherwise you're looking at donating it somewhere or carrying it with you in hopes the cultural pendulum swings back to more formal affairs.

As for what you tell your parents, I don't think you need to report it to them. Once given, a gift is yours to use, store or dispose of as you see fit.

I think my parents did a happy dance when they offloaded theirs on the four of us.


Isn't that part of what this chat has a producer for?

MMHMM! It was July 17.

I wish! But, no, Jess is here to keep my chats running smoothly, not to keep my column assembly line running smoothly. 

But I think we're on to something here ... if I post the column assembly as a chat question, voila. (Thanks Jess.)

B, good God, B

This, or ...

Something similar happened to me - met guy who was friend of a girlfriend's boyfriend. We arranged to go out. Boyfriend said he thought Guy was a misogynist. I took that under advisement. He became one of my closest friends. I say, have a coffee of two with him and make up your own mind. Not sure why to walk away without any proper contact with him. Gossip is... mercurial.



Which is why I asked, I guess.

Hi Carolyn, I'll be 38 years old when I deliver my first child next year, and I'm thrilled about being a mom but also a little intimidated. My husband and I moved to a new city not long ago, so I'm several hours away from my closest girlfriends, and while I have made new friends, most of them are younger, single, and childless. Do you have any suggestions on how to find other moms who can sympathize with the glories of going through this at an "advanced maternal age"? Pregnancy has been physically exhausting for me so I'm pretty turned off by the local mommies groups, which seem filled with pert, cardio-obsessed twenty somethings. Also, if you and the Philes have suggestions on parenting books, I'd love to know -- preferably something written with humor and intelligence, rather than the cutesy condescension of "What to expect" type resources...

Ah. Hm. 

I'm a butt-collapsed cardio-starved 40-something and even I flinched at your description of the local mommies groups. Please do keep as open a mind as you can; if anything, formalized groups will always attract joiners and this can be a fatal flaw in the eyes of non-joiners, regardless of the age of fitness of the members. But if you're motivated to get past that, then give the most convenient local groups a try. First group impressions can mask a lot of individual variations in the members.

For some people, the better route for finding like-minded parents is just to get out of your house with your baby and frequent baby-friendly places. It's a poorly kept secret that the value of Baby N Me ______ (music class, gymnastics, yoga, etc) is not to give your infant valuable music or hatha training, but to put you in a baby-safe room with a bunch of other parents who are just as thrilled as you are to have gotten out of the house, possibly even after taking a shower.

As for books with the right attitude, you got me. I'm sure there are excellent ones the nutterati can recommend (ahem), but I've found that blogs have filled this niche better than any one volume can, not just because they're often more raw and profane and breezy but also because you can sample a lot of different voices. 

I also think On Parenting at The Post (LINK) has really taken off since Amy Joyce took it over. I swear this is a coincidence, and it's not Plug My Colleagues Day.



Carolyn, I agree about the gift mentality that when a gift is given, it is gone. However, some people see family heirlooms as a different kind of gift. You aren't really a recipient of a gift, you are just the current caretaker. It's almost like family heirlooms are community property that you are currently managing. Before giving it away, I would advise the chatter to have an open and honest conversation with her parents. If they are of the community property persuasion, this could cause unnecessary hurt feelings. Ask my how I know: me, in the living room, with an enormous box of mustard yellow dish sets.

Fair point. My position is somewhere between yours and "Chuck it all!"--I do ask around to see if any other potential familial caretakers want to step forward, and when they don't, out it goes--but this is easy for me to do because my parents generally didn't just give us stuff; they asked if we wanted it. That conversation always served as my release from further responsibility to them.

Thanks for weighing in.


The other approach you can take (which I have embraced) is just use it like it's everyday stuff. Sure, you can't put anything with gold or platinum edging in the microwave, but go ahead and put it in the dishwasher. What's the worst that could happen? You might break a few pieces? So what? This is coming from someone who has a full set of china AND a full set of Depression glass, both inherited. The china isn't really my taste, but when the plates are covered with food, I don't think many people notice!

I love that actually using the stuff is an idea. A good one, too, thanks.

I haven't been in a relationship for a very very long time and am struggling with what that looks like on a day to day basis now that we are transitioning from dating. Are we supposed to spend more time together? if i have a conflicting date with some girlfriends should i cancel on them if he wants to hangout instead? does it mean i spend the entire weekend with him? Am not sure what we are supposed to be doing - is there even such a thing? i.e. what we are supposed to be doing?

"Supposed" to? Nothing. Follow what you want. But don't ditch pre-made plans with your friends. You always keep those.

If you're not sure what you want, then hold back from making plans or responding to invitations until you have a chance to think about it. Be very literal and 2 + 2 about it--say to yourself, "Do I want to see him tonight, or do I want to be by myself?" Don't freight your answers with any notions of what you're "supposed" to do, and just see where your feelings point you. It can feel weird to be so formal about it, but if you're not used to doing it, then there's no shame in retraining yourself.

I can't recommend The Blessing of a Skinned Knee enough. It's based on Jewish teachings, but I don't think its easily accessible. I credit that book with helping me keep a (somewhat) level head about all this parenting pressure we put ourselves under.

happiest baby on the block. omg. i wish so much i had read this before my kid was born. afterwards, it was a life saver.

Yes--I read this after I needed it, but, oh well.

I may have misread the nature of the books OP wanted--I though it was more about wisdom that could stand in for a good group of friends until she assembles one of those in her new town. If it was more about instruction manuals that aren't off-putting, then that's something different (in which case the Karp book is perfect). Thanks.

I see a lot of advice where it is said that a husband needs to put his wife first. My question is, if your wife and your mother are having a disagreement, and you weren't able to sneak out of the room before being asked, and you really agree strongly that your mother is right and your wife is wrong, and your life would really be better if your wife could see that she was maybe wrong, is it ever ever ever ok to say that you think your wife is wrong without violating the first sentence of this post? Also, is there a way to say stop being so dramatic to someone that tends to overdramatize things without it completely invalidating their entire emotional self?

This is for a bomb disposal unit, not an advice columnist.

For the first situation, I suggest saying, if possible, "Mom, may I have a few minutes to talk to Wife alone?" And then when you are alone, you ask your wife to explain what she's thinking and feeling. If you discover she actually has a point, then, yay. If instead what she's thinking and feeling is, as you suggest, based on a misunderstanding or a bad idea, then you say you understand why she would feel that way--"however, [thing she's basing everything on] sounds like a misunderstanding." And then you explain yourself the best you can.

Doing this serves two purposes: 1. You're not taking your mom's side against her in your mom's presence. That can be so charged that the facts get lost in bad feelings. 2. You're validating your wife's feelings. Even if your wife is upset about X when X isn't true, she believes X so her feelings are real. You can and should point out that X isn't true, absolutely, but the validity of the feelings has to be reckoned with before you get to the validity of the reason.

It can still blow up in your face, but if that's result after you've taken great care to respect her feelings and your own integrity, then that's on her. Which doesn't make the couch any softer, but what can you do.

As for the overdramatizing--maybe that's a tendency she's always had, I don't know, but I can say that it tend to get worse, not better, when it's dismissed as overdramatizing. That's why it's so important to respect her feelings even when you disagree. Showing that respect could demonstrate to her that she doesn't need to go over the top to get your attention. 

If any of you think I've gone nuts and now advise rewarding over-the-top emotions, I'll pull a thread-tie and say the principles here are well explained by "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk"--which points out that if you take the time to listen to an upset child's story with empathy, and guide the child toward figuring out the root of the problem, then the result is often that the child not only calms down, but also in the future is less likely to get so upset. 


The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby's First Year. It's got real no-frills advice and humor. There is even a follow up book for the toddler years.

Ha, that sounds more like what I was thinking. Thanks!

I, and I imagine lots of other 'Nuts, are going to be visiting family next week whose political views are polar opposite of our own. Do you have a mantra or -- you've been doing this a long time -- a link to something you've said before for helping us get through a few days without losing our sanity? My ILs are particularly good at the subtle slights into everyday conversation and it makes me want to take up smoking or drinking, which might actually be healthier than swallowing my retorts....

This has always been an issue but, judging from the questions I get, the last few years have been noticeably worse for people in these situations. 

One helpful thing to keep in mind as a retort-stopper is that you won't "win," you won't change anyone's mind, you won't change any votes, you won't make the atmosphere in the room any better, YOU won't feel any better. 

Obviously there's an argument to be made for the importance of speaking up when you believe something is wrong--per John Stuart Mill, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” We all are familiar with some version of that idea. But apparently you have ample proof from experience that you're not going to stop world evil by debating your in-laws into submission, so it's okay to choose not to try.


My mother has an extreme amount of endless and dramatic sympathy for my brother and it's driving me insane. Both him and his wife have lucrative medical careers but my mother endlessly insists and has sympathy for how poor they are. She calls me telling me how they can't even afford groceries, while I watch them travel around the country for fun on a monthly basis on social media. I've tried reasoning with her, saying maybe they should get a more reasonable apartment if they really are struggling with money (no way they are), and she always counters that they need a two car garage, or some other silly reason they need a huge luxury apartment. This used to be a minor annoyance, but a few months ago my social worker husband was laid off and we are living off my graduate student salary alone. When I tell her we are having trouble affording things she gets incredibly critical and demeaning, saying things like 'you should have know when you adopted a dog she would have huge emergency medical expenses' and I should have known my husband would also get laid off? How do I respond to these comments and her comments about the 'financial struggles' of my brother when my husband and I are legitimately struggling?

In the short term, emotionally, it sounds as if you can get leaps and bounds happier if you stop talking to your mother about your and your brother's financial situations. She has proven herself to be a bad choice as a shoulder for you to lean on, so give yourself the gift of accepting the evidence and ending the will-Mom-ever-embrace-me-the-way-she-does-my-brother? experiment right here. Not talking to her for a while sounds perfectly reasonable/delightful, but if you're not ready for that, then just respond to any unsolicited snark from her with, "Okay, Mom, I'm going now." [click.] Stop trying to win.

Now, some people who've been in your position have come to learn, often late in life, that Mom was actually saying critical and demeaning things to your brother, too, about his situation and expressing to him her bottomless sympathy for you--i.e., essentially being just as rotten to both of you in a kind of twisted game--but right now you're much better served, I believe, by focusing on yourself and your immediate family.

Do you have other people in your life, people who are kind to you--friends, classmates, neighbors? Are there things you can put in your schedule to recharge you that don't cost anything, like a walk or a good book? That's where you shift your focus now--on things that pay off for you. Mom doesn't. I'm sorry. I hope things turn around for you soon.

Not a parenting book, but reading Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions" while my one-month-old napped on my chest definitely made me feel less alone. Funny and poignant. And she was 35 when she became a mom, so she talks about some of the things you're probably worried about.  

Great suggestion, thanks. I love her work. 

The point about putting your wife first is (in my opinion) more about addressing her point of view and working to see what validity you can find in it, vs automatically dismissing it based on your training at your mother's knee that you've never stopped to examine WHY you feel that way. A habit of doing the latter is what tends to end up with you sleeping on the couch. Out in the doghouse.

Can't let my two see that your doghouse has a couch.

Since my Thanksgiving problems tend to be my brother and his grown daughters constantly bickering, I've grown fond of "Not my circus, not my monkeys." I'm thinking of setting it to music so I quietly can hum it to myself at the dinner table.

Record it for the Hoot soundtrack? If there is one this year--our music sites keep folding.

Last year at Thanksgiving I sort-of jokingly announced, "Ok, everyone! Here's the topics we're NOT discussing!" and said stuff like, Politics, Religion, etc. Everyone laughed. When my FIL started to get in on one of the topics I was able to say, very light-heartedly, "No no! That's one of the topics on the list!" and everyone laughed and we moved on smoothly.

When dealing with family who feel it their prerogative to wildly spout differing political opinions from my own, loudly and pointedly, I channel my inner George Bernard Shaw. "I learned long ago, to never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it."

My parents moved to assisted living about a year ago, and we spent months trying to sell their stuff and their apartment. We got almost nothing for any of it, including their china, silver, mid-century modern furniture, a non-Steinway baby grand piano in excellent condition, first edition books, and beautiful, well-cared for Persian rugs. My mother was very upset that these things have little value, and was convinced that we were doing nothing to sell them. We had to find and show her several articles demonstrating that there is a glut of this stuff on the market, and even then I think she felt cheated. She spent her life choosing and taking care of these items, and I think discovering that the rest of the world didn't value them was painful. I did find that talking to my sibs, cousins, nieces and nephews about choosing items they wanted went a long way toward helping calm everyone down. You could try to sell things on eBay, but it's a long, timeconsuming process.

That does sound painful. It also sounds as if you were gentle and respectful in handling the situation, and I'm sure that helped too.



Thanks everybody, that's it for today. We're going dark the day after Thanksgiving. See you Dec. 4, and have a great holiday.

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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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